The Best things to do in Lucknow - Attractions, Food and Shopping
Lucknow has been my hometown for the last few years. And while at first, I felt a sense of indifference, in recent years I have started to admire this city.
During my childhood years, I remember going to the busiest part of Lucknow to buy clothes for the festive season. It was overwhelming. The small alleys, the cloisters opening up to the local vendors selling bright female accessories. Not to forget the smoke coming out of chaat shops and the smell of kebabs just hanging in the air as you walk past them.
But the thing that I like (and sometimes dislike) about Lucknow is that it is slow. If you need to run errands you need to take out at least half a day. But you will be entertained. Random people will not shy away from asking you your age, marital status, education, food preferences and yes, the weather. If you can go along with it is quite fun.
Two popular phrases that you will hear or see often in Lucknow are “muskaraye ap Lucknow me hai” translating to ‘smile just because you are in Lucknow’. I guess one doesn’t need a reason to do that. The other one is “pehle aap” translating to ‘you first’ that is also a practice of extending one’s hospitality before self. It is charming in practice, really!
Anyway, if you are a tourist, there is much to do. It is an old city that has a lot of offer when it comes to history, architecture, food and shopping. Here is a local’s guide for everything you need to know to visit Lucknow.
A Brief History of Lucknow
Lucknow has had several names – Laxmanpura, Lakshmanpuri, Lakhanpur & Lakhanmau. In fact, to some extent, Lucknow is the namesake of ‘Laxman’, brother of Lord Rama, the king of Ayodhya who passed on his kingdom to him.
Since the 14th century, Lucknow and the surrounding areas of Awadh changed hands through rulers of Delhi sultanate, sharqi sultanate, Mughal Empire, Nawabs of Awadh to its present state. In 1720, the Mughals appointed nawabs to maintain a smooth and peaceful administration.
The city prospered under them with a special inclination towards art, architecture, food, agriculture, dance and music. Most monuments that you see today were built during this time, greatly influenced by Islamic and Awadhi architectural styles.
Lucknow lost its political importance that shifted towards Allahabad (or today’s Prayagraj) under the British Empire. The city was reinstated as the capital in 1947 at the time of independence of the country.
Top places to visit in Lucknow
If you are planning to visit Lucknow this will probably be your first place to visit. Bara Imambarah or Asif Imambarah was initially an important place to worship for the Muslims. The grand hall (that was once the largest hall in the world) was the place of gathering for most Muslim festivals.
Bada Imambara’s premise contains the Asfi Mosque, a maze called Bhool Bhulaiya and Bowli – a step well with running water. Bara Imambarah was created under the times of Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula. The construction for Imambarah was started in 1784 and it took almost 14 years to build it. Some people also say that the building was built to provide employment to the locals during the time of famine.
As you enter the premises and cross over the gardens to the main building, you can evaluate the scale and time it has travelled through. I admit it could be taken care of better than that. But it is Islamic architecture at its best that has amalgamated with Rajput and Gothic architecture over time. Some passageways lead to the rooftop that gives a fantastic view of the city, especially in the evening.
An interesting fact about the structure is that it’s completely made on bricks interlocking system and is standing without on any pillars. They also did not use any metal or wood in construction. Another astonishing fact about the Bhool Bhulaiya is that it has 1024 ways to go inside but just 2 to go out. I recommend you to go with guides only.
Bara Imambara timings: 6:00 am – 5:00 pm from Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Monday.
Bara Imambara ticket price: ₹50 for Indian citizens and ₹INR 300 for foreign travellers. The ticket also includes Chota Imambara, Picture Gallery and Shahi Hamam. A guide starts at ₹150 depending upon the group size.
Naturally, this will be your second preference to visit also due to the proximity. This is another remarkable place created by the third Nawab Muhammad Ali Shah. Contrary to Bada Imambara, this place is in better condition. In fact, due to its extravagant decorations, the Europeans also called it the ‘Palace of Lights’ in the 19th century.
