Everything your should know before visiting the Taj Mahal. This is how to plan the perfect visit to a famous World Wonder.
Although usually one to dread overly touristy spots, visiting the Taj Mahal had always been a dream of mine – as I’m sure is the case for many of you reading this post.
When my friend Pascale and I decided to backpack around Rajasthan, we knew that the Taj Mahal would be one sight we didn’t want to miss. Agra, where the famous monument is located, is just outside Rajasthan in Uttar Pradesh, but near enough to not be (too) much of a hassle to get to.
After spending one quick night in Delhi upon arrival, we hopped on a train to Agra the next day to see one of the most popular sights in the world for ourselves.
Of course, since most of our trip was improvised, we didn’t do a whole lot of research about the Taj Mahal beforehand. If you’re reading this post, you’re already doing better than we did!
This is why we only found out that the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays, only after we arrived in Agra, on a Friday. You live and you learn, right?
However, I’m all for making the best of travel mishaps – they usually end up working out better than the original plan anyway, and that’s exactly what happened in Agra.
Instead of visiting the Taj Mahal that first day, we spent an extra day in the city and took a tuk tuk tour around some of the lesser known sites.
We never would’ve realized how cool Agra actually is unless we had done this, because we were originally just thinking we would see the Taj Mahal and move on quickly to our next destination. This is what most people do, but I’m so glad that’s not how it happened for us.
If you have the time, I’d recommend spending at least an extra day in Agra to take a tour around the city like we did. There’s a lot more to see here than just the Taj, and the personality of the city is worth experiencing for yourself outside of the major tourist attraction.
But, we’ll get to more of those recommendations later! I know you really came here to learn more about the Taj Mahal, so I put together this in-depth guide of everything you should know before seeing the iconic mausoleum for yourself and checking off a major bucket-list item.
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Fun Facts About the Taj Mahal
- There are over 7 million visitors per year.
- The four minarets, or towers, surrounding the main structure were constructed further away than normal and angled slightly outward, so that if any of them ever fell they wouldn’t fall on the tomb.
- The Taj Mahal took about 22 years to build.
- Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, the main architect, was not actually Indian, he was from Iran.
- Construction cost an estimated 32 million rupees (over US $1 billion at the time).
- There are a total of 28 types of precious and semiprecious jewels set in the building’s marble.
- The structure was built by 22,000 laborers, stonecutters, embroiderers, and painters.
- The name ‘Taj Mahal’ translates to ‘crown of palaces’ in Arabic.
The famous monument is seen as a symbol of love, loss, and purity, and one of the architectural wonders of the world.
It was built by the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, as a tomb for his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child at age 38. Apparently, the Shah was so distraught over her death that his hair turned grey overnight, and he started building the Taj Mahal a year later.
The mausoleum was finished in 1653, 22 years later.
Shah Jahan was overthrown soon after by his son and put under house arrest in Agra Fort. It’s said that he could see his wife’s memorial from the balcony of the fort until his death in 1666. The period of his reign is widely thought of as the golden age of Mughal architecture.
Rudyard Kipling once described the Taj Mahal as “the embodiment of all things pure”, and it’s true that there is an aura of quiet pureness that surrounds the mausoleum when you see it in person.
Where is the Taj Mahal?
The Taj Mahal is located in Agra, in the Uttar Pradesh region, just over 125 miles southeast from Delhi. You can take a 3.5 hour train from Delhi to Agra, just try to book your tickets ahead of time as it’s a popular route.
I’d recommend staying in Agra instead of doing a day tour, to really get a feel for the city and take your time visiting the Taj Mahal, but if you’re set on only doing a quick visit, I’d recommend these Taj tours – private tour, group tour, or sunrise tour.
When to Go to the Taj Mahal
In terms of weather and temperature, the best time to visit Agra is around October to March, but it’s also high-season with large crowds of tourists.
If you can handle the heat, go in the off-season in April and May, but try to avoid the height of the monsoon season from June to September.
