When planning a trip to India, it can be difficult to know which places you should visit. From bucket-list sights like the Taj Mahal to the popular forts of Rajasthan to the beach towns along the south coast, India has something for everyone. However, as a solo traveller, or even a first-time traveller to India, you might be wondering what places might be better for you to add to your itinerary. So, I’ve put together this roundup of 12 best places to visit in India for solo travellers, after having spent nine months over three trips there as a solo traveller myself.
For solo travellers, it’s often not about the big bucket list sights and intense cities, which can be overwhelming. For this reason, you won’t find popular places like Agra and Jaipur in this blog post. It’s more about the laidback towns with friendly people, backpacking community hubs and mountain escapes that can make for a more enjoyable and rewarding experience as a solo traveller.
I’ve put together this list of 12 destinations for solo travellers in India based on the following features: their popularity with other travellers, ease of transport connections, a certain level of comfort and a more relaxed vibe. I know that being a solo traveller in India can be daunting and overwhelming, but if you add these places to your itinerary, you’ll quickly realise that it’s one of the most fascinating, beautiful and compelling countries in the world.
This list also offers some great places to visit for first-time travellers to India. Many of these destinations can offer the perfect introduction to the subcontinent without the overwhelming chaos that you might find in some of India’s big cities.
South India is the more laidback and relaxed part of the subcontinent. While Rajasthan and the intense northern half gets most of the tourists, it’s South India which quickly becomes a traveller’s favourite.
The food is delicious, the people are more progressive and open and places are much less crowded and intense. Here’s where I suggest you head in South India as a solo traveller:
Kochi or Cochin is a major city on the southwest coast of India in the state of Kerala. It has been a trading port since 1341 with merchants from Asia, Arabia and Europe coming to the historic district now known as Fort Kochi.
It’s known for its distinct Dutch, Portuguese and British colonial architecture and relaxed seaside atmosphere. It’s a rather trendy place with art galleries, heritage buildings, upscale eateries and boutique stores. Although, at the same time, you can watch fishermen bringing in the daily catch by the old Chinese fishing nets and pick up a cheap fish curry at a street stall.
It also serves as a jumping off point for travellers wanting to explore Kerala’s famous backwaters. The beautiful and lush backwaters of Kerala are best seen on a boat tour which can easily be arranged in Kochi.
Why is Kochi perfect for solo travellers in India?
Kochi, especially Fort Kochi, is one of my favourite places to recommend to first-time travellers to India as well as solo female travellers. Its relaxing vibe is perfect for those who want to avoid the chaotic cities further north in India. The people of Kerala are also known to have more open and liberal views and female travellers generally have a more relaxing time there. If you’re planning a trip to India and wondering where to start for your first time to India, Kochi is a great option.
Varkala is a pretty coastal town in the state of Kerala. It’s perched on the edge of red cliffs covered in picturesque palms and surrounded by white sand beaches. Its beautiful setting has led to its emergence as a traveller favourite in South India with cafes, guesthouses and shops all catering for the backpacker crowd.
It’s also a hub for yoga enthusiasts, and is home to some of Kerala’s best yoga ashrams and meditation schools. Many people visit Varkala and end up leaving weeks rather than days later.
Why is Varkala perfect for solo travellers in India?
Varkala is well established on the travelling route in South India making it super easy to meet people and have a comfortable stay. It’s popular but it’s not as hyped as Goa further north, making it a nice alternative for a beach holiday. The local people are also very chill – you can never be too overwhelmed in Varkala. So whether you’re visiting India for the first time or you want a breezy solo trip, Varkala is a great option to add to your South India itinerary.
Hampi is an ancient city in Karnataka state. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site of numerous ruined temple complexes from the Vijayanagara Empire, which peaked in the 14th century. The ruins are certainly one of the most famous and more beautiful of India’s archaeological sites and are widely considered one of the must-visit places in India.
It’s not only the ruins that attract travellers though. The surrounding landscape is characterised by strewn boulders that attract rock climbers and the vast green patty fields make a beautiful setting for golden sunsets that attract musicians and backpackers for nightly jam sessions with a view. It’s one of the highlights of South India and is a must-visit for most travellers.
