10 Best things to do in Varanasi, India

Varanasi is a MUST on your list, because it is all the chaos and love of India in one place. Besides being the cultural capital of India, it is the most shocking place on earth that you can visit. Bold but true; every two seconds, your eye can catch something new and exciting. When in Varanasi, you can really feel the holiness of the place (even if you are not a Hindu). The Gange River is a magical place, full of history, meanings, symbols, culture and religion. But, there are some things to do in Varanasi you should absolutely not miss, when in Varanasi. You can also visit the nearby ancient city of Sarnath, which is also a holy place of pilgrimage. Other things to do in Varanasi include the intriguing Archaeological Museum, the Ramnagar Fort and the Yoga Education Training Society.

You can also visit the nearby ancient city of Sarnath, which is also a holy place of pilgrimage. Other things to do in Varanasi include the intriguing Archaeological Museum, the Ramnagar Fort and the Yoga Education Training Society.

1. Do not miss the Ganga Aarti

Ganga aarti - ImageImage Source: Arian Zwegers/Flickr

Ganga aarti is performed in the evening. That is when it dawn on you the significance of this river, the hearts of billion people. This is the place where science and religion come to an end, where human emotion and beliefs are supreme. When you see this magnificent river, you realize that the river truly has a soul of its own. The sight of thousands of people coming here to offer their prayers, bow their heads and offer respects, perform pujas and float candles in small cups is mesmerizing. The emotions on their faces and their firm belief that this is the purest river on earth that washes all sins despite being one of the most polluted river body would leave you speechless.

2. Explore Varanasi on foot

Narrow lanes of varanasi - ImageImage Source: Wikimedia Commons

The narrow lanes crowded with cows, bulls, speeding bicycles is a fantastic experience. One has to watch their steps as these galis are dotted with cow dung and sleeping dogs. But one look at the old buildings and you are drawn to its culture and tradition. The culture and religion come alive in these picturesque lanes. It is an adventure plus a lifetime opportunity with a terrific photo chance to passage down these ancient alleys of history.
All the galis either run towards or parallel to the ghats, thus you can never be lost in this gripping city. And even if you are, the people here are more than happy to help you guide towards your destination. And what is Varanasi or Banaras or Kashi if not guide you back to your Maker.

3. Taking a boat ride watching sunset/ sunrise

Boat ride - ImageImage Source: Wikimedia Commons

A dawn rowing boat ride along the Ganges is an essential Varanasi experience. The early-morning light is particularly inspiring, and all the colour and clamour of pilgrims bathing and performing puja unfolds before you. Sadly, the river is perhaps the most polluted in the world and the surroundings leave a lot to be desired for, still you would be amazed to see how the river draws you towards it. You may take a boat ride to take you from one ghat to another - each with its own history and myth. Bargain hard, people here dont fool or cheat unless its business.

4. Shopping in Varanasi

Shopping in Varanasi - ImageImage Source: Wikimedia Commons

The silk saris of Banaras are known the world over and are priceless family heirlooms, handed down from mother to daughter. In earlier days, these were made of weaving gold & silver. Not anymore. The exquisite designs and colour combinations are lighter and vibrant as ever.
Besides Banarasi saris and brocades, you may look for wonderful pieces of brassware, ornate jewels, copperware, wooden and clay toys and antique designs of heavy gold jewellery in Varanasi. However, beware of cheaply available imitation saris which can be very difficult to distinguish from the real ones.

5. Do not miss the tasty street food

Street food - ImageImage Source: Patrick Barry/Flickr

Varanasi is not just the city of temples but it is a foodies paradise. Banarsi food is as mouthwatering as the place is exciting. These guys have perfected the skill of paan making into an art. The lassi here are not to be missed, there are countless flavours, from something as odd as coconut banana and others that which you cannot imagine with a cup of yogurt. But redefining all known principle of taste and fusion, each flavor debates the other to emerge utterly unique and delicious. Also, do not miss the thandaai (with a little bhang if you can stand the hangover).

6. Visit the local bookstore

Things to do in varanasi - ImageImage Source: Amir Yalon/Flickr

Mainly for the bookworms, this city has unique old-fashioned little bookstores, which are ideal if you fancy a good read about topics as the social sciences, philosophy, fiction, politics or history. The seating here is perfect to get over a creative block. Sit down with a cup of kulhad tea and pick up some pocket books. The pleasure derived out of reading in the open at the sundown, besides Ganga flowing, Dias floating, and unlimited sky and space around you, is unparalleled.

