7 Must Do's In Varanasi

February 26, 2013 India 28 Comments 117,926 Views

7 Things You Must Do When Visiting Varanasi, India.

We’ve written many general articles about the holy city Varanasi and the life along the Ganges river. But people keep asking us what our personal Varanasi highlights are, therefore, we’d now like to share our 7 must do’s when visiting this great city (we left out typical sights like the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple because we like going off the beaten path):

1. A Boat Ride along the Ganges.

A boat ride along the Ganges river is one of the absolute musts when visiting Varanasi. You have to negotiate the price a little bit because boats are in high demand and many tourists spoil the rates.

Start upriver; this means you walk upstream as far as the University complex and negotiate a boat ride from there. Don’t mind any dead body floating by … this is nothing special in Varanasi, since lots of Hindus come here for their last days to die along the holy Ganges river.

Boats along the Ghats in Varanasi, India.
A boat ride along the Ganges river is essential for a real Varanasi experience.
2. The area around Malviya Bridge.

Now you’ve already seen the Varanasi skyline from a boat view, but to be near the action, a stroll along the Ganges downstream all the way to Malviya Bridge is a great experience.

The bridge is a double decker bridge, that carries rail track on lower deck and road on the upper deck. It’s interesting to watch all the different vehicles & trains cross and see the people living underneath the bridge and its corners, where they are protected from sun and rain. Malviya Bridge is the “end” of the inner holy area of Varanasi. This means if one dies in this inner circle, he will reach eternity immediately and this is also the reason why lots of “homeless” people call this bridge their home.

Walk across it and start strolling back in the direction of the city. It’s an impressive sight to see trains cross and hear the honking of the cars as you stand on the riverbank. Eventually a boatman will come along and row you back…

Malviya Bridge in Varanasi, which was inaugurated in 1887 (originally called The Dufferin Bridge), is a double decker bridge over the Ganges river. It carries rail track on lower deck and road on the upper deck.
Malviya Bridge in Varanasi, which was inaugurated in 1887 (originally called The Dufferin Bridge), is a double decker bridge over the Ganges river. It carries rail track on lower deck and road on the upper deck.
3. A stroll along the Ghats.

Every Ghat has its own meaning and use. Some Ghats are “reserved” for washing clothes and doing laundry. For example Assi Ghat is a prominent bathing Ghat, while others are dedicated to worshipping, and some are for cremation like Manikarnika Ghat, downstream from the Dasaswameth (main) Ghat. Bathing near Tulsi Ghat is believed to get rid of leprosy. So as you can see, there’s not only lots to see, but also lots to learn about each Ghat along the Ganges river.

Taking a stroll along the Ghats in Varanasi, India.
Taking a stroll along the Ghats in Varanasi is a must for every visitor.
4. Seeing Varanasi from above.

There are many hotels with roof terraces – either with a restaurant, or a private balcony adjoining the room. We suggest to have lunch at one of these places to see Varanasi from above. Good places are: Alka Hotel, Ganpati guest house and Temple Hotel – especially for views of the (burning) ghats. Alka hotel and Ganpati guest house are good options for your entire stay in Varanasi.

Again, you’ll most probably see the occasional body floating by, which is about as normal as breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The view from the balcony of the Alka Hotel in Varanasi, India.
The view from the balcony of the Alka Hotel in Varanasi will give you several amazing photo opportunities.
5. Exploring the side streets.

The old town is dotted with small alleys, so just leave the main road, turn left or right and you will come to see some unusual places. Don’t worry about getting lost, because sooner or later you’ll end up either in front of the river or on a main street. A compass is a good choice not to lose direction.

Out intention was to find the place where the bodies arrive in the city. We asked our way through some stores, until one guy finally told us that we should stroll around the area near town hall. We sat down in a hardware store at the corner and the owner was very keen to explain all the things surrounding a body’s arrival…

The old city of Varanasi extends about two kilometres back from the river and is a maze of alleyways and streets.
The old city of Varanasi extends about two kilometres back from the river and is a maze of alleyways and streets.
6. Experiencing Varanasi during a festival.

Hundreds, or better thousands of people all dressed in orange hurdled in every little street corner during festivals in Varanasi. The police forces are relentless, worshippers have to line up and obey all the rules that are enforced on such festival occasions. Police will not hesitate to use their bamboo sticks to keep things in order. It’s a security measurement to keep such big hordes under control. Try to get somewhere on top so that you can watch the crowds from above.

Crowds of people in Varanasi, India.
Crowds of Hindus during a Krishna festival in Varanasi, India.
7. Getting a new haircut at a local hairdresser.

If you’re travelling through India, you’ll notice that the hairdressers you’ll pass along the streets are barbers for men only. Lady hairdressers are mostly hidden behind closed doors or curtains. If you insist enough though, even a local barber will give you a nice wash and blow dry … and if you’re really lucky (and you’re up for it) even a haircut. Don’t worry, hair grows again… after all, no risk, no fun. Plus it’s quite relaxing when you’re out all day in a crowded city like Varanasi.

A barber shop in the streets of Varanasi, India.
A barber shop in the streets of Varanasi, India.


Join the Discussion

“7 Things You Must Do When Visiting Varanasi, India.”

  1. Very nice. Love Varanasi! maybe the best place in India…

    Indeed, there is a lot to do in this place. I would also recommend a trip to Sarnath, 13km north-east of Varanasi. It is an interesting day trip from Varanasi which giving also the Buddhist perspective to the holiness of the area (here Gautama Buddha firstly taught the Dharma – the Buddhist teaching). It is easy to reach and well connected to the city center by buses and Rickshaws.

    Enjoy Varanasi!

