Hyderabad’s 400-year history means the city has lots to see and do, not to speak of its rich and varied cuisine. Here’s a quick guide, created by a local, on some of the best things to do in Hyderabad.
Hyderabad was founded over 400 years ago, but even before that, the region saw the coming together of many different cultures and traditions. Persian, Turkish and Arabian ways were first introduced to the local south Indian Telugu and Kannadiga way of life under the Qutb Shahi kings. Trade, and the Mughal empire brought north Indian influences with them. The arrival of the British in India, and their tug-of-war with the Nizams of Hyderabad, introduced western concepts.
Today, Hyderabad is a modern metropolis and one of India’s fastest-growing cities, a melting pot of cultures and languages from all over India and the world. But deep under it all, its twin Hyderabadi and Telugu cultures run deep, with their own languages and cuisines, yet coexisting side by side. All in all, the city’s got tons of things to see and do as part of your Hyderabad itinerary.
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Some top sights of Hyderabad
These are some of the most interesting things see in Hyderabad. And if you’re pressed for time and looking for places to visit in Hyderabad in one day, a few of these should definitely be on your itinerary.
Golconda Fort is where Hyderabad’s history begins; it’s where the Qutb Shahi kings ruled from before the founding of the city. It’s central citadel, called Bala Hisar, is the most popular with visitors. But if you’re looking for more offbeat things to do in Hyderabad, the outer ramparts (including the Naya Qila extension and the Petla Burj bastion with its ornate cannon) are definitely worth seeing.
Also read: The amazing outer ramparts of Golconda Fort
The Qutb Shahi tombs
The Qutb Shahi tombs (also called ‘the seven tombs’), close to Golconda, are where the Hyderabad’s founding kings were buried. The large necropolis has seven massive tombs, and many smaller tombs, mosques and other structures. They say a secret tunnel was used to transport the bodies from Golconda Fort to the necropolis, several kilometres away.
And if you’re looking for places to visit in Hyderabad in the evening, the Qutb Shahi Tombs are beautiful at sunset.
The heart of the Old City, and probably the most famous thing in Hyderabad, is the Charminar. This four-minareted monument was built by the city’s founder, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, though why he did so is still debated. The most romantic of the many theories about why it was built? That it marks the spot where Muhammad Quli first saw his future queen. You Hyderabad itinerary isn’t complete without a visit to this iconic monument.
Chowmahalla (‘four mansions’) Palace was built by the Asaf Jahi Nizams, the next ruling dynasty of Hyderabad. This was the residence of the Nizams, and is still owned by their descendants. This is one of the less-known attractions of Hyderabad, but will probably feature on any organized Hyderabad tour itinerary. It’s open to visitors, but for a fee, of course.
The Paigah Tombs
The peaceful Paigah tombs are hidden away in the bylanes of the Old City, all but forgotten. The foremost noble family under the Nizams were the Paigahs, and many generations of notable Paigahs were laid to rest in the family’s private necropolis. Personally, I would say a visit to the Paigah Tombs is one of the best things to do in Hyderabad and should definitely be part of your itinerary, especially if you’re looking more offbeat things to do.
Past Charminar and towards the edge of the city lies the hill-top Falaknuma (‘mirror of the sky’) Palace. This sprawling European-style palace was built by one of the prime ministers of Hyderabad, and later sold to the ruling Nizam. It’s now a luxury heritage hotel, and one needs to have at least a meal reservation to enter and look around.
The Salar Jung Museum
Also in the Old City is the slightly chaotic but interesting Salar Jung Museum, supposedly the world’s largest collection of art and artifacts owned by a single person. The nobleman Salar Jung III spent his life expanding his collection, and they say the museum only has a fraction of what he actually collected. A look at this museum is one of the more popular activities in Hyderabad, at least for visitors from out of town.
The BM Birla Science Museum
Part of the BM Birla Science Centre, the Science Museum is an interesting place to spend a few hours. Its interactive displays and the dinosaur section are especially popular with kids, though it has lots more to see. It’s also right next door to the planetarium and the impressive Birla Mandir temple, all of which would make great additions to your Hyderabad itinerary.
The Fakhruddingutta rock formations
Hyderabad was once known for its spectacular natural granite formations. Over the years, most of these have disappeared. The formations at Fakhruddingutta (also called Khajaguda) are some of the most impressive of those that remain. Another offbeat thing to do in Hyderabad, a visit here will let you appreciate some of the city’s natural heritage while it lasts.