In terms of the time of day, go as early as possible to avoid the largest crowds. We woke up before dark and arrived right when it opened at 6:30am, and we were able to enjoy views of the beautiful Taj with slightly less people than normal.
Note that Taj Mahal hours are usually 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes before sunset, so it’s dependent on what season you’re there. And it’s closed on Fridays!
No matter what time of year, you’ll still have plenty of pushy tourists that might try to ruin the experience for you, but by going early you can avoid a large chunk of them. And you will also be avoiding the hottest part of the day, which seems to bring out the worst in people.
What to Wear to the Taj Mahal
Although there’s technically no official dress code when visiting the Taj Mahal, India is a conservative country and it’s recommended that men, and especially women, cover up to not attract unwanted attention.
Believe me, as a westerner you’ll already be getting your fair share of attention from Indian men and women who will want selfies with you at the Taj.
Pascale and I were stopped at least 20 times during our visit, and it would’ve been more except we started turning people down so we could actually see everything we wanted to see at the Taj Mahal.
To be fair, we were both wearing saris so our outfits in no way curbed attention, but we didn’t experience any negative attention like we might have if we decided to wear cut-off jean shorts and tank tops.
It’s also a respect thing. I always look at what local women are wearing and try to mirror that in my travels (literally in this case with our saris). Don’t be one of those tourists who is adamant about wearing the clothes you wear at home if they’re inappropriate or disrespectful to the culture.
I know some westerners might roll their eyes at the fact that we chose to wear saris, or even go so far as calling it ‘cultural appropriation’ (usually the people who don’t understand what the word means), but honestly, the only people who ever gave us dirty looks were westerners. And mostly western women, unfortunately.
Every single Indian we came across when we were wearing our saris, from both the Taj Mahal and the Indian wedding we went to in Udaipur, said they loved seeing foreigners wearing their traditional clothing. To them, it was us appreciating their culture (while in their culture), being more approachable, and opening up a conversation.
In general, it’s recommended for both men and women to wear clothing that goes past the knee and covers your shoulders.
If you’re comfortable wearing a sari, you can do what we did and get one once you arrive in India. Otherwise, light linen pants, long-sleeve or quarter-length sleeve shirts (basically anything except for a tank top or singlet), long skirts, or maxi dresses should all be fine.
You’ll be asked to take off your shoes before you go inside the Taj, we just chose to carry them in our bags with us to avoid losing them. There were A LOT of shoes.
Other Places to View the Taj Mahal
A charbagh, or Islamic quadrilateral garden, that gives a stunning view of the Taj Mahal from further away. Although when we were there, there wasn’t much of a garden, it’s another ideal place in Agra to view the Taj Mahal.
From the Yamuna River
For a different angle, you can walk the path that leads down from the Taj Mahal’s eastern wall to a small temple near the river.
Here you can hire a boat for around 100 rupees, that will take you out to the middle of the Yamuna River for a view of the Taj from the water. This can be especially beautiful at sunset, but it’s not recommended that you go by yourself for safety reasons.
You should be making a visit to Agra Fort while you’re in Agra anyway, so you may as well enjoy the view of the Taj from its balconies. This is supposedly where Shah Jahan looked longingly at the famous structure while he was imprisoned here by his son until his death.
One of Agra’s many rooftop hostels/bars/restaurants
Agra is known for its many rooftop hangouts, and many of them just happen to have a view of the Taj Mahal, especially in Taj Ganj. Go to the cafe at Saniya Palace Hotel to wake up with a cup of chai and a view of the Taj in its pink early morning glow.
Practicalities for Visiting the Taj Mahal
Don’t forget that you need a visa to visit India. If you’re staying under two months in the country as a tourist, I recommend applying for the e-visa which you can quickly fill out online for a fee that’s dependent on your nationality.
I paid US$75 as an American, my Canadian friend only paid US$50.
