A few months ago, I wrote about the Best of Hyderabad in conjunction with a project for AFAR. With a colorful history spanning over 400 years, Hyderabad showcases the best of North and South India. And now, National Geographic Traveler has also listed the "City of Pearls" as a Best Trip 2015! (Not surprisingly, India also made AFAR's list of Where to Go in 2015.)
Hyderabad was once a notable pearl and diamond trade center in South Asia. It has become a cultural epicenter in India, offering the best of bazaars, bungalows, and biryani. With a large commercial and business concentration, Hyderabad houses one of the largest expat communities in India. However, it still remains less traveled on the tourist circuit compared to other destinations.
A visit to Hyderabad may not be complete until you have savored the biryani at Paradise Food Court. The Secunderabad location—considered the largest sit-down restaurant in all of India—has multiple spaces, including Paradise Cafe, Paradise Bakery and Confectionery, Paradise Roof Garden, and Paradise Heights. Biryani is a fragrant mixed rice dish cooked with meat or eggs. Hyderabad has more varieties of biryani than any other South Asian destination, so come hungry and sample the goodness.
Irani chai was introduced to Hyderabad by Persian settlers via the port of Mumbai. The steaming beverage once defined the Hyderabad cafe culture, but since the introduction of national coffee chains, it has unfortunately become less popular. One place that continues to cherish and serve Irani chai is Garden Cafe, with loyal followers lining up in the mornings for a cup of liquid heaven. As opposed to traditional Indian chai, where the tea leaves and milk are boiled together, Irani chai boils the tea and milk in separate containers. While serving, the milk is poured first, followed by the leafy blend. Drink like a local and enjoy your cup with an Osmania biscuit.
Karachi Bakery is a Hyderabad institution, renowned for its cakes, cookies, biscuits, pastries, and chocolates. Open since 1963, the establishment remains one of the most innovative bakeries in India. Be sure to sample the fruit biscuits, Osmania biscuits, almond cookies, and mithai—traditional Indian sweets. To avoid the crowds, especially during festivals and holidays, place your order online prior to visiting.
Built in 1591 by the founder of the city, Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, Charminar was built as a charm to defend the city against a deadly epidemic. The icon showcases four minarets that soar to a height of almost 50 meters above the ground. Charminar also features a mosque and 45 prayer spaces, and is beautifully illuminated in the evenings.
Located 1.5 hours outside Hyderabad is Pochampally, a village known for its traditional weaves of ikat in cotton and silk. Many Indians call Pochampally "Silk City," and the community is widely recognized for creating the Pomchampally Saree. Take time to interact with the families, many of whom still weave on looms in their homes. Also visit the Pochampally Handloom Park, a combined effort of the governments of India and Andhra Pradesh to encourage sustainable employment in a craft whose art has been significantly impacted by modernization and mechanization.
With 22 luxurious halls, the Falaknuma Palace was once the Royal Guest House of the Nizam of Hyderabad, where he entertained his foreign dignitaries. It has since been converted to a 220-room Taj Hotel and is an outstanding example of the famed Nizam's hospitality. Step back in time as you enjoy afternoon tea in the lavish Jade Room. After nibbling on scones and sandwiches, check out the unique features of the property—including the large collection of Venetian chandeliers and the exclusive jade collection.
Laad Bazaar is tucked away on one of the four streets that lead from the Charminar. Also called Choodi Bazaar, the vibrant market features countless shops and stalls selling bridal wear, pearls, jewelry, and the famous Hyderabadi glass- and stone-studded bangles. These recognizable bangles are made from laad ("lacquer"), the material which gives the market its name. No cars or auto-rickshaws are allowed on the narrow street, and the crowds are limited to pedestrians, scooters, and bicycles.
Anagha is the creation of Sarvamangala Chavali, an actress, entrepreneur, fashion designer, and brand ambassador for the Hyderabad Metro. Her store showcases traditional ethnic wear, including sarees, kurtas, dupattas, andsalwar sets. Sarvamangala won the coveted FAPCCI Outstanding Woman Entrepreneur Award in 2011 and COWE Best Entrepreneur/Brand Elevation/Ethnic Wear in 2012–13. Her items often sell out in minutes and feature vintage, traditional, and modern designs.
Shilparamam is a kaleidoscopic showcase of India's cultural heritage. The arts and crafts village fosters the preservation of traditions, featuring artisans and performers from all over the country. For a small entrance fee, you can easily spend a full day here exploring the open-air sculpture park, rock garden, lake, waterfalls, food court, and shopping stalls.
Hollywood meets Tollywood at Ramoji Film City, a thematic destination for children of all ages. You can easily spend a day exploring the expansive grounds that showcase the best of Telugu cinema. There is a studio tour, kids park, movie magic park, action studio, and wild west stunt show. Prefer green spaces? Check out the Eco Zone, featuring the Bonsai Garden, Butterfly Park, and Urban Park.
Penguins, igloos, and snowfall in Hyderabad? Welcome to Snow World, the only facility in India and the largest in the world that combines an amusement park and subzero temperatures. After paying a small entrance fee, visitors are given warm clothing, waterproof shoes, and a cup of hot soup to acclimate to the temperatures. Snow World features slides, basketball courts, play areas, igloos, bumper cars, an ice skating rink, and even an ice hotel.
For more ideas to plan your visit to Hyderabad, check out my complete list of Hyderabad Highlights.