Fascinating and thrilling India will be even more astounding for children than for their wide-eyed parents. The country's scents, sights and sounds will make for an unforgettable adventure and one that most kids will take in their stride.
Best Regions for Kids
Vibrant festivals, medieval forts, fairy-tale palaces, tiger safaris, camel rides across desert dunes and a well-oiled tourist infrastructure for hassle-free travel.
Palm-fringed white-sand beaches, seaside activities and inexpensive exotic food; an ideal choice for family holidays, whatever the budget.
- Uttar Pradesh
The picture-perfect Taj Mahal and the nearby abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri will set young imaginations ablaze.
Canoe and houseboat adventures, surf beaches, Arabian Sea sunsets, snake-boat races and wildlife spotting.
- Himachal Pradesh
Pony and yak rides around colonial-era hill stations, rafting, horse riding, tandem paragliding (kids can do it), walks and, for older kids, canyoning around Manali.
India for Kids
Travel with children in India is usually a delight, though you (and your kids) may have to get used to being the centre of attention. Locals will thrill at taking a photograph or two beside your bouncing baby. This may prove disconcerting, but you can always politely decline.
As a parent on the road in India, the key is to remain firm, even if you feel you may offend a well-meaning local by doing so. The attention your children will inevitably receive is almost always good-natured; kids are the centre of life in many Indian households, and your own will be treated just the same, but it can be invasive and tiring for kids, and being continually touched by an array of strangers can bring hygiene issues.
Hotels will almost always come up with an extra bed (although they rarely have more than one, so you may need to do some bed sharing as a family, or get two rooms), and restaurants can usually find a familiar dish or two for inexperienced tummies.
- Jaisalmer, Rajasthan Enjoy playing knights around the world's biggest sandcastle, Jaisalmer’s centuries-old fort, and take a camel ride in the Thar Desert.
- Delhi Run around magnificent forts, explore Lodi Garden and Mehrauli, or try hands-on exhibits and ride in a toy train at the National Rail Museum.
- Ranthambhore National Park, Rajasthan Hop aboard a jeep to search for monkeys, peacocks and tigers. Evening safaris are best for young children: morning ones tend to be too early, too long and, before the sun rises properly, too cold.
- Udaipur, Rajasthan Go boating on the lake, take a horse-riding excursion and explore enchanting palaces.
- Orchha, Madhya Pradesh Wander the crumbling palaces and battlements of little-known Orchha, then go rafting in the Betwa River.
- Madhya Pradesh The land of Kipling's Jungle Book has plenty of opportunities for tiger safaris. Again, evening safaris are best for youngsters.
- Tiger parks, Madhya Pradesh Delve deep into the jungle or roam the plains at the tiger parks of Kanha, Pench or Bandhavgarh. You might not see a tiger (the best chance is at Bandhavgarh), but there’s plenty of other wildlife worth spotting.
- Elephants, Kerala In Wayanad kids can spot wild elephants, as well as langurs, chitals (spotted deer), sambars (deer), peacocks and wild boar.
- Dolphins, Goa Splash out on a dolphin-spotting boat trip from almost any Goan beach to see the marine mammals cavorting among the waves.
- Hill-station monkeys Head up to Shimla (Himachal Pradesh) or Matheran (Maharashtra) for close encounters with cheeky monkeys (but not too close…they can be vicious!).
- Lions, Gujarat Go on safari through Gir National Park at dusk or dawn and spot the only Asiatic lions in existence.
- Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan Rent bikes for a leisurely cycle around this lakeside bird reserve.
- Autorickshaws, anywhere Bump thrillingly along at top speed in these child-scale vehicles.
- Bikes, Delhi Older children who are competent riders, and toddlers who can fit in a child seat, can enjoy a DelhiByCycle tour.
- Toy train, Darjeeling, West Bengal Take a joy ride on the cute-as-a-button steam train from Darjeeling to Ghum and back.
- Hand-pulled rickshaw, Matheran, Maharashtra From this monkey-infested hill station you can continue to the village on horseback or in a hand-pulled rickshaw.
- Houseboat, canoe or kayak, Alappuzha (Alleppey), Kerala Go boating on the state's beautiful backwaters, with lots of interesting stops en route. If you hit town on the second Saturday in August, take the kids to see the spectacular Nehru Trophy boat race.
- Palolem, Goa Plump for a beachfront palm-thatched hut and take it easy at beautiful Palolem beach, with Goa's shallowest, safest waters.
- Patnem, Goa Kick back at peaceful Patnem, with its appealing sand beach and cool, calm, child-friendly restaurants.
