Want to visit a city where people come to die? Don’t get spooked! India’s Varanasi (also known as Banaras or Kashi), is believed to be a sacred place to die, to break free from the cycle of reincarnation. It is one of the holiest places for Hindus, where they dip in the Ganges to wash away their sins, where many elderly people come to die in hope of achieving redemption. Though it is the oldest city in India, and people here celebrate death, you would be amazed by the vibrancy of Varanasi. In fact, the pulsating life of Varanasi is so enthralling that even the Indians get overwhelmed sometimes! With the oil-lamps floating in the Ganges, the clash of cymbal during evening aarti, the chanting of priests, Varanasi is very much alive. There are a ton more things to do in
Top 30 Things to Do in Varanasi
This 5000-year-old holy city get visit by millions of Hindu pilgrims and tourists every year. The best time to visit Varanasi is wintertime, November to February. Winter is also the time for festivals like Dev Diwali in Varanasi, so either way; it will be a win-win for you. Try scheduling the visit to Varanasi at the later part of your India tour, as the buzzing city can be quite an assault to the senses.
There are a hundred different ways to make your Varanasi visit worthwhile. We picked out the top 30 things for you to do in Varanasi so you can embrace the spirituality of this holy city. It will take you about 3 to 4 days to take it all in. If you know nothing beyond the boat ride in the Ganges and the religious exploration, Varanasi is much more than that. Let’s check out them out!
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1. Take Boat Ride at Dawn
Firstly, an early morning boat ride in the Ganges would be the ideal start of exploring Varanasi. It will give you the chance to devour the serenity of The Ganges. Passing through different Ghats, you will see pilgrims taking baths and holy dips to rinse off their sins. The best time to enjoy a boat ride is from 5 AM to 8 AM. One hour boat ride will cost you 100-200 rupees depending on your bartering skills. The usual route for boat rides is from Dashamedh Ghat to Harishchndra Ghat.
2. Take a Holy Dip in the Ganges
Taking a bath or a dip in the Ganges is the most sacred thing to do in Varanasi. Many of the visitors come to Varanasi just for this purpose. They believed that the Ganges water is holly and its water can wash away all sins from this life and previous ones. There are 84 different Ghats in Varanasi, with steps leading down to the water. Though the river water is pollute, the locals are adept at it. If you are not fainthearted and want to gain the ultimate encounter with the Ganges, you might consider finding a cleaner place and taking a dip!
3. Visit the Burning Ghat
Nearly 200 dead bodies are burned here in Varanasi in a day. Burning Ghats are the cremation place for dead bodies. Further more, the body is washed in the water and later, it is burned on the steps of the Ghat. Manikarnika Ghat is the largest burning Ghat in central Varanasi. The ceremony and the burning Ghats are regarded as revered, so people are supposed to act accordingly. You can pass through the place or view the funeral process from a balcony above. It is better not to take photos of the funeral as it may spoil the somber mood. While watching the cremation process, you might even find a poignant kinship with death.
4. Stroll along the Ghats
Strolling along the Ghats of will give you the proper chance to explore Varanasi. The Ghats with their myths and purpose are unique in their own way. The raw activity going around you will keep you fascinated- herds of buffalo being washed in the river, local kids playing cricket in the river bank, which sometimes winds up in a heated argument, boatmen looking for tourists to take upon a ride and so on. You will barely notice time passing by!
5. Drink Some Smoothie -Things to Do in Varanasi
If you are a smoothie lover, Varanasi roadside smoothies won’t disappoint you. You can get them really cheap here, only 20 rupees per glass. This delicious drink served straight from the blender is pure and fresh. Go for mango smoothie, if it is mango season. It will sure recharge you for your further exploration of Varanasi.
