One Day in Shimla : Must See Places For A Day Of Sightseeing
Created by Colleen Sims * 24 December 2023
One Day in Shimla
Shimla was always going to be a short visit for us. I’m sure that the hill station and the glorious nature that surrounds the town holds many attractions, but for us we only had one full day.
We were visiting because Gerry wanted to ride the Kalka to Shimla Toy Train; a UNESCO listed railway that is considered one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world.
We could have simply taken the train up to Shimla, spent a few hours in town and taken the return train back. But, we decided that Shimla, with its own unique colonial history, would be worth a day of exploring.
It was a good decision, except for our initial struggles on finding accommodation in Shimla. You can easily capture the essence of Shimla in one day and visit the most important must-see sights.
Where Is Shimla?
Shimla is in northern India. It is the largest city and capital of the Himachal Pradesh region. Nestled in the foothills of the western Himalayas, the city was originally built across seven hills and known affectionately as Queen of the Hills.
Snowy peaks line the horizon and whilst not as prominent as they are in Mcleodganj the views are nonetheless impressive.
Why Is Shimla Famous?
Shimla is famous for its picturesque landscapes, colonial architecture, and pleasantly cooler climate.
Once the ancestral home to Jakhoo and Dhaula tribes, Shimla’s main history dates back to the early 19th century.
The area remained relatively unknown until 1819, when until a Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army stumbled upon the small village of Shyamala, which would later be called Shimla. He recognized the area’s potential as a cool and comfortable retreat from the scorching heat of Delhi and the rest, as they say, is history.
In1864 Shimla was declared the summer capital of British India and every summer the entire Government of India would relocate to the cool of the hills. The town grew in popularity as a summer retreat and even gained a reputation as bit of a party town.
When the Kalka to Shimla Railway opened in 1906 the hill station became even more accessible and Shimla’s popularity grew.
Today Shimla has grown well beyond her original seven hills and every inch of available space has been built on. We’ll be honest and admit that we were a tad disappointed when we first arrived as we were expecting a quaint colonial town in the hills. That place does still exist but Shimla today is also a large working city; so just keep those expectations in check.
How To Get To Shimla?
Shimla is well-connected by various modes of transport, including road, rail, and air. Your options will be determined by the amount of time you have, your budget and your starting point.
Travel To Shimla By Road
We travelled to Shimla from Mcleodganj. There are buses from Dharamshala (Mcleodganj) to Shimla but the journey time was around 10 hours and only 6 hours by taxi. It made more sense for us to use a taxi. However, if you are on a budget then local Himachal buses cost around 6€ which is an absolute bargain.
We also decided to take a private taxi from Shimla onwards to Delhi. Shimla is 350 km from Delhi and the journey takes around 7 hours by car. Because we’d taken the Toy Train from Shimla our driver met us at Kalka Station and our journey to Delhi was around 4.5 hours. We also travelled at night when the traffic was lighter.
Travelling from Delhi to Shimla is a popular well-trodden route and there are many buses including semi-sleeper air-conditioned buses which travel overnight for less than 20€.
Top Tip : Booking trains and buses can be difficult without an Indian phone number but we used 12go to check availability and book our tickets.
Travel To Shimla By Train
Excluding the Toy Train, the nearest railway station to Shimla is Kalka, which is well-connected to major cities in India. From Kalka, you can then take the historic Kalka to Shimla Toy Train, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Originally, we planned to travel from Delhi to Chandigarh by train and onwards to Kalka for our Toy Train. It would have meant an overnight in Kalka but we found no suitable accommodation so we changed plan; having driven through the town we feel that we made the right choice.
Both Chandigarh and Kalka are well served by the Indian rail network; again check the 12go website for times and for booking tickets.
Travel To Shimla By Air
The nearest airport to Shimla is Jubbarhatti Airport, however commercial flights stopped in 2022.