This place especially comes to life during the time of Muharram and acts as a congregation hall for Shia Muslims. You can attribute the architecture to Indo-Islamic style with heavy Persian influences. The windows particularly pop out with conical arches and decorated with Arabic calligraphy.
Visit this place with a lot of time in hand to admire the artwork and calligraphy in the interiors of the monument. The tainted glass Persian style chandeliers and the elaborate artefacts in its halls aren’t something you will find so easily these days.
There are also small structures inside the complex. This includes a tomb of Princess Zinat Asiya, a smaller replica of Taj Mahal, a watchtower, a treasury and more.
Bara Imambara timings: 8:00 am – 6:30 pm from Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Monday.
Chota Imambara ticket price: ₹50 for Indian citizens and ₹INR 300 for foreign travellers. The ticket is included in that of Bada Imambada. A guide starts at ₹200 depending upon the group size.
The British Residency is another important milestone in the history of Lucknow. It is perhaps the only colonial structure that you will visit on your travel. As the name goes the British residency was the home to British resident general in the court of the nawabs. As the power of East India Company grew after their victory in the battle of Buxar, this became a seat of power in the Awadh region.
However, it is not the grandeur you see but the downfall you witness here. The residency collapsed in 1857 during the Indian rebellion after the locals put it under siege. This came by since the locals were forced to use animal fat (from pig and cow). This goes against the deep-rooted religious beliefs of both Hindus and Muslims. Several Englishmen took refuge here and died.
As you walk into the ruins via the trimmed gardens, you can only imagine its grandeur. The architecture is an eclectic mix of traditional Awadhi with Islamic touches (and a mosque) in the premises. You can also clearly make out some Gothic European elements with a rather detailed cross in the garden and marble fountains inside the ruins. Some say that the place had regular light and sound shows in the evening.
Since it is an open space, avoid exploring on a hot day. Evenings are much better. No guides are available to show you around. It is located opposite to Bada Imambara.
British Residency Entrance Fee: ₹20 for Indian Nationals, ₹200 for foreign tourists
British Residency Opening Hours: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Rumi Darwaza is the poster-child of Lucknow. You can pretty much make out from its name that is a just a gateway (Darwaza = door). But if you stand up close you will have to lengthen your neck far back to see the whole of it. Just look at the tiny humans near the gate!
Rumi Darwaza is often called a Turkish gate. That is due to its resemblance with a gateway in Istanbul (ancient Constantinople) called Bab-i-Humayun. The architecture although is significant of the Awadhi silhouette that became so significant that you can also find it one Lucknow metro logo!
Like many other’s Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula commissioned this gate to provide employment to his people in the time of need. During a famine, the Nawab provided food for people in exchange for the labour to make this structure. Since resources were scarce, this gate was built out of bricks and lime instead of the regular marble and sandstone.
You can find this gate on the way from Bada Imambara to Chota Imambara. Make a stop to take some photos. Earlier you could reach to the top using a staircase. But it’s not open to tourists anymore.
Devashareef or ‘Deva’ is situated in Barabanki, that is approximately 30km away from Lucknow city. Dweashareef is an important Dargah (a shrine that dedicates to a revered Sufi saint) and a pilgrimage for many. It was made in the honor of the great Haji Waris Ali Shah, the founder of the Warsi Sufi order.
People from all regions and cultural backgrounds travel far to pay their respects at the Dargah. A fair called ‘Deva Mela’ also takes place in the month of October-November near the shrine for 10 days to celebrate local, music, art, poetry and athletics.
Lucknow Mahotsava is a grand carnival that the local authorities organize to promote the indigenous cultural heritage of Lucknow. The carnival goes on for up to 10 days. Apart from recreational rides, there are food stalls selling local cuisines, local handicraft shops, furniture, traditional clothes, artificial jewellery and a lot more.
Every night there is a series of performances from traditional Kathak dance (native to Lucknow), local dramas, sarangi and sitar performances, gazals and poetry, qawalis and thumris. The aim is to recreate the glamour from the days of Nawabs and keep the native crafts alive.