Perched on the Naubat Pahad hill overlooking the Hussain Sagar lake, the Birla Mandir temple is not just impressive in itself, but also has a great view of the city. Spread over 11 acres, the temple is made entirely out of white marble, and houses an 11-foot tall idol of Lord Venkateswara. The temple is especially beautiful at night, when the white marble glows in the spotlights. If you’re visiting in the day, though, you might want to wear socks: the marble floor can get uncomfortably hot.
Quick reference: Things to do in Hyderabad
There’s far more to see and do in Hyderabad than a single chart or infographic can can cover. But you need to start somewhere, so here are some of the top things you can do here.
Note: This doesn’t capture ALL the things to do in Hyderabad. Just some of the main ones.
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A four-day Hyderabad itinerary
Depending on what you’re interested in, there are lots of different ways you can spend your time in the city. On one hand, it’s got lots of heritage and historical architecture, some even dating back to before the city was founded. On the other, there’s everything you would expect from a bustling modern metropolis.
Here’s a four-day Hyderabad itinerary you might want to use during your visit to the city.
Day 1: Golconda Fort and the Qutb Shahi Tombs
Golconda Fort is arguably Hyderabad’s most popular destination for visitors. And because of its size (and elevation), exploring even it’s most well-known parts will take you the entire morning. Include the royal necropolis next door, and you’ve got your entire day set.
Seeing both the fort and the necropolis in a single day can get very tiring, though. If you’re not up to it, you might want to do it over two days instead of one.
Morning: Bala Hissar
Explore Bala Hissar, the fort’s central citadel, and take in the view of the city from the roof of the audience hall at the top of the hill. Entry is Rs. 25 for Indian nationals, Rs. 300 for other nationals, and Rs. 25 for still cameras. Timings are 9:00 am to 5:30 pm, every day.
Some interesting sights
- The ‘murda darwaza’ or ‘gateway of the dead’, the blocked-off entrance to a tunnel said to lead to the royal necropolis (the Qutb Shahi tombs) a few kilometers away.
- The prison of Bhakta Ramadas, a prime minister so devoted to Lord Rama that he illegally used state funds to build a temple, even though he knew he would be severely punished.
- The ramparts overlooking the Qutb Shahi tombs, which can be accessed via a rough path from the far right corner of the courtyard in front of the audience hall.
- The intricately decorated ‘zenana’, the queens’ quarters, with their many lamp niches and intimate mosque.
Lunch in Golconda
There are plenty of basic eateries near the Bala Hissar entrance if want to try the local flavours. If you’d rather stick to something more universal, there’s also a Cafe Coffee Day outlet just down the road, where you can grab a quick sandwich or roll.
Afternoon: Qutb Shahi tombs
Explore the impressive and mysterious Qutb Shahi tombs, the vast royal necropolis just outside the fort walls. Walk among the massive mausoleums of the Qutb Shahi kings (and one queen) that ruled the Golconda kingdom and, later, Hyderabad for close to 200 years.
Entry is Rs. 10 for adult Indian nationals, Rs. 50 for adults of other nationalities, and Rs. 5 for children. Permits for still cameras cost Rs. 20, and it’s Rs. 200 for video cameras. Timings are 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, on all days except Fridays.
Some interesting sights
- The grave of Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, founder of Hyderabad, that lies under the huge mausoleum and can be accessed by a separate entrance.
- The remnants of blue and green Persian tilework on the tombs of Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah and Sultan Mohammed (not to be confused with Mohammed Quli) Qutb Shah.
- The galleries and chambers built into the sides of the Badi Baoli step well, where the royals supposedly found respite from the intense summer heat.
Evening: Sound-and-light show
Watch the sound-and-light show at the zenana of Bala Hissar, and travel back in time to when the Golconda kingdom was one of the most powerful in South India. Timings vary depending on the time of year; the show is from 6:30 to 7:45 pm from November to February, and from 7:00 to 8:15 pm from March to October. There’s also a second show afterwards in Telugu on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and in Hindi on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are Rs. 140 for adults and Rs. 110 for children.
You’ll probably have an hour or so to kill between when the tombs close and the show starts, which you could spend sipping Irani chai at one of the many local cafes. Also, make sure you take lots of mosquito repellent, preferably the kind that you can spray on your clothes.
Day 2: The Old City
Hyderabad’s Old City was where the city first began, and at the heart of it lies the iconic Charminar. But that’s not the only thing to see. Colourful markets, sprawling palaces, one of the biggest mosques in India, and the country’s largest museum are just some of the sights clustered together here.
