Most visitors to India head straight for popular tourist spots in Rajasthan and northern India. These destinations are gorgeous, no doubt, but there are many equally stunning places to visit in South India too.
As India is such a culturally and geographically diverse country, it would be a pity to confine yourself to the over touristy places to visit in India like the Taj Mahal, the palaces of Rajasthan or the beaches of Goa on your trip to India.
Sinjana Ghosh from Backpack & Explore has been to lots of places in India and around the world but has a special place in her heart for South India and the Western Ghats.
15 Spectacular Places To Visit in South India
So here I have curated for you the top 15 places to visit in South India, based on my experience of living and travelling in this region over the last five years.
Though Goa is a small state which may arguably be considered a part of the Southern Peninsula, I will confine my post to the Indian peninsula, south of Goa.
1- Karwar, Karnataka
Karwar is the cleanest public beach I have ever been to.
It is in North Karnataka to the south of Goa and famous for Tagore Park, named after Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore, who spent early years of his youth in Karwar.
Other interesting places are the Karwar marine aquarium, the towering Sindhugarh fort and the Warship museum of INS Kadamba, which is the largest naval base in India.
It is also the starting point of the dream route along the Konkan coastline which encompasses other stunning locations like Gokarna, Uduppi and Bekal.
2- Hampi, Karnataka
Hampi is a historical city which was the capital of the Vijayanagara empire, often considered to be one of the most prosperous empires of the world in the 14th and 15th century.
The city was plundered and destroyed by invaders in 1565 but the remains of the temples and structures still inspire awe.
The Hampi group of monuments is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site and is one of the top places to visit in South India.
It will be right to say that they didn’t just stand the test of time and tide, they conquered it.
A Hampi itinerary must include a trip to the Vijaya Vittala temple and a coracle ride at Tungabhadra river during sunset.
3- Coorg, Karnataka
One of the best things to do in South India is a road trip in the Western Ghats.
Nestled in the Western Ghats and often referred to as the Kashmir of south India, Coorg is the most beautiful hill station in Karnataka.
The vast stretches of grassland on the rolling hills, stunning waterfalls and a small Tibetian settlement is what inspires such comparison and puts it near the top of the list of places to visit in South India.
Trek to the Tadiadmol peak, visiting the holy place of Talacauvery, exploring the Buddhist monasteries of Bylakuppe and white-water rafting Barapole are some of the best things to do in Coorg. Check out these tours in Coorg.
4- Mysore, Karnataka
While Bangalore is the famous Silicon city and the capital of Bangalore, Mysore is indeed the cultural capital of Karnataka.
If you want to acquaint yourself with the culture and history of Karnataka, there is no better place to visit in South India than Mysore.
It also happens to be among the top three cleanest cities of India and the seat of the Royal Family of Karnataka.
It is most famous for the spectacular Mysore Palace and the picturesque Vrindavan Gardens.
Other fascinating places around the city are the Chamundi hills, the Ranganathittu bird sanctuary and the lost land of Talakadu. For more ideas on what to do in Bangalore go here.
5- Hyderabad, Telangana
Hyderabad is the capital city of Telangana and a cosmopolitan city with a booming IT industry.
But the old-world charm of old Hyderabad, the delicious Hyderabadi biryani and the historic sites attract travellers the most, making it one of the more intriguing places to visit in South India.
The most iconic monument of Hyderabad is the Charminar, followed by the Golconda fort.
Other places of interest include the Chowmahalla palace built by the erstwhile Nizams of Hyderabad, the Salar Jung museum with a huge collection of art and artefacts, and the Hussain Sagar lake.
You can also take a day trip to the Ramoji Film city, which is the largest studio complex in the world. Here are more Hyderabad attractions.
6- Gandikota, Andhra Pradesh
Gandikota, fondly called the Grand Canyon of India is a fortified village in Andhra Pradesh.
It is named after the gorge formed by the Pennar river cutting through the Erramala hills.
Here stands a 14th-century fort which now lies in its ruins but even though it’s in ruins the former grandeur of the fort is unmistakable.
Other places of interest around Gandikota include the pre-historic Belum Caves, Kurnool fort and Yaganti cave temples.
You can also explore the beautiful Nallamala forest on a day trip.
7- Lepakshi, Andhra Pradesh
Lepakshi, located at the far west of Andhra Pradesh is a legendary town in the Ramayana most famous for the architectural wonder, Veerabhadra temple.
The temple is a masterpiece of Hoysala art, which has so many mysteries surrounding it.
One of the pillars of this ornate stone temple rests without any support on the ground.
Apart from the stunning temple, you can find the giant monolith called the Nandi Statue and the Jatayu theme park.
From Lepakshi you can take a day trip to Dharmavaram, a place famous for cotton silk sarees and beautiful temples.
Apart from these, there are many other historic forts and the largest Banyan tree of South India to visit around Lepakshi.
8- Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu
Ooty, Coonoor and Kodaikanal form the golden triangle of Tamil Nadu’s hill stations.
Out of these, Kodaikanal is my favourite as its high altitude and forest cover helps maintain a temperate climate throughout the year.