- Kovalam, Kerala Family-friendly beach area.
- Varkala, Kerala Also family-friendly, Papanasham Beach comes with a stunning cliffside backdrop.
- Havelock, Andaman Islands Splash about in the shallows at languid Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep), where there’s also fabulous snorkelling and diving.
Before You Go
- Look at climate charts; choose your dates to avoid the extremes of temperature that may put younger children at risk.
- Visit your doctor to discuss vaccinations, health advisories and other heath-related issues involving your children well in advance of travel.
- For more tips on travel in India, and firsthand accounts of travels in the country, pick up Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children or visit the Thorn Tree forum at www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree.
What to Pack
You can also get these items in many parts of India:
- Disposable or washable nappies, nappy-rash cream (Calendula cream works well against heat rash, too), extra bottles, wet wipes, infant formula and canned, bottled or rehydratable food.
- A fold-up baby bed or the lightest travel cot you can find (companies such as KidCo make excellent pop-up tent-style beds), since hotel cots may prove precarious. Don't take a stroller/pushchair: this will be impractical, as pavements are often scarce. A much better option for smaller kids is a baby-carrier backpack, so the child is lifted up and out of the throng (and will have a superb view).
- A few less-precious toys that won’t be mourned if lost or damaged.
- A swimming jacket, life jacket or water wings for the sea or pool.
- Good sturdy footwear.
- Books, audiobooks and activity books, for whiling away long journeys.
- Insect repellent, mosquito nets, hats and sun lotion.
- India offers such an array of accommodation options – from beach huts to five-star bubbles – that you’re bound to be able to find something that will appeal to the whole family.
- The swish upmarket hotels are almost always child-friendly, but so are many midrange and budget guesthouses and hotels, whose staff will usually bend over backwards to accommodate children, and can normally rustle up extra beds or mattresses.
- It's sometimes difficult to find a room with more than one extra bed, but most places are willing to cram several children into a regular-size double room along with their parents, so long as you don't mind sharing beds. If you do mind, or you have a large family, you may have to rent more than one room.
- The very best five-star options are equipped with children’s pools, games rooms and even children’s clubs. (An occasional night with a warm bubble bath, room service, macaroni cheese and a banquet of satellite TV will revive even the most disgruntled young traveller’s spirits.)
- If you’re travelling in regions such as Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Goa or Kerala, or in big cities, you'll find it easy to feed your brood. In major cities and more touristy towns there's always a wide range of international cuisine on offer.
- Easy portable snacks such as bananas, samosas, puri (puffy dough pockets), white-bread sandwiches and packaged biscuits (Parle G brand are always a hit) are available everywhere.
- Many children will delight in paneer (unfermented cheese) dishes, simple dhals (mild lentil curries), creamy kormas, buttered naans (tandoori breads), pilaus (rice dishes) and Tibetan momos (steamed or fried dumplings).
- Few children, no matter how culinarily unadventurous, can resist the finger-food fun of a vast South Indian dosa (paper-thin lentil-flour pancake).
- Travel in India, be it by taxi, local bus, train or air, can be arduous for the whole family. Clean public toilets, changing rooms and safe playgrounds are rare in much of the country. Public transport is often extremely overcrowded, so plan fun, easy days to follow longer bus or train rides.
- Long train rides are generally more comfortable, and more interesting, for children than long bus or car rides.
- Pack plenty of diversions (books, travel games, card games, activity books).
- Don't forget to join in with the games yourself; family I Spy is always a winner, or see who's first to spot 10 cows/monkeys/camels.
- Encouraging your child to keep a holiday journal/scrapbook is a great way to fill time.
- If you're hiring a car and driver, and you require safety capsules, child restraints or booster seats, bring these with you or make this requirement absolutely clear to the hiring company as early as possible. Don't expect to find these items readily available. Don't be afraid to tell your driver to slow down and drive responsibly.
- The standard of health care varies widely in India. Talk to your doctor at home about where you'll be travelling to get advice on vaccinations and what to include in your first-aid kit.
- Access to health care is better in traveller-frequented parts of the country, where it’s almost always easy to track down a doctor at short notice (most hotels will be able to recommend a reliable one).
- Prescriptions are quickly and cheaply filled over the counter at the country's plentiful pharmacies, often found near hospitals.
- Diarrhoea can be very serious in young children. Seek medical help if it is persistent or accompanied by fever; rehydration is essential. Heat rash, skin complaints such as impetigo, and insect bites or stings can be treated with the help of a well-stocked first-aid kit or resources from a local pharmacy.