India is a country with a rich history and heritage. It is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and has been ruled by several dynasties and kingdoms throughout its history. There is a plethora of places to visit in India that tell the story of a time gone by. These were once beacons of culture, knowledge, tradition, and commerce. By visiting these ancient cities in India, tourists can get an insight into the glorious past, and admire the architectural brilliance existing during that time. So the next time you plan your vacation, you may think about spending some time at any of these ancient cities and return with a renewed sense of inspiration and wonder. Here is the list of the cities of ancient India, and the reasons why you should visit them.
Varanasi, popularly known as the City of Lights or Kashi, is a sacred city on the west bank of the River Ganga. It is said to be one of the oldest cities in India whose history goes back over 3000 years. Varanasi has remained a significant religious destination for pilgrims in India, and for international travelers, it reflects the culture and historical prosperity of India. Today, Varanasi is a bustling city, where every winding street leads to another, ghats are constantly packed, and the scent of incense is noticeable all around. The aartis and the skimming of earthen lights over the waters of Ganga at night is also a significant component of the character of Varanasi.
Top Reasons to Visit Varanasi
- To witness the Ganga aarti. This mesmerizing event can be experienced in a boat on the river.
- To visit temples that are as old as 500-1000 years.
- To shop for famous Banarasi sarees, exquisite woodwork, and hand-knotted carpets.
- Banarasi paan is very popular in the country and must be savored during the trip.
- To visit Sarnath located about 10 km from Varanasi. It is the place where Gautama Buddha first preached after attaining enlightenment.
The history of Madurai goes back over 4,000 years. There are scores of temples in this city, among which Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple is the most popular one. It was constructed in the seventh century and is well known for its architectural brilliance. Seventeenth-century Gandhi Mandapam is a well-known travel attraction that now boasts numerous books about Gandhi. Samanar Hills is located in proximity to the Meenakshi Temple and has a first century cavern that was used by Jain priests. While on the trip to Madurai, one should not miss the scrumptious local cuisine.
Top Reasons to Visit Madurai
- To visit sacred Meenakshi Temple and its Thousand Pillar Hall where Lord Shiva is believed to have performed the dance of bliss.
- To visit Koodal Azhagar Temple that is regarded as one of the 108 celestial abodes of Lord Vishnu.
- To visit the Gandhi Museum and get a detailed account of the Independence struggle.
- To shop for bright tie and dyed cotton Sungudi sarees. One can also buy Golu dolls at the temple curio shops as well.
- To taste lip-smacking local food especially Murugan Idli Kadai.
One of the most ancient cities in India, Ayodhya is known by most to be the setting of the old Hindu epic Ramayana. Known as the birthplace of Lord Rama, the city is situated on the banks of the Sarayu River and was the capital of the antiquated kingdom of Kosala. The city was known to be established by the Hindu god Manu and is believed to be 9000 years of age. It is one of the most frequented tourist attractions in the country and is celebrated for its different sacrosanct temples. Top things to do in the city include visiting Treta Ke Thakur, Guptar Ghat, Gulab Bari, Kanak Bhavan, and Mausoleum of Bahu Begum.
Top Reasons to Visit Ayodhya
- To visit the famous Hanuman Garhi temple characterized by the 70 steep steps in front of the temple complex.
- To visit Treta ka Thakur temple. It is said to be the spot where Lord Rama performed the Ashwamedha Yagya.
- To visit Kanak Bhavan, a house that Kaikeyi (step-mother of Lord Rama) gifted to Sita immediately after her marriage to
- To visit Guptar Ghat, the place Lord Rama is believed to have drowned himself in a ‘Jal Samadhi’.
The ‘Temple City’, Ujjain, is usually thronged by Hindu pilgrims. The city is home to scores of old and new temples, making it a significant religious spot in India to visit. In any case, Ujjain isn’t just for the Hindu pilgrims as there are several places in the city that are remarkable from the point of view of tourism. Located on the bank of River Shipra, Ujjain is also the scene of the renowned Kumbh Mela. Also, the city has several historical places that introduces tourists to its affluent past.
Top Reasons to Visit Ujjain
- To visit Mahakaleshwar Temple, one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, and the only temple boasting dakshin mukhi (south facing) idol, considered to be unique in tantric traditions.
