8 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 8 must do’s when visiting this great city:
#1 Must Do In Varanasi: A Boat Ride Along The Ganges River.
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. It will cost you between 150 – 400 Rupees, depending how far you want to go.
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 too special in Varanasi, since lots of Hindus come here from all over India for their last days to die along the holy Ganges river.
#2 Must Do In Varanasi: 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 (originally called The Dufferin 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 (& fell) trains cross as you stand on the riverbank. Eventually a boatman will come along and row you back upstream.
#3 Must Do In Varanasi: 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 Dasaswameth Ghat (also called 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.
#4 Must Do In Varanasi: 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. 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.
#5 Must Do In Varanasi: Exploring The Winding 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 or Google Maps 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 the 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…
#6 Must Do In Varanasi: 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.
#7 Must Do In Varanasi: Getting A Haircut Or Beard Trim At A Local Barber.
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.
#8 Must Do In Varanasi: Eat & Drink At The Crown Bread Bakery.
So Indian food is one of our favourite foods. But when traveling though India for a couple of weeks in a row, cravings for a delicious cake or western-style food (that actually tastes like it should) arise. At the Brown Bread Bakery, all your hard effort will be rewarded. Prices are a bit higher than average, but that’s because they pay fair wages and only use organic products!
Tip: Don’t stay on the ground floor, but walk up all the way to the top for a good relaxing atmosphere without the noise or bicycle or motorcycle horns.
Join the Discussion
“8 Things You Must Do When Visiting Varanasi, India.”
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.
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 :)
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.
Glad you think my tips can be helpful to first-timers in Varanasi :)
Ah, all these side streets, so much to see. I want to die there. This is the last thing you must do! :)
Ha, very true, I missed that last point :P
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.
Thanks Mukesh for your comment and great tips!
I’ll definitely try the Bengal Sweets if I’m there again :)
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.:)
Of course there’s more to explore, there always is :)
Can’t wait to return there again. Maybe next year or so…
Nisa do try “blue lassi” shop. It is a shop which serves lassi in almost 30flavours. most favourite of foreigners and locals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I will be going for the 1st time in November. Traveling solo… do you think 7 days is enough time to be there?
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!
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
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!
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?
Glad you enjoyed reading the post. Yes, there are Aghoris in Varanasi and you should get to see them there.
Loved reading your blog.
I am in Varanasi for 2 days… Will try and do all the recommended things.
Thanks Dhruv! I’m sure you’ll enjoy Varanasi. I’ll be there in summer again and can’t wait for it! Take care.
Wrong guide for Banaras trip…there are more important places to visit there, more beautiful than the ones mentioned above.
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!
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
I totally agree with you Loretta! But this problem is a nation wide problem in India (and actually man other countries in the world). There are so far too many people in the world and it would be impossible for everyone to live on the same standard. The most important thing would be to educate them, because then they would keep their areas clean, while still living where they live. This would not only benefit the area and environment, but also people’s health. For this to occur, the government would seriously need to buck up…
I am from Varanasi at least from last 10 – 12 years and being overwhelmed with your efforts for Varanasi tourism (One of the oldest living city of the world) and its places to see and people to feel.
In short, whatever material is there at your site is of course a great value for the tourist who visit here but, this is one side of the coin there is another side also to see and feel. it is the handicraft work of the Varanasi and region around it with equal importance for tourist. I would like to mention few things to see e.g Wooden toys hand crafted, Banarsi hand loom sari’s these sari’s are some times woven with gold threads and other unique materials like sandal beads. Wooden beads are also available here where artisans do minature work on it to enhance the value, Stone work, Stoles, Carpets, Minakari, Glass work, Wall hangings and at least 10 more. Hope my information would be of help to your site and people visiting Varanasi.
Have a nice day,
Nisa thanks for the information it really help…
iam travelling only for 3 days..
iam photographer so waiting for some shots.. :)
Loretta, you are right. We are doing our best to educating people not to spoil air and water. We are concentrating on Nation wide not only in Varanasi. Every one should teach their children about garbage management. All this result comes from education and politicians. Recently our Prime Minister had taken a oath for Ganges but every Father and Mother should also respond for the same.
It is easy to reach and well connected to the city center by buses and Rickshaws.
Recently, on June 1st 2016 we have visited Varanasi and I am upset with the cleanliness they maintain. There is garbage all over the streets. Houseflies everywhere. IT’S COMPLETELY HORRIBLE AND THE WATER IN GANGA RIVER IS COMPLETELY POLLUTED. OMG I don’t know why the people are least bothered about this? Being a place of spirituality it should be maintained perfectly but the govt nor the municipality are working…And the worst part is GUTKHA SPLATTERS. They are making it a WORTHLESS places to stay or to go…
Hello Vani! Yeah, I have to agree with you that Varanasi could ad should be a lot cleaner! The water in the Ganges is so polluted, that fish are unable to breath anymore. It would be good, if the government educated the people better, so that they keep the city clean. But I wouldn’t say that Varanasi is worthless to go or stay, you just have to accept the fact, that you won’t come across a clean corner :)
Nisa you are truly a very spirited person!
Keep up this wonderful attitude! We need people like you everywhere in this world…
I’m planning to visit Varanasi this October. Thanks for the tip – I may even do the barber idea!
Thanks for sharing the information.
As I am planning to go over there and that’s too with friends where one of my friend wish is to go Varanasi and to see tourist attractive places.
Good blog and Keep Going!
Being a native of Banaras, I know that there are many more thing to do `beyond these 7 must Do’s. However, the point you have highlighted here on the blog is very realistic. But at some of points, I don’t agree with you like reiterate using , ‘floating body’. It does not happen always, not even occasionally. Indeed, it’s most holy place for any Hindu to be cremated. This city is also well know for its life style, literature,musics, religious, spirituality and mysticism. There are many more things…..
Thank you for your comment and input.!Concerning the bodies, I can only say that the last time we were there (which was just three weeks ago), we again not only say floating bodies, but also dogs that chewed on the backbone of a deceased human. We talked to a few people in Varanasi concerning this, because we’ve never seen that before. They pretty much all said the same: bodies float by very frequently. If they don’t float by, they line up on the shore, where dogs wait and this happens on a day to day basis. We’ve been there now for the seventh time and with each visit, came more bodies.
But yes, there is much more to Varanasi than just this, I totally agree, and that’s why I mentioned more than “just that”, but “death” is part of the city too.