It was incredibly disappointing to hear from nearly everyone we turned to for advice on Tourist Places in Varanasi, that the City was filthy beyond belief, that you WILL get food poisoning while there, but that its an ok place to visit if you have too. Only one of our trusted travel friends said that it was their favourite place and very enjoyable. One of the biggest tips we can give you when planning travels, is to definitely seek out advice, information and tips for areas, but certainly don’t rule out an area because someone has not enjoyed it or said anything positive. I cannot tell you the amount of times we have been told to not bother, to only be thrilled at the end of the journey that we did. Varanasi was one of those – “So glad we did” – travel memories.
As Varanasi tourism is on the rise, they seem to have certainly cleaned up the streets and we found it much more pleasant to wander around than in Agra. Its India, so every where you go you are are going to dodge cows, goats and dogs along all roads and walkways. Where ever animals roam, so their poo lands. There is literally crap everywhere, but we found the city much more pleasant and clean than we were expecting. We were told the shock factor was 100. We weren’t shocked by anything like what we saw in Agra. More about Agra Soon.
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- Tourist Places in Varanasi - The famous to the quirky
- Tourist Places in Varanasi – The most popular ones
- Experience a Ghat Sunrise Ceremony
- Boat Ride along the Ganges
- Yoga in Varanasi
- Witness the grandeur evening Aarti Ceremony
- Stop and watch public cremations
- Visit the BEST Temples in Varanasi
- Explore Buddhas teaching grounds at Sarnath
- Tourist Places in Varanasi – The quirky ones
- The BEST One day itinerary for Varanasi – Split it into two if you have extra time
- How to Get to Varanasi
- Accommodation in Varanasi
- Discover Family Travel Wrap Up
Located in Uttar Pradesh, India. Elevated 80.71 metres (264.8 ft) in the centre of the Ganges valley. Varanasi is sacred, soulful and spectacular. With surprises around every corner, Varanasi is the one of the worlds oldest continually inhabited cities. Considered the holiest of areas in Hinduism, the city attracts pilgrims to cremate their dead by the riverbank of the Ganges River (Ganga), while also swimming in the sacred waters to wash away their sins.
Varanasi is intense, no one can deny that fact, but its far more magical and mind-blowing to any adventure traveller looking to witness everyday cultural traditions of life and death with the highlights of the Ghats showing off their sights, sounds and of course, smell.
Varanasi for Kids
With so many things to do in Varanasi, we narrow down our favourites. Even with kids we enjoyed the area and nothing was too difficult for families. Be mindful of hygiene and always carry wipes and antibacterial hand cleanser. But we think Varanasi is a great spot for any families seeking a little adventure and opportunity for kids to learn more about spiritual beliefs and cultural traditions. Mums and Dads if you are non vegetarian, you will find limited meat options as Varanasi city is mainly Vegetarian only. My non veg eating 6 year old, found plenty of options to eat. eg – Fried Rice, Cheese Pizza, pancakes, veggie stir fries, pasta with veggies etc.
Here are our favourite top things to do in Varanasi. Plus we added a few quirky ones that are cool to try.
Tourist Places in Varanasi – The most popular ones
Stroll along the Ghats
With Varanasi being the Spiritual gateway between life and death, it makes sense that most of the things to see and do is based around intimate traditional beliefs. The Ghats are the hub for visitors wanting to see and experience every day life for Hindu’s. With Ceremonies starting at 6am and again at sunset going well into the evening, its all based around the Ganga with approximately 2 kilometres of walking and exploring from one end to the other.
A photographers delight but be mindful that this is everyday life for Hindu’s. Be respectful when capturing images and try to keep your distance, especially while women are bathing in the morning.
The evening brings a different feel and string sunset Arti? ceremonies. And cremations more common at night, it makes for a interesting time to explore the Ghats.
What is a Ghat?
The word Ghat refers to a series of steps leading down to water, more particularly, a holy river. The Varanasi stairs lead down to the Ganges (Ganga) but Ghat stars can also lead down to something as small as a pond. Varanasi has a series of Ghats lining the river, most are bathing Ghats but two are set aside exclusively for cremation ceremonies.
Experience a Ghat Sunrise Ceremony
Wake up early and head down to the Assi Ghat to experience the sunrise ceremony. A visual and audible sensory delight with young Hindu Men starting the traditional daily ceremony at 6am lasting approximately 30 minutes.
Cost – FREE
Quality of Experience – ***** (5 stars)
Tip – If you are within walking distance of Assi Ghat, don’t get a Tuk Tuk, walk. Personal Safety is not a concern. We were told quite confidently by our host that we will be safe and we were. Walking along the city streets and down the side alleys in the dark was a great opportunity to see and feel the start of everyday life with the locals.
If you get there early enough 5.30 am, you will be able to grab a seat. There are plenty of steps around to sit and watch from a distance. Photographers be mindful that you cannot go between the ceremony and the Ganga on the steps or you will be shoo’d embarrassingly away.
