The main highlight of my month in Northern India was absolutely the forts. I don’t even need to think about it.
The hill forts of Rajasthan, an arid desert state in the northwest of India, were particularly impressive, and of the historical places in Rajasthan that we visited, it is the forts that impressed us the most.
The grandeur of the forts of Rajasthan invoke a time of majesty and power, when Rajput Kingdoms stretched over Rajasthan.
These mighty forts will have you spellbound, and you can feel the echoes of the past, when you walk through the maze of once-grand buildings inside the fort palaces, and along expansive fortification walls that once held strong against enemy forces.
It’s impossible not to be impressed by a Rajasthan fort.
Whether you are into history or not (I absolutely am), these forts will no doubt be a highlight of your Golden Triangle and Rajasthan travels.
In fact, these forts are so impressive and hold so much historical significance, that six out of the eleven forts I am highlighting in this post are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
I went to seven of the different hill forts of Rajasthan, as well as another four forts between Agra and Delhi in India’s Golden Triangle. I never got sick of visiting forts – fort fatigue just never set in. I loved every single one I visited.
So without further ado, here are the best forts of Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle.
Best Forts of the Golden Triangle
Visit the below forts in Agra and Delhi, I have listed the Jaipur area forts under the subheading ‘The Best Forts of Rajasthan’, although they are also in the Golden Triangle.
Delhi’s Red Fort is one of the most well-known forts in India, and like a lot of the other forts on this list, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This iconic fort was built with red sandstone and dominates the landscape of Old Delhi.
The Red Fort was built in the mid 17th Century by Emperor Shah Jahan, when he moved his capital from Agra to Delhi. It is a sprawling complex with a palace, Royal Bathhouse, various halls, a covered market, and even a stepwell.
Like with Agra Fort, there are some white marble buildings with beautiful detailing that have really stood the test of time. But what stands out the most to me about the Red Fort is the sheer size of it, with towering walls that stand as high as 33 metres/108 ft at their maximum height.
Make sure to go early to avoid the crowds, because it gets very busy here.
Cost: 600 rupees/approx $8
Hours: 9.30am – 4.30pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Mondays
Purana Qila is another fort in Delhi that is nowhere near as well known or visited as the Red Fort, but is just as impressive in my opinion.
Meaning ‘Old Fort’ in Urdu, Purana Qila has been continuously inhabited for 2,500 years, and is known as the Sixth City of Delhi.
Most of the buildings that remain in Purana Qila today were built in the 16th Century, under the reign of the Mughal Emperor Humayun.
You can walk a section of the fortified walls of Purana Qila, which I loved because it gives you a better idea of the scale of the fort.
Humayun’s Library – of which he fell down the stairs of and died, the grand Bada Darwaza Entrance Gate, and the intricate detailing of the mihrab (niche in direction of Mecca) in the Qila-i-Kuhna Mosque were also very impressive.
Cost: 250 rupees/approx $3.50
Hours: 7am – 5pm, 7 days a week
Feroz Shah Kotla
Although not as impressive as the Red Fort and Purana Qila, it is still worth visiting Feroz Shah Kotla Fort in Delhi if you have the time.
Feroz Shah Kotla is one of Delhi’s oldest structures and was built by the Mughals in the 14th Century. It is mostly in ruin now, but there are still a couple of things that are worth seeing inside – a large baoli (stepwell), beautiful views from the top of a ruined Mosque, and a 2,000-year-old pillar with Ashokan inscriptions that was brought to the site sometime after construction began.
Most interestingly, it is known for being haunted by supernatural djinns, and people come to Feroz Shah Kotla seeking blessings and solutions to their problems from the djinns.
Go in the evening and you will see lots of locals sitting in groups on the grass – you will likely be the only foreigner there and you will probably be asked for a lot of selfies. Don’t mistake it for the stadium of the same name.
