Almost every traveler who enjoys an Agra itinerary comes for one main reason: to see the Taj Mahal! But Agra isn’t just a place to breeze through, snap a few photos of yourself at the TM, and then be on your way. If you spend an entire 24 hours on your Agra itinerary, you’ll get to learn more of the tragic and beautiful history behind the monuments. Plus you’ll be able to take gorgeous snaps without the horrible crowds.
Keep in mind that, unlike most of my 24 hour itineraries, I did this Agra itinerary on a group tour with Intrepid Travel’s Classic Rajasthan tour. I highly recommend it if you don’t feel like exploring a huge country like India solo. Also, I was traveling at Christmas time, and that’s the one time of year I’m not feeling the solo travel thing. Much better to spend Christmas with 12 other fellow travelers at the Taj Mahal!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that just because this Agra itinerary is for 24 hours, that doesn’t mean you should only spend 24 hours on an Agra itinerary. If you want to add 24 hours in Delhi, click here.
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24 Hours: Agra Itinerary
Morning: Agra Fort
Some voyagers might be surprised to learn that the Taj Mahal isn’t the only major attraction to see during your 24 hours in Agra. Agra Fort is almost as impressive, largely because of its stunning red hue. It’s also an amazing place to visit on a guided tour because you’ll learn more about the history behind the Taj Mahal and the Extremely Dramatic Ruling Family behind it.
On our Classic Rajasthan tour, Ronny was the Indian guide who led us all around the northern part of the country. But at many attractions Ronny engaged a local guide to give us a more detailed explanation. This made our trip more sustainable, since we were helping employed local guides and not only Ronny. Our local guide was full of good humor and much more than…
three fun facts: agra fort
1) what was this fort for?
Great question! This fort was built in the 16th century for the Mughal emperors who ruled this part of India. (Back then India was not a united country the way it is today.) The Mughal emperors were Muslim rulers and patrons of the arts. Agra Fort was built by one of the most famous: Akbar the Great. (Pro tip! When a ruler is named “the Great”, it’s usually a sign they were famous.)
Our guide, whom I shall call Chandra, said that the Mughal emperors were devout, but not in a stuffy way. When you were their honored guest, they wanted to greet you in style! So they would have women standing on the balconies waving at you. Chandra said we should imagine this as we walk through the fort. I’d rather imagine a bunch of Ryan Goslings waving at me, but the Mughal emperors didn’t ask my opinion.
2) what’s the connection to the taj mahal?
The family of Mughal emperors who built this fort is the same as the family that built the Taj Mahal. We’re going to get to specific fun facts about the Taj Mahal later in our 24 hours in Agra. But I’m glad to share with you some wacky details about this dynasty.
The emperor who built the Taj Mahal was named Shah Jahan. (Baby, remember his name because he’s arguably the most important person who has ever lived in Agra.) But apparently his son Aurangzeb didn’t appreciate Shah Jahan’s architectural vision and fame.
Aurangzeb had such severe daddy issues that he ended up usurping his father’s throne and imprisoning his father in Agra Fort. Supposedly his father was trapped in a room with a view that looked on the Taj Mahal. That’s just sick and wrong! If I ever have a son, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure he doesn’t turn out like Aurangzeb.
3 ) what’s the strangest thing at agra fort?
How do you feel about a dead body, Internet Stranger? You might be expecting this lavish corpse box to house a Mughal emperor, but you’d be expecting wrong! This is the tomb of a rather ordinary Englishman named John Russell Colvin. He worked for the British East India Company, which was ruling Agra in the 19th century. (Yes, a company was running a country. It was all very bizarre.)
As you can imagine, Indians felt they’d do a better job at running their country than a British trading company and they tried to get it back. They attacked the British at Agra Fort during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and Colvin died. But he wasn’t killed in battle, he died of a disease, so people didn’t want to remove him from the fort because of contagion. That’s why he remains in the fort to this day.
Since he is a symbol of the British occupation of India, many feel that he should be moved. I agree in principle, but the thought of moving someone’s dead body gives me the wiggins. And I don’t want to be haunted by a vengeful English ghost with cholera.
24 hour treat: rug time!
It was that time in our 24 hours in Agra to grab a bite to eat! And why not go shopping with our food? One thing I liked about the Classic Rajasthan tour is that Ronny always knew the best local places to buy handmade souvenirs. That way we weren’t just taking home the same generic plastic magnets made in some factory who knows where. (No judgment to people who collect magnets.)
Agra is famous for rugs, so we had to visit Kalra’s Cottage Industry and watch them hand knot the rugs in person. Yes, these gorgeous creations are all made individually by workers knotting the threads by hand. They’re pricey, but when you understand the craftsmanship that goes into it you see that it’s worth it.
