16 Most Ancient Cities in India

The history of India goes back to the time of the Indus Valley Civilization, dates back to 2500 BC. Hence, the country is home to some of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. These cities shed light into the rich culture and traditions of the ancient times and transport tourists to the bygone era.

If you are fascinated by the rich past of our homeland, here is a list of 16 ancient Indian cities that you must visit.

1. Delhi

The history of Delhi goes back to the time of the Mughal dynasty. According to mythology, Delhi was the site of the Pandavas capital, Indraprastha and has been mentioned in the great Hindu epic, Mahabharata. It is believed that ancient Delhi originated in 800 BCE by King Dhilu. Five dynasties ruled Delhi in the ancient times, hence this region boasts of a rich past dates back to the 11th century.

Best Time to Visit : October – November, March – April

Things to do

  • Explore the largest spice market near Chandni Chowk
  • Admire the architecture at Akshardham Temple
  • Visit the revered Hanuman Temple
  • Embrace spirituality at Gauri Shankar Temple
Qutub Minar, Delhi

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2. Vrindavan

Located in the Mathura District of Uttar Pradesh, Mathura is a holy city where Lord Krishna spent his childhood days. Standing on the banks of River Yamuna, this city is an effortless blend of rich history and culture. Vrindavan is packed with numerous temples dedicated to Lord Krishna and Radha. The most popular amongst them is the Banke Bihari Temple and draw devotees from far and wide.

Best Time to Visit : November – March

Things to do

  • Immerse in the grandeur of Banke Bihari Temple
  • Admire the distinctive architecture of Ranganathaji Temple
  • Embrace the religious aura at Keshi Ghat
  • Visit the Hare Rama Hare Krishna Temple
Prem Mandir Vrindavan

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3. Ayodhya

The birthplace of Lord Rama, Ayodhya is an ancient city that originated in the 6th century BCE. It stands on the banks of River Sarayu and is a place of religious importance to the followers of Hinduism and Jainism. Ayodhya is a spiritual centre which is known for its countless temples and riverside ghats. From devotees visiting the temples to melodious chanting and the smell of burning incense sticks, the city exudes a spiritual ambience.

Best Time to Visit : October – December

Things to do

  • Visit the 70 steep steps Hanuman Garhi
  • Witness Treta Ke Thakur
  • Soak in the charm of Moti Mahal
  • Explore the revered Guptar Ghat
  • Go for a day trip to Bahu Begam ka Makabara
Hanuman Garhi Ayodhya

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4. Varanasi

One of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, Varanasi has a history dating back to 800 BCE. It is the land of Lord Shiva and hence regarded as one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimage destinations. Varanasi not only lures devotees in India but also attract international travellers around the world. The rituals taking place along the Ganga Ghats are the highlights of this place. This includes Ganga Arti, bathing in the river for religious purposes, Yagya, burning of dead bodies and a lot more.

Best Time to Visit : October – March

Things to do

  • Experience the Ganga Arti on the banks of the holy Ganga
  • Seek God’s blessing in the ancient temples
  • Explore Sarnath, the revered Buddhist pilgrimage site
  • Go for a morning boat ride
  • Munch on delectable treats
Varanasi

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5. Dwarka

The ancient city of Dwarka is located in the state of Gujarat. The literal meaning of Dwarka is the door to moksha. Hence the town has a spiritual aura and is regarded as a part of the Char Dham Yatra. Sprinkled with marvellous temples and religious monuments, this region beautifully preserves India’s rich culture. Thousands of pilgrims throng to Dwarka every year. One of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the Nageshwara Temple is located here. Apart from being a sacred city, the tranquil beaches draw nature lovers from different parts of India.

