Forts & Palaces

South India's history is a uniquely colourful tapestry of wrangling dynasties interwoven with influxes of seafaring traders and conquerors. Their legacy lives on in a remarkable collection of palaces and forts.

Mysuru Palace A spectacular royal confection of rare artworks, stained glass, mosaics and beautifully carved wood.

Daulatabad Fort A magnificent Maharashtrian hilltop fortress constructed by Yadava kings through the 12th century.

Janjira A remarkably preserved island fortress built off the Konkan Coast in 1571.

Hyderabad Golconda Fort complements the opulent palaces and ethereal royal tombs of the city of pearls.

Bidar Fort So weathered and peaceful, it's shocking this marvellous complex once commanded a powerful sultanate.

Beaches

South India has the country’s most breathtaking stretches of coastline.

Kerala Varkala, backed by dramatic cliffs, and palm-shaded and more deserted Thottada are absolute visions.

Goa Despite crowds, Goa's beaches still shine: Cola, Agonda, Palolem and Mandrem are among the prettiest.

Mumbai (Bombay) Hit Chowpatty beach for local snacks, people-watching and hot-pink sunsets.

Andaman Islands Pristine tropical beaches far away from everything on Havelock, Neil and Little Andaman islands.

Maharashtra The Konkan Coast boasts less-crowded sun-toasted sands than its neighbours, especially around Ganpatipule.

Bazaars

Megamalls may be popping up like monsoon frogs in the cities, but the traditional outdoor bazaars – with their tangled lanes lined by shops selling everything from freshly ground spices and floral garlands to kitchen utensils and colourful saris – can’t be beat.

Goa Anjuna and Baga flea markets mesmerise; bazaars at Margao and Panaji (Panjim) make for atmospheric wandering.

Mumbai Wonderful old markets are conveniently theme-dedicated: Mangaldas (fabric), Zaveri (jewellery), Crawford (food) and Chor (antiques).

Mysuru (Mysore) Iconic 125-year-old Devaraja Market is filled with about 125 million flowers, fruits and spices.

Hyderabad Historic Charminar-area bazaars hawk everything from pearls and lac bangles to livestock and wedding outfits.

Grand Temples & Ancient Ruins

Nowhere does grand temples like the subcontinent. From Tamil Nadu's psychedelic Hindu towers to the faded splendour of the Buddhist caves of Ajanta and Ellora, the range is as vast as it is sublime.

Meenakshi Amman Temple Fantastical structure in Tamil Nadu that soars skyward in riotous rainbows of sculpted deities.

Ajanta Unesco-listed cluster of magnificent rock-cut temples, revered for their spiritual significance and architectural prowess.

Ellora Five centuries of extraordinary rock-cut temples chiselled by generations of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks.

Hampi Mighty Vijayanagar's rosy-hued temples and crumbling palaces are strewn among otherworldly looking boulders and hills.

Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) Sublime, medieval relief carvings, sculpted by Pallava artisans, and rock-cut temples dot this easygoing seaside town.

Local Festivals

As well as embracing a range of countrywide festivals, South India has many vibrant locally celebrated events, from sacred temple processions to flamboyant beachside affairs.

Nehru Trophy Boat Race A lively showdown between elegant 40m-long canoes in Alappuzha (Alleppey), Kerala.

Chennai Festival of Music & Dance For a month, Chennai fills up on Carnatic (and some non-Carnatic) music, dance and drama.

Pongal Decorated cows feast on pongal (a rice, sugar, dhal and milk concoction) in Tamil Nadu, mid-January.

Goa Carnival This four-day fiesta kicks off Lent with colourful parades, concerts and plenty of merrymaking.

Ganesh Chaturthi Mumbai buzzes for the ceremonial dunking of statues of Hindu god Ganesh into the Arabian Sea.

City Sophistication

It’s true that most Indians live in villages, but India’s cities have vibrant arts scenes, terrific multicuisine restaurants and oodles of style.

Mumbai (Bombay) Fashion, film, art, dining, nightlife and a backdrop of fanciful architecture and scenic water views.

Hyderabad The architecture of extraordinarily wealthy bygone dynasties sits just across town from a refined restaurant, nightlife and arts scene.

Bengaluru (Bangalore) Progressive and modern IT industry nucleus and superb for drinking, dining and shopping.

