You don’t want to mess this one up, right? Read on for all my tips for visiting the Taj Mahal to ensure you have a truly unforgettable experience…
Looking for some tips for visiting the Taj Mahal? Come on in…
If you’re visiting India then one of the most exciting moments on your trip is when you come face to face with the Taj Mahal for the first time. It’s not every day of the week you get to encounter one of the seven wonders of the world, right? Because of that, though, the pressure is on.
You don’t just want to see the Taj Mahal, you want to see it right. You want to have an unforgettable experience that you can look back on for the rest of your life. This is where I come in…
I travelled to the Taj Mahal as part of a group travel tour in 2020. What this meant is that I didn’t have to make a lot of the logistical decisions myself. Our group leader Sana took care of all that. But whoa, did she have all the amazing tips for visiting the Taj Mahal properly. And that’s what I’m sharing with you!
There was none of this rocking up in the middle of the day or with a backpack full of stuff that would never get past the security checks. But I’m getting ahead of myself – more on that later.
If you’d like to find out how you can have a truly unforgettable experience then keep reading for my amazing tips for visiting the Taj Mahal. From what time you should go at, what gate to go to, what to wear, and what day you shouldn’t visit on… I’ve got you covered. I’ll also talk about what else we did in Agra during our visit – including an amazing rooftop restaurant we had dinner at. So stay tuned for that!
But first up, let’s dive into some detail about the Taj Mahal…
The Taj Mahal love story
Behind the grandeur of the Taj Mahal is a big beating heart – and a really rather touching love story. If we’re talking big, swooning, romantic gestures, this one really blows it out the water. However, it’s also firmly marked by tragedy. Let’s find out more…
The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to honour his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. They had first met many years earlier when he spotted her selling silks at the marketplace outside the royal complex. He quickly fell in love at first sight and made her his third wife.
When she died, he was devastated. He plunged the imperial court into two years of mourning which – to use a word from this century – was entirely unprecedented. He turned his attention to honouring her memory, and brought together the very best artisans from all over the Muslim world in order to design a monument unlike any other in the world.
According to the Huffington Post, Jahan wanted to ensure that there was nothing to rival the palace. And so he took matters into his own hands. “To ensure that no other living structure would ever rival the beauty of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan made an agreement with the building’s artists. In exchange for a hefty payment, they would not create anymore art or design in their lifetime.”
He was so careful to ensure the memory of his great love would last for generations, which seems like an act of love in itself, and just shows how close it was to his heart. The Taj was famously described as “a teardrop on the cheek of time” by Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, and I think this really sums up the raw emotion and the timeless quality of the palace.
One last thing. Why is it called the Taj Mahal then, you may be wondering? Well, Taj was the nickname given to Mumtaz Mahal by her husband. When translated, the Taj Mahal means “crown palace”.
The construction of the Taj Mahal
Here are my favourite Taj Mahal facts on the actual build of the palace…
How old is the Taj Mahal?
The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632, making in 390 years old.
How many workers built the Taj Mahal?
More than 20,000 workers built the Taj Mahal. They came from India, Persia, Europe and the Ottoman Empire to build the palace. 1000 elephants were also utilised in building the Taj Mahal.
How long did it take to build the Taj Mahal?
It took 16 years to build the Taj Mahal. Construction began on the main building in 1632 and it was completed in 1648. However, work on other parts of the complex continued for another few years. The project was finally wrapped in 1653.
How much did it cost to build the Taj Mahal?
The cost of building the Taj Mahal is reported to be 32 million rupees. In today’s money, that would be roughly 70 billion rupees – $956 million dollars. No expense spared then!
Who owns the Taj Mahal?
Note to self:
Don’t google this question, see a headline that reads: Donald Trump owns the Taj Mahal and promptly lose your mind. Mercifully the Taj Mahal referred to in aforementioned headline is actually a glitzy casino in the States somewhere, rather than the real deal.
Now you know the story of the Taj Mahal – let’s head into logistics. That’s more exciting than it sounds, I promise!
Let’s get started with my tips for visiting the Taj Mahal
How to get to the Taj Mahal
The easiest way to get to Agra from Delhi is to get a train. There are numerous trains you can catch to Agra from Delhi. The journey is only around two hours in total. We travelled to Agra from Varanasi on the overnight train (which is always an experience) and arrived first thing in the AM. We visited the Taj Mahal for the following morning.