7. Archeological museum of Sarnath

Museum of sarnathImage Source: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/Flickr

Approx 10 kms away from Varanasi lies the oldest site museum of the Archeological survey of India. Located right next to the excavated site, this museum has over five galleries and sculptures, artifacts dated from the 3rd Century BC to the 12th Century AD.

Right across the main hall is Shakyasimha gallery. Here, you can find most special pieces in the museum sandstone Lion Capital of the Mauryan Pillar, which became the national emblem of India. The sites like the Tree where Buddha attained nirvana, the first sermon to his 5 disciples are all fascinating even to a non Buddhist.

8. Panaromic view from Malviya Bridge

Malviya bridge  - ImageImage Source: Wikipedia.org

Bridging two cities from ages - Varanasi and Mughalsarai, Malviya bridge offers panoramic view of the Banaras Ghats. More than 1000 meters long this Double Decker bridge, gives the opportunity to see all the way to the other side on a clear day. But even otherwise it gives you a very different perspective of the holy city providing with a birds eye view. The bridge is under surveillance throughout the day and hence not advisable to spend more time without a purpose, but you wont be bothered if you take a few pictures.

9. See striking graffiti on the walls

Places to visit in varanasi - ImageImage Source: VasenkaPhotography/Flickr

The walls of Banaras have unique stories to tell. The numerous Graffiti on the walls of Varanasi Ghats are unique and thought provoking. If you look closely, there are so many interesting graffiti adorning the walls, most of them out of place, yet attractive. There is also religious or mythology based graffiti, you will find Ganapati, Shiva in various avatars, shocking colours yet intriguing. You will find some abstract ones, with random words and letters scribbled as a challenge for a passerby to be deciphered. The opportunities for a photographer are almost endless.

10. Hang out with Sadhus

hang out with Sadhus - ImageImage Source: Lyle Vincent/Flickr

The sadhus you will encounter here befit the aura of the city. Their isolation from anything worldly seemed to be contradicted by their need for companionship with each other and for ganja. They have numerous stories to share from about the heavens, Shiva's city, and other supernatural phenomenon. Most of them are very friendly and will allow you to photograph them (sometimes for a minimum charge), but remember not every bearded man is a Sadhu. Dont get too inspired by sadhus and take shelter in their feet.

Banaras has lived since ancient ages and is still living on. People come here for all different reasons. Find your reason to visit. I can go on and on, but lets leave the rest to be lived than to be read here.

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Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Varanasi, India

Must see places in Varanasi ranked on popularity. Here is the complete list of best attractions in Varanasi and point of interests to visit.

  1. Sarnath

    #1 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Sarnath

    Tags: Religious Site, Observatory, Statue

    Address: Dharmpal Rd, 10 Km North of Varanasi, Varanasi, India

    Timings: 24-hrs Details

    An old Buddhist story tells us the Bodhisattva is a deer and offers his life to the king. The king was planning to kill the doe for his feast. He was so moved that he created a park as a sanctuary for...Read more

  2. Dashashwasmedh Ghat

    #2 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Dashashwasmedh Ghat

    Tags: Religious Site, Outdoors, Water Body, Landmark

    Address: Varanasi U.P 221001

    Timings: 24-hrs Details

    The sound of the conch is a call for prayers. Come to the Dasaswamedh Ghat to rejoice in the Agni Puja. Young priests in saffron coloured dhotis starts the aarti by chanting mantras and songs. They li...Read more

  3. Kashi Vishwanath Temple

    #3 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Kashi Vishwanath Temple

    Tags: Religious Site, Temple, View Point

    Address: Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001

    Timings: 03:00 am - 11:00 am Details

    Feel close to God when you are in a temple. Feel blessed to be there and carry this closeness when you return home to your everyday life. Your presence at the temple will give you a clearer sense of p...Read more

  4. Kaal Bhairav Temple

    #4 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Kaal Bhairav Temple

    Tags: Religious Site, Temple

    Address: K-32/22 Bharonath, Vishweshwarganj, Varanasi.

