Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and is often called the spiritual capital of India. For this reason, drinking is less common than other tourist destinations like Goa or Mumbai.
Varanasi is not a dry city, however, alcohol can’t be sold within 250 meters of temples or heritage sites. The Chief Minister of the state directed officers to prohibit alcohol sales within a kilometer of the popular Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
Drinking in public is NOT legal and would be offensive to the many spiritual tourists. You can bring your own liquor to Varanasi but only one bottle that is less than 1.5 liters.
However, like many things in India things aren’t always what they seem on paper. In this article, I’ll help you understand how to enjoy a drink if you wish, while also respecting the laws and norms in this special city.
Planning a trip to India at some point? Check out my free ebook to help you save time and money, and avoid headaches. After +4 years in India, I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and this guide shares what I’ve learned so you can have a smoother trip.
What Are Varanasi’s Alcohol Laws?
The law state that alcohol can NOT be sold within 250 meters of Varanasi’s spiritual temples and heritage sites.
However, you may find it hard to find a place to legally drink alcohol. Varanasi has an estimated 23,000 temples… in this scholarly journal, they found 3,347 religious structures in the main area of Varanasi.
The golden-domed Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the most popular temples in India and has an estimated 3,000 visitors each day. Yet, there are numerous small unnamed temples that line many of the side alleys. So how is a tourist supposed to know where it is okay to get a drink with dinner or after a long day?
In general, do NOT buy alcohol near the Ganges River or in the old city near the Ganges. However, if you politely ask at your hotel you may find some unofficial places to find a cocktail.
But do avoid drinking near the most popular temples in Varanasi, which are:
- Kashi Vishwanath Temple
- Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple
- Durga Temple
- Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple
- Tulsi Manas Temple
- Bharat Mata Temple
- Nepali Temple
- Kaal Bhairav Temple
- New Vishvanath Temple
- Tridev Temple
There are many more, and if I missed one of your favorite temples, please forgive me.
Also, steer clear of the many heritage sites in Varanasi, which are:
- Manikarnika Ghat or the Burning Ghat
- Darbhanga Ghat
- Ramnagar Fort
- Archaeological Buddhist Remains of Sarnath
- Tulsi Ghat
- Dashashwamedh Ghat
- Assi Ghat
- Dhamekh Stupa
- BrijRama Palace Hotel
Again, this just covers a few of the most popular heritage sites in Varanasi.
Read more: Alcohol isn’t too popular in Kashmir either.
Is Alcohol Allowed in Hindiusm?
Alcohol is not banned in Hindiusm, it is just not encouraged. In the Vedas, the ancient spiritual texts which inspire Hindiusm, describe soma as a favorite intoxicating drink of the deities. Alcohol is consumed at many festivals and by some Shiva devotees. Yet it is discouraged among the Brahmins (priests, teachers and intellectuals).
For many Hindu tourists, visiting Varanasi is one of the most important spiritual events of their lifetime. Many of the local merchants make a living by helping these tourists have a special time and it would be considered offensive and rude for alcohol to be freely sold or consumed.
One district president of a local political party requested a ban of all liquor and meat sales within 10 kilometers of the popular Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
Read more: Alcohol is popular near the beach in Pondicherry.
Can You Bring Alcohol Into Varanasi?
You can bring one bottle of alcohol that is less than 1.5 liters. Basically, one large bottle. The alcohol must be sealed and for self-consumption only.
The fines for exceeding the limit is 5,000 rupees or ten times the cost of the bottle, whichever is higher.
This is one of the best ways to enjoy a drink in Varanasi though. You can bring in a bottle of your favorite drink and savor a glass in the privacy of your hotel room.
Can You Find Alcohol or Nightlife in Varanasi?
The best place to have a nice drink with dinner is in the Cantonment part of town, which is about a 15-minute taxi ride from the most popular ghats in Varanasi.
