Filled with oodles of charm, colour and chaos at the same time, this city on the banks of the river Gomti has something to offer every kind of traveller. Lucknow attained the peak of its glory during the time of the Nawabs, who ruled for just over 75 years from 1775 and left imprints of their famed culture in the form of the tehzeeb (refinement and grace) that everyone in the city emulates with pride. Today, sandstone monuments from the splendid era of the Nawabs stand cheek by jowl with more modern relics from the brief British rule in the region. Bustling markets sell exquisite chikan embroidery from local workshops, while street stalls serve up endless plates of tundey kabab and mattar chaat to discerning locals and visitors alike.
Here’s our quick guide on how to best experience Lucknow.
What to see
Lucknow’s highlight is undoubtedly the Bara Imambara with its intriguing mix of Indian and Persian architectural elements. The monument, meant as a religious meeting place, is said to have been built towards the end of the 18th century by the benevolent Nawab Asaf ud Daula as a means to provide employment to his citizens during a time of acute famine.
Also Read: Uttar Pradesh’s best culinary experiences
Also Read: Facts about Lucknow for first time visitors
Tip: Hire a knowledgeable guide for a tour of the Bhul Bhulaiyya on the first floor so you don’t get lost in the maze of identical tunnels and passageways.
Head next to the Chota Imambara, smaller in size and younger in vintage than the original, with a small museum of sorts in the main hall containing opulent souvenirs from all over the world. Keep your neck craned particularly for the glittery chandeliers from western Europe.
Lucknow’s most famous seat of education, the La Martiniere College is worth a quick visit as much for the grandeur of the building, as the story of Claude Martin, the quirky Frenchman behind it.
Spend the evening at the Residency Complex to recover from the heat and dust of the city. This collection of ruins has a long and poignant tale from the times of the Sepoy Mutiny in the area, although now it serves as a shaded garden for locals in the know.
Where to shop
For the real feel of the sweet life of the Nawabs, dab on a dash of ittar at Sugandhco (D4 Janpath Market; 91-86046-05118). Try their various fragrances before you make up your mind. There is a wide choice, from common ones like chameli and gulab, to the more exotic blends like Nazaakat, where citrusy notes blend with sweet freesia and lotus.
You cannot leave Lucknow without buying several outfits of fine chikan embroidery, the traditional hand craft of this town. The best places are Ada Chikan in Harzatganj, which includes unique chikan pashmina shawls, and SEWA, a worthy NGO that has been training local women in this craft since 1981.
Where to eat
Kababs shine as the star of Awadhi cuisine, with marinated meat grilled or fried on a shallow pan till it acquires a consistency that makes the pieces melt in the mouth. After the sun goes down, take a walk through the Chowk area that comes alive with the smell of tunday, boti and galauti kababs. The best bets for fresh and flavourful meat in this neighbourhood are Tunday Kababi (151, Phool Wali Gali) and Mubeens (opposite Akbari gate).
For a taste of aromatic Lucknowi biryani (although pulao is the favoured name in this region), make your way to Idris, also at Chowk. The upmarket option is Azrak, the all-day restaurant at lebua, Lucknow’s only authentic heritage hotel.
This city also has a lot to offer vegetarian travellers, with some of the best chaat in the country available at the local landmarks.
Explore Lucknow’s best chaats and snacks, from kachori (served with dry potato sabji) to aloo tikki with generous lashings of spicy and sweet chutneys. King of Chaat and Shukla Chaat in the Hazratgunj area offer the best of chaat.
In the cooler months, look out for Nimish (known as Daulat ki Chaat in old Delhi) on the streets in the main market areas; this unique sweet has the consistency of creamy soufflé and is lighter than air.