Best Time to Visit : November – February

Things to do

  • Immerse in the spiritual aura at Rukmini Temple
  • Go for  a camel ride
  • Visit the Badkeshwar Mahadev Temple
  • Go to Sharda Peeth
  • Buy souvenirs from the market

6. Puri

Known for the revered Jagannatha Temple, the city of Puri stands next to the Bay of Bengal. It is a prominent Hind pilgrimage site and every year millions of devotees visit the temple. Jagannatha Temple features the largest kitchen on the earth and one need to see it to believe it. This ancient city is also blessed with lively sea beach and Casuarina forests. Konark Sun Temple near Puri is one of the biggest attractions and exudes aristocratic opulence.

Best Time to Visit : October – March

Things to do

  • Embrace spirituality at the revered Jagannatha Temple
  • Admire the architectural brilliance at Konark Sun Temple
  • Feel refreshed at the Puri beach
  • Explore Sudarshan Craft Museum
Jagannath Temple Puri

Also Read : Chariot Festival of Puri- The Jagannath Rath Yatra

7. Madurai

Also known as the cultural capital of Tamil Nadu, Madurai is an ancient city sitting on the banks of River Vaigai. Meenakshi Amman Temple is one of the many highlights of Madurai. This gorgeous temple is an architectural wonder with history dates back to the 17th century. Madurai is also known for its trade relations with Rome. Hence it stands by the name ‘Cultural Capital’. Several historical structures add to the beauty of Madurai and entice heritage buffs from far and wide.

Best Time to Visit : October – March

Things to do

  • Admire the beauty of Meenakshi Amman Temple
  • Get to know more about our national hero Mahatma Gandhi at Gandhi Museum
  • Witness the beautiful Thiruparankundram Murugan Temple
  • Go on a sightseeing tour to Samanar Hills
  • Sample the local delicacies
Meenakshi Temple

Also Read : 8 Best Places to Visit in Madurai

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8. Ujjain

Often regarded as one of the holiest cities in our country and a revered Hindu pilgrimage destination, Ujjain has a history dating back to 700 BCE. It is the home of one of the twelve Jyotirlingas and is regarded as the humble abode of Lord Shiva. Ujjain is often called the ‘Temple City’ and comprises of several temples, old and new. It rests on the banks of River Shipra and is the site of the legendary Kumbh Mela. No wonder, the city exudes a spiritual charm that ignites the imagination.

Best Time to Visit : October – March

Things to do

  • Seek the lord’s blessing at Mahakaleshwar Temple
  • Take a bath in the sacred river Shipra
  • Witness Shipra Aarti
  • Immerse in the spirituality of Gomti Kund
  • Visit Kumbh Mela

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9. Kannauj

The city of Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh has a rich legacy that goes back to the time of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The amalgamation of ancient and modern is what Kannauj is known for. The fascinating archaeological sites are the main highlights. The city has been ruled by several dynasties that contribute to its rich heritage and culture. The fragrance of perfumes lingers in the narrow streets of Kannauj and exudes a charm so undeniable.

Best Time to Visit : October – March

Things to do

  • Visit Lake Bahosi Bird Sanctuary
  • Visit Gauri Shankar Temple
  • Witness a vast collection of artefacts at the Archaeological Museum
  • Seek spirituality at the Annapurna Temple
  • Explore Suraj Kund

10. Patna

Patna, the state capital of Bihar is one of the continuously living cities in the world. Previously it was known as Pataliputra and was an important centre during the Mauryan rule. Patna is associated with two ancient religions namely Buddhism and Jainism. It stands on the banks of the Ganges and is the second-largest city of Bihar. There are several tourist and religious attractions around Patna that draw people from different parts of the country.

Best Time to Visit : October – March

Things to do

  • Immerse in the architectural beauty of Golghar
  • Get a taste of religious culture at Mahavir Mandir
  • Dive into history at Jalan Museum
  • Visit the ancient university of Nalanda
  • Witness countless historical artefacts at the Patna Museum

11. Hampi

Hampi, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is also a major Hindu pilgrimage site. The ancient city thrived on the banks of River Tungabhadra and was considered as one of the richest cities in the world. Today, the ruins of Hampi sprawl across an area of 4100 hectares and sheds light into the Vijayanagara Empire. Hampi is the home to the magnificent Virupaksha Temple and various other historical monuments that contributes to the glorious past of this region.

