Visiting India: Rishikesh vs. Varanasi

Visiting India: Rishikesh vs. Varanasi

Two of the most iconic cities in Northern India, Rishikesh and Varanasi.  If you have the time in your itinerary, I say visit both.  We did and I don't regret it.  

Here are some of my thoughts as I put Rishikesh and Varanasi head-to-head in a variety of categories.



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Varanasi, India - Ultimate Guide to Eating with a View

The sacred city of Varanasi, India will equally enchant and frustrate any traveller.  Wandering through the winding streets, meeting the locals, drinking hot chai tea, and watching snake charmers; it can all build up to an overwhelm of the senses sending you running to the nearest rooftop to get away from it all and have a birds eye view of the craziness rather than a front row seat.  It's all normal.  A part of the synergy of this magical city.

We really enjoyed the rooftop restaurants in Varanasi and want to share some of our favorites, in hopes that you check them out too! 

Hotel Alka- Apex Ganges View Restaurant

Admittedly, we are a bit partial to this restaurant, as we spent seven nights at Hotel Alka and found it convenient to eat here. But, with that said, it’s a great restaurant worth a visit even if you aren’t staying at Alka. 

The view of the Ganges River over Meer Ghat (between Dashashwamedh and Manikarnika) is one of the best in town. You can choose between 10 tables in the main area (NOT a 7-story hike to get to, it’s on the same level as the hotel reception), two tables on a little balcony to the right with an amazing view up river, or head down two flights of stairs and sit at one of the three tables in their grassy courtyard also with a view. 

We thought their service was fast, and food flavorful. We sampled a little of everything on the menu, even the chop sui, but one of their stand-outs is their fresh squeezed orange juice and veg stuffed paratha. 

Prices are reasonable, especially for the size of the hotel and the view. The only real gripe I have is that they can’t seem to keep their wifi working (big surprise) which was massively disappointing considering we were staying here and could have really benefitted from having wifi for that week. 

Ganpati Guesthouse Restaurant

A popular spot because of guidebook reviews, we felt obligated to check out Ganpati, but unfortunately only made time for a quick visit for a chai and to kill 10 minutes before our music lessons.  Despite not eating here, we wanted to give it a mention because of the extensive menu and even more impressive view.  I’m pretty sure you have to pay for wifi use though. There are no shaded tables on the roof, so be warned in case it’s hot out.  It's adjacent to Hotel Alka, accessibly down a tiny little alley.

Brown Bread Bakery

There are two restaurants by the same name in the same alley. Knock-offs are common in India, so make sure you’re at the correct one. The real one has yummy desserts in the window, a charity-driven clothing shop on the ground floor and first floor, and the stairwell is lined with books, organic skincare products, and jewelry. Keep climbing several more flights to get up to their caged-in rooftop.

We prefer an open view rather than caged, but also appreciated the safety away from the threat of monkeys taking your food (something we surprisingly never encountered during our 9 days in Varanasi). 

One of our favorite things to do in India is eat Indian food, so visiting this restaurant, known for its western food and bread was a bit of a stretch for us. When studying their comprehensive menu I felt inclined to order pizza (several to choose from), and Nick got lasagna (something we wouldn’t normally do) and it was a welcome change from the morning/noon/night curry we had been having. 

Dolphin Restaurant at Rashmi Guesthouse-

I should mention first that this rooftop restaurant is up 7 flights of stairs. If you’re up for the hike, the view and the food is totally worth it. It sits back just a bit from the water , so theres a bit of a panorama feel. The restaurant is clean, and the chairs even hair cushions to encourage a bit of lingering (we spent about 3 hours here watching the day turn to night). They were extremely attentive to make sure their wifi was working, as it wasn’t when we first received the password. 

The food was good but not very spicy, probably served that way for our western palettes. Their kashmiri naan came with fresh fruit on top, and their banana split hit the spot!

Rooftop Restaurant at Shanti Inn

We happened upon this place by accident as we were walking along the ghats and became tired and hungry. Luckily there are signs down at the river or we would have never known about this gem. It’s set back from the river, but high atop the roof tops, giving way to our favorite view in Varanasi. A 270 degree view of the rooftops, river, and flying kites above the city made it worth the trek up the steps off the ghats and back 100-200 meters. We were pleasantly surprised to find they have an elevator that will take you from the bottom floor to the floor just below the restaurant, making the hike a little easier. 