If you happen to be in town during this time, keep all your plans aside for this. The dates shift every year (check online) but it usually during the early days of winters. The venue is called Lucknow Mahotsava Sthal in Ashiyana.
Parks worth visiting in Lucknow
Ambedkar Memorial Park
A former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh built the Ambedkar Memorial Park (with rather controversial accusations of unwise spending of public money). The most astounding characteristic of the park is its size and scale. Even if you are not entering the park, the borders can accompany you for several kilometres.
The park consists of a huge stupa at its heart along with snippets from Buddha’s life. Around it, you will find several statues of Dalit leaders (Dalit refers to a section of the oppressed community in the caste system). The park is an ode to these individuals who have devoted their life for the fight against social inequality.
You will also find a series of elephants inside the park that were more of a significance of the political party themselves. The whole place is built in sandstone from Rajasthan. I suggest you head to this place during the cooler hours or the heat from the sandstones will ruin the experience.
Ambedkar Memorial Park timings: Open from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm every day of the week.
Janeshwar Mishra Park
The Park is the namesake of Pandit Janeshwar Mishra. Another Chief Minister of yet another Political party built this park (political parties in Uttar Pradesh sure love to spend public money on parks). The park is all the way on the other side of Old Lucknow (where most heritage buildings are).
But for what it’s worth, the park is lovely with facilities that come rarely in this part of the country. The most striking feature is its reservoir that has also become a centre ground for a small ecosystem of plants, birds and insects. During winters you may also spot Siberian cranes, spotted flamingos and pelicans.
As for tourists, you can rent a bicycle and ride around the designated track. The park is popular with joggers and early morning walkers too. A boat ride is also available but you will have to search that up. There is also a small food court inside the park.
Janeshwar Mishra Park timings: 5:00 am to 10:00 pm
Gautam Buddha Park
Unlike the other two, this park has been around for a long time in Lucknow and much smaller in size. Also, it is close to Bada Imambara, so it is pretty easy to access if you are in Old Lucknow for the day.
If you are in the area by evening and want to relax to end your day, you can stop by and sit out in the garden. There is a boat ride available somewhat like a ‘lazy river’ using canals making its way around the park. There are several street vendors outside the park to get those tasty Lucknowi snacks. But that’s pretty much it.
Gautam Buddha Park timings: 8:00 am to 8:00 pm
Anandi and Amrapali Water Park
I am guilty of frequenting these fancy little place when I was a kid. It was newly built and well, I had never seen a water park before. Anyway, I would still go back. This is both a water park and a resort, so you can stay back if you want and wish to splurge.
The rides are quite mild and most of the pools are shallow. There is a wave pool too. Tubes are also available. The food prices are expensive if you compare to what you get outside. Anyway, it is a great place for kids, especially during the summers. Services are not world-class but pretty decent.
Amrapali water park ticket Price: ₹600 per adult, ₹800 with food / ₹400 per child, ₹600 with refreshments
Markets in Lucknow
A lot of people come to Lucknow to shop. The local markets are especially enticing for women looking for traditional Indian wear that includes indo-western, salwar kameez, sarees and Indian wedding wear.
The other thing you may be looking at is food. The nawabs were well known for their royal kitchen. A heavy Persian influence on the local food has created dishes that are unique only to the city and you probably will not find them anywhere else. For both these, check these markets out.
Hazratganj is the most upscale market in Lucknow. The streets are wide and parking space is available nearby. The main road has a series of elegant local shops and international brands that sell Indian ethnic wear, shoes, luggage, bags, books, tailoring and a lot more. It is also a great place to stay with premium hotels and restaurants.
Talking about food, Hazratganj is also home to some iconic eateries in Lucknow. You should make a stop at the Royal Café and Moti Mahal for snacks. Royal Café is particularly popular for its basket chat and Moti Mahal for Daulat ki chaat and other sweet products native to this region. If you are craving for some south Indian you can head to Curry Leaf.
