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This article is a Manali travel guide that also contains a suggested Manali itinerary for 3 days.
The rugged landscape and grassy hills, Himalayan architecture and Italian food, crowded streets and tranquil views - Manali is an amalgamation of feelings and experiences. While Manali offers the Mall Road and the fancy hotels, Old Manali gives you hipster cafes. While in peak season the roads are jam-packed with cars that don't appear to move at all, you will simultaneously hear the roar of a mighty river, amid a backdrop of towering mountains. While your hotel will be next to countless others, the balcony in your room will have an unobstructed view of the city overshadowed by the mountains. A trip to Manali is signified by such contracting experiences and sights.
This blog post is a complete Manali travel guide. You can also take a look at the blissful things to do in Manali. Even if you're just passing through Manali to visit other popular places in Himachal such as Spiti valley, Parvati valley or going south towards Shimla or Kinnaur valley, it's always a good idea to spend a day or two relaxing at Manali.
Manali Travel Guide + Manali Itinerary for 3 Days
With this Manali travel guide, I aim to provide you with all the travel information needed to plan your Manali trip. Additionally, I've included a suggested Manali itinerary for 3 days that includes all the best places to visit in Manali, along with day trips that you can take if you have some more time on your hands. Let me know what you think of this Manali travel guide in the comment section below.
Best Time to Visit Manali
- Summer (March - June): Summer season is the most popular time of the year to visit Manali. However, because a lot of people take a family vacation over the summer holidays, Manali gets overcrowded during this time of the year. Expect lengthy traffic jams.
- Monsoon (July - Early September): The rainy months are a bad time to visit Manali. Over the past few years, Manali has been experiencing flooding which has led to property and road damage thus stranding tourists and the movement of locals during this time.
- Winter (October - February): The shoulder season between monsoon and winter as well as between winter and summer is the best time to visit Manali. With pleasant weather, next to no crowds and a relaxing atmosphere, I loved my Manali trip late in September. To experience snow, visit Manali in December or early January.
How to Reach Manali
There are numerous ways to reach Manali. It's well-connected by air (Kangra and Bhuntar airport), and road. Reaching Manali via bus or by driving here from Delhi is the most popular option though.
Nearest Airport to Manali
Kangra Airport near Dharamshala has regular daily flights to and from Delhi. Most of the popular Indian airlines operate 1-2 flights between Delhi and Kangra daily. Keep in mind that flight operations can often get affected in mountainous areas due to bad weather. Dharamshala to Manali is an 8-10 hour journey which can be covered by bus or a hired taxi cab.
Nearest Railway Station to Manali
Chandigarh Railway Station is located at a distance of 315 km from Manali whereas Pathankot railway station is 290 km from Manali. Reaching Manali from Chandigarh is a viable option since there are many state-run as well as private buses plying on this popular route.
There are numerous buses from Delhi to Manali. The Himachal Pradesh State Government buses (HPCA) have buses that leave from Kashmiri Gate Delhi in the evening which reach Manali in the morning. The buses come in various ranges of comfort such as AC, non-AC, Volvo, regular etc.
Another extremely popular option, which is used by most people, is to get your own bike or car to Manali. The drive is scenic to say the very least, and there's the flexibility to do things on your own schedule. Not to mention that if you're in a group travelling together, travel costs are considerably cut down.
Where to Stay in Manali
I'm a sucker for rooms that offer views of mountains or beaches or anything remotely spectacular. If I can't sit in a balcony or at the window, sipping tea and basking in the view, my holiday is incomplete. There's a charm in waking up to see the city at a distance, belittled by the mountains. It truly makes you marvel at the splendour of mother nature and respect her even more. This hotel, where I stayed at, was located close to the Hadimba Devi temple and other Manali attractions but it's undisturbed by crowds. Of all the Manali hotels, make sure you find one with a view like this. It's a great place to sit when the Manali temperature dips. Just grab a blanket and some chai. Take a look at some other places to stay in Manali.