Cost: 250 rupees/approx $3.50
Hours: 8.30am – 7pm, 7 days a week
Agra may be famous for the Taj Mahal, and rightly so because it is amazing, but Agra Fort, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is very impressive too and should be visited along with the Taj.
Agra Fort as it is now was built in the late 16th century, rebuilt with striking red sandstone from the ruins of an older fort that was known as Badalgarh.
Agra Fort was the imperial city of the Mughal rulers and encompasses buildings that are still impressive today, including two palaces and beautiful symmetrical gardens.
Due to the red sandstone, Agra Fort has a similar look to the famous Red Fort in Delhi, and there are also a lot of white marble buildings inside the fort, but I think it is even more refined and beautiful.
Some of the white marble has inlaid flower patterning which is incredibly detailed, as is some of the detailing in the red sandstone, around doorways and windows in particular. There are fantastic views over the river and to the Taj Mahal in the distance.
Only a third of Agra Fort is open to the public, as a large portion of the fort houses a military base.
Cost: 600 rupees/approx $8
Hours: Sunrise to sunset, 7 days a week
Best Forts of Rajasthan
Don’t miss these incredible Rajasthan Forts and Palaces – they are what Rajasthan is famous for after all. Each Rajasthan fort offers different highlights and your Rajasthan itinerary would not be complete without visiting at least some famous forts of Rajasthan.
As Jaipur/Amer is part of the Golden Triangle of Delhi – Agra – Jaipur, the first three forts on this list are actually both in Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle.
Pronounced ‘Amber’, Amer Fort is also known as Amer Palace, and is one of the most famous forts of Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle. This also means the most crowded Rajasthan fort.
Located in the small town of Amer, just outside of Jaipur, Amer Fort and Palace is a large complex made of pink and yellow sandstone that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the six hill forts of Rajasthan. It is one of the most important of the Rajasthan forts and palaces.
As you enter this 16th Century fort that sits on a lake, you will notice that some people are choosing to take an elephant ride – DON’T do this, these elephants were tortured into submission and are not treated well. It also hurts them to carry people on their back.
The inside of Amer Fort is a maze of different buildings, courtyards and gardens that you can explore at will. Don’t miss the Sheesh Mahal – Hall of Mirrors – and the various high points the offer great views of the surrounding desert and the town of Amer.
Nearby the fort is Panna Meena ka Kund, a historic stepwell with symmetrical staircases that is a perfect spot for photos.
Although I don’t think Amer Fort is the best fort in Jaipur, it is one of the most famous monuments of Rajasthan and still definitely worth seeing in your Rajasthan travels.
There are also lots of other fun things to do in Jaipur, as well as seeing the amazing forts.
Cost: 500 rupees/approx $6.50
Hours: 8am – 5.30pm and 6.30pm – 9.15pm, 7 days a week
While a lot of visitors to Amer Fort don’t bother to visit Jaigarh Fort above – they absolutely should, because I think that Jaigarh Fort is more beautiful and the views are better.
Jaigarh Fort was built by Jai Singh II in the 18th Century to protect Amer Fort/Palace, and it is home to the largest wheeled cannon in the world. It was never conquered in battle and has the strongest fortifications of the Jaipur/Amer forts.
With sweeping views, you can see Amer Fort and lake, as well as fortification walls snaking off into the distance from various viewpoints in Jaigarh Fort. Along with the spectacular views, I loved the stunning courtyard garden in Jaigarh Fort, and the langurs that hang around in it.
There is actually a guy who’s job it is to scare the monkeys out of the garden, and he definitely had his work cut out for him. It was fun to see him lose his shit when the monkeys kept sneaking back in, and to see the various ways they tried to outsmart him.
You should definitely take the covered walkway to Jaigarh Fort from Amer Fort, then walk or take a golf cart (150 rupees per person) the rest of the way from there. Coming back down you can follow the road all the way to the bottom.
In my opinion, Jaigarh is the best fort in Jaipur and it would be a shame to miss it.
