Agra is a compact, somewhat scrappy-looking city in North India with its main appeal being very much the Taj Mahal: the marvellous mausoleum and glorious token of love, which brings eight million visitors to Agra every year. That aside, there isn’t a tonne to do in this city, besides a couple of other beautiful historical sights and some great, cheap places to eat, drink and marvel the views, so I’d say a night or two is plenty to spend in Agra, before heading on to Delhi or to explore glistening Rajasthan.
We flew into Delhi and as we were against the clock, got a driver to take us the 3.5-hour journey to Agra. It’s easy enough to travel via direct train too (and of course, a lot cheaper) but trains do sell out so don’t leave it too late! We arrived in Agra in the evening, just after Taj Mahal closed for the day, and sadly missed out on it altogether as the Taj is closed every Friday — the one full day we’d allowed for Agra. BOO! Nevertheless, we managed to make the most of our time there, getting great views of the Taj Mahal from across the Yamuna river, and spent 24 hours tripping around in tuk-tuks and soaking up the rest of the city and its sights. Read on for my top recommendations...
see + do
Undoubtedly the reason you’re going to visit Agra, the Taj Mahal is often dubbed ‘the most beautiful building in the world’ and rightly so. It’s a whopper! (And I say that having even only admired it from afar…) Built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a token of love and adoration to his third wife who died delivering their 14th child, it’s not only impressive for its mammoth scale and architectural feat, but also for the sheer volume of its incredible inlaid calligraphy, intricate floral designs, semiprecious stones, and beautifully landscaped gardens. Its pearly white outline is visible from miles and miles away, and clearly so from Agra’s many rooftop eateries, standing out dramatically over the rest of the modest, roof-less buildings that make up the city that lives in its shadow. Most atmospheric at sunrise and sunset, you should allow a couple of hours to explore its beauty from every angle. Foreigners pay considerably more than Indians to enter, but have the benefit of shorter ticket queues. You can also buy tickets online in advance should you be feeling organised, but do be wary of opening times, especially in winter. We bought tickets for a 5:30pm entry, and was told when we arrived the Taj Mahal shut at 4:50pm!? Frustrating. Note, the Taj Mahal is closed every Friday…hence we never actually got to visit.
One of the finest Mughal forts in India, Agra Fort is definitely worth a wander. Skip the relentless offers of a tour guide and explore courtyard after courtyard at your own pace, taking in the impressive scale of the red-sandstone fortress with its curling corridors, pretty archways, and beautiful marble details. There’s many a beautiful picture opportunity in here!
Whether you get to see the Taj Mahal close up or not, it’s definitely worth taking a tuk-tuk across the Yamuna River to Mehtab Bagh, the gardens that are perfectly aligned with the gardens of the Taj, giving pretty epic views from afar. (It's where the pictures in this post were taken!)
Itimad-Uh Daulah (Baby Taj)
Another popular stop for tourists, Baby Taj as it’s nicknamed is the magnificent tomb of Mizra Ghiyas Beg. Not quite the same scale as the Taj Mahal, it’s still beautiful and more delicate, with the most impressive intricately carved marble screens. It’s on the east bank along with Mehtab Bagh so you can easily combine them into a trip with a rickshaw — drivers happily wait for you to see the sights.
eat + drink
Bar a couple of boujee, fine-dining hotel restaurants, Agra is all about the low-key when it comes to food and drink. Rooftop eateries that you might initially raise your eyebrows at offer cheap local dishes, ice-cold drinks, and not a lot else, but I promise you’ll crave the charm of such simple experiences as soon as you leave…
Join Us Rooftop Cafe
After a busy day of exploring, Join Us’ rooftop is a blissful place to chill out, soak up the sun and the view, and enjoy some great food and a couple of cold drinks. Watch monkeys leaping from buildings below, lap up the wonderful views of the Taj, and make pigeon-English convos with endearing elderly host, Mr Honey (who yes, is trying for a tip). Highly rate the paneer pasanda, which you can mop up with a couple of fresh paratha breads. Absolutely delicious.
A good spot for a cold Kingfisher, Treat Restaurant is a super low-key rooftop right in the heart of the chaotic Taj Ganj, the thriving hub of Agra . We spent our first evening in Agra up here, lapping up the free WiFi and cold beers, acclimatising to the colour and chaos of the streets directly below. A good spot to watch local life.
Not completely enamoured by the menu at Treat, we headed a couple units down to Shankara Vegis for dinner, a Lonely Planet-tapped spot, where you can enjoy great value Indian dishes on plastic tables and chairs up on the rooftop overlooking the city and the Taj Mahal. We shared a plate of pakoras, followed by two excellent vegetarian thalis, which totally hit the spot. A perfect place for an easy dinner.
Unless you’re feeling ultra plush and wanna pop £500+ a night, homestays are the way to go in Agra when it comes to accommodation. And fear not there are plenty of options to pick from. We stayed at Aman Homestay, which we’d found as one of the top-rated stays on booking.com, and it was a totally perfect base for what we needed. A family-run homestay that was easy to find, our room was clean and simple, with free WiFi and wonderfully kind and friendly service from the family. A delicious Indian home-style breakfast is available (and most definitely recommended!) for just 300INR per person, and it’s in easy walking distance of the bustling Taj Ganj area.
Another good looking option we’d seen on booking.com was Coral Tree Homestay.