If you’re traveling to India, visiting the Taj Mahal is probably on your bucket list- and it absolutely should be! It’s one of the most romantic and opulent monuments on the planet- and deservedly, one of the 7 New Wonders of the World.
But stopping at one the most popular tourist attractions in India has some unique complexities that I wish I knew before visiting- so here’s 18 essential tips for visiting the Taj Mahal to make your experience as epic as possible.
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While the Taj Mahal is 100% touristy, it’s like that for a reason- it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most impressive pieces of architecture in the world, especially with respect to its intricate marble and stonework.
And while the site is constantly buzzing with throngs of visitors, a huge amount of the tourists here are actually Indians exploring their own country, so it feels like a much more authentic experience than stopping at any ol’ tourist trap.
While I firmly believe that the Taj Mahal is worth your time, there are certainly some things you should know before making the visit.
Where is the Taj Mahal?
The Taj Mahal is located in the city of Agra in the northern portion of India. The closest international airport is Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, which is the city most travelers visit from. There’s a couple ways that you can get to the Taj Mahal from Delhi:
- There’s a train that runs from Delhi to Agra over 100 times a week and usually takes about four to five hours, depending on which option you book. This is how my husband, Justin and I arrived in Agra and it was easy peasy and affordable- about $16 for both of us. We did accidentally book a lower class ticket that essentially was an open-air car with tight rows of metal bunks (not advisable for when we visited in surprisingly chilly January- whoops!)- so be mindful and confirm you’re booking the ticket class you want when you make the reservation. You can book train tickets here.
From the train station in Agra, there’s plenty of rickshaws that will be waiting to take you to your accommodations, or straight to the Taj, for about 150 rupees (under $3 USD).
- Alternatively, there’s plenty of tours that just leave as a day-trip from Delhi and will lead you around the Taj Mahal for the day, like this one or this one. I actually think that Agra is worth staying in for a day or two (more on that later!), but this is a great option if you’re short on time and interested in having a guide with you. Alternatively, if you just want transport to Agra, you can consider booking a charter vehicle here.
- Finally, if you’re up for renting a car, the Yamuna Expressway links Agra and Delhi and takes about 3 hours to drive (personally, I wouldn’t recommend this, because the streets in India felt akin to being in some sort of intense driving video game with lots of roadway chicken). There are a few tolls along the way, totaling less than $10 USD roundtrip from Delhi, but besides that (and the whole death-defying driving thing), it’s a quick and straightforward way to get to and around Agra.
If you don’t have a car or a guide, getting around Agra is still quite simple. You can ask your hotel to call a rickshaw for you (or, if you’re in a touristy area, there’s a pretty good chance one will just immediately show up when you step outside) or you can even use Uber to call either a car or rickshaw.
Transportation here is incredibly affordable- in fact, you can usually hire a rickshaw driver for a full day for around $15.
Tips for Visiting the Taj Mahal
So you’ve successfully reached the world’s most famous tomb- what do you need to know to make your visit as awesome as possible?
1. Understand what the conditions are like during the season you’re visiting.
The Taj Mahal is always worth exploring but depending on when you’re visiting Agra will impact what your visit is like.
- October through March has the most pleasant temperatures, but also brings the most crowds. It also comes with some of the most complications of physically seeing the Taj Mahal- November sees heavy amounts of smog due to stubble burning (the burning of leftover straw that occurs all over Northern India during this period of time) and December through February are notoriously foggy, especially in the early morning. Justin and I visited in January and, being unaware of the seasonal fogginess, were completely shocked to discover we could barely see the famous monument during the first hour or so of our visit.
- April through May can get really hot- as in 113°F (45°C) during midday- so if you’re planning your visit during this time, be sure to show up early to beat the heat.
- June through September is the monsoon season. This can be a great way to score great prices on airfare and accommodations and will be the least busy time of year. June and July usually see the heaviest rainfall but if you’re okay gambling with potentially rainy weather, you may luck out with perfect weather in August or September.
2. Don’t visit on Friday.
This one’s pretty straightforward- the Taj Mahal is closed every Friday to allow practicing Muslims to come in and worship at its mosque. It’s located directly to the west of the main mausoleum structure, which is closest to Mecca.
