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15 Must Visit Ancient Cities in India

India is a country with a rich history and heritage, being one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Throughout its history, it has been ruled by several dynasties and kingdoms. The country hosts a plethora of places that narrate the tales of times gone by, places that were once beacons of culture, knowledge, tradition, and commerce. By visiting these ancient cities in India, tourists can gain insight into the nation’s glorious past and admire the architectural brilliance of those eras. So, the next time you plan your vacation, consider spending time in any of these ancient cities. It may provide a renewed sense of inspiration and wonder.

Here is a list of 15 ancient cities of India and reasons why you should visit them-

  • Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
  • Madurai, Tamil Nadu
  • Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh
  • Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh
  • Patna, Bihar
  • Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh
  • Hampi, Karnataka
  • Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh
  • Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu
  • Pushkar, Rajasthan
  • Kollam, Kerala
  • Vadodara, Gujarat
  • Puri, Odisha
  • Dwarka, Gujarat
  • Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh

Top Recommended Tour Packages for Exploring Ancient Cities of India

Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Varanasi Ganga aarti rituals at Assi ghat

Varanasi, also popularly known as the City of Lights or Kashi, is a sacred city situated on the western bank of the River Ganga. It is considered one of the oldest cities in India, with a history that stretches back over 3000 years. Varanasi has long been a significant religious destination for pilgrims in India. For international travelers, it provides a reflection of India’s rich culture and historical prosperity. Today, Varanasi is a bustling city where winding streets lead to more winding streets, the ghats are constantly abuzz with activity, and the scent of incense lingers in the air. The aartis and the floating of earthen lamps on the waters of the Ganga at night form an integral part of the city’s character.

Top Reasons to Visit Varanasi

  • To witness the Ganga aarti: This mesmerizing event is best experienced from a boat on the river.
  • To visit ancient temples: Many of these temples are 500 to 1000 years old.
  • To shop for famous Banarasi sarees, exquisite woodwork, and hand-knotted carpets.
  • To savor the popular Banarasi paan: This is a must-try delicacy during your trip.
  • To visit Sarnath: Located about 10 km from Varanasi, it’s the place where Gautama Buddha first preached after attaining enlightenment.
  • To explore the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Corridor: This newly renovated spiritual and cultural complex offers an immersive experience of Varanasi’s spiritual heritage.

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Madurai, Tamil Nadu


The history of Madurai spans over 4,000 years. The city is home to numerous temples, the most popular of which is the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple. Constructed in the seventh century, this temple is renowned for its architectural brilliance. The 17th-century Gandhi Mandapam, now housing an extensive collection of books about Gandhi, is another notable tourist attraction. In close proximity to the Meenakshi Temple are the Samanar Hills, where a first-century cavern once used by Jain priests can be found. No trip to Madurai is complete without sampling the scrumptious local cuisine. Indeed, Madurai in Tamil Nadu is a must-visit ancient city when touring India.

Top Reasons to Visit Madurai:

  • To visit the sacred Meenakshi Temple and its Thousand Pillar Hall, where Lord Shiva is believed to have performed the dance of bliss.
  • To visit Koodal Azhagar Temple, regarded as one of the 108 celestial abodes of Lord Vishnu.
  • To visit the Gandhi Museum and gain a detailed understanding of the Independence struggle.
  • To shop for bright, tie-dyed cotton Sungudi sarees, and Golu dolls available at the temple curio shops.
  • To savor the lip-smacking local cuisine, particularly from Murugan Idli Kadai.

Other Interesting Blogs to Read

Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh

Ayodhya-Saryu River

One of the most ancient cities in India, Ayodhya, is renowned as the setting of the Hindu epic Ramayana. Recognized as the birthplace of Lord Rama, the city rests on the banks of the Sarayu River and was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Kosala. Believed to have been established by the Hindu deity Manu, Ayodhya is thought to be around 9,000 years old. It is one of the most frequently visited tourist destinations in India, celebrated for its numerous sacred temples. The city has gained significant attention globally due to the ongoing construction of the Lord Rama Temple. This grand and divine temple is expected to be completed by the end of this year, with its inauguration planned for January 2024. Other top attractions in the city include Treta Ke Thakur, Guptar Ghat, Gulab Bari, Kanak Bhavan, and the Mausoleum of Bahu Begum.

Top Reasons to Visit Ayodhya

  • To visit the Lord Rama temple.
  • To visit the famous Hanuman Garhi temple, which is characterized by 70 steep steps leading to the temple complex.
  • To visit Treta Ka Thakur temple, said to be the spot where Lord Rama performed the Ashwamedha Yagya.
  • To visit Kanak Bhavan, a house that Kaikeyi (Lord Rama’s step-mother) gifted to Sita immediately after her marriage to Rama.
  • To visit Guptar Ghat, the place where Lord Rama is believed to have taken ‘Jal Samadhi.’

