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.
According to legend, Emperor Shah Jahan (part of the Mughal dynasty, which ruled the majority of northern India between the 16th and 18th centuries) fell deeply in love with Arjumand Banu Begum, who became his favorite of his three wives. They shared such an intense passion for each another that he renamed her "Mumtaz Mahal," or "Chosen One of the Palace." After many years of happy marriage, Mumtaz passed away during the birth of her 14th child. To commemorate their undying love for one another, the Shah built the Taj Mahal as an elaborate tomb. The tomb is made up entirely of white marble and features jade, crystal, lapis, turquoise and amethyst stones inlaid throughout. Over 20,000 workers labored over the site for more than 20 years.
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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.
Recent visitors were impressed by the fort and suggested travelers visit here before heading to the Taj Mahal to learn about how the imperial family lived. Many called the fort an architectural must-see with great historical significance and said it even offers great views of the Taj Mahal, too. Travelers did point out that there isn't a whole lot of shade when walking around the attraction, so don't visit in the middle of the day when the sun is beating down on the fort. Visitors also recommended using a guide during your stay to better understand the vast history behind the fort (guides can be arranged on-site).
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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.
This monument houses a former royal representative. Not only did Itmad-ud-Daulah serve under Emperor Akbar, Shah Jahan's grandfather (Shah Jahan is the man responsible for the Taj Mahal) but also Emperor Jehangir, who ended up marrying Daulah's daughter. Itmad-ud-Daulah was actually not the government representative's given name. Rather, Mizra Ghiyas was given the name Itmad-ud-Daulah as an honor title from the emperors, which translates to "pillar of the state."
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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.
With fewer crowds than the Taj Mahal or Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri is a favorite among travelers for its ornate and detailed Mughal architecture (Fatehpur Sikri is considered to be one of the best examples in the world). Visitors also enjoy being able to tour the magnificent grounds at a leisurely pace. The biggest downside for travelers was surprisingly not the distance to this attraction (it's an hour's drive by car), but rather the hawkers and unofficial guides that pervade the area.
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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.
Some visitors offered mixed reviews of the gardens, describing the grounds as unimpressive and neglected, while others found the site to be a verdant oasis. Regardless of travelers' feelings about aesthetics, many agreed it was peaceful thanks to its distance from the Taj tourists. Plus, the stunning views of the Taj were more than worth the trip, according to reviewers. Some say the best time to visit is at sunset, when the sky lights up with the Taj in the background.
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