The Best Tips for Visiting the Taj Mahal
Ah, the Taj Mahal the ultimate expression of undying love that draws millions of visitors each year from across the globe. As one of the Eight Wonders of the World and India’s most famous landmark the Taj Mahal and its glittering marble domes are a sight not to be missed. At first, I was unsure if the mausoleum would live up to everything that other bloggers and travel guides have said but its safe to say its utterly breathtaking and I’d recommend it to everyone!
**We’d read online that an extensive mud cleaning task was due to start in April 2018 after being delayed numerous times beforehand. The Taj Mahal is not as white as it once was due to the smog from the heavily polluted city that surrounds it. The work is very much needed but as of April 2018 the work had not started so I’d recommend checking if this has begun before you go.**
The logistics of the Taj Mahal
The city of Agra surrounds the Taj but it pays to know how far away you are from the site when it comes to visiting. Nearby are many hotels and guesthouses, even some pretty decent budget stays. We stayed at Hotel Saniya Palace which was a 4-minute walk to the East Gate. Find out more about our stay on our Agra guide here.
You’ll also need to decide what time you are going and which gate you are planning on entering from.
The site has several entry gates yet some open at different times than others. For example, you will need to enter at either the East or West Gate if you plan to get in early as the South Gate gate only opens at 8 am.
Travel tip: The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays and only open in the afternoon for prayers inside the Mosque within the Taj.
Here are some important tips to get the most out of your visit to the Taj Mahal;
1. When to go
I’ve seen it often debated on travel blogs as to when is the best time to visit the Taj Mahal and Agra. We arrived in early April just as the peak tourist season had finished and the temperatures of the Indian summer had started to rise. Peak season is from November to February as it is cooler and it isn’t Monsoon season.
In April temperatures do reach highs of around 40C in the middle of the day and there had been a big storm a few days before we arrived that uprooted several large trees around the city. But, as I will explain in a further tip if you arrive early you will not only beat the crowds but you also beat the soaring temperatures that crop up mid-morning. We had a hassle-free visit and we went back to our hotel to nap afterwards so that we missed the heat!
2. We got in for FREE!
As we arrived in Agra in early April we had a rickshaw driver congratulate us on arriving that day as the entry to the Taj Mahal would be free for the rest of the day and the day after! After doubting this poor guy for a while it turns out this does happen every year due to a special holiday. (I’m none the wiser to the actual name of this holiday or celebration, so if anyone knows the name please let us know!). So for us, there was no huge crowd piling in to buy tickets we just walked straight in.
This was just a case of pure luck but it’s good to know that it does happen! Usually, the entry fee is 1000 rupees (£11/$14) per person for foreigners. Find out more here.
3. Get there early (yes, no arguments)
Ok, ok, I know that getting up before the sun is in the sky can seem rather painful but it’s completely worth it if you want to have a stress-free visit to the Taj Mahal. Get there early, just before it opens, to beat the humungous crowds that descend after a couple of hours. The site opens 30 minutes before sunrise at around 6 am, and as a silver lining for your lack of sleep and dark under-eye bags, nothing quite beats the sun and all its stunning colours lighting up the marble masterpiece. You’ll also find it much easier to get those much sought after Taj Mahal tourist photos without hundreds of people behind you!
4. Prepare for a photoshoot (but….)
And I’m not talking about the pictures that you want to take either! Indians love a selfie and multiple selfies at that! We were warned by friends that we would be mobbed in the Taj Mahal for pictures and to prepare for the onslaught..but…it never happened. I can’t quite believe that it didn’t but we were asked once for a selfie and we kindly turned it down. I think this had to do with us visiting outside of peak season and getting to the site as it opened, you have been warned…
5. There is no dress code
Unlike many other landmarks and sites in India, the Taj Mahal does not have a dress code. However, it is best to dress appropriately to show respect as you are in India, for women I’d advise it’s better to cover up anyway. I covered my shoulders with a 3/4 length tunic and leggings and brought a thin scarf to cover my head if it got too hot.
6. Decide if you need a guide
We planned to visit the Taj without a guide as, for us, it was more about witnessing the beauty of it and taking that all in rather than being taken around by a possibly good (or bad) tour guide. If you are already part of a tour travelling in India it is likely that this will have already been sorted out for you but we really enjoyed walking around the grounds our selves and watching the sun come up. If you do change your mind some guides outside the gates will offer their services.
7. Do your research
That being said, we didn’t want to ignore the history of the Taj and how it came to be built. We spent time researching about the famous landmark before and after we visited so we could truly understand its importance and why it really is such a symbol and testament to everlasting love.
8. Visit the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz
The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1632, and completed in1647, for his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal who died in childbirth. It was constructed to pay tribute to their love and her life. In fitting with Muslim tradition the tomb itself isn’t ornately decorated as it’s outer structure but it is a simple room underground housing the tombs of both Mumtaz and then Shah Jahan, who was later interred in the tomb by his son after he died in 1666. You can walk around their tombs and witness prayers being offered or you can view their beautifully ornately decorated centotaphs representing their tombs within the first level of the Taj Mahal.
9. You cannot bring in food with you
Upon entry, your bags will be thoroughly searched for anything that you cannot bring into the site. You will not be able to bring in food, tripods, tobacco products, other electrical goods, phone chargers, or alcohol. The best thing to do is to leave most of your things at your hotel and bring the essentials such as a camera, phone, purse/wallet, and a bottle of water. Although on the official website it does state that mobile phones are to be switched off whilst visiting this is rarely enforced.
Travel tip: If you do forget to bring any water with you there are vendors and small shops outside of the East Gate that sells drinks, souvenirs and snacks.
Getting there or away
We arrived Agra from Jaipur via a direct train which took under 4 hours. We ended up on the rather more costly Shatabdi Express from Jaipur to Agra due to this being a nicer train aimed at tourists but we enjoyed the novelty of being given newspapers, tea, biscuits and breakfast.
Or it is possible and popular to get a train or a bus from Delhi if you are looking to do a day trip. There is not a lot to see in Agra other than the Taj Mahal and it’s not the nicest city but it’s also not the worst city that we’ve been to either. We’d recommend staying in Agra for a day or two to make your visit to the Taj Mahal a little bit easier.
Thanks for taking a look at our best tips for visiting the Taj Mahal! If you have any other must-do tips please let us know in the comments below. Or check out our guide to Agra here.
Peace and plane tickets ✈