Also Read: Top Places to Visit in Uttar Pradesh

Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh


The ‘Temple City’, Ujjain, is typically thronged with Hindu pilgrims. It houses scores of old and new temples, making it a significant religious destination in India. However, Ujjain isn’t just for Hindu pilgrims; there are several places of interest in the city from a general tourism perspective. Located on the bank of the River Shipra, Ujjain is also the host of the renowned Kumbh Mela. The city boasts several historical sites that introduce tourists to its rich past. The recently constructed Ujjain Mahakal Lok Corridor has attracted world attention towards Ujjain and is being visited by thousands of pilgrims every day.

Top Reasons to Visit Ujjain:

  • To visit the Mahakaleshwar Temple, one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, which is unique due to its dakshin mukhi (south-facing) idol—a rare feature in tantric traditions.
  • To visit the Kark Rajeshwar Temple situated on the Tropic of Cancer.
  • To bathe in the holy Shipra River. According to sacred texts such as the Bhagwat Purana and Skanda Purana, a dip in this river is considered to cleanse an individual of all sins.
  • To see Siddhavat, a banyan tree located on the banks of the River Shipra. Legend has it that King Vikramaditya meditated here for magical powers to take control over the ghost, Betaal.
  • To savor the scrumptious Dal Bati Churma, a local delicacy.

Other Interesting Blogs to Read

Patna, Bihar

Patna Sahib Gurudwara Bihar

Patna, the ancient city formerly known as Pataliputra during the Mauryan era, was the capital of the Magadha Empire. Today, Patna, which is the capital and largest city of Bihar, is situated on the southern bank of the Ganges. The city boasts numerous attractions as well as significant spiritual sites. Nearby tourist destinations include Rajgir, Nalanda, Vaishali, Pawapuri, and Bodh Gaya. Other notable attractions in Patna include the Kargil Chowk War Memorial, Kumhrar, Sher Shah Suri Masjid, Shitla Mata Temple, Gurdwara Gobind Ghat, Biscomaun Bhawan, Chiraiyatand Flyover, and Mahatma Gandhi Setu.

Top Reasons to Visit Patna

  • To visit Golghar, an architectural marvel in Patna with a unique dome built without pillars, measuring almost 29 meters in height.
  • To visit the revered Mahavir Mandir.
  • To visit Patna Sahib Gurudwara, constructed on the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
  • To explore the ruins of the ancient Nalanda University and immerse yourself in Bihar’s glorious past.
  • To witness the Patna Museum, which showcases over 20,000 historical and archaeological artifacts, including a tree fossil that dates back more than 200 million years.

Also Read: Best Places to Visit in Bihar

Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh

Kannauj Uttar Pradesh

Kannauj, one of the most ancient towns in India, zealously preserves its rich legacy. Travelers flock to this city in Uttar Pradesh to observe the magnificence of various archaeological sites. Prehistoric weapons and tools belonging to the Bronze Age have been discovered in Kannauj. This city was visited by renowned travellers like Fa Hien and was the capital of King Harsha’s reign, where he organized religious gatherings. The ancient name of this city was Kanya Kubja, with the modern name being a derivative of the former.

Top Reasons to Visit Kannauj

  • To take a holy dip in the River Ganga.
  • To visit the Government Archaeological Museum and view the terra-cotta figurines unearthed in the city.
  • To visit the 500-year-old Siddheswar Temple.
  • To explore the famous Vijay Market and buy rose water and attar (fragrant oil), for which Kannauj is widely known.
  • To visit the Lakh Bahosi Bird Sanctuary, one of the largest bird sanctuaries in the country.

Also Read: Religious Tourism in Uttar Pradesh

Hampi, Karnataka

Hampi Karnataka

Hampi, an ancient South Indian village, is renowned for its stone temples and ancient ruins. Nestled in the rugged landscapes of Karnataka’s Bellary district, Hampi is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The stone temples and remnants are a testament to the rich history and culture of the region. Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, and it flourished under the rule of Krishnadevaraya. During its glory days, Hampi was reputed to be the wealthiest city in India. Its riches and grandeur were renowned both nationally and abroad, attracting merchants from Portugal and Persia. Today, the ruins attract scores of tourists, history buffs, and architecture aficionados.