Timings and transportation: Haratganj Market is closed on Sundays. You can also reach Hazratganj via Lucknow Metro by getting down at Hazratganj station.
Aminabad is the city’s oldest market that has been around since the times of nawabs and very much infused with the local flavours. The downside is it is extremely congested, so not everyone looks forward to visiting this place. If you aren’t used to bustling Indian markets, I will suggest you consider a local’s company.
You get everything related to household products in Aminabad. Look out for utensils, art and craft supplies, homeware, soft furnishings like curtains and bedsheets, new and second-hand books, artificial jewellery, makeup, local handicraft and a lot more. You will also find a diverse variety of Chikan embroidery garments along with Indian ethnic wear (both men and women).
It is also the place where Tunday Kebab (the iconic Lucknow kebab shop) first opened. You can literally ask anyone on the street for their directions. Other great places to eat are Alamgir hotel, Wahid Biryani, Kalika Chat House and Dayal Kulfi.
Timings and transportation: Aminabad market closes on Thursday. You cannot take your vehicle inside the market because it is extremely crowded. Instead, park it way before and take a rickshaw or walk your way through.
Chowk is another old market similar to Aminabad. But since it is nearer to Bada Imambada, you can easily include in your day out. This market is particularly popular for affordable Chikan Kadai work. You will find a rather large range of products and colours to choose from. Another native product of Lucknow is Itr (a strong perfume from natural products) is available here if your nose has the flair for it.
Timings: This market closes on Thursdays.
Other popular markets are located in Gomtinanagar, Indiranagar, Boothnath and Alambagh
Food in Lucknow
I know you must have heard about this a lot till now. But if you eat meat, you need to try this. The kababs were first made by a royal cook himself upon the demand to make kababs that would melt in the mouth. That’s what you get. These are Galouti kababs typically had with Rumali Rotis.
Tunday Kababi’s original shop is in Aminabad (go there if you can) but there are branches almost in every neighbourhood in Lucknow. But if you have knocked this off your list you can also head to Dastakhwan for Boti Kababs, Naushijaan in Hazratganj, Shammi kababs at Sakhawat Restaurant and then there are several street-side restaurants almost everywhere in Lucknow.
The next thing that you cannot miss in Lucknow is its Biryani. I will not say it is best in the world (Hyderabad is at par) but it is something that you will never forget. Apart from the spices, there are additional flavours (maybe of saffron and sometimes citric fruits) that are Persian influences. Also, it is less spicy (if you dislike a runny nose).
While chaat remains a favourite Indian evening snack, have you ever tried eating its container? The basket chaat is unique because you eat everything… everything! The container or basket is made out of sev (another snack). It is compressed so densely so that it can hold all the contents inside.
It is like eating flavoured air. This is a light fluffy product like yoghurt, slightly sweet flavoured with saffron. Also called as Daulat ki Chaat or Nimiash, this is a delicacy that you will get only during the winter months.
While you can find it at several sweet shops especially in the Chowk area, I will suggest you head to Moti Mahal in Hazratganj. Apart from Makkhan Malai there are other winter dishes like Gajar ka halwa and moong ka halwa that you will find there during winters.
Another favourite of people with a sweet tooth is Prakash Kulfi. This is a milk product with flavours of fennel and saffron. Plus it comes with something called falooda (milky strands and jelly-like vermicelli). For me it is a tad bit it too sweet, but you can always share a plate with someone else. Prakash Kulfi shop is located in Aminabad, Alambagh and many other places.
Where to Stay in Lucknow
If you are a tourist and visiting Lucknow for the first time the most convenient place to stay is Hazratganj. The area is upscale with shopping complex and fantastic restaurants. However, the hotels here are on the premium side. You can also access Hazratganj by Lucknow metro.
Other than that Gomtinanagar and Indiranagar are great places to stay as well. Gomtinagar especially has a wide range of hotels to select from and suits well for corporate stays since most offices are located in the area.
