The Top Places To Visit In Agra From The Taj Mahal and Beyond
When Zach and I initially planned on visiting India the only thing we knew was that we both NEEDED to see the Taj Mahal, one of our bucket list items! We didn’t know where it was located but had just seen the sheer beauty of the Taj. Little did we know all the treasures that awaited us in Agra where the Taj Mahal is located! You can see pretty much everything within one day, but ideally I would recommend spending the night and splitting your sightseeing between two days. In this post I am going to highlight how you should spend your time in Agra, including the best tips for visiting the Taj Mahal to beat the crowds and taking fantastic photos! An important tip to keep in mind, while Agra is a very safe place for tourists remember to always keep your personal belongings close and watch for pickpockets!
History of Agra
Agra is a city found on the banks of the Yamuna river in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is 128 miles south of New Delhi and is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites including of course the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. Agra was built and founded by Sultan Sikandar Lodhi in 1504. This city has been ruled by a few different dynasties the most famous being the Mughal Era, when construction on many of the wonders of this city were built.
How To Get To Agra
There are a few options of getting to Agra, the best being by train from Delhi. You can easily purchase a ticket in advance from Delhi for only a 3 hour ride. If you aren’t up for a train ride you can either book a car or a plane ticket.
A general train ticket will run 85 INR (a little over $1!) but be warned it’s so crowded and smelly in general class. If you’re looking for a real rugged and local experience then go ahead and do it! But if you’re not into being packed in like sardines then upgrade to a sleeper class ticket. Its about $7 each and way less crowded. You get your own assigned seat but it may be taken when you board, just because its assigned doesn’t mean it’s 100% secured. Just look around for the nearest available seat either next to you or above you. If you are India when the weather is warmer it is very much worth it to upgrade to an a/c train car.
*Top Tip: there will be workers that will come down the isles calling “CHAI” all throughout your ride. Do yourself a favor and TRY THE CHAI TEA. It’s seriously the best.
Sitting on the top bunk of our train with not much headroom!
Where To Stay in Agra
For the best place to stay in Agra you will want to have a hotel or hostel with a view of the Taj Mahal. These are some of the best places to stay with a view!
Luxury – The Gateway Hotel Fatehbad Road Agra
With only 28 rooms a reservation here in advance is a must!
Average – Double Tree by Hilton Hotel Agra
Budget – Hotel Saniya Palace B&B
This hotel may I add has a delicious restaurant on top with a fantastic view of the Taj Mahal! I recommend eating the
One Step 4 Ward has an excellent post on all the restaurants and bars with an excellent view.
Where To Shop in Agra
Agra has many different shops everywhere you go around the Taj Mahal. I bought some things here but my recommendation is skip shopping here as it is 5x more expensive than any other shops you will go to outside of Agra.
Should I Hire A Driver Or Tour Guide In Agra?
When in Agra you can hire a tour guide outside many of the different sites to see. Just make sure you are negotiating a fair price for you and them. Generally we would spend without a tip around $10. We hired a tour guide at both Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal that was really worth it.
As for hiring a driver in Agra I would recommend it, there are many tuk tuks everywhere. When we arrived we were given a deal by our tuk tuk driver and it is one that many of the drivers offer. This is that they will pick you up from your hotel and take you to the Taj Mahal, Mehtab Bagh, Itmad-Ud-Dala, and Agra Fort for only 500 INR that is only $7! You usually can set this up with your hotel or a driver you meet. Definitely do this while here, it will make visiting these locations a breeze when they drop you off at each location all you need to do is tell them a time to pick you back up.
Visiting The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is the most amazing thing to see in India and the whole reason we planned initially to visit India. When seeing it in person we thought we were going to be disappointed because the pictures made it look so magnificent, we were DEAD wrong. It was even more stunning in person!
When visiting the Taj Mahal, there is no strict dress code but be smart and of course wear something bright for pictures. Shoes are allowed and if entering inside the Taj Mahal shoe covers will be given to avoid marking up the floors.
History of The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal was commissioned to be built by Shah Jahan in 1631 as a memorial and final resting place for his third wife Mumtaz Mahal after she died of postpartum hemorrhage while giving birth to their 14th child. Shortly after being married she received the title Mumtaz Mahal meaning “chosen one of the palace”. She was the love of his life and when she died the way he felt to honor her memory was constructing the amazing Taj Mahal. She is buried in the Taj Mahal along with Shah Jahan.
Taj Mahal Hours
6:00am to 6:30pm
The Taj Mahal opens every day 30 minutes before sunrise and closes 30 minutes before sunset on normal operating days.
The Taj Mahal is Closed Every Friday for the local muslim population to visit the mosque inside to pray.
