Visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra is likely on your itinerary if you're traveling to India for the first time. And it should be! Situated on the Yamuna River, this incredible architectural feat is one of the Seven New Wonders of the World for a reason.
Often times, we're not super enthusiastic about big tourist attractions. We thought we might be disappointed by visiting the Taj Mahal, but we were actually quite impressed.
Many people claim the building itself is smaller than they expected. And while that may be true, to us the grandeur wasn't in the size, but in the Taj Mahal's exquisite marble detail.
While the Taj Mahal is a crowded attraction, many of the visitors are Indians traveling within their own country. You'll have the opportunity to get to mingle with friendly Indian families, which may just be a highlight of your visit.
While we truly enjoyed our visit to the Taj Mahal, there are a few things we wish we would have known before arriving in Agra.
We're sharing our best tips and tricks to make your first visit to the Taj Mahal unforgettable. Plus, at the bottom of this article, we're sharing some other fun things to do in Agra, including one incredibly inspiring non-profit that we think every traveler in Agra should visit.
Top Tips to know Before You Visit the Taj Mahal
There is so much we wish we would have known before visiting the Taj Mahal. These tips will let you in on our top tips with everything you need to know before your visit. We hope this helps make your experience as memorable as possible.
1. Arrive early to the ticket booth
Our advice is to visit the Taj Mahal first thing in the morning. There will be fewer crowds, nice lighting and you'll avoid the midday heat (that actually starts around 9 a.m.).
Arrive to the ticket booth as early as possible. We arrived at 5:45 a.m. (15 minutes before the ticket booth opened_, and there was already a decently long queue. If we were to do it again, we would try to arrive at 5:15 a.m. The building is called Shilp Gram U.P. Tourism). When we exited just after 6:15 a.m. the line was wrapping outside the door.
Even though the ticket booth is 1 km from entrance of the Taj, it's not a bad walk. But there are plenty of rickshaw drivers you can hire if you don't want to make it on foot.
Keep in mind: Don't expect a colorful sunrise in solitude. The sunrise isn't actually behind the Taj Mahal; plus, the gates don't open until the sun has actually risen. That said, the morning lighting is lovely. And even though you're waking up early and beating the majority of crowds, you certainly won't find yourself alone – there are crowds all throughout the day, even right when the gates open. As long as your expectations are realistic, you won't regret waking up early.
2. Choose your gate wisely
There are 3 entrance gates to the Taj Mahal. Be sure you read up on each so you know which is the smartest option for you.
The East Gate was closest to our hostel, and while it was crowded, we didn't find ourselves waiting too long before we were able to enter. This was most convenient for us.
The West Gate is further from most of the hotels, and this is the most crowded gate during the day. However, we've read that it is a bit less crowded at sunrise than the East Gate. So depending on where you're staying, this might be a good option.
Avoid the South Gate if possible (unless solely to people watch). It's located near a dodgy market and the touts selling souvenirs are pushy. Plus, this gate doesn't open until 8 a.m., so if you want to make it for sunrise, you can cross this gate off your list.
More info on the Taj Mahal entrance gates.
3. Buy your ticket with exact change
Even though we arrived first thing in the morning, the men at the ticket counter were giving people a hassle for not having exact change. Price of Taj Mahal entrance: 1,000 rupees per person (recently increased from 750 rupees). A foreigner ticket should come with a bottle of water, shoe covers and a tourist map of Agra.
4. Wear bug spray
Mosquitos are still out at dawn (when we visited in March) and we were swarmed while waiting in line to enter the Taj Mahal.
Travel Tip: We love traveling with this all-natural bug balm. It is a solid stick, so it won't leak or count toward your TSA liquid limit.
5. Be prepared to separate from your travel partner
At the east gate entrance, there is a line for men and women. As it usually is with bathroom lines, the women's queue takes longer. If you're traveling with the opposite sex, be sure you are prepared to separate and find a meeting place on the other side of the checkpoint because it get crowded fast.
