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India's top 10 cities for heritage lovers to visit

India's top 10 cities for heritage lovers to visit
DESTINATIONS

By Aquib Nawab

16 Jun, 2024

India is a country renowned for its rich cultural heritage and vibrant arts scene. From bustling metropolitan hubs to quaint small towns, there are countless destinations across India that offer an abundance of cultural attractions, museums, art galleries, theaters, heritage sites, festivals, and more for arts and culture lovers to explore.

If you're looking to immerse yourself in India's dynamic arts and culture landscape, here are the top 10 best cities in India for arts and culture enthusiasts:

Mumbai

The sprawling, cosmopolitan port city of Mumbai is widely considered to be the culture and entertainment capital of India. Mumbai is home to the iconic Bollywood film industry, with numerous major film studios based here. The city hosts vibrant cultural festivals like Ghoda Arts Festival, which showcases music, dance, theater, cinema, and literature.

The top arts and cultural attractions in Mumbai include:

  • The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) is a renowned art museum with a world-class collection of contemporary Indian art.
  • Jehangir Art Gallery is a prestigious private art gallery hosting regular exhibitions by local artists.
  • Prithvi Theatre is an iconic theater venue focused on promoting performing arts, especially theater.
  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya isisa major a major history and archaeology museum with an impressive collection of ancient Indian artifacts.
  • Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai's oldest museum, is known for its collection of decorative arts.

Gateway of India(Credits: Canva)

Delhi

As India's capital and a melting pot of cultures, Delhi offers a wealth of arts and cultural gems. The National Capital Territory is home to over 100 art galleries, dozens of museums, scores of performing arts theaters, and heritage sites, and hosts various cultural festivals annually, like the International Kite Festival.

Top attractions and activities for culture vultures in Delhi include:

  • National Museum: One of India's largest museums with an expansive collection of ancient artifacts.
  • The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) is a premier modern and contemporary art museum.
  • India Art Fair: India's largest contemporary art fair, held annually in Delhi.
  • India Habitat Centre: a major major cultural complex with art galleries, theaters, libraries, and more.
  • Red Fort, an iconic iconic Mughal-era fortress and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Old Delhi Heritage Walk: Wander the fascinating old-world bazaars and streets of historic Old Delhi.

India Gate(Credits: Canva) 

Kolkata

The former colonial capital of India, Kolkata, is a hub of literature, art, music, film, and culture. Often referred to as the cultural capital of India, the city is renowned for its rich traditions in theater, poetry, filmmaking, literature, and the visual arts.

Top cultural destinations and activities in Kolkata include:

  • Victoria Memorial, a stunning white marble museum mainly focused on British-era Indian history.
  • Indian Museum, one of India's oldest and largest multipurpose museums.
  • Kalighat Kali Temple is a historic Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Kali.
  • Howrah Bridge, an iconic Kolkata landmark.
  • South Park Street Cemetery is an eerie but fascinating colonial-era Christian cemetery.
  • Science City, an immersive science center with interactive exhibits and displays.
  • Rabindra Sarobar is an urban lake where cultural programs and open-air theater are hosted.
  • Kolkata Literary Festival is an annual literature festival celebrating Kolkata's literary legacy.

Howrah Bridge(Credits: Canva) 

Varanasi

Situated on the banks of the Ganges River, the holy city of Varanasi is considered one of the oldest living cities in the world. Varanasi has an enormously rich cultural history and significance in Hinduism, being one of the holiest pilgrimage sites for Hindus.

Key cultural attractions and activities in Varanasi include:

  • Ganga Aarti, an evening prayer ritual and riverfront spectacle with music, chants, and lamps.
  • Banaras Hindu University is a leading university with a vibrant art gallery and cultural museums.
  • Sarnath, a major Buddhist pilgrimage site, is where Buddha gave his first sermon after enlightenment.
  • Ramnagar Fort and Museum, an 18th-century fort turned museum with artifacts showcasing local history.
  • Heritage walk, wandering Varanasi's narrow alleyways and ghats to uncover ancient temples and customs.
  • Music performances sitar, tabla, and classical music concerts hosted along Varanasi's ghats.
  • Handicrafts, watching skilled craftspeople create world-famous Banarasi saris, wooden toys, and more.

