My favorite 5 Things To do Agra, India
My Favorite 5 Things to Do in Agra - Understand
Agra is a small city that pushes the limits of its size since it is home to one of the world's biggest tourist destinations—the Taj Mahal. For me, the Taj Mahal is indeed a magnificent heritage of humanity that transcends beyond its place as a tourist attraction.
Agra also has a fort that gets crammed into most tourist itineraries, but wouldn't be much noteworthy otherwise. Unfortunately, besides these two attractions, Agra isn't a pretty town and you will be shocked at the levels of poverty, trash, and animals that are specific to India—or at least the 'Old India'. This is not funny and it's definitely a culture shock, even for hardened travelers.
My Favorite 5 Things to Do in Agra - Get In and Get Around
There is a wonderful new freeway between New Delhi and Agra that has very few cars that you won't believe it. Uber and Ola allow booking for a car directly from their app for about $50, one way (this includes tolls). Air India also goes from New Delhi to Agra via Varanasi (arguably quite out of the way).
Once inside the Agra vicinity, you are better off hiring a Tuk Tuk taxi (a three-wheeled taxi), but be sure to agree to a price before getting in, especially since Ola's and Uber's services are spotty at best.
My Favorite 5 Things to Do in Agra - Sights
Clearly, you came to Agra for the Taj Mahal, and it's worth it to go several times during your time in Agra. The Taj is open every day (except Friday), from sunrise to sunset. Sunrise is very early in the summer (so is sunset) so prepare accordingly.
There are two entrances—an East and West gate. The East gate is now a peaceful oasis with only a few electric cars permitted through the gate area. The ticket centers usually just have a minimal wait and the $15 entrance fees aren't too much of an abomination. You can pay with Visa/MasterCard and you also get free water and shoe protection.
When I first went to see the Taj Mahal, the crowds were chaotic and the tourist scams were relentless, but now it seemed to be a rather calm affair.
Keep in mind that your ticket is only good for one entrance, not multiple. There is a three-hour, maximum visit notice that is printed on the ticket, but it isn't enforced as far as I could tell.
Yes, you can see the Taj in two hours easily, but you should really give it more time so you can take in its striking beauty from all possible perspectives. Early morning and late evening have the best lights, especially in those hazy but dry winter months. During monsoon season, the weather can be unpredictable so go whenever you see some sun. Don't gamble too much.
The Taj has gone through a number of renovations and currently has very little scaffolding. It is much whiter now because the air pollution in Agra has decreased a lot, and the marble has been washed clean. You can also enter the Taj now and see the two graves of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Mumtaz Mahal (the original reason the Taj Mahal was built). This is because she died during childbirth.
If you have been to Samarkand, you will see the striking resemblance between the domes in the Uzbekistan city and the Taj Mahal.
Just a few miles further down the road from the Taj Mahal is the Agra Fort, which is a somewhat interesting sight and has some good views over the Yamuna River. The entrance fee will set you back $6, and it's worth doing but certainly, not a must do.
My Favorite 5 Things to Do in Agra - Eat and Drink
Your hotel will likely be your main source of food in town.
I really wanted to try ITC Maratha's Peshawari restaurant here but found the food just ok and incredibly overpriced at $25 for a small dish.
Spice of Mughal (or Mumbai)
If you are tired of hotel food, head to Spice of Mughal (or Mumbai). Spice of Mughal served delicious curries (with a somewhat sketchy record of hygiene though) that will give you a taste of Northern India.
My Favorite 5 Things to Do in Agra - Where to stay
Agra did not have too many luxurious places to stay until recently. The way-too-expensive Oberoi (pictured below) and the much more reasonable ITC (part of Marriott) had the market to their selves.
Now, the Doubletree Agra and the Four Points by Sheraton have joined in (there is also a Ramada).
I loved the Doubletree by Hilton Agra and would strongly recommend it.