Nestled in the Northeastern part of India is the city of Shillong which is also the capital of Meghalaya.
Because Shillong happens to sit on the highest part of the land in Meghalaya you will be treated to lush green landscapes with rolling hills and natural wonders including waterfalls, lakes, and nearby canyons. This is why Shillong is often referred to as the Scotland of the East.
Shillong is actually where my fiance was born and raised before he moved to the United States. A majority of his family still lives here so at the end of 2022 I had the opportunity to spend almost a month here before spending 2 days in Delhi and then adventuring to Agra and Jaipur.
His relatives were incredible hosts and went above and beyond to show me all the different elements that make Shillong the unique cultural and scenic destination that it is. From the delicious local restaurants and cafes, talented music scene, and local markets in town. To scenic road trips and intense treks, you will not run out of things to do!
We were also visiting during Christmastime which is big in Shillong because of its British roots so I also got to participate in the ongoing festivities which won’t soon be forgotten!
I can guarantee you that this list of things to do in Shillong is a compilation of the area’s best activities! So let’s get started!
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1. Umiam Lake
Umiam Lake is a man-made lake on the outskirts of Shillong. It was originally built as a dam by the Assam State Electricity Board in the early 1960s as a way to store water for hydroelectric power generation.
At first thought, the thought of this doesn’t sound very appealing, however, the natural breathtaking scenery surrounding the lake combined with the range of activities that visitors can indulge in is what makes Umiam Lake one of the best things to do in Shillong!
If you are traveling into Shillong by road from the Guwahati Airport you will naturally pass by Umiam Lake. There are a couple of designated viewpoints such as Lum Nehru Park where you can have your driver pull over and allow you to enjoy the view of this stunning body of water.
If you have more time to spend several hours at Umiam Lake there are many different ways you can enjoy your time here. A lot of locals love to go for picnics during the wintertime when the weather is dry and comfortable.
You can also go down to the base of the lake and go boating or jet skiing, just be prepared for a long wait (at least 35 minutes). A boat ride for a group of three will cost around 500 INR.
If you want to have your driver park here it will cost around 60 INR.
If you get hungry and are picnicking, the lake is also a great place to indulge in some local cuisine, with a number of restaurants and cafes serving delicious food made from locally sourced ingredients.
To properly enjoy your time at the lake I recommend staying at one of the resorts.
Here are the two best places to stay:
La Nicholas Dei Da Kine Resort – A peaceful setting tucked away on a gated and guarded property. What makes La Nicholas Dei Da Kine Resort a haven are the amazing views, the pool, garden, terrace, and on-site restaurant. The rooms are simple in design and decor but they are spacious and clean and the bathrooms include free toiletries.
Ri Kynjai – Serenity By The Lake – Ri Kynjai is the most beautiful place to stay in all of Shillong! You cannot beat the views from the uniquely crafted huts that stretch up above the trees. Step out onto your private balcony and take in the panoramic views of Umiam Lake and the lush greenery. Enjoy the amenities on the property including the spa and Sao Aiom Restaurant.
Whether you plan to go for a picnic, enjoy water activities, stay at one of the resorts, or quickly stop to take in the views, Umiam Lake has to be on your list of things to do in Shillong!
2. Police Bazaar
Ahh, welcome to the chaos! The Police Bazaar is a place where time doesn’t slow down, I think it may actually speed up…
While the traffic and noise here can be maddening it is the most happening place to be. Here you can try the local cuisine from an abundance of street food vendors, go shopping for some local goods, dine at a restaurant, or enjoy a drink at one of the nightclubs.
Shopping and food are the main pulls here and in the Shillong Police Bazaar, you’ll be able to find internationally recognized stores including Adidas, Levi’s, and Puma. There are also many other local clothing stores and shops selling local goods that I enjoyed checking out too.
The Police Bazaar also has a few hotels here but this is not where I would choose to stay in Shillong because of the crowds. At the end of this blog, I have included some hotel recommendations if you need ideas.
However, if you do want the convenience of being in the middle of everything I would suggest Hotel Centre Point. It’s a 4-star hotel that also has a really tasty restaurant called La Galerie (you can eat here even if you don’t stay). If you can get a table by the window you will have great views of the Police Bazaar.
Checking out the Police Bazaar is definitely one of the most authentic things to do in Shillong just be prepared to have your sensory overload tested.
3. Try Street Food
As I briefly touched on above, Shillong has some incredible street foods for you to try! The city of Shillong is a melting pot of different tribes from the surrounding areas which directly influences the cuisine.
