The Taj Mahal is one of those iconic places that I think everyone should visit once in their life, if given the chance. But, where to stay when visiting the Taj is a tough decision. Initially, I thought we’d splurge and stay at one of the best hotels in Agra, the Oberoi. It has an incredible view of the Taj in the most luxurious, gorgeous setting. But, when I looked at the price, it was well beyond a splurge. It was an entire trip budget for just one night! Plus, it was still pretty far away from the Taj. Instead, I found the best places to stay in Agra on a budget, and I think our experience was exceptional because of this.
Our Visit to Agra
A metallic taste filled my mouth as we stepped from the air-conditioned train car into the smog-filled heat of Agra. I was filled with anticipation for my first view of the iconic Taj Mahal, but the taxi touts quickly pushed that excitement away with their ensuing banter. After settling on a rickshaw, and loading the luggage inside, we sped off through the streets of Agra.
I’d chosen a budget-friendly hotel as close to the South gate of the Taj as we could get. As soon as we were checked in, we quickly ascended to the roof for our first view.
There’s something special about the initial sighting of a famous structure. Anticipation grows as the moment approaches, and the air is electric with excitement. Then, it comes into sight. Goosebumps run up your arms before calmness washes over you as the enormity of the moment settles in.
It’s a pinnacle. After that moment, you’ll have already seen it. Even if you get a better view, a closer view, touch it, go inside it, it’s not the first. That first sighting is the most special.
The rooftop view from Kamal Hotel was spectacular. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. Sitting on the terrace, eating vegetarian curry with the Taj Mahal gracing the horizon, is one of those rare moments in life that just can’t be properly described.
There was no need for an expensive hotel. The proximity and vista from our budget hotel was more than enough.
The next morning we woke in the dark and wandered through the pre-dawn streets of Agra to the West gate. After buying our tickets someone generously offered to let us skip the line…for a small fee of course. Our “friend” hustled us through the gate, talked us through the bag check, accepted his payment and left to find another sucker not wanting to wait in line!
The air was crisp, and the Taj looked like a mirage in the pre-dawn light. As the day awoke the colours of the marble changed from grey to gold to creamy white. We watched from different vantage points, enjoying the less congested morning visit.
Crowds of people were starting to form as we made our way towards the South Gate exit. By some miracle, we ran into our friends, and made plans for the afternoon. We were out the gate, and back at our hotel, before they even got a rickshaw!
Best Budget Hotels in Agra near the Taj Mahal
If you’re visiting to see the Taj Mahal, the best places to stay in Agra are as close to the Taj as you can get! Surprisingly, the cheap and best hotels in Agra are just outside of the Taj Mahal South Gate. This gate is exit only, but it’s not very far to the entrance at the West Gate. The quality of these hotels varies, so don’t just pick any one!
I recommend staying at one of the hotels near the Taj Mahal the night before your early morning visit. This gives you the opportunity to watch the sunset behind the Taj from the (very dirty) riverbank the night before, and get a jump on your visit in the morning. After your visit, eat breakfast, check out and move to Hotel Atithi for the rest of your stay in Agra.
Best Hotel In Agra Near Taj Mahal – Shanti Palace
This is the nicest accommodation in Agra near the Taj Mahal, but it’s often booked up. If you’re able to, book ahead as far as possible for the best chance of finding an available room! Shanti Palace also has the least obstructed view of the Taj, and the nicest rooftop restaurant. Even if you don’t stay here, do what we did and head up for breakfast after your morning visit to the Taj.
Runner Up: Best Hotels in Agra Near Taj Mahal (Where We Stayed) – Kamal House
Shanti Palace was booked up, so we stayed in one of the other cheap hotels in Agra near the Taj Mahal. This is a solid 2 star hotel in Agra, but for the price it’s a great choice.
Kamal House has new rooms and old rooms, and there’s a difference in price and comfort between the two! The old rooms are basic, but perfectly reasonable for the price, especially given their prime location. The new rooms are fresher, brighter, and quieter, but come with a bigger price tag (although it’s still not that expensive).
Cost – 950ruppees ($19 CAD)/night for a basic double room. 2000 ($40 CAD) rupees/night for the newer, larger room.
Basic Double Room with Bathroom:
Superior Double room with bathroom (we fit all 4 of us in here!):
Best Place to Stay in Agra
Hotel Atithi is the Best 3 Star Hotel in Agra, and the best place to stay in Agra with kids. It’s a bit further from the Taj Mahal, but is easily accessible by Ola, taxi or rickshaw. There’s a large pool with a shaded garden area that’s perfect for the kids to splash all afternoon after exploring the Taj in the morning. The rooms are large and comfortable, and easily accommodate a family if the kids are willing to sleep on the floor!
I looked into day passes for pools in Agra because it was just SO hot, but they were all quite expensive. The cost of our room at Atithi (pool included) was similar in price to day passes for our family of 4 at the few hotels that offer paid public access to their pools. From that perspective, this was a steal of a deal!!
Cost – 2400ruppees ($48 CAD)/night for a large room with air conditioning and a king bed. A good lunch poolside at hotel was 730 ruppees ($14.60 CAD) for 4 people.
Best Agra Hostel
Stops Hostel Agra (GoStops Agra)
Our friends stayed here during their visit to Agra and raved about it. The rooms are clean, there’s a fantastic common room with plenty of games for all ages, breakfast is included, and it’s easily accessible to the Taj. The hotel also practices Green A/C – they turn the air-conditioning off in the rooms between noon and 8pm to conserve energy as most guests are out during these hours. There’s always A/C in the common room…an added excuse to leave your room and mingle with other travellers!
Cost – from $25CAD per person/night with air conditioning and a large breakfast.
Best Time to Visit Taj Mahal Agra
The best time to visit the Taj Mahal are from October to March, during the winter. Winter is significantly cooler (although still hot!) and there tends to be less smog during these months. There are still days that are clear, and others that can be quite smoggy. If you have the time, allow for a few days in Agra to ensure your visit to the Taj occurs on one of the clearer days!
It’s best to visit the Taj Mahal first thing in the morning when the air is coolest and cleanest, and there are fewer people. Watching the colours of the magnificent marble building change as the sun rises is truly a magical sight!
Important Note: The Taj is closed every Friday, so plan your trip accordingly!
Bonus: Tips For Visiting The Taj Mahal With Kids
- I recommend you plan to stay in Agra for at least 2 nights.
- Kids up to 15 years old are free, yeah!!
- Adult tickets are 1000 rupees ($20 CAD) each
- For less than the price of an adult ticket, you can pay one of the tour guides to let you skip the line. If you don’t want a tour, you can just pay a reduced fee for the “skip the line” assistance! (This isn’t official or regulated, but it’s worth it with kiddos!!). We paid 700ruppees ($14), but I’m sure that could be reduced with some shrewd negotiation.
- Visit first thing in the morning when it’s cooler and less crowded.
- Take your family pictures before you go exploring, while the kids are still happy to pose, and there are fewer visitors to get in your picture.
- The corridors to the East and West of the red gate are a quiet place to relax with a view while the kids run off some steam. It’s typically not very crowded, so they won’t get in anyone’s way.
- The public bathrooms are at the end of the East corridor!
- Only “normal” photos are allowed! If you want a fun picture; throwing your kids up in the air, having them jump off a bench, yoga poses, etc…take them quickly before one of the guards shows up and tells you to stop!
- Check out Jenny’s comprehensive guide for visiting the Taj Mahal with Kids.
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