If you're visiting the Taj Mahal with kids, this entrance gets really crowded, so make sure to keep you little ones close so they don't get lost in the chaos.
6. Dress appropriately
The dress code is not enforced at the Taj Mahal. We saw some women wearing strappy dresses and tank tops.
Even though there's no code enforced, we would recommend dressing modestly. The general rule of thumb in India for ladies is to cover your shoulders and everything below your knees. Wear light and loose clothing, as it can get incredibly hot, especially when shade is scarce and the sun is reflecting on the marble and concrete structures around you.
7. Know what you can't bring inside
Bags must be scanned, so after being frisked you must get in yet another queue if you have a backpack or purse.
There is a long list of items you cannot bring inside the Taj Mahal, including food, headphones and tripods. Read up on banned items on the official website. We had a deck of cards, a headlamp and the tripod section of our GoPro extendable arm taken. And we saw a girl's pack of gum get confiscated. Be very selective when packing your bag!
We had to go back out of the gate, directed to a little nearby shop which had "lockers". This shop will hold your belongings, but will pressure you to buy something when you come back to pick it up.
The things in these shops are overpriced knockoffs, so we didn't want any. Cut to the chase, tell them you're not interested, and give them 100 rupees for holding your stuff.
8. Don't get a guide
Typically we would encourage hiring a guide, as it creates a job for a local. However, the Taj Mahal is notorious for people posing as guides. We've read there are only 50-60 official guides at the Taj Mahal, yet more than 3,000 touts offer their services to tourists, posing as guides and photographers.
9. Download this app
Sometime audio guides are hit or miss, but we really liked the Taj Mahal CaptivaTour audio guide. It was easy to listen to and was a good way to learn some history and important information while exploring the Taj Mahal.
You could hire a tour guide (which provides a local with a job), but honestly it is kind of a crowded mess just inside the gates, and you won't know how good of a guide you're hiring (see #8). Plus, if you opt for an audio guide, you can explore at your own pace.
Tip: After the app is downloaded, you must open it and download the audio files. Do this the night before when you're in WiFi so you're prepared!
10. Make friends
One of the highlights of our time visiting the Taj Mahal was meeting very friendly Indian families. If you look like a foreigner, you will likely be asked to be in many family pictures. Sometimes it can get a little overwhelming when you are trying to take photos or get out before it becomes too crowded. However, if you have a good attitude and a smile, you will have a much better experience.
11. Be flexible if you're visiting the Taj Mahal with kids
Traveling with children can be an incredibly special experience for everyone in your family. But it might mean you will need to travel a little differently and make a few adjustments. This article describes what you need to know if you're visiting the Taj Mahal with kids.
12. After the Taj, stop here
If you need a pick-me-up after your visit to the Taj Mahal, you won't have to go far. Right outside the east gate is Cafe Coffee Day (an Indian chain) which is air-conditioned, has a clean-ish bathroom, and serves good coffee (albeit a bit pricy: 110 rupees for an Americano with tax). It's a good place to escape the heat and regain your energy.
Taj Mahal Photography Tips
Whether you're a professional photographer or a novice with an iPhone, you will be mesmerized by the Taj Mahal. From the typical shots everyone seems to take to the more obscure, the Taj Mahal is a photographer's dream. Here are some tips for getting the best photographs of this iconic piece of architecture.
13. Be prepared
Have the correct equipment packed* and have a few angles in mind from which you'd like to take photographs. Once you're inside the premises of the Taj Mahal, you may be overwhelmed by the crowds, so you'll be much more at ease if you have a plan.
*Remember, tripods are banned in the premises of the Taj Mahal, so you can't bring them inside.
Travel Photography Tip: pack your camera essentials the night before so you don't forget anything when you wake up before the sun and are in a rush!
14. Wear bright colors
This tip is just for fun, but if you want to take a cool picture of yourself in front of the Taj Mahal, bright colors look especially pretty against the white marble. You'll see Indian women and foreigners wearing brightly colored saris. While I didn't go that far, I was happy I bought a pretty scarf because it made my photos "pop"!
