Places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

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Planning a trip to the spiritual city of Varanasi? Here are all the places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days…

Last updated on 10/04/2023

Today I’m walking you through all the places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days.

Two days is not a lot of time to spend in Varanasi. The holy city on the banks of the historical Ganges River is one of the most breathtaking places I visited on my trip to India. You want to soak as much in as possible.

So how do you choose which places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days? Well, you definitely need to be efficient with your time. That may even involve getting up before dawn. I’ll include some of my tips, such as:

  • The best time to take a boat trip along the Ganges
  • Why you need to make time to walk along the ghats
  • How to schedule in time to visit Blue Lassi at least twice

These are my absolute must-see places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days. But first up, let me tell you a little bit more about Varanasi…

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

A quick intro to Varanasi

Let’s start with a brief introduction to Varanasi first.

The city of Varanasi in India is what you might call a pretty big deal. Located on the banks of the River Ganges in Uttar Pradesh in India, it’s a holy city that carries huge significance in Hinduism.

It’s probably most well-known for the funeral rites which take place on the ghats – the steps leading down to the river. This involves dipping the bodies in the river before cremating them. The water in the river is believed to be sacred and many pilgrims travel to the city to set the souls of their dead free, or to wash away their sins in the water themselves.

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

It’s only when you’re here in Varanasi that you can see how much of a central part it plays. All you have to do is look around at the hundreds of colourful boats bobbing on the shore, the ceremonies being performed on the edge of the river each night, and the clusters of people bathing in the holy water all the way up the ghats. The Ganges is the stage for all these events and it’s only when you’re here that you appreciate that in full.

However, this isn’t the only thing this spiritual city is famous for. There are temples, street art, amazing brunch spots, and more. There are so many places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days you may struggle to cram them in!

Places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

Watch the cremations at Manikarnika Ghat

This famous burning ghat is the reason so many people travel to Varanasi. 

Manikarnika Ghat is believed to be the holiest of all the ghats on the Ganges. It’s here that you’ll see the cremations that Varanasi is famous for.

It’s a pretty surreal sight. When you first arrive on the ghats you can see the smoke in the air at a distance, but you can’t really see what’s going on. It’s only when you get closer that it becomes apparent, with the orange glimmer of the ever-burning fires and the scent of burning camphor.

Piles of wood are piled on the burning ghat, which are further surrounded by groups of people quietly watching the ceremonies. The dead bodies are covered in brightly colour cloth and are carried to the ghat on bamboo stretchers, often being transported through the narrow streets of the old city to the sound of chanting. They’re dipped in the water and then set alight, before the ashes are scattered in the River Ganges.

So what is the story behind the Manikarnika Ghat? Why do families travel here to cremate their dead? This particular ghat is famous in Hinduism due to the belief that the goddess Sati dropped her earring here.

Manikarna actually means ‘earring’ in Sanskrit. However, it all goes back to the belief that being cremated here will liberate people from the cycle of death and rebirth, and ultimately set their souls free. It’s believed that the departed souls cremated here can attain ‘moksha’, and enter nirvana. 

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

Evening boat ride in Varanasi

After a busy day of walking through the narrow streets and experiencing the craziness of the traffic in Varanasi (more on that later) the thought of an evening boat ride along the Ganges sounded heavenly.

And boy did it deliver. The cool breeze of the evening was much welcomed, as was the relative quiet. It just felt incredibly peaceful and calming to bob along the river and admire the city.

I also loved seeing Varanasi all lit up in the evening. Different buildings along the river light up in different shades of purple, pink, red and blue as darkness begins to fall. That simply makes the views even more beguiling.  Out on the boats, we also lit candles – known as diyas – and let them float away on the river as part of an offering to the gods.

It’s pretty special when you look out onto the blackness of the river and see all these flames twinkling away like a giant sprinkle of glitter. What could be more magical than that?

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

Watch the Ganga Aarti Ceremony

What could be more magical than bobbing along the Ganges by boat?

Well, I should mention that there’s a pretty spectacular evening ceremony that takes place every evening in Varanasi. It all happens at the Dasawamedha Ghat at dusk and it’s both intriguing and enchanting.

So what exactly is going on during the Ganga Aarti ceremony? Well, it’s all about the ritual of offering prayer to the Ganges River. There’s chanting, fire, choreographed dancing, and the thick smell of incense in the air.

We watched the ceremony from the comfort of our boat, which was a pretty neat experience. All the boats pack in together near the edge of the river to get a closer view, so you go from being alone in the river to being surrounded by crowds.

The fact that local kids skip over the boats selling crisps and snacks was another surreal part of it! It almost felt like being at an open-air cinema, except we were on a boat in the middle of the Ganges.

I would also love to see the ceremony from the ghat itself. However, with all the crowds packed tight, I’m not sure if you’d actually get a better look. We may have got the best view from the river!

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

Watch the Subah-e-Banaras ceremony

Remember I mentioned the early starts in Varanasi? Well, this is one of the things you won’t want to miss – an incredible dawn ceremony that takes place every morning on the edges of the river.