When to visit the Taj Mahal
You might be wondering when the best time to visit the Taj Mahal is. Is there a better month, day or even hour? Are some days not suitable? I’m gonna to try and answer some of these questions over the next few paragraphs. Let’s hop to it…
What time of year is best to visit the Taj Mahal
If you’re travelling to Taj Mahal what time of year you visit is an important consideration. Most of us will only make the trip once, or twice if we’re lucky, so you want to make sure you get the most out of the experience as you can, right? With that in mind, the verdict on the best time of year to visit the Taj Mahal is: between October to March.
It’s during this time of year that it’s slightly cooler. That’s in comparison to the summer months when it gets incredibly (and possibly unbearably) hot. I visited the Taj Mahal in mid-February and it was great. It was cool in the morning before sunrise but it was pleasant as we were wandering around, and only started to get really hot by the time we left mid-morning. But we were off to sit in an air-conditioned bus for four hours on the next leg of our trip, so it was all good!
Call me biased, but if you’re not sure when is a good time to go then I would certainly recommend mid-February as one of my tips for visiting the Taj Mahal. It worked for me!
What are the Taj Mahal opening hours?
Let’s talk about the Taj Mahal opening and closing times.
The Taj Mahal is open from sunrise to sunset – so that’s 6.00am until 7pm. That’s except from one day of the week when it’s closed, which I’ll talk about next. Those aren’t the only Taj Mahal opening hours you should know about though. Because there’s actually a moonlight viewing at the Taj Mahal too.
That’s right. There’s a Taj Mahal night viewing every full moon from 8:30pm to 12:30am, plus two days after and before the full moon, so for five days in total. How cool is that?!
I don’t know about you but I’m not too up to speed on full moons. But if you want to check whether a full moon ties in with your trip to the Taj Mahal then you can check using this handy website! I bet seeing the Taj in the moonlight would be an incredible experience!
Which day is the Taj Mahal closed?
If we’re talking tips for visiting the Taj Mahal this is probably one of the most important!
You might have heard some chatter about the Taj Mahal not being open one day of the week. Well, you’re right to check, because the answer to the question ‘is the Taj Mahal open on a Friday’ is… no. The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays. Definitely don’t rock up at the palace all bright eyed and bushy tailed on that particular day because you won’t get in. The next question is of course: why? Why is the Taj Mahal closed on Fridays? Well, it’s closed so that local Muslim people can come to the palace and pray.
What is the best time of day to visit the Taj Mahal?
Now onto the best time of day to visit Taj Mahal. As I mentioned, when I visited we went at sunrise. For me, that was a perfect experience. The light in the morning casts everything in this beautiful soft blur where nothing is too defined or harsh. The palace itself looks almost like a ghostly apparition that could just fade into the sky at any moment.
From a more practical perspective, I’ve heard people say that if you go at dawn you’ll beat the crowds and get the palace to yourself. Unfortunately, this is not the case, certainly not when I visited. The queue was snaking back for hundreds of metres by the time we got in and none of the photos I took could avoid including hundreds other tourists all jostling for their perfect photograph with the Taj Mahal. So I don’t buy that for a second. It’s one of the seven wonders of the world, I reckon it’s ALWAYS going to be busy!
Tips for visiting the Taj Mahal at different times of day
The Taj Mahal at sunrise
I would recommend visiting the Taj Mahal at sunrise for sure. It’s all soft, pastel hues with an almost mystical quality to it. I actually found out later that the fuzziness of the light in the morning is actually caused by pollution and smog, which isn’t so great. However, the fact remains: sunrise equals incredible photographs of the palace before the light gets too bright and ‘hard’, if that makes sense. If you can get yourself out of bed, it’s so worth it.
The Taj Mahal during the day
Maybe you slept in or you simply can’t get to the Taj Mahal any earlier than the middle of the day. Visiting the Taj Mahal during the day isn’t a total disaster or anything. It’s the Taj Mahal, it’s always going to look beautiful. The only thing to be mindful of is that the heat will probably be pretty stifling. You might not have the stamina that you would have when it’s cooler in the morning. If you can delay, then getting yourself in the right spot to watch the sunset at the Taj Mahal could be a really magical experience…
The Taj Mahal at sunset
If you want drama then the Taj Mahal at sunset is a great option. Just picture a yellow gold sky with the palace all lit up with shades of red and burnt orange, like it’s cast in firelight or something… it’s a beautiful thing. I would love to come back and see the Taj at sunset.
