Continuously inhabited for nearly five thousand years, Varanasi is one of the saptapuris or seven holy cities believed to grant moksha or salvation. Located between the rivers Varuna and Asi that drain into the Ganga, Varanasi is sacred to Lord Shiva and Parvati. It is also called Kashi or the City of Light after the Kashi Vishwanath temple, one of India's twelve jyotirlingas. Its sacred bathing and burning ghats, its gallis, its mystics and mendicants, cultural and culinary traditions make the city a fascinating microcosm of India.
Best time to visit Varanasi
November to February is the best time to explore Varanasi.
Most spoken languages in Varanasi
How to reach Varanasi
Legendary sweetshop serving Varanasi’s famous lal peda, besides gulab jamun, jalebi, motichur laddoo and spicy deep-fried snacks. Don’t be alarmed by the police presence – they are on duty to protect the Kashi Vishwanath shrine!
Feast on a wide variety of snacks – tomato chaat, papdi chaat, dahi papdi chaat, palak papdi chaat, as well as gulab jamun and kulfi.
Great local joint for kachoris (thick puri stuffed with spiced lentil), served with aloo rassa (think potato gravy) and hot jalebis to round it off
The best place to try the local Varanasi snack safed makhhan toast – thick, local bread toasted over live coal and slathered with a generous helping of creamy butter, chased with local kulhad tea.
Popular eatery serving UP-Bihari cuisine – litti (baked roundels stuffed with sattu paneer), served with aloo-baingan chokha (potato-eggplant mash) and chutney. It’s worth the wait and don’t go without tasting the kulfi and kheer.
Nepali-run eatery that serves excellent Tibetan and Nepali fare, besides buffalo steak, grilled chicken, salads, pancakes and apple pie.
Plush restaurant inside Ramada Plaza JHV with terrific ambience, excellent Indian food and live music like tabla recitals.
Street shopping in Varanasi
Varanasi's strategic location on the Gangetic plain and historical trade routes made it an important market since Mauryan times. Historically, shawls from the north, diamonds and gold from the Deccan, muslin and silk from the east, armaments from Lucknow, food grains from across India and perfumes, horses and elephants, were traded here. Even today, the city is a great place to buy brass and copperware, gold jewellery, shawls, saris, stone inlay work and musical instruments.
The closest Varanasi comes to a party is the annual Ram Leela in October, when theatre performers and musicians stage a theatrical re-enactment of Lord Rama's life. Held across a month with marathon music sessions on blaring loudspeakers, it's usually an all-night affair.
Jukaso Ganges, Guleria Ghat A 200-year-old riverfront Yadava haveli painstakingly restored by WelcomHeritage into a boutique luxury hotel. Built out of Chunar sandstone, most of the 15 rooms open to a view of the Ganga with a riverside café and an open-to-sky terrace restaurant. The 800-year-old Vishnu idol in the meditation room is stunning.
Suryauday Haveli, Shivala Ghat Locally called Nepali Kothi, it was built by the Nepal kings in the early 20th century as a retreat for the aged. Serves food prepared by a maharaj, so you know its wholesome. An added bonus? Yoga classes get organised on the terrace.
The Clarks Varanasi, The Mall One of the oldest and most well-known hotels in Varanasi, Clarks offers 104 well-furnished rooms with an outdoor pool in a serene garden.
A Palace on River, Rashmi Guest House, Manmandir Ghat A budget riverside hotel, that is adjacent to Man Singh’s Observatory. It offers 16 air-conditioned rooms (some with river view) and the rooftop Dolphin Restaurant.
Just 13km from town at Sarnath, Lord Buddha preached his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, marked by the Dhamekh Stupa. It's a great option to enlighten yourself with Buddhism away from the city of spirituality.
This festival is celebrated throughout the country with different names as Pongal, Lohri and others. This is a festival of kites where people fly kites, and the sky gets covered with colourful flying paper.
This is an important festival that falls between February or March for those who worship Lord Shiva. People fast and stay awake all through the night. Many rituals and delicacies are famous during this festival.