Indian cities can be crowded and chaotic. Whenever I plan a trip to India I am trying to spend the least time in them. India’s incredible nature and rural life are simply more appealing to me. Other cities that I now love, such as Delhi, took their time to grow on me.
Mysore, however, was love at first sight and I felt at ease immediately. The city with its royal heritage and old colonial architecture has a lot of character that is hard not to like.
When I started to write about Mysore I realized that there aren’t even that much things to do in Mysore itself. It is the relaxed atmosphere, the friendly people, the delicious food and some great opportunities for exciting day trips that made this a great city.
Mysore has a rich history and was the capital of the Kingdom of the Wodeyars for almost six centuries till 1956. It’s still a city of palaces, heritage homes and mansions and also referred to as the cultural capital of Karnataka.
Travel guide to the best things to do in Mysore
The biggest attraction in Mysore is the Ambar Vilas palace. Once the seat of power and residence of Mysore’s royal family, now open to the public during the day. The interior is just as colourful and beautiful as what you see outside. Each room is decorated with rich colours, wood carved doors and fine paintings.
Look closely and you see that the palace is decorated with light bulbs. In fact, there are more than 96,000 of them. Every sunday evening at 7 pm the palace is illuminated. My first day in Mysore started and ended with the palace in all its glory.
But this is not the only palace in Mysore. It is not even the oldest, because the first palace was destroyed in a fire and the current building is from 1912. The oldest palace is the Jagan Mohan palace that now houses an Art Gallery.
Then there is the Lalith Mahal Palace Hotel. Dine like a king and treat yourself on a lunch buffet in one of the most spectacular settings. Honestly, it will be a bit above the average backpackers budget and you pay for the location, not the quality of the food.
Visitor tips: The palace can get crowded, especially in weekends. Try to be there early when the palace opens at 10 AM. Entrance fee is 50 rupees.
Extremely popular among the locals is to climb the stairs up to the Chamundeshwari temple. There is no other place as important for Mysureans as Chamundi hill. Some have included the walk in their weekly exercise regime, others come to seek their blessings at the temple.
It was Chamundeshwari, the fierce form of the goddess Durga, that killed a demon that was once ruling Mysore. Pilgrims come in their best and most colourful clothes to get a glimpse of the goddess. It was too crowded for my liking and I had a good time outside where several rituals were going on at the special area for breaking the coconuts that will be offered.
Even though I skipped my chance to be blessed by the goddess, an Indian lady at my hostel told me that Chamundi will appreciate my visit anyways. All you need to do is take off your shoes and stand near the temple and she will recharge your battery.
Visitor tips: If you don’t want to climb the stairs you can take a tuk tuk or bus. From Mysore Palace bus 201 or 201V goes to Chamundi Hill (this bus also stops at Mysore Zoo). The temple is free of charge, but if you want to skip the long que you can pay for the more quiet VIP entrance. Also, watch out for the monkeys that are looking for any opportunity to grab your food.
Devaraja market is the heart of the city. This vibrant bazaar is full of life, colour and Indian chaos. Even though it is the perfect place to make pictures they can never catch the sounds and smells that come to you from all directions. Flower garlands, spices, piles of coloured powder and fresh fruits and vegetables create an explosion of fragrances and colours.
Walk around town
My favourite thing in Mysore was simply walking around. Away from the centre and tourist attractions you will find quiet colourful alleys. Sometimes it feels more like a village then a city. Cows are relaxing in the sun, men are drinking tea in front of their homes and women are hanging up the laundry.
If you are near the railway and you love trains you can pay a visit to the open air rail museum with a very small exhibition of vintage locomotives.
Mysore is now the yoga capital of the world with some excellent yoga teachers that offer a range of professional courses. Most require a one month commitment, but there are some walk in class options as well. Do your homework, because among the professional ones are some that try to profit from its popularity. The random tuk tuk driver that claims he is an ayurvedic doctor and yoga teacher all in one might not be the best choice.
In October is India’s biggest festival. Dassara is all about the victory of good over evil. It is one of the most extravagant celebrations, especially in Mysore, where people believe Chamundeshwari killed the demon Mahishasuran. The palace is illuminated daily and the goddess is taken in a procession on an elephant through the city accompanied with dance groups and music bands.
What to buy in Mysore
Mysore is known for its sandalwood. The government sandalwood factory runs tours to show you the process of making soaps and incense. It will be a visit full of fragrances
Mysore is also famous for its silk sarees. They are very beautiful, but not a cheap souvenir. A good quality saree can be 4000 or 5000 rupees. There is a government silk factory at Manadawadi road where you can see how they are made.