15. Get creative
If you want to get some awe-inspiring photographs of the Taj Mahal, you're going to have to get creative. Check out this comprehensive article on Creative Travel Photography Tips to give you inspiration!
16. Get out of the crowds ASAP
Immediately when you enter the Taj Mahal, everyone seems to stop and take pictures. We fell into this trap and all our shots had tons of other people in them. (See photo above!)
Tip: If you want to get a photo near the entrance, do it as you're leaving because this area is always crowded.
Instead of stopping at the entrance, keep walking because there is a much better view of the Taj Mahal and you'll get past the huge crowds (especially if you arrive in the morning).
Walk until you see the first pool. This is where you should stop and take the "typical" Taj shot. (see photo below!)
17. Get up close!
Don’t just take photos from the pools… The detail shots are where it’s at!
The thing that makes the Taj Mahal so beautiful is the details of marble carving. Don't forget to take some photographs up close.
18. East side (right side) has nice lighting in the morning
On the east side of the structure, there is almost a glow in the early morning hours.
If you think about it, the sun rises in the east so the light in the morning will be coming from that way. Make sure you're taking that into account when you are trying to figure out shadows and lens flares.
19. West side (left side) can create interesting framing
On the west side of the Taj there is a mosque (to be more specific a mihrab which faces east toward Mecca) with prayer mats tiled in the ground. From within you can get some interesting pictures of the Taj as long as you are patient enough for people to move.
20. View the Taj Mahal from across the river at Moonlight Garden
If you have time, take a tuk tuk across the river to the Mehtab Bagh (which translated is "The Moonlight Garden"). Entrance is 200 rupees and could be worth it if you want a shot of the Taj Mahal without any one in it.
Tip: If you don't want to pay the entrance fee, just next to the Moonlight Garden there is a road with a pretty decent view of the Taj Mahal too. Our rickshaw driver knew where it was and happily took us there so we didn't have to pay an entrance fee.
21. Be patient
Everyone wants the same shots, so take a deep breath and wait for the right moment. Patience will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and is the key to taking great pictures in crowded places.
22. Get a nice photo of yourself
It's easy to take all sorts of pictures and forget to get one of yourself. If you are traveling with a companion, it's easy to exchange photos of each other.
But if you want a shot together or you're traveling solo here's a tip:
If you want a photo of yourself, find someone with a nice camera (they'll most likely take better pictures than someone using a cell phone) and ask if they'd like their picture taken. Take the shot with the same composition as you'd like yours and show them what it looks like. Then ask if they'll take one of you in return.
23. Consider a Full Moon Tour at the Taj Mahal
Since the Taj was constructed with such pristine translucent marble, when you are inside you can actually see the moonlight glow through the marble. It is said to be spectacular. For a few days before and after each full moon, the Taj Mahal is open for night tours but be sure to book ahead because they only let in a certain amount of people each night. It typically cost 750 rupees ($11.50 USD) for the moonlight tour.
24. Get some non-traditional pictures
Think outside the box: You can get some wonderful shots of the Taj Mahal without even being on the premises. One popular shot is across the river from the Taj at Moonlight Gardens (see #19).
Some hotels have epic views, and one of our favorite viewpoints was while enjoying beer at a rooftop restaurant!
And don't forget to explore the other buildings on the grounds. While they may not be as well known, they are still gorgeous (see photo above!).
Frequently Asked Questions about the Taj Mahal
Below you'll find the answers to the most commonly asked question about visiting the Taj Mahal.
What is the best time of year to visit the Taj Mahal?
The best time to visit the state of Uttar Pradesh, in which the Taj Mahal is located, is typically said to be October to March. This season has the most comfortable temperatures, ranging from 10° - 30°C (50° - 86°F).
October - March: The most comfortable temperature, but also the most crowds.
