Shimla versus Dharamshala, where should I go? This is a commonly asked question amongst most visitors travelling to Himachal Pradesh for the first time. The question becomes all the more important if you have limited time to spare and you want the best experience.
A choice between these two Himalayan hill towns – Shimla and Dharamshala, is a difficult one. You need to understand the basic similarities and differences between the two before choosing one.
In the current blog, I will attempt the Shimla Versus Dharamshala comparison for first-time travellers. Although pitting one against the other would be an unfair comparison, I will try to present an objective point of view to help you take a pick.
Shimla versus Dharamshala: An Overview
Shimla and Dharamshala are located in the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Bound by the majestic Himalayas, both Shimla and Dharamshala have made their mark on the international tourism map. As a result, a number of travellers from India and abroad travel to Shimla and Dharamshala every year to enjoy the scenic view and spend some quiet time in the mountains
In order to choose between Shimla and Dharamshala, you need to know about the different travel-related aspects of Shimla and Dharamshala. In the table below I have presented a brief overview and comparison of the most important travel aspects of these towns.
|Himachal Pradesh, North India||Himachal Pradesh, North India|
Distance from Delhi
|360 km||492 km|
Best Time to visit
|All year round except monsoons||All year round except monsoons|
Peak Tourist Season
|Throughout the year||Throughout the year|
How to Reach?
|By bus, train and air||By bus, train and air|
Mode of Internal Transport
Public Shared Cabs
|Mashobra (13 km approx.)
Naldehra (25 km approx.)
Kufri (15 km approx.)
Fagu (21 km approx.)
Chail (44 km approx.)
|McLeodganj (6 km approx.)
Triund Trek Trail (7 km approx.)
Kangra (31 km approx.)
Palampur (35 km approx.)
Approximate Cost for a 3 Day Budget Trip
|Baked Goods- Pastries||Tibetan Food|
Himachali Caps & Handicrafts
So, let’s discuss in detail which destination should you choose- Shimla or Dharamshala, and why?
Shimla versus Dharamshala: Which is Easily Accessible?
Shimla and Dharamshala are both very well-connected towns. So, whether you wish to use public transport or your own vehicle, you can arrive at both these places easily.
The road conditions are pretty good in most of the prime and centrally located areas, so you can enjoy the long drives against the backdrop of the mighty Himalayas. The drives are going to be one of your best memories in Himachal.
Just make sure you avoid rash or drunk driving and be careful with overspeeding your vehicle.
If you ever forget the way or are confused, you will always have a smiling Himachali to guide you. I remember the first travelled solo to Dharamshala, I lost directions to my stay. A girl helped me out and walked with me early morning for 1 km till I found the exact address.
|The nearest airport to Shimla is Shimla Airport at Jubbarhatti which is 20 km away from the city.
Even though travelling via flight is a time-saving option, it is not a budget-friendly option. So, make sure you’re aware of the flight cost.
Also, flights do not operate every day to Shimla from Delhi
|The nearest airport to Dharamshala is Gaggal which is 13 km away from the city and is around an hour’s drive from Dharamshala.
Even though travelling via flight is a time-saving option, it is not a budget-friendly option. So make sure you’re aware of the flight cost.
|The nearest railway station to Shimla is Kalka which is 88 km from here. You can book Shatabdi from Delhi to Kalka. It is a time saving, comfortable and pocket-friendly option.
From Kalka, you can take the World famous “Shimla-Kalka Toy Train” to enjoy the scenic views.
|The nearest railway station to Dharamshala is Pathankot which is 85 km from here.|
|If you have flown in or reached by rail in Delhi, you can board a direct HRTC bus to Shimla. You can also get buses from within Himachal to Shimla.||If you have flown in or reached by rail in Delhi, you can board a direct HRTC bus to Dharamshala. You can also get buses from within Himachal to Dharamshala.|
So, Shimla Versus Dharamshala, which is more easily accessible? Both are equally accessible and connected to other parts of the country.
Shimla versus Dharamshala: Which has better Places to Visit & Things to Do?
There is a lot to explore in and around Shimla and Dharamshala. So, when it comes to Shimla versus Dharamshala in terms of places to see and things to do, you need to take a look at what each destination has to offer.