The Subah-e-Banarasceremony in Varanasi takes place on the Assi ghat at sunrise. While it’s not as famous as the evening ceremony, I found it really mesmerising. The ceremony starts with chanting followed by the seven priests taking to the platform, more chanting, fire, smoke, and dancing.

Head down before dawn (everything kicks off at 6am sharp) and find a seat on one of the steps to watch. If you’re a real early bird you can go down even earlier to take part in the morning yoga, but I skipped that part for an extra half hour in bed. Once the ceremony is finished you can then hop on a boat to take in the sunrise from the River Ganges – amazing!

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

Morning boat ride in Varanasi

Watching the sunrise over the Ganges was one of the most magical experiences I had in Varanasi. The morning light is effortless beauty: all soft pastel blue, peaches and pinks. It simply looks incredible next to the dark silhouettes of the boats bobbing on the river.

So you might be thinking… erm, didn’t she just spend the last few paragraphs talking about the nighttime boat ride in Varanasi? Do I need to do another one? Well, my advice is not to limit yourself to one boat ride.

Trust me, do one in the AM too, because they’re a completely different vibe. I actually think I enjoyed this one more than the evening trip because it was the exact opposite. While the evening boat ride in Varanasi is all about the crowds, the banging of drums, and the performative nature of the evening rituals, in the morning it’s just calm and chilled.

It’s just you, the water, and the incredible surroundings.

And while everything grew gradually darker and less visible over the course of the nighttime boat ride, the morning boat ride in Varanasi was of course the opposite. It lit up, and I loved being able to see everything that we couldn’t see the night before. Being able to take in the scale – as well as the intricacies – of the banks of the Ganges was worth seeing alone.

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

Take a bike ride in Varanasi

I remember when I first saw this on our itinerary for our group travel tour and for some reason I thought we were going to be doing the bike riding! I must have thought I was in the Netherlands or something.

Luckily, we did not have to do the cycling, which I was most grateful for – the traffic is pretty wild and navigating the roads of Varanasi on wheels didn’t sound like fun to me! If it does sound like fun to you, however, then here’s a company where you can book a bike ride.

For me, the bike ride at Varanasi was a great way to take in all the sights and sounds of the city without having to be focused on keeping yourself with the group or out of the way of oncoming traffic.

In short, it meant we could just relax – as much as you can in Varanasi anyway. We could sit back and enjoy all the sights, sounds and smells that Varanasi had to offer, and that was really nice. I’m not going to lie, it was also really lovely just to sit down for a moment after all the walking!

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

Walk along the ghats in Varanasi

We walked back along the ghats after having brunch at Brown Bread Café in Varanasi, which was awesome. Pancakes, fresh OJ, and a view is pretty much all I could ever want from breakfast. You can read my verdict on it in this blog about the best places to eat in Varanasi.

But I digress, what I really want to talk about here is the ghats. Walking along the ghats is a completely different experience to wandering through the narrow streets in Varanasi, or going along the road where the blast of horns from all the tuk-tuks rings in your ear with every step.

The overarching memory I have is a sense of calm. Stillness. Space.

Having been crammed into so many tiny spaces over the past few days in the city, the ghats feel expansive. You can breathe all of a sudden. There are so charming sights to observe and take in as you wander along, too. The pastel-painted steps leading down to the river, cute little goats chilling out in the afternoon sun, and the clusters of boats on the water, just waiting to be filled up with tourists when the sun begins to dip.

Yes, it does get crowded in places, particularly where they perform the funeral rites, but for the most part, you can enjoy having a bit more space.

As you walk along the ghats you might also see some of the Hindu holy men – known as Sadhus – who paint their entire bodies in ash. I was intrigued by these men. They’re reported to have relinquished all their worldly possessions, but our tour guide Sana informed us that most of the Sadhus in Varanasi are fake. They’re simply impersonating Sadhus in order to extract money from tourists in exchange for photographs – the real Sadhus can be found in the mountains.

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

Monkey Temple Varanasi

The Monkey Temple – or Durga Temple – in Varanasi is recognisable by its bright red paintwork and beautiful spire-clad tower. I saw it on Tripadvisor or a blog when I was researching Varanasi and instantly wanted to go.

It’s not every day you see a temple in such a rich shade of red. With the added possibility of seeing some impish monkeys scampering around, I was 100% in. Luckily, it’s not too far to walk to get there.

The Durga Temple was built in the 18th century and is one of the most famous Hindu temples in the city. It’s dedicated to the Goddess Durga, who is the principal Hindu goddess of war, strength and protection. It’s also said that the idol of the goddess inside the temple wasn’t created by human hands, and instead simply appeared of its own accord. Intriguing!

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

With all of this in mind, I was pretty hyped to see the Monkey Temple.

However, I’m not sure it lived up to the expectations. It’s pretty small and a bit on the scruffy side. It’s also pretty difficult to get a real sense of the temple, with only Hindus being allowed inside. And then there was the water feature – known as Durga Kund – next to the temple.