The Khasi tribe is one of the main indigenous communities in Meghalaya and the Shillong region (this is the tribe my fiance and his family are a part of). Then, there is the Jaintia tribe from the Jaintia Hills district and the Garo tribe from the Garo Hills district.
While not native tribes of Meghalaya, you’ll also find Assamese and Bengali Communities from the states of Assam and West Bengal who are living in Shillong.
While there are hundreds of different tribal street foods to explore I will list a few of the most popular:
- Jadoh – a traditional Khasi dish made of rice cooked with meat, usually pork or chicken, and flavored with local spices. It’s a flavorful and hearty dish that Daryl grew up on!
- Tungtap – a Khasi side dish, like a chutney, made of ground dry fish with chili, onion, and garlic (very spicy)
- Dohneiiong – A Khasi pork dish with black sesame and spices
- Do’o Kappa (Chicken Garo style) – Baking soda chicken with chilies and fresh ginger served in a banana leaf with local white rice.
- Na’Kam Bitchi (Dry Fish Soup) – A Garo dish made from dried fish with baking soda, ginger, chilies, salt, water, and coriander.
- Momos – A steamed dumpling most commonly filled with spiced minced pork or vegetables. These are very delicious. Momos are common all over India but are believed to have originated from Tibet and the broader Himalayan region.
My Finding’s Tip: Before getting too adventurous and trying any old street food ask a local to recommend a clean and hygienic vendor or look for popular stalls with a long line. I personally have a very weak stomach so I decided not to try directly from street vendors. Thankfully, because I was staying with my soon-to-be in-laws they were able to make me these foods or take me to reputable sit-down restaurants.
Tour Recommendation: Another great way to safely sample the local foods is on a food tour. This Shillong Street Food Crawl is led by a local who speaks both Hindi and English. They will take you to secret food joints that you’d never find on your own. You’ll get to try at least five authentic foods over the course of 2 hours. For just 1665 INR ($20 USD) this tour is a bargain!
4. Ward’s Lake
Ward’s Lake is one of the best places to visit in Shillong for peace and tranquility. It’s only around a 10-minute walk from the Police Baazar or you can drive and park along the side of the road. The entrance fee is around 20 INR per adult It’s a very clean park with lots of greenery, a small wooden bridge, and winding cobblestone pathways around the lake.
There are beautiful flower beds, gardens, and pine trees covering the area and you’ll likely spot ducks, koi fish, and squirrels here.
A 45-minute boat ride can be done on the lake for around 200 INR depending on the size of your group. If you want something to eat or drink there is a nice little cafe with a variety of options.
If you come during November the park will be covered in Cherry Blossoms! I visited in December and while I missed the blossoms I was able to attend the Winter Tales Festival that was held here. It was an amazing night!
You can easily spend a couple of hours here if you like walking around parks and taking pictures.
Note: Ward’s Lake is closed on Tuesdays and you are not allowed to take any disposable plastic items inside.
5. Botanical Garden
Right next to Ward’s Lake is the Botanical Garden so if you’re already planning on visiting Ward’s Lake you might as well visit this Shillong tourist attraction too!
The park is named after Lady Hydari, the wife of the Governor of Assam, and was established in 1890 so it’s been a staple in the city for a while.
The Botanical Garden covers a sprawling 1.5-kilometer (0.9 mi) area and it’s like a cozy home for lots of different plants and animals. You’ll find all sorts of trees, bushes, and colorful flowers there, including some stunning orchids and rhododendrons. And guess what? It’s a favorite spot for all kinds of birds and butterflies, so if you’re into nature, you’re in for a treat!
6. Visit a cafe or bakery
There is nothing I love more than a delicious baked good or a latte so one of my favorite surprises about Shillong is that it has some great local cafes and bakeries.
I would’ve had no idea where to find these places if it wasn’t for Daryl’s family. One of the most famous is Dylan’s Café. It is uniquely themed around Bob Dylan and I loved the vinyl record wall and album cover ceiling. The cafe itself is open and spacious and there is a wonderful balcony with comfortable seating. I really enjoyed my hot chocolate and biscuits. They also sell yummy coffee and milkshakes. There is food too but it’s nothing special. You can view their menu here.
