If you are planning on going to North India, chances are that you will also want to visit the Taj Mahal. For that you must go to Agra, a city about four hours driving from New Delhi. There are also trains that go there. Agra has two main attractions: the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal. If you leave New Delhi in the morning, you will have time to visit the Agra Fort in the afternoon and admire the sunset at the Taj Mahal. The next morning you can visit the Taj Mahal. Read our tips for visiting the Taj Mahal and Agra!
The Agra Fort
The Agra fortress was our first stop in Agra, and also our first fort we visited in India. Agra Fort is the largest fortress in India, it is surrounded by a 2.5 kilometer long fortress wall. It was built on behalf of Emperor Akbar from 1565 to 1571. Agra was then the capital city, and the wall would protect the city. This fort remained the fortress of the Mughal Empire until Delhi became the new capital city in 1638. One of the best things about this fort is the fact that you can see the Taj Mahal in the distance from the balcony. And that’s pretty much the best view you can have, right?
Entrance price: 550 rupees. Open from sunrise to sunset.
From the second I saw the Taj Mahal, I was blown away. Suddenly you understand that, yes: this building is truly one of the seven new wonders of the world. The white marble building is really every bit as impressive as it looks in photos, and made me feel very small and humble.
Most people know the story behind the Taj Mahal: it was built by Shah Jahan, the fifth emperor of the Mughal empire in India, as a burial monument for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal (“palace of the crown”) was built between 1632 and 1648. The tombs of both husband and wife are right next to each other inside the Taj Mahal (you can only see the replica, but the real ones are located directly one floor lower). The Taj Mahal is surrounded by a large impressive garden with fountains, because they symbolize paradise in the Islamic tradition. According to Islamic architecture, the Taj Mahal is completely symmetrical, with four minarets (one in each corner), and two sandstone buildings on each side. I found the inside pretty bare and not that impressive, but the outside is stunning. It is as if the building looks somehow different with different kinds of lightning, I just couldn’t peel my eyes away from it.
How to visit the Taj Mahal
The best time to visit the Taj Mahal is at sunrise. As is often the case in India, there are no fixed opening hours: the building opens at sunrise. That meant we were getting up at five o’clock in the morning, because at 5:45 we would go to the Taj Mahal. We were certainly not the first in line, but we were among the first 100 people or something that could visit the Taj Mahal. Women and men have are separated (because you will be patted down on arrival), so make sure you both have your own ticket and leave those large bags at home. Just take your wallet and camera with you, otherwise you will be standing in line longer. It was quite foggy when we came in, but that quickly improved. It was not as busy as I expected when we were there in November 2017.
Entrance fee & opening hours Taj Mahal
The entrance fee for the Taj Mahal is 1000 rupee for foreign tourists. You will receive a bottle of water with that. As mentioned before, the Taj Mahal is open from sunrise to sunset, but it is closed on Friday. Read more information about buying tickets for the Taj Mahal government website, including where you should go and how to buy your tickets online.
The best place to watch the Taj Mahal sunset
Well, we saw the sunrise at the Taj Mahal itself, but where can you best watch the sunset? This is best done in Mehtab Bagh (entrance fee: 300 rupee per person), the park on the other side of the Yamuna river. There is a piece of grassland on the riverbedding where only cows are allowed to graze, and then there is water. I have seen pictures where the river looked be very dirty, but that was really not the case when I visited. It was all really great, almost idyllic even.
The sunset was my first experience with the Taj Mahal, as the next day we would go over to visit the Taj Mahal for sunrise. And I will never forget the moment I watched the sun set over the Taj Mahal. When we were there, there was hardly anyone, and we were peacefully enjoying the amazing view. The sun set, and the only thing we heard was the sound of cowbells and the call to prayer. I sat there watching the Taj Mahal as the setting sun painted it in the warmest light and suddenly it hit me: I am in India. I have just made a lifelong dream come true. And it was every bit as magical as I had hoped.
Hotel tip in Agra
We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton in Agra. The rooms were very comfortable, the breakfast buffet was delicious, and it is only a fifteen minute drive from the Taj Mahal. Highly recommended.