This is something you would really enjoy in the otherwise hot and humid Southern India.
The pine forests, the scenic mountain peaks and the serene lakes are the highlights of Kodaikanal.
Do not forget to walk in the beautiful Crokers walk when in Kodaikanal.
9- Masinagudi National Park, Tamil Nadu
Masinagudi National Park is one of the four interconnected National parks in the Western Ghats of India which form the largest settlement of tigers in the world.
It has almost half of the world’s tigers.
A trip to one of these four national parks must be on your books when you visit South India.
The huge diversity of flora and fauna in these forests is no less than Africa.
Tigers, leopards, black panthers, Elephants, spotted deer and sambars are just a few of the many exotic species that you will find on a safari in this park.
10- Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu
Think about beautiful ancient temples on the beach – that’s Mahabalipuram for you.
It is a narrow strip of land between the Great Salt Lake and the Bay of Bengal which is dotted with historic monuments of 7th and 8th centuries.
The shoreline ornamented with these shrines is a visual and spiritual treat.
The Mahabalipuram group of monuments in a UNESCO world heritage site.
You can also see the “Pancha rathas”, a group of monolithic structures in the shape of chariots and the Shore temple overlooking the sea.
Among these man-made wonders lie Krishna’s Butterball, which is simply a boulder miraculously perched on a hill slope!
It’s most definitely one of the places to visit in South India for your bucket list.
11- Madurai, Tamil Nadu
Madurai is an ancient city of Tamil Nadu with a vibrant skyline defined with eight towers of the Meenakshi temple.
This gorgeous, colourful temple is the icon of Dravidian architectural styles.
In South India, you will find many temples in nooks and corners build in a similar Dravidian architectural style.
Meenakshi temple is one of the most opulent and iconic temples of India.
The other symbol of opulence in Madurai is the Thirumalai Nayak Palace with a mic of Dravidian and Islamic architectural features.
The sound and light show at the palace is worth watching.
12- Puducherry (Pondicherry) – A Union Territory
Puducherry is still known as the French town of India, owing to the huge influence of French culture in the region.
It was a French colony during the 200-year long British rule in India and remained so for some time after independence from the British.
Apart from that Puducherry is famous for the revolutionary freedom fighter turned spiritual guru Rishi Aurobindo.
Auroville, the city of Dawn is a spiritual retreat in Puducherry which does not identify itself with any religion, community or even country.
13- Munnar, Kerala
Munnar is the brightest jewel in the crown of the Western Ghats and a serene place to visit in South India.
The queen of hills is known for its impeccable beauty, the unending vistas of tea estates, the rolling hills, the perennial waterfalls and crystal-clear lakes.
Let me confess that it is just my favourite place in South India.
Visit one of the many tea gardens, see the people at work and learn about tea processing in one of the factories.
Go kayaking at the Anayirangal dam and watch the wild elephants in groups walking at the banks.
Visit Eravikulam National Park, walk in the mystic mountains and spot the endangered Nilgiri Tahr. Check out these tours around Munnar.
14- Kovalam, Kerala
The beaches of Kerala are as amazing as those in Goa.
Kovalam is one of the most beautiful beaches of Kerala where the water from an elevation looks Prussian blue.
With palm trees along the beaches, Kovalam is picture-perfect in every frame.
The most famous beach in Kovalam is the Lighthouse beach, which of course has a lighthouse from where you can get spectacular panoramic views.
You will have a hard time convincing people that the pictures of the sea from the cliff are unprocessed and not photoshopped.
Little near Kovalam is the Poovar backwaters where you can take a boat ride through the coconut groves into an island for lunch.
15- Kumarkom, Kerala
Kumarakom is a picturesque village in Kerala where you can enjoy a romantic getaway in the backwaters of Kerala.
While Aleppey is more famous, Kumarakom is a more peaceful retreat across the Vembanad lake.
Both are in the same district called Alaphuza, which is famous for a network of rivers, canals and lakes.
Imagine a romantic evening in a houseboat floating on the backwaters of Kerala taking you through the coconut groves into an idyllic island.
Other places of interest include the Kumarakom bird sanctuary, Pathiramanal island and the Bay island driftwood museum.
Things you need to know about South India
This was my humble endeavour to highlight the best of South India in a short guide.
Some things to remember when visiting south India is that each state has a different dominant language (and script), which is not Hindi.
Within each state, there can be multiple dialects as well.
The economic inequality, which is so prominent in other parts of India, is slightly less obvious here.
The countryside is more beautiful than the cities, which is why most of the places on my list are in the countryside.
The roads are reasonably good in most of the places, except during the monsoon.
Keeping the tropical humidity in mind, the best time to visit South India will be between November to February.
So, are you ready to explore the Indian peninsula on your next trip? Pack your bags and discover these amazing places to visit in South India for yourself.
Sinjana Ghosh is a data analyst by profession and a travel blogger by passion. She mostly travels with her husband, and together they manage to squeeze time from their desk jobs to explore the world. She shares her travel stories, micro-itineraries, and practical tips to encourage people with regular lives to make time for travel. Backpack & Explore is her brainchild through which she keeps her passion alive.