6. Be Enthralled by the Aarti Ceremony at Evening
Make sure to attend the aarti ceremony at the Dashashwamedh Ghat in the evening. The lights, the aroma of incense and flower, the chanting of priests, clashing cymbals and blowing of shanks are sure to blow your mind away. You can hop on a boat and drink in the sight of brightly lit riverbanks and its festivity. Or you can enjoy the seamless maneuvering of 5 kg oil lamp by the Brahmins, just standing at the Ghat. This ceremony starts at 6:45 PM and lasts for 45 minutes every day. Find your place at the Ghat well before the ceremony, as it becomes really crowded later on.
7. Savor the Taste of Blue Lassi
Blue lassi is a small, family-own yogurt shop that serves yogurt drink. Though the shop itself is nothing fancy, it is highly recommend in Varanasi. This family venture celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2015. The lassi comes in different flavors- chocolate, coffee, mango, banana, peach, pomegranate, coconut and so on. This handmade lassi served in a clay pot is sure to make you visit Blue Lassi more than once.
8. Sit on the Ghats -Things to Do in Varanasi
As you know, there are 84 different Ghats in Varanasi; each Ghat has its own story. If you like a place to sit and observe the bustling of people, Varanasi Ghats like Assi Ghat, Daswamedh Ghat, Chet Singh Ghat are the place for you. These places are heaven for photography with all the ritual, bathing, and activity. Sitting at the steps you can observe Varanasi at its full glory –sadhus, fortune tellers, devotees, vendors, yoga people and the Ganges itself.
9. Binge on Local Street Food
Varanasi is rich with its street food. Non-vegetarian food at Varanasi is very rare. Regular street foods are Tamatar chat, Panir chat, Aloo Tikki, Pani Puri, and Kachori. Kachori is so popular they even eat it for breakfast. If you are a dessert lover, Varanasi Rabri, Lal peda, Labang Latika, Kakland, Jelabis and Kesar (saffron) milk won’t disappoint you. You might even be tempted to take some Lal peda or jalebis home!
10. Explore Varanasi Temples
If you are a history and architecture buff, Varanasi is the place for you! The sheer number of temples in Varanasi is sure to overwhelm you- almost 2000! But you don’t have to visit all of them, which is, to say the least, impossible to do. The temple visit you must not miss are Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Golden Temple, Annapurna Temple, Ankatha Temple, Kalbhairav Temple, Mritunjay Mahadev Temple, etc. The architecture and the spiritual ambiance of these temples will make them worth your time.
11. Visit Ramnagar -Things to Do in Varanasi
With all its glory, Ramnagar Fort stands on the eastern bank of Ganges. It is sandstone made Mughal Architecture. It built in 1750 by Raja Balwant Singh. The fort houses a temple and a museum, displaying swords and guns, old chariots, silk sarees, and pieces of furniture. Though at present the fort is mostly dilapidated, it is worth a visit for history enthusiasts. It will take about 2 hours to visit Ramnagar.
12. Head out to Sarnath
Singhpur’s Sarnath is the place where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma after enlightenment. If you are interested in the development of Buddhism in India, Sarnath is your place. There are stupas, manuscripts, inscriptions providing various theories, even on Aliens. It will take you half a day to visit Sarnath. The 12 km route from Varanasi to Sarnath will take up almost one hour each way because of heavy traffic.
13. Sip a Chai Tea -Things to Do in Varanasi
Tea is everywhere in India and you can find the clay pot served chai in Varanasi too. If you are less than enthusiastic about sipping tea from roadside vendors, there are some cool places for you to check out at Varanasi. Pappu chai shop is a hygienic place to get chai in Assi Ghat. They make each cup individually with great care. If you are craving for kadak chai, check out Laxmi chai wala at Bisheshwarganj. Vishnu from Vishnu tea emporium at Manmandir, is so friendly, he might even give you his chai recipe.
14. Shop in Local Market
If you find yourself free in the afternoon or evening you might try out some shopping in Varanasi. Chowk, Godwilla, Vishwanath lane, Thateri bazaar are the places for shopping here. Varanasi is famous for authentic silk and ornate jewels. You can also add shawls, bangles, wooden toys to your shopping list. Though some might say that Varanasi is not the ideal place for shopping in India, you should at least check out some of the crafts here.
