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Shimla versus Dharamshala: What’s the Better Travel Destination?

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 a limited time to spare and you want the best experience. Which destination should you choose- Shimla or Dharamshala, and why?

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. A choice between these two Himalayan hill towns is 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.

Why should you visit Shimla? What’s the ideal Dharamshala Itinerary?

Shimla versus Dharamshala: An Overview

In order to choose between Shimla and Dharamshala, you need to 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.

SHIMLA DHARAMSHALA

Location

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

May-June

December-February

April-June

December-February

Accessibility

Throughout the year Throughout the year

How to Reach?

By bus, train and air By bus, train and air

Mode of Internal Transport

Local Buses

Local Cabs

Public Shared Cabs

Ola Cabs

Rental Bikes

Local Buses

Local Cabs

Autos

Rental Bikes

Nearby Places

Mashobra (13 kms approx.)

Naldehra (25 kms approx.)

Kufri (15 kms approx.)

Fagu (21 kms approx.)

Chail (44 kms 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

6000-8000 INR 5000-7000

Food Specialty

Baked Goods- Pastries Tibetan Food

Shopping Options

Wooden Items

Woollens

Himachali Caps & Handicrafts

Buddhist Motifs

Tibetan Handicrafts

Kangra Tea

Shimla Vs Dharamshala 1

The Christ Church is the second oldest Church in North India

Shimla versus Dharamshala: Which is Easily Accessible?

Shimla and Dharamshala are both very well-connected towns. So, whether you wish to use the 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 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.

Shimla Dharamshala

By Air

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 kms 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.

By Train

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.
By Bus
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, the 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:

Combermere bridge

Mall Road- Gaiety Theatre, Townhall, Scandal Point

Bandstand

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),

Hotel Cecil

State Museum

Viceregal Lodge or Indian Institute of Advanced Studies

The Mall Road

Gaiety Theatre

Scandal Point

 

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

The Ridge

Christ Church & State Library

 

Takka Bench

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 the British architecture & Important History of the building.
Potters Hill, Summer Hill Camping and Hiking
Chadwick Falls Hike up and down with your group
Annadale Military Museum

Cricket Ground

Shoghi Camping

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 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

Chail Palace

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

Sking 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

Horse Riding

Enjoy the Walking Trails

Mashobra Camping

Trekking

Adventure Sports

Visit Craignano

Animal and Bird Watching

Adventure Activities at Mashobra Greens

Shoghi Camping

Short treks and Hikes

Trekking Hattu Peak

Shaily Peak

 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 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 travelled 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
Bhagsu Village

The Bhagsu Nag falls

Bhagsunag Temple

 

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
Trekking Triund Trek

Lahesh Cave Trek

Kangra Rock Cut Temples at Masroor

Kangra Fort

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 a 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 out 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?

CAFES

Wake and Bake Café Pizzas

Coffee

Crepes & Waffles

Simla Times Café Wood Fired Pizzas

Salads

Pasta

Café under Tree Chole Bature

Dosas

Café Sol Burgers

Italian food

Pastries

Honey Hut Shakes

Pies

Tea

Hide Out café Rolls

Burgers

LOCAL EATERIES & RESTAURANTS

Scossa Thick Shakes
Aunty’s Kitchen Chinese
Sita Ram & Sons Cholle Bature

Tikki

Beekay’s Non-Veg Burgers

Momos

Pizzas

Embassy Softy

Slush with Ice cream

Brownies

Goofa & Ashiana North Indian Food

Snacks

Baljees & Fascination Indian Sweets

South Indian

Indian Food

Cutlets & Hotdogs

Jashan North Indian Food

Masala Tea

Himachali Rasoi Authentic Himachali Food

BAKERIES

Krishna Bakers Pastries

Chicken Momos

Kurkej

Eclairs

Cookies

Trishool Bakers Chocolate Pastries

Chicken Momos

Eclairs

Cookies

Just Baked Pastries

Pies

Bread

Cookies

STREET FOOD

Channa Kulcha

Golgappe or Paani Poori

Sandwiches

Veg Momos

Hotdogs

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.  The 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 yu can’t stop at just one plate of the steaming chicken momos at Mceodganj!

Where to Eat? What to Eat?
CAFES
Moonlight Café Masala chai

Shakshuka

Bhagsu cake

Carpe Diem café Pizzas

Spaghetti

Tacos

Illiterati Café Soups

Salads

lasagna

Kahwa

Lhamo’s Croissant Croissants

Tibetan Herbal Tea

LOCAL EATERIES & RESTAURANTS
Tibet’s Kitchen Tibetan Food
Nick’s Italian Kitchen Banoffee pie

Waffles

Pizzas

Clay Oven Restaurant Smoked Pizzas

Butter Tea

 Sandy’s Kitchen Pancakes

Hukkah

Sizzler

Woeser Bakery Chocolate lollipop

Carrot cake

Lung Ta Japanese Restaurant Japanese Food
German Bakery Brownies

Israeli Food

Sizzlers

Morgan’s Place Pizzas
STREET FOOD
Chicken Momos

Veg Momos

Thupkas

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

Shimla Dharamshala
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 Vs Dharamshala

The picturesque HPCA Cricket Stadium, set against the mighty Dhauladhars is a must visit in Dharamshala.

Shimla versus Dharamshala: Which has better internal transportation?

Since both Shimla and Dharamshala are popular tourist destinations, there are a plenty of internal transport options available in both the towns. You can choose the public transport or can hire a bike if you wish to explore mountains your own way.

Shimla Dharamshala
Public Transport
Buses:

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.

Public Taxis:

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.

Buses:

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.

Private Taxis
Easily available at local taxi stands.

Ola Cabs:

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.
Autos
There are no autos in Shimla You can find Autos in Dharmshala to see around.
Self-Driven Vehicles
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 are – 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 as 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

Tip 1

Book your Accommodation well in advance

Tip 2

Avoid the peak tourist Season and Weekends

Tip 3

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 of 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.

Happy Wayfaring!

About the Author

Divya Sarjolta

Divya Sarjolta

Divya Sarjolta is a Ph.D in Economics and a Gold Medalist in her Majors. She hails from the beautiful town of Shimla and is a Himachali by birth. She enjoys exploring life to the fullest and has pursued quite a lot of backpacking trips around the country. Two things Divya craves more than anything else is good food and travel. She leads her life on the lines of Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones, “It is a big and beautiful world. Most of us live and die in the same corner where we were born and never get to see any of it. I don’t want to be most of us.” So, explore while you can

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