- To visit Kark Rajeshwar Temple situated on the Tropic of Cancer.
- To bathe in the holy Shipra River. According to sacred texts such as Bhagwat Purana and Skanda Purana, a dip in this river is considered to free an individual from all sins.
- To see Siddhavat, a banyan tree located on the banks of river Shipra. According to the legend, King Vikramaditya meditated here for magical powers to take control over the ghost, Betaal.
- To savor the scrumptious Dal Bati Churma.
The ancient city of Patna was known as Pataliputra during the Maurya reign, and was the capital of the Magadha Empire. Today, Patna, which is the capital and biggest city of Bihar, is located on the southern bank of the Ganges. The city is home to numerous vacation spots alongside several spiritual spots. Rajgir, Nalanda, Vaishali, Pawapuri, and Bodh Gaya are tourist destinations located close to the city of Patna. Other vacation spots in the ancient city of Patna include Kargil Chowk War Memorial, Kumhrar, Sher Shah Suri Masjid, Shitla Mata Temple, Gurdwara Gobind Ghat, Biscomaun Bhawan, Chiraiyatand Flyover, and Mahatma Gandhi Setu.
Top Reasons to Visit Patna
- To visit Golghar, an architectural marvel in Patna. Its dome is unique because it was built without the use of pillars and measures almost 29 meters in height.
- To visit Mahavir Mandir.
- To visit Patna Sahib Gurudwara, which is built on the site of Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s birthplace.
- To see the ruins of the ancient university of Nalanda and get immersed in the glorious past of Bihar.
- To witness Patna Museum, which boasts over 20,000 historical and archaeological artifacts, including a fossil of a tree that dates back more than 200 million years.
Kannauj, one of the most ancient towns of India, is also zealously preserving its rich legacy. Travelers rush to this city in Uttar Pradesh to observe the magnificence of various archeological sites. Prehistoric weapons and tools belonging to the Bronze have been found at Kannauj. This city was visited by renowned travellers like Fa Hien. Harsha made Kannauj the capital of his reign and organized religious gatherings. The old name of this city was Kanya Kubja, and the modern name is a subsidiary of the bygone one.
Top Reasons to Visit Kannauj
- To take a holy dip in the river Ganga.
- To visit Government Archaeological Museum and see the terra-cotta figurines unearthed in the city.
- To visit the 500-years-old Siddheswar Temple.
- To explore the famous Vijay Market and buy rose water and attar (fragrant oil) for which Kannauj is widely-known.
- To visit Lakh Bahosi Bird Sanctuary, one of the biggest bird sanctuaries in the country.
Hampi is an ancient South Indian village popular for its stone temples and ancient ruins. Settled in the rough landscapes in the Bellary region of Karnataka, Hampi is today a UNESCO World Heritage site. The stone temples and remnants are a memory of the rich history and culture of the region. Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire and prospered under the rule of Krishnadevaraya. In its days of glory, Hampi was known to be the wealthiest city in India. Its riches and glory were notable nationwide and abroad, and attracted the merchants from Portugal and Persia. Today, the ruins draw in scores of tourists, history buffs, and architecture aficionados.
Top Reasons to Visit Hampi
- To visit ancient and beautiful temples.
- To enjoy scenic sunrise and sunset over ancient ruins.
- To know interesting facts about ancient sculptures, architecture, and culture of Vijayanagar empire.
- To enjoy trekking to Matunga and Anjuna Hills.
- To relax near picturesque Sanapur Dam.
The majestic town of Gwalior is situated in the center of India, or the province of Madhya Pradesh. Gwalior is home to royal residences, historic sites, and beautiful temples. The town is well known for the Gwalior Fort. One can hire a travel guide in the fort and know the history of the state in depth. Other major attractions are Gujari Mahal, Sas Bahu temple, Teli ka Mandir, Tomb of Muhammad Ghaus and Tansen, Bir Singh Mahal, Padavali, and Bateshwar. Wildlife enthusiasts can consider traveling to the wild trails of Madhav National Park located in proximity to the city.
Top Reasons to Visit Gwalior
- To visit the Gwalior Fort which was called ‘the pearl in the necklace of the forts of India’ by Babur, the first Mughal ruler.