Shimla Places to Visit
Shimla is known not only for its amazing weather but also for its beautiful architecture. Once the summer capital of the British Empire, Shimla City shows clear reflections of the colonial past. If you love architecture, Shimla is the place to be. Neo-Gothic and Victorian are the two most prominent architectural styles visible in Shimla’s historic buildings.
|Places to visit in Shimla||What to do?|
|Heritage Walk Shimla
Start Point: Clark’s Hotel
End Point: Vice Regal Lodge or IIAS
|Take a walk through these historical buildings:
Mall Road- Gaiety Theatre, Townhall, Scandal Point
The Ridge- Christ Church, State Library
General Post-office Building (Connie Cottage), Telegraph office
Grand Hotel (Bentinck’s Castel)
Railway Board Building
Gorton Castle (Accountant General’s office),
State Legislative Building (Council chambers),
Kennedy Cottage (Site of the first British house in Shimla),
Viceregal Lodge or Indian Institute of Advanced Studies
|The Mall Road
|Stroll in the evenings. Snack at the cafes or bakeries
Enjoy a play or exhibition at the historic Gaiety Theatre
A popular meeting place for the locals
Christ Church & State Library
|Enjoy the Neo-gothic architecture of the second oldest church in North India.
Don’t miss it in the evenings when the lights near the church are lit. (Especially the shutterbugs!)
Enjoy the full view of the Ridge from Takka Bench
Early mornings and late evenings are the best time to enjoy quiet time. Pictures taken from here are simply fantastic.
|Kali Bari Temple||Visit one of the oldest temples in Shimla
Enjoy some Chaat on the way back (But beware of Monkeys!)
|Lakkar Bazar||Shop for crafted Wooden Items
Enjoy some Chole Bature at Sita Ram & Sons and Pastries at Just Baked
|Jhakhu Temple||Visit the Highest Hanuman Statue|
|Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Summer Hill||Learn about British architecture & Important History of the building.|
|Potters Hill, Summer Hill||Camping and Hiking|
|Chadwick Falls||Hike up and down with your group|
Trekking and Hiking
|Sankat Mochan Temple||Visit this large temple and temple complex dedicated to Lord Hanuman|
|Tara Devi Temple||Visit this beautiful temple at the hilltop with exquisite views|
|Chharabra||Enjoy the view of the majestic Himalayas from the Helipad
See the summer retreats of the President of India and Governor of Punjab
|Green Valley||Enjoy the great view of the valley at this quick stop on the way to Kufri
Click some wonderful pictures
|Shimla water catchment wildlife sanctuary||Cycling and animal sighting|
|Chail||Highest Cricket Ground
Kali Tibba Temple
Stoned Kumbh Shiv Temple
|Kufri||See some Himalayan animals at the Himalayan National Park
Try some adventurous sports at Kufri Fun World or some other amusement park
Get amazing pictures in Snowfall during winters
Skiing in Winters
|Fagu||View Apple Orchards
Enjoy the scenic views
Visit the Banthia Devta Temple
|Naldehra||See India’s oldest 9 Hole Golf Course
Enjoy a picnic amidst tall pine and oak trees
Enjoy the Walking Trails
Animal and Bird Watching
Adventure Activities at Mashobra Greens
Short treks and Hikes
Places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj
Situated in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala is a small town situated in the lap of the Dhauladhar Mountain Range of the Himalayas. This winter capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh also happens to be the Dalai Lama’s residence and the headquarters of the Central Tibetan Administration (the Tibetan government in exile).
Located only a few kilometres away from Dharamsala is McLeod Ganj. Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj are mostly travelling together. Here is a quick overview of the places to visit in Dharamshala and McLeodganj.
|Places to Visit||What to do?|
|Norbulingka||Learn about Buddhist history and culture|
|St. John’s Church in the wilderness||A beautiful church in the wilderness of Oak and Pine trees|
|Namgyal Monastery||Offer your prayers at this small monastery on the way to Dalai Lama Temple|
|Dalai Lama Temple Complex||Visit the Dalai Lama Temple
Visit the Tibetan Museum showcasing the history of Tibetan exile
Shop for souvenirs near the street market at the shopping complex
|Dal Lake||Sit by this small lake for some quiet time|
|Naddi Village||Watch the amazing sunset at the sunset viewpoint|
The Bhagsu Nag falls
Hike to Bhagsu Falls & eat a snack at Shiva Café at the top
Visit the Old Shiva temple at Bhagsu
|Dharamkot||A quiet little village with some amazing cafes and homestays|
|Kangra Art Museum||Kangra Art and Paintings|
|HPCA Cricket Stadium||Visit one of the most beautiful and colourful cricket stadiums of the Indian subcontinent|
|War Memorial||Pay your tributes to the war heroes|
|Tea Gardens||Visit the Lush green tea gardens|
|Kunal Pathri Mata Temple||Visit one of the 51 Shakti Peeths of India|
|Aghanjar Mahadev Temple||Visit this small Shiva temple set in front of a serene stream|
|Kangra||Rock Cut Temples at Masroor
So, Shimla versus Dharamshala, which has better spots to visit? The answer is both have really good places to visit. If you are looking for quiet time in the hills, just staring at the Himalayas, Dharamshala and McLeodganj is a slightly better choice.
