things to do in surat

Experience the colorful culture of Surat, India. (Photo: Getty Images)

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See Surat, India, Like a Local: Explore the Diamond City’s Bazaars, Temples, Beaches and More

Gujarat’s second-largest city has remained off the tourist radar, perhaps overshadowed by the success of Mumbai, only 174 miles to the south. But low-key doesn’t mean that Surat lacks interesting history or things to see and do.

Surat is perhaps most famous for its diamond cutting and polishing industry: 90 percent of the world’s precious stones are polished here. But there’s much more intrigue lurking beneath the city’s surface. From basking in Surat’s heritage to wandering through its bustling markets and sampling a smorgasbord of local food, it’s a city worth exploring.

Book a stay at the Surat Marriott Hotel, set along the banks of the picturesque Tapti River, and begin your journey through Diamond City.

Explore Surat’s History

Once India’s most important port on the Arabian Sea, Surat rapidly expanded on the flanks of the Tapti River. Its coastal positioning meant that in the early 16th century, Surat served as a popular starting point for the hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

Meanwhile, Dutch, French, Portuguese, British and even Swedish colonizers and traders took up residence along Surat’s riverbanks — evidence of which can be seen along Dutch Road in the Nanpura neighborhood, which still commemorates the spot where they settled in the 1700s.

One of Surat’s main sites is the ISKCON Temple, set on the western side of the Tapti River a few miles from the town center. With a striking gopuram, or entrance tower, and two copper-red sandstone domes, the temple fills with devotees peacefully praying and meditating. Keep an eye out for the idol of Lord Krishna, as well as the space’s exquisite murals that depict the Hindu deity’s story.

Surat’s past legacy is most evident at the Surat Castle, built on a bank of the Tapti River in the 16th century as a protective garrison against frequent Portuguese attacks. Its large round towers are well-preserved, supported by melted lead and iron strips.

Not too far away north in the Nanpura district, near Surat’s Kataragam Gate, are the well-manicured Dutch Gardens, landscaped in the style of a European park. Part of Surat’s historical Dutch cemetery, these gardens enclose mausoleums, domes and an Anglican church with a 10-foot-high illuminated cross.

Catch a Performance at Rang Upavan Open Air Amphitheater

things to do in surat
See a show at the amphitheater. (Photo: Getty India)

Surat also boasts the biggest amphitheater in India. Set in the center of the city near the Tapti River, and able to accommodate 4,000 people, the Rang Upavan Open Air Amphitheater showcases the rich cultural traditions of Gujarat. Performances include theater, musicals, recitals, classical music, poetry readings and other events.

Visit Surat’s Markets and Souks

Besides diamond cutting, Surat is also famous for its prized fabrics, which you’ll find sold in its busy markets. The New Textile Market is the place to start scouring for colorful saris, local fabrics and fine silks, while Chauta Bazaar, one of the city’s oldest, is the place to go for home goods, kitchen utensils and groceries. If you’re looking for locally sourced eats, Ghoddod Road has a market run by local farmers peddling their fresh produce right on the street.

Try Delicious Local Snacks

Surat’s food is a blend of the different influences that have arrived in this port city since Colonial times, and it’s some of the tastiest in western India.

07First-time visitors can’t miss the city’s most famous traditional snack, undhiyu. This rich dish is made by slicing and mixing winter vegetables such as broad beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes, purple yam, cucumbers, eggplant and unpeeled Rajagiri bananas. Ponk, made of winter millet, is another essential Surti snack.

Try the Lashkari Tomato Bhajiya, a snack of deep-fried tomatoes smeared in chutney, which is especially famous at Dumas Beach. Back in town, you should order ghotalo, a blend of boiled and scrambled eggs mixed with omelete, all cooked with masala paste.

Meat lovers flock to Zampa Bazaar, where simple stalls offer a wide range of orange-marinated, zesty chicken skewers. Another specialty here is the mince-stuffed, deep-fried Rangooni paratha, said to have arrived in Surat via Burma.

For lunch, try a traditional Gujarati thali, and quench all your sweet-tooth cravings with a taste of the local ghari, a biscuit-like tidbit smeared in ghee. Some of the best are sold at Chauta Bazaar, where you can try the region’s signature stuffed, sweet kesar badam pista ghari, first created here in the 1900s.

Take a Break at Surat’s Beaches

Dumas Beach, 13 miles southeast of town, sits at the end of the Tapti River, where it meets Hazira Creek and flows into the Arabian Sea. Dumas is a popular picnic spot for locals, but watch where you wander; parts of this beach are a burial ground and believed to be one of the most haunted places in Gujarat.

While here, pay a visit to Dariya Ganesh Temple, south of Dumas Beach, or if you seek more sand, head farther southwest to Ubharat, a quieter option with a long, black sand shore.