- To visit various sacred temples and also Surajkund, a large tank believed to contain magical water.
- To visit Jai Vilas Palace and witness the great Scindia legacy in Gwalior.
- In December, one must experience the Tansen Sangeet Samaroh (Tansen Music Festival) organized in Tansen Tomb, where musicians from all over the country gather.
- To attend the Gwalior Trade Fair, held in January and February, and gain an insight into the culture and heritage of central India.
Also named as Tanjore, Thanjavur rose to significance during the reign of the Cholas, who made this city their capital. It became a major cultural and heritage city of India towards the end of the eighteenth century. Today, it is broadly known as the Rice Bowl of South India, as it boasts a lot of paddy yields and sugarcane. This town houses the ancient Brihadeeswarar Temple (UNESCO World Heritage Site), constructed by Raja Chola I around the 10th century. Stunning Chola Temples, Saraswathi Mahal Library, Thanjavur Maratha Palace, Sivaganga Park, Schwartz Church, and Royal Palace Museum are some of the must-visit attractions in the city.
Top Reasons to Visit Thanjavur
- To visit the 11th century Brihadeeswarar Temple, one of the finest examples of Chola architecture.
- To see a Bharatanatyam recital.
- To visit the Saraswathi Mahal Library, one of the most significant repositories of ancient Sanskrit.
- To visit Sivagangai Poonga, one of the first amusement parks in the state.
- To shop for Tanjore paintings and dolls.
The seat of Lord Brahma, Pushkar is famed for its rare temples. Located in the Ajmer area of Rajasthan, this beautiful city is a revered spot for the Hindus. The city has held its old-world charm. Located by the side of the Sarovar Lake, Pushkar is renowned for the Brahma Temple, the only such temple in the country. The Pushkar Mela is a yearly occasion that draws travelers from all around the globe. Vibrant events, displays, and rivalries happen during this week-long fair. The Man Mahal, located on the banks of Sarovar Lake, is another of the town’s major tourist spots that isn’t to be missed.
Top Reasons to Visit Pushkar
- To attend Pushkar Camel Fair, a camel and livestock fair held between October and November.
- To visit the only Brahma Temple.
- To take a dip in the sacred Pushkar Lake.
- To visit Gurdwara Singh Sabha that commemorates the visit of Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Govind Singh.
- To visit Varaha temple, the largest and most ancient temple in the city.
Also known as Quilon or Desinganadu, Kollam is the center of the country’s cashew export. The city boasts a mix of alluring natural beauty and rich history. During the ancient times, Kollam was a famous trade center, while its port was frequented by Persians, Phoenicians, Arabs, Romans, and Chinese. Also, well known explorers like Ibam Batuta and Marco Polo have noted the prominence of Kollam as a trade town in their writings! Today, Kollam, the gateway to Kerala’s magnificent backwaters, boasts a plethora of attractions for nature lovers. The eight-hour boat trip between Kollam and Alappuzha is the longest and most charming journey on the backwaters of Kerala.
Top Reasons to Visit Kollam
- To witness the jaw-dropping beauty of Palaruvi Waterfalls.
- To visit Ashtamudi Lake, the most visited lake and backwater in the state.
- To visit Mayyanad boasting some of the oldest temples of Kollam.
- To explore Jatayu’s Earth Centre constructed to promote mythology and adventure tourism.
- To enjoy backwater cruises.
The social capital of Gujarat, Vadodara was earlier known as Baroda. It is situated on the banks of the stream Vishwamitri. As indicated by historians, Vadodara’s history dates back to more than 2,000 years. Today, the city is home to the illustrious family of Gaekwads, and houses the biggest college of Gujarat, the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. The prominent attraction of the city, Sayaji Baug, is situated in the heart of the city. This recreation center houses a zoo, Vadodara Museum, and a planetarium. Vadodara Museum boasts an interesting blend of Mughal miniatures, illustrious antiques and European oil art. Other eminent sights are Makarpura Palace, Nazarbaug Palace, Kirti Mandir, Nyay Mandir, Kirti Stambh, Aurobindo Ashram, Khanderao Market, Dakshinamurthy Temple, and Hazira Maqbara.
