Known as the Queen of Hill Stations, Darjeeling, India, is a must-see tourist destination boasting some of the most breathtaking natural beauty in the country. The luscious green landscape is elevated among the clouds and offers beautiful tree-lined roads with pink and white flowers and endless views of snowcapped mountains. Filled with vivid green tea plantations, Darjeeling is also known for its interesting colonial history, having served as a summer retreat and a major economic and political hub of the British.
The plethora of enchanting temples and historic monasteries make Darjeeling a very spiritual destination perfect for a meditative mountain retreat. There are also plenty of comfortable modern amenities and high-end establishments concentrated around the town center, ranging from luxurious resorts and upscale restaurants to fun shopping centers and vibrant bars with live music. If you’re planning a visit to this dreamy town in the state of West Bengal, read on for some helpful hints to navigate the area and an all-inclusive list of the best things to do in Darjeeling.
Best Things to Do in Darjeeling
1. Watch the Sunrise at Tiger Hill
One of the most popular things to do in Darjeeling is to take a taxi up to Tiger Hill and watch the sunrise over the snowcapped peaks of Mount Kanchenjunga. The changing colors of the expansive sky and the vast mountain views are sure to leave you speechless and are definitely worth waking up a bit earlier than usual. This is a very well-known and worthwhile activity and one of the most iconic tourist places in Darjeeling, so the viewpoint can get pretty crowded and you may run into some traffic on the way up. It only takes about 20 minutes to get to the lookout spot, but if you’re starting from the town center, you’ll want to leave your hotel around 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. to beat the traffic.
There is no fee to enter the area, although you may want to bring some cash since there will be several ladies selling coffee for 10 rupees. When you’re rolling out of bed at 3:00 in the morning, a nice hot burst of caffeine will be a lifesaver, especially if you’re visiting in the winter months. The lookout point is essentially an unfinished construction zone with a unique section of bleacher-like steps where you can relax and enjoy the views. If you’re not itching to head back to the hotel and take a nap, there are plenty of cool attractions to check out on the way back down to the town center, including a temple known as Sincheal Singh Devi Dham and a war memorial known as Batasia Loop. There are also several peaceful meadows on the way, accessible from the road, where you can view the sunrise if the main lookout point gets too crowded.
2. Experience the Magic of Chowrasta Square
Also known as The Mall, Chowrasta Square is considered to be the center of tourism in Darjeeling and makes a great starting point for exploring the plethora of surrounding attractions. Populated by dogs, birds, and ponies, the square offers a unique fairytale-like atmosphere where people and animals move around in harmony. Visitors can relax around the flowing fountain and enjoy the views from the top of the convenient stadium-style seating, and children can grab an ice cream or ride a pony. There are regular concerts and live shows that take place in this historic public square, and a large screen mounted above the steps plays a series of famous Bollywood scenes that were shot in the area.
As one of the best places to visit in Darjeeling, Chowrasta is directly connected to an endless array of popular attractions. Right next to the steps is the start of Pony Road, where tourists can take photos in front of the “I Love Darjeeling” sign and take a look at the families of wild monkeys that make regular visits from the surrounding forests.
3. Ascend Observatory Hill and Visit Mahakal Temple
Formerly the site of the Bhutia Busty Monastery, Observatory Hill is now home to Mahakal Temple, an ancient Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is very close to the center of town and can easily be reached by following the uphill roads behind Chowrasta Square all the way to the top. Decorated with colorful Tibetan prayer flags and surrounded by ancient prayer wheels, Mahakal Temple is also the site of a sacred cave leading all the way to Ghum Monastery. The mountain views from the top of the hill are truly unbeatable, and the meditative atmosphere makes it well worth the steep climb to the top. Be sure to spin the prayer wheels as you walk around, and if you don’t mind getting low to the ground, take a peek into the entrance of the sacred cave.
4. Stroll Around Batasia Loop
Another iconic tourist spot in Darjeeling, Batasia loop is a historic war memorial dedicated to the fallen Gurkha soldiers who lost their lives in various battles following Indian independence. Costing just 20 rupees to enter, the loop is another great spot from which to enjoy the breathtaking mountain peaks and learn a bit about Darjeeling’s dynamic history. At the entrance, there are several local vendors selling scrumptious street food, including momos, samosas, and noodles. Once inside, you’ll find a few vendors selling colorful fabrics and locally made clothing and lush surrounding gardens filled with pink flowers and romantic walkways.