I’d read it would be a ‘charming’ place to capture some photographs. It was OK, but it was surrounded by a criss-cross wire fence which meant that taking snaps was pretty difficult. Added to that we didn’t even see any monkeys while we were there meant that it was pretty disappointing.

I’m not saying don’t go to the Monkey Temple in Varanasi. If you’re anything like me you’ll want to see it for yourself. Varanasi in 2 days isn’t loads of time but I’d still go – just don’t expect to be totally wowed. Keep it short and sweet rather than something you build a whole day around.

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

Admire the street art in Varanasi

One other thing I enjoyed about walking along the ghats in Varanasi was being able to soak up the unexpected street art.

Two of the most striking examples were the portraits of Lord Shiva and Brahma, which can be found on two giant tanks in Dashashvmedh Ghat, another one of the holiest ghats in the city. The tanks have been painted bright cobalt blue and are absolutely mesmerising.

According to Hindu beliefs, Lord Brahma created this particular ghat to welcome Lord Shiva to the ancient city of Kashi, which is now known as Varanasi. The artwork marks this event. The work was created by the Artist Nilesh as part the Varanasi Arts Project, which seems like a super cool creative project. You can hear more about it in this video on YouTube.

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

Get lost in the alleyways of Varanasi’s old town

One of the things I loved about Varanasi was wandering the streets of the old town. The narrow alleyways are buzzing with city life.

Everywhere you turn there’s something new to look at; from the hole-in-the-wall shops and cafes, to the intricate architectural details, to the array of rainbow-coloured silks on the shop fronts blowing lightly in the breeze.

You may have to dodge out of the way of the many motorbikes that snake their way through, or even dead bodies being carried on stretchers.

I’m not even joking. And then there are the sleeping stray dogs sprawled out in the middle of the pavement that I felt so sorry for. I loved the beautiful jewel colours that popped up in unexpected places, from turquoise-hued window shutters to the canary yellow fabrics strewn over our heads as we squeezed down another narrow alleyway.

It’s definitely an experience, and it’s also pretty easy to get lost. Something I’m pretty good at! We took a wrong turn a couple of times and ended up in some back alleys that didn’t seem to go anywhere. However, it’s a lot of fun just to wander around and see where you end up.

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

Enjoy a lazy breakfast in OpenHand Café

The sign on the door says ‘good coffee here’ and I couldn’t agree more.

We ate at OpenHand Café in Varanasi a few times – the first time after we’d all got off the overnight train and were all exhausted and starving. Luckily it was just along the road from our hotel and, man, was it needed.

The coffee was strong and came in cups the size of bowls that were exactly what the doctor ordered after a night of trying to sleep on the sleeper train. I don’t even drink coffee very often, but I was in no doubt that morning that an industrial-sized Americano was essential! Looking for places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days? This one is a no-brainer.

OpenHand Café also has a great menu with lots of tempting breakfast choices. After much deliberation, I went for a western-style fry-up on the menu which was incredibly tasty!  

The overall vibe is chill and bohemian. You leave your shoes at the door and it feels like you leave all your worries or stresses at the door, too. It’s just calm. No one here is in a hurry. It’s just a great place to enjoy a lazy couple of hours with great food and company. Definitely don’t come here if you’re in a rush, as it seems to exist in its own ecosystem.

If you need a bit of space away from the noise and the frenetic pace of the streets outside, OpenHand Café is the perfect place. There are hand-made prints and items of clothing hung on the wall or stuffed into treasure chests dotted around the café.

There’s also a small open-air balcony to sit out on if you want to enjoy the sunshine. Gosh, just writing all this now really makes me want to go back! I’m clearly craving the zen vibes.

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

Eat lassi at Blue Lassi

I’ve written about Blue Lassi in more depth in this post on the best restaurants in Varanasi, so I won’t spend too long talking about it here.

However, I couldn’t write a blog post on the best things to do in Varanasi without including Blue Lassi. It’s an absolute must-see and one of the things you have to do in Varanasi quite simply because it’s awesome.

After all that hype, when you come across the tiny hole-in-the-wall café you might be a little surprised. It’s tiny! However, you’ll also quickly notice that it’s packed out with tourists and getting a seat is not exactly easy!

That’s because everyone knows how good it is. Blue Lassi is a family-run company that has been going for decades. It’s not got the honour of being one of Lonely Planet’s top picks for Varanasi for no reason, right?

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

So what exactly is it about Blue Lassi that makes it so special? Well, I should probably explain what lassi is first. It’s a thick, creamy yogurt drink.

What makes it extra good at Blue Lassi is that it comes in a variety of flavours and is served with a variety of toppings. They pretty much have every combination you could ever want. There’s pomegranate, chocolate, banana, coconut… once you have one you’ll want to try them all.

At the very least I would schedule this into both days of your 48-hour trip. We went twice but I still wanted to go back and try more toppings!

Blue Lassi address:
CK 12/1 Kunj Gali, Kachaudi Gali, Near Rajbandhu
Govindpura, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India

places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days

Read more about Varanasi here:

If you’d like to read more about my adventures in India take a look at these:

That was my list of places to visit in Varanasi in 2 days. Have you ever been to the holy city?

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