15. Sit in a Rooftop Café -Things to Do in Varanasi
Eating a nice dinner while gazing at the Ganges from above, is hard to rival in Varanasi. Get some relief from the buzzing city and find a quiet rooftop to pass your evening. There are many rooftop cafes in Varanasi. You can try out Filocafe, Dolphine Restaurant, Ganga View Café, and Restaurant. Find the one that provides a view of Ganges. You won’t be disappointed.
16. Be Mesmerized by Dev Deepawal
No other parts of India celebrate Dev Diwali as grandly as Varanasi. Don’t get it confuse with Diwali. Dev Diwali is celebrated 15 days after Diwali (full moon night). It is believed that Dev Diwali is the festival of Hindu gods. Clay made lamps are lit across the river bank and temple to welcome the gods. The priests chant hymns under huge lamps. Almost all Ghats perform their own ceremony. With little flickers of lights and moonlit riverbank, it feels like the evening aarti, with tenfold festivity. If you are planning to visit Varanasi try to schedule it during Dev Diwali, you won’t regret it!
17. Visit Banares Hindu University
Banares Hindu University is the first residential campus in India. The institution was founded by Madan Mohan Malaviya, a Sanskrit scholar and politician. This university has 1300 acres of land with historical buildings, gardens, greenery and so on. It houses the beautiful 1930s temple, museum (Barat Kala Bhavan). This will take you 1-2 hours to visit the main parts of the campus.
18. Visit Weavers Village -Things to Do in Varanasi
Varanasi has a rich history of Banarasi silk sarees produced by the local community. Banarasi saree is absolutely what most Hindu brides wear at their wedding. You can take a day tour at Sarai Mohana village, to get up close with the saree-making process and the life of the artisans. The artisan’s hard work makes the sarees unique and artistic. Some sarees with their gold and silver brocade takes up about 15-30 days to finish.
19. Get to Know Akhada Wrestling
Varanasi is famous for its long history of Akhda wrestling. In Varanasi, wrestling is not just a mere game, they almost worship it as well. If you are particularly interested in wrestling, you can take a day-long tour of akhda. The tour will give you an insight into the traditional wrestling of India- how the players warm-up, how the wrestling ground is prepared, how they use their equipment like Gada, naal, Jodi, etc. You should go around 6 AM to get the whole picture of akhda. It will take you about 2-3 hours to visit and take photos.
20. Look up at the Stars at Jantar Mantar
Don’t get tripped by the name! Jantar Mantar is an observatory made by Maharaja Jai Singh II. There are five observatories made by Maharaja and Varanasi Jantar Mantar is the last one he made. This observatory is at the roof of Manmahal, a palace near Dashwamedh Ghat. There are stone made instruments for finding the position and distance of all planets, declination of moon and sun, also angles of stars and so on. The best time to visit is clearly during wintertime so you can take advantage of a clear sky.
21. Get a Rickshaw Ride -Things to Do in Varanasi
Riding a pedal rickshaw is definitely a fun thing to do in Varanasi.Also, if you are newbie, hold on tight in a rickshaw ride. The narrow streets of Varanasi are only navigable by rickshaw. You can explore the local markets, temples, and Ghats and get the feeling of being local. So get on a rickshaw and be a Varanasi!
22. Devour Apple Pie in Vaatika Café
You might be wondering how there is Apple pie, in the land of Kachori, deserving its own segment in the top 30 things to do in Varanasi. Yes, The Apple pie of Vaatika Café is definitely that famous to make its own heading! If you have a sweet tooth, head to Vaatika Café in Assi Ghat and savor the taste of crumbly pie crust and layered apple. Himachal and Kashmir apples are use for the apple fill. You can get a drizzle of syrup or a dollop of ice cream on top of your pie to make it extra sweet.
