17 Best Things To Do In Varanasi, India

Varanasi or better call it Benaras. Benaras is a feeling. Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India. It is located in the in Uttar Pradesh alongside the river Ganges and is considered one of the best tourist places in India along the riverside. It is said to be one of the oldest cities to be colonized and one of the oldest pilgrimage places in the world. People come to Varanasi to wash away all their sins.

Ranked as one of the oldest living cities in India, lined with numerous Ghats and dotted with ancient temples and holy shrines all over, it represents India in the most vibrant and colorful form. The city is so old that it has seen ages, centuries and eons go by. Many people believe that this is the place that holds the key to rebirth and this is where the cycle of one’s life begins.

From the gods walking the land here to Gautam Buddha establishing Buddhism and teachings, one can only imagine the peace and serenity this place has to offer. Gracing the bank of Ganga River this iconic town has something to offer for everyone and choosing well-designed Varanasi tour packages plays a vital role in enjoying your theme holiday to the utmost level. They call it the city of music, not for its cuisine, but, the vibrations, aura and enigma. It’s mysterious and beautiful.

You won’t find the state-of-art skyscrapers or infrastructure. You definitely won’t find a lot many places to hang out. Rather, you’ll see people, a lot of people, here, there and everywhere, at every corners of the streets and alleys, making these places their hangouts. Varanasi is a place that has witnessed the end of one’s life and has initiated a new life for others. It is a place of God that controls the cycle of life.

Although, the city has a tropical climate, people here aren’t temperamental. You won’t find them using cuss words every now and then. People just shrug off petty issues. One of the most bothersome daily-life factors is its population density. Unless it’s 2 at night, you’ll always find way too many people around. Summers are scorching. It’s one of the hottest places in India. Cost of living is a bit high considering it as a tier-2 city.

For a spiritual retreat, head to Varanasi. The evening aarti at the ghats cost you nothing. For a blissful time, take a boat ride and watch the sunset. Most guesthouses are clean and affordable. Missing out on the endless options of special tea is not advisable when in Varanasi. There’s so much to it, one just can’t contain the attributes of this city within a paragraph like this. It’s artistic, it’s real and it makes you feel. It makes you aware of your being!

Varanasi or Benaras is the oldest city in the world. Located on the banks of the holy Ganges, the city is a must-visit for a spectacular cultural experience. A symbol of spiritualism, philosophy, and mysticism for thousands of years, Varanasi hypnotizes the holidays with its magical spells. For a real Banaras experience one must take a boat ride across the Ganges River.

Go to see Ramanagar Fort with your family and remember to display the royal palanquins with your family. Shop for silk sarees, handicrafts, and the Banaras Emporium.

best things to do in Varanasi

Here are the best tourist places to visit in Varanasi:

1. Offer your prayer at Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple

Varanasi was the name of the ancient Kashi Dham of Biswanath. It is said that this was the favorite abode of Shiva at one time. The beauty and religious depth in the city are still there. Bordered with the Ganges, this is still regarded to be the holiest city of India and about the origin of the city – this is not expressed in years, but in Yugas and Kalpas.

There are temples everywhere, and most of them ooze out a unique blend of fragrances, sounds and colours. Kashi Vishwanath is undoubtedly one of the holiest and the most pious places of Shiva worship. Forming the landmark of Varanasi or Kashi it has earned its spot for being one of the most legendary temples in India. According to Hindu mythologies, the temple stands tall in the place where the first Jyotirlinga is said to have appeared.

Located in the heart of the town a visit here remains incomplete if you don’t offer your prayer at this temple. Afternoon is good because you shall have less crowd. The peak hours are usually tight and filled with a plethora of people.

2. Watch The Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat

Well, the most mesmerising experience of being in the city is for the bliss filled evening on the banks of Holy Ganges. This is a lifetime experience and can’t be missed by any chance if you are visiting Benaras. Take a boat, not the motorised one if you want to cherish the nature, but the one rowed manually. It starts when the sun is just about to hide away and the moon has already started crawling in the picture. Takes you through the river to the bank of Ganga Aarti.

The lights on the banks of the river create a magical view and is surely a treat for your eyes. The journey from the bank where the boat starts to the place of Ganga Aarti is one of its kind. With the moon shining above, the cool breeze flowing across and the holy river sailing you through allowing you to touch the auspicious water is what pulls you to Benaras.

