My hometown of Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh and one of the biggest cities in India, is often called the "city of pearls" because of its long history as a pearl processing and trading hub. Starting in the 14th century, the area was ruled by four successive Islamic kingdoms. Their influence remains highly visible in the beautiful Indo-Islamic architecture and monuments and the mouth-watering local delicacies, including Hyderabadi biryani, which is in and of itself a reason to visit the city. A rich dish brimming with aromatic spices and layered with vegetables or meats (or sometimes both), our version is so popular across India that many stop over just for a taste. I recommend trying several variations while in Hyderabad, from mutton and chicken to vegetarian.
—G.N. Subrahmanyam, Hyderabad native and tour guide with Kensington Tours
Where to Eat
Aish, The Park Hotel
The opulent interiors at the Park Hotel's Aish restaurant set the tone for an elegant menu. Try at least a few of the signature kebabs, which come in variations including achari mirch ka paneer, tandoori-baked paneer flavored with homemade chile pickles, and shikampuri kebab, a Hyderabadi classic featuring mutton wrapped around a spiced yogurt center.
22, Raj Bhavan Road
This sweets and snack shop serves a tempting array of chaat (savory snacks) like raj kachori, a crisp shell filled with various condiments, along with a plethora of sweets such as burfi, a confection made of sugar and condensed milk, and anjeer chikki, a sweet-savory bar of mixed nuts and dried fruit. Don't miss the famous pista launj, a pistachio pastry with a silver leaf topping.
6-3-190/2, Road 1
Banjara Hills (Opposite the Taj Banjara Hotel)
Generous portions and the use of just the right amount of spice make this institution a favorite among locals. The mutton biryani is one of the best in the city, and chicken dishes such as tandoori chicken are also standouts.
3-5-815 Old MLA Quarters Road
Firdaus, Taj Krishna Hotel
Carved wood, chandeliers, and the Taj Krishna's ornate pool create a lush backdrop for traditional Hyderabadi specialties including biryani and tender mutton curries, as well as classic desserts such as kulfi, a dense, creamy Indian ice cream, and double ka meetha, a hot bread-pudding-like dessert made with spices such as saffron and cardamom.
Taj Krishna Hotel, Road No. 1
Located in the Old City of Hyderabad, Hotel Shadab draws crowds with its traditional, succulent mutton biryani. Be prepared to wait for a table during the month of Ramadan, when locals flock to the restaurant for haleem, a hearty meat and ground wheat stew.
21 Madina Circle
High Court Road, Ghansi Bazaar
This wildly popular, terrace-top Mughlai restaurant is outfitted with tabletop grills that let you custom cook your own kebabs. The chile-marinated grilled prawns and zafrani fish (spiced fish kebabs) are especially good.
8-2-603/23/4, Road No. 10
Zehra Nagar, Banjara HIlls
Ohri's Nautanki Gali
This quirky restaurant is decorated to recall a noisy street and includes the folk-styled Nautanki theater, complete with graffiti, puppets, music, and a big panchayat tree in the middle of the restaurant. The casual eatery serves excellent chaat along with a popular and inexpensive buffet during lunch and dinner service.
Ohris Cyber pearl, Hitech City
Established in 1953, Paradise is one of the oldest biryani restaurants in Hyderabad. Their biryani is on the milder side, and servings are abundant—one order is large enough to feed three people.
Sarojini Devi Road, Paradise Circle
What to Do
Built by Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, in 1591 to commemorate the elimination of a plague epidemic and the founding of Hyderabad, this Islamic-style mosque is an icon of the city. With four towering arches and dramatic columns, Charminar is an impressive and beautiful sight. The surrounding neighborhood, also known as Charminar, is full of vendors and markets like the Laad Bazaar, known for its jewelry. It's the perfect place to get lost and wander around for a few hours.
With its elaborate architecture and lavish gardens, fountains, and courtyards, the expansive Chowmahalla palace is a step back in time and a glimpse into the lives of India's 18th-century elite. Commissioned by the royal Nizam family in 1750, the palace took more than 100 years to build; thanks to this long span of construction, the architectural influences of Persian, Rajasthani, and European cultures are all evident. Chowmahalla translates to "four palaces"—chow means four and mahal means palace. All four palaces are located in the Southern courtyard, which is the oldest section of the grounds. Here, the period rooms feature the Nizams' extravagant furniture, clothing, and antique cars. Head to the northern courtyard next, where you can gawk at the opulent ceremonial hall.
