Varanasi (also known as Banaras, Benaras or Kashi) is one of the oldest living city in India. Named after the two rivers Varuna and Asi Rivers and is known for its famous Ghats and the fascinating stories.
The city where life and death co-exist. The city where the eternal flames at Dasaswamedh Ghats is still a mystery. The city where death is also a celebration.
There is no other place in the world where one can find a place which is considered as “THE LAST STOP“, the city where people flock in numbers to die and attain salvation. It is one soulful city which has to be on your list, no matter whether you live in India or are visiting India. The city is varied, colorful and bewildering.
(READ: Life & People of Banaras)
Planning a visit to Varanasi soon, then we bring you an ultimate guide to top things to do in Varanasi.
– Subah-e-Banaras –
In Varanasi, there is a tranquility amidst the chaos and it cannot be better experienced than starting your day at the crack of the dawn. Absorb and feel the divine energy of the Vedic Chants at the Assi ghat before the sunrise.
Take a boat ride on the mighty Ganges. As the boat glides on the calm water, it is a feast to watch the different scenes unfold along the many ghats. People taking dips in the Ganges to wash away their sins, priests or sadhus performing rituals along the ghats, people taking a bath or washing their clothes and dead bodies being cremated. The boat ride is truly a unique experience in itself.
Best Time for the Boat Ride: 5:00 AM to 8:00 AM
– Get lost in the bylanes of Varanasi –
Varanasi is a city that is full of unexpected surprises at every nook and cranny and the one thing that ranks high on “Things to Do In Banaras” is getting lost in the maze of narrow bylanes and unearth those unexpected finds.
We highly recommend to keep your eyes open for the little things that aren’t on any list and one can easily miss them with a blink of an eye. The never-ending lanes and bylanes are packed with people pouring out onto the street from every corner and cattle lazing on the streets.
Each lane branches off to countless street creating a never-ending maze. Explore this maze at your pace and uncover those small things that make Varanasi unique. From the aroma of the hot jalebi from a small shop to the woodwork of a local craftsman, a tucked-away salon in an old building that seems to have been frozen for centuries, the zigzagged wires hanging on top of the streets and people busy with their afternoon siesta, Varanasi has a charm of its own.
– Binge on Food –
Any visit to the city is incomplete if you don’t get to sample to your heart’s content the varied street food that is on offer at Varanasi. The city is famous for its tea, lassi, and sweets.
Kachauri is quite famous. The ones sold on the Ghats and near the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple (Kachauri Gali to be more precise) are pretty good. Kachauri’s are a must for morning breakfasts and evening snacks.
The other important accompaniment of a typical breakfast is hot jalebis, cutting chai ( tea ) or thick lassi served in a Kulhar (earthen pot) topped with copious amounts of malai (cream). Other must-try items are Thandaai with a special add-on — freshly ground bhang, Banarasi Paan, woodfire pizza, various types of chaats like Tamatar ( tomato) chaat, paneer ( cottage cheese ) to name a few.
– Stroll along the ghats –
Varanasi has 87 ghats and each ghat is unique and different from the others. Most of them are used for rituals and bathing while some are specifically used for cremation. Every ghat in this city has its own story to tell. The ghats are flanked by temples, forts, old buildings and palaces which have now been turned into luxury resorts. These ghats are a photographer’s delight with so many things to capture. Some of the important ghats that you shouldn’t miss are:-
- Assi Ghat — The ghat where the mighty Ganges meets the river Assi. Used by pilgrims for bathing before worshipping Lord Shiva, in the form of a Linga, under a peepal tree which is located nearby.
- Dashashwamedh Ghat — Legend has it that Lord Brahma sacrificed 10 horses here and hence the name Dashashwamedh ( Medh -sacrifice, das – 10, Aswa -horses ) ghat. It is the main ghat of Varanasi and is close to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The Gangi Arti also happens on this ghat.
- Chet Singh Ghat — The ghat has a beautiful fort and stands testimony to the war between Maharaja Chet Singh and the Britishers where the former lost the battle.
- Manikarnika Ghat — A ghat where life meets death, this is the ghat where the majority of the cremations take place. It is said that the cycle of rebirth is broken in this ghat and the souls attain salvation.
While you stroll from one ghat to the other, let the timeless grandeur and beauty of the place seep in enough to overload your senses and leave you wanting for more.
– Temple Out –
Varanasi is home to many temples but one temple stands out of the lot and is considered to be the holiest among all Hindu temples in the world, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. It is said that Varanasi belongs to Lord Shiva and no doubt that the Kashi Vishwanath is the most famous temple of Varanasi. It is also one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva.