Best Time to Visit : October – February

Things to do

  • Admire the surreal beauty of Virupaksha Temple
  • Explore the ancient ruins of Hampi
  • Go for a trek to the Matunga and Anjuna Hills
  • Explore the gorgeous Sanapur Dam
Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

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12. Thanjavur

Formerly known as Tanjore, Thanjavur is a religious site known for its art and architecture. The main attractions of this region are the Living Chola Temples which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Monuments. Thanjavur is known for its unique Tanjore paintings, a speciality of this place. The city has successfully preserved its rich heritage dating back to the 18th century. Thanjavur is the home to numerous paddy fields. Hence it is also called ‘Rice Bowl of South India’.

Best Time to Visit : November – March

Things to do

  • Immerse in the magnificence of the Brihadeeswarar Temple
  • Explore the Saraswathi Mahal Library
  • Go for a sightseeing tour to Sivagangai Poonga
  • Shop for the unique Tanjore paintings
  • Seek blessing at Schwartz Church

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13. Pushkar

The holy town of Pushkar is snuggled in the Ajmer District of Rajasthan. The city holds a religious significance to the Hindus as well as to the Sikhs. Pushkar boasts of Camel Fair that is characterized by camels, horses and cattle. This 7 day fair attracts people from every nook and cranny. Standing on the bank of Lake Sarovar, Man Mahal is Pushkar’s major attraction. It is also the only town in our country that houses a temple dedicated to Lord Brahma.

Best Time to Visit : November – March

Things to do

  • Seek blessings from Lord Brahma at Brahma Temple
  • Take a holy dip in Pushkar Lake
  • Visit the Camel Fair of Pushkar
  • Go for a hike to the Savitri Temple
  • Get enthralled by the evening arti

Also Read : Top Things To Do In Pushkar And Ajmer

Pushkar Travel Guide

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14. Gwalior

Gwalior is a prominent city located in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. In the past, this city was ruled by seven ancient kingdoms and played a major role in the revolt of 1857. This region boosts of the iconic Gwalior Fort that looks straight out of the postcard. Apart from the fort, the town also houses royal residences, beautiful monuments and historic sites. Madhav National Park is a haven for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers where they can experience wildlife in their natural habitat.

Best Time to Visit : October – March

Things to do

  • Immerse in the charm of Gwalior Fort
  • Soak in the beauty of the Sasbahu Temple
  • Visit Jai Vilas Palace Museum
  • Visit Teli Ka Mandir
  • Get enthralled of the grandeur of the Sun Temple

Also Read : Top 10 Places to Visit in Madhya Pradesh

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15. Kollam

Kollam is an ancient port city located in the Malabar Coast of Kerala. It was formerly known as Quilon and thronged by merchants, explorers, missionaries from around the globe. Even legendary explorers including Marco Polo visited this ancient trade town. Kollam is a slice of paradise for nature lovers and boasts of enchanting backwaters and gorgeous sceneries.

Best Time to Visit : October – February

Things to do

  • Immerse in the beauty of Palaruvi Waterfalls
  • Take a boat trip along the tranquil backwaters
  • Witness the fascinating Jatayu’s Earth Centre
  • Explore some of the ancient temples

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16. Vadodara

Formerly known as Baroda, Vadodara is located on the banks of Vishwamitri. The city has a recorded history that goes back to 81 AD. The main attraction of this region is the Lakshmi Vilas Palace, the home of a well known Maratha family who ruled Baroda in the ancient times. Vadodara is the home to Gujarat’s largest college and attracts students from far and wide. The city also houses several other institutes of national importance.

Best Time to Visit : October – March

Things to do

  • Absorb the grandeur of the Laxmi Vilas Palace
  • Wander around the manicured garden of Sayaji Baug
  • Visit Sursagar Lake
  • Get to know the rich history at Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery
  • Go on a day trip to the Kabirvad Island

Which of these ancient cities have you travelled to? Let us know in the comments.

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