    Omri Shamir

  2. Nisa

    Hey Omir!
    Thanks for your comment and tip. The trip you mentioned sounds interesting…maybe I’ll go on it the next time I’m around Varanasi :)
    Best, Nisa

  3. Wow!! Wonderful Blog. Divine and holy, Varanasi is famous for his culture, spiritualism, and your 7 things to do in Varanasi are awesome. It definitely helps people who want to come Varanasi and they can’t decide at the moments on what to see or not.

  4. Nisa

    Thanks Amresh!
    Glad you think my tips can be helpful to first-timers in Varanasi :)
    Best, Nisa

  5. Mukesh

    adding few more things besides above points, If you doesn’t feel comfortable to visiting Kashi Temple, should visit New Kashi temple situated inside Banaras Hindu University (BHU) campus, less crowded. For shopping must go through Gadolia streets, you will find all the stuffs there. You must try Bengal Sweets at DLW, its taste amazing. Few things you should keep when left.. Banarasi saree, have Banarsi paan and if you came during Summer season should try world famous Langda Mango. :-) really Varanasi is amazing and i would love to DIE there.

  6. Nisa

    Thanks Mukesh for your comment and great tips!
    I’ll definitely try the Bengal Sweets if I’m there again :)
    Best, Nisa

  7. Prabhuta Jain

    WOW, you are a true traveler….. i am born and brought up in Varanasi. I am happy to hear good words about my city. There is a lot more to explore, I am sure the city will attract you again here.:)

  8. Hello Prabhuta!
    Of course there’s more to explore, there always is :)
    Can’t wait to return there again. Maybe next year or so…
    Best, Nisa

  9. debayan

    Nisa do try “blue lassi” shop. It is a shop which serves lassi in almost 30flavours. most favourite of foreigners and locals.

  10. Good tip Debayan, thanks!
    Do you have an address for the shop? Then I will definitely check it out the next time I’m in Varanasi.
    Best, Nisa

  11. Nitin

    I appreciate and thanks Nisa for this wonderful effort of her. In addition to above, I would like to add one more place, tourist must visit during their visit to ghats of Varanasi viz. Man Singh Observatory (at Man Mandir Ghat) adjacent to well known Dashashwamedh ghat, it’s an astronomical observatory and also an ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) site. Apart from this, you will have panoramic view of ghat from the windows of building.

  12. Nisa

    Thanks for all your additions Nitin. Next time I’m in Varanasi, I’ll try to check out a few of the things you mentioned. And yes, best viiew of the Ghats is from a window along the Ganges river.
    Best, Nisa

  13. Wamiq Ali Khan

    Hey there!
    I am looking forward to visit Varanasi, in this month only, if you can suggest a guide who can actually take me around for 2 days.
    I am from Delhi, a lonely traveller.
    Looking forward to hear from you.

  14. Nisa

    Hello Wamiq!
    Unfortunately I can’t name you a guide for Vanarasi, because we don’t have any direct contacts there… Sorry, but I’m sure that you’ll still find your way around the city. Try to ask in your hotel, most of the times, they will gladly help you out with infos, etc.
    Best, Nisa

  15. indira

    I will be going for the 1st time in November. Traveling solo… do you think 7 days is enough time to be there?

  16. Nisa

    Hello Indira!
    Yes, 7 days is a good time to really explore Varanasi! I’m sure you’ll enjoy it a lot!
    Take care & all the best for your trip!

  17. Nick

    Nisa – Really enjoying and reading this blog – you have had some amazing travels – I am travelling around India in late september – Ladakh – Delhi – Agra – Varanasi – will try to do as many of the things you mention as I can – and some more ! Can’t wait to go ! – Nick

  18. Nisa

    Hey Nick!
    Thanks for your comment, I really appreciate it!
    Ladakh is on my list for summer 2015 – can’t wait to see this part of India.
    I’m sure you’ll love the places you mentioned! Take care & enjoy!
    Best, Nisa

  19. Geetha

    Hi Nisa. Very nice. I am planning to visit Varanasi next month and really felt happy after reading this. I will definitely try to explore all these things. One more thing I wanted to ask is about Aghoris … can you see them there?

  20. Nisa

    Hello Geetha!
    Glad you enjoyed reading the post. Yes, there are Aghoris in Varanasi and you should get to see them there.
    Take care!

  21. Dhruv

    Hi Nisa,
    Loved reading your blog.
    I am in Varanasi for 2 days… Will try and do all the recommended things.
    Thank you.

  22. Nisa

    Thanks Dhruv! I’m sure you’ll enjoy Varanasi. I’ll be there in summer again and can’t wait for it! Take care.

  23. Dewanshu

    Wrong guide for Banaras trip…there are more important places to visit there, more beautiful than the ones mentioned above.

  24. Nisa

    Hello Dewanshu!
    First of all, thanks for your comment. I’m sorry you feel this way, but the “must-visits” mentioned above are the ones that I as a (not so typical) tourist found really interesting & well worth visiting in Varanasi.
    If you could name the sights you think are more important, or rather more interesting, then please bring them to our notice. I’m always interested in other peoples’s opinions and since we’ll visit Varanasi again this summer, I’d love to check out the places you feel are more preferred.
    Thank you & take care!

  25. Loretta

    Yes there is lots to see in Varanasi, but please be aware the cows you see wandering die often horrible deaths from ingesting plastic bags from rubbish piles, there are thousands of stray dogs dying on the streets, think of supporting Varanasi dogs charity. The culture is unbelievably patriarchal and women hold no status. Yes we can all enjoy different things but don’t do it blindly. The systems are unbelievably overcome with not enough resources, people still live on rags in the street , animals are not treated well, and there is completely polluted air, water and sewerage

  26. Piyush Nakra

    Nisa thanks for the information it really help…
    iam travelling only for 3 days..
    iam photographer so waiting for some shots.. :)

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