Cost: 150 rupees/approx $2
Hours: 9.30am – 5pm (until 8pm on Saturdays), 7 days a week
Nahargarh Fort sits high above Jaipur, on the edge of the arid Aravalli Hills, and it is best visited in the early evening, close to sunset.
Built in the 18th Century, Nahargarh means ‘abode of tigers’ and it was built to protect Jaipur. There isn’t a load to see inside the fort, unless you likely cheesy attractions like wax museums, but it is worth checking out for the views alone – the rampart views were my favorite of any Rajasthan fort, and they stretch all the way to Jaigarh Fort, almost four miles away.
Along with walking a section of the rampart walls, make sure to check out the palace inside the fort, which houses different apartments for the Queens of Jaipur, along with a suite for the King.
You can walk up to the fort from Jaipur, and I would recommend this as it is a beautiful walk and a lot of people don’t bother so you will largely have it to yourself.
If you don’t want to walk down, you can grab a rickshaw from the entrance, but it takes a lot longer to drive back into town because the road snakes through the mountains, while the walking path goes straight to the city.
Cost: 200 rupees/approx $2.50
Hours: 10am – 6pm, 7 days a week
Chittorgarh or Chittor Fort is the biggest fort in Rajasthan and in India, and is perhaps the most impressive Rajasthan Fort.
Sitting on a large hill overlooking Chittaurgarh city and the river below, Chittorgarh Fort was built in the 7th Century by the Mauryans, and covers nearly 700 acres of land. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the hill forts of Rajasthan.
Highlights of Chittorgarh Fort include exploring sprawling Kumbha Palace, climbing to the top of the impressive Tower of Victory, and the view over Gaumukh Reservoir from the ramparts above – the most famous image of the fort.
Whether you are staying in Chittorgarh or taking a day trip, you will need to hire a driver to take you between sights in the fort as it is very spread out. We did a day trip from Udaipur and it took a little over two hours of driving each way.
Whatever you do, don’t miss Chittorgarh Fort – it is one of the most important historical places in Rajasthan and I dare to say, the best fort in Rajasthan.
Cost: 600 rupees/approx $8
Hours: 9am – 6pm, 7 days a week
Kumbhalgarh Fort is the second biggest fort in India, and is home to the second largest wall in the world after the Great Wall of China. The rampart wall is 22 miles (36 km) long and you can walk the whole thing if you have two to three days spare.
It is so wide in parts that eight horsemen could ride abreast along it.
The fort was built in the 15th Century, high in the Aravalli Hills, by the Rajput Mewar dynasty, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site as part of the hill forts of Rajasthan. There are over 360 temples within the fort, most of which belong to Jain deities, along with three palaces.
I most enjoyed wandering the rampart walls of Kumbhalgarh, exploring some of the temples that were further away from the entrance with no one else around, and checking out the palaces and the incredible views they offered.
I visited Kumbhalgarh in a private taxi on the way from Udaipur to Jodhpur, but you can also visit as a day trip from Udaipur or even stay overnight at one of the nearby hotels.
Kumbhalgarh is one of the must-see monuments of Rajasthan, and your Rajasthan travels will not be complete if you miss it.
Cost: 600 rupees/approx $8
Hours: 9am – 6pm, 7 days a week
Mehrangarh Fort was built in the 15th-Century and was home to the senior branch of the Rajput clan known as the Rathores for five centuries.
This red sandstone behemoth towers over the blue city of Jodhpur below, and is a stunning sight at night when looking from a rooftop restaurant in the city below.
Rudyard Kipling said that Mehrangarh was ‘the work of giants’ and it is one of the best-preserved forts in India, and one of the biggest forts in Rajasthan.
The fort was said to be cursed after the king kicked out everyone that was originally living on the hill that now houses the fort.
To appease the saint who cursed the kingdom, someone had to willingly sacrifice their life by being buried alive in the foundations – and someone did volunteer.
Mehrangarh Fort is different than the other forts on this list as it has been developed as a museum.