Where to Buy Taj Mahal Tickets and How Much Do They Cost
Taj Mahal Tickets Cost 1300 Indian Rupees For Foreigners and 250 for Indian Nationals. This ticket also includes being able to enter the actual Taj Mahal, a more inexpensive ticket exists for just walking on the grounds.
Tickets are available at both the western and eastern gates generally 15-30 minutes before actual opening of the Taj Mahal. We arrived at 5:45am to buy ours and there was already a line. We bought our tickets and entered on the western side, if we knew online tickets were available we would have done that to skip the lines. We met a friend while at the Taj Mahal who had purchased his ticket online and he was able to enter much quicker than us.
Buying Online Taj Mahal Tickets
Best Time To Avoid Crowds
The best time to avoid crowds is going right when it opens at 6:00am or a little before. Due to the popularity of the Taj Mahal it only gets busier as the day goes on. Honestly, if you wanna get great pictures anywhere with little to no people get there in the early morning hours.
What To See In Agra Besides The Taj Mahal
With the Taj Mahal being such a major attraction it can quickly overshadow the rest of the sites to see in Agra which is full of so many majestic places. Included below are our favorite top things to do and see in Agra besides the Taj Mahal.
We loved visiting the Agra Fort, the sheer size and attention to detail of the red sandstone alone impressed us! We thought it also much cooler than the red fort in Delhi. At Agra Fort we hired a tour guide which I highly recommend, he was able to share with us all the amazing details and history of this fort. When hiring a guide there are many to choose from outside the ticketing line. Make sure you aren’t getting screwed, we payed just $8 USD which was his initial price and seemed fair but some guides are known to start at $50 and with some haggling will work all the way down to what we paid. Agra fort is in excellent condition today and much of the fort is still used to house the Indian military. Often confused with the red fort in Delhi, Agra fort holds its own uniqueness and prestige. It is definitely worth visiting when in Agra!
A Little History
Agra Fort was used as both a military fort and a palace when it was finished being built in 1573. Construction started in 1565 under Emperor Akbar. It is one of the most amazing works of humans we have ever seen, and was another one of amazing structures built during the Mughal period. Agra Fort also acted as a prison for Shah Jahan who commissioned building the Taj Mahal. When Shah Jahan tried to build an identical black Taj Mahal for himself across the river, he was imprisoned by his son for spending too much money. This imprisonment however was more like house arrest and he just wasn’t allowed to leave the palace.
Itmad-ud-Dala (Baby Taj)
Itmad-ud-Dala is also known as the baby Taj because its architecture so closely resembles the Taj Mahal. In fact, the Itmad-ud-Dala was constructed from 1622-1628 and was completed just 5 years before construction started on the Taj Mahal. The construction of this mausoleum is significant because it marked the architectural shift in the Mughal period from using red sandstone to marble and it was the precursor architecturally to the Taj Mahal. It was built by Nur Jahan who was the twentieth wife of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, she built it for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg after he passed away.
The baby Taj takes about 30 minutes to see and is a must visit in Agra. We went early when it opened at 8 and nobody was there. We even hired a guy here who just followed us around and took a bunch of pictures of us. It was fun having our own personal photoshoot! Hours for Itmad-ud-Dala are from 8:00am-12pm and entry costs 210INR per person.
Mehtab Bagh garden was built by Emperor Babur in the early 1500s and is very popular because of how it sits on the banks of the Yamuna river with a perfect unobstructed view of the Taj Mahal. It also is the site where Shah Jahan was going to build an identical black Taj Mahal before being imprisoned by his son in Agra Fort. (REALLY wish he would have…that would’ve been so cool!!)
We enjoyed seeing the Taj from a different angle but our opinion is that if you don’t have much time go see another site besides this garden. The garden itself isn’t very pretty and the only nice thing is the view. The garden is open from 6:00am-9:00pm and entrance costs 200INR per person.
Fatehpur Sikri was built during the second half of the 16th century and was briefly a capital during the Mughal period. This fortified city was one place we hadn’t heard of when arriving in Agra but it was a place that many of the locals recommended. This is because it is home to the Elephant Tower; which legend has is the burial site of Akbars favorite elephant. It also has the gate Buland Darwaz or the “door of victory”which is the highest gateway in the world. There are many other sites to see in this ancient city. Fatehpur Sikri is about 25 miles west of Agra, to visit it you will either need to hire a car or take a bus. All the other attractions you can do in one day in Agra but we recommend splitting up your trip to Agra in two days to be able to go see Fatehpur Sikri one of the days. Fatephur Sikri is open from 6:00am-6:00pm and the entry fee is 485INR.
Whatever you decide to see while in Agra you will not be disappointed. As always we wish you happy travels!