Why is Hampi an ideal destination in India for solo travellers?
Hampi has become a real backpacker hangout. The village of Hampi has countless small guesthouses, cafes and handicraft shops. It attracts an interesting crowd with musicians, hippies and backpackers all coming together to give it a very laidback vibe that is perfect for exploring all day long and watching the sunset together in the evening. Due to its popularity, it’s also well serviced by night buses from other popular places like Goa. This makes it one of the best places to visit in India for solo travellers.
I would usually protest at adding a destination like Goa to this kind of a blog post, but it’s still possible to do Goa right. Goa is a small state on the west coast of India that has a strong Portuguese and Christian heritage that makes it quite distinct from the rest of India. It’s golden sand and palm tree lined coast attract people from all over for the ultimate beach destination in the country.
However, it also has a notorious reputation for being the place foreigners go for full moon beach parties and getting their hands on every drug under the sun. It’s somehow always been the place for parties, even since colonial days, and it was the epicentre of the hippie backpacking trail in the 60s and 70s. Today, there is a greater police presence and the parties are not as wild as they once were, but it’s still India’s version of Bali in many ways.
Why is Goa the perfect destination in India for solo travellers?
So, I haven’t painted Goa in a good light, but it is still one of the best places for solo travel in India. You’ll never be alone in Goa with a great traveller crowd all year round – it’s one of the easiest places to meet other people. There’s also good Western comfort food available and easy transport connections to other major cities, making it equally good for first-time travellers to India.
However, if you want to get underneath the culture a bit more, then you’ll have to pull yourself away from the sandy beaches. The state capital, Panjim or Panaji offers a good chance to see some incredible colonial architecture and old churches. On the southern coast, Palolem beachoffers a more relaxed, yet still popular place to hang out. In the north, Anjuna has a great hippie market and Arambol is where you’ll find plenty of backpackers who have been washed up there for weeks.
The most famous part of India, Rajasthan draws the big crowds of tourists for its impressive forts, palaces and colourful cities. It’s the place where most first time visitors and solo backpackers head, with a well established travel route through Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur.
While these are incredible places, I always tell solo travellers to head to Pushkar and Jaisalmer as well. These are often left off India itineraries by those short on time, but I found them to be some of the most memorable places in Rajasthan.
Similar to a lot of places on this list, Pushkar is a popular backpacker hangout spot that attracts people from all walks of life. It’s a very beautiful place, bordering the Thar Desert and set on the Pushkar Lake in Rajasthan.
It’s a very sacred site for Hindus with 52 ghats (stairs) where pilgrims come to bathe in the holy water of the lake. There are hundreds of temples in the town, which are weaved between all the souvenir shops, rooftop cafes and small guesthouses.
If you time your visit right, you can even witness the famous Pushkar Camel Fair. This annual livestock and cultural festival is held in November every year. Although, similar to Holi, this can be an intense experience for foreign travellers.
Why is Pushkar perfect for solo travellers in India?
Pushkar is one of the most chill places in Rajasthan, which can otherwise be an intense state to visit in India. Its small-town vibe means it’s easy to navigate and there are also plenty of things to do in the surrounding area which is usually seen by renting a scooter. The cafes and shops surrounding the lake are hard to resist and it’s one of the best places to pick up cheap clothing and gifts.
Being in Rajasthan, you’ll find plenty of other travellers there and the local people are well and truly used to dealing with foreigners. It’s easy to spend longer than planned in Pushkar – I ended up staying a week.
Jaisalmer is a former trading centre and princely state in the Thar Desert in western Rajasthan. It’s known as the Golden City with its distinct sandstone architecture that appears more like a sandcastle or desert outpost from afar. The main attraction is Jaisalmer Fort, a sprawling citadel that is an extremely impressive place to explore. It’s also a perfect base for overnight desert trips and camel rides.
At times, the city can be overwhelming with plenty of tourist shops and touts circling around the fort. However, compared to Udaipur and Jaipur in Rajasthan, you’ll have a more relaxing time here.