Shimla versus Dharamshala: Which has Better Food Options?
Shimla versus Dharamshala, which has better eating options? Well, the simple answer is both have incredible eating options. I am from Shimla and can’t stop bragging about our amazing pastries but I also equally love the Thupkas and momos of Mcleodganj. Just make sure that when you are here, you do not miss the wonderful cafes and local eateries.
Best Places to Eat in Shimla
Shimla has a variety of food options. The town has some of the best bakeries & they make the best pastries! Here’s my overview of the best places to eat in Shimla
|Where To Eat?||What to Eat?|
|Wake and Bake Café||Pizzas
Crepes & Waffles
|Simla Times Café||Wood-Fired Pizzas
|Café under Tree||Chole Bature
|Hide Out café||Rolls
LOCAL EATERIES & RESTAURANTS
|Aunty’s Kitchen||Chinese & Tibetan|
|Sita Ram & Sons||Chole Bature
Slush with Ice cream
|Goofa & Ashiana||North Indian Food
|Jashan||North Indian Food
|Himachali Rasoi||Authentic Himachali Food|
|Trishool Bakers||Chocolate Pastries
Golgappe or Paani Poori
Peanuts & Roasted Channas (Ridge)
Best Places to Eat in Dharamshala
Although Dharamshala has a number of Indian restaurants, Mcleodganj has the best eating options. McLeodganj has a large Tibetan population and therefore, a lot of Tibetan influence is clearly visible. Tibetan food here is amazing. A number of foreign nationals visit McLeodganj, as a result of which a number of multi-cuisine restaurants have cropped up in McLeodganj and Dharamshala. All in all, Dharamshala-Mcleodganj has some of the best places to eat.
You can find Italian, Israeli, Japanese and many other cuisines in the cafes here. The street food s great too. I bet you can’t stop at just one plate of the steaming chicken momos at Mceodganj!
|Where to Eat?||What to Eat?|
|Moonlight Café||Masala chai
|Carpe Diem café||Pizzas
Tibetan Herbal Tea
|LOCAL EATERIES & RESTAURANTS|
|Tibet’s Kitchen||Tibetan Food|
|Nick’s Italian Kitchen||Banoffee pie
|Clay Oven Restaurant||Smoked Pizzas
|Woeser Bakery||Chocolate lollipop
|Lung Ta Japanese Restaurant||Japanese Food|
So, Shimla versus Dharamshala, which has better food? Although both serve great food, Dharamshala has slightly more diverse food options.
Shimla versus Dharamshala: Which has better Accommodation Options?
There is no dearth of accommodation options both in Dharamshala and in Shimla. However, if a comparison is to be made i.e. Shimla Versus Dharamshala, which has more budget accommodations available? then the answer is Dharamshala.
Dharamshala has relatively cheaper accommodations available. A lot of solo travellers prefer Dharamshala, therefore, there are more backpacker hostels, especially in Mcleodagnj and Dharamkot area. These also are the best areas to stay in Dharamshala in terms of connectivity, good food and a great vibe. This, however, doesn’t mean that there are no luxury accommodation options in Dharamshala. There are plenty of those too.
Shimla, on the other hand, is preferred by group travellers and family travellers, and the accommodations available are mostly guest houses and hotels. While most people would want to stay in the city centre in Shimla, you need to remember that the hotels or stays near the Mall or the ridge are very expensive. It is, therefore, very important to book in advance, to get lower prices. Alternately, you can choose to stay in places only a few kilometres from Shimla. These are relatively cheaper when compared to the main city and are connected via public transport.
Some of the best budget accommodations in Shimla and Dharamshala are here
|Hotel Gulmarg Regency||Hotel Backpackers Inn|
|Verma’s Homestay||Tibet World|
|Shubham Homestay||Snow Crest Inn|
So, Shimla versus Dharamshala, which has better accommodation options? Both have great accommodation options, however, Dharamshala- McLeodganj is more backpacker-friendly.
Shimla versus Dharamshala: Which has better internal transportation?