Top Reasons to Visit Hampi

  • To visit ancient and beautiful temples.
  • To enjoy scenic sunrises and sunsets over the ancient ruins.
  • To learn interesting facts about the ancient sculptures, architecture, and culture of the Vijayanagara Empire.
  • To enjoy trekking to Matunga and Anjuna Hills.
  • To relax near the picturesque Sanapur Dam.

Also Read: Complete Karnataka Tourism Information

Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh

Gwalior Fort Madhya Pradesh

The majestic town of Gwalior, situated in the heart of India or the state of Madhya Pradesh, is home to palaces, historical sites, and beautiful temples. The town is particularly renowned for the Gwalior Fort. Hiring a travel guide at the fort offers a chance to delve deeper into the region’s history. Other major attractions include Gujari Mahal, Sas Bahu Temple, Teli Ka Mandir, Tomb of Muhammad Ghaus and Tansen, Bir Singh Mahal, Padavali, and Bateshwar. Wildlife enthusiasts can also consider venturing into the wild trails of Madhav National Park, located near the city.

Top Reasons to Visit Gwalior

  • To visit the Gwalior Fort, which Babur, the first Mughal ruler, described as ‘the pearl in the necklace of the forts of India.’
  • To explore various sacred temples and Surajkund, a large tank believed to contain magical water.
  • To visit Jai Vilas Palace and witness the grandeur of the Scindia legacy in Gwalior.
  • To experience the Tansen Sangeet Samaroh (Tansen Music Festival) in December, organized at the Tansen Tomb, where musicians from all over the country gather.
  • To attend the Gwalior Trade Fair, held in January and February, providing an insight into the culture and heritage of central India.

Other Interesting Blogs to Read

Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu

Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu

Also known as Tanjore, Thanjavur rose to prominence during the reign of the Cholas, who established this city as their capital. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, it emerged as a major cultural and heritage city in India. Today, it is widely recognized as the Rice Bowl of South India, boasting abundant paddy and sugarcane yields. This town houses the ancient Brihadeeswarar Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, constructed by Raja Chola I in the 10th century. Other must-visit attractions include the stunning Chola Temples, Saraswathi Mahal Library, Thanjavur Maratha Palace, Sivaganga Park, Schwartz Church, and the Royal Palace Museum.

Top Reasons to Visit Thanjavur

  • To visit the 11th-century Brihadeeswarar Temple, one of the finest examples of Chola architecture.
  • To witness a Bharatanatyam recital, a traditional Indian dance form.
  • To visit the Saraswathi Mahal Library, one of the most significant repositories of ancient Sanskrit manuscripts.
  • To enjoy a day at Sivagangai Poonga, one of the first amusement parks in the state.
  • To shop for Tanjore paintings and dolls, a traditional art form native to this region.

Other Interesting Blogs to Read

Pushkar, Rajasthan

Pushkar Lake Rajasthan

Known as the seat of Lord Brahma, Pushkar is famed for its rare temples. Located in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan, this beautiful city is a revered spot for Hindus and has maintained its old-world charm. Situated alongside the Sarovar Lake, Pushkar is renowned for the Brahma Temple, the only one of its kind in the country. The Pushkar Mela, an annual event that draws travelers from all around the globe, features vibrant events, displays, and competitions throughout its week-long celebration. The Man Mahal, located on the banks of Sarovar Lake, is another of the town’s major tourist spots not to be missed.

Top Reasons to Visit Pushkar

  • To attend the Pushkar Camel Fair, a camel and livestock fair held between October and November.
  • To visit the unique Brahma Temple.
  • To take a sacred dip in Pushkar Lake.
  • To visit Gurdwara Singh Sabha, commemorating the visits of Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Govind Singh.
  • To visit the Varaha Temple, the largest and most ancient temple in the city.

Other Interesting Blogs to Read

Kollam, Kerala

Jatayu Earth Center Kollam

Also known as Quilon or Desinganadu, Kollam serves as the hub for the country’s cashew exports. The city presents a blend of captivating natural beauty and rich history. During ancient times, Kollam was a renowned trade center, its port frequented by Persians, Phoenicians, Arabs, Romans, and Chinese. Notably, explorers like Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo mentioned the prominence of Kollam as a trading town in their writings. Today, Kollam, the gateway to Kerala’s magnificent backwaters, boasts a plethora of attractions for nature lovers. The eight-hour boat trip between Kollam and Alappuzha offers the longest and most enchanting journey through Kerala’s backwaters.

Top Reasons to Visit Kollam

  • To witness the jaw-dropping beauty of Palaruvi Waterfalls.
  • To visit Ashtamudi Lake, the most-visited lake and backwater in the state.
  • To explore Mayyanad, home to some of Kollam’s oldest temples.
  • To visit Jatayu’s Earth Centre, constructed to promote mythology and adventure tourism.
  • To enjoy captivating backwater cruises.