Why is Jaisalmer perfect for solo travellers in India?
Jaisalmer is one of the best places to visit in Rajasthan but is often overlooked by those short on time. It has a real charm to it and is more relaxing than bustling Jaipur or Udaipur, which see far more tourists. It’s also easy to meet other travellers in Jaisalmer and joining group tours into the desert as a solo traveller is easy to arrange.
Once you head east and away from Rajasthan and Delhi, you’ll start to see far less tourists and some incredibly fascinating sights. While distances are vast and you’ll have to have some patience with transport, exploring the eastern part of India is perfect for solo travellers.
Whether you tumble head first into the intense city of Varanasi or head even further up to Darjeeling to chill out amongst the clouds in the hill station, it offers some more interesting destinations away from the well-travelled circuit.
Darjeeling is a hill station in the foothills of the Himalayas in West Bengal state. It was once a summer resort town for the British Raj and is still used as a refreshing escape by travellers from the rest of the humid east of India. It’s most famous for its tea plantations that harvest some of the world’s best quality leaves and the narrow-gauge railway or toy train that remains in use since 1881.
It’s one of my favourite places in India and is highly underrated. I’ve visited twice and spent considerable time there using it as a perfect place for some R&R. On clear days the mountain views can even rival anything that you’ll see in Nepal.
Why is Darjeeling an ideal destination in India for solo travellers?
Darjeeling is an interesting place to visit and is not much like anywhere else in East India. It has a distinctive Tibetan population and the cool mountain air makes it a relaxing escape for solo travellers after spending time in big cities like Varanasi or Kolkata. There’s also plenty of things to do in the small town, so you can keep yourself busy for days.
It’s one of those places that most people don’t expect when travelling to India and it’s certainly less popular than some of the other destinations on this list. However, if you’re heading out east, then I highly recommend a stop in Darjeeling.
Read next: 10 Best Things to Do in Darjeeling
Varanasi is the ultimate India experience. It’s an intoxicating and overwhelming amalgam of India’s spirituality and zest. It’s the holiest city for Hindus, who come in droves every day of the year to bathe in the sacred waters of the Ganges River and perform funeral rituals for the dead. There are 2000 temples within the ancient city and the many ghats (stone steps) all blend into one in an incredible sight to behold.
It’s by far one of India’s most intense cities and exploring Varanasi is not for the faint hearted. However, if you want to really get under the skin of the country and start to understand what makes India tick, then it’s a must-visit destination.
Why solo travellers should go to Varanasi in India?
I have to recommend Varanasi with a small warning. It can be an incredibly shocking, eye-opening, gut-wrenching and powerful place to experience. However, nothing can really prepare you for it and it’s a city that I think everyone should visit once in their lifetime. I have to admit though that some people dislike the city and find it too much to handle, while others revel in the intensity and enjoy getting absorbed in the craziness of India. You’ll soon find out which camp you fall into.
It’s not necessarily a place that I would usually recommend for first time travel to India, but for solo travellers, a visit to Varanasi can be incredibly rewarding. Plus, there are always other travellers to meet there too – it’s definitely on the well beaten path.
If you’re looking for beautiful landscapes, epic road trips and a real sense of adventure, then North India might just be the place. Arguably home to some of the most stunning vistas in all of Asia, North India is a spectacular place to explore if you have the guts and patience to make it through the long, mountainous roads.
If you want a quick taste of the region, you can head to the popular backpacker hub of Manali or Dharamsala. But, if you have more time, I encourage you to keep going north to Ladakh. It’s possibly one of my favourite places on earth and will have you standing in absolute awe at the Greater Himalayas.
Manali is a resort town in the foothills of the Himalayas in India’s beautiful Himachal Pradesh state. Although the town itself is not much to look at, the incredible surrounding landscape make it an incredibly popular place to visit. It’s one of the country’s adventure capitals with plenty of activities to keep you entertained from hiking to paragliding.
Manali has options for everyone with upmarket resorts and wellness centres to backpacker cafes and hostels. The surrounding valleys, especially Parvati, are known to grow some of the best weed in the world, so you’ll also see and smell a lot of that around too.