Top Reasons to Visit Vadodara
- To visit Laxmi Vilas Palace, one of the architectural wonders of the state.
- To explore Sayaji Baug, a beautiful garden constructed in 1879.
- To see Sursagar Lake in which the water never dries up.
- To explore Kabirvad, a scenic island located in the middle of the river Narmada.
- To visit Dakshinamurthy Temple.
Puri, one of the ancient cities you can’t miss, is located in the state of Odisha in Eastern India. It is aptly called the ‘Temple Town’, because its famous temple, Jagannath Temple, is one of the prominent pilgrimage places for Hindus. The city is also known for having the biggest kitchen on the planet. Moreover, 24 celebrations, including 13 noteworthy ones, are held each year in the temple premises. The old Konark Sun Temple and Markandeshwar Shiva Temple are the well-known ancient temples located here. Puri is also blessed with beautiful and serene seashores. The Balukhand-Konark Wildlife Sanctuary features sandy seashores, hills, cashew ranches, and forests of Casuarina trees. This protected area is home to Blackbuck and Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. The Sudarshan Crafts Museum boasts antique figures, a Japanese-style Buddhist temple, showroom, workshop, and a library. Chilika Wildlife Sanctuary is home to different exotic creatures and home to more than 200 species of fish. Nalbana Bird Sanctuary or Nalbana Island features a large number of migratory birds.
Top Reasons to Visit Puri
- To witness Jagannath Rath Yatra, a huge public procession in a chariot. It is held in the month of June/July.
- To visit the sacred Jagannath Temple, famous for its large kitchen.
- To explore the beautiful Puri Beach.
- To enjoy the lip-smacking cuisines of Odisha.
- To visit the ancient and unique Sun Temple in Konark, located in proximity to Puri.
Dwarka is an ancient city located in the northwestern Indian state of Gujarat. For tourists who are interested in both history and religion, Dwarka deserves to be in their bucket-list. The city is famous as a Hindu pilgrimage site, especially for the Dwarkadheesh Temple, also called Jagat Mandir. This temple is based on the north bank of the Gomti Creek and dates back 2,500 years. The primary temple is five-story high, with the cut tapered tower ascending to a height of around 157 feet. There is the one-meter tall, four handed dark icon of Ranchhodrai, the leader of Dwarka. One of the most famous tourist sites is the Rukmini Temple. Rukmini was Lord Krishna’s wife and is viewed as a manifestation of Lakshmi, the goddess of riches and magnificence.
Besides its temples and legends, Dwarka is also famous for being the seat of Adi Shankaracharya, who set up four mathas (seats) in four distinct corners of the nation.
Top Reasons to Visit Dwarka
- To visit Dwarkadheesh Temple, a sacred temple believed to have been built originally by Lord Krishna’s grandson Vajranabh.
- To visit the Nageshwar Jyotirlinga, which is said to be the first of the 12 Jyotirlingas dedicated to Lord Shiva.
- To enjoy a picturesque scenic ride to Beyt Dwarka Island.
- To see the architectural masterpiece of Rukmini Temple.
- To unwind at the Gomti Ghat.
Located on the banks of Yamuna River, Vrindavan is famous as one of the most significant spots for the devotees of Lord Krishna. It is said that Lord Krishna had spent his adolescence in this city. The name of the city has been gotten from vrinda (which means basil) and van (which means forest), which refer to the two little forests at Seva Kunj and Nidhivan. Both culturally and religiously affluent, the city boasts a lot of Lord Krishna and Radha temples, the most popular ones being ISKCON Temple and Banke Bihari Temple. These temples are set in the midst of the thick woods and lavish greenery of Vrindavan. The city is also widely popular for its unique and vivacious celebration of Holi.
Top Reasons to Visit Vrindavan
- To visit the ISKCON Temple.
- To visit the sacred Bankey Bihari Temple built in 1862 by Swami Haridas, the guru of famous musician Tansen.
- To visit Keshi Ghat which is believed to be the place where Lord Krishna took a bath after slewing the demon Keshi.
- To see Janmashtami celebrations at Hare Rama Hare Krishna Temple.
- To witness vibrant celebrations during the festival of Holi.
Visit any of these ancient cities in incredible India and gain an insight into the rich history, diversity, and heritage of this vast and beautiful country.