The ceremony starts before sunrise and ends in time for you to find a boat and be floating along the Ganges for sunrise, welcoming a new day.
Boat Ride along the Ganges
Take a boat ride down and back on the Ganges while enjoying sunrise and witnessing the start of everyday life for the locals. Cremation ceremonies are less common early in the day.
Locals bath full emersion in the Ganges daily to wash away sins while praying to Lord Shiva. Dipping three times.
You can also see the local laundries attending to their work and even washing local hotel sheets and laying them out for drying along the steps.
Bring your camera, so many moments worth capturing.
Head off again at sunset to get a completely different set of experiences witnessing the evening Arti ceremonies from the boat side. Varanasi at night on the water feels like Italys Venice.
Motored Boat – 350 – 500 Rupee per person – 1 hour boat ride
Rowed Boat – 200 – 250 Rupee per person – 2 – 2.5 hour boat ride
It will depend on your negotiation skills. This is 2018 pricing. Always check with your hotel or host what the going rate is before you go.
Yoga in Varanasi
As your boat ride ends, walk back up to the platform where the sunrise ceremony took place to join in the Yoga activities.
Witness the grandeur evening Aarti Ceremony
Again after sunset, the Arti evening ceremonies will begin along the Ganga. There are several Ghats that hold ceremonies. Others are bigger than Assi Ghat so stroll along and view from the walkways. There will be literally no seating available if you dont get there early and claim your spot.
We recommend you grab another boat for sunset. We chose the row boat in the evening as its a 2.5 hour boat ride apposed to the motorised boats which is only an hour. This gives you time to enjoy the sunset, row along the water slowly, enjoy the architecture, witness the evening cremations and sit and enjoy the ceremonies from the water side which guarantees you a seat. As the ceremonies are at a higher level than the water, everyone gets a great view.
Stop and watch public cremations
Bells means body particularly as you walk through the streets and side alleys of Varanasi. As pilgrims bring their deceased to be cremated by the holy Ganges, they race through the streets carrying the dead wrapped and decorated traditionally. The fires are started and as the coals appear they lay the body on top of the fire, wood and coals and the body is publicly cremated till they become ashes. To witness the event can seem a little eerie and strange but its also an incredible privilege.
Evening time is the best time to view.
Visit the BEST Temples in Varanasi
Varanasi is the holiest of cities in Hinduism so it makes sense to visit a few of the temples while in town. There is one on almost every road and road crossing in Varanasi ranging from small local temples to larger in scale. These places of worships are regularly visited by travellers in large numbers, but also bring along your passport for entry to Vishwanath Temple. Visiting the temples of Varanasi also gives an appreciation of the architecture in India. The three temples our hosts recommended were
Vishwanath Temple. Also called the Golden Temple.
Durga Kund Temple
These were two of our favourites.
Explore Buddhas teaching grounds at Sarnath
Sarnath is a holy place 14 kilometres from Varanasi. Lordy Buddha first experienced his enlightenment in a village near Sarnath and first taught his teaching at the temple. Its very interesting to walk around the archaeology site.
We enjoyed the wander around. But its also a great chance to get in a local tuk tuk and see everyday life to and from Sarnath.
Tuk Tuk from Varanasi – For driver to wait and return – 550 Rupee per Tuk Tuk
Entry to site – 200 Rupee for adult tourists. Kids are Free
Tourist Places in Varanasi – The quirky ones
Explore the alley ways of Old Varanasi
We stayed in a super budget guesthouse in Varanasi that was located deep down one of the alley ways but only a 10 minute walk from Assi Ghat. Early morning and late at night the walk to and from the Guest house gave us a small chance to see into the daily lives of locals. At first we were taken aback and felt we were in the wrong place, but these alley ways are all very similar. Everyone was friendly, we had to dodge many cows and animal poo and walk along cobbled paths. Even if you aren’t staying in a hotel based down an alley way. Walk around and check out their houses, their little local fruit & veggie stand and even buy a few things to support their street.
Take a Holy bath or Swim in the Ganges
While not for everyone, its is available for anyone who dare. Many were swimming, bathing and praying in Ganges. Westerners too . I personally wouldn’t pop a finger in. Each to their own!
Indulge in Street Food
Everyone warned us saying to watch out for Delhi belly in Varanasi so we came prepared and cautious. As with everywhere in India, only eat where locals are eating and if you feel it doesn’t look right. Don’t do it. Unless you are happy taking the risks.
We are lovers of Samosa. We were introduced to Samosa in Fiji and some of the best street food we saw in India, was on the streets of Varanasi. Yes we indulged and they were so delicious. We were brave and didn’t get sick.