The entrance fee for visiting the Taj Mahal is one of the least expensive I’ve seen at a famous tourist sight, at only 1000 rupees, or about US$15. You can buy tickets at the ticket office outside any entrance, just make sure you get in the foreigner line, the cost for an Indian tourist is only 40 rupees (US$0.60).
Electric vehicles only
With the horrible air quality in Agra, the Taj Mahal’s white marble is starting to turn yellow. Because of this, a 4,000-square-mile environmental radius was created around the monument, and only electric vehicles are now allowed near the Taj.
This means you’ll either have to walk, take a rickshaw, or an electric bus within the perimeter to get to a Taj Mahal entrance.
Where to Stay in Agra
I could not say enough good things about Bedweiser, especially if you thrive off the ‘backpacker life’. This is where Pascale and I stayed for our two nights in Agra. The staff was always ready with a sassy joke or welcoming smile.
No frills, good breakfast choices (additional cost), cheap private rooms, relaxed rooftop, and an ideal location walking distance from the Taj Mahal. Make sure to say hi to Abnish for us!
For a more local stay, Matriarch Naghma and her sons run a guesthouse from their home in the residential Fatehabad Road area. N Homestay offers homecooked meals for dinnner (₹400), 6 guest rooms in their three-storey house, balconies from some rooms, and is located a 15 minute walk from the Taj’s western gate.
If you’re looking for a luxe stay to celebrate seeing the Taj Mahal, Oberoi Amarvilas comes at a hefty price tag but gives you luxury for days. Think relaxing courtyards, fountains, swimming pools, big plushy beds with Mughal themes, and rooms that have views of the Taj. Oh, and 5-star dining.
What Else to do in Agra
You can easily see all the sights around Agra in a day or two. You can either do what we did and work out a price with a local tuk tuk driver to take you around for the day (you should ask your hotel/hostel for a recommended driver), or take an inexpensive guided tour.
An impressive and expansive red sandstone fort in the middle of Agra. Also known as ‘The Red Fort’, it was the main residence of Mughal emperors until 1638, when the capital moved from Agra to Delhi. The whole fort is 94 acres, so be prepared to spend the better half of a day there if you want to truly appreciate it.
If you’re an animal lover and you’re looking for a unique stop in the city, the Agra Bear Rescue Facility is a sanctuary for sloth bears who were once forced to be ‘dancing bears’ for events and tourists.
There are more than 200 bears that live there now, and you can tour the grounds and say hello to the bears in their new habitat.
This is actually located within the Taj Mahal complex, on the western part of the gardens, so go on the day you’re already inside. It’s free to enter and showcases Mughal artwork, architecture, and ancient coinage.
Although I don’t recommend shopping in Agra – prices are marked up a lot since it’s such a touristy city – there’s nothing like walking through a hectic bazaar in Asia to really put your senses on fire, and that’s even more the case in India.
Kinari Bazaar is the largest shopping area in Agra, and a bustling place to take in the smells, sights, and atmosphere of Indian culture.
Also known as the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, the Baby Taj is a mausoleum and another example of beautiful Mughal architecture, with a mix of red sandstone and marble decorations.
The tomb was built for Mirzā Ghiyās Beg, the grandfather of Mumtāz Mahāl, who was the wife of Shāh Jahān – the man responsible for building the Taj Mahal. The Baby Taj is often seen as the ‘first draft’ of the Taj Mahal, as it was built in 1628 before the Taj.
Another example of impressive Mughal architecture in Agra, Akbar’s Mausoleum is another fancy tomb built in the 1600s and the final resting place of the greatest Mughal emperor, Akbar the Great, of course. It’s only about 6 miles from Agra Fort, so a great stop before or after spending a day at the popular fort.
If you have time for a day trip while you’re in Agra, we were recommended Fatehpur Sikri multiple times by locals. It’s a fortified ancient city that was founded in the 16th century by a Mughal emperor (who else?) and lies about 24 miles west of Agra.
Have you been to any other World Wonder? What else would you like to know about visiting the Taj Mahal?
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