India Holiday Planning Guide
It may very well be fair to call India "incredible," given its mind-boggling diversity of landscapes, climates, cultures, and languages. The world's largest democracy, and second only to China in terms of population, India contains majestic peaks dusted with glistening snow, sun-drenched beaches, ancient hand-carved temples, and sprawling cities jam-packed with people, vehicles, and animals. Many tour India during the country's devotional festivals, which range from immense parades that convert cities into giant performance stages, to simple farming fairs dedicated to relatively obscure local deities. Whenever you choose to vacation in India, make sure you see some of the country's World Heritage Sites, which include the legendary Taj Mahal and Chilika Lake, the planet's second-largest lagoon.
Places to Visit in India
Regions of IndiaMaharashtra
: With some of the country's most important and enriching cultural hubs, relaxing hill stations, and impressive natural attractions, Maharashtra offers plenty of attractions to add to a diverse India itinerary.Rajasthan
: The country's largest state and home to some its most renowned attractions, historic Rajasthan boasts a wealth of ancient forts, hilltop towns, and attractive palaces, separated by barren desert, mountains rich in wildlife, and fertile valleys.Kerala
: Networks of scenic rivers and backwaters, sleepy beach towns, and national parks protecting a huge diversity of wildlife make the region of Kerala an exciting starting point for a wild and adventurous vacation in India.Tamil Nadu
: The artwork, architecture, language, and religion of the Tamil people make southern Tamil Nadu a fascinating place to explore, with ancient traditions interacting with contemporary culture to create a colorful, lively, and intoxicating state.Karnataka
: From its long, scenic stretch of coastline, to its ancient archaeological sites, rugged landscape, and bustling modern cities, Karnataka offers a vast array of natural and cultural attractions to explore.Himachal Pradesh
: Adventurers visit Himachal Pradesh to try out a range of outdoor activities in a striking mountainous landscape, while relaxation and luxury lovers go there to soak up the atmosphere of the colonial-era hill stations.Uttar Pradesh
: India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh features bustling metropolitan areas filled with world-famous attractions and smaller, quainter towns along the banks of India's two holiest rivers. Uttarakhand
: The age, atmosphere, and importance of its places of pilgrimage, along with the superlative nature of its mountainous landscape make the northern state of Uttarakhand an ideal place for a rewarding holiday in India.Jammu and Kashmir
: Way up in the north, Jammu and Kashmir remain relatively unvisited by international tourists, though the region's trekking and skiing opportunities ensure plenty of adventure for those looking for adrenaline and excitement.
Cities in IndiaNew Delhi
: The country's capital, New Delhi serves as an engaging and pleasant starting point for holidays in India, with a wealth of informative national museums, palaces, and governmental buildings with scenic landscaped gardens, and a good range of modern galleries and stylish eateries.Agra
: Home to the stunning Taj Mahal, Agra has plenty more to offer alongside its UNESCO-listed star attraction, including ancient religious sites, Mughal gardens, and lively markets.Bengaluru
: Its pleasant climate and abundance of green spaces make Bengaluru (Bangalore) an inviting place to visit on an India vacation, while its ancient religious and cultural sites and thriving modern commercial districts show off some of the best aspects of new and old India.
Popular India Tourist AttractionsQutub Minar
: Calligraphic decorations and geometrical motifs cover the UNESCO-listed Qutub Minar, a tall brick minaret that towers over the surrounding religious complex.Agra Fort
: Agra Fort features palaces, ornamental gates, and imposing battlements representing some of the finest examples of Mughal architectural. Swaminarayan Akshardham
: Opened in 2005, Swaminarayan Akshardham stands as one of the world's largest Hindu temple complexes, providing a welcome introduction to Hinduism for a well-rounded India vacation.Gateway of India
: Designed to celebrate the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, Gateway of India stands as a powerful and monumental remnant of colonial British rule, popular with tourists and photographers.Humayun's Tomb
: World Heritage-listed Humayun's Tomb represents one of the main examples of Mughal royal mausolea--the complex inspired many subsequent tombs built to honor the region's rulers.Bandra-Worli Sea Link
: A structure to see from afar and experience up-close, Bandra-Worli Sea Link stands as an emblem of modern Indian construction and joins up two areas of the city, allowing four lanes of traffic to pour across the causeway in each direction.India Gate
: Dedicated to more than 82,000 service personnel who died fighting for the British Empire between 1914 and 1921, India Gate honors service, duty, and sacrifice.City Palace of Udaipur
: Constructed over a period of 400 years, the lakefront complex of palaces and temples combining Rajasthani and Mughal decorative and architectural elements features an array of waterside verandas, ceremonial courtyards, and artistically adorned reception rooms and dining halls.Marine Drive
: Following the natural arc of Back Bay, Marine Drive is one of the most popular tourist attractions in India, with the waterfront promenade home to a collection of Art Deco buildings, an array of bustling eateries, and a host of nightlife haunts.
