Varanasi travel guide

Varanasi Tourism | Varanasi Guide

You're Going to Love Varanasi

From its over-the-top festivals celebrating Hindu gods and deities to its religious ceremonial ghats to its incredible food, there is nothing subtle about Varanasi. The city is sure to engulf and overwhelm you with its sights and sounds. Visit during the festival of Durga Puja to see the city truly go wild.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Varanasi

1. Visit the Ghats

The ghats are temples that are home to many ashrams and holy saints, sadhus performing rituals and families consulting priests to lay their loved ones to rest. Architecturally speaking, they are a sight worth beholding.

2. Sample the Local Delicacies

No visit to Varanasi is complete without a spot of bhang (spiked milk), some famous paan, traditional thalis and spicy and sweet Benarasi Dum Aloo, which is a potato dish.

3. Explore the Winding Alleyways

It's easy to disconnect and get lost in the infinitely winding streets and alleyways of the city. You'll find out how the city is truly interconnected and discover some hidden gems for food and clothing.

4. Take a Boat Around the Ganges

The famed Ganges runs through India, but its most interesting point is certainly in Varanasi. As your boatman sails forward, you'll have the unique vantage of witnessing religious rituals from the waters.

5. Go On a Guided Spiritual Walk

Varanasi is where the physical meets the spiritual, where human life meets its esoteric end in death. Take a guided spiritual tour around the mysteries of the city.

What to do in Varanasi

1. A Place Where Men Follow In The Footsteps Of Gods

The "ghats" are easily Varanasi's premier attraction, and Manikarnika is probably the most famous of them all. For those who don't know, ghats are stairways leading down to the holy River Ganges, and are sites for Hindu rituals, including funerals. Manikarnika is special because it's the central location for Hindu cremations in Varanasi, and also because of the Charanpaduka - a stone said to feature the footprints of the god Vishnu. Spectators are permitted, but photography isn't, so be aware of that when you take your place in the galleries.

2. A Golden Sightseeing Opportunity

Along with the ghats, Varanasi is also dotted with sublime Hindu temples. After all, Varnasi (or Kashi as Hindus call it) is known as the "giver of salvation", and is one of Hinduism's holiest cities. Kashi Vishwanath is the city's premier temple. Set back around a mile and half from the Ganges, it was built in 1776 by the ruler of Indore, but took on its current glorious appearance when 800 kilograms of gold was added to its dome in the mid 19th century. The interior can sometimes be tricky to access, yet it's worth the effort to see the stunning decorations, but expect plenty of company from pilgrims.

3. Nothing Holds A Candle To Dasawamedh's Aarti Ceremony

Another ghat that has to be visited is Dasawamedh. In this case, the attraction is spectacular. Every evening Hindu holy men take part in the Aarti ceremony of purification. With throngs of worshippers (and tourists) looking on, the river becomes a staggering light show, with candles and smoke, and the passionate chants of spectators combining to create a magical effect. It's a 45-minute long ceremony, and probably best seen from boats in mid-river.

4. Journey Back To The Very Beginnings Of Buddhism

In a sense it feels strange to move from Varanasi's hotbed of Hindu fervor to Sarnath, which is a completely different experience. Located a few miles northeast of Varanasi itself, Sarnath is centered around Buddhism. Stories say that it's where Buddha first began to preach after attaining enlightenment, so it's a big deal. The spot where it all began is marked by the imposing Dhamekh Stupa, while the Chaukhandi Stupa remembers where his first group of followers got together. Don't miss the Sarnath Archaeological Museum either, which houses the famous Lion Capital of Ashoka.

5. A Fascinating Riverside Fortress

Across the river from most of the ghats, Ramnagar is another change of scene from temples and ceremonies. Built using local sandstone in classic Mughal style in the 1750s, this fortress remains a residence of local notables (even if their royal title has been abolished). The fortress itself makes for some attractive photos, and you can also venture inside to see the on-site museum. What you find may surprise you, with exhibits like astrological clocks, lavish gem-embedded furniture, and vintage American automobiles.

1. A Place Where Men Follow In The Footsteps Of Gods

The "ghats" are easily Varanasi's premier attraction, and Manikarnika is probably the most famous of them all. For those who don't know, ghats are stairways leading down to the holy River Ganges, and are sites for Hindu rituals, including funerals. Manikarnika is special because it's the central location for Hindu cremations in Varanasi, and also because of the Charanpaduka - a stone said to feature the footprints of the god Vishnu. Spectators are permitted, but photography isn't, so be aware of that when you take your place in the galleries.

2. A Golden Sightseeing Opportunity

Along with the ghats, Varanasi is also dotted with sublime Hindu temples. After all, Varnasi (or Kashi as Hindus call it) is known as the "giver of salvation", and is one of Hinduism's holiest cities. Kashi Vishwanath is the city's premier temple. Set back around a mile and half from the Ganges, it was built in 1776 by the ruler of Indore, but took on its current glorious appearance when 800 kilograms of gold was added to its dome in the mid 19th century. The interior can sometimes be tricky to access, yet it's worth the effort to see the stunning decorations, but expect plenty of company from pilgrims.

