If you’ve been researching places to visit in India, chances are that Hyderabad hasn’t popped up on your radar. Sitting in the middle of India’s Southern peninsula, this city is pretty much known only for its Biryani, Pearls and IT industry. But 400 years of history means Hyderabad has so much more to offer travellers to India and would make a great stop in a South India itinerary.
Hyderabad is an interesting mix of cultures, with the local Telugu culture historically being combined with Persian and Turkish cultures brought to the city by its founders- the Qutb Shahi kings. As one of India’s biggest Cities, Hyderabad also has residents from all over the Country, each adding their own culture into the mix.
The 600-year-old Golconda Fort is where the Qutb Shahi kings ruled from before they founded Hyderabad. Its central citadel, called Bala Hissar is the most popular with visitors, but the outer ramparts (including the Naya Qila extension and the Petla Burj bastion) are also worth seeing.
The Qutb Shahi Tombs
The Qutb Shahi Tombs, close to Golconda, are where Hyderabad’s founding kings are buried. The large necropolis has seven massive tombs, and many smaller tombs, mosques and other structures.
In the heart of Hyderabad’s Old City is the iconic Charminar, a four-minareted monument built by the city’s founder, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah. The most romantic of the many theories about why it was built says that it marks the spot where Muhammad Quli first saw his future queen.
Chowmahalla (‘four mansions’) Palace in the Old City was built by the Asaf Jahi Nizams, the next ruling dynasty of Hyderabad after the Qutb Shahs. The palace was the residence of the Nizams, and is still owned by their descendants. It’s open to visitors, but for a fee, of course.
The Paigah Tombs
The peaceful Paigah Tombs are hidden away in the bylanes of the Old City, all but forgotten. The foremost noble family under the Nizams were the Paigahs, and many generations of notable Paigahs were laid to rest in the family’s private necropolis.
Past Charminar and towards the edge of the city lies the hill-top Falaknuma (‘mirror of the sky’) Palace. This sprawling European-style palace was built by one of the prime ministers of Hyderabad, and later sold to the ruling Nizam. It’s now a luxury heritage hotel, and one needs to have at least a meal reservation to enter and look around.
The Salar Jung Musueum
Also in the Old City is the slightly chaotic but interesting Salar Jung Museum, supposedly the world’s largest collection of art and artefacts owned by a single person. The nobleman Salar Jung III spent his life expanding his collection, and they say the museum only has a fraction of what he actually collected.
The Fakhruddingutta rock formations
Hyderabad was once known for its spectacular natural granite formations. Over the years, most of these have disappeared. The formations at Fakhruddingutta (also called Khajaguda) are some of the most impressive of those that remain. They’re on the edge of Gachibowli, one of Hyderabad’s fastest growing suburbs, so they might not be around much longer.
Ask an Indian what they associate Hyderabad with the most and chances are they’ll say “Biryani”. This dish of meat and rice layered together and steamed is what Hyderabad is famous for, and you’ll find it on almost every street corner. The quality varies, of course, but it’s difficult to find bad biryani in Hyderabad.
Shah Ghouse and Shadab in the Old City, 4 Seasons in Mehdipatnam, Café Bahar in Basheerbagh and Biryaniwala in Banjara Hills all have good Biryani. If you’re in or around Hitech City, Shah Ghouse has an outlet in Gachibowli, too. Be warned, though: most Biryani places are quite basic.
While Biryani is traditionally made with goat meat, the chicken version is also popular (and cheaper). Some places also offer versions with only egg or vegetables, but chances are you won’t get those in more traditional places. Biryani is usually served with the local raita (a mixture of yoghurt, chopped onions and mint leaves) and mirchi ka salan (a rich curry made of de-seeded green chillies).
South Indian ‘Tiffin’
Despite its Islamic heritage, Hyderabad is just as strongly rooted in South Indian culture. And just like you’ll find a Biryani joint around every corner, you’ll find a South Indian ‘tiffin’ centre, too. These will serve the Telugu versions of traditional vegetarian South Indian staples like idli, dosa and vada (a fermented batter of rice and lentils, which is steamed, roasted and deep-fried, respectively), along with other quick eats.
For a larger meal, they might serve a Thali (platter)—an assortment of little dishes, served with rice. But watch out, because South India is known for spicy food, and Telugu food especially so.
Popular mid-range places for South Indian tiffin and thali in Hyderabad are Kamat Hotel (in Secunderabad and Nampally), Chutneys (in Secunderabad, Punjagutta, Abids, Jubilee Hills and Hitech City) and Minerva Coffee Shop (Himayatnagar, Somajiguda and Madhapur).
Another thing that Hyderabad us known for is Haleem, a rich porridge-like dish made from meat, semolina and spices. The ingredients a slow-cooked together over an open fire for hours until they finally form a thick, fragrant paste that is eaten with a spoon. If eating a whole plate of Haleem on its own seems too much, order a nahari kulcha (a square-shaped bread) along with it. The only catch is, Haleem is mainly made during the month of Ramadan, and very few places serve it year-round.
The Hotel Sitara Grand usually has haleem on the menu. But ask around in the Old City and you’re sure to find a place.