Words shall never do justice to this magnificent prayer and the aura it creates. One simply has to experience it! It might sound really mainstream but this is how you get accustomed to the vibe Benaras offers. You see the locals, the devotees, the men and the women beginning their day in the vicinity of Ganga, as if their entire life revolves around this river.

The bliss and abundance of positive energy in the atmosphere, while full moon shining and spreading its aura is a lifetime moment. An absolute refreshing experience for the mind and soul. The ever amazing prayers offered (Aarti) is worth getting you goosebumps in fractions of seconds. The level of energies in the atmosphere is so vibrant that one can feels as if Gods come there to witness the bliss.

Ghats of Varanasi have a charm of their own. The whole life of a human can be summarized through the visuals you get to see on the ghats. The ambiance of the ghats magically shifts from serenity during dawn to celebration during dusk. Some people with guitars, some with paint brushes and some with just their vocals on the ghats, make you feel your life.

Ghats have been present here since eternity. There are some 88 ghats along the Ganges. Each telling a different story, each serving a different purpose. Every evening at 6, walk to the most revered ghat in Varanasi and witness the spellbinding aarti, from different vantage points. You would rarely encounter such energized atmosphere elsewhere.

Sitting by the gushing river and watching the world go by or attending one of the most stunning Ganga Aartis of your life will be a memory that you will savour for a lifetime. This Ghat in particular holds a lot of religious and spiritual values to the believers as there are numerous mythological and legendary instances that took place at this very spot.

From Brahmaji performing the sacrifice of 10 horses here to several other folklores the pious value of this Ghat remains unchanged even to this day. At 40 rupees per person, the men near Rajendra Ghat or Dashashwamedh ghat would take you on a to-and-fro ride from Dashashwamedh to Harishchandra ghat and back. Either do it early morning or late evening.

Meet Aghoris. Worshiper of Shiva, they are the most unique kind of sadhaks you would ever find in India. Be it their kapal (a human skull), which they consider to be their divine bowl or their propensity towards hash and marijuana. Talk to them about what inspired them to take this harsh path towards God realization. Visit the Baba Kinaram Sthal - adorned with skeletons and skull, this is the world's center for Aghoris.

People in Uttar Pradesh are surely fond of their food! There are enormous stalls which sell a range of food, varying from Chole Samosa, Kachori, Puri Bhaji, Idli, Dosa, Gulabjamun, Jalebis and what not! Ah it is a pleasure to walk amidst the crowd of Dashashwamedh main road with the smell of piping hot puris and roadside Chai.

3. See the bygone era in Ramnagar Fort

Varanasi is no exception to being home for one of the most interesting forts in India. Located at a comfortable distance of just 14 km from the main city you will come across the famous tourist attraction of Ramnagar fort. This 18th-century sandstone structure which was once utilized as a defense structure now functions as a wholesome, complete, and quirky museum.

Ramnagar Qila is the perfect example of a fort in ruins. Though it still houses the Kashi Naresh, if you are interested to see Awadh's first Plymouths or Convertibles, you would get to see all of them in a museum here which contain all of these - wrecked and dustladen. If you are interested in history, worth one time visit.

You can check some incredible collections of the bygone era through its collection of vintage cars, designer hookahs, interesting weapons, and the main focus being a one of a kind clock that is said to be more than 150 years old.

4. Explore Manikarnika Ghat

If you like to explore unique and thought-provoking places, then this particular Ghat will check all the boxes. In Hinduism after the cremation of the mortal remains the ashes are to be emptied in Ganga River for the soul to achieve moksha or liberation. Also referred to as the ‘Burning Ghat’ since the mortal remains of the people keep on burning here throughout the year and no amount of rain or water can completely cool off this place.

It is unique for a number of reasons and one of them being the combination of wonderment and thoughts about life it provokes. Hear the tales of the Dom Raja, who was the in charge of 5000 year old funeral pyre, which set every corpse ablaze.

5. Take a walk in Banaras Hindu University

Take a walk in the campus, visit the serene Vishwanath temple inside, read more about it before going there - this was the first global University in contemporary India. The campus is in the shape like a protractor. Try to ascertain it.

Ever since the establishment of this university in 1916 this place has been the identity and the face of Varanasi since that time. Panning out over an area of lush 1,300 acres and with an environment of utmost serenity, your Varanasi trip remains incomplete. The new Vishwanath temple has also been constructed recently and as the name suggests it has been inspired by the Kashi Vishwanath Temple situated nearby.