The Taj Mahal at night
As I mentioned, the Taj Mahal is open to night time viewings five days a month, around the time of a full moon. I really can’t think of anything more magical. I’m just imagining the marble of the palace all lit up by the light of the moon, the stars glittering in the sky above… it just sounds wonderful. Obviously, I’ve not done it myself and can only go on pictures on Instagram (#tajmahalatnight if you’d like to browse yourself) but it really does just look like an incredible experience. If you do have time to do this, please do – and send pics!
What is the best gate for entering the Taj Mahal?
There are three gates to the Taj Mahal. It’s worth reading up on each of them so you don’t come up against any surprises when you’re racing to get there in the AM!
As I mentioned at the top, I travelled to the Taj Mahal as part of a group travel tour so my decision making in what gate we chose was completely non-existent. I was merely a passenger who pretty much went where I was told. Our tour guide Sana picked the gate, and for us it was the East Gate…
East Gate: The East Gate is closest to most of the hostels/hotels in Agra so chances are this is the best bet for you. It’s also reported that this gate is less crowded. It was definitely busy when we were there (although you kind of lose perspective on busy in India) but we didn’t have to queue too long to get in and it all seemed to move fairly quickly.
What else can I tell you about the East Gate? Well, there are coffee shops nearby that are open (!) even before dawn. We all enjoyed a lovely hot coffee as we waited in the queue. It was just what the doctor ordered – it warmed us up and woke us up! So on that basis alone I would definitely recommend the East Gate, it’s a pretty good all-rounder.
West Gate: I’ve heard there are longer queues at the West Gate and it’s also further away from where most tourists will be arriving from, but as I wasn’t there myself I can’t confirm that!
South Gate: Well, apparently the South Gate doesn’t open until 8am and so that makes it entirely redundant if you want to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. It’s also currently closed for entry so this one is pretty much a non-starter – you can rule the South Gate out!
How much is the entry fee for the Taj Mahal?
For tourists the entry price for the Taj Mahl is 1100 rupees
You buy your tickets online here
What is included in the price of your ticket to the Taj Mahal?
- Shoe covers
- Water bottle
- Tourist guide map of Agra
- Battery bus
- Golf cart services
If you want to visit the mausoleum complex at the Taj Mahal (ie go inside the palace) you will have to buy an additional ticket, which will cost an additional 200 rupees.
What happens once you get through the gate?
Next, you’ll need to go through security. As per many of the attractions in India, men and women have separate queues to go through. Your bags will go through a scanner and you’ll have to step through a body scanner, just like at the airport. As long as you don’t bleep you shouldn’t be too long here.
I’ve included more details on what items you should and shouldn’t bring to the Taj Mahal below!
General advice for visiting the Taj Mahal
Go as early as possible
One of the most important tips for visiting the Taj Mahal is to set that alarm clock!
We’ve covered most of this already but I wanted to hammer home the point about getting there early. Ideally, you want to be in the queue when it’s still dark, before sunrise, and before the gates are open. If the sun is high in the sky by the time you’re in the queue you’re already too late.
I keep banging on about it, but it’s all about the light. When the sun is just rising in the sky it bathes the palace in this soft and ethereal light which just adds to the magic of the experience.
I remember seeing people entering just as we were leaving and by that time the sun was properly up and the ethereal morning light was long gone. It was also starting to get really hot, which isn’t really conducive to being a diligent tourist, right? If you can’t go early then go late – sunset is also a great opportunity for great photographs.
Don’t pack anything you don’t need
When I say pack light I really mean pack light. Don’t bring anything you don’t need.
Large rucksacks and bags are not allowed, but that’s just for starters. I was so happy we had our Intrepid tour guide Sana with us at this point. She gave us a really clear brief on how stringent the security is at the Taj Mahal. She briefed us… and then she briefed us again, and it turned out that we still hadn’t stripped everything out as much as we should have done. Turns out a comb and a packet of chewing gum could also delay you in the queue!
It’s a bit of a rush to get to the palace before the sun gets really high in the sky and you really don’t want to miss crucial moments faffing around getting through security – because unless you come back the next day you won’t get the opportunity again. Trust me, you don’t want to magic of this moment ruined by something so boring as logistics.
Be really strict. If you don’t need it, leave it in your hotel room.
Don’t bring any of these items to the Taj Mahal:
- Chewing gum
- Phone charger
- Knives (obvs)
Don’t opt for the first photography opportunity
This is one of the tips for visiting the Taj Mahal that I wish I read before I visited.
When we first got a glimpse of the palace as were entering the gardens EVERYONE surged towards the first available spot for photographs… and jostled and bumped elbows with all the other tourists trying to pretend that they were the only one in the shot. However, it’s not the best spot.