Ghats of Varanasi(Credits: Canva) 

Chennai

As the cosmopolitan capital of Tamil Nadu, Chennai has an array of museums, monuments, temples, classical dance performances, and music concerts to experience. The city has a thriving culture of arts, history, and craftsmanship on display.

The topThe top attractions in Chennai for culture enthusiasts include:

  • The Government Museum is a prowling museum complex with galleries dedicated to art, archaeology, zoology, anthropology, and more.
  • Kalakshetra Foundation is a major center dedicated to the preservation of Indian culture, arts, and crafts.
  • Kapaleeshwarar Temple is an ancient Dravidian-style Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
  • DakshinaChitra is a heritage museum showcasing the art, architecture, and crafts of South India's diverse cultures.
  • Fort St. George, Britain's first major colonial fortification in India, houses historic monuments and museums.
  • Bharat Kalachar is a renowned institution promoting classical Indian music and dance through performances and classes.
  • Theosophical Society is a peaceful grounds containing a church, mosque, Buddhist shrine, Hindu temple, and more.

Central Railway Stations(Credits: Canva) 

Hyderabad

Hyderabad is an old-world city brimming with historic sites and monuments that reflect its multicultural heritage. Known for its cosmopolitan culture and delectable cuisine, the city offers plenty for arts and culture buffs to appreciate.

Top cultural attractions and activities in Hyderabad include:

  • Charminar, an iconic 16th-century mosque and Hyderabad's most famous landmark
  • Salar Jung Museum: a vast collection of world art and artifacts, curated by the Salar Jung family
  • Golconda Fort: an imposing medieval fort with spectacular acoustics, sound, and light shows
  • Chowmahalla Palace, an evocative 18th- and 19th- Evocative 18th-19th century palace complex
  • Ramoji Film City is the largest integrated film studio complex in the world.
  • Lamakaan is an open cultural center and arts hub hosting plays, gigs, talks, and workshops.
  • Numaish Exhibition, a historic annual trade fair highlighting Hyderabadi crafts and culture
  • Pearls and bangles shopping, browse through the dazzling lacquer bangles and intricate pearl jewelry the city is famed for.

Char Minar(Credits: Canva) 

Mysore

The historic cultural heartland of Karnataka, Mysore, charms visitors with its grand royal palaces, vibrant silk sarees, sandalwood carvings, and jasmine-scented flowers. There's a deep appreciation for the art and heritage preserved in the city.

The top cultural experiences in Mysore include:

  • Mysore Palace is a glitzy 19th-century palace showcasing a blend of Hindu, Gothic, and Rajput architectural styles.
  • Chamundi Hills: Pilgrimage site with Chamundeshwari Temple and giant statue of Nandi bull.
  • Mysore Sandal Soap Factory: See how the iconic sandalwood soap is created in the original government factory.
  • Srirangapatna, a historically significant island town home to religious monuments and Tipu Sultan's summer palace.
  • Devaraja Market is a bustling traditional market selling colorful flowers, incense, and spices.
  • Yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda: Take classes and treatments to immerse yourself in India's ancient practices for mind and body wellness.
  • Dussehra Festival: Witness the magnificent torch-lit parade during this major festival celebrating Goddess Chamundeshwari.

Mysore Palace(Credits: Canva) 

Kochi

Situated on the breathtaking Malabar Coast, Kochi is a vibrant trading port with a rich tapestry of multicultural influences reflected in its arts and heritage attractions. Chinese fishing nets, Dutch palaces, Portuguese churches, Jewish synagogues, and British colonial landmarks dot Kochi alongside Kerala-style art centers.