If you prefer to fly then Chandigarh (Shaheed Bhagat Singh International Airport) is a good alternative. There are daily flights from the capital and other Indian cities. Indigo are currently offering the 45 minute journey from Delhi for under 40€.
Chandigarh As A Transport Hub
The biggest transport centre before Shimla is Chandigarh. An interesting destination in its own right, Chandigarh has an airport and a major railway station.
Shimla is only around 113 km from Chandigarh and you can easily opt for a taxi, bus, or train to move you closer to Shimla.
Chandigarh is well worth a stop-over, with its wide boulevards, green spaces, public gardens and a huge leisure lake; it is also famed for its shopping and tailoring. Unlike Kalka, the city boasts a great selection of inexpensive good accommodation, which makes it an easy staging point for travel to and from Shimla.
One Day In Shimla : The Best Places to Visit
We arrived in Shimla at dusk and spent the evening in our hotel restaurant admiring the glorious city views from the terrace whilst planning how we would fill our one day in Shimla.
Good To Know : The following are our pick of the best things to see and do. We didn’t leave Shimla until late afternoon on our second day, which gave us time to explore other popular sites. The following options were for us the stand-out places to visit in the best order.
Jakhu Hill : Your First Visit Of The Morning
Have breakfast in your hotel if you can; it will save you time getting across town. We are heading to Jakhu Hill, the Jakhu Temple and its statue which is visible from across the city. It is better to go early to escape the crowds which will arrive by the coach-load as the day goes on.
Jakhu Hill is the highest point in Shimla, rising 2,455 meters above sea level and overlooks the stunning Himalayan valleys with panoramic views of Shimla.
The hill has been an important pilgrimage site since the 12th century and is dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Hanuman. As well as the temple, the site is home to a huge 108-foot statue of Lord Hanuman, said to be tallest of its kind in the world.
There are three ways to reach Jakhu Hill:
The Shimla Ropeway is open from 9:30 to 17:30 every day; although do check times during festivals and holidays and make sure you know the time of the last cable car back. You can purchase tickets on-line or queue at the ticket desk (busier as the day goes on) and you can purchase a one-way ticket and choose to walk down if you prefer.
Top Tips for Visiting Jakhu Temple : Wear comfortable walking shoes as you’ll want to explore when you reach the top and be prepared for some queues. Be very cautious of the monkeys. There is a large population of Macaque monkeys and whilst generally harmless, they do steal things and it’s best not to carry food items openly. Never encourage interaction or feed the monkeys as they are wild animals and have been known to bite if antagonised.
Exploring The Mall and The Ridge : Mid Morning And A Late Lunch
If you are coming from the Ropeway ticket booth you might find it quicker to walk to The Mall; it’s only a 10 minute walk.
Top Tip: If you’re taking a taxi to The Mall your taxi will probably take you to the LIFT TO MALL ROAD. This is a really efficient way of heading up to The Mall quickly. You buy a return ticket at the booth beside the lift for just a few rupees, join the queue and squeeze in. There are two lifts. Exit one and follow the crowd to the second. And keep your ticket for your return journey and 10% off your lunch.
Exploring The Mall
Once on Mall Road our first stop was for coffee. There are loads of cafés to choose from but we opted for Café 1873 and grabbed a window seat, affording us amazing views of the valleys below.
The Mall is car free so you can relax and wander and spend time window shopping. Expect lots of tourist shops and an odd sprinkling of electrical retail shops plus a good selection of bakeries and cafes.
We walked from one end of Mall Road to the other and after fully exploring we headed up to The Ridge. This is the street above The Mall and is well marked, and very easy to find and can be accessed by steps from The Mall.
Exploring The Colonial Ridge
On the Ridge you’ll find Christ Church and the Gaiety Theatre plus a selection of old colonial buildings and amazing views.