You’ll pass by the site on the way down from Tiger Hill, and the loop opens to visitors at 6:00 a.m., making it a great place to stop on your way back to the town center. If you take a joyride on the Darjeeling Toy Train, you’ll also ride around this popular loop.
5. Enjoy a Scenic Walk Along Mall Road
An essential addition to your Darjeeling itinerary, this scenic mountain walkway starts from Chowrasta Square and leads all the way up to Observatory Hill and back. Along the way, the shaded road provides incredible views of lush towering trees, vivid greenery and, of course, the snowcapped peaks of the Himalayan Mountains. The path will take you past St. Andrew’s Church, Mahakal Temple, and a few covered viewing areas with bench seating and local vendors selling tea and snacks. There are also a few hotels scattered along this road offering rooftop cafés with some of the best views in Darjeeling.
6. Check Out the Bustling Darjeeling Markets
Surrounding Chowrasta Square are several lively markets that sell a variety of woolen clothing, Tibetan artifacts, and eye-catching antiques. The most popular among them are the Mahakal Market and Dragon Market Complex, which sit directly across from each other and are best known for their woolen clothing and unique items imported from Bangkok.
Mall Market is another popular tourist spot in Darjeeling since it is located right behind the main square. Just descend the steps that lead down from Pony Road and enter the tarp-covered pathway, where you’ll find colorful tinsel dangling above countless clothing vendors.
Chowk Bazaar is the perfect place to shop if you’re after a good deal. Offering several tea stalls, Buddhist shops, and cheap eateries, this popular market sells everything from common household items to one-of-a-kind antiques.
7. Enjoy a Pot of Famous Darjeeling Tea
It would be impossible to visit Darjeeling without tasting the famous tea, which has come to be known as some of the finest in the world.
The tea in Darjeeling is differentiated by the season in which it was harvested, also known as the flush. The three different types of flushes are first flush, meaning the leaves were harvested in late winter or early spring. Second flush means that the leaves were harvested in the summer, and autumn flush is the last harvest of the year. Which type is best is largely dependent on who you ask, but you’ll generally want to go for either first or second flush. Since first flush tea comes from the first harvest of the year, it has a longer period of time to grow and is generally more expensive. First flush also offers a higher level of caffeine and nutrients, but the warm weather in which second flush tea grows creates a very vibrant and sweeter flavor.
The best way to choose your favorite tea in Darjeeling is to taste them all! There are plenty of tea lounges such as House of Tea on Nehru Road, where you can try out the various flushes and buy some to take home with you. If you’re interested in picking up some tea as a souvenir, be sure to grab it from a reputable supplier like House of Tea or Golden Tips so that you know you’re getting authentic Darjeeling tea.
8. Grab Some Dessert and Much More at Glenary’s Bakery
Established during the British colonial period, Glenary’s is a popular historic spot offering three establishments in one building: a pub in the basement, a bakery and café on the ground floor, and a gorgeous restaurant on top. It’s hard to miss the white colonial-style building, which showcases its extensive array of delectable desserts through its large front-facing windows. Located just a short walk away from the main square, Glenary’s is the perfect spot to just pop in for a pastry or enjoy a scrumptious meal with mountain views. The restaurant serves everything from Indian to continental cuisine, and there are live music shows held every Friday and Sunday.
9. Try the Delicious Street Food
Although there are plenty of fancy restaurants and high-end tourist places in Darjeeling, it’s tough to beat the prices and tastes of the scrumptious street food. All around Chowrasta Square and throughout the various markets of Darjeeling, you’ll find a ton of vendors selling everything from roasted corn and momos to pani puri and made-to-order fried noodles.
Darjeeling’s unique history has led to a super-diverse cultural makeup, so you’ll find many different types of cuisine, including Tibetan, Nepali, Bengali, and Naga dishes. Some more noteworthy street food options include thukpa, Nepali thali, and the Nepali-style kebabs known as sekuwa. Vegetarians will have no issue finding something to eat, as there are meatless versions available for almost everything. Do keep in mind that eggs are considered nonvegetarian in India, so you’ll have to ask for them specifically if you’re interested in trying some meatless egg noodles or thukpa.
10. Ride the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
By far the most popular tourist attraction in the area is the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the Toy Train. As an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, the iconic railway was completed in 1881 and rushes through the gorgeous scenery of the Eastern Himalayas.
There are two different types of rides available on the Toy Train that stop in Darjeeling: the daily passenger service and the joyride. The daily passenger service spans 50 miles, running from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling and passing through the popular points of Siliguri, Kurseong, and Ghum. The joyride is the most popular option for tourists, offering a two-hour round-trip journey from Darjeeling to Ghum and back. The joyride also stops at Batasia Loop and the Ghum Railway Museum, and entrance to the museum is included in the ticket fare. There is also a safari train offering a round-trip ride from Siliguri to Rangtong, passing by the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, but this route does not include a stop in Darjeeling.
