Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi, India
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The ULTIMATE Varanasi 2-Day Itinerary – All You Need To Know

Looking for the ultimate Varanasi 2-day itinerary? You’ve come to the right place! 

Varanasi is the holiest city in India, known for its chaotic atmosphere and unique open-air cremations that attract thousands of visitors every day.

The open-air cremations are the main attraction in this colourful city, but there are so many other incredible things to do in Varanasi, including a beautiful river cruise and wandering through ornate Hindu temples. 

Even though it was one of the busiest cities I visited in India, it was also one of the most magical and spiritual places I’ve ever been.

I left Varanasi with a feeling that I can’t quite describe and I 100% believe it is a must-see and should be added to your India itinerary (I can’t wait to go back one day).

So, what’s included in this Varanasi 2-day Itinerary

Read on below to find out! 

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Prepare for your trip to Varanasi

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About this 2-Day Varanasi Itinerary 

This 2-day Varanasi Itinerary was formed from the exact itinerary I followed on my 2-days in Varanasi and it looks a little something like this: 

Day 1
  • Sunrise Boat Tour 
  • River Walk 
  • Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple
  • Ganga Arti
  • Ghat – Cremations 
Day 2 
  • Sunrise Arti 
  • Explore the back streets 
  • Visit Kaal Bhairav Mandir
  • Sunset Boat Tour 

This 2-day itinerary for Varanasi is jam-packed and you could easily turn it into a 3-day Varanasi itinerary for those who want to take things at a slower pace.  

Looking for more India inspiration? Check out my other guides here.

Day 1 

Stop 1 – Sunrise Boat Tour 

Stop 1 on Day 1 of this Varanasi itinerary will see you going on a beautiful sunrise boat tour along the river Ganges. 

Head down to the banks of Assi Ghat just before sunrise where you will find plenty of boats looking for customers. 

For the ultimate river experience, I recommend hiring a row boat as it’s a lot more peaceful and calming than a powered boat. 

The price of a boat ride will normally depend on how far you want to go down the river. 

I would suggest asking the coxswain to take you all the way down to 

Manikarnika Ghat and back. 

Manikarnika Ghat is the main ghat where the famous open-air cremations take place in Varanasi  

The cremations happen 24/7 and I think it’s important to see this ghat both during the day and at night for a juxtaposed view. 

If you are someone who likes to prepare ahead of time then I would suggest booking this tour

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Stop 2 –  Riverwalk along the Ganges 

After your sunrise boat tour ends, it will still be fairly early in the morning so you might decide to head back to your accommodation for a bit or grab an early breakfast. 

Whatever you decide to do, Stop 2 on this 2-day Varanasi itinerary will involve a river walk along the Ganges.

There are approximately 88 ghats along the Ganges in Varanasi. 

Ghats are essentially points along the river where there are a set of stairs. 

Walking along the different ghats was actually my favourite thing to do in Varanasi. 

The vibrant atmosphere along the river will engage all your senses, making it a perfect experience for those who enjoy people-watching. 

I recommend starting at Assi Ghat and making your way down to at least Dashashwamedh Ghat

I definitely think I could have spent a whole day doing this activity. 

Stop 3 – Visit the Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple

The Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple is the most popular visited temple in Varanasi and is a must-visit on this 2-day Varanasi itinerary. 

The temple is often referred to as the  Golden Temple and its completely dedicated to the Lord Shiva who is the god of destruction. 

It was constructed in 1780 by the Maratha monarch, Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of the Indore.

The temple is free to enter or you can hire a guide for as little as ₹200.

Stop 4 – Ganga Aarti 

One of the most magical things you can do in Varanasi on this 2-day Itinerary is to watch a Ganga Arti ceremony. 

An Arti ceremony is essentially a ceremony of light and is a prayer of gratitude to God that helps to remove evil. 

The arti ceremony involves waving lit wicks in front of sacred images to fill the flames with the Deities’ (gods and goddesses) love, energy, and blessings. Sadhus (Hindu monks) and pujaris (temple attendants) perform this ritual.

There are two main evening Arti ceremonies in Varanasi. 

The main and largest Arti takes place at Dashashwamedh Ghat and will start at either 7 pm (in summer) or 6 pm (in winter). 

As this is the most popular Arti ceremony it can get extremely packed so I would recommend heading down a little earlier so that you can get a good spot, and actually see what’s going on during the ceremony. 

If you are after something a little more relaxed and less crowded then you can head to Maharaja Harishchandra Ghat to watch the Arti ceremony there which usually starts around 6:30 pm. 

It’s important to note that open-air cremations also take place at this ghat but on a much smaller scale than at Manikarnika Ghat.

Stop 5 – Visit Manikarnika Ghat

One of the most powerful moments for me during my 2-days in Varanasi was seeing the open-air cremations at night. 

There was something hauntingly beautiful about seeing the pockets of fire lit up in the dark of the night. 

Many guides will be hanging around near the ghat who will be able to tell you all about the significance of the ceremony and what happens before, during and after the cremations take place. 

This is really interesting to learn about and all they will ask you for is a small tip so I think it’s worth it. 

This is one of the most unique experiences you’ll probably ever have in your life.

Day 2 

Stop 1 – Morning Arti at Assi Ghat 

Day 2 of this 2-day Varanasi itinerary involves another early start. 

Head down to Assi Ghat in the morning to watch the sunrise Arti Ceremony which begins around 5:30 am. 

This is another opportunity to witness a beautiful Arti ceremony but this time during the light of day. 

Alternatively, if you feel that you experienced enough of the Arti ceremony from the previous evening, then I’d say that you can give yourself a little lie-in.