My advice is to not panic and think because you can’t get a spot there you’re not going to get any decent photographs. Just keep walking. If you walk down to the water feature in front of the palace you’ll able to get a shot without any crowds in the background. You may even look alone. And that’s not to say that’s the only spot. There are benches, trees, and pathways to pose on that aren’t your stereotypical ‘straight on’ Taj Mahal shot but are actually just as charming. Try breaking the cliché and being different.
Embrace the madness
Embrace the crowds and go with it. I know whenever you search for pictures of the Taj Mahal on Instagram you’ll see some perfectly dressed person sat in front of the Taj with no one else in sight. I’m highly dubious about that being the reality. When I was there every possible square inch in front of the palace was crammed full of tourists all trying to get the perfect photograph. You can get mad about the crowds… or you can simply go with it.
I chose to go with it and embraced what is a rather crazy situation. In fact, one of my favourite photographs from our visit is myself and my sister posing with all this chaos going on around us. It always makes me giggle and it takes me back to what it was actually like in the moment. Not the heavily edited and filtered for the ’Gram version of it.
Wear something colourful
Firstly, I should mention that dressing modesty is important when you travel to India, particularly for women. That means covering your shoulders, not wearing anything too low-cut and ensuring that any skirts are at least knee length. If you’ve made it to the Taj Mahal you’ve probably nailed that part earlier on in your trip. And now onto my main point…
As far as tips for visiting the Taj Mahal go, this one is a trifle more frivolous. Having trawled through all those pictures on Instagram it is something I wished I’d done. Yes, I would recommend wearing something bright and colourful to visit the Taj Mahal – perhaps a colourful scarf or shawl that nods to Indian culture.
I’m not going to lie, it’s also about the aesthetics. A lovely jewel coloured scarf or sunshine yellow dress really offsets the pale marble of the Taj Mahal in the background, and it’ll help to make your photographs pop!
Actually, one of the women in our tour group had a gorgeous candy pink scarf that she wore over the course of the trip and I think that’s what inspired this point – I really wanted one!
But also wear something warm
I think I mentioned that we arrived at the Taj Mahal before dawn, right? It was not warm. That was in early February so it may depend on what time of year you’re travelling to India, but I just wanted to share that it’s not always as warm as you think it’s going to be.
I was certainly surprised, and so glad that I’d picked up a hoodie in Primark the day before I left. There were a LOT of early mornings on the trip and so I needed it a lot – everyone loves a sunrise trip, right? I would therefore make sure you pack something cosy and comfortable to wear for all those 6am excursions. You can probably do better than me with my Primark hoodie, right?
Have fun with it
Hey – you’re in the presence of one of the seven wonders of the world. That’s a pretty big deal and doesn’t happen every day. From that perspective, you should definitely give yourself enough time to really drink every moment of that experience in.
For example, I loved wandering around and getting a closer look at all of the beautiful detailing on the building, and it really felt like a privilege being able to see it up close. The gardens are also lovely to wander around – it’s just really lovely to enjoy the greenery after so much the dust everywhere else.
However, it’s also supposed to be fun. I mean, who even are you if you don’t get the photo where you look like you’re picking up a tiny Taj Mahal from its tip? You also have to walk around with plastic covers over your feet when you explore the palace (so as not to damage the building) and so you’re never going to look that sophisticated in that context!
We also got a great group selfie, which I just love!
What else is there to see in the Taj Mahal complex?
Now we’re done with tips for visiting the Taj Mahal let’s look at the rest of the complex.
There are a whole host of other buildings in the Taj Mahal complex, so once you’ve got your photography out of the way then take some time to wander around…
The tomb inside the Taj
The Taj Mahal is, of course, a mausoleum, so make sure you take a chance to explore the tombs of and Shan Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. What you actually see are ‘false sarcophagi’ – a stone tomb above the real graves – the actual graves are found at a lower level. You can’t take photographs and it is crowded, but it’s worth seeing the heart of the building.
The Taj Mahal gardens
The Taj Mahal gardens are a sight to behold. Stretching over 300 metres, the garden brings together symmetry, sunken flowerbeds, and a perfectly placed reflecting pool that reflects the image of the palace. According to Babur, the first Mughal emperor, paradise comprises four rivers and a garden and what we see at the Taj Mahal are a nod to that.