The Old City isn’t just the oldest but also the busiest and most crowded part of the city, so if you have a phobia of crowds, this might not be the best place for you. But if you want to see some local culture, there’s no place better.
Morning: Mecca Masjid, Charminar, Laad Bazar, Chowmahalla Palace
Visit Charminar and it’s surroundings early in the morning, before the crowds really start to build. Start with the massive Mecca Masjid mosque, (note that shorts and sleeveless tops aren’t allowed, and that ladies need to cover their hair), and move on to the Charminar next door. Grab some tea and local Osmania biscuits for breakfast, and then shop and jostle your way through the glittering Laad Bazar. End your morning at the sprawling Chowmahalla Palace (open 10:00 am to 5:00 pm all days except Friday; tickets are Rs. 50 for Indian nationals, Rs. 200 for foreign nationals, Rs. 50 and Rs. 100 for still and video cameras respectively).
Some interesting sights and experiences
- The ornate graves of many members of Hyderabad’s ruling Asaf Jahi dynasty, in an enclosure off to the side.
- The bird’s-eye-view of the Old City from the top of the Charminar’s arches (the staircase is open from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm).
- The fascinating antique shops filled with interesting old bric-a-brac beyond Laad Bazaar.
- The collection of vintage cars belonging to the erstwhile Nizams at the the Chowmahalla Palace.
Lunch in the Old City
If you’re looking to try some of the famous Hyderabadi biryani, then you’ll be spoiled for choice. Places like Hotel Shadab, Hotel Nayaab, Shah Ghouse Hotel and Pista House are popular for their biryani and are all nearby. Don’t let the word ‘hotel’ fool you, though; they’re all basic-to-mid-range restaurants.
Vegetarians don’t have as much choice, unfortunately. If you’re vegetarian, your best bet is probably Anand Bhavan, a basic place that serves great traditional South Indian vegetarian food.
None of these places are very fancy, though, so if you’re looking for fine dining, you might want to check out the magnificent Taj Falaknuma Palace. This European-style palace once belonged to the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, and is now a pricey heritage hotel. You’ll need a reservation if you even want to get in, though.
Afternoon: The Salar Jung Museum
Wander through the halls of the Salar Jung Museum, India’s largest museum and the world’s largest collection of artifacts by a single collector. Make sure you take a map, though, or at least take a photo one of the maps on the walls of the museum; it can get pretty confusing, because the building was a palace before it became a museum.
The museum is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm all days except Friday. Tickets are Rs. 20 for Indian nationals, Rs. 500 for foreign nationals, Rs. 50 for a mobile phone camera and Rs. 150 for a still camera. Bags aren’t allowed in and need to be deposited.
- The exquisitely carved Veiled Rebecca statue, and the huge musical clock–the most famous displays in the museum.
- The very interesting two-sided wooden statue, Mephistopheles and Margaretta, in the European collection.
- The intricate Japanese ivory statuettes in the Asian collection.
- The collection of richly decorated Qurans from around the world.
Evening: The Paigah Tombs
End your hectic day with a peaceful evening among the Paigah Tombs. Much smaller than the Qutb Shahi Tombs, but also much more recent, this is where a some important members of the Paigah family of nobles lie. This place isn’t well known, even among locals, so chances are you’ll have the place pretty much to yourself. Wander among the quiet gardens, or admire the architecture from one of the cast-iron benches.
The Paigah Tombs are open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm every day, and entry is free. You might want to give the old caretaker a tip, tough, if you want to hear some interesting stories.
- The marble grave of Hussain Unissa, which is supposedly an exact replica of the grave of Mumtaz Mahal at the Taj Mahal.
- The unique branching minarets on the roof of the main mausoleum.
- The intricately carved wooden screen doors between some of the enclosures.
Day 3: Off-beat heritage
Most visitors to Hyderabad end up seeing Bala Hissar, the Qutb Shahi Tombs and the Charminar, but many miss out on the many relatively off-beat sights. The city is full of them, of course, but very few are as old or as underappreciated as these: Golconda Fort’s outer ramparts, and the ancient granite rocks of Fakhruddingutta/Khajaguda.
These two are relatively far apart, and also take some doing to see, so you’ll have your day full.
