Varanasi Travel Tips for First-Time Visitors

Varanasi, also known as Benares or Kashi, stands as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Nestled on the banks of the sacred Ganges River in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi is a city steeped in deep spirituality, ancient traditions, and a vibrant culture. Embarking on your Varanasi trip is a unique and enriching experience, but it can also be overwhelming for first-time visitors. To help you navigate Varanasi with ease and make the most of your journey, we’ve prepared this comprehensive guide of essential travel tips.

Varanasi Travel Tips

When to Visit Varanasi

  • Best Time to Visit: The ideal time to explore Varanasi is during the winter months, which span from October to March. During this period, the weather is pleasant and comfortable for sightseeing and outdoor activities.
  • Avoiding the Monsoon: It’s advisable to avoid visiting Varanasi during the monsoon season, which typically occurs from July to September. This season brings heavy rainfall and the potential for flooding in some areas, making it less suitable for travel.

Getting to Varanasi

  • By Air: Varanasi is accessible via the Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport, which serves both domestic and international flights.
  • By Train: Varanasi Junction is one of the major railway stations in India, offering excellent connectivity to major cities across the country.
  • By Road: Well-maintained highways connect Varanasi to nearby cities and regions, making it accessible by road as well.

Accommodation Options

Varanasi offers a wide range of accommodation options, catering to various budgets and preferences.

  • Ghats or Old City: Staying near the ghats provides a unique experience, with options including guesthouses, boutique hotels, and budget accommodations.
  • Cantonment Area: The Cantonment area, a bit away from the bustling ghats, offers more modern and comfortable hotel options.
  • Booking in Advance: Especially during peak tourist seasons and festivals, it’s advisable to book your accommodation in advance to secure your preferred choice.

Exploring the Ghats

Varanasi is renowned for its numerous ghats that line the Ganges River.

  • Must-Visit Ghats: Dashashwamedh Ghat, Assi Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, and Panchganga Ghat are among the most significant and frequented.
  • Ghat Rituals: Witnessing the daily rituals, such as the mesmerizing Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat, and taking a boat ride to see the ghats from the river, are essential experiences.

Temples and Religious Sites

Varanasi is home to an array of temples and religious sites, each carrying its own historical and spiritual significance.

  • Kashi Vishwanath Temple: This temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is the most revered in Varanasi and attracts countless devotees.
  • Sarnath: Located nearby, Sarnath is where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon, making it a significant pilgrimage site for Buddhists.
  • Other Temples: Explore other temples like the Durga Temple, Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, and more, each with its own unique charm.

Cultural Experiences

Varanasi is a hub of cultural activities that offer a glimpse into its rich heritage.

  • Music and Dance: Attend classical music and dance performances at venues like Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh and Bharat Kala Bhavan.
  • Varanasi Cuisine: Delight your taste buds with local dishes such as chaat, lassi, and the famous Benarasi paan.
  • Silk Shopping: Varanasi is renowned for its exquisite silk sarees and textiles, making it an ideal place for shopping souvenirs.

Safety and Health Tips

  • Stay hydrated: Due to the city’s climate, it’s essential to stay hydrated. Drink bottled water and avoid ice in beverages.
  • Dress modestly: Especially when visiting religious sites, dress conservatively to show respect. Cover your shoulders and knees, and remove your shoes when entering temples or homes.
  • Beware of scams: Be cautious of scams and touts who may try to overcharge or mislead tourists. Always negotiate prices before hiring services.
  • Health precautions: Ensure you have necessary vaccinations for India and take precautions against waterborne diseases by consuming bottled water and avoiding street food in dubious hygiene conditions.

Respect Local Customs

To ensure a smooth and respectful experience, familiarize yourself with local customs and traditions.

  • Religious practices: Be respectful of the religious practices along the ghats and in temples. Avoid interrupting rituals and ceremonies.
  • Photography: Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, particularly in intimate or religious settings.
  • Public displays of affection: Public displays of affection are generally frowned upon in Varanasi; it’s advisable to keep physical contact discreet.
  • Entering sacred places: Remove your shoes before entering temples and homes as a sign of respect.

Language and Communication

  • Hindi is the most widely spoken language in Varanasi, but English is understood in many tourist areas.
  • While you can get by with English in most places, learning a few basic Hindi phrases can enhance your travel experience and earn you goodwill among locals.

Things to Carry


  • Lightweight and breathable clothing suitable for the season of your visit.
  • Modest clothing for visiting temples and religious sites (long pants, covered shoulders, and dresses/skirts that go below the knee for women).
  • Comfortable walking shoes or sandals for exploring the city.

Travel Documents

  • Passport and visa (if applicable).
  • Photocopies of important documents, such as your passport, visa, and travel insurance.
    Printed copies of hotel reservations and travel itineraries.
  • Any necessary permits or identification for specific activities.