An excellent audio guide takes you through the fort and museum, showcasing life in the fort, Rajasthan culture, and traditional arts and crafts of Rajasthan. A lot of the rooms of the palace are remarkably well preserved and beautifully decorated.
Mehrangarh is a must add to any Rajasthan tour itinerary and a showcase of the heritage of Rajasthan.
Learn more about visiting beautiful Jodhpur and what it is like to celebrate the Holi Festival of colors there with this post.
Cost: 600 rupees/approx $8
Hours: 9am – 5pm, 7 days a week
Another fort that makes up the UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the hill forts of Rajasthan, Jaisalmer Fort is special as it is one of the only ‘living forts’ in the world, meaning that people still live and work inside the walls of this historic 12th Century fort.
5,000 people call the fort home today, mostly descendants of Brahmin and Rajput families who have lived here for centuries. The narrow lanes of this golden sandstone fort are a treasure trove of curio, antique and clothing stores, along with restaurants and cafes, hostels and guesthouses, Jain temples and even a palace.
My favorite thing to do was to just aimlessly walk through the maze of alleyways, bantering with locals, experiencing Rajasthan culture, and looking in shops that interested me.
It is such a unique and interesting fort but it is also controversial, as the modern facilities like piped water and plumbed toilets are causing water to seep into the walls, damaging them.
This is definitely a problem but I don’t think that people should be kicked out of the fort after centuries of living there, because the fact that people live there is what makes the fort something truly special.
History shouldn’t live in a vacuum, it is a living, breathing thing that progresses over time and people are a part of that. I hope they can find another way to mitigate the damage.
Cost: Free to enter the fort. The Fort Palace Museum costs 100 rupees/approx $1.30 + fee for camera
Hours: Museum hours are 8am – 6pm, 7 days a week
Getting Around in Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle
Our Rajasthan Travels: Route and Itinerary
There are various routes you can take to visit all of these magical forts, this is the route that we took to see the best historical monuments of Rajasthan and to experience Rajasthan culture.
Delhi – Agra – Jaipur – Pushkar (no forts here) – Udaipur – Day trip to Chittorgarh – Jodhpur via Kumbhalgarh – Jaisalmer – Delhi
After flying into Delhi, spend at least two days seeing the three forts I recommend there – Red Fort, Purana Qila and Feroz Shah Kotla – along with other points of interest.
From Delhi, catch a fast train (under two hours) to Agra for a night or two to visit the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort.
From Agra, it is time to catch the train 4 hours to your first stop in Rajasthan: Jaipur. Jaipur will be your base to visit three of the forts on my list – Amer Fort, Jaigarh Fort and Nahargarh Fort.
Our next stop in Rajasthan was the chilled out hippie hamlet of Pushkar, so we took a train to Ajmer which took 2.5 hours, then a half-hour taxi ride to Pushkar. For us, Pushkar was a very worthy addition to our Rajasthan tour itinerary.
If you aren’t interested in going to Pushkar, you can take a train direct to Udaipur which takes around 7 hours.
From Ajmer it is a five-hour train journey to Udaipur, your base to see Chittorgarh and Kumbhalgarh Forts. Alternatively, you could add an overnight in Chittaurgarh before traveling onto Udaipur to break up the journey and cut out the long day trip from Udaipur.
We organized with a travel agent in Udaipur to hire a private car and driver to travel to Chittorgarh Fort for the day, it’s about two hours each way.
From Udaipur, we visited Kumbhalgarh Fort on the way to Jodhpur, hiring a private car and driver again to stop at the fort and the famous Ranakpur Jain Temple before finishing at Jodhpur.
You could also visit Kumbhalgarh as a day trip from Udaipur, then take a bus or train from Udaipur to Jodhpur – this would take between 4.5 – 6 hours.