23. Visit Bharat Kala Bhavan -Things to Do in Varanasi
Along with the famous Bharat Kala Bhabhan Museum is housed in the Banaras Hindu University campus. The museum displays a rich collection of sculptures, textiles collection, Mughal era coins, terracotta, potteries, jewelry, arms, literary documents, and also miniature paintings. More over, it has a collection of over 12000 paintings from the 11th century to the 20th century. If you are an art geek, be sure to check out this museum.
24. Take Part in Sunrise Aarti
If you are going to Varanasi Ghat for a boat ride or for a morning stroll, make sure to go there a bit early. This way you will get to see magnificent sunrise at the Ganges and the morning aarti. Every day just before dawn, people gather for their morning aarti. It is quite a bit similar to evening aarti but minus the chaos or crowd.
25. Take Part in Yoga -Things to Do in Varanasi
Morning Yoga is a regular sight at Varanasi Ghats, for both locals and tourists.More over, you can sign up for a class if you are planning to stay at Varanasi for more than a few days. Doing sun salutation by the river bank facing the rising sun will certainly make your Varanasi journey more worthwhile. There is a yoga walk for you where you can visit some authentic yoga place. Or you can join an impromptu Yoga session with the locals. But be warned that local Yoga is pretty hardcore. Not a fan of yoga? The sight of yoga people’s synchronized activities at sunrise is sure to lift your mood up.Of course, don’t forget to finish off your yoga with a chai tea!
26. Check out Bhang Lassi
Bhang lassi is a milk beverage mixed with edible cannabis or marijuana. Don’t get stuck on ‘marijuana’! It is legal and quite common in Varanasi Shiva devotees. They claim it keeps them focused on worship. But you should not take the power of Varanasi bhang lightly. It is different from smoking pot as consumed marijuana is more potent than smoking. Travelers often get into trouble for not knowing their limits. Always be cautious and start small. One medium-strength Bhang lassi is about 50 Rs., available at Gowdolia Chowk and Assi Ghat.
27. Try out Monalisa Café -Things to Do in Varanasi
Monalisa Café is a familiar name among tourists. The cafe is on Bangali tola road. It is a definitely nice place to relax and observe the bustling of people. The menu here provides you a wide range of options- Indian, Italian, Asian and so on. One other attraction of Mona Lisa Café is live music in the evening. You can enjoy live classical or gazal music at the Café rooftop from 7:30 PM-9 PM.
28. Wander through the Alleys and Streets
More over, If you want to dive deep into the life of Varanasi, strolling along the streets and alleys is a must for you. Don’t worry about getting lost. Even though the street patterns may seem confusing at first, soon you will get the hang of it. Ghats are excellent landmarks for getting your bearings. The streets and alleys hold the true allure of Varanasi. As you explore the streets you will get the sense of the historical charm of this place through the buildings, shops, and temples.
29. Learn kathak Dance -Things to Do in Varanasi
Kathak is one of the six classical dance forms of India. The dance move involves storytelling through hand gestures and footwork. If you want to embrace the local culture, sign up for a Kathak dance class for an hour. The class will give you an insight into Varanasi kathak dance and its history.
30. Indulge in Varanasi Paan
Clearly, Varanasi paan is so famous; it even has its own Bollywood song. This pan is distinct from other Indian pans, it has different shape and process. You can find it in every corner of Varanasi. Paan (betel leaf) has digestive value. Be sure to check out rose petal staffed sweet paan from an authentic store. The price starts from 5 Rs. and varies with ingredients.
In Conclusion, Varanasi is not a place where you hop on from one big adventure to another. The place is more about spirituality and embracing life in its rawest form. So don’t go expecting wild escapade. Varanasi will not give you a mere thrill to post on your social media, it will give something to cherish forever. If you just go with the flow of local life, you will find the real allure of Varanasi.