There are few places on earth quite like India. Magical, mysterious and at times completely overwhelming, it can be one of the most rewarding and one of the most challenging countries to visit.
Throw kids into the mix and the rewards – and challenges – can be even greater.
But if you plan properly, a trip to India will be one of those etched into your memory for a lifetime. This is a vibrant country full of colour and adventure.
I lived in India with two young children for three years (my eldest was 18 months when we moved to New Delhi and my daughter was born there) so I know all about navigating this enormous country with small kids in tow.
We had some incredible adventures – playing ‘Holi’ in the pink city of Jaipur for example. But there were also times when we wondered if we should have possibly just spent the weekend at home – an overnight train that never came followed by a tortuous eight-hour car journey into the hills springs to mind!
Which is why when planning a trip to a country like India I recommend turning to travel specialists. As much as I love organising my own trips, if you’re heading to a less traditional family destination such as India, or would like to travel off the beaten track, then having an expert on hand is invaluable. India can be a frustrating country to navigate so having an expert do all the planning means that you can simply enjoy your family holiday and all that India has to offer.
Original Travel are a travel company that specialise in tailor-made holidays. Recognising that every family’s requirements are different, they have destination experts on hand to help you plan your perfect India family holiday plus a travel concierge and expert guides when you arrive to make sure that your trip goes smoothly.
But where to start? There are so many exciting things to do in India with kids from camel rides in the desert and visiting colourful cities to spotting tigers in the wild or floating along the backwaters of Kerala. Plus the chance to taste lots of delicious Indian food!
Disclosure: created in collaboration with Original Travel – all opinions on visiting India with kids are my own. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.
Visiting India with kids
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One of the questions that I get asked the most is what is the best age to visit India with kids. The answer is that India has something for kids of all ages. Destinations like Kerala, with its lazy backwaters and dreamy tea plantations, are well suited to younger children whereas teens will love the colour and culture of Rajasthan.
Explore Old and New Delhi
India’s capital city is divided into ‘New’ Delhi and ‘Old’ Delhi; one a garden city carefully laid out according to the British architect Edward Lutyen’s careful designs and the other a dense medieval tangle of narrow lanes and alleyways.
Hidden beneath both sides of the city are the remains of seven earlier cities upon which the capital has been built. You’ll spot remnants of the city’s previous lives in the myriad ancient temples and monuments on display.
Some of the most popular places to visit in Delhi with kids include the Red Fort, once home to Mughal rulers for nearly 200 years. It was also at the Red Fort where the historic speech marking India’s independence from British rule was made.
Other highlights include the 13th-century Qutub Minar, the whimsical Jantar Mantar observatory and the 16th-century mausoleum, Humayun’s Tomb. Delhi is also home to a rail museum and even a toilet museum!
Original Travel organise a private visit of Old Dehli by rickshaw (the only way to travel through the narrow, crowded streets!) where you can see the Jama Masjid, the enormous mosque dating back to the Mughal period. They can also organise a tour of the Hauz Khas neighbourhood, today one of the city’s coolest neighbourhoods packed with boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and rooftop bars.
Original Travel also provide the option of a street food walk, a laughing yoga session and the closing ceremony at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Temple, Delhi’s largest Sikh temple.
See the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal, India’s most famous monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must on any family trip itinerary to India. The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife and it took more than 1,000 elephants and 22,000 workers almost 22 years to complete!
India’s monument to love can be reached on a day trip from Delhi by train but it’s a long – and often delayed – day, plus there are other sights worth seeing in Agra.
As well as visiting the Taj Mahal, Original Travel can organise a walk through Agra plus tickets to the ‘moonlight gardens’ on the banks of the Yamuna River. There’s also the option to visit the Agra Fort (also known as the Red Fort), where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his very own son! Although it might give kids the wrong idea….
Spot tigers in Ranthambore National Park
There are 53 tiger reserves in India and Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand is home the most number of tigers in the country. Easier to visit on a Golden Triangle tour of India is Ranthambore National Park.
The forested reserve is home to leopards, wild boar, sambar, chital, sloth bears, langur monkeys and, of course, Royal Bengal Tigers. Morning and afternoon tiger safaris take place in jeeps and usually last three to four hours. It’s an incredible opportunity to see any of these creatures at home in their natural habitat.
The reserve itself is quite beautiful, dotted with ancient temples, hunting pavilions and large reservoirs where these jungle cats like to hang out. For a bird’s eye view of the park and its surrounds climb up Ranthambore Fort that was built in 900AD. Rumour has it that some weaponry remains in the ancient barracks.
Visit the Pink City of Jaipur
The pink city of Jaipur is the fairytale capital of the state of Rajasthan and one of the most popular destinations in India. It’s a city famous for its whimsical palaces, fanciful observatories and dusty pink buildings.
Highlights when visiting with kids include visiting the honeycombed pink Palace of the Winds (the Hawa Mahal), the vast City Palace and Jantar Mantar, built in the 18th-century by Maharaja Jai Singh. It’s a mind-boggling complex of 14 giant instruments constructed to measure time, predict eclipses, track the location of stars and is one the best things to see in Jaipur.
