There's something inexpressibly romantic about Udaipur. With its marble temples, elegant waterfront architecture, and the sheer tranquility of Lake Pichola, the city is an almost peerless Indian jewel.
On one hand, few cities in the world can match Udaipur's natural setting. The shimmering waters of the lake with tiny scattered islands, and the cradling peaks of the Aravalli Mountains are a sublime backdrop for lakeside meals and evening walks to take in Udaipur's spectacular sunsets.
On the other, Udaipur is a lovely, lively urban center. Its bazaars hum with life, it hosts an annual World Music Festival, and is home to some of Rajasthan's finest art galleries too.
Udaipur is also known as the "City of Lakes", and it's easy to see why. The city is built around the shores of Lake Pichola in Rajasthan, and the lake is very much the focus of attention. Stay in resorts overlooking the lake or take sunset boat cruises around its islands for superb photo opportunities.
One of Rajasthan's great holy cities, Udaipur is full of stunning religious sites. You could (and should) spend a week touring magnificent attractions like Bohra Ganesh Temple or the Jagdish Temple, while the nearby countryside harbors some remarkable sights of its own, like the Karni Mata Temple in the Machla hills.
Udaipur is a city of music, theater, and art, to go along with its sheer beauty. Every year, crowds flock to the Udaipur World Music Festival (in February) and the Shilpgram Festival (also in February), which showcases everything from dance and painting to gourmet food.
The food in Udaipur matches anywhere in northern India (no mean feat, given the quality of the region's cuisine). You can sample the lot with huge thali platters or try meaty laal maans curries, often in gorgeous hillside or waterfront restaurants.
One of the best things about Udaipur is the quality and beauty of its accommodation. Island hotels like the Taj Lake Palace are some of the most attractive accommodation options anywhere in the world, offering morning lakeside vistas and a level of privacy you'll never get from city center hotels.
Since Rajasthan is famous for its monumental palaces and historical royal sites, it's no surprise that Udaipur's crowning jewel is the City Palace. A sprawling, flamboyant, and decadent structure built and added to over a period of 400 years of rule, the City Palace encompasses many smaller but no less luxurious buildings within its gates. The complex of City Palace looks like a veritable set from a historical movie on the inside, with beautiful Mughal and Mewar era buildings set atop rising hills, aging but ever as elegant. There are several villas, opulent gateways that are lit up at night, beautiful "chowks" that feature art galleries dedicated to paintings and sculptures of the era, and the famous "Sheesh Mahal", a palace of "glass and mirrors".
They just don't build them like this anymore. Jag Niwas, or Lake Palace Hotel, is an 18th-century "haveli" and was originally built as a winter palace. Located directly in the center of the Lake Pichola and accessible by boat, this hotel is full of intricate flourishes and design motifs from Rajasthani culture, as well as a dizzying number of stairs that M.C. Escher himself might have envied. The Jag Niwas is both a site as well as an experience. It also famously served as the home of the notorious Bond girl Octpussy in the iconic film of the same name. Particularly stunning is the hotel's view of the city lit up at night.
It's no secret that Udaipur is where you go for gold and jewelry. And it won't be left behind in the crystal competition either. Case in point is the majestic, shimmering Crystal Gallery in Udaipur, within the walls of the Fateh Prakash Palace. The Crystal Gallery started off as a private collection belonging to Maharana Sajjan Singh. Today, it is the world's largest crystal collection that is privately owned but publicly displayed. The maharana's obsession with crystal was evident: the collection features chairs, sofas, tables, beds, lighting, and even cutlery completely encrusted with heavy crystal work.
No matter which vantage point you view Jag Mandir from, it's breathtaking. Viewed from afar, travelers will see a sombre and beautiful temple seemingly floating above the calm waters of Lake Pichola. Others will travel to her steps and imagine royal families using the space for summer parties. From the inside, Jag Mandir has the Gul Mahal, a decadent entry pavilion, terraces, a massive garden, and the eastern wing, which is known as the Bara Patharon ka Mahal. Of particular note is the set of eight elephants carved at the jetty entrance.
With so many gorgeous palaces and heritage hotels abound in Udaipur, one needs a panoramic view to take in all that beauty. What better place than riding on a boat on Lake Pichola? On her banks rest the Jag Mandir, the City Palace, as well as the Jag Niwas close by.
Most locals will advise tourists to arrive sometime between October and March (the local "winter"), when you'll encounter warm, but not humid weather, and very little rain. Summers are humid and sweltering, while monsoon season in July and August brings too much rain for most tastes. February could be ideal, thanks to the excellent weather and wealth of cultural events taking place in the city.