If you’re taking a joyride or a safari ride, you can choose between a diesel train and a slightly more expensive but historic steam locomotive. The daily passenger route is only serviced by diesel trains. Both the joyride and the passenger service will run you about 1,500 rupees and offer air-conditioned cars with picturesque windows for enjoying the view. The joyride also offers a slightly more expensive vistadome class, which comes with glass ceilings and more expansive views. You can book your ride on the Toy Train online through Indian Railways or at the station, but keep in mind that the trains fill up fast, especially during peak season.
11. Visit Ghum Monastery
Ghum Monastery, also known as old Ghoom Monastery and Yiga Choeling Monastery, is one of the oldest monasteries in Darjeeling. It is located just about four miles away from the town center, very close to the Tiger Hill sunrise spot and just below the Ghum Railway Station. Erected in the mid-19th century, the sacred monastery is elevated at 8,000 feet and is known for its 15-foot tall Buddha statue, its extensive selection of sacred Buddhist texts, and its scenic position surrounded by incredible mountain views.
12. Visit the Japanese Peace Pagoda
The Darjeeling Peace Pagoda is one of several monuments around the world designed by the Buddhist monk Nichidatsu Fujii. The monument was erected in 1954 as a symbol of world peace following the disastrous loss of human life resulting from World War II. Set on the slopes of the Jalapahar Hills, the Peace Pagoda is a must-see spot when visiting places in Darjeeling. You can walk to the site of the pagoda from the center of town, although you must be ready to climb uphill for about 45 minutes. The easiest way to get there is by taxi, and it is advised that you visit early in the morning before it gets too crowded. There is also a small Japanese temple on the premises, where you can stop to meditate and admire a unique selection of anti-nuclear weapons artwork.
13. Reach New Heights on the Darjeeling Ropeway
Also known as the Rangeet Valley Passenger Cable Car, the Darjeeling Ropeway is the best way to enjoy the area’s incredible natural scenery and offers visitors the ultimate opportunity for sightseeing in Darjeeling. Descending from 7,000 to 6,000 feet, the Ropeway runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the winter and spring and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the autumn and summer. It costs just 200 rupees per person, with each cable car holding up to six people, and if you would prefer to ride in a private car, you’re allowed to purchase all six seats. The cars rush over gorgeous green valleys with colorful flowers and impressive tea gardens, and passengers can enjoy magnificent views of the Himalayas. The entrance to the Ropeway is just about two miles away from the town center, and it takes about 40 minutes to do the full round-trip ride from Darjeeling to Tukvar and back. Passengers are welcome to hop off at Tukvar, use the bathroom, and check out the rooftop restaurant, and then hop back on to return to Darjeeling.
14. Check Out Lloyd Botanical Garden
Another perfect place to visit in Darjeeling for nature lovers, the Lloyd Botanical Garden showcases a seemingly endless variety of indigenous Himalayan plants as well as exotic plants imported from around the world. The luscious display includes over 2,500 orchids, cactuses, weeping willows from China and Japan, and a marvelous rock garden. Located within walking distance of the town center, near Chowk Bazaar, the garden is a very convenient opportunity for sightseeing in Darjeeling and costs just 20 rupees to enter.
15. Marvel at the Stunning Natural Scenery of Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary
Situated on the outskirts of the Darjeeling District, about six miles away from town, Senchal Sanctuary is home to a diverse array of plant life and wildlife, including birds, deer, boar, monkeys, and big cats. Senchal Lake is also part of this historic sanctuary and makes a great stopping point for a picnic or a leisurely stroll. The sanctuary was opened in 1915 and now encompasses over 15 square miles and even includes a cycling path. An entry permit costs 50 rupees, and there is a long road running through the sanctuary, so you can explore the entire area from the comfort and convenience of a vehicle.
Best Time to Visit Darjeeling
If you’re planning a trip to Darjeeling, the best time to visit is in the late spring or early summer, between the months of April and June. At this time, the town bursts to life with luscious green trees dotted with flowers of various shades of pink, and the clouds tend to clear out to reveal the iconic views of the snowcapped mountains. You may want to avoid visiting the region between July and September, when heavy monsoons lead to dangerous landslides. Despite the inconvenient weather conditions, monsoon season is a great time to enjoy discounted rates at many of the town’s hotels, and the luscious green scenery is intoxicatingly beautiful.