3. Know a little about the monument before your visit.
Before visiting the Taj Mahal, most visitors (including me!) know that it was a tomb for a Mughal emperor’s beloved wife… but not much else. And it’s kind of hard to appreciate the structure if you don’t have the appropriate historical and cultural context about how it came to be. While there’s a small museum onsite (that’s absolutely worth popping in), signage around the complex is fairly limited- so come prepared with at least baseline knowledge of the history.
For a little bit of background, the building was commissioned in 1631 by Shah Jahan, the aforementioned emperor, as a tomb and memorial to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth having their 14th child. The complex took a whopping 22 years to complete and adjusted for today’s currency, is believed to have cost about $850 million USD.
While the emperor is largely lofted for his religious tolerance amongst his subjects and his love of beautiful architecture and art, not everyone was happy with his extravagant spending- namely, his son, who thought his father had squandered too much of the treasury on frivolous nonsense.
Shortly after the Taj Mahal was completed, Shah fell ill and his son swiftly imprisoned his father and declared himself emperor. After being held as a prisoner for eight years, Shah died in Agra Fort, which overlooks the Taj Mahal, and was buried beside his beloved wife in a secret room directly below where tourists gawk today. Sounds like something straight out of a TV family drama, right?
4. Leave stuff you can’t take inside at home.
The Taj Mahal has some pretty strict rules about what cannot be brought on the premises to protect this precious monument, including backpacks (or anything larger than a small bag), food, any kind of tobacco products, drones, mobile phone chargers, GoPros, headphones, and tripods.
At least in my experience, the guards REALLY dig through your bag- in fact, I had a guard mysteriously confiscate an errant tampon that was in the bottom of my purse. So I’d recommend just bringing along your camera, cell phone, and sense of adventure and leaving pretty much everything else behind.
You used to be able to check a banned item if you accidentally brought it along, but recently, the property has prohibited checking pretty much anything of value, given that too many items were getting stolen. But if you accidentally forget to leave your valuables at home, there are lockers available at the East and West gate. Which brings me to….
5. Before you head to the Taj Mahal, have a game plan of what gate to go to.
The Taj Mahal has two gates where you can buy your tickets and enter, each with its pros and cons:
- The East Gate tends to be closest to most hotels, hostels, and AirBnBs and is usually the go-to gate for foreign tourists. When Justin and I visited, there was absolutely no queue for tickets when we arrived and there were only a handful of individuals ahead of us waiting to go through security to enter the complex.
- The West Gate tends to be the most popular with locals and domestic tourists and can get super-crowded during midday. Weirdly enough, though, it’s actually supposed to be less busy in the early morning than the East Gate, so if this gate is more convenient for you and you don’t mind an early wake up call, it may be perfect!
Both gates start selling tickets one hour before sunrise and actually open about 30 minutes before sunrise. If you’re planning on visiting the Taj Mahal in the afternoon, they stop selling tickets about 45 minutes before sunset with the actual complex closing 30 minutes before sunset (you know, for the traveler who only wants to spend 15 minutes at the Taj Mahal…
6. Be mindful of how you’re dressing.
There isn’t an enforced dress code at the Taj Mahal, but, given that this is a functioning mosque and literal tomb, it’s probably not the place to bust out your best booty shorts. As a rule of thumb, have your shoulders and everything above your knees covered as a sign of modesty.
We saw some foreigners wearing short shorts, spaghetti strap tank tops, and similarly “immodest” clothing choices- which, to be clear, I usually have no problem with (I am a proud short shorts wearer myself!), but, in this setting, that kind of clothing will draw unwanted stares from other visitors and, frankly, is a bit disrespectful.
7. Get there early.
If I have one piece of advice, it would be to get to the ticket office early. You won’t have to wait in crazy long ticket or security lines, you’ll get to see the beautiful marble structure aglow in the early morning light, and there won’t be crowds of people pushing past you.
Justin and I got to the Taj right after sunrise and it was straight up magic- we walked from our Airbnb to the ticket office amidst a parade of stray cows moseying down the street, bought our tickets, zipped through the security line, and watched the first rays of sun light up the complex, with almost no one else around.
For what it’s worth, I’ve read other reports of people visiting the Taj at sunrise and complaining that it was still fairly crowded- perhaps it was because I visited on a weekday or in foggy January.
So don’t be too surprised if your early morning here isn’t quite as tranquil as mine was, especially if you’re visiting in the peak months of February and March. Either way, I promise the complex will be significantly less crowded and tranquil at 7 AM as opposed to if you roll up at 11 AM.