    Timings: 05:00 am - 01:30 pm Details

    Come out of your worldly difficulties. Your mind is heavy with problems which is crucial. Who can you share them with? Where can you find peace? You cannot think or see clearly at home and you need at...Read more

  5. Yoga Education Training Society

    #5 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Yoga Education Training Society

    Tags: Outdoors, Educational Site, Yoga Centre

    Address: D, 32/162, Devnathpura, Bengalitola, Varanasi 221001

    Timings: 06:00 am - 10:00 pm Details

    You can’t touch your toes? You are not flexible? You are not strong or patient? It does not matter. Everyone starts somewhere. Give yoga a try and control your breathing, move your body and find...Read more

  6. Manikarnika Ghat

    #6 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Manikarnika Ghat

    Tags: Religious Site, Water Body

    Address: Varanasi, U.P., India

    Timings: 24-hrs Details

    Manikarnika Ghat is the main cremation Ghat of Varanasi. Manikarnika Ghat is one of the oldest and most sacred Ghats in Benaras. According to the Hindu mythology, being burned here provides an instant...Read more

  7. Assi Ghat

    #7 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Assi Ghat

    Tags: Religious Site, Water Body

    Address: Varanasi, U.P

    Timings: 24-hrs Details

    It was a joyous moment for Goddess Durga. She triumphantly killed the demon Shumba-Nishumba. And to mark her victory she threw her sword in the Assi River. The place where the sword fell resulted in a...Read more

  8. Durga Temple

    #8 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Durga Temple

    Tags: Religious Site, Temple

    Address: Ramnagar Road, Samne Ghat Chaumuhari, Varanasi

    Timings: 05:00 am - 08:00 pm Details

    The Durga temple was constructed in the 18th century by a Bengali Maharani but in a North Indian style. The temple has a rectangular tank of water called the Durga Kund meaning a pond or pool. The pon...Read more

  9. Ramnagar Fort

    #9 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Ramnagar Fort

    Tags: Historical Site, Memorial, Fort

    Address: Near Vyas Mandir, Ram Nagar, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001

    Timings: 10:00 am - 05:00 pm Details

    The Ram Nagar Fort bears brilliant testimony of a civilisation that disappeared. The Moghul Empire. The building was constructed with creamy coloured chunar sandstone. It was built in typical Mughal s...Read more

  10. Bharat Mata Temple

    #10 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Bharat Mata Temple

    Tags: Religious Site, Temple

    Address: Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth Campus, Varanasi 221002

    Timings: 09:30 am - 10:00 pm Details

    The Bharat Mata Temple was built by Babu Shiv Prasad Gupta and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936. This is the only temple dedicated to Mother India and is within the campus of Mahatma Gandhi Kashi...Read more

  11. Nepali Temple

    #11 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Nepali Temple

    Tags: Religious Site, Temple, Outdoors

    Address: Lalita Ghat Varanasi

    Timings: 04:00 am - 09:00 pm Details

    Nepali architecture is a unique strain of art and pragmatism. Nepal is situated in between trade routes from India to Tibet and China. Therefore Nepali architecture has been influenced by these cultur...Read more

  12. Archaeological Museum

    #12 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Archaeological Museum

    Tags: Archaeological Site , Specialty Museum

    Address: Sarnath, Near Sangharama Monastery, Varanasi

    Timings: 10:00 am - 05:00 pm Details

    Buddha delivered his first sermon in 528 BC at Sarnath which now has a museum dedicated to him. There is an excellent display of artefacts from the Maurayan era and Gupta era. The earliest image of Bu...Read more

  13. International Music Centre Ashram

    #13 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    International Music Centre Ashram

    Tags: Entertainment, Performance

    Address: D 33/81, Khalishpura, Varanasi Uttar Pradesh 221001

    Timings: 08:00 am - 08:00 pm Details

    Discover more about receiving the fine art of music as a gift. Listen to tabla player Shri Keshava Rao Nayak, and santoor player Sri Shivaji Rao Nayak Kevale. Enrol in music lessons which include the ...Read more

  14. Harishchandra Ghat

    #14 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Harishchandra Ghat

    Tags: Religious Site, Temple, Water Body

    Address: Varanasi Uttar Pradesh

    Timings: 24-hrs Details

    A man bound by duty, resilience, and honesty, a king in more ways than one. Such a man was King Harishchandra. He was the 36th king of the Solar system. His fable is very popular and taken as a yardst...Read more

  15. Panchganga Ghat

    #15 of 69 Things To Do in Varanasi
    Panchganga Ghat

    Tags: Religious Site, Water Body, Landmark

    Address: Varanasi, India

    Timings: 05:00 am - 09:00 pm Details

    Inspiring and tranquil, a wonderful combination for nirvana. Let spirituality lure you to Panchganga Ghat where the rivulets Dhutapapa and Kirana join the mythical confluence of the Yamuna, Sarasvati ...Read more

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