One of the hardest things about traveling in India is narrowing down places to ultimately include in your itinerary and deciding on places to skip, perhaps to visit in the future. It is simply too huge and filled with too many wondrous experiences to offer in a single trip.

If you want to see the country’s most awe-inspiring landmarks and most sacred sites, exploring Northern India is the way to go. This region isn’t only worth visiting for the Taj Mahal, it is also home to surreal medieval cities dominated by massive royal fortresses, the most sacred temples and spiritual sites of India’s major religions, grand vestiges of the British-colonial rule, and amazing natural landscapes.

Inspire your adventure to India with these must-visit places and top things to do for first-time travelers.

1. Taj Mahal & Agra

Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

Why go — The Taj Mahal is sheer perfection. If you came to India to feast your eyes on its man-made wonders, this is definitely a must-visit. When in town, don’t miss other incredible sites to see in Agra.

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2. Jaipur & Amber

Overlooking view of Amber Fortress from Jaigarh Fortress in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Overlooking view of Amber Fortress from Jaigarh Fortress in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Why go — Jaipur together with Agra and New Delhi completes the famous tourist trail known as India’s Golden Triangle. This is one easy itinerary that you can do if you’re visiting on a short trip. Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan State, is famous for its massive royal palaces, imposing fortresses, and flamboyant buildings.

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3. New Delhi

India Gate in New Delhi, India

India Gate in New Delhi, India

Why go — Many travelers will tell you that New Delhi is one of those massively chaotic cities that is better skipped. It’s not one of the most exciting places to visit in India but if you’re headed there (for a flight) anyways, there are a couple of sites that are worth at least a day’s tour.

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4. Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer Fortress in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India

Jaisalmer Fortress in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India

Why go — Jaisalmer Fort, known as Rajasthan’s Golden Fort, is my favorite among the hilltop forts in India. It may not be the largest or most opulently decorated, but visiting this desert fortress was an extremely surreal experience. Walking down its narrow cobbled streets and enjoying views overlooking the sandstone-built city, especially under the golden hue of the sunset, felt like being transported to a land of fairytales.

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5. Varanasi

Evening Puja at Tulsi Ghat in Varanasi, India

Evening Puja at Tulsi Ghat in Varanasi, India

Why go — Sitting along the mighty Ganges River, Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in the Hindu and Buddhist faith. Visit this ancient city, if you came to India on a spiritual journey or to observe Hindu culture where it’s most revealing.

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6. Khajuraho

Erotic Carvings on a temple in Khajuraho , Madhya Pradesh, India

Erotic Carvings on a temple in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, India

Why go — Intricate sculptures showing explicit scenes of eroticism, orgies, and bestiality cover the outer walls of mysterious ancient temples in Khajuraho. This town is famous for its unusual temples and a great place to experience rural India.

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7. Kolkata

Victoria Memorial Hall along Cathedral Road in Kolkata, India

Victoria Memorial Hall along Cathedral Road in Kolkata, India

Why go — This is India’s most chaotic city. Better prepare yourself to experience all the sights, smells, sounds, and scams of this megacity before visiting. Kolkata (Calcutta) is known for its grand colonial architecture and the Mother House, headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa.

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8. Jodhpur

Overlooking view of the blue city from Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

Overlooking view of the blue city from Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

Why go — Jodhpur is the “Blue City” of Rajasthan. Taking center stage is the Mehrangarh Fort that overlooks the city’s massive sprawl of blue-painted houses interlinked by a maze of narrow alleyways. The hilltop fortress and royal palace in Jodhpur is one of Rajasthan’s most opulent and well-preserved.

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9. Udaipur

Lakeside view in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

Lakeside view in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

Why go — Udaipur, the White City in Rajasthan, captivate travelers with its extremely scenic lakeside setting. The cityscape is dominated by the massive City Palace famed for its lavish construction and intricate peacock mosaics.

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10. Ranakpur

Ranakpur Jain Marble Temple in Ranakpur, India

Ranakpur Jain Marble Temple in Ranakpur, India

Why go — If you’re traveling between Udaipur and Jodhpur, it’s worth breaking the land journey by visiting the Jain Temple in Ranakpur. This architectural marvel is made entirely of white marble and features 1,444 towering support pillars carved in awe-inspiringly detail.

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11. Chittorgarh

Gaumukh Reservoir in Chittorgarh Fort, Chittorgarh, India

Gaumukh Reservoir in Chittorgarh Fort, Chittorgarh, India

Why go — Chittorgarh Fort is the largest fortress in Rajasthan and India. Although much of the ancient city is now ruined, there are a number of surviving temples worth seeing and spectacular overlooking cliffside views from the still-intact portion of the fortress walls.

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12. Bodhgaya

Mahabodhi Temple in Bodghaya, Bihar, India

Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, Bihar, India

Why go — India is the birthplace of many of the World’s oldest surviving religions including Buddhism. If you are keen on following or learning about the path of enlightenment, you can find the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya. This temple marks the location where Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, is said to have attained Nirvana.

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13. Orchha

Orccha Fortress in Orccha, Madhya Pradesh, India

Orccha Fortress in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India

Why go — Orchha isn’t very popular and that’s what I liked most about it. The city is home to a massive fortress and city palace, and several revered temples. This is one place to consider if you want to go off the beaten path and deeper into the Indian countryside.

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14. Gwalior

Gwalior Fortress in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India

Gwalior Fortress in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India

Why go — Gwalior is another not-too-popular yet interesting place to visit. The main draw here is the Gwalior Fort known for its artistic architecture.

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Note: Destinations featured above are not listed by rank.