8. Know what you get with your ticket.
First thing to know when buying your ticket is that domestic and foreign tourists pay different entry fees- domestic tourists pay 50 rupees (less than $1 USD), while foreigners pay 1100 rupees (about $15 USD). Additionally, if you want to go in the mausoleum yourself, all visitors must pay an additional 200 rupee fee (about $2.50 USD).
Feel like foreigners are getting the short end of the stick? Well, foreign tourists’ admission comes with shoe covers (shoes are not allowed without covers in the Taj to protect the marble), a water bottle, a tourist map of Agra, and bus or golf cart services to take you to the nearest gate, which is approximately 1 km from the ticket offices. Probably not worth the $14 extra foreigners are paying but hey, at least you’ll be hydrated during your visit!
9. Be careful of which guide you hire.
Getting a guide is awesome- it’s a great way to learn more about the history of a place and you get to know and support a local. But getting a reliable guide at the Taj Mahal can be a bit tricky- there’s less than 100 government approved tour guides (who each have government issued ID and can be booked here), while an estimated 3,000 individuals jockey for your attention- and money- to lead you around the complex (remember that scene from the movie Slumdog Millionaire? Anyone?).
Instead of awkwardly trying to suss out and negotiate with guides while you’re outside of the complex, consider instead booking ahead of time, like this tour or this one, both which leave from Agra itself.
10. Plan on being separated from your group when going through security.
Before entering the actual complex, you’ll need to go through that intense security shake-down I described earlier. The security lines are split up for both foreigners and Indian residents, as well as for men and women. Much like bathroom lines, it seemed like men got through security quite a bit faster than the ladies.
So to make sure you don’t get separated from your group (especially given how much of a zoo this area can become by midday), I’d recommend picking a meeting spot after you make it through the lines (i.e., “let’s all meet up along the wall to the right past security”).
11. If you come in the morning, get pictures as soon as you enter.
As soon as you pass through the gates, you’ll immediately encounter a railing that overlooks the beautiful gardens and reflecting pools that ultimately lead to the famous mausoleum.
Seemingly every human ever (… including myself) must immediately stop here to gawk at the spectacle that is the Taj Mahal for the first time, get photos, and then immediately move on to the little stone platforms by the reflecting pools to get even more photos.
These two areas can get a bit congested in the early morning- and are absolute madhouses anytime after 9 AM. So if you’re an early morning warrior, be sure to stop at these two areas first before there’s anyone else around, instead of waiting to hit them while you exit.
12. Head to either the east or west side of the tomb for less people in your photos.
While the iconic view of the Taj Mahal is usually from the perspective of approaching the building from the south, with its famed gardens and reflecting pools, it’s also almost impossible to get photos here without about a bazillion other people being in them. But good news- the Taj Mahal is famously symmetrical, meaning it looks nearly identical from either the east or west side as well. And these areas tend to be WAY less crowded than the southern portion, especially in the morning.
After taking in views of the Taj from the south, Justin and I wandered over to the west side of the complex to check out the mosque, but unintentionally discovered we had absolutely stunning views of the Taj and the awesome glowy light of morning- pretty much totally to ourselves! Each of these buildings also have archways that provide some really beautiful framing of the mausoleum, if you’re a photography enthusiast like me!
13. Remember to get close.
While the Taj Mahal’s overall design is obviously stunning, what makes the buildings here so compelling are their incredibly delicate and detailed mosaics in its walls and archways.
So while admiring the tomb from the reflecting pools area is obviously a must-do, be sure to really get up close and personal with each of the buildings to admire the craftsmanship of their details- I honestly can’t even imagine how long it took to create the stylized inlaid floral designs from colored marble and semi-precious gemstones in some of its walls.
14. Get ready to be in all of the selfies.
I have never felt more like a celebrity than when I was in India after being asked to be in hundreds of selfies (not an exaggeration) with locals, simply due to the fact that my pale skin and blue eyes draw quite a lot of attention there.
It may sound bizarre, but if you look decidedly not Indian, buckle up to be asked to be in a bunch of strangers’ family photos- there were literally times where there was a line of people waiting to get photos with me. While it’s certainly a bit out of the ordinary, it’s fun to meet the friendly and enthusiastic locals and think about the fact that you may just wind up on the mantle of a sweet Indian family!