We snacked on spicy samosas and soothing bananas along with some ubiquitous masala chai while Mr. Rug (not his actual name) displayed stunning carpet after stunning carpet. I had to be impressed with his salesmanship because when I said I was from New York City, he brought out this special carpet in my photo above.
He said that it is a replica of a rug from the Taj Mahal, and the real rug is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Well, with a backstory like that, I clearly had no choice but to max out my credit card to get it! Now I get to feast my eyes on it every day and pretend that I live in the Taj Mahal. Worth every penny!
24 Hours: Agra Itinerary
Afternoon: Taj Mahal
This is it! The Big Kahuna! The Head Cheese! One of the most famous buildings in the whole world. You shouldn’t come to India just to check the Taj Mahal off your bucket list, but…if an evil genie cursed you with only being able to see one thing in all of India, it should probably be this. Our group spent our 24 hours in Agra literally on Christmas Day, and we all said that seeing the Taj Mahal was the best Christmas gift ever.
I strongly recommend visiting just before sunset. The “magic hour” will make your photos fab-tastic. I am a notoriously dreadful photographer, and even I managed to take a few shots that looked like a picture postcard. I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve for you with…
three fun facts: taj mahal
1) what do I need to know before visiting?
There’s so much you need to know before you go say hello to Ol’ Tajjy here. It’s guarded like Fort Knox, if Fort Knox contained tons of photo ops instead of gold. You can’t bring any large bags into the Taj Mahal. Leave any big bags back at your hotel or you’re just going to waste a whole bunch of time.
There are more things you need to know if you visit the mausoleum where Shah Jahan and his wife are buried. No photo taking is allowed in the mausoleum, out of respect. This won’t really be a problem because your photos will be a jillion times better in the light outside the mausoleum anyway. Also shoes are not allowed in the mausoleum, so please wear socks so you don’t have to putter around barefoot.
2) why is the taj mahal?
Get ready for the most romantic story ever told! The emperor Shah Jahan married a beautiful young woman named Mumtaz Mahal. Back then it was expected that a proper Mughal emperor would have his fair share of pieces on the side. But Shah Jahan would have none of it. (Or at least not very much of it.) He loved Mumtaz Mahal with all his heart. And the proof is in the pudding because they had a whopping 14 kids together.
But all this good lovin’ led to Mumtaz’s end. She died while giving birth to their last child, and Shah Jahan was completely devastated. He wanted to make sure she was never forgotten, so he paid for the world’s most beautiful tomb to house her body. And to this day, people come from all over the world to pay tribute to Mumtaz Mahal.
3) any fun un-facts about the taj mahal?
Our local guide said there are two legends about the Taj Mahal that are almost certainly not true. The first is that Shah Jahan planned to build a mausoleum for himself out of black marble and put it on the opposite side of the river from the Taj Mahal. There is absolutely no way that Shah Jahan could have paid for something so extravagant. (And then there was that little matter of his son Aurangzeb putting him in prison, which put an end to building projects.)
The other, more entertaining legend, is that Shah Jahan had all the builders put to death or maimed. This way they’d never be able to build anything else as stunning as the Taj Mahal. This isn’t true. Shah Jahan wasn’t some psychopath who went around chopping hands off for no reason. He was just a normal dude who ruled an empire, had fourteen kids, built the world’s most famous building, and then got trapped in a small room by his son for the rest of his life.
24 Hours: Agra Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at MasterChef
My dinner recommendations are a little different for my posts about India than they usually are. I wasn’t able to go out and find the best restaurants in each city because I was on a group tour. So we usually had to eat at places that could serve a group of 13 people. However, I wouldn’t recommend any places on this Agra itinerary I didn’t actually enjoy, and our group had a delightfully strange Christmas dinner at MasterChef. (No affiliation with the TV show.)
This was the first time I’ve eaten Kashmiri dum aloo for Christmas dinner, but it might not be the last. Food in India is much spicier than food at Indian-American restaurants. I always told the waiters to keep it hot because I feel the need, the need for speed. But you should ask them to turn it down if you’d rather not.
I felt determined to try every single vegetarian dish in the north of India on this trip. In my 24 hours in Delhi, I tried a cheese main course, and this time I was rocking out on fried potatoes. They were served in a fiesty yogurt sauce. I would have liked there to be more potatoes, but the sauce was a treat.
Pro tip: Every sauce is better if you soak it up with a bunch of garlic naan. That’s just science!
That’s 24 Hours: Agra Itinerary
What would you do on an Agra itinerary? What’s the most unusual Christmas dinner you’ve ever eaten? And is it possible for me to be greeted by a flock of Ryan Goslings wherever I go, or do I need to make myself empress first? Please leave your thoughts below!