Usually, I’m not one to spend precious time and money on typical touristy things, especially crowded ones. I feel rushed, stressed, and herded around, which are the opposite of good vacay vibes. That perspective completely crumbles away when it comes to the Taj Mahal. No matter how stereotypical it is, most of us must admit, seeing the Taj Mahal in person is a major bucket list item.
My wife and I decided to extend our layover in New Delhi to a full two-day adventure, so that we could bask in the resplendent beauty of this world wonder, and, as they famously say, the greatest example of love on earth. Hooray for fancy wife tombs! Worried about being too tired or rushed, I made sure to plan the smoothest two-day excursion to Agra, the town where the Taj Mahal stands, so we could be somewhat pampered while shuttling around India. Here are my recommendations.
How to Get Around
Hire a private driver to pick you up at the airport and take you directly to Agra. If you google this or look on TripAdvisor, there are plenty of options. If you’re worried about using a company you’ve never heard of, simply make sure they have plenty of good TripAdvisor reviews. We used a company literally called Private Driver in India. I like that they’re to the point about everything, from getting us around to naming their company. Something to know, also, is that your driver is your driver for the entire two days: He or she will drive you around Agra, and anywhere you need to stop in Delhi or on the way. Fancy!
Where to Stay
If you have piles of extra money laying around, definitely stay at the Oberoi Taj Mahal for an absolutely breathtaking view and amenities that make you feel like royalty. Don’t have cash falling out of your pockets? Stay at the Radisson Hotel Agra for literally one-tenth of the price of the Oberoi. Request a Taj-view room and you’ll spy it in the dusty distance and feel like somewhat-lesser but equally-important royalty. Their included breakfast buffet is great, too.
Cost: $600-1,000 per night at Oberoi Amarvilas Agra; $60-100 per night at Radisson Hotel Agra
When to Go
Take note that the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays. We actually arrived in Delhi on Thursday morning, and had our driver take us straight to the hotel to check in, and then immediately to the Taj for sunset. The drive from Delhi to Agra can be anywhere from 3.5 to 5.5 hours depending on traffic and how many times you’ll need to stop to eat or relieve yourself.
The Taj at sunset was as magical as promised, and the car company provided us a tour guide at no extra cost (I have no idea how). Maybe they simply assumed that we would tip the guy generously, which we did. He gave us a private tour of all the popular notes of the mosque complex and the Taj, while taking Instagram-worthy photos of us and shooing other tourists out of the frame. Luxury!
Cost: $20 for two entry tickets to the Taj Mahal, $30 for a tour guide
What Else to Do
Since we didn’t stay at the Oberoi, we made dinner reservations after our tour at one of their restaurants, Roshanara, and had a romantic night of fine dining and even finer drinking. If you’re going during peak season (October-December), make a reservation weeks or months ahead of time to ensure your table. We went during off-season, so we got our reservation made the day-of. I don’t need to recommend a particular dish to you because everything on the menu is absolutely fantastic. Try anything. Dress up for the occasion. For a little more glamour, show up early and ask to have a drink at the bar first. Typically the bar is for hotel guests only, yet if you’re friendly enough, they’ll allow you in anyway. The bar has a magnificent view of the Taj, and you can have an expertly assembled Old Fashioned while watching the mausoleum fade into the moonlight.
Cost: $50-200 for dinner for two
Our flight left New Delhi at 2 a.m. (ridiculous), so we decided to check out at noon, get back to Delhi around 4 p.m., have dinner, and shop before making our way to the airport at 11 p.m.. Whatever you do, make sure you plan to arrive in Delhi at least 5 to 6 hours before your flight leaves and at the airport about 3 hours before departure. India can be more unpredictable driving-wise, so give yourself a nice buffer in case you get a little stuck in random traffic on the way back.