The mosque and guest pavilion
These sit on both sides of the Taj Mahal’s mausoleum and are instantly recognisable by their red sandstone. They’re in perfect symmetry – although the do differ on the inside – which ties in with rest of the symmetrical features in the complex. The rich sandstone is beautiful and looks gorgeous in the morning sun.
Things to do near the Taj Mahal
If you’re visiting the Taj Mahal you might also want to know what else there is to do in Agra. I’ll be honest, there isn’t loads, but definitely enough to spend one or two nights there. And there are definitely a couple of things that you don’t want to miss out on…
What to do in Agra
Mehtab Bagh gardens
Want to know where you can get one of the best views of the Taj Mahal… without actually being within the grounds of the Taj Mahal? It’s right here at the Mehtab Bagh gardens.
Mehtab Bagh gardens, which translate as ‘the moonlight garden’, sit on the opposite side of the Yamuna River and are a quiet and tranquil location to contemplate the Taj Mahal.
They offer a different sense of the Taj Mahal compared to the mayhem of the crowds you’ll experience when you’re visiting the palace itself. Here, it’s peaceful and uncrowded. There’s also lots of stunning landscape gardening to admire, as well as the incredible symmetry that will make your photos pop! You can meander around the gardens to your heart’s content and enjoy the views of the Taj, all while enjoying the sights and sounds of nature.
We came here the day before our ‘proper’ Taj Mahal visiting and in some ways I actually enjoyed it more. You could sit here and watch the sunset on the Taj and then go the following morning to enjoy the sun rise – we probably would have done that if there hadn’t been a miscommunication in our tour group. Group travel tours problems, eh!
One last thing: the price. Do you have to pay to visit the Mehtab Bagh gardens? The answer is yes, you do. However, the entry fee is minimal – less then £3 in British money. If you’d like to pre-book your tickets you can do so by hopping over to Tripadvisor right here.
Agra Fort or the Red Fort of Agra
One of the other must-see attractions in Agra is the Agra Fort.
Agra Fort is a 16th century fort made of red sandstone which is located on the Yamuna River in the city of Agra. It’s also known as the Red Fort. It’s a pretty impressive complex of buildings comprising different architectural styles; both Persian (Islamic) and local Hindu styles. It was also awarded UNESCO world heritage site status in 1983.
Inside, it’s pretty spectacular. There are a number of different buildings within the fort, with each one being slightly different to the next. The largest is Jahangir’s Palace, which is a red sandstone built by Emperor Akbar for his son, Jahangir. Then there’s the Pearl Mosque, which is made entirely out of shimmering white marble and is simply beautiful. There’s also the Musamman Burj, which is an octagonal tower. It’s said that that is where the emperor Shah Jahan, who was banished to the fort by his son, lay as he faced his death. In some ways it seems a fitting way to go; looking out onto the Taj Mahal he built in honour of his true love.
Eat at Maya Hotel and Restaurant, Agra
We arrived in Agra the day before and headed to Maya Hotel and Restaurant for dinner. As with many places in India, it was a rooftop restaurant with a lot of stairs to climb to get to the top. Once you get to the top, however, it’s totally worth it for the gorgeous setting.
Rows of twinkly star-shaped twirl above your head, lighting up the night sky and creating an atmosphere that is both enchanting and charming. The mosaic floor is also a work of art in itself. All in all, Maya plays a blinder: it’s pretty to look at and has a fun, laid-back vibe.
This place was packed when we were here, so it was obviously popular. And if the food was anything to go by it was no surprise, because it was delicious. This is where I tried a cheese naan bread for the first time – I usually always get peswhari – and it was a revelation. I also tried a delicious Indian dessert, called Gulab Jamun. Oh, and one other reason why I loved this restaurant. Having been in the holy city of Varanasi before visiting Agra, we were also all delighted to be able to have a drink! Let’s just say the ice cold beer went down a treat! If you’re looking for a relaxed place to come and have dinner, I would recommend it Maya in Agra.
Maya Hotel & Restaurant address:
18/184, Fatehabad Rd, Purani Mandi, Tajganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282001, India
One thing I wish I’d done in Agra…
Visited Sheroes Hangout, Agra
There’s always one thing you don’t do that you wish you did, right? If I could go back to Agra again I would make sure I visited Sheroes Café. It’s a café run by acid attack survivors, and it raises awareness of these attacks through the stories of the courageous survivors who work there. As well as serving traditional Indian food in the café it’s also an activism workshop, a radio community hub, and an exhibition space. I really would have loved to have gone to support what these incredible women do, so if you get a chance please go!