Dabok Airport (UDR) is around 15 miles out of town, and has direct flight connections to major international hubs like New Delhi and Mumbai. Unfortunately, there aren't any public buses into town. Expect to pay around ₹600 for a taxi from Dabok to Udaipur (₹300-400 if you use ridesharing apps like Ola).
Udaipur has excellent rail links to most major Indian cities, and riding the Indian railways is an incredibly atmospheric experience. Prices are reasonable as well (around ₹900 from New Delhi and Mumbai). The station is a mile or so from the lakefront, so you may need to hail a tuk-tuk taxi, which will cost about ₹50.
If you are driving from New Delhi, take highway 48 towards Jaipur, then change to highway 58 at Ajmer, all the way to Udaipur. The best route from Mumbai is to follow highway 48 along the coast, which reaches Udaipur from the south.
You can reach Udaipur by bus from almost any major Indian city, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Agra, and Ahmedabad. Most services will get into the City Bus Station at Udaipole Circle, which is about 1.5 miles east of the lake, so a tuk-tuk may be needed to reach your hotel.
Udaipur is famous for its palatial hotels, which include some of the most beautiful in the world. Probably the finest of all is the island-based Taj Lake Palace, but it's not alone. The Shiv Niwas Palace and the Leela Palace offer 5-star accommodation, while the Radisson Blu Udaipur Palace Resort and Spa offers resort-style lodgings within a mile of the city center.
Lake Pichola - many of Udaipur's most beautiful buildings can be found around the shores of Lake Pichola (which in itself is a stunningly pretty sight). The lakefront is also home to the Jagdish and Shiv temples, and island resorts like Jagmandir Island Palace, where the 17th-century palace houses a fascinating museum (and a luxury spa).
The Old City - just inland from the lakeside, you'll find Udaipur's enchanting old city. Much of the marble architecture of the area dates back to the 16th century. It's a wonderful place to wander around, where highlights include the sprawling City Palace of Udaipur and Gulab Bagh, a 100 hectare garden that features a charming zoo and endless rose beds.
Bhoiwada - north of the old town and northeast of the lake, Bhoiwada encompasses most of modern Udaipur. It's the transport hub (with the rail and bus station) and the commercial hub too, thanks to the presence of Hathipole Market - by far the best place to seek out traditional clothing or craft souvenirs.
RSRTC runs a network of local and regional buses in Udaipur, and fares are between ₹5 and ₹20, but buses are of limited use to tourists in the city itself. Instead, most visitors tend to rely on tuk-tuks for short journeys and rental cars or taxis for longer trips.
There are two levels of taxi in Udaipur. Firstly, you can hail ordinary taxi cabs, although booking online or by phone is advisable. Rates vary by company, but will be in the ballpark of ₹15 per mile. The other option is to take a tuk-tuk. These nippy little cabs need to be hailed on the street or outside major transport hubs, and will charge much less - around ₹5 per mile is common. They can also be rented by the day, if you feel the need for your own special driver (rates start at about ₹400).
Renting a car can open up the hills and lakes of Udaipur for exploration, while destinations like Jaipur will also be within reach. You can't rent a car at the airport, but in the city center you'll find branches of Rajasthan Car Services and Udaipur Car Hire. Expect rates to be around ₹500 per day.
If you want to shop for traditional Indian textiles, jewelry, saris, ceramics, or artworks, the city's finest shopping area is definitely Hathipole Market, just north of the historic city center. Feel free to haggle and drive a hard bargain, and be prepared for a dizzying variety of stalls. If that sounds too hectic, give conventional malls like Arvana a try, or head to old city boutiques like Boutique Namaste India or Anokhi, which is housed in the City Palace.
There aren't many supermarkets in the historic parts of Udaipur, but there are plenty in surrounding neighborhoods, where options include Essar Hypermart and Purchase Point. Alternatively, you'll find a daily food market in the Clock Tower district, which is a handy place to find grocery bargains. Wherever you shop, prices will be low, at around ₹150 for a gallon of milk or ₹60 for 12 eggs.
Rajasthan's food is one of the region's greatest attractions, and Udaipur is a leading light on the regional food scene. If you adore spicy curries, you'll be in your element at eateries like Peshawri or Suvarna Mahal, but there are also some accomplished Italian restaurants, like Savage Garden, and plenty of fusion restaurants, like O'Zen. Meal prices vary from ₹1,000 or more at elite places to ₹200-300 at mid-range restaurants.