Roma Eatery is another cafe that I found to be aesthetically pleasing. They serve quality-tasting food and espresso drinks 7 days a week. Their menu focuses on pizza, pasta, tacos, and other international dishes. I quickly learned that coffee in Shillong isn’t very popular and doesn’t have the same taste as it does in America. That being said, their hazelnut cappuccino had enough resemblance for me to enjoy it. Roma Eatery is located inside of the Ashirwad complex.
Samanbha Bakery makes some very delicious baked goods in Shillong. They are a personal favorite spot of Daryl’s family and once I tried the biscuits I immediately fell in love too. I ate the shortbread biscuits with tea almost every day! The red velvet was also really good too.
Visiting a cafe or bakery is one of the best things to do in Shillong if you’re craving a treat or want a light meal.
7. Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians (Grotto Cathedral)
One of the most beautiful religious places to visit in Shillong is the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians. It’s one of the oldest churches in Shillong built in 1913 by the first Catholic missionaries from Germany. The structure was made out of one so it got destroyed by a fire in 1936 but it was rebuilt in 1936.
What makes this cathedral so unique to look at is the architecture and striking blue color of the exterior but what really attracts tourists are the beautiful stained glass windows.
No matter what your beliefs are it is worth going for a walk around the premises. By now, you might be catching on to how serene many of the attractions in Shillong are.
Entrance to Mary’s Cathedral grounds is free but you are not allowed to enter the inside.
8. Go to a spa/salon
While vacationing in Shillong why not treat yourself to a relaxing day at the salon? You can find all of the most popular beauty services offered here and in my experience, the workers at the places I went to were all very kind, skilled, and professional.
Here are the businesses I would personally recommend:
Mapui’s Hair Salon – An awesome blowout experience!
Lash & Co The Nail Bar – My nails with extensions turned out beautiful and held up well! We were offered tea during our pedicure.
Enamelle – I got my first-ever last lift from here and it turned out so well and lasted for a few months.
9. Elephant Falls Nokrek National Park
Elephant Falls is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Shillong located around a 30-minute drive from central Shillong.
There are three different waterfalls here but the 3-tier waterfall is the most scenic.
Ticket admission costs 30 INR and there is an additional charge of 20 INR if you want to bring in your camera.
Once you pass through the gate, there is a steep, slippery flight of around 150 stairs to navigate each level of the falls. The first and second levels have benches for you to rest and enjoy the scenery.
Visiting here won’t take too much time but it’s one of the nicer natural places to visit in Shilling where you can enjoy being in nature.
Elephant Falls is open from 10 am to 6 pm daily. There is also a souvenir shop and a couple of restaurants.
My Finding’s Tip: You can visit Elephant Falls any time of the year but if you visit during monsoon or post-monsoon season you see it gushing at its max!
10. Take a Day Trip to Laitlum Canyon
One of the best places for sightseeing in Shillong is Laitlum Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of India.
Getting here is a scenic hour’s journey from Shillong. Daryl’s uncle drove us there but you can always hire a private taxi from Shillong.
Although you don’t need to spend longer than an hour here I would recommend planning to spend between 2 to 3 hours so you can take your time walking around to enjoy tea from the local ladies, eat snacks from the street vendors, and sit down for a full meal at the restaurant.
As long as it’s a good weather day, visiting this natural wonder is sure to leave you speechless as it did to me. I’m so thankful there was no fog so I was able to see for miles out and thousands of feet down.
Once you arrive, you’ll park at the gravel lot, and from here there are two main viewpoints. The first one is directly in front of the parking and it shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes to get down to the edge. Be careful here as there is no fencing.
The second viewpoint is directly north of the parking lot. Just follow the dirt path past the street food vendors which will take you through an open dried grass field.
We grabbed some lemon tea from the local women on the hill who were freshly brewing it and then just sat on the ground, talked, and enjoyed the views. After, we got up and explored the canyon’s edge – I couldn’t stop taking pictures because the view was absolutely memorizing.
Laitlum Canyon made for an incredible day trip and I can see why it is one of the most prized tourist attractions in Shillong!
11. Dine at Rynsan Shillong for an elevated Khasi experience
If you are a bit hesitant to try Khasi cuisine from a street vendor, Rynsan Shillong is the perfect alternative. It is one of the most delicious restaurants that I ate at in Shillong!
The dishes here are thoughtfully curated and use only the freshest produce that is sourced directly from rural organic farms and urban gardens.
But dining here isn’t just about the food. The ambiance and decor of Rynsan Shillong tell a story of the history and culture of Shillong and its Khasi people.
I loved the cozy feel the restaurant had and it was a calm place for our group to chat over a meal.