The top cultural activities and landmarks in Kochi include:

  • Hill Palace Museum: an extensive collection of Indian royal artifacts and heritage belongings across galleries
  • Mattancherry is a quaint historic area containing the Dutch Palace, Jewish Synagogue, art galleries, and spice markets.
  • Kathakali performances: Kochi is the best place to watch the ornately costumed Kathakali dance drama in Kerala.
  • Fort Kochi and Mattancherry heritage walks: guided tours of Kochi's historic colonial-era neighborhoods
  • Kerala Folklore Museum: a museum highlighting Kerala's diverse performing arts and culture through dioramas and exhibits
  • Vasco House is believed to be the oldest Portuguese dwelling in India.
  • Biennale Festival: Kochi hosts India's largest contemporary art festival every two years.

Kochi(Credits: Canva) 

Lucknow

The capital of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, is acclaimed for its artistic and culinary heritage influenced by the Persian-inspired courts of the Nawabs, who once ruled here. Majestic monuments, urbane literature and poetry recitals, intricate embroidery crafts, and delectable Awadhi cuisine are hallmarks of Lucknow's rich culture.

Top experiences for culture aficionados in Lucknow:

  • Bara Imambara: A stunning 500-meter-long Shia monument with lavish decor and a mystifying maze (bhul bhulaiya)
  • Chota Imambara, a more intimate Shia shrine decorated with calligraphy, chandeliers, and a silver tomb
  • Roomi Darwaza: an ornate 60-foot-tall gateway modeled after Istanbul’s Sublime Porte
  • British Residency Ruins: Site of the famous Siege of Lucknow with poignant gravestones of British soldiers amidst the derelict grandeur
  • Rumi Gate: an imposing royal entrance gate flanked by 11 arches and statues
  • Husainabad Clock Tower: a majestic clock tower built in 1881 near the Royal Gate of the Husainabad Palace
  • Attend a Mushaira poetry recital. Soak in the region's love for Urdu poetry at these musical poetry sessions.
  • Shop for chikankari embroidery. Admire and purchase the fine traditional Lucknowi chikankari done on muslin and chiffon fabrics.

Lucknow(Credits: Canva) 

Hampi

The enchanting UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hampi contains the sprawling ruins of the ancient Vijayanagara Empire. With over 1,600 surviving relics scattered amidst otherworldly granite boulder landscapes, Hampi offers an immersive look into 14th-century Dravidian temple architecture, art, culture, and history.

The top cultural activities and landmarks among Hampi's ruins include:

  • Virupaksha Temple: a historically significant Hindu temple still intact and functional, dedicated to Lord Shiva
  • Vittala Temple is an elaborate 16th-century temple famous for its musical stone chariot and pillars that emit notes when tapped.
  • Royal Enclosure: Imposing remnants of royal palaces, pavilions, temples, and elephant stables
  • Hazara Rama Temple: an ancient temple embellished with intricate carvings depicting the Hindu epic Ramayana
  • Hemakuta Hill Temples: A collection of pre-Vijayanagara temples and shrines built between the 6th and 10th centuries
  • Elephant stables and royal baths: Huge domed chambers where royal elephants were housed and members of the royal family bathed
  • Local handicrafts: Shop for traditional handicrafts like terracotta, woodwork, basketry, and batik cloth created by local artisans.

Hampi(Credits: Canva) 

So there you have it—the top 10 best cities in India for indulging your passion for arts, culture, history, and heritage. From sprawling metro hubs to quaint small towns, India offers an abundance of vibrant cultural attractions and experiences waiting to be discovered. Which city speaks to you the most?

Pack your bags and come immerse yourself in India's dynamic living culture!

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Hostels allow you to meet fellow travelers and cultural enthusiasts from around the world. You'll get to swap stories and recommendations, and you may even make some new friends to join you on your arts and culture adventures across incredible India!
 

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