Guys get a street haircut or shave
The BEST One day itinerary for Varanasi – Split it into two if you have extra time
Varanasi for us was a place we could sit and chill for a few days. We loved the vibe in the streets, alleyways and around the Ghats. Its a great place to sit, indulge in some good food while watching the world go by.
But if you are looking for a Itinerary to see as much as possible in a short time, we have created a One day Tour of Varanasi you can easily do yourself with the help of a Tuk Tuk driver
Starting your day early, you will need to rise and be down at Assi Ghat before 6am. Stay somewhere close so you can wander down and enjoy watching the locals starting their day.
6am – Sunrise Ceremony at Assi Ghat
6.45 am – Hire a motorised boat to take you down the Ganga passing the various Ghats and watching the locals start their daily rituals. There are many around Assi Ghat. Please negotiate your rate and pay no more than 500 Rupee per person.
8am – Back to your hotel for breakfast, or wander the streets to find some really good Samosa or Lassi (Yogurt Drink).
9 – 10am – Hire a Tuk Tuk to show you the most popular temples. Depending on how long you like to wander will depend on how long this takes. We recommend hiring the same Tuk Tuk driver to them take you out to Sarnath and back. 850 Rupees to do it this way for the Tuk Tuk
TIP – Leave Vishwanath Temple till after Sarnath as its a great spot to be dropped off by your Tuk Tuk to then follow on from our Itinerary. Also you will need your passport for entry.
11.00 am – Head out to Sarnath, explore the sites and wander around. There are only a couple of pushy sellers there and some are kids selling stuff, but simply say no thank you, then ignore, then they go away.
1.30 pm – Lunch at Sarnath. We asked our Tuk Tuk driver to take us to a clean restaurant. Lunch was good, options were awesome and prices were cheap.
2.30 – 3.00 pm – Head back to Varanasi and visit Vishwanath Temple. Waving goodbye to your driver.
4.30 pm – Wander the alley ways and streets of Varanasi. Buy something to remember the beautiful city, or get yourself a cheap hair cut. If thats not your dig, wander along the Ghats back to Assi Ghat
5.45 pm – Hire a row boat for sunset and boat ride up and down Ganga River to see cremations and sunset Arti Ceremonies.
8.00 pm – Look for Dinner – We ate at the Downtown Pizzeria at Assi Ghat. A rooftop outdoor eating area overlooking Assi Ghat and a side alley was what drew us in and the pizza was good
9.30 pm – Wander back to your hotel through the alley ways. Buy some Indian sweets if you see some!
How to Get to Varanasi
Domestic flights in India are cheap and AWESOME. Their planes are safe, clean and reliable. We flew with Indigo and purchased our fights online via Skyscanner.
We tried to get to Varanasi by overnight train from Delhi. Currently the railway system between Delhi and Varanasi is experiencing some severe delays due to upgrades to accomodate the new Bullet Train. Avoid trains at all costs on this route until the new Bullet Train is in full operation. An overnight sleeper train will definitely be two!
Some travellers we met used the overnight bus system. Buses on the roads in India are not the safest, but they do have overnight sleeper bus’s. Considering the costs of flights at the moment, and the risk to your safety using bus’s, this is not always the best or cheapest option. Plus toilet stops are not always plentiful and you can often be 3 hours between toilet stops. Keep this in mind before departing.
Accommodation in Varanasi
We always use Hotels Combined to find the best accommodation in the area we are heading too. We LOVE hotels Combined because they are the best accomodation search engine. They are not a booking site, but rather seek out the best offers available over many popular booking sites. Booking.com, Agoda etc. Then you get a list of who is offering what for the same Hotel. You are then redirected to the booking site of your choice. You can read all about why we love them HERE.
If you are heading to Varanasi. Get on over to Hotels Combined and check out the accommodation on offer for the time you are there.
We recommend you check out hotels on the Ghats for the views and convenience. If you are wanting Alley Ways, then there are plenty of Guesthouses to consider. We used Kedar Guest-house. The owners are super super friendly, helpful and HONEST which goes a long way in India. They told us the going rates for services and organised it for us for free when we didn’t want the bother of haggling on the streets. The guesthouse is basic but its their home in the alleyways and they have built the guesthouse on top. You get a great chance to see local life, and be close to the Ghats if you choose this budget accommodation option in Varanasi. Plus a yummy local breakfast was included 🙂
Discover Family Travel Wrap Up
GO and enjoy! Don’t avoid Varanasi at all regardless of what other travellers or agents may tell you. There is some seriously cool tourists places in Varanasi that aren’t to be missed. It was certainly a favourite spot of ours while in North India. Plan at least 3 days. If you don’t mind avoiding cow poo on the streets (there is loads in Varanasi) then you may enjoying chilling for a while longer. Its cheaper in Varanasi than in Agra, Delhi and Jaipur.
What do you think of the Tourist places of Varanasi through our images? Does it look like somewhere you would visit and enjoy? We would love you to leave comments below 🙂