Agra was our second destination on our two-week journey through northern India. Home to 1.5 million people, Agra pales in comparison to New Delhi yet it remains one of the top tourist destinations in the country.
Don’t forget to check out my Agra episode on YouTube to see how we liked it. 🙂
Our first train ride in India
After spending three nights in New Delhi, we travelled to Agra by train. It left New Delhi on time and arrived in Agra two hours later without any delay. The seats were comfortable and the train was clean. (I’m not sure about the bathrooms though because we didn’t need to use them.) We were surprised that our ticket included a meal as well as tea and bottled water. The tea was okay, the food not so much (a veggie pattie sandwich), so we kept the juice boxes and bottled water and left the rest. All in all a good experience!
We booked all of our train tickets online using 12Go Asia. I highly recommend you buy your tickets as far in advance as possible. Popular train journeys often sell out. For the most comfortable journey, book trains in the following classes only: AC1, AC2, AC3, or AC Chair.
Where we stayed
We spent three nights in a private room in Rhine Hostel. I wouldn’t recommend staying here but it does have some positive aspects, mainly that it’s within walking distance to the Taj Mahal and it’s affordable ($27 for three nights).
Unfortunately, these positives don’t outweigh the negatives. We didn’t enjoy staying here simply because our room wasn’t completely sealed. The walls never reached the ceiling. It also rained heavily while we were there and leaks in the roof meant our room was perpetually damp. It felt like we were sleeping outside.
Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be a big deal but the air pollution in Agra was the worst we’ve ever experienced. We struggled to breathe even while inside our room, even while wearing our anti-smog masks. Kuba had a fever and felt like he had a serious cold but we couldn’t find any relief because the air pollution was so bad.
We tried to find new accommodation after our first night in the hostel but couldn’t find a better alternative. Even the more expensive hotels seemed just as terrible (based on their reviews and photos) so we just sucked it up and counted down the hours until we left Agra for Jaipur.
I also wouldn’t recommend staying right next to the Taj Mahal or Agra Fort because it was more crowded, more noisy, and more chaotic. Let me know if you find decent accommodation in Agra because we were not impressed with the city.
P.S. We had great experiences with our accommodation in the other cities we visited. In fact, our hotel in Jaipur was one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in. It was even in the same price range as this hostel!
Where we ate
On the plus side, we were lucky that super-vegan-friendly Good Vibes Cafe was just around the corner from our hostel. The food was incredible! Affordably priced, too. To give you an idea about food prices, here’s how much our meals cost:
- 240 INR ($3.37 USD) for two veggie naans and two black coffees
- 320 INR ($4.50) for aloo paratha, black coffee, plain rice, veggie naan
- 400 INR ($5.62) for two vegan thalis
- 490 INR ($6.88) for vegan thali, fruit platter, chapati, + coffees? (I can’t remember exactly…)
We happily ate there twice a day. The food was so good!
The staff were very knowledgeable about vegan food and went through the menu explaining which meals can be made vegan. Our favourite meal was vegan thali. The veggie naan was excellent, too. Aloo paratha was tasty but noticeably heavier than anything else we ate so I didn’t order it again. We were also impressed with their massive fruit platter because usually, restaurants skimp on this. Besides our visit to the Taj Mahal, the food at Good Vibes Cafe totally made our trip to Agra worth it! 🙂
Even though the food at Good Vibes Cafe was delicious, we didn’t want to eat out every single meal while in India so we visited a few shopping centres hoping to find a grocery store or a shop. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anything that offered more than snack foods. At least we were able to score some fruit from produce stalls.
We had coffee a few times at Good Vibes Cafe. We tried Costa Coffee once but they were out of soy milk. It wasn’t close enough to our hostel to visit more than once so we didn’t try it again. We went to the same Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) location twice (which is located near the Taj Mahal) but wouldn’t recommend it even though they offer a vegan shake.
In case you missed my review of CCD from my New Delhi Travel Guide:
My initial plan while in India was to opt for Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) instead but we didn’t have the best experiences there. (CCD is basically India’s version of Starbucks.) We tried it several times but were disappointed. They have a vegan shake on the menu (basically an iced coffee with soy milk and sugar syrup) and when it’s made correctly, it’s delicious.
