If you're making a trip to Delhi, it is practically required to also fit in a trip to Agra and Jaipur. These three cities make up the Golden Triangle in India – so called because each city is about 4 hours apart and rich in history and cultural offerings. Even if you can’t fit in anything else, these three cities will give you a great view into the history and culture of North India. It’s a good way to see a variety of landscapes as well as diverse cultural traditions in a few days.
A brief introduction to Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra
As the political capital of India over several centuries, Delhi has a lot to offer. You’ll be spoilt for choice even if you just visit the very highlights of colonial history in the form of Lutyens' Delhi and Connaught Place, independent India’s history at India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mughal history in the Red Fort, Chandni Chowk and Humayun’s tomb, and earlier dynasties who left behind the Qutub Minar and the Lodi and Safdarjung tombs. Delhi has more than enough to do even if you’re only doing historical sites.
The town of Agra is home to the Taj Mahal - the most famous monument in India and one of the 7 wonders of the modern world. This, along with the Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, Sikandra, Itmad-ud-Daula and the markets, speak of past glory and splendor of India under the Mughal rule. Agra can easily take two days to experience fully, even though many people try to squeeze the highlights into a day trip.
NOTE: Keep in mind that the Taj Mahal is closed to tourists on Fridays, so make sure you account for this when planning your itinerary.
The Pink City of Jaipur, famous for its blue pottery and airy palaces, tells of the Rajput kings of Rajasthan’s desert land and offers the Hawa Mahal, the Jaipur City Palace, the outdoor astronomy lab of the Jantar Mantar, the Amer (or Amber) Fort, and markets that you can get lost in. There’s more than enough to charm you for three full days if you can afford the time. If you aren't sure how to plan your days in Jaipur, India Miker vaibhav_arora has suggested a great 2 day tour of Jaipur, which covers the major attractions in the city.
All three are about 250 km from each other, have splendid shopping and distinct food, language and history, which is why the golden triangle is one of the most popular tourist routes in India.
Agra first or Jaipur?
Since most visitors land in Delhi, it makes for the most logical home base. If you’d like to spend more time in Rajasthan, you can travel to Agra then Jaipur and branch out. But enough people do it the other way round, too. Plenty of people go to Agra for the day from Delhi, return for a few days and make a separate trip to Jaipur, as well. There really is no right or wrong way of doing this, it totally depends on how much time you have.
That said, generally the most popular Golden Triangle tour route is to plan for the most days in Delhi, head to Agra for one night, travel to Jaipur in the evening and stay for two or three nights, then return to Delhi.
How to triangulate your trippros and cons of road versus train by sam371 that still holds true.
Traveling by train
This seems the easiest way to get around. You can book tickets up to two months in advance with Indian Railways, or take a look at our guide on how to book your train tickets. Many IM-ers also recommend taking fixed cost taxis or rickshaws from the station to get around Agra or Jaipur.
All three cities are connected by Shatabdi express trains, as well as many other slower trains to choose from. If you start from Delhi, you can take the New Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi Express/12002 Train to Agra at 6 am. The train schedules are fixed, and if you’re concerned about how much earlier to get to the train station, Dave W has the answer and you can feel free to ask on the appropriate forums.
Other Delhi to Agra train schedules, courtesy of Steven_Ber: The Taj Express (12280) departs from Nizamuddin at 07:10 and arrives at Agra at 10:05. It's not perfect for most tourists, but a taxi/auto isn't cheap, it's a useful alternative to the Shatabdi, and it has massive availability (with a 30 day ARP). For those who don't like to get up early, the Kerala Express (12626), departs from New Delhi at 11:30 and arrives at Agra at 14:25.
Traveling by car or taxi
AC taxi or a rental cars are more expensive than trains, but they give you much more flexibility - you can still depart around 6.30 am and reach your destination before traffic gets too bad, and you won’t have to transfer luggage to rickshaws and cabs or stop at hotels. For instance, if you drive to Agra, you can schedule a halt at Fatehpur Sikri before hitting the city and save yourself a trip back later.
IM-ers do caution against driving at night, though, especially in the winter months because the fog can be debilitating. Also, the highways are in decent shape but there are sudden traffic snarls and potholes, especially en route to Jaipur. Dillichaat thinks the roads aren’t too bad but the traffic when you hit the outskirts of the cities is
If you are driving from Agra to Jaipur, the new dual carriageway tunnel cuts down the drive time to about 4.5 hours. To break the trip it is worthwhile stopping at Abhaneri on the way. Between Jaipur and Delhi, the road is still full of snarls due to ongoing work, so it can take you more than 6 hours.
Traveling by Bus
Many IM-ers actually prefer using AC coaches, they have a reputation for being more punctual and offer multiple connections. Uttar Pradesh (Agra) as well as Rajasthan tourism (Jaipur) state bus schedules are available online, if you want to check them out. Buses will cost anywhere from 100 to 500 rupees with air-conditioned buses costing more. FYI, there is difference between Volvo and “semi deluxe” buses as explained by poisonspy: “Volvo bus are luxury bus and semi deluxe bus are non-luxury bus with usually foam seat with 3x2 or 2x2 seating arrangement and less leg room.” The RSRTC volvo bus between Delhi and Jaipur leaves from Bikaner House (which is on the India Gate C-hexagon) and not from ISTB. It costs Rs780 one way and is about as comfortable as it gets for bus travel in this sector.
All there are do-it-yourself options but you can also, of course, ask your hotel or an agent to book transport or tours for you. There will be a convenience fee, but they will usually sort everything out and spare you from crazy booking forms and the hassles of dealing with multiple people. Do caution them about unscheduled halts ahead of time, especially if you’re on a tight schedule and don’t want to be dragged to emporia and spice shops you’re not interested in. The IM forums are also brimming with helpful suggestions for DIY’ers, and we urge you to look -- as well as add your own experiences, of course.
One Day Trip Option: Delhi-Agra-Delhi
As Steven_Ber also notes, a lot of people visit Agra on a day trip from Delhi, taking either the Bhopal Shatabdi or Taj Express mentioned earlier, and returning using the same trains. The Taj Express (12279) departs Agra Cant at 18:55 and gets to Nizamuddin at 22:00, the Shatabdi (12001) departs Agra Cant at 20:35, New Delhi 22:35
Please note that trains between Delhi and Agra mostly use Agra Cant station, and trains between Agra and Jaipur mostly (but not all) use Agra Fort station.
Got a Few Extra Days: Side Trips from the Golden Triangle
Fatehpur Sikri: This UNESCO World Heritage listed site was once an ancient capital that was abandoned shortly after Emperor Akbar's death. It is an easy day trip from Agra, or perhaps visit on your way to or from Jaipur.
Mathura: This Hindu pilgrimage centre is the birthplace of Lord Krishna. The town has many temples and ghats leading to the Yamuna River, and a lovely evening aarti ceremony. You could also add on the nearby town of Vrindavan, atala provides some great ideas of things to see in Mathura and Vrindavan. Mathura is about 50 kms from Agra, and can be seen on the way to or from Delhi.
Bharatpur: Home to the World Heritage listed Keoladeo National Park is a 5 hour drive from Agra. Famed for its bird life, the park is also home to many animals and can even be explored by cycle rickshaw. You can also see the stunning Deeg Palace whilst you are in the area, or stop at Abhaneri Step Well on your way to Jaipur.
Ranthambore National Park: If you want to see a tiger, then why not visit one of India's most scenic parks and a prime tiger conservation area. From Jaipur to Ranthambore is just a four hour drive, so why not spend a couple of days at Ranthambore, and enjoy morning and afternoon jeep safaris. Just remember the park is closed form July to September.