You can take a taxi from the Dashashwamedh Ghat, the center of the most popular Ganga Aarti ceremony at night, and be in an area of the city where you can find restaurants that serve alcohol.
The further you go from the Ganges the more likely you are to find a bottle shop or restaurants serving alcohol.
However, Indian hospitality is amazing and if you were to politely ask an employer at your hotel or a popular restaurant, you will find some help. Many places that cater to tourists would discreetly serve alcohol, usually in a teapot.
Read more: Why is Alcohol Taboo in India?
What Are the Best Places To Buy Alcohol in Varanasi?
For some places that definitely serve alcohol, I recommend these options:
Ganja Fuji Hotel & Hostel: This hostel is chill, simple and inexpensive with a great location near the Ghats. The rooftop restaurant has beer and alcoholic drinks.
The Third Floor Stock Exchange: If you are looking to grab drinks and watch sports, this is the place. They have a long list of 75 cocktails. There are billiards tables and plenty of seating. The food is pretty good as well with many customers recommending the chili paneer and white sauce pasta. For two people, you will pay an average of 1,400 rupees with drinks.
The Big Taamash Cafe: For good music this cafe has a highly recommended DJ some nights. The tikka and noodle dishes are good, and you will spend an average of 1,000 Rs for two people without alcohol.
Yelchiko Restaurant: a North Indian, Chinese and Mughlai restaurant. The paneer chilli is recommended and the prices are good at 800 rupees for two people without alcohol.
Ambuja Wine Shop is a recommended liquor store, that’s a 15-minute taxi from the most popular ghats. bottle shop
Another legal option is to try a bhang lassi at the Blue Lassi. A lassi is a delicious yogurt drink with spices, nuts, and rose water. Bhang is marijuana and you can find them at a number of lassi shops in Varanasi. Please be careful though and I personally don’t recommend taking drugs here.
The Blue Lassi is the most popular place to buy lassis though and where I’d recommend you find one. However, you can find them in many places around Varanasi if you politely ask around for a “special” lassi.
How Much Does Alcohol Cost in Varanasi?
Due to the reduced options, you will pay more for most alcohol in Varanasi than in a more popular party place like Goa. Although mid-range bottles of wine are cheaper in Varanasi
|Mid-Range Bottle of Wine at a Bottle Shop||300.00 ₹||600.00 ₹|
|Domestic Beer at a Bottle Shop||130.00 ₹||68.41 ₹|
|Imported Beer at a Bottle Shop||300.00 ₹||161.25 ₹|
|Domestic Beer at a Restaurant||135.00 ₹||80.00 ₹|
|Imported Beer at a Restaurant||400.00 ₹||305.03 ₹|
Is It Safe To Buy Alcohol in Varanasi?
It’s important to look out for the usual scams when buying alcohol. Some shops are going to overcharge for bottles of liquor since it is more difficult to buy.
Check the price tag on the bottle. If it scratched out or missing, this is a sign the price has been tampered with.
One scary concern is that sometimes moonshine or fake alcohol is substituted for real alcohol (it’s cheaper) so you might not know what you are drinking.
In New Delhi, 80 people were killed drinking this toxic blend in 2019, and so you really want to be sure you buy from a respected dealer.
You will probably be okay, of course, and I don’t want to scare you, however, this knowledge will help you be aware of the risks.
Varanasi is not a dry city, and the further you go from the Ganges, the more likely you are to find liquor stores and restaurants that serve alcohol. The Ganga Fuji Hotel & Hostel serves alcohol near the Ganges though. The Third Floor Stock Exchange, the Big Tamaash Cafe, and the Yelchiko Restaurant are good options and a 15-minute taxi ride away.
You could also bring in one bottle of liquor in your luggage and enjoy it in your hotel room. However, if you want to experience the spiritual capital of India without alcohol you will be joining thousands of others.
If you’re heading to Varanasi and looking for fun, I put together an itinerary of how to spend an ideal day in Varanasi.