3. Nothing Holds A Candle To Dasawamedh's Aarti Ceremony

Another ghat that has to be visited is Dasawamedh. In this case, the attraction is spectacular. Every evening Hindu holy men take part in the Aarti ceremony of purification. With throngs of worshippers (and tourists) looking on, the river becomes a staggering light show, with candles and smoke, and the passionate chants of spectators combining to create a magical effect. It's a 45-minute long ceremony, and probably best seen from boats in mid-river.

4. Journey Back To The Very Beginnings Of Buddhism

In a sense it feels strange to move from Varanasi's hotbed of Hindu fervor to Sarnath, which is a completely different experience. Located a few miles northeast of Varanasi itself, Sarnath is centered around Buddhism. Stories say that it's where Buddha first began to preach after attaining enlightenment, so it's a big deal. The spot where it all began is marked by the imposing Dhamekh Stupa, while the Chaukhandi Stupa remembers where his first group of followers got together. Don't miss the Sarnath Archaeological Museum either, which houses the famous Lion Capital of Ashoka.

5. A Fascinating Riverside Fortress

Across the river from most of the ghats, Ramnagar is another change of scene from temples and ceremonies. Built using local sandstone in classic Mughal style in the 1750s, this fortress remains a residence of local notables (even if their royal title has been abolished). The fortress itself makes for some attractive photos, and you can also venture inside to see the on-site museum. What you find may surprise you, with exhibits like astrological clocks, lavish gem-embedded furniture, and vintage American automobiles.

Where to Eat in Varanasi

Varanasi is home to many 'Benarasi' or local delicacies that you won't find elsewhere. Don't miss refreshing lassi or 'Chaat', which are spicy and sweet snacks, or a thali from Mona Lisa Cafe for just ₹20.

When to visit Varanasi

Varanasi in May
Estimated hotel price
C$ 2
1 night at 3-star hotel
Varanasi in May
Estimated hotel price
C$ 2
1 night at 3-star hotel

The best time to visit is the winter, as temperatures are cooler at just 41°F. From June to September is the monsoon season, while summer temperatures are hot and sticky at around 115°F.

Data provided by weatherbase
Temperatures
Temperatures
Average
Celcius (°C)
Data provided by weatherbase

How to Get to Varanasi

Plane

Travelers will arrive at Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport, 15.5 miles from the city center. Upon arrival, grab a taxi for ₹750 or a rickshaw for ₹500.

Train

There are many services like Rajdhani Express or Vibhuti Express from Delhi or Kolkata. Fares start at ₹425 for basic class.

Car

Routes vary based on where you're coming from. Use the NH9 and NH19 if you're traveling from Delhi.

Bus

Use Yatra.com to book bus tickets from cities like Delhi to Varanasi online, which arrive at the main bus station that's east of the Varanasi Junction train station. Fares start at ₹900.

Airports near Varanasi

Airlines serving Varanasi

United Airlines
Good (2,643 reviews)
Air France
Good (361 reviews)
Singapore Airlines
Excellent (226 reviews)
Japan Airlines
Good (385 reviews)
Air India
Okay (873 reviews)
SriLankan Airlines
Good (11 reviews)
IndiGo
Good (80 reviews)
Vistara
Excellent (61 reviews)
FlexFlight
Excellent (1 reviews)
SpiceJet
Good (20 reviews)
GoFirst
Okay (4 reviews)
Air India Express
Good (2 reviews)
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Where to stay in Varanasi

Central Market DLW - This neighborhood is the hub of Varanasi's commerce and entertainment, with lots of shopping outlets, banks and even the DLW Cinema Hall.

Popular Neighborhoods in Varanasi

Hyderabad Colony - This neighborhood is the central location for the city's university Banaras Hindu University. It has many small eateries and shops along its streets.

Ghats of Varanasi - The Ghats of Varanasi are a collection of temples or "ghats" that make up the banks of the Ganges River. Many holy ashrams and sadhus live along these spots.

Where to stay in popular areas of Varanasi

Most booked hotels in Varanasi

Hotel Buddha
Good (7.8, Good reviews)
C$ 65+
Hotel Alka
Good (7.9, Good reviews)
C$ 19+
See all hotels

How to Get Around Varanasi

Public Transportation

Buses would be impractical in such a tight-knit city, so travelers rely on cycle-rickshaw or auto-rickshaw transport for between ₹50 and ₹200.

Taxi

It can be hard getting around in the sheer crowds of people but fares for taxis start at ₹50 with a rate of ₹19/mile thereafter.

Car

Car rentals start at a day rate of ₹1,200 for 8 hours.

The Cost of Living in Varanasi

Shopping Streets

Local arts, crafts and textiles like handwoven "Benarasi" saris are what Varanasi is famous for. Pick up goodies across the city at spots like Wow India on Assi Ghat Road or Mehrotra Silk Factory on Lal Ghat.

Groceries and Other

A quart of milk costs ₹45 and a dozen eggs will run you around ₹62.

Cheap meal
C$ 2.11
A pair of jeans
C$ 54.35
Single public transport ticket
C$ 0.37
Cappuccino
C$ 1.87
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