Other popular places are Charbagh, Ashiyana and Alambagh but both Charbagh and Alambagh are prone to overcrowding.
I will not suggest living near old Lucknow since traffic jams are common and the street could be narrow for four-wheelers.
Here are some of the places that you may like:
How to reach Lucknow
Flight: Lucknow is well connected with all state-capitals in northern India and most metro cities India. You can find regular flights from Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai. Lucknow also has international flights to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and other destinations to middle-east.
Chaudhary Charan Singh International or Amausi Airport is located 15km from the city centre. You can easily get a cab (or an Ola cab) just outside the airport that will cost 300-350 to the city centre. The Lucknow Metro also connects the airport that runs a direct line to the city centre (Hazratganj and Indiranagar). It is the fastest and most affordable way to travel.
Bus: Lucknow has great connectivity by state bus with all cities in Uttar Pradesh till New Delhi. You can also find sleeper/Deluxe buses. With recently built highways, the journey will be a smooth ride. If you are going unplanned, you can catch a bus to any destination from Alambagh bus stand ISBT.
You can also book your bus well ahead in time with private services via redbus.in. Note that their bus starts and ends at different locations (and not at the main bus stop). So make sure you are aware of the boarding points. Ladies travelling solo should avoid taking overnight buses in the region.
Train: With a fantastic train network, Lucknow has no scarcity of trains running to all major cities, especially to New Delhi. If you are travelling a short distance, you can book a Chair Car (very comfortable).
There are two stations in Lucknow – Badi line or Big line (station code LKO) and Choti line or small line (station code LJN). These are located right next to each other. I will suggest you check beforehand which station your train will arrive on or ask a porter at the station. The station is located in Charbagh, 3km from the bus stand.
Travelling around Lucknow? Also, check out our blog post of the best places to visit in Varanasi
How to go around in Lucknow
Day tour: Since Lucknow is not primarily a tourist town, you will hardly find any infrastructure for it. Unlike several other places, small tour and travel shops offering a day tour are rare to come by. It is best if you chalk out an itinerary of your own and convey this to your driver.
You can book a cab for a full day if you want to travel in comfort or are with a group or family. A full day cab will cost you from ₹1,200 and upwards depending upon the vehicle. You can pre-book a cab online on lucknowcabs.com or lucknowtaxiwala.com. You can also book a full day cab using the Ola app.
Cabs: Moving cabs are easily available in the city. But you cannot just wave at one. However, you can book them on phone using both Ola and Uber app. The prices are fair but sometimes difficult to get at remote locations. Outstation cabs are also available.
Metro: Lucknow finished its first metro line recently and it makes life very easy for a lot of people. The currently operating red line connects some very important neighbourhoods in Lucknow. However, the old part of Lucknow still remains untouched. The closest metro station to that area is IT College Jn. Living near the metro line can make your life somewhat easier.
Rickshaw: The rickshaw scene in Lucknow is complicated. It’s not that you can take a rickshaw to someplace with a fixed price. The rickshaws can range from a shared rickshaw (called Vikram), electric rickshaw, paddle rickshaw (pulled by a man) and auto-rickshaw.
Shared rickshaws run on designated routes with a fixed price that is usually far cheaper. You can hear the drivers calling out for destinations but they will really squeeze in a lot of people. You can take the other kind as a personal transport. Make sure you negotiate a price before you get in.
The best time to visit Lucknow is during Spring (February and early March) and Autumn (September – November). The sky is usually clear and the temperature hovers just below 30°C. Mornings and evenings are especially lovely.
Both winters (December – January) and summers (April – August) are harsh in Lucknow. While winters bring fog and room heating is almost absent in the area, summers are scorching hot. Heatwaves are also common. Try and avoid these times.
Deepawali, Holi and Id-ul-Fitr are other popular times to visit Lucknow. As a food haven, the streets come alive during Ramadan and Id as the Muslim community break their fast and feast on mind-blowing food for iftar. Everyone is invited, of course.