Best Things To Do in Agra
The Taj Mahal will no doubt be No. 1 on your list, and it should be the very first thing you do in Agra (i.e. go early in the morning). Crowds here can quickly reach legendary levels (the attraction sees thousands of visitors per day), so be efficient before the midday masses arrive. The next logical stop is the nearby Agra Fort. Between these two attractions, you'll be in awe of Agra's historic treasures, but there's more. Itmad-ud-Daulah's Tomb is another must-visit architectural marvel, said to have inspired the Taj Mahal years later. If you have extra time, make the trek to the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri – an overlooked UNESCO World Heritage site with very few crowds. Whether you see just the Taj or all that Agra has to offer, make sure to end your day with a sunset view of the Taj from the peaceful Mehtab Bagh garden.
Updated August 14, 2017
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Plain and simple: This is the reason you come to Agra. The Taj Mahal is a majestic tomb built in the Mughal style, which combines Indian, Islamic and Persian architectural principles. Visitors marvel at the intricate Quran inscriptions, the structure's perfect symmetry, the ornate accents, and the surrounding manicured gardens. But this monument's enchantment goes beyond its arresting visual appeal: The story behind its creation has drawn romantics for centuries.
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Just northwest of the Taj Mahal, this formidable fortress rests on the west bank of the Yamuna River on the edge of central Agra. About a century older than its more recognized neighbor, Agra Fort boasts impressive red sandstone architectural details throughout and is considered to be one of the best Mughal forts in India. Several rulers made their mark on this site while they lived behind its towering walls, including Shah Jahan, the same emperor who is responsible for the construction of the Taj Mahal. You can credit Jahan with the white marble features you'll find within the fort. It was he who was also responsible for eventually converting the structure into a palace. (Jahan's grandfather, Emperor Akbar originally built it as a fort some hundred years earlier). Travelers could easily spend hours touring and admiring the fort's many offerings, including mosques, verdant courtyards and towers, one of which acted as a prison for Jahan until his death. Today, the site still holds onto its defense roots, as some areas of the fort are used by the Indian military, and as such closed to the public.
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Located on the east bank of the Yamuna River (just a few miles from central Agra), Itmad-ud-Daulah's Tomb boasts a pretty picturesque setting. This tomb is the first mausoleum in India to be constructed entirely of marble. You'll recognize that the same stone was used for the Taj Mahal; in fact, this monument often goes by the nicknames, "Mini Taj" or "Baby Taj." But just because it's smaller in size doesn't mean you should neglect it.
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Believe it or not, this gorgeous city was built all thanks to one man's blessing. Emperor Akbar, the one also responsible for the Agra Fort, visited the Sikri village to seek guidance from a saint sometime in the 16th century. At the time, there was no heir to his throne, but conveniently after the consultation, Akbar was blessed with the sons he needed to carry on his legacy. To celebrate, Akbar built Fatehpur Sikri, which translates to "City of Victory." Fatehpur Sikri was intended to be the capital of Agra and seat of the Mughal dynasty. Knowing this, you may ask: Why have I never heard of Fatehpur Sikri before? Due to a lack of water, the city was abandoned just a few years after its construction. Just about 23 miles west of Agra, Fatehput Sikri lay empty for hundreds of years. Now, the bewitching ghost town sees an influx of annual visitors, thanks to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While here, make sure to stop in the Diwan-i-Khas, Akbar's royal chambers, the tomb of the saint that granted Akbar's destiny (the Tomb of Salim Chisti) as well as Jami' Masjid, the on-site mosque said to be modeled after the Great Mosque of Mecca.
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Interested in seeing the Taj Mahal from more than one angle? Then head over to Mehtab Bagh, or the Moonlight Gardens. Mehtab Bagh is situated opposite of the Taj Mahal on the northern side of the Yamuna River. These gardens are the last of Emperor Babur's 11 gardens that once lined the river. Babur is the founder of the Mughal dynasty, which includes the likes of Shah Jahan (responsible for the Taj Mahal) and Emperor Akbar (responsible for the Agra Fort). The gardens are modest in comparison to other royal gardens (such as the landscape at Versailles Palace), but Mehtab Bagh's purpose today is a practical one. After the empire fell, the gardens were neglected and eventually became unrecognizable. Winds would pick up sand that was left in the plot and travel to the Taj Mahal, causing officials to worry about erosion. The garden was rehabilitated specifically to protect the Taj Mahal from these natural occurrences.
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