Getting to Agra
Most tourists take a flight to Delhi and plan their journey from there, and Agra is 210 kilometres (130.5 miles) away, which is an approximately three-hour drive via the brand-new Yamuna Expressway. Take the NH11 from Jaipur to Agra within four hours, or take the NH2 from Lucknow (two hours) or Kanpur (five hours).
If travelling by train, take the Delhi-Mumbai or Delhi-Chennai routes. Regular trains run from several other cities like Jaipur and Gwalior, and usually arrive at the city’s main station, Agra Cantt Station.
Several buses run to Agra daily from cities likes Delhi, Jaipur, Gwalior, Lucknow and Kanpur. Agra has two main bus terminals: the Idgah Bus Stand in the city centre and ISBT (both quite near the Taj Mahal).
Where to Stay
If budget allows, the Oberoi Amarvillas is a prime location that offers its guests a view of the Taj Mahal from every room, terraced lawns, airy pavilions and grand fountains – an unparalleled experience of Agra’s Mughal splendour. Oberoi Amarvillas is a top choice to enjoy an evening with a view of the Taj Mahal; the hotel lounge opens at 5am and is ideal for watching the sunrise with the gorgeous Taj Mahal in the background.
Another great option is the ITC Mughal, which fully lives up to its name: the hotel’s suites, such as the Mumtaz Suite and the Noor Jahan Suite, are situated in Khwab Mahal (Palace of Dreams) and inspired by famous Mughal emperors.
Agra also has a wide range of options for budget-minded backpackers, including the moderately priced and centrally located hotels Bhawna Clarks Inn and PL Palace Lords Inn. Bhawna Clarks offers a complimentary breakfast buffet for all its guests. If booked in advance, Lords Inn offers its elegantly styled rooms for under £40 ($50) a night.
Another highly popular choice for most European and American tourists is Tourists Rest House. The private, cozy guesthouse offers a homey atmosphere, with basic well-maintained rooms and a small central garden to relax and eat in.
What to Eat
Ask an Agra local which foods to try, and they won’t fail to mention the city’s specialty, petha. This sugary, melt-in-your-mouth delicacy is made from winter melon and is available in a variety of flavors such as angoori (grape), chocolate and many more. The best, most authentic pethas are at Pancchi Petha, which has many branches across the city but the one in Sadar Bazaar is most popular amongst tourists. Sadar Bazar is a one-stop shop tourist experience: roam about and observe the local lifestyle, shop for clothes and shoes, apply henna and enjoy some of the most delicious street food at the Chaat gali. Agra is known best for its bhalla, a potato cutlet mixed with tamarind, yoghurt and Indian spices. You can also simply and enjoy a hot cup of tea or coffee at the Taj Khema, which is set atop a grassy hillside and provides breathtaking views of the mausoleum and the city.
Take the opportunity to devour some authentic Mughlai food (which originated from the era when Agra was the Mughal capital) and some of the richest curries in the country. Peshawari in ITC Mughal is one the best fine dining restaurants that provides the full Mughal experience with its grand décor, ambience, delicious food and attentive service. Another great option – and slightly easier on the wallet – is Pinch of Spice, which offers traditional north Indian food as well as other cuisines such as Chinese and Italian.
What to See
One of the new seven wonders of the world gloriously stands tall in this city of love: The Taj Mahal, built by Emperor Shah Jahan, still holds the same value as it did when it was built, and millions of tourists visit Agra each year just for a glimpse of this marble mausoleum. The perfect time to visit the Taj Mahal is early in the morning, when there are fewer people, calmer weather and peace and quiet to enjoy the scenic beauty. Your best bet is to head out early, visit the mahal and then make your way to the Agra Fort, one of the finest Mughal forts in India.
For history enthusiasts, it doesn’t stop here – Agra is home to Mughal-built architecture that could take a whole day to see. The Tomb of Itimad-ud-daulah, Akber’s Tomb, Chini ka Roza and Tomb of Mariam are especially worth seeing. Plus, tour guides and Agra locals love to share their stories with a bit of added flair and drama.
Evenings in Agra tend to be cooler, especially during winter months (November–March), make them ideal for enjoying a walk in one of the popular Mughal-style gardens, such as Taj Nature Walk or Mehtab Bagh. While the gardens do not hold the same splendor as they did several years ago, they are still worthwhile to visit and enjoy some time away from typical city life. They also offer views of the Taj Mahal from various angles, perfect for capturing a few sunset shots of the mausoleum.
For animal lovers, Agra is home to Wildlife SOS, which works to conserve India’s wildlife. It began by rescuing the ‘dancing bears’ but has steadily grown to provide shelter and help to leopards, elephants, reptiles and several other animals. The organisation offers a two-hour guided experience (tourists can interact with the bears and feed them fruit or porridge).
Health and Safety
First-time travellers should be careful about eating and drinking. Bottled water, such as Bisleri, is easily available in all hotels and shops and is the safest form of drinkable water. The food can sometimes come across as too spicy, especially for foreigners, so the best bet is to try food where it can be altered for taste, such as in hotel restaurants. Alcohol is easily available all over the city, but be advised to purchase it from licensed shops rather than individual bootleggers. The perfect months to travel to Agra are winter (November–March) and Monsoon (August–November) as sightseeing becomes much more enjoyable in the more bearable weather.