In a nutshell
The holy city or the religious capital of India, Varanasi is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India.
Why go to Varanasi
There is not just one but endless reasons why Varanasi attracts people from all walks of life. Whether you are a spiritual soul looking for an enlightenment or visiting just to experience the eternity flowing through your fingers, Varanasi will leave you enchanted.
One of the things that no one dares to miss is the Ganga Aarti at the Dashashwamedh Ghat on the banks of the Ganges. What a magical sight is to experience! No words can fully describe what it feels like when you are a part of the ancient ritual. An early morning boat ride along the holy river takes you through the misty air filled with serenity of the new day, past the burning lamps held by devotees, song and noises of the city, leaving you amazed and in awe.
A highly religious destination, Varanasi is home to hundreds of temples, many of which have a long long history behind their colourful facades.
Religious or spiritual reasons are not the only ones which lure tourists from around the world to Varanasi. There is no better place for practicing yoga and meditation than Varanasi. It is very easy to find great yogis preaching the art just so you could achieve the inner peace you always longed for.
If that is not enough, the locals are arguably some of the most welcoming people you are likely to meet in your life. They will eagerly invite you to their homes to share food with them and tell you all about their way of living, family and culture – well, if you are really interested. Take an advantage to make a full immersion into a another culture.
When to go to Varanasi
Indian summers can be a real pain, especially if you come from a cold country. April to June are summer months in Varanasi and it is the hottest time of the year. The temperature can reach as high as 45 degrees C, the sun is scorching, the heat is oppressive and the days are so sweaty that the best piece of advice is to avoid visiting during this period. Winter-time (between October and February) is the best period to come to Varanasi when the temperature is balmy and winds are not dry.
Where to stay in Varanasi
When it comes to accommodation, Varanasi is a paradise for budget travellers, with cheap but amazing places to stay in every nook of the city.
A number of accommodation options offer rooms overlooking the Ganges river providing beautiful, scenic views. There are a lot of options for travellers on a budget with Ganpati Guest House being the top favourite among the backpacking crowd. Private bathrooms come as a standard in the majority of the rooms, even the cheapest ones, unless of course you choose to stay in a dorm or hostel. Dashashwamedh area is the most hotels- and hostels-heavy area in Varanasi where you will find all types of accommodation, from budget and mid-range.
In general, accommodation in Varanasi offers a very good value for money. There are both ashrams for a spiritually-minded visitor and resorts and entire apartments for rent for those looking for a more luxurious retreat. The options are endless honestly.
Where to eat in Varanasi
Varanasi is not only about the spiritual journey of the soul but also gastronomic paradise. When in the city, go to any paan shop and ask for the benarasi paan. You’ll thank us once you’ve tasted the most delicious paan in the country. Another staple item of Varanasi that you absolutely must try is the lawang lata, a sweet clove pocket, loved by everyone. These are specialty dishes here, but opportunities where to taste other traditional Indian food or world cuisines are endless.
There is no single specific food area in Varanasi – great food venues are scattered all around the city _ you can be sure to have a good meal almost anywhere. One place worth a special mentioning is the Kashi Chat Bhandaar and their very, very famous tamatar chat. Don’t forget to check it out.
How to get around Varanasi
Travelling in and around the city is pretty cheap and easy. Because most of the streets are extremely narrow, cars and auto-rickshaws cannot access certain areas of the city. If this is the case with your destination, be ready to do a bit of walking: there are special dedicated drop-off points where drivers leave their passengers.
Even if your destination is within a walking distance, many visitors and locals alike prefer to use auto-rickshaws and cycle-rickshaws as the streets are often too crowded and chaotic. The rate for short- and long-distance rides within the city fluctuates within INR 50-100 – check before you get on.
Foreigners are often overpriced – well, yes, nothing is new under the stars, even in a holy city like Varanasi. Anyway you can always try to negotiate the price but even if it is inflated it remain rather low.
There are local buses, too, which are cheap, cramped and painfully slow thanks to the mad traffic. Another challenge is to figure out which bus number you need, so rickshaws may be a better idea.
Although it is next to impossible to cover the whole city on foot, places like the Ganges riverfront and the ghats can be explored on foot only.
How to get to and from Varanasi
The Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport sits about 25 kilometres from the city centre but is easily accessible via taxis and auto-rickshaws. A taxi between the airport and the city centre may cost you anywhere between INR 700 and INR 800 and the trip takes around one hour, while an auto-rickshaw is a more budget-friendly solution at INR 500. Note though that it will take twice the time because they are travelling at a lower speed. Ut is easy to take a local bus from and to the airport, but we don’t recommend you do, unless of course you’re okay with overcrowded and dirty buses.
There are direct daily flights to a variety of international destinations including Bangkok in Thailand and Colombo in Sri Lanka and a choice of connecting flights to other destinations.
Unless you are travelling by bus or train in a premium class, do not expect your journey to be an outstanding example of speed and convenience.
Trains to major cities in India like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkatta or Agra run daily. They are quite slow and apart from the aforementioned premium class are overcrowded.
If you’re heading to the airport, railway or bus station by transport – taxi, auto-rickshaw or tuk-tuk – it always pays adding an extra hour because of heavily congested roads and traffic-jams.
Is Varanasi a safe place to visit?
Varanasi does feel chaotic, dirty and cramped but it still remains the most visited city in India.
The severe crime against foreigners is extremely rare – we can say ‘unheard of’ – but you have to keep an eye on for scammers. They’re ubiquitous and the ways they will try to make you part with your money are endless. Try not to ‘donate’ money to anyone when they ask you. Period.
Other than that, you may have a bit of trouble with the bulls and cows roaming about the city – but because they are considered sacred, just give them way if you come across.