Although Varanasi wasn’t our first destination in India, we wanted to write about it as there are so many stories to share!
We wanted to share the things to do in Varanasi in the hope we can help make your trip as enjoyable as possible. As well as sharing the things to do in Varanasi, we have also shared the things not to do, as these are just as important in the spiritual capital.
So, with this in mind, we have listed our top tips to consider when visiting Varanasi:
Make sure Varanasi is in your India travel intinerary
India is huge! We had a two-month visa and while we used the full two months we only scratched the surface. You could travel India a lifetime and still not see everything it had to offer. So, while you plan your itinerary, you may have lots of places on your wishlist. However, whatever you do, make sure Varanasi is included in your itinerary.
Varanasi is the cultural and spiritual capital of India. You get a real sense of Indian life; filled with chaos and love. We would also suggest it is one of the most shocking places you can visit in the world. It wasn’t until we left Varanasi, that the sights, sounds, smells really hit us – although the smells do hit you directly on arrival.
Don’t travel to Varanasi at the end of your trip
If you have a long visa like we did, travelling through India for such an amount of time can get tiring. While we loved India as a whole, it can be challenging at times – we will go into this in more detail later.
Therefore, to make the most out of your trip to Varanasi and to ensure you remain open-minded, make sure you don’t leave Varanasi until the end of your trip.
Don’t make Varanasi your first destination in India
However, similarly, don’t make it your first destination. It will scare you and you will want to leave India. Ok, it’s not that scary. But it can be a bit of a shock to the system. We visited during our third week – previously we had been in Delhi and Rishikesh. We were enthusiastic and excited about what India had to offer. And Varanasi delivered all of the excitement we wished for.
Don’t come here for the party, food or luxury
Eat the street food, drink the chai. But don’t expect a party or a city catered to western needs. This is what is so magical about Varanasi.
It remains untouched by tourism, in our opinion, so you really feel part of India. Wander the chaotic and winding streets. Take a stroll to the ghats, sit, watch, observe and take it all in.
Stay close to the Ghats
We stayed in a hostel located very close to the Ghats. However, most of the city is built alongside the Ghats so it’s difficult to find accommodation away from the Ganges.
Do a walking tour
This is a must thing to do in Varanasi. A lot of hostels will organise this for you. They tend to leave around 5 PM so you will wander and learn through the winding alleys. We ended on the main Ghat where the evening Aarti was taking place.
Do not take photos of the cremation ceremonies
We are visitors and it is an experience like no other. It may be tempting to get that photos. However, be respectful to the families mourning their lost one. This is a holy and cherished time for families. You can take photos along the Ghats but not of the ceremonies.
Keep out of the way of the cows
There are SO MANY COWS! Varanasi is a holy city and Hindus consider the cow is a sacred symbol of life. Therefore they should be protected. In Hinduism, the cow is associated with Adititi, the mother of all gods.
Therefore, there is the highest density of cows in this part of India. You become accustomed to them and kind of forget they are there at times. But, if they want to be somewhere that you are, move out of the way. They do sometimes have a tendency to charge or head but, so best to let them plod along out of your way.
Cover up more than usual
Generally throughout India, you have to cover up – shoulders and trousers/skirts below knees. But in Varanasi, cover up more! You are in a holy place and practically attending a funeral. Locals find it disrespectful to have skin showing. It is also one of the dirtier places in India, so you want to reduce contamination. Make sure you wear shoes, we would recommend no sandals or flips flops – see above!
Do not get in the water
You will witness many India tourists bathing in the water, some even drinking the water, unphased. The water in this Ghat is believed to be holy. However, as cremations take place along the ghats, the ashes are then washed away in the Ganges river. The water is incredibly dirty and contaminated. The India government are trying to encourage locals to stop bathing in the water. And a campaign to help clean up the river is underway.
Negotiate for your boat ride
A lot of locals moor their boats along the Ghats and offer guided tours to tourists. We had a sunrise boat tour – which we would highly recommend – organised by our hostel. However, you can rock up to the Ghats any time of the day for a tour. Make sure to haggle the cost of this. And ensure your tour is knowledgable before agreeing to make sure you get the best out of your trip – a quick Q&A will help.
We hope you enjoyed our things to do in Varanasi post, and hope you equally found the things not to do helpful. We would love to hear what you think about this weird and wonderful place.
Peace out! x
Read more of our travel tips: