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If you’re strapped for time but would still like to indulge your wanderlust, there are a host of vibrant, picturesque places in the country to head to. We round up a list of Indian cities whose landscapes and culture can be explored within 24 hours.

India is home to stunning natural landscapes, historically-significant monuments, and cultures so diverse you could spend an entire lifetime in the country without having explored most parts of it.

Naturally, the process of planning a vacation almost anywhere would bring up long itineraries that pack in experiences and must-visit locations like the Taj Mahal. That said, if you don’t have days to spare and are on a tight budget, several destinations come with shorter itineraries, like these beautiful but underrated Indian cities below.

A guide to Indian cities that you can explore within 24 hours

Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu

This coastal city is famed for its serene beaches, French settlements, and quaint cafes. If you’re headed here over a weekend, a day is all you need to explore everything it has to offer.

Begin your morning with a stroll along Promenade beach. With vehicular traffic restricted and minimal crowds, this is the perfect time to explore murals along the beach road and take in the sea breeze, maybe get some pictures for the ‘gram in. From there on, you could head to Bread and Chocolate cafe for a classic French breakfast of coffee and croissant or baguette and pick up a few snacks from Auroville Bakery for the rest of the day.

Spend your afternoon exploring White Town and its colonial architecture, stopping over at Sri Aurobindo Ashram for a visit. Then head to the popular Tanto’s Pizzeria for lunch. Post this, hop on a two-wheeler or hail an auto to drop by the Eglise De Notre Dame Des Anges and The Basilica Of The Sacred Heart Of Jesus.

As the evening draws close, get yourself some coconut water from a local vendor and head to Serenity beach to watch the sunset. Wrap up your day with a seafood dinner at Coromandel cafe.

Best time to visit: October-March

Mandu, Madhya Pradesh


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This ancient fort city has several architectural marvels to behold. Begin your morning by grabbing a breakfast of the state-favourite poha from local restaurants or street vendors. Then hire a car or put on your walking shoes to explore the region’s popular monuments, beginning with the sandstone structure Roopmati Pavilion, which offers stunning views of the Narmada river.

Walk towards the Baz Bahadur palace, a 16th-century structure that blends Rajasthani art with Islamic architecture. The Ship palace (Jahaz Mahal) is nestled on two artificial lakes, Kapur Talao and Munj Talao, and is resplendent with Gothic-style architecture, fountains, and coloured tiles. Right next door is the Ship palace (Taveli mahal) which is now a museum.

Dig into paniya for lunch at Hotel Gurukripa, a local delicacy made with maize flour cakes that are sandwiched between aak plant leaves and roasted on a cowpat. Then head to Hoshang Shah tomb which features impressive marble and red sandstone work, Jami Masjid, and Hindola mahal. End your day with a dinner of local baingan ka bharta, dal bafla, and arbi ki sabzi at Shri Dadaji restaurant or Malwa Retreat.

Best time to visit: October-March

Agra, Uttar Pradesh


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Exploring this historic city is a bucket-list experience for most travellers around the globe. Begin your day with an early morning visit to one of the new Seven Wonders Of The World, the Taj Mahal.

Spend your time exploring the various rooms, gardens, and museums here before grabbing a breakfast of bedai kachori from any local restaurant or street food vendor. Head on over to Agra fort and explore its intricate red sandstone architecture and the marvel that is the Jehangir palace.

You could then head to Itimad-Ud-Daulah to take a peek at what served as a blueprint for the Taj Mahal. Grab a lunch of tandoori chicken or savour Mughlai food at a local restaurant or popular spots like Peshawari and Mughal Room. Then head to the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre for a guided tour of the majestic animals and how best to care for them.

As evening draws close, sample and shop for pethas at local stores and head back to the Taj for breathtaking sunset views.

Best time to visit: August to October

Shillong, Meghalaya


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The Scotland of the East is a popular tourist spot and offers a retreat underscored by some of nature’s most stunning landscapes. Begin your morning with a breakfast of pork delicacies like dohklieh, jadoh, or putharo from street vendors or restaurants at Police Bazaar.

Then head to Ward’s Lake, located in the heart of the city, to feed the fish, take a leisurely stroll, or go boating. Then make your way to the Don Bosco Museum, a hexagonal structure with seven floors to represent the culture and traditions of the seven states of North East India.

Make your way to Elephant falls, a three-tier waterfall nestled in dense, lush woods. Grab a Meghalayan thali at a local restaurant to sample delicacies made of bamboo shoot, pork, chicken and other local ingredients before heading to the popular All Saints Cathedral to take in colonial architecture.

Shop for trinkets and other souvenirs at Bara Bazar before heading to Umiam lake to watch the sunset. Don’t forget to grab a bite at Café Shillong while enjoying live music.

Best time to visit: October-May

Guwahati, Assam

The city of temples might not be at the top of most travel lists, but has several one-of-a-kind experiences to make it a must-visit. Besides, many find themselves in the city while journeying towards other states in North East India as well as Bhutan.

To begin your day here, grab a local breakfast of luchi ghuni, pitha with red tea, goja and tea, or omelettes from street vendors. Then make your way to Nilachal hill for stunning views of the region’s landscape and the architectural beauty of Kamakhya temple.

Then head to Assam state museum, taking in the mesmerising views of the Brahmaputra along the way. Shop to your heart’s content at Fancy Bazaar and sign up for a cruise on the Brahmaputra to have the best seat in the house, come sunset. The city has scores of incredible bars to unwind at, at night.

Best time to visit: October- March

Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh


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Most tours that offer to take you around the City of Nawabs take about eight hours at best. If you’ve got an entire day in Lucknow, begin with a breakfast of khasta kachori and aloo sabzi with tea at any local street food vendor or Bajpayee Kachodi Bhandar.

Then head to Bada Imambara, a complex that houses one of the largest arched halls in the world as well as the famed labyrinth passages of the maze bhulbhulaiya. Then walk to the Chota Imambara to marvel at its architecture, which took 54 years to finalise.

Along the way is Rumi Darwaza, a fine example of Awadhi architecture which was modelled after the Sublime Porte in Istanbul. Visit the British Residency to get a glimpse of India under colonial rule and the moments that led to the fall of the British.

Grab lunch at Tunday Kababi or Oudhayana for the authentic fare before making your way to Hazratganj to shop for trinkets and traditional white chikan kurtas or sarees. Spend the evening sampling kulfi to end your exploration on a sweet note.

Best time to visit: September-March

Dehradun, Uttarakhand


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The capital city that is known for being the gateway to most popular tourist destinations as well as being home to elite boarding schools, Dehradun has a few must-visit attractions that can be explored within a day.

Begin with a breakfast of fluffy puris and indulgent chickpea or potato curry at the popular hole-in-the-wall Chetan Poori Waala. Snack on a jalebi from a street vendor and make your way to the Mindrolling Monastery, built in 1965 and known for housing one of the world’s tallest stupas.

Then make your way to Robber’s cave, known to be the hideout of outlaws during colonial rule. The spot is ideal for picnics, hiking, and exploration. Head on over to the Forest Research Institute which houses five museums and is known for its colonial-style architecture.

Shop at Rajpur Road and end your day with a Tibetan dinner at Lhasa Tibet Kitchen or Orchard.

Best time to visit: March-June

Ajmer, Rajasthan


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Exploring the heart of Rajasthan would take you just about a day. Begin your tour of the Indian city with a visit to Dhai Din Ka Jhopda which was built in, as the name suggests, just over two days. The structure is built into the hillside and is a quiet place in the mornings.

Then walk to the famous Ajmer Sharif Dargah, the shrine of Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti, before heading to the Taragarh Fort, a 12th-century monument that offers stunning views of the city. Then visit the Akbar fort and museum to take a look at sculptures and rock inscriptions from the 8th and 13th centuries.

Pay your respects at the Nasiyan temple, built in 1865 with the most stunning golden decor. Within is a museum that is focused on Jain mythology. Grab local kadhi kachori and sohan halwa from local stores and make your way to the Ana Sagar lake – built by the Daulat Bagh garden – to watch the sunset.

Best time to visit: October-March

Udipi, Karnataka


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This quaint coastal city in Karnataka is best known for its beaches. Begin your day here with a classic breakfast of idli and dosa at any local restaurant around your hotel. Don’t forget to sample the neer dosa and uppu huli dosa.

Drop by the hanging beach and take in the stunning sight of the swarna river. You could opt to go kayaking or river rafting as well. Then go beach hopping, exploring the beauty of Kodi Bengre before heading to Malpe beach. The latter hosts plenty of water sports that you can indulge in.

Get a boat to St. Mary’s Island, known for its untapped beauty. End the day at the Kapu Beach lighthouse. While here, don’t forget to dig into some kashi halwa at one of the sweet shops.

Best time to visit: October-February

Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar Islands


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The bustling capital of Andaman and Nicobar is a must-visit Indian city, often being a part of longer vacation plans in the region. However, if you’ve only got a day, begin by heading to Ross Island, a former British Colony with stunning natural beauty, historical churches, and a museum.

Then make your way to Corbyn beach for a bite and a fun jet-ski ride. If you enjoy museums, head to the Samudrika Marine museum for an insight into marine life and its importance, heading to Cellular Jail for the light and sound show.

Best time to visit: October-February

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