Hyderabad is a city of palaces and forts, of biryanis and haleems. A city that flourished under the influence of its various Nizams; at its heyday Hyderabad was one of the grandest and most advanced cities on the planet. It was an artistic and cultural center and a scholarly mecca. Learn more about the city and what it has to offer with our guide to the top 10 things to see and do in Hyderabad.
Hyderabad’s most famous symbol is the Charminar (named for char = four, minar = minarets). There are various theories as to why it was built: one theory is that it commemorated the end of plague, another states that it commemorates the beginning of the second Islamic millenium. Whatever the reason, it is now one of India’s most widely-recognized landmarks. You can walk up the steps for magnificent views of the city; there are also various markets around the area selling jewellery and other handicrafts.
Hyderabad’s biryanis are highly reputed as the world’s best biryanis, and with good reason. Once considered to be the Nizam’s (the state ruler) dish, it is now commonly available throughout Hyderabad and the rest of northern India. The biryani contains long-grained, fragrant basmati rice alongside marinated meat that has been soaked in a special spice concoction overnight. The cooking vessel is then sealed with dough and it is steamed over hot coals (known as dum). The ultimate taste of the biryani is spicy and complex, with a wealth of unusual and rich flavours.
There are plenty of places to try this traditional staple, read our guide to Hyderabad’s best biryanis here.
The Golconda Fort was once the capital of the ancient Golconda kingdom between the 14th and the 16th century. Built on a 400-feet high granite hill, it is one of India’s many architectural wonders. One of its unique accomplishments is the fact that a handclap below the entrance dome can be heard nearly a kilometre away at a pavilion; this acoustic marvel was used to warn the royals in advance in case of an impeding attack. A magnificent fort that possibly dates back to the 12th century, this is a must-see for anyone travelling around India.
A luxurious 18th century splendour, Chowmahalla Palace exudes finesse from its smooth white marble-tiled floors to its gleaming Belgian-crystal chandeliers. It was once the seat of the great Asaf Jahi dynasty, and the place where they entertained their royal guests. There are four garden courtyards, giving the palace its name (chow = four; mahal = palace). The halls contain various exhibits from the Nizams’ life and times, including a 1911 yellow Rolls Royce.
Bidri is a unique metalwork technique which incorporates a silver inlay onto a blackened alloy of zinc and copper. The effect is striking and stunningly beautiful. It is named after its place of origin, Bidar, in the state of Karnataka, where it is still produced. It has since spread to Hyderabad, where you can also find beautiful examples of the work. The craft itself is 400 years old and the technique is thought to have originated in Persia, although the use of zinc as the primary metal is a uniquely Indian concept. Stop and buy bidriware by Charminar in Hyderabad.
One of the world’s largest mosques, the Makkah Masjid (or Mecca Masjid as it is otherwise known) was completed in 1694 after 77 years in the making. The bricks of the mosque are made of soil from the holy city of Mecca, thus giving the mosque its name. The hall indoors can hold up to 10,000 people at a time. The holy Quran is inscribed into the arches of the mosque, and it additionally houses a strand of the Prophet Mohammed’s hair, preserved in a room in the courtyard.
The lake of Hussain Sagar was built in 1562 across a tributary of the Musi river, and is an artificial lake that used to be Hyderabad’s main water supply before two more lakes were built. An 18-meter-tall monolithic statue of Buddha stands in the middle of the lake and is lit up at night. The lake is a popular sailing area, and boats make a 30-minute journey to the statue and back.
The prestigious Salar Jung Museum is one of India’s three National Museums. The entire antique collection in the museum was collected by Nawab Mir Yusuf Ali Khan Salar Jung III, and is currently the world’s largest antique collection owned by one man. The collections comprise worldwide treasures from places such as Persia, Egypt, and even North America. Among its treasures are paintings by the famed painter Raja Ravi Varma and swords and daggers of various Mughal emperors. The most famous exhibit is, the Veiled Rebecca, a sculpture by the Italian artist Benzoni.
A short walk away from Golconda Fort are the Qutub Shahi tombs. These tombs number 21 in their entirety and have almost as many mosques. Each of these edifices are mounted on cubical basis and are domed; they are ornamented with lime stucco decorations. The occupants of these tombs were rulers, physicians, courtesans, and various other privileged courtiers. The tombs are currently undergoing construction work, and the places where the restoration is complete hark back to the grandeur of the original tombs.
Built in the early 1800s by the East India Company representative James Achilles, this stunning neo-classical mansion was designed to signify British colonial power. There’s a massive ballroom, complete with large chandeliers and a balcony which allowed guests downstairs to watch. Although the building is now in complete disrepair and looks shabby, it’s still worth a visit. A good read would be William Dalrymple’s White Mughals, which is set in this building.