Nasik Surrounded by gorgeous vineyards, India's wine-country capital lures juice-loving city sophisticates.

Puducherry (Pondicherry) Lively coastal town known for its quaintly faded French flavour, boho boutiques and arty cafes.

Chennai (Madras) Long-standing urban hub which now counts sophisticated layers of luxury hotels, contemporary eateries, boutiques and nightspots.

Pune Progressive Pune relishes in its juxtapositional relationship between cutting-edge capitalism and age-old spiritualism.

Hill Stations

The colonial-era tradition of heading for the cool, green elevations of the Western Ghats, when the plains get just too hot, is alive and well among honeymooners, families and pretty much everyone else.

Ooty (Udhagamandalam) The 'Queen of Hill Stations' combines Indian bustle with green parks and Raj-era bungalows.

Kodaikanal A smaller, quirkier, more scenic alternative to Ooty, centred on a pretty lake.

Matheran A scenic and car-free weekend retreat for Mumbaikars, reached on foot or by horseback.

Munnar A beautiful out-of-town resort base for trekking through emerald-green South Indian tea plantations.

Meditation & Yoga

The art of well-being has long been ardently cultivated in the south. Numerous courses and treatments strive to heal mind, body and spirit, with meditation and yoga especially abundant.

Mysuru Home of ashtanga yoga; one of India’s most popular places to practise and get certified.

Goa Yoga, meditation and other spiritual-health pursuits are taught and practised chiefly between October and April.

Vipassana International Academy This centre at Igatpuri, Maharashtra, conducts intensive meditation courses in the Theravada Buddhist tradition.

Sri Aurobindo Ashram This Puducherry (Pondicherry) ashram, founded by the renowned Sri Aurobindo, seeks to synthesise yoga and modern science.

Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram Well-known and highly regarded yoga courses, yoga therapy and intensive teacher training in Chennai (Madras).

Traveller Enclaves

Sometimes you just want to stop moving for a bit and chill with fellow travellers: swap travel tales, read, take afternoon naps, play cards or drink beer…

Hampi The stunning beauty of Hampi’s landscape and architecture sucks everyone in for a while.

Arambol Goa is one big traveller enclave, but Palolem and cheaper Arambol are its current epicentres.

Gokarna Cosy, beautiful and relaxed beaches that are part of a scared village in Karnataka.

Mamallapuram Cheap accommodation, exquisite ancient architecture and a booming surf scene on Tamil Nadu's coast.

Colaba Mumbai's boisterous melange of street stalls, classic watering holes, budget accommodation and bucket list tourist sights.

Water Sports

Diving, snorkelling and surfing all are growing rapidly along South Indian coasts.

Andaman Islands World-class diving and snorkelling in coral- and marine-life-rich, crystal-clear waters – 1370km from mainland India.

Malvan India's little diving destination that could: caves, coral, marine life and a top-class scuba school.

Tamil Nadu Surf's up in Kovalam, Mamallapuram and Puducherry.

Aswem Beach A Goa surf favourite with beginners for its modest 1m to 2m waves.

Lakshadweep Pristine lagoons and unspoiled coral reefs 300km off Kerala have wonderful diving and snorkelling.

Nature

South India offers plenty of opportunities to search for wild things in wild places.

Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary Remote, beautiful, unspoiled Keralan sanctuary with good chances of spotting wild elephants.

Nagarhole National Park Little-visited park good for elephant sightings and – if you're lucky! – a tiger or two.

Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve Top Indian tiger territory, plus gaurs (bison), chital deer, nilgai antelope, sloth bears and leopards.

Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary Keralan sanctuary with gaurs, sambar deer, around 1000 elephants and a few tigers.

Boat Trips

Seeing South India from the water offers a whole new angle on its attractions.

Alappuzha (Alleppey) Houseboat drifting from Kerala's backwater hub is one of the region's most cinematic experiences.

Kollam (Quilon) Observe village life on three-hour punted canoe rides through networks of canals around Munroe Island.

Goa Dolphin- and croc-spotting tours on the Mandovi River.

Andaman Islands See mangroves, rainforest and reefs at coral-rich Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park.

Malvan Take a trip along Maharashtra's little-known but beautiful Karli River backwaters.

Elephanta Island Catch a different perspective on Mumbai's iconic harbour while returning from this Unesco World Heritage Site.