Those who think that the age of chivalry and gracious living is past and complain of the monotony of modern life, they need to visit Lucknow. Dotted with grand monuments and famed throughout India for its cuisine, the capital of Uttar Pradesh is often unfairly overlooked by travellers. They should know that locals tend to be welcoming, and the city manages to transport you back in time. Lucknow was once home to the great Nawabs of Awadh, a dynasty famously known for its pursuit of pleasure, most of it culinary. Undeniably more graceful and refined than the rest of India, the city where Umrao Jaan is based has absorbed all faiths with grace and tolerance, a mark of the Sufis and their influence in the region.
Best time to visit: Lucknow is at its sunny best between October and early April, but be prepared for chilly nights.
How to reach
By Air: Situated in Amausi, Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport is the nearest airport to Lucknow. IndiGo operates more than 150 non-stop weekly flight between Lucknow and other key destinations.
By Train: Lucknow Charbagh Railway Station and Lucknow Junction Railway Station are the main railway station in Lucknow along with others. These stations have a good network of several high-speed trains like Lucknow Rajdhani Express, Howrah-Jaisalmer Superfast Express etc., connecting the city with the rest of the country.
By Bus: Lucknow is well-connected with the nearby cities through a vast network of buses provided by Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (UPSTRC) and private operators as well.
Getting around: You can travel around Lucknow using local buses (A/C and non-A/C) run by UPSRTC along with other accessible means of transport including cycle rickshaws, auto-rickshaws and private cabs like OLA and TaxiForSure.
For the seriously uninitiated, Tunday Kebabi, in the busy Aminabad bazaar, is run by the grandson of the one-armed Tunday, creator of the galouti kebab. You can also feast on a spread of pulaos, Awadhi kheer and saffron-coloured sheermals. But it is the smoothness of the kebabs that everyone queues up for—with diners travelling from afar. Bargain prices, attentive service and a market atmosphere, add to the draw.
A posh, rooftop restaurant located in Hotel Clarks Avadh, serves authentic Awadhi food. Perfect for winter afternoons, their signature butter chicken is the ideal accompaniment to their pillowy naans. There’s a small bar where you can enjoy brews and views as well.
As is your right, queue up the next afternoon for the local treasure that is the Royal Cafe at Hazratganj. Even if you don’t choose to dine here, try the chaat stand outside, the best of which is the potato basket chaat—stuffed with tikkis, fresh peas, yoghurt and chutney.
To combat a heavy meal, a well-made Lakhnavi paan is the best antidote. Founded in 1805, make your way to Ram Asrey for freshly made samosas and finish with the malai paan.
In a city where most of the food is a legacy of the Nawabs, Coqina is a small experiential kitchen that specialises in Awadhi cuisine. If you’re lucky, the meal gets prepared by a khansama from the Nawab’s kitchen. For those who want to learn about the city’s rich culinary heritage, this is the booking to snag in advance, since it is only open to those that have made reservations.
Every city has its sweet spot. Lucknow has the Sharmaji ki Chai in Aminabad. Apart from the refreshingly milky teas served with loads of nostalgia, their deceptively simple bun-makhan is a delicious conversation starter.
Located in the lobby at Vivanta by Taj - Gomti Nagar, Oudhyana serves some of the most authentic Awadhi dishes—the kakori kebab, the delicious nihari gosht, warqi paratha, sewai ka muzaffar and shahi tukda are all worth ordering. Service is spot-on, and the splendid thandai delivers a kick more pleasurable than the bill.
If you know your chikankari from your chicken curry, Lucknow is the best place to shop for traditional wear. Ever since Judi Dench sashayed up in an exotic Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla creation to receive an Oscar in 2004, chikankari couture has become a fashion staple in the swish set—at home as well as in the international corridors of fashion.
Kotwara House: The home of the renowned film-maker and designer Muzaffar Ali (the Raja of Kotwara), Kotwara House is a homage to Nawabi culture. Located within the Qaisarbagh Palace complex, the restored house showcases and revives the traditional craft of Awadh. Here you can spend hours admiring the chikan, zari and mukaish work for the designer’s couture label, Kotwara. Take a curated walk by all means across the palace property. It’s the best way to sample Lucknow heritage without the hordes, though you can only do so by scheduling a walk with Lucknow Walks.
Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA): You don’t need to look far or go to the streets when looking for a bargain buy in Lucknow. Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) was peddling beautiful chikankari at reasonable prices long before it became fashionable. So, if you’d like to do your bit for a social cause, shop at their Alamgarh store. Looking good isn’t half as satisfying as feeling good about yourself.
Bharat Khamira Store: Hooked on hookah? Pick up a pipe or two from Nazirabad-based Bharat Khamira Store in Hukke Wali Gali, play a few ghazals on that vintage turntable back home and go back a few years in time. This addictive haunt satisfies your smoking needs with an array of pipes and intensely flavoured tobaccos.
Burma Bakery: Lucknow is famous for its bakery products as much as for its womenswear. Burma Bakery, in Hazratganj, is where you can stock up on butter biscuits and cake rusks to take home. Head to Ram Asrey in Chowk for kilos of kaju dalmoth, so that you can leave the city without feeling hungry for more.
Vivanta by Taj-Gomti Nagar A 9-km stroll from Bara Imambara, this genteel hotel sits on 10 hectares of gardens in a domed, colonial-style building. Graceful columns, ornate tapestries, and lush lawns conjure up a time gone by, one that’s endearingly preserved here. Served by two restaurants and a bar, which will no doubt leave you in a glorious food coma, you can always recover from the day's activities at the welcoming pool.
Fairfield by Marriott, Gomti Nagar A lot is going for this hotel: a contemporary, central accommodation that offers excellent value, without compromising on the needs of the business traveller. Situated in the convenient Vibhuti Khand business district and just a short distance from the Indira Gandhi Pratishthan convention centre, guests can take in panoramic city views while working out in the hotel’s rooftop fitness centre.
Lebua Lucknow, Mall Avenue Had it with soulless hotel rooms? With its artfully designed rooms, the Lebua is all about being less stuffy. This was originally a quaint heritage bungalow built in 1936. The whimsical architecture reflects the art deco style of the early 1920s. All 41 rooms showcase the Nawabi heritage of living spaces flowing into courtyards making the property all the more welcoming. In a city that doesn’t quite throw up many boutique hotel options, staying here is more than delightful. There are also many resorts in Lucknow that you can choose to stay.
Rumi Darwaza: Built in 1784, Rumi Darwaza is an epitome of Awadhi style architecture. It is also known as Turkish gate due to its similarity with to the gateway of Constantinople. Considered to be the symbol of Lucknow city, this beautiful monument features exquisitely carved dome and beautiful architectural patterns and designs. You must include in your travel itinerary while visiting Lucknow.
La Martiniere School: It’s another splendid day in Lucknow so park your cynicism at the gate before visiting La Martiniere School, situated on the marg named after it. Initially built by Frenchman Major General Claude Martin as a palatial home, it’s a distinguished boarding school where pop legend Sir Cliff Richard and many other famous personalities studied. The eccentric facade is a sensory overload with its throwback to colonial architecture and its many turrets and gargoyles grinning in appreciation at students rushing by. All of which can be a bit of a shock to the system in the evenings—so best to gape at it in the afternoon.
Lucknow doesn’t go big on molecular cuisine or boho boutiques. But, if you know where to look, the capital is full of curiosities. The Bara Imambara’s Bhool Bhulaiya or the labyrinth is where rulers of the city, to guard themselves against rebellious soldiers, instructed the artisans to build it in a way that would enable the slightest whisper to travel through several turns and twists of the corridors. Rumour had it that the underground tunnels could take you all the way to Delhi (sadly the tunnels were closed after some mercenary British soldiers went in search of rare diamonds and never surfaced). So, if you genuinely want to lose yourself in the beauty of Lucknow, you know where to go. Is there anything better than a grassy picnic spot with crocodiles for a company? Make your way to the Kukrail Reserve Forest & Gharial Rehabilitation Centre. Throw down a blanket and while away the afternoon, watching black bucks, rare avian species and crocodiles.