Here’s the thing, if not for the Taj Mahal you’d never have heard of Agra and you’d certainly never want to visit, but you really have no choice. It’s not like you can spend weeks or months in India and brag about not going to see the Taj Mahal because you heard that it’s located in a city that isn’t all that nice. You have to go, so suck it up. By the time you’ve been in India for a while you’ll notice that most of it is dodgy in one way or another, but it’s all unforgettable.
What To See
Yeah, obviously you are only going to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, as you should. It really is an amazing place to see in person. To help combat the affects of air pollution on the temple they have restricted traffic in the area immediately around the Taj. This helps make it an extremely pleasant place and a huge contrast to everything surrounding it. Aside from the government section of Dehli this small area might be the nicest and most well groomed place in India. Once you arrive you’ll have to get in line to take the money shot of the Taj reflecting into the long pool in front. Then walk into the temple itself and notice how small it actually seems on the inside.
Once you are done with the Taj you should definitely check out the Agra Fort, which is well worth seeing, especially if you haven’t toured some of the other similar forts in India. Then there is Fatehpur Sikri, which is another historic fort located near Agra. There are bus tours that include all these places that coordinate with the incoming trains from Delhi, but you can also hire a private driver/guide very inexpensively to take you and your small group at your own pace. The one catch is you’ll also have to endure a couple of sales pitches at high priced souvenir stores, but as long as you can resist buying anything there the private driver idea can be a great bargain.
There are no flights into Agra. By far the most popular way to reach Agra is by direct train from Delhi. A first class train usually leaves very early in the morning and upon arrival buses are waiting to take the passengers on the full Agra tour before depositing them back at the station late in the afternoon for the scheduled return. There are also a couple of less expensive trains that do the exact same thing that leave Delhi a little later. You can see everything in plenty of time on any of the coordinated excursions, and the cheaper trains are actually nicer than you might expect, especially for the price.
Where To Stay
Many people will tell you to just do Agra as a daytrip from Delhi and that’s what most people do, but the problem with this approach is you are locked into a large tour group being led around by the ear the entire day. There are plenty of hostels in Agra as well as loads of hotels in Agra and they tend to be so cheap that it’s worth getting something better than the bottom end places because a little more money will buy you a cleaner and nicer place. The part of Agra where the hotels are located is filled with restaurants and souvenir stands, but it’s a very interesting place to spend the night.