15. You may be asked for tips.
India is full of warm and welcoming people with absolutely no agenda- as well as a few people who see visitors as walking dollar signs. You’ll encounter people like this everywhere in India- from train stations to rickshaw drivers and yes, even at the Taj Mahal.
While Justin and I were touring the mausoleum, a guard approached us and started telling us an unsolicited story about the semi-precious jewels inlaid in the sarcophaguses and about a little echo that can be heard in the structure if you stand in exactly the right spot.
After he finished his story, he immediately asked for a tip and then aggressively complained about the amount that I gave to him (it was all the cash I had on me!). As we moved away from him, I heard him begin the exact same story to the people behind us in line.
While we had a really lovely time at the Taj Mahal, this experience honestly left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, largely because I simply wasn’t anticipating it in that environment. So know before you go that you may get in a similar situation.
16. Be sure to visit the other sites at the complex besides the mausoleum.
While the mausoleum is kind of the star of the show, there’s other stunning pieces of architecture within the complex, including the mosque to its west and Mihman Khana, its guesthouse, to the east.
Both of these structures are absolutely exquisite, made of red sandstone, inlaid with white marble, and constructed in the quintessential Mughal architecture. To the west of the reflecting pool area, there’s also the previously mentioned museum (open 10 AM-5 PM every day) that has some interesting art and artifacts from the building’s construction.
17. If you’re visiting the Taj Mahal during the full moon, consider booking a night tour.
The Taj is constructed of white crystalline marble, which reflects and changes with the sky throughout the day. It’s especially beautiful during a full moon, which gives the tomb an ethereal glow. In fact, the structure is so luminous during the full moon, the Taj opens to let in a small number of visitors (just 50 at any given time!) in each night from two days before through two days after each full moon, except during Ramaddan.
If you’re interested in this unique experience, I’d recommend doing this in addition to a stop during the day. At night, you’re limited to a small viewing area back by the gates for security purposes (i.e., you won’t be allowed to follow Tip #13 and get close!) and you’ll only get about 30 minutes onsite, so you unfortunately won’t really get to appreciate the structures in all their glory.
18. Stay and see more of Agra.
As mentioned above, a solid number of tourists simply visit the Taj Mahal as a day-trip from Delhi., but, in my opinion, that’s a huge oversight.
First of all, I promise you will have a much more pleasant experience at the Taj if you get there first thing in the morning- which would be straight-up impossible from Delhi without an ABSURDLY early wake-up call. For another thing, there’s quite a few remarkable places to see in Agra beyond just the Taj Mahal, like Agra Fort and the Baby Taj, two other examples of stunning Mughal architecture.
Justin and I stayed only one night in Agra and, in hindsight, I wish we had spent a bit more time there. Beyond the Taj Mahal, we stopped at Sheroes Hangout, an absolutely amazing café that provides employment and training to victims of acid attacks; the Agra Fort, which is arguably just as stunning as the Taj; and a rooftop bar directly overlooking the South Gate. I’ll never forget having a cold Kingfisher beer, laughing at the monkeys playing on the rooftop with us, and gazing at one of the Wonders of the World!
If you’re interested in spending a night or two in Agra, consider staying at:
- Crystal Court Homestay: For a budget friendly accommodation, consider this homestay within a short walk to the east gate of the Taj. You can expect friendly and kind service and super clean, cozy rooms!
- Aman Homestay: Again, another affordable homestay, which can be a wonderful way to get to know a sweet local family, while still feeling more like a hotel. The Aman offers fresh home-cooked meals, a rooftop patio with a view of the Taj, and comfy beds.
- Taj Hotel: For a more bougie experience at a reasonable price (starting around just $90 a night) consider the Taj Hotel, which is a luxury hotel chain in India. With a rooftop infinity pool with views of the Taj, delicious food lovingly created by a renowned chef, and five-star service, this is an awesome place to get a splurge-worthy experience without breaking the bank.
I’d also encourage you to stay and explore more of North India- there’s so much to see beyond just the Taj Mahal, Agra, and Delhi. In fact, between the foothills of the Himalayas and the jaw-dropping architecture of Rajasthan, there’s enough things to see and down to keep your itinerary in North India totally packed!
I hope you enjoy the Taj Mahal- and Agra- as much as I did. If you have any questions or tips of your own, let me know in the comments below!