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13 Varanasi Travel Safety Tips for 2024 – Important Things to Know!

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Varanasi can be an intense experience, even for the most experienced traveller. It’s a complete culture shock and somewhere that you will never forget after you’ve left.

A rollercoaster of emotions and fascinating at the same time, you will definitely feel a presence in this holy city for sure.

This was the first place that I ever visited in India and, although I don’t regret diving in at the deep end (literally), I’m not sure if it was the best choice as a solo female traveller.

It was terrifying and I had to give myself a pep talk just to leave my hotel room (lol).

But, once I left my cave, I couldn’t believe what I was missing out on.

It’s definitely important to know where to go, how to stay safe, and what not to do in this beautiful, crazy, chaotic city of the dead.

So, here are some travel safety tips you need to know before you visit Varanasi!

travel safety tips varanasi

My top Varanasi travel tips 

Possibly the most important is to come with an open mind to experience, learn and understand the culture here and what this holy city represents.

Those who practice the Hindu faith are meant to do a pilgrimage here once in their lifetime and bathe in the holy river Ganga (the Ganges to us western folk).

It’s the holiest of all the holy Hindu cities in India and those who are cremated here will receive salvation for their souls and eventually make their way to Nirvana.

Don’t be put off visiting here due to the cremations, you don’t have to see them if you don’t want to!

But, if you do, it’s not as scary an experience as you might think. I cover this in more detail in my post ‘What it’s like visiting the Varanasi cremation ghats’.

travel safety tips for varanasi

2. Ladies, dress conservatively

India is quite a strict country on dress code anyway and showing too much flesh can bring some unwanted attention, especially if you’re pins are pale as a ghost-like me.

Varanasi is a holy city and funerals are happening every day on the river.

So, make sure you cover your legs and shoulders. Now, I’m not saying you need to go full Indian and were a Sari or Punjabi suit but a cotton top that covers the shoulders and a maxi skirt or trousers would be fine.

safety travel tips varanasi

3. Watch out for scams

There are countless scams that are commonly used to get tourists to cough up their rupees.

Some, I have been subject to myself, and some I heard about from my tour guide.

Some people will ask for money for wood for their families’ funeral, take you for a better view of the cremations or take you to ‘halfway houses’ telling you that the people inside are waiting to die.

Boat riders will always ask for a ridiculous amount of money for a boat tour at first and taxi drivers will also pair up with these to get a commission from you.

The same goes for tourist shops. It’s all about a commission!

My biggest tip would be to use common sense and arrange a boat tour and shopping on your own.

travel safety tips for varanasi

4. Do not bathe in the Ganga (river Ganges)

This is a holy pilgrimage site and swimming or dipping your feet in here as a tourist is a big no, no.

Not that you would want to when you see the colour of the water due to the pollution.

I honestly can’t believe that people drink it, but it happens every day.

There are bodies, ashes, animals, rubbish, hair, and all sorts that get thrown in here and so it’s best to leave the swimming and washing the locals.

travel safety tips varanasi

5. Watch out for bulls and bull crap

There seem to be a ton more bulls here in Varanasi than anywhere else in India.

As Varanasi was founded by Lord Shiva and bulls are meant to be the living embodiment of Shiva, it does make sense.

But, it can be quite scary to move around a massive bull in the teeny tiny little alleyways.

When I was walking down one of these said alleyways, a bull got scared of the bikes coming through and started to charge at me!

Luckily, my tour guide threw me up against the wall away from the horns or it would have been painful.

There’s also a lot of cow dung all over the streets and so be careful of getting it in between your toes or slipping on it. I would avoid pretty sandals (lol) :P

travel safety tips varanasi

6. Be careful where you choose to eat

Varanasi is a pretty congested and filthy city and the hygiene of the restaurants is questionable.

My tour guide also suggested that I should eat at my hotel and avoid picking places close to the river.

Even if the restaurants are hygienic, the streets around them are not so make sure you thoroughly wash your hands before you begin eating.

There are a lot of tourist places which you can find on Tripadvisor which are tried and tested by other travellers, or you could try some fresh street food.

Always make sure it’s piping hot and fresh before you eat it.

travel safety tips varanasi
Visiting the famous Blue Lassi, this one was pineapple!