Khubani ka meetha
Khubani ka meetha (literally ‘apricot dessert’) is a typically Hyderabadi dessert made from stewed dried apricots, and served with either cream or ice cream. It’s sticky-sweet, and you’ll come to appreciate the dairy after a few spoonfuls. Khubani ka meetha is usually served during special occasions like weddings, but many mid-range and upmarket local restaurants that serve Hyderabadi or Telugu cuisine will have it on the menu. Jewel of Nizam, Zaiqa-e-Hyderabad and The Spicy Venue will serve it, but if they’re out of your budget, you might need to do some asking around. You could also try Meetha Miya, a shop that sells traditional Hyderabadi sweets.
Hyderabad is chock-a-block with modest little roadside cafés that serve tea, snacks and basic meals. They’re called ‘Irani cafes’, after the Iranian immigrants that started the first ones, generations ago. Most popular at these cafés (which most locals pronounce as ‘kafe’, like in ‘safe’) is the thick, milky, sweet Irani chai. If you’ve not sat down at a shared table at an Irani café to sip Irani chai while nibbling an Osmania biscuit, you’ve missed a typical Hyderabadi experience.
When to Visit Hyderabad
The best time to visit Hyderabad is from November to January when the weather is the coolest. Day temperatures can still hit 30°C (85 °F) but evenings are quite cool, with temperatures at night sometimes dipping to 10 ° C (50 ° F). You could also visit Hyderabad during the rains in July and August if you don’t mind the occasional downpour and the resulting traffic jams. You should probably avoid visiting in summer—April to June as it can get miserably hot, with day temperatures going up to 43°C (110 ° F).
November is also a good time to visit Hyderabad because you’ll be able to experience the festival of Diwali (the ‘festival of lights’ celebrated across India). This is mainly a Hindu festival, celebrating the symbolic victory of good over evil and light over darkness. But because it’s so much fun, Diwali is celebrated by pretty much everyone everywhere in India, regardless of religion. Diwali is called Deepavali in Hyderabad and other parts of South India.
Being one of the biggest cities in India, Hyderabad naturally has lots of options to stay in, from a range of five-star hotels down to very basic lodges. What it doesn’t really have, though is the travellers’ hostels that are common in places that are on the major tourist trails of India.
Search for ‘hostels’ in Hyderabad and you’ll instead find lots of places that are targeted at working professionals, and which rent out shared rooms on a monthly basis. Luckily, Hyderabad is waking up to AirBnB and you can find some very affordable deals there. OYO Rooms, a sort of hotel version of AirBnB, also has affordable rooms all over the City and are all available on Booking.com along with other hotels in Hyderabad.
Best Areas to stay in Hyderabad
If you’re looking to experience Hyderabad’s heritage, it’s probably best to stay in the Mehdipatnam area. That’ll give you access to both the Golconda Fort and the Old City, but being one of Hyderabad’s older suburbs, Mehdipatnam is quite crowded.
If you’d prefer to focus on the Old City, the Abids (the ‘A’ is pronounced like in ‘apple’) area would be a good base, because it would give you access to the more central parts of the city, too. The Taj Mahal Hotel is a local institution, and has been around for generations. Abids main road is one of the traditional shopping areas of Hyderabad and is, again, crowded.
If you’d prefer to be closer to Hyderabad’s exploding restaurant and craft beer scene, then Hitech City would be a good place to be. At the opposite end of Hyderabad from the Old City, this is the business and IT hub of the city. It’s much newer, more modern, and with a much more cosmopolitan vibe. It’s got lots of small eateries and bars, and is next door to Jubilee Hills, where all the swankier restaurants and craft breweries are.
From ancient heritage to more modern pursuits, Hyderabad has lots to offer!
Despite being one of India’s largest cities there’s still lots to see and do in Hyderabad, and unlike the other big cities in India the pace of life is still relatively relaxed.
So kick back at an Irani café and admire the view of Golconda Fort or the Charminar before heading to Jubilee Hills for a glass of chilled IPA and some thumping music!
Thank you so much for this guest post written by Irfan Quader from The Good Life With IQ blog!
Need to book accommodation in India? We recommend using Booking.com as we love the huge range of accommodation and flexible booking options they offer in India.
Need to check out Flights to or around India? Kiwi.com is a great site to compare prices and routes to get the best deal!
Remember that you’ll need travel insurance when you travel to India. There are a lot of companies out there we know, but World Nomad’s is a travel insurance provider designed by travellers, for travellers and includes lots of unique benefits like not needing a return flight home booked, which many providers need proof of if you claim. Whilst you’re thinking about it, get a quote for them here!
Please note that this post contains some affiliate links which means if you make a booking or purchase an item through one of the links we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These purchases help keep this site going so we can keep providing you and other backpackers with awesome India posts!
Thank you for visiting India By Backpack. A website designed to help Backpackers and Travellers to India.
On here you’ll find real, honest and helpful travel advice for India so you can plan the best trip and have the best time in India.
Please Note: This is currently a very new website and more content will be added during 2019.
To find out more about India By Backpack and how you can contribute your experience to this site, head over to the About Us page.