Legend has it that Lord Brahma and Lord Vishu were fighting for their supremacy when Lord Shiva appeared before them at Kashi. He conjured an infinite column of fiery light piercing the three worlds. Lord Brahma in the form a swan went upwards and Lord Vishu in the form of a boar went downwards to find the end of the light. Lord Vishnu conceded defeat whereas Lord Brahma lied that he had found the end of the light. This is when Lord Shiva cursed Lord Brahma that he would never be worshiped again and that is why Lord Brahma is not worshiped in any idol form.
The other important temples that you should visit are:-
- Durga Temple
- Sankat Mochan Temple
- Kaal Bhairav Temple
- Tridev Temple
– Ramble around the local markets –
Explore the hidden gems in the many bylanes of Varanasi. Hawkers and shops selling all kinds of stuff from flowers to spices, from food to clothes, from metal to wood. You could spend hours exploring and wandering in the local markets. Don’t forget to pick some spices, wooden toys or Banarasi saree back home.
– Witness the Ganga Aarti –
Being at Varanasi and not witnessing the Ganga Aarti will make your visit incomplete 🙂 Everyday 5 to 7 priests perform Agni Pooja at the Dasaswamedh Ghat in the evening after the sun sets. The entire atmosphere is filled with incense, chants of Vedic hymns, music, a fire lamp, and the blowing off of the conch shells. It is a spectacle in itself with thousands of people gathered to witness the affair. You can watch the Ganga Aarti from the Ghats or from the boats. We would recommend viewing the Aarti from a boat as the views are spectacular.
( PS: Arrive a bit early to get the best spot. )
– Visit Ramnagar Fort –
This sandstone structure stands tall on the eastern bank of the Ganges opposite the Tulsi Ghat. The fort was built by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh in 1750 AD and has built in the Mughal style. The fort continues to be the home of Kashi Naresh (King of Varanasi) since the 18th century and houses a museum which has the royal collection that includes vintage Cars, royal palanquin, an armory of swords, old guns, ivory work and antique clocks on display.
– Day Trips –
Sarnath, the place where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon in 528 BC, is a great place for the archaeology buffs. The city lies just 10 km northeast of Varanasi and is great for day trips from Varanasi. You can see the Dharma Chakra, Ashokan Pillar, Chaukhandi Stupa. The archeological museum at Sarnath is also a must visit during the day trip, it houses a lot of the archeological finds of Sarnath.
Perched atop Adri hill, Chunar Fort is one of the prime attractions of Chunar town which is 45km from the city of Varanasi. The fort is situated on the banks of the river Ganges at a height of 80-175 feet from the ground level and is spread across 34,000 square feet. The fort is replete with history and mythology. You can read more about it here. Chunar Fort makes for an excellent day trip from Varanasi.
( READ: Legends of Chunar Fort )
Did you know that Allahabad was the capital of India for 1 day in the year 1858? We bet you did not know this. 🙂 Allahabad is approximately 120 km to the west of Varanasi and can be reached both by road and train and makes for a great day trip from Varanasi.
Must visit places apart from boat ride are –
Triveni Sangam – The place where the three rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati meet, considered to the holiest of the points in Allahabad. It is said that a dip in the Sangam rides one of his/her sins.
Anand Bhawan – The ancestral home of the first Prime Minister of India which has now been turned into a splendid museum.
Allahabad fort which is said to have been built by Great Emperor Ashoka and still stands tall in all its glory.
There are many other things to do in Allahabad which cannot be squeezed in a day trip, so you might think of spending few extra days in Allahabad to experience its beauty.
– Offbeat Things to do in Varanasi –
There are many offbeat things that one can do in Varanasi, we have picked a few for you.
Visit an Akhada
Varanasi is a city famous for its Akhada ( wrestling arena) since time immemorial. There are many Akhada’s in the city where people still wrestle on the sand. A visit to a traditional Akhada would give you an insight of all the hard work and dedication that goes into the sport.
Varanasi is blessed with talented artisans. Be it meenakari work, woodwork or Banarasi silk sarees. There is no dearth of talent in the city.
If you have an artistic inclination, try visiting one of the many handlooms and know more about the art of making beautiful and expensive Banarasi saree. You will be amazed to see the process how threads are transformed to such amazing beautiful patterns.
You can also visit the wooden toy making workshops where you can see and know how a piece of wood is turned into a piece of art.
How To Reach Varanasi
Varanasi is a well-connected city from all major cities in India by air, bus and train.
Where To Stay
Affordable Luxury: Ramada Plaza JHV
You can check more Hotels in Varanasi – HERE
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Thank you so much Lonely Planet India and Uttar Pradesh Tourism for such an amazing trip.