Morning: Golconda Fort’s outer walls
Retrace your steps to Golconda Fort, but instead of heading inside, explore the endless outer wall and its many ramparts. Start at the Banjara Darwaza gate, with its spiked double doors. Follow the wall to Naya Qila, a vast area added to the fort after the first siege of Golconda by the Mughals. Then make your way down the main road to the massive, double-arched Fateh Darwaza gate that was once the main gate of the fort. Lastly, head back towards the Banjara Darwaza, but turn off towards the Petla Burj bastion (be warned, you’ll have to brave a garbage dump to finally get there).
Naya Qila is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on all days; tickets are Rs. 5 for Indian nationals, and Rs. 100 for other nationals. Incredibly, a large part of Naya Qila has been taken over by the Hyderabad Golf Club. If their guards make a fuss about letting you in, let them know that certain parts of Naya Qila are still open to the public.
There’s no entry restriction to the other parts of the outer walls, though the narrow streets and densely-built houses might make them difficult to find.
- The huge, ancient baobab tree in Naya Qila, said to be older than the fort itself and with a hollow that was supposedly once a robbers’ hideout.
- The massive, ornate bronze cannon on top of the Petla Burj bastion, used by emperor Aurangzeb during his second siege of Golconda.
- The Patancheru Darwaza gate, a little further down from Petla Burj, that opens onto the last surviving stretch of Golconda Fort’s moat.
Lunch in Raidurg
It’s some distance from Golconda to Khajaguda/Fakhruddingutta, so it makes sense to grab a bite about halfway there. Luckily (or not), your route leads through Raidurg, a part of the fastest-growing commercial corridor in Hyderabad. That means you’ll have no shortage of places to eat to choose from. Still, there’s always Ulavacharu for traditional Telugu cuisine; Subway if you’re just looking for a quick sandwich; and Shah Ghouse for biryani (if you’re vegetarian, I’d ignore that last one).
Afternoon: The granite boulders of Khajaguda
After a leisurely lunch, drive up the boulder-strewn hill of Fakhruddingutta in the Khajaguda area. This is one of the last remaining examples of the surreal granite rocks that Hyderabad was known for. But even this is being threatened by encroachment and ‘development’.
Spend your afternoon exploring the 2.5 billion-year-old rocks that look like they’ve been randomly piled together by a giant’s hand.
- The holy shrines of three different faiths: the dargah of Islamic holy man Baba Fakhruddin Auliya (after which the hill is named); the meditation cave of spiritual master Meher Baba; and the Hindu temple to Sri Padmanabha Swamy (a version of Vishnu).
- The small but mysterious cave system off to the right of the parking area, and the view at the end.
Day 4: City sights
Being a bustling modern metropolis, Hyderabad has plenty to see and do besides ancient heritage. The city has lots of modern marvels to admire as well, if you’re tired of history. In fact, the Naubat Pahad (‘the hill of drums’) in the center of the city, and the area around it, has enough to keep you occupied for an entire day.
Morning: Birla Mandir temple, Science Museum and Planetarium
Head up the Naubat Pahad and pay a visit to the Birla Mandir, a Hindu temple to Lord Venkateswara. The temple’s made entirely of white marble and stands on one of the highest points in Hyderabad. This gives you sweeping views of the city, and of the Hussain Sagar lake at the foot of the hill.
Also on the hill is the BM Birla Science Museum, with lots of displays around the various branches of science. It’s also got some interesting interactive displays; a particularly fun one lets you easily pull yourself into the air using a rope and pulleys. And just up from the museum is the planetarium, where you can sit back and watch the universe unfold around you. This side of the hill also gives you great views of the ornate state assembly building, and of the Public Gardens a little further down.
The Birla Mandir is open 7:00 am to 12:00 pm and 2:00 to 9:00 pm every day; entry is free. You might have to pay to leave your shoes at the entrance, though. But remember to keep your socks on; the marble floor can get hot in the sun. The Science Museum is open 10:30 am to 8:00 pm every day; entry is Rs. 100. Tickets to the planetarium are also Rs. 100; a combined ticket for the museum and planetarium is Rs. 160. Shows at the planetarium are in English (11:30 am, 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm), Telugu (12:15, 3:00, 5:00 and 6:45 pm) and Hindi (7:30 pm).
Lunch around Naubat Pahad
Since you’ll be in the middle of the city, you’ll have lots of lunch options to choose from. At the bottom of the hill on the western side is Kamat Hotel, famous for it’s basic but tasty South Indian vegetarian food. On the other side, there’s Ohri’s Cuisine Court, ground zero for Hyderabad’s largest chain of restaurants; and The Blue Diamond, an old Indo-Chinese restaurant and a Hyderabadi institution. A little further away is The Waterfront that serves global cuisine with a nice lake view; and Bidri in the Mariott Hotel serves fine Hyderabadi food.