Visiting here will also allow you to know more about the diverse Hindu culture. The environment here is extremely peaceful and guarantees a rejuvenating experience.

Ramapura: Banaras gharana. Heard of it? You would find most of the musicians in this area. Go for a walk and get dazzled by the soulful music emanating out of shut doors or the roof tops.

6. Release paper strips with chants in Tibetan Temple

Varanasi is an extremely popular destination for Buddhist pilgrimages. Tibetan temple is one of the prime examples of the value of Buddhism in this pious town. The temple graces the place where Gautam Buddha had taught his disciples at this very place the 4 truths of life hence making it a major pilgrimage destination among Buddhists.

The entire temple walls and the whole complex represents the culture of Tibet through paintings, Thangkas, and prayer wheels. The main attraction here are the prayer wheels that release paper strips with chants written all over them when it is rotated clockwise. This temple has a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. Here, outside the temple building, you can see the Prayer Room which consist of prayer wheels, which you can rotate in clockwise direction. A large number of pilgrims and Buddhist scholars from Thailand, Tibet, China and Japan come here for praying.

7. Boat Rides from Assi Ghat

This southernmost Ghat of the variety of Ghats in Varanasi is another one of the must-visit places in Varanasi. According to mythological accounts, this is the Ghat where Tulsidas is said to have left for his heavenly abode. If you wish to see this place light up to glory, then coming here during the festival season would be the perfect opportunity for you to experience the vibrancy of Indian culture and take away loads worth of memories.

There are several activities for you and your family to indulge in this Ghat ranging from boat rides in the Ganga to hot air balloon experience giving you a bird’s eye view of the Ghat. Every morning there are boats which take passengers to the other side of Ganga, which is cleaner, where people could take a dip in the holy water.

Ganges is considered a river Goddess, and people rever it. If you first visit the shores, you will need to take a boat trip and release a lotus flower making a wish. There is nothing quite like a night boat ride on the Ganges.

Go to Nishadraj ghat and ask for Bhumi bhaiya. Dark, skinny and very amiable, he would enchant you with his mellow voice. Though untrained, he can sing Indian classical like an adept single with all the delicate harkats that would leave you craving for more. He is like walking stereo - ask him to sing a song in any genre and he would surprise you.

From Indian classical to indi-pop, he sings them all effortlessly and would even like to hum along with him. Hear stories from him about Ganges, about apocalypse and the importance about loyalty in marriage, you would return wiser, happier and enthralled.

It’s a city embracing art with ghats painted in scintillating and colorful graffiti. A place where music is omnipresent. You will easily witness multiple students and free lance artists doing their art work in open space from creating sculptured walls to drawing a random stranger on canvas.

A city with a rich history, almost impossible in habitation in its narrow lanes, significant traces of multiple cultures,traditional savories, fragrance of sandalwood and camphor. And you will find yourself walking on a street full of bulls/cows and hawkers appearing out of no where.

People from almost every country possible in the world visit and reside there. You may end up sharing a breakfast with Latin American Couple, finish your lunch with an African poet, walk on the ghat with a Spanish priest, witness an evening aarti with an american painter and eat your dinner alongside a monk.

8. Feel at peace in Nepali Temple

Believed to be one of the oldest temples of the city, although the name is Nepali Temple, the shrine is dedicated entirely to Shiva. Established by the king of Nepal himself during the 19th century the temple is built to look exactly like the grand wooden temple of Pashupatinath Mandir in Nepal.

The temple is a massive crowd puller due to its elaborately unique design and one of a kind structure and of course due to its religious and spiritual value. This place will definitely instill a deep feeling of peace and serenity from within.

9. Visit Bharat Mata Temple

You may have heard a lot about various different types of temples in the world dedicated to various religions and deities however, this particular temple is dedicated solely to Bharat Mata or mother India. The temple showcases a finely detailed map of a complete India without borders carved out completely in marble. It was opened in 1936 and was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi himself.

This is probably the only temple that is dedicated to a whole country which makes it the first one in the world. If you are in Varanasi you must make it a point to visit this place although underrated, it is worth the visit.