Mehrangarh Fort is in Jodhpur, and after seeing the fort you will want to take a train or bus the five hours or so to your final stop: Jaisalmer, home to Jaisalmer Fort. To get back to Delhi from Jaisalmer you can either take a train over two days or fly like we did with Spice Jet.
If we had the time, we would have liked to take the train, breaking up the journey by stopping to see Junagarh Fort in Bikaner on the way back to Delhi.
Train Travel in India
If you do want to travel by train – and you should because it is a really fun and interesting part of India and Rajasthan travels – then I highly recommend you book your trains in advance, as soon as you know when you want to travel.
Trains can book out months in advance in India, and unless you want to spend hours queueing at the train station to see if you can get one of the last minute tickets – then book through 12Go.
12Go was an absolute lifesaver for us and made booking and traveling by train so much easier than it used to be in the past. You don’t need an Indian SIM to book through 12Go and you are sent your ticket by email, so no need to pick up paper tickets – you just show the conductor the ticket on your phone when they come around on the train.
Bus Travel in India
For bus bookings, you can either get your ticket directly from the bus station or book in advance through Red Bus. We took a bus from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer and it was comfortable, cheap, and on time.
Car Travel in India
I highly recommend hiring a private car and driver from Udaipur to take you to Jodhpur rather than taking the bus, because the drive is beautiful and it makes sense to visit Kumbalgarh on the way to Jodhpur rather than doing it as a day trip.
If we had more time I would have liked to stay in Chittorgarh rather than doing a long day trip from Udaipur, but if you are short on time like we were, it is still absolutely worth hiring a car and driver to do a day trip – Chittorgarh Fort was our absolute favorite forts, and the best fort in Rajasthan to visit.
Accommodation in Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle
We stayed at goStops Delhi in a private room. We loved the proximity to the chaos and excitement of Old Delhi, and we were within walking distance of the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, the National Gandhi Museum, and Feroz Shah Kotla.
The restaurant in the hostel offers great quality and affordable food, and there is a peaceful courtyard, and a large common area with hostel cats (!), and a big screen to watch movies.
If we didn’t stay at goStops, our second choice was The Hosteller New Delhi – we loved our stay at their Pushkar hostel. This colorful and social hostel is the largest in India and is close to Akshardham and the Lotus Temple.
For a great mid-range option, Hotel Bright in Connaught Place, the business and entertainment hub of Delhi, is a great option and has beautifully decorated rooms.
And if luxury is what you are looking for, it’s hard to go past the stunning Imperial Hotel, which has many amenities including a pool, jacuzzi, fitness center, and restaurant.
We stayed at goStops Agra, part of the goStops hostel chain that can be found throughout India. goStops Agra has friendly staff, cheap and delicious meals, comfortable dorm and private rooms, and a great common area with a movie theater and ping pong table.
Madpackers Agra is another popular hostel with great reviews. This social hostel has comfortable dorms, a rooftop terrace, and an in-house cinema.
If you want to treat yourself during your stay in Agra, stay at either the Hotel Clarks Shiraz Agra – which has Taj Mahal views and a beautiful pool in a garden setting, or the ITC Mughal-Luxury Collection Hotel with amenities including a badminton court, mini-golf course, fitness center, pool, and sauna.
In Jaipur, we stayed in the Jaipur New Heritage Hotel, a budget hotel within the Pink City walls. Our room was quite small but it was comfortable, the staff were friendly, and the location was fantastic. There is also a restaurant on site.
A mid-range option with great reviews is the Dera Rawatsar Heritage Hotel, which offers a calming oasis in the city with a pool.
For hostels, The Hosteller or The Moustache are both great affordable options with lots of organized tours and social areas. The Moustache even has a rooftop cafe and pool.
A luxury option in Jaipur is the Shahpura House, a regal palace hotel that will make you feel like royalty.
In Udaipur, we stayed at Moustache Hostel, another widespread hostel chain in India. The location was great, being walking distance to the lake and the City Palace, and our room was comfortable and quite large. There is a rooftop restaurant on site that offers epic lake views and delicious food.