Varanasi Restaurants

The restaurant feels more modern than most, with cushy bench seating, and nice wooden tables. They had a small stage where I’m guessing they have periodic classical music concerts. 

We had to specifically ask for the indian menu, as they have a vast selection of western food to choose from. We ordered a few Indian veg classics, along with egg biryani, and veg momos, around 100 rupees per dish. Their portion sizes were decent so we ended up with too much food. 

Other eats:

Ganga Fuji Restaurant

We heard about this place from a fellow traveler who showed us a flier for their nightly concert. The signs around the Meer Ghat area took us to the wrong Ganga Fuji, but they directed us to the right one. The restaurant is set on two floors, one just below ground level, one just above, and it’s totally closed in from the alleyway. 

Ganga Fuji Restaurant Varanasi

We appreciated the owners attentiveness to us and the other guests, sititng down with us, making special recommendations, and taking pride in the method of preparation for his delicious food. He recommended a few of his higher priced dishes, including a stuffed tomato that was amazing. The portion sizes are very small for 150 rupees each, so we managed to over-order and finish everything. 

The concert itself was lack luster at best. It was nice to have live music to listen to, but the tabla/flute duo played emotionless raga that really could only serve as background ambiance. We meant to go back to see their sitar and tabla duo, but never made it.

If you’ve got a few extra rupees to spare, I recommend a dinner here during the live music, but maybe skip it any other time. No wifi.

Shree Cafe

What a gorgeous little cafe tucked into the Manmandir alleyway just off the main Dashashwamedh road. The owner is a photographer who has displayed many of his beautiful photos of India all around the quaint little cafe. The prices are mid-range or a little higher. We opted to split the Shree Special Thali for 200 rupees, and we weren’t sorry. It had cashew/veg rice, with cashew curry, kashmiri and garlic naan, and even a sweet. A very delicious lunch indeed! Head here for easy sustenance if you’re in the area and enjoy a relaxing vibe.  


Do you have a favorite spot to eat in Varanasi? Or have you eaten at one of these places?  Let us know in the comments!

Planning your trip to India?  You might be interested in some of our other writings.  Check them out.

Our Suggested India Guidebooks


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Varanasi- and not trusting the locals.

I was just lecturing Nick about how we need to stay in control when dealing with locals.  How I want to be kind, but not allow them to sway me when I have a plan, or an idea of what I'm doing. In fact, Nick was unhappy with how I snapped at a nice local man while waiting for the train from Gaya to Varanasi, so that's how this came up. 

The sad truth is you have to be hard here. Kindness is quickly mistaken for interest and people will follow you for blocks trying to convince you to buy something. Just about everyone has an agenda here in India, especially if they approach you out of no where.

So when we arrived in Varanasi late at night and our auto rickshaw driver talked us out of our decided-upon hotel, and took us to another place (inconveniently located on the opposite side of town) where he earned a commission and somehow even managed to get a fucking tip out of me on top of the previously negotiated price, I beat myself up about it. How did this happen!? 

Visiting Varanasi? Check out these places to eat with a view.

Varanasi india

Nick and I both desperately want to believe that all humans have good hearts and intentions. We want to trust people. We want to be loving and compassion, but in India, you just can't. Or, at least you shouldn't. Otherwise you will end up somewhere you didn't want to go.  

But I didn't learn from that experience, because within 30 minutes on the street the next morning, we were following a friendly local in the complete opposite direction we wanted to go as he led us to see how textiles "he designed" were made. I told him twice, "No shopping!"  and as we walked further and further, I got wearier and more frustrated feeling like we were about to get duped. Oh and Nick sure didn't need to walk two extra blocks on top of all the walking he would be doing later.

Next thing I know I'm walking into a sari show room and being shown fabrics by a pushy sales man. I was so fucking pissed, at the local guy for being so nice, helping us, talking to us, and then taking advantage of us, but I was more mad at myself though, for knowing better but feeling timid to stand my ground and firmly saying no to his invite. I can't believe it happened, again! I'm so tired of not being able to trust anyone here.

He redeemed himself though, by walking us back to the main road, hailing a cycle rickshaw for us back to where we met, negotiating a "locals" price for it, following us there, apologizing profuseley, and personally guiding us down to the burning ghat. He spent 45 minutes with us there telling us all about the process. He was very gracious and more than won us over, even after an attempt to take advantage of us. Such is India. Ahhhhh, incredible India.


In the spirit of full disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This program provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. Purchasing products through these links incures no additional costs to you, but helps to support our endeavors to inspire and educate. Thank you.