10. Walk through the intricate Vishwanath Gali

Colorful, full of stories, old people willing to sit and gossip with you, paan shops, bright blue doors embellished with paan stains at bottom. It's a photographer's paradise. The best thing about this city is that it is unperturbed by modernity. Everything around here reflects the old charm of Varanasi. There are so many alleys in which you won’t be able to tell about the decade or era you’re living in, because things have not changed there, not one bit for ages.

You’ll be amazed to see how well the animals have mingled with the locals. Hundreds of monkeys might run past you as if you don’t even exist. No one gets bothered. An extraordinarily huge 2500 pound bull might be standing a few inches next to you, and you don’t need to worry about it.

You’ll see dozens of stray dogs finding permanent shelter in the premises of temples. People walk past them, and none of them bats an eye. None of them bite. Animals and humans have a beautiful bonding and mutual trust here.

Right from the foreigners flocked ghats to the Aghori-sadhu flocked ghats, from the ghat where a newly born kid is given his first bath to the ghat where the funeral pyre is set to merge the form with formless, this walk signifies the walk of life.

Stop at each ghat, interact with people or kids around, ask about the heritage of the Darbhanga House and other palaces situated next to the holy Ganges.

11. Sarnath Temple

Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh happens to be among the most important pilgrimage places in India for Buddhists. Home to a number of Buddhist stupas, museums, ancient sites and beautiful temples, Sarnath is always full of devotees because it is only 10 kilometers away from Varanasi. It is believed the Buddha gave his very first sermon right here and the museum which transcends you to the era of Asoka. Also, this is popularly believed to be the birthplace of the leader who founded Jainism.

Thereby, don't be surprised if you find quite a number of Jain temples in Sarnath in addition to the Buddhist ones. Witness the famous Ashoka Chakra, the Stupa and the Buddhist garden.

If you are seeking some place with peace and solitude, visit the ancient city of Shravasti. The place has significant connection with the Buddhist and Jain religion. Being one of the main sites for the buddhist and Jain religion, Many tourists come here from Japan, Korea and other buddhism following countries.

Shravasti had been the capital of “Koshala” Kingdom from 6th century BCE to 6th century AD. It was the place where the Buddha lived most of his life after his enlightenment. Gautam buddha told many of his “Suttas” (sermons) to his disciples. It is the place where you can get many places to make out your peace of mind. You can find the famous Vipassana meditation center, renowned for mental healing through meditation.

The old part of city is divided into two parts Sahet and mahet. You can find places in both the parts which will give you the Idea about the progressive culture and life style of the people at that time. In Sahet famous site for the Buddhist monastery Jetvahana Vihar and stupas,This place has very ancient remains and foundations and you can find scriptures written about the place and its history.

Mahet is famous for Kachchi Kuti, having a stupa of Anathapindika and the cave and stupa of Angulimal. The kacchi kuti was a temple built by a sadhu and related to kushana period. The place is good for sight seeing and for the history buffs.

Other Buddhist sites to visit in Shravasti are the Ananda Bodhi Tree, where Lord Gautam Buddha meditated, and Vipassana Meditation Centre. Shravasti also houses stunning Jain temples, such as the Shobhnath Jain temple and Shri Shwetambar Jain temple.

Suhail dev wildlife sanctuary is also near by shravasti which has large number of wildlife present in the sanctuary, This is among the oldest forests of the Uttar pradesh. The sanctuary is known for affluent flora and fauna making it one of the top tourist attractions of Shravasti.

The fauna found in the sanctuary includes Leopard, Tiger, Bear, Wildcat, Wild Boar, Sambhar, Spotted Deer, Nilgai, Barking Deer along with Monkeys of different types. Also, Suhaildev is home to 300 species of birds. One can spot, little Grebe, Indian Cormorant, Darter, Indian Pond Heron, Cattle-egret, Little-egret, Black Kite, Greater Spotted Eagle, Long-Billed Vulture, White Rumped Vulture, Grey Francolin, Sarus Crane, Pheasant-Tailed Jacana, Bronze-Winged Jacana and more.

Another unique feature of the sanctuary is the presence of the Tharu Tribe. The Tharu tribe having mongoloid features have been residents of this area for a long and are entirely dependent on the forest land for their survival and livelihood.

12. Chaukhandi Stupa

There are several temples, monasteries, museums, parks in Sarnath - the main attraction here, dedicated to Buddhism and its history, and Chaukhandi Stupa is one of the most prominent place to attracting many tourists every year. Chaukhandi Stupa is said to be the most sacred and most visited stupa by tourists in all the holy pilgrimage sites of Uttar Pradesh.