April - June: Can get incredibly hot, with temperatures peaking at 45°C (113°F).
July - September: Monsoon season, so try your best to avoid visit. If you do, bring an unbrella.
When does the Taj Mahal open and close?
The Taj Mahal is open every day except Fridays, when it is closed for prayer.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Special Moonlight Viewings: 2 days before and after each full moon. You must buy tickets for the moonlight viewing in advance, and they do sell out during peak tourist season. This website has more information on Moonlight Viewings.
Night time tickets cost 750 rupees for foreigners and 510 rupees for Indian nationals, for half an hour’s admittance. These tickets must be purchased between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., one day in advance from the Archaeological Survey of India office on Mall Road.
See more details here, including night viewing dates.
When is the best time of day to visit the Taj Mahal?
The best time to visit the Taj Mahal is as soon as the gates open! As we mentioned in Tip #1, sunrise is the time of day where you'll find the fewest crowds. Plus, the lighting is nicer than at midday and you'll avoid the extreme heat.
How much time do I need at the Taj Mahal?
If you're into photography or want to relax a bit and people watch, allow about 3 hours to visit the Taj Mahal. Otherwise, you could probably snap a few shots, walk around the building and inside and feel like you've seen everything in 1.5 hours.
How long did we spend at the Taj Mahal?
We walked through the entrance around 6:40 a.m. and left at 9:30 a.m. By this time, the crowds were thick and we were happy to be leaving.
How much does entry to the Taj Mahal cost?
Foreigners: 1,000 rupees ($15.40 USD) (recently increased from 750 rupees)*
India nationals: 40 rupees
Children 14 and under: Free!
*Included in the price of a foreigner ticket is a bottle of water, shoe covers and a tourist map of Agra. Plus, there are shuttles you can take from the ticket booth to the entrance if you'd like (we skipped this, as waiting for a ride would have taken us longer than walking the 1 km).
Which gate is best to enter the Taj Mahal?
There are 3 entry gates to the Taj Mahal: South, East and West. We found the East Gate to be most convenient for us; but choose the one that sounds best to you based on the descriptions below:
The East Gate: This gate is nearby some of the more popular hotels, so you'll see many foreigners entering here. For us, this gate was the most convenient, and since we arrived early, we didn't wait in line very long.
The West Gate: This is the most crowded gate throughout the day, as it receives roughly 60-70% of visitors. This gate is primarily used by Indian visitors, and while lines are very long throughout the day, you may find shorter lines right away in the morning.
The South Gate: Located by a somewhat dodgy market with pushy touts selling overpriced souvenirs, the South Gate entrance receives the fewest number of visitors. It doesn't open until 8 a.m., so if you want to arrive at sunrise, you can count this gate out.
What to wear at the Taj Mahal?
There is no dress code enforced at the Taj Mahal, but while traveling in India, we would always recommend dressing modestly. Ladies, it's usually a good idea to wear something that covers your shoulders and knees.
Are there guided tours of the Taj Mahal?
If you're traveling solo and want some company, or you simply don't feel like organizing this visit on your own, we'd recommend booking a tour with our partner company Get Your Guide. This top-rated Taj Mahal Tour has a whole day planned out leaving from and returning to Delhi.
Many tour companies offer a "Golden Triangle" tour, which stops in New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. These cities are all located in northern India and are roughly the same distance apart -- approximately 200-500 kilometers (125-155 miles).
What’s the best way to get to Agra and the Taj Mahal?
The Taj Mahal is located in the city of Agra, which is easily accessible in a day trip from Delhi. The train system from Delhi to Agra is good and there are about 117 trains weekly. The journey from New Delhi Station (NDLS) to Agra Cantt (AGC) is about 3 to 4 hours depending on the train you take.
From the train station you can take a tuk tuk to the Taj Mahal for about 150 rupees ($2.30 USD).
If you want to drive from Delhi to Agra, the Yamuna Expressway linking links the two cities and takes about 3 hours to drive. There are tolls on the expressway however. A one-way trip costs 415 rupees and a round trip costs 655 rupees.