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Stop 2 – Explore the back streets of Varanasi 

One of the best things to do in Varanasi is to explore the backstreets. 

Exploring the backstreets of Varanasi is a must for anyone wanting to experience the real city. 

These narrow lanes are full of life, showing you how locals live and their traditions. 

You’ll find lively markets, hidden temples, and artisans at work. 

The backstreets also offer a peaceful escape from the busy main areas, letting you see the true charm and soul of Varanasi away from the usual tourist spots. 

Stop 3 – Visit Kaal Bhairav Mandir

The Kaal Bhairav Temple is located in the Visheshwarganj area of Varanasi. 

It is a shrine dedicated to Kaal Bhairav, which is a fierce form of Lord Shiva. 

This temple is an important spiritual site for Hindus where worshippers come to seek blessings and protection.

There is no entrance fee to enter the temple.

Stop 4 – Sunset Boat Tour 

Another one of my favourite activities on this 2-day Varanasi itinerary has to be a sunset boat tour down the river Ganges to see Varanasi from a unique perspective as the sun sets. 

Much like the sunrise cruise, you can head down to Assie Ghat to grab a boat or you can book ahead here.

You’ll get to see the Dashashwamedh Ghat Arti from the water (which means you can avoid the crowds) but the best bit is that you will be able to witness Manikarnika Ghat (the main cremation ghat) at night from the riverside. 

This is a really unique perspective that looks very different to what you would have seen of Manikarnika Ghat on day 1 of this itinerary.

You can see how incredible it looks in the picture below.

Have more time? 

Day Trip to Sarnath 

If you have a little spare time in Varanasi then another great spot to visit is Sarnath. 

Sarnath is just a 30-minute drive out of the city. 

Whilst Varanasi and most of India are predominantly Hindu, Sarnath is an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists. 

Sarnath is said to be the location where Lord Buddha is said to have given his first sermon after achieving enlightenment (nirvana). 

Book your day trip to Sarnath here

Varanasi Food Tour 

If you want to do something a little different with your evenings in Varanasi then I recommend booking a food tour. 

This is a great way to explore the city with a local guide and try out some of THE BEST food in town. 

How to get to Varanasi 

You can travel to Varanasi by flight, train and bus. 

Flight 

The main airport in Varanasi is the Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport. It is located about an hour from central Varanasi and a taxi will cost you around ₹800-₹1000. 

Alternatively, there is a smaller domestic-only airport located 3.5 hours from Varanasi called Prayagraj Airport. You might find that you can get cheaper flights in and out of this airport. 

A taxi from Prayagraj should cost around ₹2500-₹3000.

Train

If you are using the train as your main mode of transport around India you will be pleased to know that there are 3 train stations located close to Varanasi City. 

The primary station is Varanasi Junction.

  • Varanasi Junction Railway Station (BSB)
  • Banaras railway station (BSBS)
  • Kashi Railway Station (KEI)

To get more information on possible routes and train times click here

Bus 

Personally, I found using the overnight buses the best way to get around India. 

You can travel by bus to Varanasi from places such as Agra and Delhi. 

You can check out the overnight bus links to and from Varanasi on Redbus.com.

I recommend trying to book transport with the “Mahalaxmi” bus service as of their buses are ‘luxury’ and also come with nice clean toilets. 

Where to stay in Varanasi 

I recommend staying in the Assi Ghat area in Varanasi. 

It’s super central so you are close to all of the best things to do in town. 

Some of the top places I recommend are: 

Where to eat in Varanasi 

Some of the best restaurants in Varanasi include: 

Apart from these recommendations, I would suggest trying the small local restaurants dotted around the city centre for the most authentic Indian food experience.

If you have enough time I recommend booking a food tour to experience some of the best places to eat in Varanasi from a locals perspective. 

FAQ’s on Varanasi 

Is Varanasi Safe for Solo Female Travellers? 

I felt fairly safe in Varanasi as a solo female traveller however it’s not without its downsides. 

You can read my comprehensive guide to staying safe as a solo female traveller in Varanasi here

What is Varanasi famous for?

Varanasi is famous for its open-air cremations.

Why is Varanasi called the city of death?

Hindus from all over India fly their dead relatives to Varanasi so that they can be cremated here. 

These cremations are open-air and open to the public, meaning you can witness these cremations for yourself. 

This is why it’s often referred to as the city of death.

Are 2 days enough for Varanasi?

Yes, I think 2-3 days in Varanasi is more than enough. 

The city is very chaotic and busy, which means it can be quite overwhelming at times if it’s not something you’re used to. 

2-days in Varanasi will allow you to see the best of what Varanasi has to offer. 

Are Kashi and Varanasi the same?

Yes, Varanasi and Kashi are both names to refer to the same place. 

Kashi is the more traditional and cultural name of the city, whereas Varanasi is the official name used on legal documents etc. 

Should I try a Bhang Lassi in Varanasi?

Bhang Lassi is a milkshake-like drink infused with the leaves of the cannabis plant. 

This is legal and readily available in a lot of local food establishments. 

The Bhang Lassi’s in Varanasi is known to be some of the most potent in India ( I didn’t find this out until after the fact). 

Now, I’m not your mum and I’m not going to tell you to not try it. 

You’re a responsible adult and can make that decision for yourself. 

HOWEVER, if you do try it make sure you are in a group with people you trust.

I tried this (with other backpackers from my hostel) and I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. 

I was expecting a light and gentle drink, but It was super strong.

It hit me like a truck and I was hallucinating on and off for 4 hours.

I did not enjoy it one bit, and wouldn’t get another one ever again! 

So do this one at your own risk. 

Happy Exploring

I hope you enjoy exploring Varanasi on this 2-day Varanasi itinerary.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

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