You can take a guided heritage walking tour, which I would have loved but the times didn’t work for us (although we since learned that these can be customised to suit). However, we took our time to fully explore every inch of the Ridge. This area is very busy and make sure you find time to admire the distance mountain views and wander down to the old YMCA building and The Indian Coffee House
Scandal point is where the Mall joins Ridge Road, next to the old Post Office. Its name arose from the supposed elopement in 1892 of a British lady (said to be the Viceroy’s daughter) and an Indian Maharaja. The story goes that the Maharaja of Patiala was later banished from Shimla by the British authorities which he supposedly countered by creating his own summer capital; the now famous hill resort of Chail.
As much as we want to believe in this love story, historians suggest that the dates don’t match and some say the Point earned it’s name as a natural gathering place for sharing news and gossip.
Gaiety Theatre opened on 30 May 1887 and many popular celebrities of the day are said to have performed on its stage.
The theatre has been renovated with the original structure untouched to keep its heritage preserved and when we visited it was home to an Art Exhibition.
The Town Hall Municipal Corporation building
The Town Hall Building was constructed in 1908 and became the centre of municipal activities. A project was started in 2014 to restore the building to its former glory.
The GPO (General Post Office)
The post office building reflects the colonial heritage of the city. Thought to be the oldest post office in Northern India, Shimla GPO was constructed in 1882 and remains a working post office today. You can purchase postage stamps and send letters or postcards just as you can with any Post Office India.
Considered the second oldest church in Northern India, built in 1857 to serve the largely British community, Christ Church stands out as one of the prominent landmarks of Shimla.
Lunchtime in Colonial Shimla
We spent a few hours exploring The Mall and The Ridge until hunger got the better of us and we decided it must be time for lunch.
We ate at the very popular Goofa Ashiana Restaurant; it’s just up from the Gaiety Theatre, so you can’t miss it. We choose here for convenience and because we had a 10% discount from our LIFT tickets.
We learned later that it didn’t have great reviews however our meal was really fabulous and the service excellent. We can only take as we find so from our experience we would definitely recommend a lunch stop here.
However, if curry isn’t your thing there are a great number of cafes and eateries along Mall Road
Viceregal Lodge and Gardens For Sunset
No visit to Shimla would be complete without a visit to the Viceregal Lodge. We bought tickets for both the gardens and a guided tour of the interior of the Lodge. We loved the gardens and if you’re on a budget then I would say skip the interior tour; which was really busy when we visited.
There are two ways to reach the lodge. You can walk along a mainly flat path from The Ridge. It’s just shy of 4 kilometres, very often shady and will take around an hour. It’s a popular walk and you get some amazing views. You can also take a taxi; Uber works well in the city.
Top Tip : If you plan to walk you can go directly from The Mall and the Ridge, if you plan to take a taxi then you’ll probably need to take the LIFT back down from Mall Road to meet your driver.
We arrive at the Viceregal lodge at around 3pm. There is a small café on site if you wanted refreshments but having had our late lunch we opted to go and explore the gardens and oh my they are fabulous.
The Viceregal Lodge sits majestically atop Observatory Hill, one of Shimla’s seven hills. It’s a testament to colonial India’s grandeur and bore witness to some of the most pivotal moments in the country’s history.
Designed by British architect Henry Irwin, the Lodge was completed in 1888. It eventually became home to Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, who held crucial meetings here with Indian leaders Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah prior to Partition in 1947.
For us, as beautiful as the building is, it was the 110 acres of gardens which stole our hearts. They’re a delightful blend of manicured lawns, flowerbeds, towering trees and fragrant rhododendron bushes. Whist we had no idea what to expect we simply followed our noses and loved every minute.
Divided into distinct zones you can lose hours exploring. From the Viceregal Lodge lawn you can head to the Privy Garden, Italian Garden, and the Himalayan Viewpoint. There’s even the Viceroy’s Walk, a secluded path offering stunning views of the glorious surrounding hills.
As we’d bought tickets for both the gardens and the Lodge tour, we met at the appointed time; the only way to visit the interior is through a guided tour. The tour takes you through some of the grand state rooms and offers a glimpse into the lives of the Viceroys. As I mentioned previously, our tour was very busy and we didn’t really enjoy it. Photos aren’t allowed either so we can’t share.