7. Stay safe when trying Bhang Lassi

Bhang is edible cannabis that a handful of legal government shops will sell you.

Hindus will usually eat this around festivals (especially ones celebrating Lord Shiva as he eats Bhang) or have it in a traditional Lassi.

Bhang is a mind-altering drug and although it may sound trippy and fun, it’s best to stay safe and even more so if you’re by yourself.

Always make sure you buy from a government-approved shop and you try with other people around you.

If you’re worried about it, don’t try it as it could be scary.

sadhu kedar ghat

8. Keep your valuables safe

Varanasi is notorious for pickpockets, especially around the Cantt train station so make sure you keep your bags locked up and in your sight at all times.

It’s also important to do this around the main ghat, Ganga aarti’s in the evening time and when you’re walking through the market.

If you’re concerned, I would leave your valuables in your hotel room.

Travel safety tips Varanasi

9. Haggle, a lot

It can get exhausting, but practicing and becoming more confident with your negotiating skills will mean you get a fair and honest price.

Although you’re pretty much on a losing streak anyway if you’re from the West, make sure you persevere.

I found that in Varanasi everything from Tuk-Tuk’s, shopping, taxi,s and food would have quite a high price attached to it. Especially, the boat rides.

Oh, the boat ride haggling was fun. At first, our taxi driver took us to a ‘boatman’ who quoted us 1800 rupees for an hour’s tour with the rowboat.

Having done a boat ride here before and knowing the price, I almost laughed and refused. This proceeded with him following us for 20 minutes all the way down to the river despite us saying ‘NO’ a thousand times.

Knowing it was better to organise myself to avoid paying a commission, I started to haggle with all of the boat riders down by the main ghat and got all sorts of excuses as to why they were charging 800 per hour.

Eventually, after a few ‘walk away’ tactics, they got the price down to 300 per hour. An honest price.

Make sure you pay no more than 500 per hour. You may pay more at sunrise.

varanasi cremation ghats

10. Do NOT take photos of the cremation ghats

Not that you would, but it’s best to mention that it is completely prohibited to take pictures of the cremations taking place.

You have to think that you’re techincally attending someone’s funeral and it’s a form of disrespect.

I wouldn’t even have your camera or phone on show near the burning ghat or you may hear shouting from afar.

As soon as you’re past the cremations, it’s perfectly fine to take pictures of the other ghats, there are 84 beautiful ones to choose from.


11. The pollution can be horrendous so take precautions

In the city streets, I couldn’t believe the congestion and traffic.

The horns made my ears bleed and the fumes from the vehicles, especially when we were stuck in a queue, just got a bit too much for me when I was travelling back in a Rickshaw.

If you have any sort of asthma and or breathing difficulties, I would recommend a taxi to make sure you’ve brought an inhaler with you.

Or, you could wear an anti-pollution (vog mask) to try and stop some of it from getting in your lungs. Yuk!

safety travel tips varanasi

12. Be careful venturing out at night alone

Personally, after the Ganga aarti took place in the evening time, I’d venture back to my hotel and stay there.

Varanasi is totally not a party place and walking down the labyrinth of alleyways can be a tough job in the day, let alone at night.

So, if you are planning on heading out in the evenings, I would try and buddy up with someone.

If you’re a female travelling solo, I would avoid it altogether as I found there were way too many hawkers, people trying to get me to buy beer and hash and it was just downright creepy.

safety travel tips varanasi

13. Wash after watching the cremations

There is ash flying everywhere around the burning ghats whether you’re watching from above, from the ghats, or on the boat offshore.

Some priests, including one I met for a chat with my guide, cover themselves in the ashes of the dead.

To make sure, I would wash your hair and your clothes after you have watched the cremations leaving no trace on you.

river ganges sunrise

…And finally, the most important tip of all, enjoy it!

Although Varanasi does sound pretty intense from these tips alone, it’s actually one of the most amazing cities that you will ever visit in your lifetime.

It’s definitely up there in my top 5 Indian destinations and I would have no trouble coming back for a visit.

kedar ghat sunrise

Want to read more on Varanasi?