Afternoon: Lake cruise to the Buddha statue
After lunch, take a leisurely cruise on the lake. That’ll also let you see the Buddha statue, supposedly the tallest monolithic statue of Buddha in the world. If you wait until dark, you’ll also see it illuminated, with the lights of the Tank Bund (the lake’s dam) behind. And if you’re there on a Sunday, you might even be able to take a stroll on the Tank Bund; the government’s been experimenting with closing it to traffic on Sunday evenings.
Lake cruises and water sports can be booked from Lumbini Park; the park is open 9:00 am to 9:00 pm on all days, and entry is Rs. 20 per adult and Rs. 10 per child. Boat timings are 10:30 am to 8:00 pm, and fare varies from Rs. 35 to Rs. 350 depending on which boat you take. Only the ‘mechanized boat’ lets you get off at the statue; tickets are Rs. 55 and Rs. 35 for adults and children respectively.
Eating out in Hyderabad
There are lots of good places to eat in Hyderabad, with plenty of different cuisines from across India and Asia to choose from. Middle Eastern and Italian food is also becoming more popular. But the local Hyderabadi and Telugu cuisines are still the most popular, of course.
Of all the things to eat in Hyderabad, the city is most famous for its biryani. For those not in the know, biryani is a dish of rice and meat cooked together, and is different from the seemingly-similar pulao/pilaf. Hyderabadi cuisine, in general, is rich, fragrant and meaty, and has its origins in the cuisines of Persia and Afghanistan.
But that doesn’t mean the city has nothing to offer vegetarians. On the contrary, vegetarians in Hyderabad are spoiled for choice.
The local Telugu cuisine, on the other hand, has its origins in the areas surrounding Hyderabad. Fiery and flavourful, this cuisine has a huge variety of vegetarian, meat and seafood dishes. If you’ve not tried Telugu food before, make sure you follow the locals’ example and finish your meal with some curd and rice to douse the flames.
Shopping in Hyderabad
The main shopping district of Hyderabad is traditionally Abids Road (the ‘A’ is pronounced like in ‘apple’), but there are other places you can go for souvenirs. Laad Bazaar, also called chudi bazaar (‘bangle market’), is just off Charminar, and is famous for its traditional laquerware. And its crowds. The area around Charminar is also known for its affordable pearls. Just make sure you know how to spot the real thing.
The Shilparamam crafts village in Hitech City features traditional handicrafts from all over the country. Kalanjali is known for its high-end traditional clothes and handicrafts; while the APCO Cottage Industries Emporium stocks affordable clothes and linen, all made from the traditional hand-woven ikat textile.
Hyderabad’s nightlife is mostly centered around Jubilee Hills and Hitech City; there’s been an explosion in craft breweries and lounges on road numbers 36 and 45 in Jubilee Hills over the last few years. If you’re not sure of where to go, going brewery-hopping on road number 45 will let you sample what’s on offer.
For nightlife of a different kind, head to the Charminar during the month of Ramzan (Ramadan). You’ll experience a riot of lights, street food and shopping that goes on until late at night.
Also read: IQ’s veg review: Olive Bistro
Other activities in Hyderabad
Besides the heritage, food and shopping trails, Hyderabad has other ways to keep visitors happy. If you’re looking for adventure sports in Hyderabad, thecheck out the GoKart tracks at Runway 9 and the airport (RGIA). The Jalavihar water park is a good place to cool off if the heat gets to you; and so is Snow World, an indoor frozen landscape with artificial snow! The Wonderla theme park can take you for any number of rides (ha ha). And if you’re a space explorer at heart, you can check out a show at the BM Birla Planetarium. There’s no end of activities you can add to your Hyderabad itinerary.
Where to stay in Hyderabad
Being a big city, Hyderabad naturally has lots of accommodation options, from five-star hotels down to very basic lodges. What it doesn’t really have, though, is the travellers’ hostels that are common in tourist hotspots. Search for ‘hostels’ in Hyderabad, and you’ll instead find lots of places that are targeted at working professionals, and which rent out shared rooms on a monthly basis. Luckily, Hyderabad is waking up to AirBnB, and you can find some very affordable deals there. OYO Rooms also has affordable rooms all over the city.
Planning a visit? Here’s a list of hotels in Hyderabad on TripAdvisor.