Min age: 5
Rating 4.99 / 5 [204 ratings]
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Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India
Around 180km south of Delhi beside the Yamuna River, Agra’s fame rests almost entirely on the iconic Taj Mahal. Yet for over a century from the 1520s it was the Mughal empire‘s principal capital, with Emperor Shah Jahan, in particular, endowing it with other dazzling buildings and monuments which remain a major draw.
The enormous garden tomb of Akbar, one of the great Mughal emperors, stands in suburban Agra at Sikandra. Forty kilometres west lies the evocative ‘ghost city’ of Fatehpur Sikri, a spectacular example of a largely intact Mughal cityscape. Throw in a 17th-century mosque, vigorous warren-like bazaars, and earthy life and colour, and you have one of India’s essential destinations.
Stays in the city, however, tend to be short, if not fleeting. It’s not an attractive city or an appealing place to spend time. The relentless congestion, clamour and all-to-eager shopping touts make the place feel like an effort, bizarrely at odds with its magnificent monuments.
Agra wraps around a large hairpin loop of the sluggish Yamuna River with most of the city and sights lying south and west of its silty banks. Both the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort overlook the Yamuna (though its waters no longer lap the latter’s mighty walls).
Immediately south of the Taj lies ‘Taj Ganj’, originally a 17th-century market area with traders and caravanserais but now a much expanded workaday mix of humble streets, modest homes, budget hotels and restaurants. Most of the city stretches away west of the Taj and the Fort with the leafier Cantonment (or Raj-era military neighbourhood) forming a partial buffer.
Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers
Min age: 5
Rating 4.99 / 5 [204 ratings]
Min age: 8
Rating 4.97 / 5 [40 ratings]
Min age: 1
Rating 4.83 / 5 [36 ratings]
The main tourist season runs from October to March, though September and April are also fine – clear skies with warm to hot days. May and June bring extreme heat and are worth avoiding, while the July and August monsoon cools things slightly but brings more humidity.
Peak season is Christmas and New Year as well as the Indian festival of Diwali in late autumn. Mid-December to early February can deliver surprisingly cool nights.
Most visitors to Agra travel by chauffeur-driven car – typically from Delhi on the Yamuna Expressway (3-4 hours), or from Jaipur on a dual carriageway (4-5 hours).
Delhi, Agra and Jaipur are also connected by numerous trains and public buses, but the best public transport option between Delhi and Agra is the express ‘Shatabdi’ or superfast-designated train services from/to New Delhi and Hazrat Nizamuddin railway stations which are safe and reliable. Between Agra and Jaipur there are regular express trains.
There are no direct or practical flights between Delhi and Agra or Agra and Jaipur.
If you’re not travelling by chauffeur-driven car, taxis and particularly auto-rickshaws are the best way to get around the city, though you’ll need the former (or a public bus) to reach Fatehpur Sikri. Cycle rickshaws are worthwhile for short hops through the city’s crowded streets.
Agra is not an attractive city; urban chaos has done it no favours whatsoever. Most of Agra’s best hotels lie on the outer fringes of ‘Taj Ganj’, a fairly compact knot of streets and lanes lying just south of the Taj Mahal. The neighbourhood’s also home to numerous budget hotels and restaurants; you might not like the food and lodgings but some of their rooftop terraces have fine Taj views and the more youthful vibe might even feel nostalgic.
Taj Ganj is not particularly appealing or atmospheric but is your best bet because of its proximity to the Taj and it’s slightly quieter and less congested than downtown Agra – but this is relative.
Agra abounds in high-end cuisine and tasty food ranging from fine-dining in its upscale hotels – probably the safest and most comfortable bet for those with sensitive dispositions – to the street food and humble eateries of its bazaars and down-town streets. Occupying the middle ground are the traveller-oriented cafes and restaurants of Taj Ganj – very much a mixed bag where character, vibe and Taj views from their rooftops might count far more than the quality or authenticity of their meals.
Kinari Bazaar is probably the single best spot for some fun shopping, although little could be called high-end. Sadaar Bazaar and nearby Mall Road in the Cantonment neighbourhood are other similar but possibly less ‘touristy’ options. The Shilpgram ‘craft village’ near the Taj Mahal has a more rustic earthy feel.
State-government run emporiums you’ll find in some Indian cities like Delhi offer fixed-price products – no cheating or rip-offs. Note that despite shop names suggesting otherwise, there is no Uttar Pradesh Government emporium in Agra. There’s no such thing as a fixed price in Agra.
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