Check out my honest and informative articles on Varanasi below;

My complete Varanasi travel guide

An honest solo female guide to Varanasi

What it’s like visiting the Varanasi cremation ghats

How to travel to Nepal from Varanasi

Read more of my India articles

How to spend one day in Delhi

The ultimate Rajasthan itinerary

A first timers guide to Jaipur

A complete guide for Manali

Why you need to visit Shimla

Exploring Leh Ladakh

One week Kerala Itinerary

North East India bucket list

Things to do in Dharamshala

Top tips for the Taj Mahal

My complete guide for Rishikesh

Things to do in Hampi

Save these Varanasi safety tips for later!

VARANASI safety travel tips

Anil Thakur

Monday 13th of February 2023

Thank you for the information! Har Har Mahadev Ji!

Sophie Pearce

Thursday 16th of February 2023

No worries Anil, thanks for reading! Sophie x

Atul Chaubey

Friday 25th of December 2020

Ms Sophie, Namaskar ! I Would be very carefull about visiting your country or any other country and I simply try to point positive things and be respectfull . I simply got atracted to your article by its immature heading i.e filthy city and in beetween you say bull crap'. let me explain to you that in details, Simply we do not eat them thats why they are free to shit and piss. killing them and eating there flesh thats what we think is filthy. every other things you have said I totaly agree, touts scams are present every other famous places not just Varanasi. We are improving and the work has been done is recent six years is remarkable, soon you will witness its old charm back. Warm regards Atul

Sophie Pearce

Friday 16th of April 2021

Noted! Sophie x


Friday 29th of May 2020

All of your points are not completely true because u didn't understand true varanasi. u are just spreading fake news and I'm so sure because I am born and raised in varanasi. U can ask me anything regarding my comment.


Monday 17th of July 2023

@Sonu, Hit there Sonu! I would forever grateful if you could answer a couple questions for me my friend! My name is Ian, I’m a 32 year old Shaivite who has been dreaming of going to Varanasi and hopefully one day living there since I was 16. I think I should be able to go next year. I consider myself a tantric and a serious practitioner of sadhana. My main question is how would one get to not only meet Aghoris, but get to participate in sadhana them? I’m not some hippy pot head who just wants to get high, and do perverse things. Their philosophy is something I take very seriously, and I know that they’re portrayed in a certain way by the media, and that portrayal isn’t always accurate. Also (I know it would depend on myself/how they feel about me) is it possible or even at all likely that I could potentially be initiated? I don’t feel I need to do these things to have the relationship I have with Lord Shiva and Ma Kali, and nothing is more important to me than my relationship with them, but, even just participating in their rites would be a dream come true. I’d love nothing more to be initiated. I’ve heard mixed things about this subject, and I’d really love your input. I do have other and less complicated questions too, if you’re comfortable talking to me, I’d love to ask. I know this is a pretty serious matter, and I’m sure there’s no shortage of tourists who take advantage of, disrespect, and don’t understand Indian and Hindu culture, I assure you I’m not one of those. So please if you have any questions for me, feel free to ask.

Hope all is well friend!

Cheers, Ian

Sophie Pearce

Sunday 31st of May 2020

Hi Sonu, that's amazing that you were born in Varanasi. It's true, I could never hope to understand Banares as you do having lived there all your life.

But, you must understand what it's like for tourists who visit your home. It's extremely overwhelming and so different from the West. It's very small, hectic and busy with a completely different culture. My hope with this post is to further prepare people for their visit from a tourists perspective and to allow for further understanding.

My tour guide who showed me around Varanasi, who was also born and raised there, was actually the one who told me of these safety tips in my post!

You can hardly deny that scams happen here on a daily basis. Or, that tourists are targetted for boat rides and blessings? Even my friends from Rajasthan were targetted as they weren't local or from UP.

However, I would love to know your insights as to what the 'true' Varanasi is from a local's perspective. So, if you have the time, please let me know below...

Om nama shivay, Sophie x

Cabhit India

Friday 8th of November 2019

Amazing. Enjoyed reading your blog post.

Sophie Pearce

Friday 8th of November 2019

Thank you so much for reading! Sophie x


Wednesday 18th of September 2019

I haven't visited varanasi yet! But, would like to! Your post is simply very handy and literally portrays the scenes that I've heard from many, Sophie. Thanks for the great post. Keep continuing!

Sophie Pearce

Wednesday 18th of September 2019

Hi Sarah, Varanasi is such a great city to visit for many reasons. There's so much to see and explore. Thanks for reading. Sophie x