Other Interesting Blogs to Read

Vadodara, Gujarat

Laxmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara

Known as the cultural capital of Gujarat, Vadodara, formerly called Baroda, is situated on the banks of the Vishwamitri river. According to historians, Vadodara’s history dates back more than 2,000 years. Today, the city is home to the royal Gaekwad family and hosts the largest university in Gujarat, the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. The city’s prominent attraction, Sayaji Baug, is located in its heart. This park houses a zoo, the Vadodara Museum, and a planetarium. The Vadodara Museum displays an interesting mix of Mughal miniatures, royal antiques, and European oil paintings. Other notable sites include Makarpura Palace, Nazarbaug Palace, Kirti Mandir, Nyay Mandir, Kirti Stambh, Aurobindo Ashram, Khanderao Market, Dakshinamurthy Temple, and Hazira Maqbara.

Top Reasons to Visit Vadodara

  • To visit Laxmi Vilas Palace, one of the architectural wonders of the state.
  • To explore Sayaji Baug, a beautiful garden constructed in 1879.
  • To see Sursagar Lake, which never dries up.
  • To explore Kabirvad, a scenic island located in the middle of the River Narmada.
  • To visit the Dakshinamurthy Temple.

Other Interesting Blogs to Read

Puri, Odisha

Lord Jagannath Temple Puri Odisha

Puri, one of the ancient cities not to be missed, is located in the state of Odisha in Eastern India. Aptly called the ‘Temple Town’, Puri is home to the famous Jagannath Temple, a prominent pilgrimage site for Hindus. Interestingly, the city is also known for having the largest kitchen in the world. Moreover, 24 festivals, including 13 major ones, are held annually within the temple premises. The ancient Konark Sun Temple and Markandeshwar Shiva Temple are other renowned temples located here. Puri also boasts beautiful and serene seashores. The Balukhand-Konark Wildlife Sanctuary, with sandy beaches, hills, cashew plantations, and forests of Casuarina trees, provides shelter for Blackbuck and Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. The Sudarshan Crafts Museum showcases antique figurines, a Japanese-style Buddhist temple, a showroom, workshop, and library. The Chilika Wildlife Sanctuary is home to various exotic animals and over 200 species of fish, while the Nalbana Bird Sanctuary or Nalbana Island features a multitude of migratory birds.

Top Reasons to Visit Puri

  • To witness the Jagannath Rath Yatra, a grand public procession in a chariot held in June/July.
  • To visit the sacred Jagannath Temple, famous for its large-scale kitchen.
  • To explore the beautiful Puri Beach.
  • To savor the lip-smacking cuisine of Odisha.
  • To visit the ancient and unique Sun Temple in Konark, located close to Puri.

Other Interesting Blogs to Read

Dwarka, Gujarat

Dwarkadhish Temple Gujarat

Dwarka, an ancient city located in the northwestern Indian state of Gujarat, is a must-visit for tourists interested in history and religion. The city is renowned as a Hindu pilgrimage site, particularly for the Dwarkadheesh Temple, also known as Jagat Mandir. This temple, situated on the north bank of the Gomti Creek, dates back 2,500 years. The main temple stands five stories high, with the intricately carved spire reaching a height of approximately 157 feet. It houses a one-meter-tall, four-handed black icon of Ranchhodrai, the ruler of Dwarka. Another notable tourist site is the Rukmini Temple. Rukmini, Lord Krishna’s wife, is considered an incarnation of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and beauty.

Besides its temples and legends, Dwarka is also famous for being the seat of Adi Shankaracharya, who established four mathas (seats) in four different corners of the country.

Top Reasons to Visit Dwarka

  • To visit the Dwarkadheesh Temple, a sacred temple believed to have been originally built by Lord Krishna’s grandson, Vajranabh.
  • To visit the Nageshwar Jyotirlinga, considered the first of the 12 Jyotirlingas dedicated to Lord Shiva.
  • To enjoy a picturesque scenic ride to Beyt Dwarka Island.
  • To admire the architectural masterpiece that is the Rukmini Temple.
  • To unwind at the Gomti Ghat.