Another popular hostel in Udaipur is Banjara Hostel, which also has a rooftop restaurant and is within walking distance to the City Palace.
Udaipur is a great place to stay in a haveli and there are a lot to choose from. Jaiwana Haveli and Hotel Madri Haveli both have excellent reviews.
For a luxurious mid-range hotel, you should definitely stay at the Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel which has possibly the best sunset spot over the lake, and has a rooftop pool.
For a haveli experience, stay at either the Jodhpur Heritage Haveli Guest House which reviews say has a friendly and helpful owner, a rooftop restaurant and a great location in the old city.
Or at Krishna Prakash Heritage Haveli Hotel, which has a pool and a rooftop restaurant, and is also located in the old city.
Moustache Hostel is a great hostel choice – we stayed at the Moustache in Udaipur and loved this trendy, boutique hostel chain. Moustache Jodhpur has terraces, social areas, an in-house theater, and a restaurant.
Another boutique hostel chain that has a hostel in Jodhpur is HosteLaVie, and this is the highest-rated hostel in Jodhpur. HosteLaVie has a rooftop restaurant with fort views, and reputably the best coffee in town.
If you really want to treat yourself in Jodhpur, stay at luxurious Ratan Vilas. This red sandstone mansion is the home of a Maharaj, and every room is beautifully decorated with antiques. Enjoy the relaxing pool, and eat by candlelight in the restaurant courtyard.
In Jaisalmer we stayed at Zostel, which is part of the popular hostel chain. We didn’t realize until after we booked that it was in the fort itself, and we did feel a bit guilty about contributing to the damage of the fort, but on the other hand – we absolutely loved staying within the fort walls because you got to experience life in the fort once the day tourists left.
I loved our colorful room, the views from the patio down to the city below, and the fantastic location. I do recommend staying here if you want to stay within the fort, but maybe do your research first to see if you are OK with what that means. I personally think that doing a camel safari is worse ethically, and we didn’t do that.
For a hostel option outside of the fort, HosteLaVie is the best rated, has lots of tours and day trips available, and has a rooftop terrace with views of the fort.
Good mid-range options include the Hotel Swan Haveli, and the Hotel Ozaki Jaisalmer, both of which are outside the fort.
For a unique luxury experience, stay at the Hotel Jaisalkot Jaisalmer, located outside of Jaisalmer in the Thar Desert. This elegant palace hotel is enclosed within its own fort, has a range of amenities including a pool, restaurant, spa, and gym, and offers luxury tents and suites.
Tips for Visiting the Forts
- Make sure to dress modestly when visiting these forts, covering your shoulder and knees, whether you are a man or woman.
- Respect these incredible historical monuments of Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle – don’t touch anything you shouldn’t, don’t leave any trash, follow any rules that are posted.
- Ignore the security guards that want to ‘show you something’ or tell you about the fort – unless you want to pay them a tip as they will expect it. You will need to be firm with this.
- If you want to get a guide for one of the forts, make sure they are licensed – if they are they will be able to show you their license.
- Visit as early as you can for the busier forts like the Red Fort, Amer Fort and Agra Fort. The crowds tend to descend within a couple of hours after opening.
- Pay by debit or credit card rather than cash – at a lot of the forts, and other India attractions, you get a discounted rate if you pay by card.
- Make sure you read the rules about what you can bring in before arriving there, some forts are quite strict and won’t let you bring in any snacks or even bottled water.
- Most importantly – get travel and health insurance before your trip to ensure you are covered in case something goes wrong. Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap, and easy to claim with.
- Also, don’t forget to pack this awesome water bottle with a heavy-duty filter – it’ll allow you to drink from the tap during your time in India, saving money as well as being more environmentally friendly.
- Wear comfortable shoes, because a lot of these forts are quite large and you will be doing a lot of walking. I love my Birkenstocks because they have arch support and are super comfortable.
Prices are correct as of March 2020.
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