Chaukhandi Stupa is said to be one of the most divine and important monuments of Buddhist culture. This stupa has been constructed at exactly the same place where the great Lord Buddha met his five ascetics. Through these five ascetics, Buddha preached his first teachings. The monument has been constructed in the form of commemoration of this major event, which was helpful in the rise of Buddhism.

13. Ashoka Pillar

The Ashok Pillar, the national symbol of India is a symbol of the emperor Ashoka's journey to Sarnath. The stone-built Ashoka pillar is an impressive structure with four lions on top. This 50-meter-long pillar is a gift for Buddhism by the Ashoka. In the Ashoka Pillar premises, you can see many monks meditating. The whole complex is full of lush lawn which attracts tourists very much.

14. Wat Thai Sarnath Temple

A famous attraction is the Thai temple in Sarnath, which shows the style of architecture here. This temple is made up of beautiful gardens, which is the center of attraction of tourists and pilgrims coming here, where peace is provided by Buddhist monks.

15. Sarnath Museum

Founded in 1910, Archaeological Museum performs collection of artifacts from 3rd century BC to 12th Century AD. If you come to visit Sarnath, then must go to see the ancient artifacts kept in this museum.

16. Dhamekh Stupa

Dhamek Stupa also has Ashok Pilar near it. The height of this stupa is about 43 meters and diameter is 28 meters. It is said that Ashoka himself created it and the text of the above was carved by the rulers of the Gupta dynasty. Birds, animals and humans have been shown in this texture, although a lot is vanished or ruined. It is said that the height of this stupa has been increased six times at different times, but its upper part remained incomplete even now.

17. Offer your prayer at Sankat Mochan Hanuman Mandir

While visiting Assi Ghat make your way to another one of the most popular temples of Varanasi. Established by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and dedicated to Ram and Hanuman Ji, this temple is one of the major destinations for their worship by the devotees. Apart from the religious and spiritual values here the temple is mostly famous for its delicious Ladoo offering and is a local favourite.

Flocked by harmless monkeys looking to snatch the delicious treats from your hand, the temple is a humble place to offer your prayer to the lord. This temple is definitely a must-visit during your Varanasi trip in order to fill your holiday with a complete wholesome experience.

Traditional and street food walks for the foodies, temple hopping for the religiously inclined folks, exploring the rich heritage by yourself for solo travelers, and learning more about enigmatic Indian culture for everyone. The local cuisine encompasses extremely diverse edibles due to which hanging out is fun!

And, since, Varanasi attracts a huge number of tourist footfalls, catering to their taste buds is commonplace. You get to taste almost all sorts of international cuisines. Italian, Spanish, French, Thai, Chinese, Filipino, Continental, American, Mexican, Mediterranean and what not, you name it, and you get it!

Kachodi - Sabzi is a staple breakfast for the Banarsi. You can find this snack in every nook and corner of the city. The Kachodis fried in Ghee had an amazing flavour. Try the Ghee fried Jalebis which literally melt in the mouth. Varanasi is a paradise for Chaat lovers. Do try some spicy Lemon tea from Assi ghat. Do try the Lassi in Lanka.

Drink thandai: Mouth licking delicious, a must have drink after a tiresome shop. You would find a lot of shops near Benia bazar or Church, near Dashashwamedh ghat. The guys make Lassi in the traditional, hand churning way. The awesome taste will make you forget the extra calories added by the thick layer of Malai.

At the end, you would need some help for digestion. So don't forget to stuff your cheeks with a traditional Banarasi pan and Hajmola Chai, which you can find at various places all across Varanasi.

Varanasi is a maze, each beginning on a road ending up on a Ghat and this maze endorses the culture of the entire city. You have small restaurants, mini temples, some cafes, saree centres, pan wallahs, Hostels, Thelas and what not. It might look confusing at first but you shall be accustomed to the small roads and well a little whiff of indecent smell!

Varanasi is a beautiful place and there are some things that you would find there, which you won't find anywhere else in India. Explore the history behind ghats and temples, visit the families of weavers, and get your hands on a special Banarasi saree – all in one riveting trip! Set off for a getaway to explore the city of Banaras intimately. Book your spot and explore the local Banarasi flavour!
Kalyan Panja