Unfortunately, this only happened once even though we visited CCD three times (in different cities) and ordered the same thing. The last time, the barista substituted whipped cream for soy milk since he ran out but didn’t tell us. He was happy to exchange our drinks for plain coffee but we decided to forgo CCD for good and just stick to Starbucks and other local vegan-friendly cafes for the rest of our trip.
If you have any good recommendations for coffee in Agra, let me know!
We visited two attractions: the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal.
This fort was originally built for Akbar the Great in the late 16th century. It served as the main residence of subsequent Mughal emperors until 1638. At that time, the capital shifted from Agra to Delhi.
The white marble buildings weren’t part of the original fort but when Shah Jahan, the 5th Mughal Emperor, lived here, he changed things up by replacing some of the buildings with these bright marble structures.
We each paid 600 INR (around $8.65 USD) for entry tickets. We bought our tickets in person. Tripods are not allowed here. We didn’t know this before we arrived but were able to store in their cloakroom free of charge.
Seeing the Taj Mahal in person was one of the highlights of our two-week trip! This is the final resting place of Mumtaz Mahal, Persian princess and wife of Shah Jahan. She died giving birth to their 14th child and in his grief, he commissioned this mausoleum for his beloved in 1632.
Over 22,000 labourers and artists came together to build the Taj Mahal using materials gathered from all over India and Asia. Constructed of white marble underlaid with brick, and embellished with delicate carvings, inlaid semi-precious stones and reflective tiles, the Taj Mahal is the finest example of Mughal architecture.
The mausoleum was completed in roughly 12 years. The rest of the 42-acre garden complex, including a mosque and guesthouse, was completed in the following decade.
I’m not sure when would be the best time to visit. We weren’t keen on waking up before sunrise because 1) it was very foggy that day and 2) we were tired! I wouldn’t worry about a queue since foreign tourists have their own line. We entered through the East Gate later in the morning without any queue.
The Taj Mahal is busier later in the day, obviously, but expect it to be busy all the time. It is the most beautiful building in the world, after all!
Remember that if you want to go close to the mausoleum (the main white marble part) and go inside it, you have to buy full priced tickets at 1300 INR (around $18.74 USD). If you mistakenly purchase tickets without including entry to the mausoleum and don’t realise your mistake until you are inside the complex (like we did!), you can still buy an entry pass at a little counter to the left of the mausoleum. You can’t take photographs or film while inside of the mausoleum but paying a little more was worth it to see it up close.
Make sure you check the entry rules before you arrive. Tripods are not allowed!
Tips for visiting Agra
After spending three nights there, I’d recommend only passing through Agra or spending just one night in the city. You definitely can’t miss the Taj Mahal but out of the four cities we visited in India, Agra was our least favourite and the least fun because of the intense air pollution. A better plan would be to arrive in Agra in the morning, tour the Taj Mahal and head to your next destination that same evening.
Don’t walk around at night!
We made the mistake of choosing to walk an hour to the train station from the hostel early in the morning. The long walk didn’t intimidate us but the stray dogs and monkeys did! We also had to walk through several sections in complete darkness (except for the flashlights on our phones) because of missing or dilapidated street lights. Usually, stray dogs don’t scare us but there are just so many in India! You really can’t predict the behaviour of a large pack of hungry dogs, especially at night when they can’t see you as well. The monkeys are also worrisome (albeit cute) because you really don’t know what they’ll do! So don’t walk around at night. Just pay for a tuk-tuk or cab to the train station.
Book your trains in advance.
As I mentioned earlier, I highly recommend you buy your tickets as far in advance as possible because popular train journeys often sell out. More importantly, do not opt for the cheapest train ticket because that means you’ll have to fight for your seat or stand the entire journey in a jam-packed carriage—trust me!! For the most comfortable journey, book trains in the following classes only: AC1, AC2, AC3, or AC Chair. We used 12Go Asia to book our tickets online well before we arrived in India.
- Lonely Planet’s Agra Travel Page – for more recommendations and tips!
- My New Delhi Travel Guide – This is still worth a read even if you don’t plan on visiting New Delhi, simply because many of my tips will apply to Agra and other cities.
- Karl Rock’s YouTube channel – Karl Rock quit his job in New Zealand and moved to India to start a new life. I like his videos because they’re informative without drama. He seems like a down-to-earth guy who wants to show you what India is really like—the good and the bad!
Don’t forget to check out my India episodes on YouTube! Stay tuned for more posts about Jaipur and Udaipur.