Weather in Darjeeling is generally very cool, even in the summer, so you won’t need to worry about mosquitos and unpleasant heat waves. The weather is also very lovely in the spring, when heavy mist invokes a dreamy atmosphere with its own unique charm. Unfortunately, the higher likelihood of heavy mist and fog makes it much more difficult to enjoy the mountain views. If you would prefer to avoid the high prices and heavier crowds of the summer months and you don’t mind cold weather, you may want to visit during the winter, when the snowy atmosphere is sure to take your breath away.
Best Places to Stay in Darjeeling
As a Victorian-era resort town, Darjeeling is one vacation destination with no shortage of fantastic accommodations. There are plenty of incredible hotels in Darjeeling that offer a convenient location near the town center and an affordable price tag.
One of these places is the Sanderling Resort and Spa, which offers a clean, modern, and quiet stay near St. Andrew’s Church and Mahakal Temple. The rooms are up-to-date with flat screen TVs and free Wi-Fi, and the hotel itself offers a great restaurant and a spa. To reach Chowrasta Square from the Sanderling, you can walk just a few minutes down the hill and through the popular Pony Road. The front of the hotel also comes with a convenient set of stairs that acts as a shortcut up to Observatory Hill and the Mahakal Temple.
For a unique stay with a super-convenient location and incredible views, check out Mayfair Darjeeling. The top-rated rental overlooks a scenic valley and boasts a tasteful combination of modern amenities and Old World charm. What’s more, Mall Road and the main square are both just a short walk away from this classy and convenient accommodation, and the hotel offers free Wi-Fi, a spa, a gym, and a library.
Airbnb is also a great site to check if you’re interested in a farmstay, a homestay, or a quiet rental on a tea estate.
Where is Darjeeling? How to Reach the Town and Get Around
Nestled in the Himalayan foothills, Darjeeling is one of the most popular and accessible destinations in and around the iconic mountain range.
Sitting about 60 miles away, Bagdogra is the closest airport to Darjeeling and connects to most of India’s major airports. From the airport, you can hop in a shared or private tourist taxi and ride about three hours to Darjeeling. The region is known for its safe and efficient government taxi system, which offers affordable rides in ten-seater vans. One seat in a shared taxi should cost you about 250 rupees, or you could book all 10 seats and take a private ride for 2,500 rupees. Just make sure you ask around for the government taxi stand, since these taxis offer standardized rates, while private taxis can charge any price they wish.
You can use the Toy Train for practical purposes by taking it from the New Jalpaiguri station, which has a direct railway connection with Kolkata, Delhi, Guwahati, and other major cities of India. There is also a traditional railway station in Siliguri that connects to major Indian railway stations. It is also possible to take a government tourist taxi directly from Siliguri, which takes about three hours and costs 250 rupees per seat.
Once you reach Darjeeling, you will find that the main attractions are clustered around a small town center and so it is pretty easy to get around on foot. The tourist taxis will only take you to the outskirts of town, from which point you will transfer to a local taxi that will take you to your hotel or a specific destination. It’s a good idea to exchange numbers with the driver, as most of them will be more than willing to help you on any further excursions that you’re interested in throughout your stay. There are also plenty of taxi stands and pickup points throughout the town center, and most hotels and Airbnb hosts will also help you arrange taxis.
Best Places to Visit Near Darjeeling
If you’re finishing up your stay in Darjeeling and wondering where to go next, the following cities are close by and offer plenty of fun activities and gorgeous natural scenery:
- Gangtok: Another popular hill station with exquisite views of snowcapped mountains and plenty of sacred temples and Buddhist monasteries to explore. Located about 60 miles or a three-hour drive away from Darjeeling.
- Kalimpong: This stunning hill town is also known for its incredible mountain scenery and tasty coffee. It is far quieter and more peaceful than Darjeeling and a great choice for anyone looking to trade the busy tourist attractions for a blissful and scenic stay. You can take an easy and affordable two-hour taxi ride from Darjeeling to Kalimpong and enjoy some pretty incredible views along the way.
- Lava: Located about 50 miles away from the town center, Lava is another great option for a scenic trip near Darjeeling. The lush forests and diverse wildlife in this lesser-known hill station are perfect for hikers and nature lovers.
With its unrivaled natural beauty and impressive array of modern attractions, the blissful hill station Darjeeling is a genuine paradise. Whether you’re embarking on a family-friendly vacation, a solo meditative retreat, or a romantic honeymoon, there are plenty of incredible things to do in Darjeeling.