Again, there are reasonably priced tours that leave from Delhi and take you around to the major spots in Agra for an all-day tour where everything is arranged for you.
What is the nearest international airport to the Taj Mahal?
The closest airport to the Taj Mahal is the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi (DEL). Delhi International is a major hub in the region and you can typically get pretty cheap airline tickets.
How to get around Agra?
Many people hire a rickshaw driver for the day, which is a great way to see all the sights listed above. We went to the Taj Mahal on our own (since we wanted to spend a few hours there and didn't want a driver to be waiting).
Our driver picked us up at our hotel at 10 a.m., and brought us to Agra Fort, the Baby Taj and the Mehtab Bagh Gardens. We paid 900 rupees ($13.90 USD) for all day transportation.
Agra Auto Rickshaw Service
There is one thing you should be aware of when you hire a rickshaw driver in Agra: They will most likely end your day tour by driving you to several shops which they claim have great products and prices (not exactly true!).
If you purchase something, the driver will get commission. We were taken to a gem shop, a carpet factory, a sari store and a marble inlay workshop. With the exception of the marble shop (which was quite interesting to see the process of how the Taj Mahal was built), we found these stops to be a complete waste of time.
We told our driver we were not interested, but he insisted in bringing us. Next time, we would be up front with the driver right away and tell them we will not be buying anything and would like to skip these stops.
How long should I spend in Agra?
We would recommend staying 1 - 2 nights. This will give you one full day to see the Taj Mahal and explore a few other things that this city has to offer.
Itinerary for Visiting Agra and the Taj Mahal
This is the itinerary we followed:
Day 1: Arrive in Agra
3 p.m. Arrive from New Delhi by train
3:30 p.m. Check into hotel and freshen up
5 p.m. Enjoy a beer at a rooftop bar with a view of the Taj Mahal
6:30 p.m. Dinner
8 p.m. Back to hotel for an early night (tomorrow's wake up call is early!). Be sure to pack a bag with any items you'll need.
Day 2: Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Baby Taj
4:45 a.m. Wake up, get dressed and head to the ticket booth
5:15 - 5:30 a.m. Arrive at Shilp Gram U.P. Tourism Ticket Booth (East side) and wait in queue
6 a.m. Ticket booth opens up. Don't forget your water bottle and shoe covers.
6:15 a.m. Head to the East Gate of the Taj Mahal. Enter and explore the Taj. Make sure to see all angles of it.
10 a.m. Once you had enough (or you get sick of the crowds), meet your rickshaw driver back at your hotel
10:30 a.m. Have an early lunch at Shero's Hangout Cafe (you'll already be hungry because you woke up so early!)
11:00 a.m. Visit Agra Fort with the free CaptivaTour audio guide.
12:15 p.m. Visit the Baby Taj
1:00 p.m. Visit the Mehtab Bagh Gardens
1:30 p.m. (The day starts getting really hot) Choose either to head back to your hotel to avoid the heat, or have your tuk tuk driver take you to a marble inlay shop (but not any of the other shops, in our opinion)
After 2 p.m. Relax at a pool or take a nap.
5:00 p.m. Get ready for dinner and enjoy your meal on a rooftop as you watch the sun set over the Taj Mahal
Day 3: Relax and Travel Out
8 a.m. Leisurely breakfast
10 a.m. Catch transportation out of Agra to your next destination!
*Note: If you only stay one night, you could leave late in the afternoon of Day 2.
What is there to do in Agra besides the Taj Mahal?
Some people simply stop in Agra on a day trip to see the Taj Mahal and do little else. While it certainly wasn't our favorite city in India (aka very touristy and polluted), we are so glad we did some exploring.
There are some interesting things to see in Agra other than the Taj Mahal for visiting this city:
1. Agra Red Fort
Only 3 km away from the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort is worth visiting after you have seen the Taj in the morning. The entire exterior of the fortress is made of red sandstone and many rooms are highly decorated with marble inlays.