Zostel, Old Manali
The outdoor area at Zostel Manali
Nowadays, a lot of people are well-aware India's largest chain of backpacker hostels. If you didn't know about it already, you do now. Zostel is a safe, reliable and fun hostel to meet fellow backpackers and have a fuss-free stay. Zostel Manali is located in a quaint village in Old Manali. From the moment you step into the property, it'll feel like you're living inside some fairy-tale land surrounded by flowers and greenery. What's more, the in-house cafe makes delicious food so you don't need to step out of your fairy-tale.
Alt Life, Old Manali
Alt Life is a co-working space/ hostel located at Clubhouse road in Old Manali. They have both dorm rooms as well as private rooms overlooking the river and apple orchards. The dining area is designed to function as a co-working space. It has large windows overlooking the scenery to enjoy nature whilst working on your laptop. I especially enjoyed waking up to the sound of the river outside my balcony.
Manali Itinerary for 3 Days
There are so many beautiful places to visit in Manali, in addition to the sheer natural beauty all around. This suggested Manali travel guide for 3 days will help you cover all the sightseeing spots in Manali and give you ample time to enjoy the charm of Manali.
Day 1 - Old Manali and Local Sightseeing
Start day 1 of your Manali itinerary for 3 days by visiting all the local sightseeing spots in Manali.
Hadimba Devi Temple
Located in the heart of Manali, 2 km from the Mall Road, nestled between pine trees, the Hadimba Devi temple is an unconventionally architectured shrine dedicated to Hadimba Devi, the wife of Bhima and mother of Ghatothkach. The place is generally over-crowded but you can make a quick stop here since it's in the heart of Manali, close to most hotels.
There are some locals who offer fluffy rabbits for you to hold and take pictures with, at a minimal cost. I'm not sure how ethical their practice is or whether those bunnies are properly cared for so when you visit, make sure to ask the women to take good care of the rabbits!
Uphill, away from the crowded, packed streets of new Manali, on the outskirts, lies old Manali, 3 km from the main city. Giving off a hipster vibe with streets surrounded on both sides by souvenir shops selling hippie clothes and accessories, Old Manali is famous among backpackers, foreigners and youngsters. Backpacker hostels, Israeli food and pizza joints are what attract the young crowds to Old Manali. More than that, it's the tranquillity of sitting in a quiet hotel, away from the city, surrounded by hills and streams that draws one to Old Manali. While this is not a Manali attraction, it's a place to go for soul searching and cool vibes.
Manu Temple is located right at the top of the hill at Old Manali. Keep walking through the lane lined up with shops and cafes until you reach the peaceful Manu temple. The temple doesn't see a whole lot of visitors as compared to Hadimba Devi temple, probably because of it's offbeat location in Old Manali. Nonetheless, you should definitely visit the Manu Temple in Old Manali and learn about its interesting history from a local.
Vashisht Village and Jogini Falls
Vashisht village is located 5 km from the city centre of Manali. In fact, the Vashisht hot springs are one of the most popular sightseeing places in Manali. Jogini falls is another popular sightseeing attraction in Manali located close to the Vashisht village. Although it's more popular among the youth, anyone can hike to the lower part of the waterfall. To reach Jogini falls, start at Vashisht village. Ask any local to point you in the correct direction. Keep walking until you start seeing a change of landscape. Keep going straight and you'll reach the falls after 10-15 minutes of walking.
Day 2 - Rohtang Pass and Solang Valley
On day 2 of your Manali itinerary for 3 days, take a cab or your vehicle up to Rohtang pass and then engage in adventure sports at Solang valley on the way back.
A Manali travel guide is incomplete without mentioning this famous pass. Rohtang Pass, at a height of 13058 ft, connects Manali to Lahaul and Spiti Valley. The climb up to the pass offers views which will leave you dumbfounded. Rugged landscapes, grassy hills, sneaky little waterfalls and snow-capped mountains will accompany you throughout your journey. The picture changes every few minutes, each one more so mesmerising than the previous.