However, the gardens are splendid and definitely well worth the visit. We stayed until sunset and it’s one of our favourite memories of Shimla.
The lodge is now home to the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies. After exploring the gardens, if you allow time, you can also head to the nearby Himachal Pradesh State Museum, housed in the former Viceregal Lodge stables. You’ll find a fascinating display of artifacts and exhibits on the state’s history and culture.
We ordered an Uber to take us back to town but there are tuk-tuks and taxis waiting at the entrance too; make sure you agree a price before getting in!
How To Spend An Evening In Shimla
After our visit to the Viceregal Lodge we headed back to The Mall to see the city at night. Both the Mall and the Ridge offer a very different vibe at night as many of the day tourists have left.
Visting at night offers the chance to see the illuminated Christ Church as well as soaking up the ambiance after sunset when the crowds have gone. But be warned that in the winter months it’s pretty chilly up here when the sun has gone.
During our first visit to the Mall and on our way back to the LIFT, we stopped for a drink in the café attached to the Hotel Combermere. Honestly, my coffee wasn’t great but the hotel offers stunning views of the city and we discovered a great little bar called Sol Lounge which is open to non-residents.
After seeing the Ridge at night we headed back to the Combermere to the Sol Lounge for a night cap. Expect it to be busy as it’s a popular spot, known for ambiance, good music, and great menu choices. For us it was the perfect place for a drink after a busy day of sightseeing; and the views are also pretty wonderful.
Other Eateries Worth Visiting In The Evenings
Fabulous Done for you Tour of Shimla and The Hill Stations
We met a couple in our hotel who were travelling from Chandigarh on a 7-day tour of the Hill Stations. They were super happy with their trip. If you prefer to have all the details arranged for you in advance then do take a look at this tour; we feel it offers excellent value for money and a fabulous itinerary.
Where to Stay In Shimla?
If you’ve seen our post about Finding Good Accommodation in Shimla you’ll know that there is potential for some bad experiences. Shimla is popular and is included on many package tour itineraries so beds book quickly and prices are higher.
We’d recommend the following hotels which suit a range of budgets :
The Hosteller is a known budget brand with hundreds of solid reviews and it was easy to check and compare reviews across different platforms; the reviews are honest and transparent.
This hotel felt like heaven when we arrived. Snow Valley Resorts is a lovely place to stay and offers excellent value for money. We would 100% book here again.
The Oberoi brand is synonymous with luxury and is a name that you can trust to deliver 5* services. If you’re looking for someone fabulous to stay then look no further than The Oberoi Cecil.
Is it Worth Visiting Shimla for One Day?
Yes. Shimla is compact enough to all you time at all the most iconic sites. We had some bad experiences at the start of our visit and I’m sure this clouded our first impressions but on reflection we are really glad that we made the visit and would have regretted not seeing this unique city.
Shimla is a curious town but if you have the time to add it to your itinerary then we would say yes it’s definitely worth a visit. Do ensure you book your bed well in advance and if you wish to travel on the Kalka to Shimla Toy Train then book your tickets in advance as they sell very quickly!
Discover More About India
If you’re visiting India and you’ve found this post useful then you may be interested to read my other posts :
- Finding Great Places to Stay in Shimla : A Cautionary Tale
- Incredible India : Our Unforgettable Three Month Adventure
- Amritsar Itinerary : 2 Fabulous Days in the Golden Holy City
- Wagah Border Ceremony : Where Is It, What Is It and How Do You Visit?
- Visiting Mcleodganj : Travel Guide To The Home Of The Dalai Lama
- 3 Day Itinerary for Mcloedganj
- Top 5 Cafes in Mceodganj
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
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I’ve had the mis-fortune to end up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal and Ireland; every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.
Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.
TrueTraveller : We have this policy now for an extended global trip and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions
Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.