The Taj and Beyond: A Whistle-Stop Tour of Vibrant Agra


Situated in India’s Northern Utter Pradesh state, Agra is the only city in the world which boasts of having no fewer than three World Heritage sites.

Tourists may come for the wondrous lure of the Taj Mahal, but they stay for the myriad of other things to do. The Mughal empire has left a fascinating array of tombs and mausoleums and the bustling marketplaces are certainly worth a trip! If you’re looking to spend the day in Agra then read on.

What to Do

Although there’s one obvious highlight of Agra, there’s much more to do.

The Taj Mahal

A trip to Agra really isn’t complete without a visit to the breath-taking Taj Mahal. Created between 1631 and 1648, the Taj – as it is fondly known – was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal – who died giving birth to their 14th child. Created as a testament to his everlasting love for her, it is considered one of the seven wonders of the world. It is thought that up to 20,000 stone carvers, masons, and artists from across India and beyond were employed under a team of architects to build the Taj. While the onion dome of clean white marble is unquestionably iconic, there’s plenty more beauty if you look a little closer – inlaid semiprecious stones and carvings, and Koranic verse in calligraphy, create an enchanting interior space where Shah Jahan’s bride, and eventually, himself were laid to rest.


Agra Fort

With the beauty of the Taj Mahal so close by, it can be easy to forget that Agra is also home to one of the most stunning Mughal forts ever created. This palatial red-sandstone and marble fortress was initially built as a military structure but Shah Jahan (yes, he of Taj Mahal fame) transformed it into a palace. It later became his prison after his son Aurangzeb seized power from him. It contains a maze of buildings, forming a city within a city, including vast underground sections, mosques, graves, throne rooms and much more. The 380,000-square-metre (94-acre) fort can accurately be described as a walled city and you certainly won’t be short of things to see and do at this World Heritage site.

Fatehpur Sikri

The third of Agra’s World Heritage sites, Fatehpur Sikri, is a magnificent fortified ancient city and although 25 miles west of Agra, it’s certainly worth the trip. Briefly considered to be the capital city of the Mughal Empire, the city is home to a stunning mosque – which is still in use today – and three palaces rumoured to be for the emperor’s three wives – one Hindu, one Muslim and one Christian. You’ll find something new and history-steeped at every turn but if you’re looking to test your photography skills then check out Buland Darwaza. This enormous gateway has a height of 54metres and is the largest gateway in the world, making it decidedly difficult to snap a decent selfie!

There are undoubtedly a number of bucket-list sites to see in Agra but if you’re looking for something a little unusual then we have some off-the-beaten-track recommendations too.

Watch the saga of love at Kalakriti Dance Drama Show

Be sure to visit the Kalakriti Cultural and Convention Center at around 6.30pm on the evening of your visit to see a live dance and drama performance depicting the making of the Taj Mahal. This multilingual show displays a replica of the Taj Mahal, with multi-coloured lights showing the different moods of the iconic Taj throughout the day and night.

See stunning birdlife at the Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary

Located less than 15 miles from Agra, the Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary is a vibrant and beautiful wetland and home to some 165 species of resident and migratory bird including peacocks, cattle egret, common teal and pintail. But that’s not all you will spot, spread over an area of three square miles, Sur Samovar is home to the biggest centre for rescued dancing bears.

Sadar Bazaar

Located in the heart of Agra, this bustling marketplace is one of Agra’s most famous shopping locations. Known for handicraft items, shoes and leather work, this is also a great place to buy marble inlay items such as coasters, vases and other souvenirs. A trip to Agra would be incomplete without a stroll through this vibrant and energetic market.

Where to Eat

That famous Indian cuisine is yours to discover in and around Agra, here are just a few of our highlights.

Dinner near Taj Mahal

Hotel Amar Vilas

If you’re looking for yet another angle to view the spectacular Taj Mahal, then one of the two restaurants (Bellevue or Esphahan) at the Hotel Amar Villas could be just the thing. Both offer a choice of fine international cuisine and traditional flavours of India, or if you’d rather, simply relax with a quiet drink as you gaze at the Taj from the bar terrace. Thought to be one of the most exclusive hotels in Agra, the experience is worth every penny and booking in advance is highly recommended.

Pind Balluchi

The interior of Pind Balluchi transports you to the beautiful setting of an Indian Punjabi village. Waiters dressed in the most colourful Punjabi kurtas and patialas (traditional Indian dress) will serve mouth-watering North Indian cuisine from traditional steel utensils. Be sure to try the aam panna (a traditional and delicious seasonal mango juice).

 What to try

Agra is home to some delicious specialities that you must try while you’re there. Go for the Petha – a soft and delicious sweet made from white pumpkin. Petha is available all over Agra and the Pan-chi brand is particularly popular. It also makes for a great gift for your friends back home. Or, if you’re in more of a savoury mood, try the daal moth – a crunchy, savoury snack item made out of black lentils.

Whatever takes your fancy, a day spent in the beautiful and historic city of Agra is sure to be one that stays in the memory bank forever.

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Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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