Keep in mind that a permit is required for visiting the pass. There are certain rules in place which can be viewed on the official website. There are 2 different types of permit - one for visiting the pass and returning back and then another one for crossing the pass to go to Lahaul Spiti. Make sure you obtain the right permit ahead of time. Do get some good sleep the previous night because you will have to leave early in the morning in order to reach Rohtang Pass. There are many vehicles lined up for the same and it can be a long and tiring journey. There are plenty of snack vendors selling hot maggi, omelette and tea along the way so you won't have to worry about breakfast. There are washrooms set-up at the check-point where your permit will be checked.
Solang Valley is located at a distance of 14 km from Manali and is best visited while returning back from Rohtang pass. The valley is perfect for visiting during both summer and winter season due to its ideal location and landscape where a number of adventure activities take place.
Some of the adventure activities that take place here at paragliding, snowboarding (during winter), and zorbing, to name a few.
Day 3 - Take A Day Trip from Manali
On the last day of your Manali itinerary for 3 days, take a day trip to one of the many gorgeous places around Manali. While I strongly recommend taking a day trip to Naggar from Manali, you can even go to Kasol or to Manikaran. Read more about these places in the section below to decide for yourself.
Day Trips From Manali
Most of the sightseeing places in Manali can be covered within two days and thus if you have more than 2 days in Manali, then take a day trip to one (or more) of the places near Manali.
Kasol is a hippie paradise located just outside Manali. In fact, it's the ideal day trip from Manali. However, I highly recommend that you stay here a day or two just to soak in the good vibes (*wink*) and devour the delicious Israeli food.
Manikaran is another popular Manali attraction near Kasol. This place houses a Gurudwara (a place of worship for the Sikh community). There's world-famous afternoon langar where food is prepared by the lovely community to feed anyone who visits the Gurudwara. What makes this place unique is that the food isn't cooked using any traditional method. In fact, the food here is cooked using the hot water of the river flowing next to the Gurudwara. It's one of the most unique sights!
Naggar - Best Place to Visit near Manali
Naggar located 22 km from Manali, along the Beas river is an idyllic, ancient village to relax, enjoy a steaming hot cup of tea and soak in the mountain views before entering Manali.
There are buses that ply from Manali to Naggar on a regular interval. If you're driving from Dharamshala to Manali, you can easily make a pit stop at Naggar first before visiting Manali. Naggar has one main point of attraction which is the Naggar castle. The castle, made of wood and stone and displaying an impressive amalgamation of European and Himalayan architecture, functions as a hotel and an art gallery. Some of the best views of the Kullu valley are visible here. The Tripura Sundari temple and Krishna temple are some of the other popular attractions in Naggar.
Best Cafes in Manali
Not enough can be said about the cafes in Manali. While most of the best cafes in Manali are located within Old Manali, there are some really good cafes located near the mall road as well. Johnson Cafe is a well-known name among the popular cafes in Manali. A Manali travel guide would be incomplete without touching upon these cafes. Take a look at some of the best cafes in Manali:
People Art Cafe, Old Manali
People Art Cafe, located in Old Manali, is my go-to place for a late breakfast. The relaxing bohemian vibe and great music are fantastic accompaniments to the delicious food served here. The menu has a wide variety of breakfast combos, one of which can be seen in the picture above. A hearty breakfast of eggs, skillet potatoes, butter toast and tea or coffee only costs Rs 190. With these rates and stellar quality of food, this cafe is a big winner. Your Manali itinerary for 3 days would be incomplete if you didn't visit this cafe.
Cafe 1947, Old Manali
Cafe 1947, located right next to the bridge in Old Manali, is well-known in Manali for its pizzas. In fact, this cafe is one of the most popular cafes in Manali. Ask anyone for some of the best cafes in Manali and they'll definitely mention cafe 1947. And boy do they deliver! The pizzas here come with a nice crust, hearty toppings and the perfect amount of cheese. I'm extremely picky about the kind of pizzas I like and the one in cafe 1947 went in my good books. The thick crunchy fries were the added bonus.
Cafe Sunshine, Old Manali
Cafe Sunshine is the place to be if you want good vibes, live music and a great crowd. The food here is quite decent but it's the atmosphere during the weekend that attracts the crowds. It's not easy to find a single empty table here at night on the weekends. Another good thing about this cafe is the prompt service and short wait time. Definitely worth a visit during the weekends.