Varanasi is one of the most historic cities to be found not just in India, but anywhere in the world. This ancient place dates back over ten thousand years and with its distant roots and almost mythological status in local society, there are some incredible places to visit in Varanasi.
Varanasi is found on the banks of the River Ganges and has become one of the holiest cities in India, with pilgrims and tourists visiting here to join or to see the many religious ceremonies that take place here.
This is a city of temples and religion and there are many intriguing and unusual places to visit in Varanasi during a trip to the city.
To help inspire your travels through India’s holy city, here’s our guide to the best places to visit in Varanasi.
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Best Places to Visit in Varanasi
Varanasi is a city like no other in the world. Few other destinations have captured the imagination of travelers as much as this ancient, historic and culturally significant place has.
There are winding alleys and streets full of life that are hiding secrets around every corner. Bustling marketplaces full of color, noise, and smells will bewilder and then enthrall you, while the mighty Ganges River is, of course, one of the most important places to visit in Varanasi.
Here’s our rundown of the best that this holy city has to offer.
The River Ganges
This ancient city is built on the wide banks of the River Ganges, a watercourse which is perhaps even holier than Varanasi itself.
In Hindu tradition, the Ganges is a sacred location and is even considered to be a deity. Varanasi’s importance rose from the fact that Hindu Kings wanted to be cremated along the banks of the river.
Today, that tradition continues, as people will travel here from thousands of miles away to lay their loved ones to rest on the river. In Varanasi, the Ganges is the most integral part of the city. This is where you can see life and death in its rawest form.
Along the banks you will encounter ceremonies and traditions that have been played out here for centuries, if not for thousands of years. It’s an incredible experience and an incredible sight to see.
Many locals choose to bathe in the Ganges itself, for its purported healing powers. However, it’s one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world and if you would like to see the river up close, you will be better off choosing to take a boat ride instead of going for a swim.
Sunrise and sunset can be particularly compelling times of the day to take a cruise along the River Ganges.
Our top recommended tours of the River Ganges:
- Varanasi Tour with Ganges Cruise
- Private Full-Day Varanasi Tour with Boat Ride on the River Ganges
- Boat Ride on the Ganges in Varanasi
Along the banks of the River Ganges, you will encounter the iconic Ghats which are found by the water’s edge. Ghats serve many functions along the river and each has a unique history and diverse cultural traditions.
The Ghats consist of stone steps leading right down the water, and their primary function is to facilitate bathing and religious ceremonies.
The city has well over 80 Ghats built along the river, with most of them having been constructed three or four hundred years ago when the religious importance of Varanasi expanded exponentially under the Mughal Empire.
The Ghats stretch almost continuously along the river, and you can spend the day walking from one end to the next, simply taking in all the sights, smells and sounds you will encounter.
The Ghats are incredibly sacred, as many are used for the cremation of bodies or for ceremonies enacted before the deceased is pushed out onto the holy waters of the Ganges.
Our top recommended tours of The Ghats:
- 3-Hour Varanasi Morning Sunrise Boat Tour
- 3-Hour Varanasi Walking Tour
- Walking tour in Varanasi along the ghats (riverbank) of in Morning
Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Continuing the holy theme of the city, one of the best places to visit in Varanasi after exploring the Ganges and the Ghats, is the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Also known as the Golden Temple, this is one of the most important and sacred sites within what is an incredibly sacred city anyway.
Found on the banks of the Ganges, Kashi Vishwanath is devoted to the great Hindu God, Shiva. The site of the current temple has held worship for almost a thousand years.
Today a pilgrimage to Kashi Vishwanath is seen as a route to salvation by Hindus, making it an incredibly busy place at all times through the year.
Our top recommended tours of Kashi Vishwanath Temple:
- Full-Day Varanasi Tour with Sunrise Ganges Cruise and Classical Dance Show
- Varanasi Sightseeing Private Tour
- Insight Varanasi Day Tour
The Durga Temple is another of Varanasi’s most important Hindu religious sites and is the scene of pilgrimages from across the country by those looking to worship at its doors.