Planning an India Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in India with Kids
Many enjoying their first family holiday in India opt to stay in the north of the country, where the Golden Triangle route offers a popular and accessible way into the culture and history of the country.
With countless historical attractions, world-class museums, and family-friendly entertainment options found along this tourist route, the area packs a big punch in terms of vacation appeal--its tourist infrastructure makes it doable and enjoyable for those with kids in tow.
The hill stations around Maharashtra
gear themselves towards outdoor adventure and activity, and visits during the off-season allow families to get away from the crowds of the country's megacities.
, families can take gentle hikes amid diverse and colorful scenery, while the relatively flat land and abundance of waterways ensure plenty of chances to explore by bike, foot, car, or boat.
For beach holidays, few look beyond Goa
, where resorts, excursions, and seafront entertainment options make holidaying with kids a breeze.
Things to Do in India with Kids
Your India itinerary can include plenty of activities to keep the kids entertained and engaged throughout your visit.
Like most tourists, you'll probably find it hard to ignore world-famous sights like Taj Mahal
. The scale, history, and evident popularity of such attractions makes an impression on all visitors, regardless of their age.
Sampling history on the move is a popular thing for families on tour of India, with colonial-era train lines like Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
combining the fun of travel with the historical intrigue of one of the most evocative periods in the country's past.
The wildlife of India holds a great appeal for travelers young and old, so take the chance to glimpse tigers and other creatures in their natural habitat at protected areas like Ranthambore National Park
Tips for a Family Vacation in India
For many first-time visitors, a family holiday in India can be a pretty daunting prospect, given the vastness of the country and the hecticness of its urban areas.
That said, with a little prior planning families can experience a stress-free holiday in this vibrant and varied nation.
Children, particularly those whose hair and skin color make them stand out, can expect to receive a lot of attention in India, so be prepared for hair-ruffling and some locals asking for photos. Use your discretion when responding to such requests and keep your kids close at all times, as it's very easy to get lost in the city centers.
Remember to only drink bottled water, and stay away from uncooked foods which may have been washed in the tap water.
Train travel remains one of the most entertaining and memorable activities you can add to your India itinerary, but delays and overcrowding can test the patience of even the calmest kids (and adults), so consider taking journeys in smaller chunks.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in India
Cuisine of India
Served and enjoyed across the globe, the cuisine of the country represents a major reason why many choose to take a trip to India.
Regional variations in the way certain dishes are prepared remain pronounced, with climatic and ecological influences making bread the go-to accompaniment in the north, and rice and rice flour snacks part of many dishes in the south.
Southern areas like Tamil Nadu
have a strong vegetarian heritage, with dishes such as masala dosa (a rice flour pancake filled with curry) and uttapam (a rice flour pancake with different toppings, served with dips) ever popular.
Head to the coastal areas of Kerala
, or up into Goa
and fish curries, tandoor-cooked whole fish, and coconut-heavy dishes are some of the main things to try.
Things tend to be a lot meatier up north, with the state of Punjab
particularly well known for its tandoori meats covered with distinctive, aromatic spice rubs.
Be prepared for dishes to be spicier than you might be used to at home, and use discretion when buying food from street vendors, as hygiene issues and the use of tap water can be problematic for even the strongest of stomachs.
Shopping in India
From traditional goods to fresh produce and international brands, a vacation in India reveals a mixed and varied set of shopping opportunities. New Delhi
has a large number of international chain stores on lively streets and in towering, modern malls, selling the latest electronics and fashionable clothes.
Markets and bazaars offer an engaging and enjoyable route into Indian culture, whether you're looking to buy something or not. Traditional markets across the small towns and major cities of Uttar Pradesh
sell hand-knotted carpets, textiles woven by hand in traditional patterns, and a wealth of gold and silver jewelry.
