Best places to visit in Varanasi

Varanasi, also known as Kashi, is a captivating city in India, revered by Hindus as a gateway to moksha (liberation). Bustling with life, ancient traditions, and an undeniable spiritual hum, Varanasi offers an unforgettable travel experience. To navigate this mesmerizing labyrinth, explore these 10 must-visit sites:

1. Kashi Vishwanath Temple:

Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the holiest Hindu shrines in India. The intricate silver spire and narrow alleyways leading to the temple create a mystical atmosphere. Be prepared for crowds, but the temple’s divine aura is an experience in itself.

How to Get There: The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is located in the heart of Varanasi’s old city. Due to narrow lanes, the easiest way to reach is by rickshaw (cycle or auto) or on foot. If you’re coming from another part of the city, a taxi can drop you off at a nearby point like Godowlia Chowk, and you can walk or take a rickshaw for the last leg.

2. Dasaswamedh Ghat:

Dasaswamedh Ghat is a vibrant ghat on the sacred river, renowned for its evening Ganga Aarti ceremony. Witness priests rhythmically offering fire to the river, creating a mesmerizing spectacle of flickering light reflected on the water.

How to Get There: Similar to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Dasaswamedh Ghat is situated in the central area. Rickshaws or walking are the most convenient options. Taxis can drop you off near the ghat, but navigating the final stretch might be easier on foot.

3. Assi Ghat:

Assi Ghat offers a serene escape from the bustling Dasaswamedh Ghat. Enjoy a scenic boat ride, observe local life unfold, or unwind at charming cafes with stunning river views. Immerse yourself in the calmness and soak in the spiritual energy.

How to Get There: Assi Ghat is located on the southern end of Varanasi. You can easily reach here by rickshaw or taxi from any part of the city.

4. Manikarnika Ghat:

Witnessing the cremation rituals at Manikarnika Ghat can be a profound experience. It’s a reminder of life’s impermanence and the city’s deep connection to the cycle of death and rebirth. Observe the rituals with respect and maintain a sense of quiet reverence.

How to Get There: Manikarnika Ghat is situated next to Dasaswamedh Ghat. You can use the same methods mentioned earlier (rickshaw, walking, or taxi) to reach here.

5. Ramnagar Fort:

This imposing 17th-century fort, perched on the banks of the sacred river, houses the Maharaja of Varanasi’s former residence. Explore the museum showcasing royal artifacts, weapons, and a fascinating collection of vintage cars, offering a glimpse into the city’s rich past.

How to Get There: Ramnagar Fort is located across the river from Varanasi on its eastern bank. You can take a boat ride from any of the major ghats (Dasaswamedh or Assi Ghat) to reach the fort. Alternatively, taxis can take you to the fort via bridges.

6. Sarnath:

Located just outside Varanasi, Sarnath is where Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. Explore the serene Deer Park, Buddhist temples, and majestic stupas like Dhamek Stupa, soaking in the peaceful atmosphere and the site’s historical significance.

How to Get There: Sarnath is 13 kilometers from Varanasi. You can easily reach Sarnath by taxi, rickshaw, or auto rickshaw. Alternatively, several shared rickshaws operate between Varanasi and Sarnath, offering a budget-friendly option.

7. Banaras Hindu University (BHU):

Established in 1916, BHU is a prestigious university boasting a sprawling campus with architectural marvels like the ornate Durga Temple. Explore its museums showcasing ancient Indian artifacts, and experience the vibrant student life that adds to the city’s dynamic energy.

How to Get There: BHU is located about 4 kilometers from Varanasi Junction railway station. Taxis and rickshaws are readily available to take you to the university.

8. Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum:

Housing an extensive collection of Indian art and artifacts, the Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum is a paradise for art lovers. Explore ancient sculptures from various periods, intricate paintings reflecting diverse artistic traditions, and exquisite textiles, offering a journey through India’s artistic heritage.

How to Get There: Bharat Kala Bhavan Museum is located within the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) campus. Once you reach BHU by taxi or rickshaw (as mentioned earlier), inquire for directions to the museum within the campus.

9. Shopping in Varanasi:

From the bustling lanes of Godowlia Market to the specialized shops lining the ghats, Varanasi offers a delightful shopping experience. Explore for exquisite Banarasi silk sarees known for their intricate weaving patterns, handcrafted souvenirs depicting Hindu deities, and gleaming brassware, carrying a piece of Varanasi’s magic back home.

How to Get There:

  • Godowlia Market: Situated in the heart of Varanasi, Godowlia Market is easily accessible by rickshaw or taxi from any part of the city.
  • Ghat Shops: Each ghat has its own specialty shops. While exploring the ghats, you’ll encounter vendors selling souvenirs, textiles, and religious items.

10. Unveiling the Culinary Delights:

Varanasi offers a unique culinary experience. Sample vegetarian street food like aloo tikki (potato patties) and samosas, savor the rich flavors of a traditional thali meal, or indulge in the city’s famous kachori, a deep-fried flatbread stuffed with lentils. Don’t forget to try the iconic Varanasi lassi, a creamy yogurt drink perfect for the hot Indian climate.

Where to Eat:

  • Street Food: Street vendors are aplenty near the ghats and major landmarks.
  • Restaurants: You’ll find a variety of restaurants serving vegetarian cuisine throughout the city. Areas like Bengali Tola and Godowlia offer a good selection.
  • Guesthouses and Dhabas: Many guesthouses and dhabas (local eateries) serve delicious and affordable meals.

Getting Around Varanasi:

  • Walking: Walking is a great way to explore the narrow lanes and vibrant atmosphere of Varanasi, especially in the central areas.
  • Rickshaws (Cycle and Auto): Rickshaws are a convenient and affordable way to get around, particularly for short distances. Negotiate the fare before your ride.
  • Taxis: Taxis are a good option for longer distances or if you have luggage. Metered taxis are preferable, but negotiate the fare if using a non-metered one.
  • Boat Rides: Boat rides on the Ganges River offer a scenic perspective of the city and are a popular tourist activity. You can hire boats from any major ghat.

Conclusion

Varanasi, with its ancient temples, sacred river, and captivating ghats, offers an unforgettable experience for travelers seeking a deeper connection to India’s spiritual heartland. Explore the city’s rich history, immerse yourself in vibrant cultural traditions, and embark on a journey of self-discovery. This curated list of 10 must-visit sites is your gateway to unlocking the magic of Varanasi.

FAQs

1. What is the best time to visit Varanasi?

The ideal time to visit Varanasi is during the cooler months, from October to March. The summer months (April to June) can be scorching, while monsoon season (July to September) brings heavy rain.

2. What is the dress code in Varanasi?

As a place of religious significance, modest clothing is recommended. Opt for loose-fitting, knee-length or longer pants/skirts and tops that cover your shoulders. Remove shoes before entering temples.

3. Is Varanasi safe for tourists?

Varanasi is generally safe for tourists. However, be cautious of petty theft in crowded areas. It’s advisable to keep valuables safe and be aware of your surroundings.

4. What currency is used in Varanasi?

The Indian Rupee (INR) is the official currency in Varanasi. ATMs and money exchange services are readily available throughout the city.

5. Do I need a visa to visit Varanasi (India)?

Visa requirements depend on your nationality. Check with the Indian embassy or consulate in your home country for the latest visa information.

6. What are some things to be respectful of in Varanasi?

  • Photography at cremation ghats is discouraged.
  • Be mindful of noise levels near temples and religious ceremonies.
  • Dress modestly, especially when visiting temples.
  • Remove shoes before entering temples and holy sites.
  • Seek permission before photographing local people.

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