What to eat in Mysore
Mysore Masala dosa
Dosa’s are rice pancakes that have a history of more than 2000 years in South India. Mysore is believed to have some of the best dosa’s in the country and they are never far away. Crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside. I must admit that Mysore was indeed doing a pretty good job.
A plain dosa comes with 2 chutney dips. One red tomato based curry and one white coconut based chutney. The masala dosa comes with the same, but has a tasty potato filling inside as well. A paper dosa is a very long and thin crusty variant of the dosa.
More difficult to find, but very healthy and nutritious is the Ragi Dosa made out of local finger millet. It’s on the breakfast menu of Mansion 1907.
If you want to try something local you can try ragi mudde or ragi ball. It is made of finger millet and many people in this region eat this instead of rice or chapati. I of course ate it in the completely wrong way. I took out little pieces from the ragi ball and mixed it throughout my rice. However, you are supposed to take a part of the ragi ball, dip it in your curry and swallow it.
South Indian thali
The best and cheapest way to eat in an Indian restaurant is to order a thali. It is a set menu of rice that comes with different types of curries. The South Indian variant is originally served on a banana leaf and you are supposed to eat with your hand. Curries differ per season, but sambhar (lentil based vegetable stew) and/or rasam (a tamarind based soup) are always included.
Mysore’s famous sweet made out of gram flour, sugar and ghee butter is a must try. At Guru’s sweet mart in Devaraja market you can try them when they are still hot, straight off the stove. Check this video to learn more about its history and how it is made.
I was lucky. It was mango season when I was in Mysore and there was even a Mango fair with over 40 different varieties. The season starts from the end of April till July and the mango’s are juicy and fresh at this time.
Mango season is also the jackfruit season. You will smell the jackfruit before you even see the men selling it on carts in the street.
Where to eat in Mysore
Gokulam’s vegan and organic restaurants
The neighbourhood of Gokulam is the centre of yoga in Mysore. It is also full of organic and vegan cafes and restaurants with creative and original menus that makes you want to try everything. The fruit smoothies, fresh salads, sandwiches and soups are a welcome change from the regular Indian food. Some recommended restaurants are Rasa Dhatu and Depth N Green.
Will the real Mylari please stand up? Mylari has a long history of serving the best dosa’s in Mysore. The Mylari dosa comes with butter and a delicious filling of onions and potatoes. The place became so famous that multiple other restaurants opened up with a similar name. I am almost sure I visited the right one.
Anima Mhadvan Bhavan
Anima Mhadvan Bhavan is the place to go for a South Indian thali. Still served on the traditional banana leaf with a variety of curries and chutneys.
Di Lemon restaurant
Di lemon restaurants serves great North Indian food and also has some good non-veg options. I can recommend the chicken butter masala with fresh naan bread.
The best Italian food in Mysore is at the Old House with wood fired oven pizza’s that have a thin crust and an original menu of different toppings.
Where to stay in Mysore
Mansion 1907 became my home in Mysore. Most of all because its great location in walking distance from the bus station, Mysore palace and Devaraja market. This hostel has friendly owners, a great breakfast menu and female only dorms. During the tourist season they have free yoga classes in the morning.
How to get around in Mysore
Uber and Ola
Uber is a good way to get around in Mysore, but India has its own similar business called Ola cabs that is even more popular. The good thing about both Ola and Uber is that it is cheaper than a tuk tuk and you do not need to negotiate the price. Both offer a pool option in which you share your ride with others that makes it even more affordable.
Ola also has a tuk tuk option that is one of the best and most affordable way to travel for shorter distances. I never had to wait long for a Ola or Uber to come and most of the time when I ordered the pool option I had no other passengers.
There is of course always the option of stopping a tuk tuk on the road, but be prepared to negotiate about the price. At the bus and train station there is a prepaid booth with fixed prices.
The public transport system works pretty well in Mysore and with the help of Google maps I used the bus pretty often. If you check the route you want to take Google maps will tell you which bus number to take.
How to get to Mysore
From Bangalore there are frequent trains and buses to Mysore. Buses take around 4 hours. The daily shatabdi express takes only 2 hours while other trains take longer (3-4 hours).
For Chennai you can take the daily shatabdi express at 14:15 from Mysore that takes 7 hours to reach Chennai. From Chennai it leaves at 06:00 am and reaches Mysore at 13:00
Other nearby connections are with Mangalore (7 hours), Coimbatoire (6 hours), Ooty (6 hours), Kozhikode (6 hours)
Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.