One of the key cities to visit in Rajasthan, Udaipur really is beautiful. Prepare for contrasting scenes of serenity and pure chaos as you explore the city - the appeal of which sprawl out far beyond its compact centre, with mountainside temples and beautiful luxury resorts on its outskirts. In the city itself, highlights include beautiful Lake Pichola, City Palace and Jagdish Temple, but it’s walking around and getting lost in the colourful shopping streets and bazaars that I think is how you really get under the skin of Udaipur.
Lake Pichola is at the heart of Udaipur and is what really sets it apart from the other cities in Rajasthan. 4km long and 3km wide, it’s a beast, a beautiful one though, perfectly calm and still with the surrounding mountains reflected in its surface. Lots of people choose to take a tranquil boat rides out on the lake which seem very well priced, but you can also just admire its beauty from the bank, or from one of the city’s many rooftop bars. My parents visited Udaipur after us and actually did a cycle tour around the lake which they highly recommended (it’s in the Lonely Planet book FYI). Make sure you cross the Daiji Footbrirdge, a Venetian-style bridge, to explore the winding charming streets on the other side of the lake. It’s a little less chaotic and traffic-riddled over there.
Towering over the lake, Udaipur’s grand City Palace is truly stunning, with room after room full of intricate detail, colour, pattern and elaborate decoration. This is Rajasthan’s largest palace. Construction began in 1553 and took over 400 years! Enter the palace through Badi Pol (Great Gate) and make your way through the series of courtyards, corridors, rooms and gateways, growing more and more impressed as you go. We skipped the City Palace Museum (additional ticket needed) but history buffs might want to check it out to learn more.
Scale the steep flight of steps and pay Jagdish Temple a (free) visit, a beautiful Hindi temple built in 1652. Right in the middle of Udaipur’s main thoroughfare, you can’t miss it. And you shouldn’t — it only calls for 10 minutes of your time, but its intricate carvings are extremely impressive.
Explore the bazaars
Shopping is something you’ll struggle to resist doing in Udaipur, as colourful bazaars and shops selling everything from bangles to spices, wood carvings, paintings and textiles are on every street, luring in all the tourists! There is a LOT and you can grow a little tired of it pretty quickly, but Udaipur is celebrated for its local crafts and you can pick up some excellent souvenirs (Ed bought a couple of holiday shirts and I bought yet more block-printed PJ bottoms!). It’s in the streets east of the Old Clock Tower of Jagdish Temple Road where you're going to find the best ambience and the most authentic souvenirs. Venture into the rainbow-coloured depths of Maldas Street, undoubtedly the most flamboyant street in Udaipur, with shop after shop piled high with brilliantly bright sari fabrics, and tailors waiting to whip up the most magical creations. I’ll admit, I wasn’t totally completely sold on Udaipur until we found this colourful web of streets that fell so full of energy and really came alive in the evening. Store owners were very friendly and accommodating, and very open to haggling! Even if you’re not looking to purchase, it’s brilliant to soak up the atmosphere.
eat + drink
Views from Jagat Niwas, a converted haveli that’s now a great hotel and restaurant are seriously beautiful. We visited a little early for lunch but enjoyed mango lassis up on the covered rooftop, admiring the unbeatable views of Lake Pichola through pretty open windows. It’s a peaceful spot to chill, read a book, and fully appreciate the beauty of Udaipur.
Cross the Daiji Footbridge to the other side of the lake and Little Prince is a teeny tiny open-air eatery on the waterfront. It looks dubiously low-key, but don’t judge a book by its cover, the food is actually brilliant (Lonely Planet agrees!). We sat out the front on a tiny table and stools and devoured the most delicious paneer masala, roti and dhal. The young guys running the place were super friendly and the food was seriously cheap and delicious.
Hotel Baba Rooftop
We weren’t in Udaipur long enough to try more places but Hotel Baba Rooftop is another highly rated place to eat. Located right opposite Jagat Temple and really close to City Palace, the food is said to be cheap and very delicious.
The perfect place for a drink after exploring City Place, O’Zen is a charming little rooftop where you can kick back, soak up the sun, grab a cold one, and escape the craziness of the streets for a little bit! We were in Udaipur during the Indian election when alcohol is prohibited in most places, so were very thankful to find this tucked away spot after trying and failing to located a much-needed cold Kingfisher everywhere else!
We stayed 45 minutes north of Udaipur at RAAS Devigarh, a former fortress turned luxury hotel, which is truly gorgeous. A total contrast to the craziness of India’s cities, it’s a calm and contemporary oasis, with beautiful rooms, gardens, a large pool and stunning terrace that overlooks the beautiful scenery, spa, gym, and plentiful shady spots to snooze, read, sip chai, sink cocktails, and what not. We only did one full day in Udaipur so didn’t mind taking a taxi in and out of the city, but if you’re planning to spend more time in Udaipur, I’d suggest staying closer in otherwise you’re going to rack up some serious taxi fares. (Read my full review here.)
If we had stayed in Udaipur itself, we’d have tried to stay at Jagat Niwas, a mid-range hotel in a converted haveli, that feels traditional, characterful and luxurious. We popped in for a drink so didn’t manage to see the rooms but they get rave reviews!
things worth knowing
— Udaipur is said to have once been the most romantic place in the whole of India, and whilst there is an element of that, it's pretty hectic and fraught in parts. If it's all getting a little much, find a rooftop to go grab a drink on — there are plenty to choose from and it's much calmer up high!
— Haggling for souvenirs is essential to get a good price as most places will hugely over-quote you, but be respectful about how you go about it. Be firm and confident but definitely don't just do it for the sake of it if you have no intentions of buying.
— Travel with cash, in ideally small denominations. It will make your life in taxis, tuk tuks and restaurants a whole lot easier.
— A visa is required for entering India, and the application process is pretty long and frustrating at times. Do it well in advance of your trip as it does take a little while to both get your head around and get it processed.
— It is of course important to be very weary of what you eat and drink in India to avoid getting ill. Stick to bottled water only, no ice, and abide the rule of 'if it's freshly cooked, it's okay'. We avoided fruits on breakfast buffets, all salad/ raw vegetables/ cold chutneys served with curries, and only ate in places we saw other people eating, and didn't get ill at all.