This is a religious building that’s devoted to the Goddess Durga, a warrior who strives tirelessly to fight evil and to promote good in the world. Her ethos is popular and this temple was constructed in the 18th century by a famous Bengali Queen to promote good over evil.
The temple is also home to a large colony of monkeys and is also sometimes known as the Monkey Temple.
Sankat Mochan Temple
The Sankat Mochan Temple in Varanasi is devoted to Hanuman, a Hindu deity who is enshrined in the epic literature of the Ramayana. The temple dates back to the 16th century and is infamous for being the home of hundreds of monkeys that live within the grounds.
It’s one of the most popular places of pilgrimage and is almost perpetually crowded with worshipers.
The Alamgir Mosque makes for a unique change from visiting the Hindu temples of Varanasi. It was built in the late 17th century on the remains of a Hindu temple which was destroyed by Muslim invaders who conquered the city.
The mosque is found on the banks of the Ganges, with the tall minarets towering over the river and being a sight to be seen from across the city, while the stone steps of the Ghat lead down to the river itself from the mosque’s entranceway.
The Ramnagar Fort is one of the most imposing and dramatic places to visit in Varanasi. Built in the 1750s by local rulers looking to solidify their power and influence, the fort has continued to be the home of the local Maharaja of Varanasi for hundreds of years.
Behind the sandstone walls that rise over the river banks, you can see the elegant shape of the palace. Within the walls, you can find an intriguing museum that contains exhibits collected by the local curator from within and outside the palace itself.
Our top recommended tours of Ramnagar Fort:
Vishwanath Lane Markets
Located next to the famous Golden Temple, Vishwanath Lane is a bustling, busy street that is home to one of the best local markets in Varanasi.
This is a cultural feast, as many of the packed stalls specialize in selling goods for the many ceremonies and traditions that worshipers and pilgrims have descended upon the city for, and it’s a blaze of colors, sounds and smells as you wander through the packed confines of the street.
Our top recommended tours of Vishwanath Lane Markets:
- Half-Day Walking Tour Of Varanasi
- Experience Varanasi in a 3 Days City Sightseeing Private Trip With Tour Guide
- 2-Days Private Tour of Varanasi Including Sarnath and Boat Ride
A few miles outside of the city center can be found one of the region’s most important archaeological and religious sites. Sarnath is integral to Buddhist history, as this is the location where Gautama Buddha began teaching the principals of Buddhism that have been passed down to this day.
Sarnath continued to be populated by monks for centuries, but eventually, the stupas and temples fell into disuse. The surrounding grounds are today green and verdant, while the temples and stupas are preserved, they are ancient and somewhat crumbling.
You can visit the interesting Archeological Museum onsite to learn more about the history and importance of Sarnath to the Buddhist religion.
The exhibits found in the museum have all been excavated from the Sarnath grounds, and help to tell the incredible story of Buddha and his teachings through ancient history.
Our top recommended tours of Sarnath:
- Half-Day Sarnath Tour from Varanasi
- Private Tour: Full-Day Varanasi Tour including Sarnath and Evening Ganga Arti
- Private Day Trip to Sarnath from Varanasi
Best Time to Visit Varanasi
With its humid, tropical climate, Varanasi experiences distinct wet and dry seasons. The driest time of year to visit is from November to June, with the summer season from April to June enjoying the best weather and also being the most popular time to travel to Varanasi.
The wet season and the heavy monsoons fall between July and October, and you can expect lots of rain and frequent storms this time of year.
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How to Travel to Varanasi
Varanasi is located in northern India, in the bustling state of Uttar Pradesh. The city is served by a small airport on the outskirts, however, there are few international flights, as it mostly caters to domestic services connecting Varanasi to other Indian cities.
There are great overland connections to the rest of India, however, if using public transport, ensure that you book in advance, particularly around holidays and before festivals, as Varanasi, being India’s holiest of cities, is an incredibly popular place to travel to for both Indians and foreign tourists.
There are trains and buses to most major Indian cities, with Delhi being around 13 hours away, Agra also 13 hours away and Kolkata around 10 hours away.
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