We spent about an hour and half walking around the fort while listening to a free audio guide from CaptivaTour, which did a good job explaining the fort, keeping it light and funny, but not going into too many boring details.
Agra Fort Admission: 300 rupees. Open daily 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
2. "Baby Taj Mahal" - Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah
Another short drive across the Yamuna River lays the Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah, sometime called the "Jewel Box" or the "Baby Taj". It is not as massive as the Taj Mahal, but the detail of the marble inlays are remarkable and worth the visit inside. We spent about 30 minutes walking around and taking pictures of the Baby Taj.
Quick history lesson: The "Baby Taj" is the tomb of Mizra Ghiyas Beg whose granddaughter, Mumtaz Mahal, was the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built.
Baby Taj Mahal Admission: 210 rupees. Open sunrise to sunset.
3. Mehtab Bagh Gardens - Riverside View of the Taj Mahal
Don't miss the backside of the Taj Mahal, it is one of the best views and there will be less people photo bombing your shot. Enjoy the beautiful gardens that perfectly frame the Taj Mahal.
Mehtab Bagh Garden Admission: 200 rupees. Open sunrise to sunset.
Lesser known things to do in Agra
We discovered a few fun things to do in Agra that not many tourists traveling through take advantage of! Here's a list of our favorites:
4. Have lunch at Sheroes Hangout
If you do one thing other than the Taj while in Agra, make it lunch at Sheroes Hangout. Other than the Taj Mahal, this was the highlight of our time in Agra.
This non-profit cafe supports and is run by women who were victims of acid attacks (which is sadly not uncommon in India).
Watch their short, but powerful, documentary. They serve delicious local food and there are no prices. You simply pay what you wish, but we hope you give generously to these strong Sheroes.
5. Have dinner (and a drink!) at a rooftop restaurant with a great view
There are plenty of roof top restaurants in Agra, but the one we liked the best was Hotel Saniya. The prices were pretty affordable and the sunset view of the Taj was great. Plus, they served beer, which isn't always possible to find in the "dry" state of Uttar Pradesh.
Tip: Kingfisher Strong has 8% alcohol, so you might only need one! Drink carefully!
6. Escape the heat and relax poolside
Escape the heat and head to a roof top pool in Agra. It is the perfect way to relax after touring the Taj and Agra Fort in the morning, or to escape the midday heat.
Book a hotel with a pool or walk into one with a pool and ask if you can pay a fee to use their facility.
Where to Stay in Agra
Agra is a town with many tourists, so there are plenty of hotels to choose from. Here are some recommendations:
Celebrity-status Hotel in Agra
The Oberoi Amarvilas Agra - Beyond luxury, this 5-star hotel is unbelievable! Spas, pools, restaurants and marble everything! However one night at this place, cost more than our whole 1-month trip to India for two people (I just put the link here because you should check out how crazy-over-the-top-gorgeous it is! We could never afford this, but it's nice to dream!)
Luxurious Accommodation in Agra
Hotel Radisson Blu Agra Taj East Gate - Just a mile from the East Gate of the Taj Mahal, this 5-star hotel has everything you need and is extremely affordable (around $50/night). Rooftop pool, relaxing spa, fitness center, children's play center, restaurant and bar.
Mid-Range/Couple Stay Hotel in Agra
Aman Homestay - Get to the owner in this lovely homestay with a garden and spacious rooms. The reviews are excellent and it is located within walking distance to the Taj Mahal (1.8 km).
Budget with Social Atmosphere in Agra
Zostel Agra Hostel - Offering private and dorms rooms, this social hostel has an excellent air conditioned common room and serving tasty snacks for after a long day touring Agra. It's the best location for the price only 1.5 km away from the Taj Mahal East Gate. This is where we stayed in Agra, and we had a great experience.
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Have you visited the Taj Mahal? What were your thoughts? Any tips we missed? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!