Why is Manali perfect for solo travellers in India?
It has an odd reputation of being both a favourite honeymoon destination for Indians as well as a backpacker hangout for foreigners. Either way, it’s an extremely friendly place to spend some time and there’s always people to meet there no matter what kind of traveller you are. It’s also the perfect introduction to India’s Himalayan north with a very different vibe to the rest of the country.
Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj are often referred to interchangeably and both are famous for being home to the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader. In reality, Dharamsala is the bustling market city in the foot of the surrounding mountains, while McLeod Ganj is the village 3km further uphill where the Dalai Lama actually lives and where most travellers plan to head.
The upper parts of McLeod Ganj are where you’ll find much of the backpacker infrastructure. The small sub-villages of Dharamkot and Bhagsu have turned into rabbit warrens of rasta cafes, vegan eateries, tattoo parlours, local tailors and yoga centres. There are some popular treks, waterfalls and other adventure activities nearby which keep people holed up for days.
If you’re lucky, you might be in town when the Dalai Lama is doing a public teaching at his temple and you should definitely do everything that you can to get yourself an entry pass (you can look up his anticipated schedule ahead of time if you want to plan your trip accordingly).
Why is McLeod Ganj perfect for solo travellers in India?
McLeod Ganj is a real insight into Tibetan culture and is certainly an interesting place to visit for any traveller to India. It’s also very laidback and friendly and it’s a great place to meet people from all over the world. Like a lot of places on this list, it’s one of India’s great backpacker hangouts and the crowd is always an interesting mix. If you’re sick of curry and rice, you’ll have plenty of different food choices here too, which can be nice for a change.
Rishikesh is a city on the Ganges River in Uttarakhand state. It’s most well-known for being a centre for yoga and meditation schools with hundreds of them scattered along both sides of the river (you can thank the Beatles for that).
The river is holy for Indians and you’ll find a mix of pilgrims, sadhus (holy men) and cows down by the water’s edge. In some ways it has a level of similarity to Varanasi: the streets are unclean, there are always crowds of people and the kaleidoscope of sights, sounds and smells can sometimes be overwhelming. However, it does have a more soothing vibe to it and many people come here to better their own practice of meditation and mindfulness.
Why is Rishikesh perfect for solo travellers in India?
The yoga schools fill up with foreigners and the vegan cafes attract backpackers who come looking for a relaxing escape. So, you’ll always find people to meet and fleetingly bond with in Rishikesh. It also offers a less intense insight into the power of the Ganges than Varanasi and watching the nightly aarti ceremony down at the water is a highlight. However, I’ve met some people who didn’t like Rishikesh and I’ve met people who have stayed for months, it’s another place that you’ll have to discover for yourself. However, it still manages to be one of the best destinations in India for solo travel, purely because of the great community of backpackers and travellers there.
Leh is one of my favourite places in India. It’s the largest town in the Ladakh territory, in the far north of the country, and the former capital of the Himalayan kingdom that ruled the area before independence. The town is predominately Buddhist and the culture is very different from anywhere else on the subcontinent.
It’s a lofty city sitting at 3500m at one of the greatest intersections of mountains in the world, with the Karakoram, Zanskar, Ladakh and Himalayan Ranges all blending together. The landscape is one of the most beautiful you may ever see with an arid high-altitude snow-capped desert that appears like it belongs on another planet. There are countless treks in the area as well as road trips to ancient monasteries, high passes and remote villages. If you’re looking for true adventure in India, this is where you’ll find it.
Why is Leh perfect for solo travellers in India?
Leh is one of the friendliest places in India. The people of Ladakh are incredibly hospitable and the city is extremely low-key. There’s no hassle in the streets or tour touts lurking about. It’s also very easy to arrange sightseeing tours and treks. All agencies offer the same set regulated government price and there are plenty of tourists to join together to form groups in high season.
For both first-time travellers and solo travellers in India, Leh offers a really rewarding experience. It’s not the easiest place to reach and the altitude can pose some problems, but otherwise, it’s one of the best adventures to be had in India.
Read next: 18 Best Things to Do in Ladakh