When visiting Jaipur on a family vacation with Original Travel, families will take part in an introduction to block printing, take a private tour of Amber Palace and visit a local market. There’s also the option to take part in a Kathak dance class or even play a game of cricket! Original Travel also organise a bicycle tour of Jaipur itself with the chance to taste some delicious street food.
Discover the Blue City of Jodhpur
One of my favourite places in India has to be the blue city of Jodhpur. Set on the edge of the Thar desert in western Rajasthan, the city was once a vital post on an ancient trade route.
Today the city is famous for its labyrinthine lanes of cornflower blue havelis and the majestic Mehrangarh Fort that towers over the skyline. An annual music festival is held here, the Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival). There’s also a zip wire over the fort.
Jodhpur is a really fun city to simply wander around but there are also some fun activities to enjoy. Original Travel can organise an introduction to truck painting. The trucks in India are painted in a kaleidoscope of colours, slogans and intricately painted symbols. A local truck painter will open the doors of his studio for you – and you can even have a go yourself.
Ride a camel in Jaisalmer
Chances are that you’ll spot a camel or twelve on your travels in India but the best way to experience this animal is on a camel safari into the desert. The Thar desert around Jaisalmer in northern Rajasthan is one of the most popular places to enjoy this Indian experience. Ride through the desert on camel back and camp out under the stars. It’s a wonderful way to escape the cities and witness rural desert life.
Ski the Himalayas in Kashmir
The hill station of Gulmarg, in the state of Jammu & Kashmir in northern India, has gained a reputation as one of the best places ski resorts in Asia, home to waist-deep powder snow, near-empty ski runs that go for miles and miles and some of the most affordable skiing in the world. During the winter months the area is covered in a thick duvet of snow that’s perfect for skiing, snowboarding, sledging and snowman building. This is a brilliant place for a family ski or snowboard holiday.
There are a lot of things to do with kids in Gulmarg. For beginner skiers there are a handful of nursery slopes and lessons available. For more advanced skiers and boarders, the options are endless. It’s worth noting that much of the skiing for medium to advanced skiers is done off-piste so it’s highly recommended that you ski with a professional ski guide.
Float along the backwaters in Kerala
Kerala, in south India, is a great place to travel to with kids and a very popular tourist destination. The ancient port of Fort Cochin (Kochi) has been luring traders and travellers to its shores for over 600 years. It’s a fun and easy place to wander around on foot or by bicycle.
Original Travel will arrange a guide to show you the sites on two wheels including the iconic cantilevered Chinese Fishing nets, the open air laundries, churches and mosques. Fort Cochin has a colourful, multi-ethnic history – over the last 500 years it has been colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch and the English.
After spending a couple of days in Cochin, families should head to the backwaters, the long chain of lagoons and lakes that wind their way inland, parallel to the Arabian Sea.
One of the best ways to experience the rural lifestyle of the backwaters is on a ‘kettuvallam’ (rice barge), a traditional Keralan houseboat. Glide gently along the waterways past villages, temples, churches and wading buffalos. Along the way you may spot working boatyards, fishermen hauling in their catch or villagers separating coir and spinning it into threads.
Kids can help steer your ‘floating hotel’ and wave to the local children heading off to school. Keep an eye out for the local birdlife along the way, egrets and kingfishers are commonly spotted in the backwaters.
Original Travel can organise a number of additional activities for all family members to enjoy from a cooking class to learn about the region’s spices to a yoga class. Other activities including learning the traditional methods for catching fish in the backwaters.
Kerala is also home to some lovely beaches as well as some great family-friendly hotels with swimming pools that are ideal for young kids (and older ones too). It really is the perfect place for a family holiday that combines relaxation with learning about Indian culture.
Snorkel in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Many travellers to India head to the beaches of Goa in southern India. But for a real beach break – with white-sand beaches, clear blue waters, and tropical rainforests – you want to visit the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
This Indian archipelago sits in the Bay of Bengal and consists of 572 islands. Of these, 37 are inhabited. The islands require a little more work to reach (a flight to Chennai followed by a flight to Port Blair and then a ferry) but it’s well worth the trip.
Havelock Island is one of the most popular spots for visitors owing to its beautiful beaches and wonderful laidback vibe. Original Travel can also arrange a stay aboard a luxury liveaboard boat so you can get out and explore the pristine reefs surrounding some of the other islands. The waters here are popular spots for scuba diving and snorkelling.
On dry land there are nature walks to explore the local flora and fauna. For kids, Havelock Island is a natural playground. After all, sand, sea and sunshine are the perfect combination for a family holiday!
Ride the rails everywhere!
Ok, so this is less a destination and more a mode of transport but travelling by train is a quintessential Indian experience and one that should not be missed!
Indian Railways is one of the largest rail networks in the world and carries nearly 20 million people every day. The whole family will enjoy a train journey, whether you ride the rails for a couple of hours or overnight.
There are seven different classes of train travel, although not all classes are available on every train. They range from 1AC (1st class air-conditioned) at the top to an unreserved seat in 2nd class at the bottom.
Children up to the age of 4 travel free, children aged 5 to 11 pay half fare if they do not have their own reserved seat or berth, and children aged 12 and over pay full fare. Travelling with kids without a seat or berth is not a good idea so essentially you will be required to buy a full adult fare for any child aged 5 and over.
The excellent website www.seat61.com is a great place to go for more information on train rides in India.