Other Interesting Blogs to Read

Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh

Jugal Kishore Temple Vrindavan

Situated on the banks of the Yamuna River, Vrindavan is famous as one of the most significant places for devotees of Lord Krishna. It is said that Lord Krishna spent his childhood in this city. The name ‘Vrindavan’ is derived from ‘vrinda’ (meaning basil) and ‘van’ (meaning forest), referring to the two small groves at Seva Kunj and Nidhivan. Both culturally and religiously rich, the city is home to numerous temples dedicated to Lord Krishna and Radha, the most popular ones being the ISKCON Temple and the Banke Bihari Temple. Set amidst the dense forests and lush greenery of Vrindavan, these temples enhance the city’s spiritual allure. Vrindavan is also widely popular for its unique and vibrant celebration of Holi.

Top Reasons to Visit Vrindavan

  • To visit the ISKCON Temple.
  • To explore the sacred Bankey Bihari Temple, built in 1862 by Swami Haridas, the guru of the famous musician Tansen.
  • To visit Keshi Ghat, believed to be the place where Lord Krishna bathed after slaying the demon Keshi.
  • To witness the Janmashtami celebrations at the Hare Rama Hare Krishna Temple.
  • To experience the vibrant celebrations during the festival of Holi.

Other Interesting Blog to Read

Embark on a journey to any of these ancient cities nestled within the bounds of incredible India. Discover the profound insights they offer into the country’s rich history, thriving diversity, and profound heritage. Each location is a testament to the vast and captivating beauty of this nation, providing a kaleidoscopic view into the time-honored traditions and vibrant cultures that make India truly remarkable.

Other Interesting Blogs to Read

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are some of the must-visit ancient cities in India?

Some of the must-visit ancient cities in India include Varanasi, Madurai, Ayodhya, Ujjain, Patna, Kannauj, Hampi, Gwalior, Thanjavur, Pushkar, Kollam, Vadodara, Puri, Dwarka, and Vrindavan.

Why is Varanasi considered an important ancient city to visit in India?

Varanasi is considered an important ancient city in India due to its historical and religious significance. Known as one of the oldest cities in the world, it has been a significant religious and cultural centre for thousands of years, especially for Hindus. The city's Ganga Aarti, temples, and the sacred Ganges River are main attractions.

What is the significance of Ayodhya in Indian history and why it's a must-visit?

Ayodhya is known to be the birthplace of Lord Rama, and holds great significance in the Hindu epic Ramayana. It's rich in cultural and historical heritage, and is also the site of the newly constructed grand Lord Rama temple. The city offers a spiritual experience along with historical insight, making it a must-visit.

Why is Hampi listed among the must-visit ancient cities in India?

Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its vast ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire, one of the largest Hindu empires in Indian history. The magnificent temples, markets, forts, royal complexes, and other structures provide a peek into an affluent era.

What makes Ujjain a significant ancient city to visit in India?

Ujjain holds immense religious significance and is known as the home to the Mahakaleshwar Temple, one of the twelve Jyotirlingas. Additionally, the city is the site for the world-renowned religious fair Kumbh Mela.

Why is Madurai considered one of the must-visit ancient cities in India?

Madurai, often referred to as the "Athens of the East", is known for its rich culture, heritage, and historical significance. It is home to the famous Meenakshi Temple and other historical monuments. The city has been an important centre for Tamil culture and learning.

What is the historical significance of Thanjavur and why it is a must-visit city?

Thanjavur is historically significant as the capital of the powerful Chola empire. It's known for the 11th-century Brihadeeswarar Temple, a UNESCO World

What makes Dwarka a must-visit ancient city in India?

Dwarka is one of the four sacred Char Dham Hindu pilgrimage sites, and is considered the ancient kingdom of Lord Krishna. Its spiritual importance, combined with its golden sandy beaches and the Dwarkadheesh Temple, make it a must-visit.

Why is Puri included in the list of must-visit ancient cities in India?

Puri is known for the iconic Jagannath Temple, one of the Char Dham pilgrimage sites, and the Rath Yatra, a grand procession featuring giant chariots. Its spiritual environment and beautiful beaches add to its appeal as a must-visit ancient city.

What is unique about Vrindavan that makes it a must-visit ancient city in India?

Vrindavan holds an iconic place in Hindu mythology as the place where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. The city is home to thousands of temples, including the famous Banke Bihari Temple and ISKCON Temple, making it a spiritual haven and a must-visit destination.

Published: 07 Aug, 2023 | Last Updated: 05 Feb, 2024

About the author

Rahul Srivastava

Rahul Srivastava is an ardent travel writer who is born and brought up in the City of Nawabs- Lucknow. Being from to the culturally thriving land, he has a deep interest in discovering different hues of the country. He has travelled scores of places in India, and holds an affluent experience and knowledge about them. He loves to pen down his travel experiences and his quest for travelling new places is marked evidently in his blogs. His write-ups are the perfect reflection of his fervor for exploring the unexplored!