Money and Banking

  • Sufficient Indian Rupees (INR) in cash for small expenses and emergencies.
  • Debit or credit cards, preferably with no foreign transaction fees.
  • Traveler’s checks (if desired, although they are less commonly used nowadays).
  • A money belt or secure pouch for carrying cash and cards discreetly.

Personal Health and Hygiene

  • Prescription medications and a copy of your prescription.
  • Basic first-aid kit with essentials like band-aids, antiseptic wipes, and pain relievers.
  • Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes for on-the-go hygiene.
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat to protect against the sun.
  • Mosquito repellent to ward off insects, especially during evenings.

Electronics and Accessories

  • Universal power adapter and voltage converter (if necessary).
  • Mobile phone and charger.
  • Power bank for keeping your devices charged while on the move.
  • Travel-sized portable Wi-Fi hotspot (optional but helpful for staying connected).
  • Camera or smartphone for capturing memories of your trip.

Travel Essentials

  • Lightweight daypack or small backpack for carrying essentials during the day.
  • Travel guidebook or map of Varanasi for navigation and reference.
  • Travel pillow, eye mask, and earplugs for comfortable rest during long journeys.
  • Reusable water bottle to stay hydrated; consider a filtered bottle for added convenience.

Miscellaneous Items

  • Sunglasses and a hat to protect against the sun.
  • Travel umbrella or raincoat if visiting during the monsoon season.
  • Zip-lock bags for organizing and protecting items from moisture.
  • Travel lock to secure your luggage or daypack.
  • Local SIM card or international roaming plan for staying connected.

Personal Items

  • Toiletries, including toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, and soap (small travel-sized containers are convenient).
  • Toilet paper or tissues, as some public restrooms may not provide them.
  • Travel-sized laundry detergent for washing clothes if necessary.
  • Any personal items such as glasses, contact lenses, and a spare pair of prescription glasses if you wear them.

Entertainment and Reading Material

  • Books, e-reader, or magazines for entertainment during downtime.
  • Travel journal and pen to document your experiences.
  • Language phrasebook or app for basic communication in Hindi or your preferred language.

Travel Insurance

  • Comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and lost or stolen belongings.

Do and Don’ts


  • Respect Local Customs: Respect the city’s religious significance. Dress modestly when visiting temples and ghats. Cover your shoulders and knees, and remove your shoes before entering sacred places.
  • Engage with Locals: Interact with the friendly locals. Engaging in conversations can lead to cultural insights and enriching experiences.
  • Observe Rituals Quietly: When witnessing rituals at ghats or temples, maintain a respectful silence. Avoid interrupting ceremonies with loud conversations or intrusive behavior.
  • Ask for Permission: Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, particularly in intimate or religious settings. Some locals may prefer not to be photographed.
  • Respect Personal Space: Indians value personal space and physical contact should be kept to a minimum in public. Avoid public displays of affection.
  • Use Both Hands for Transactions: When giving or receiving items or money, it’s considered polite to use both hands. This gesture shows respect and sincerity.
  • Carry Cash: While ATMs are readily available, it’s a good idea to carry some cash, especially in smaller denominations, for small purchases and transactions.
  • Haggle with Respect: Bargaining is common in markets and when hiring services, but do it respectfully. Don’t engage in overly aggressive haggling.


  • Don’t Disrupt Religious Practices: Avoid disrupting religious rituals and ceremonies at ghats and temples. Stay quiet and observant during these times.
  • Don’t Enter Temples or Homes with Shoes: Always remove your shoes before entering temples, homes, and some shops. It’s a sign of respect and cleanliness.
  • Don’t Litter: Keep Varanasi clean by disposing of your trash properly. Avoid littering in public spaces, especially near the ghats and the Ganges.
  • Don’t Overconsume Alcohol: While alcohol is available in some places, it’s best not to overindulge, especially in public areas, as public drunkenness can be frowned upon.
  • Don’t Swim in the Ganges: Despite its spiritual significance, the Ganges can be highly polluted. Swimming in it is not advisable due to health risks.
  • Don’t Point Your Feet: It’s considered disrespectful to point your feet at people, religious idols, or sacred objects. When sitting, keep your feet tucked away.
  • Don’t Trust Strangers Too Quickly: Be cautious of overly friendly strangers who approach you with unsolicited offers or assistance. Use your judgment and be wary of scams.
  • Don’t Use Left Hand for Transactions: In India, the left hand is traditionally associated with impurity, so avoid using it for transactions or when offering or receiving items.


Visiting Varanasi is a journey into the heart of India’s spirituality and culture. By following these travel tips, you can make the most of your Varanasi experience while respecting local customs and traditions. Whether you seek spiritual enlightenment, cultural enrichment, or simply a unique adventure, Varanasi offers something for every traveler. Embrace the mystique of this ancient city and let it leave an indelible mark on your soul.

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