This 16th-century fortress was once the capital of the eponymous state, as well as a world hub for the diamond trade (the famous Hope Diamond was produced from the neighboring mines). If time allows, stick around for the nightly sound and light show, which offers a narrated history of the ruins. Be prepared to do some hiking; the stunning views of the surrounding area are worth the effort.
Qutb Shahi Tombs
Located just a kilometer away from the Golkonda Fort are the tombs of Qutb Shahi rulers and royal family members. The monuments, made of carved stone, are astoundingly intricate, and the surrounding gardens are equally exceptional. While each tomb differs in style and grandeur, all are a testament to the workmanship and artistry of the Qutb Shahi period. Spend a leisurely hour or two making your way in and around the tombs and walking through the gardens.
Seven Tombs Colony, Shaikpet, Toli Chowki
Near Golkonda Fort
Buddha Statue in Hussain Sagar Lake
From afar, the Buddha Statue erected on Hussain Sagar lake might strike you as similar to the Statue of Liberty. That's because N. T. Rama Rao, who commissioned its construction, was inspired by a trip to New York in the 1980s. The result is the world's tallest monolith of Gautama Buddha. In dramatic fashion, the site suffered an accident during its installation in 1990, falling into the lake. After a successful re-installation, the statue can now be seen from the perimeter of the lake or up close, if you rent a boat.
Hussain Sagar Lake
2 km from Hyderabad Center
Where to Shop
Mangatrai Pearls and Jewelry
Have a chai and admire the stunning jewelry at this highly regarded pearl vendor, where you can get first dibs on the city's famous, freshly drilled pearls—or at least indulge in the fantasy.
Road No. 36
Jubilee Hills, Near Peddamma Temple
Located near Charminar and Chowmahalla Palace, Laad Bazaar is renowned for its jewelry, including pearls and colorful bangles, but you can find anything from perfume to sarees to cookware to coconuts. There are some great deals, if you know how to bargain. Navigate the market on foot or hire a rickshaw once you arrive.
Where to Drink
Claiming to be Hyderabad's first true cocktail bar, Lost Society prides itself on expertly prepared classics from the old fashioned to the Mai Tai to the martini, which they'll mix to your exact specifications.
1259/A/1, Road 36
10 Downing Street
One of the oldest nightspots in Hyderabad is popularly known as 10 D; period furniture, a polished wooden bar, and a pub-like feel explain the very English name. It's the place to go if you want to grab a pint, lounge on a Chesterfield, and catch up on some cricket.
Ground Floor, Lifestyle Building
The Royal Terrace or Hookah Lounge, Taj Falaknuma Palace Hotel
Housed in the actual home of a 19th-century royal, Falaknuma hotel offers an opulent and historic experience in and of itself. Retire to the aptly named Royal Terrace for cocktails and spectacular views of the twinkling lights of Hyderabad, or luxuriate in the candlelit, jasmine-scented hookah lounge.
Engine Bowli, Falaknuma Palace Road
Where to Stay
Taj Falaknuma Palace Hotel
Within walking distance of the city center and the beautiful Old City, the Taj Falaknuma was the 19th-century home of the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, and a stay here will make you feel like royalty. Upon arrival at the airport you will be whisked away in one of the hotel's Jaguars and taken to your room, where your private butler will be waiting to greet you. After washing off the travel grime, lounge in a silk robe while you plan your evening. Historic grandeur is evident throughout, from lavish dining and billiard rooms to the Jade Room and the Palace Library, modeled after the library at Windsor Castle.
Engine Bowli, Falaknuma Palace Road
Gateway Hotel, Vijayawada
Located in the center of Vijayawada, the Gateway Hotel features gorgeous views of the Krishna river and has the only swimming pool in the area. The many dining options include Bay Leaf, which features traditional Andhra cuisine with a fine dining touch.
Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh
Gateway Hotel, Visakhapatnam
This beach-front hotel offers stunning panoramic views of the Bay of Bengal, with amenities that include a golf-course, swimming pool, spa, and Ming Garden, the only Szechuan restaurant in the city. Visakhapatnam's many historic sites are within a few kilometers, making the property a convenient home base.
Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh
India Travel Tips
Planning an Authentic Trip
When it comes to getting the most out of a place, whether on vacation or reporting a story, we seek out people who know their stuff to guide us and give us a glimpse of the true heart of the place they call home.
A trip to India is guaranteed to be filled with unforgettable experiences and flavors, but there are certain things you should know before you go to make the most of your trip. Here's our advice on how to get there smoothly and hit the ground running once you land.
Best Guide Books
Traveling to India takes a bit of planning, which is why we've rounded up the best guide books and apps to help you navigate this vast and varied country.
Continue to Next Story