Since both Shimla and Dharamshala are popular tourist destinations, there are plenty of internal transport options available in both towns. You can choose public transport or can hire a bike if you wish to explore the mountains your own way.
Shimla has a very good public transport system. You can find private and government buses plying every few minutes. These can be used to travel within the city. The buses can sometimes be very crowded during rush hours- school and office time.
For visiting the nearby places too plenty of buses are available.
Apart from the uses, you can also find some HRTC taxis plying on some routes. These are run by the government transport department and charge a very nominal fare.
Most of the buses and taxis operate till 8 pm at night.
There are not many local buses in Dharamshala when compared to Shimla. You will find buses easily between Mcleodganj and Dharamshala or other relatively distant places. However, if you are looking to manage sightseeing using public transport, that might get a little difficult.
The buses operate till about 8 in the evening.
|Easily available at local taxi stands.
You can also book Ola cabs within the city of Shimla. It might, however, be difficult to find one sometimes and you may have to wait a while. But they are definitely much cheaper than the private cabs
|Easily available at local taxi stands.|
|There are no autos in Shimla||You can find Autos in Dharmshala to see around.|
|You can drive your own vehicle or rent a bike when you reach Shimla.||You can drive your own vehicle or rent a bike when you reach Dharamsala.|
So, Shimla versus Dharamshala, which has better internal transport? Both places have advantages in some areas and disadvantages in others.
Shimla versus Dharamshala: Which is Safer?
Himachal Pradesh is one of the safest places in India. Shimla and Dharamshala are therefore both safe destinations for travellers. So, whether you are travelling with your partner, your family or friends or you are just going solo, you need not worry about safety.
Is Shimla Safe?
Shimla, the ‘queen of hills,” is visited each year by thousands of tourists including solo travellers, student groups, families and couples. It is one of the safest places for all kinds of travellers. Locals are friendly and helpful and will guide you properly if need be.
One thing you need to be careful about when you are in Shimla City is – the monkeys. Monkeys of Shimla are known for their notoriety. So, stay away and do not feed them.
A lot of people ask whether Shimla is safe for couples- especially unmarried ones? The answer is Yes. Shimla is a popular destination for couple travellers and there is no safety issue for couples. Make sure you book a decent hotel and carry your valid ID proofs.
As it holds true for other destinations, you should definitely watch out for notorious elements or suspicious behaviour if you encounter any. Also, make sure you are not hanging around deserted places all by yourself at odd hours.
Is Dharamshala Safe?
Dharamshala and Mcleodganj are both safe travel destinations. Not only are they safe but beautiful. The majestic Himalayas form a riveting backdrop and you can’t help but stare at the natural wonder this place is.
If you aren’t convinced, take a look at this “Is Dharamshala Safe?” blog. It will answer all your questions regarding the safety of Dharamshala.
So, Shimla Versus Dharamshala, which is safer? Both are equally safe.
Shimla versus Dharamshala: Which is more pocket-friendly?
Tourism is a major source of income for the state of Himachal Pradesh. Therefore, the tourist hill towns of Shimla and Dharamshala are a little more expensive than other places. Accommodations and internal transport (especially private taxis) constitute the bulk of total expenditure.
Both Shimla and Dharamshala are almost equally expensive. Shimla is slightly more expensive when compared to Dharamshala in terms of food, stay and transportation, especially during the peak season.
So, if you are planning a budget trip to Shimla or Dharamshala make sure to follow these 3 important tips
Book your accommodation well in advance
Avoid the peak tourist Season and Weekends
Use public transportation for travelling internally. Avoid peak office and school time to (9-10 am) and school time
So, Shimla Versus Dharamshala, which is more pocket-friendly? Dharamshala is a little more budget-friendly than Shimla.
Shimla versus Dharamshala: The Final Verdict
Shimla and Dharamshala are wonderful tourist destinations. Both these hill towns are similar in many ways and yet are so different. There is something for everyone in both these places. So, whether you are looking for some Himalayan adventure or just want to spend some quiet time with a book and a cup of hot tea, staring at the mountains, both are perfect.
I hear a lot of people complaining about how commercial Shimla and Dharamshala, especially Shimla have become over the years. Although a bit of commercialization has taken place but that is true for all tourist destinations. This in no way means that you need not visit the place. You just need to be open and willing to explore the real Shimla and Dharamshala away from the crowds.
So, Shimla Versus Dharamshala, which place you should choose? You can choose any one of them and better still, visit both of these towns. You won’t be disappointed. Just make sure you don’t stick to the regular destinations and explore nearby places as well.
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