As you walk down the labyrinthine streets of the country's markets, you'll see a huge array of boldly colored and aromatic spices on display, which make for excellent gifts or mementos. In Darjeeling
, for example, you can buy a bag of freshly picked tea to take home as a quintessentially Indian souvenir.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to India
Interesting Facts About India
● Shampooing originated in India, with the term coming from the Sanskrit word "champu," meaning "to massage"
● India is one of the most veggie-friendly countries on the planet, with somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of its population not eating meat
● India is the world's largest democracy
● 70 percent of all the world's spices come from India
● The Bengal tiger is the national animal of India
Things You Should NOT Do in India
During your vacation in India, you'll soon notice that, although ostensibly secular and ultra-modern in places, the country remains staunchly conservative and traditional in certain respects.
As a rule, public displays of affection are frowned upon and can attract unwanted attention.
When handed something, always receive it with your right hand, as the left hand is traditionally used for hygiene. Also, try to limit the amount of things you do with your feet (pointing, gesturing, moving things), as they are seen as inferior parts of the body.
It's a good idea to stay away from contentious topics of conversation with anyone you don't know well, as it's easy to cause offence in what is a diverse and pluralistic society.
Holidays & Festivals in India
Diwali, a five-day festival celebrating the victory of light over darkness, is perhaps the best known of India's many holidays and religious festivities. Celebrated vibrantly throughout the country, Diwali is marked with the lighting of fireworks and candles during October or November (depending on the moon's cycle).
In late August or early September, states such as Maharashtra
and Tamil Nadu
celebrate the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. The eleven-day festival honors Ganesh, with statues of the elephant-headed god paraded through towns and then immersed in the waters of holy rivers, lakes, and the sea.
Many international tourists take a trip to India around the time of the iconic Holi festival. The March celebration of light, color, harvest, and springtime sees revelers cover each other in colorful powders and dance under sprinklers of brightly colored water.
Between February and May of each year, Kerala
hosts a range of colorful festivals, with parades of jewel-covered elephants, drummers, and religious icons, as well as various religious rituals.
Useful India Travel Tips
Common Greetings in India
To avoid awkward situations during your vacation in India, follow the greeting etiquette of the person you're meeting, as religious and social norms differ greatly from place to place, particularly when it comes to the urban and rural divide.
Handshakes between those who have just met are rare, and physical contact of any kind between men and women is very unusual. If a hand is offered, always respond with your right, as the left is associated with personal hygiene.
A respectful Hindu custom used throughout the country is to bow slightly, with your hands together and fingers pointed upwards.
Used both as a salutation and a farewell, "namaste" means "I bow to the divine in you."
Climate of India
India's topography and vastness make its climate a varied one, although it can very roughly be described as hot tropical. Only the far north and northeastern mountainous states experience heavy snowfall throughout the winter, and are, as a result, the go-to places for skiing and trekking itineraries in India.
Throughout the majority of the rest of the country, summer is the hottest and most humid season, lasting between April and October, when the monsoons that first hit Kerala
Southern areas are generally hotter than other parts of the country--temperatures in Kerala, for example, average between 25 C and 27 C ( 77 F and 82 F). Coastal areas also tend to be hot, with the coastal lowlands of Tamil Nadu
averaging temperatures of over 28 C (82 F) throughout the year.
Typhoons can be a risk along the east coast, predominantly between August and November. Check weather reports before your trip and pack according to the destinations you've selected.
Transportation in India
Many holidays in India start in the airport arrivals lounge, with Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi
and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai (Bombay)
the two most frequented by international passengers.
The country's rail network is famously extensive and offers an interesting perspective on the vastness and diversity of the country. Disparity between cheaper and pricier seats and cabins is profound, with overcrowding in less expensive areas of trains a persistent problem.
Book your tickets in advance and be wary of how long each stretch of a journey will take, keeping in mind that delays are a common occurrence.
Long-haul buses are popular with backpackers, serving as inexpensive yet comfortable options for going between major cities and towns.
Inner-city bus routes are used by locals and tourists who prefer to avoid the stress of navigating the traffic-congested roads on their own.
Bikes and autorickshaws offer a quintessentially Indian experience for covering relatively short distances around cities and towns.
Some areas, such as rural parts of Kerala
, are best seen from the water, with a number of ferries and houseboat tours to choose from.
Tipping in India
During your trip to India, you should use your own discretion on whether to tip or not. You'll be expected to leave gratuity only in bigger restaurants, hotels, and resorts, although a tip of between 5 and 10 percent of your bill will always be greatly appreciated regardless of circumstance or situation.
In larger, more Westernized establishments, tipping is much more prevalent. In general, if you receive good service in a restaurant or from a porter at a station or hotel, leave a tip to show your appreciation.