Their menu has both creative and safe choices that will satisfy every palette. Some of our favorite dishes were the Tofu Noodle Soup, Rynsan Garden Salad with a local honey dressing, Putharo Sliders with smoked pork, and the Wild Sesame Pasta.
Rynsan is open from 1 pm to 10 pm Tuesday to Thursday and 1 pm to 11 pm Friday to Sunday.
12. Shillong Peak
Shillong Peak is a popular tourist attraction in Shillong that is only 12 km (7.5 mi) outside of the city. It is singlehandedly the best place to go for a complete 360-degree view of Shillong City from 1,965 meters (6449 ft) above sea level which is also the highest point in Meghalaya.
Please Note: Only Indian nationals can visit here because the area is controlled by the Indian Air Force. Unfortunately as an American, I was unable to visit.
If you are a native, here is what you need to know. At the ticket counter, it will cost 20 INR per person. If you are arriving in a cab or private vehicle they are not allowed to the end of the road but you can park in the lot and then pay 200 INR to be transported in one of their cars. You will also need to show a valid ID.
Make sure to come on a clear day otherwise the view won’t be anything special. At the peak, there is a high tower with a telescope. You can also rent binoculars from people for around 20 INR.
There are stalls selling local dishes, fresh fruits, and drinks. You can also pay 100 INR to wear the traditional dress and take pictures.
You can visit Shillong Peak every day from 9 AM to 3.30 PM except for Wednesday.
13. Celebrate Christmas
While the majority of Indians are Hindus and celebrate Diwali in the autumn, something unique to Meghalaya is that 75% of people claim to be Christian and celebrate Christmas.
Christmastime is one of the best times to visit Shillong because there are lots of activities and celebrations happening all over the city. A week or so before Christmas, this city comes alive with string lights on the trees, houses, and storefronts.
Many of the memories that Daryl would tell me about Shillong and his childhood happened during the Christmas season so I knew it was a special time here.
14. Adventure to Cherrapunji
Cherrapunji is a small town located just south of Shillong. It is known as being one of the rainiest places on earth anf with the rain comes numerous waterfalls and lush greenery around every corner.
The Cherrapunji region is also known for its unique living root bridges, most famously, the Double Decker Living Root Bridge which was the main reason for our visit.
Getting to Cherrapunju from Shillong is less than a 2-hour drive but the roads are extremely winding and there are several areas that are unpaved or have potholes. If you don’t have your own car you can easily hire a private taxi or book a multiday tour from Shillong.
I didn’t know it yet but at the time I had Delhi Belly so I think the ride affected me more than it normally would have but if you struggle with motion sickness tell your driver to slow down in bad areas.
Nohkalikai Falls was another highlight for us. It’s the tallest plunge waterfall in India standing at an altitude of 340 meters (1115 feet)! There are two ways you view it. You can either hire a guide for 200 INR and trek down to the base or you can simply view it from the viewing platform which is what we chose to do.
We weren’t up for another hike after doing the Living Root Bridge trek the day before but if you want to reach the plunge pool at the bottom just know that it is a very steep adventure on all fours that will take around 30 minutes. However, if you are athletic it won’t be too challenging.
It’s impossible to visit during the Monsoon season but the best times to visit are from September to March.
What made my visit to Cherrapunji unforgettable was staying at the luxurious 3-star Polo Orchid Resort. We stayed in one of their private log huts with a private pool! You can read my guide on the best resorts in Cherrapunji for more information on the Polo Orchid Resort as well as less expensive options.
Whatever you do make sure to allow at least a couple of days in Cherrapunji because its one of the best things to do near Shillong!
My Finding’s Tip: Make sure you learn about the fascinating history of Nohkalikai Falls.
Where to Stay in Shillong
Shillong has tons of options from hotels to homestays. Here I’ll get right to the point and share with you the top hotels and homestays in Shillong but if you want to learn more about the homestays you can check out my comprehensive guide on where to stay in Shillong.
- Pine Hill Comfort Stay– a cheap but clean and comfortable option that is located outside of the city a few minutes from Elephant Falls. This is the perfect choice for those looking to relax in nature. The rooms are on the small side and breakfast is not included but you can add it on for just 167 INR ($2 USD) per person. The restaurant also serves amazing Indian and Chinese dishes. Starting at just 3414 INR ($41 USD) a night it’s great value for money.
- Ivory Bliss, The Boutique Homestay – A 3-star homestay away from the Police Bazaar traffic but still close to Ward’s Lake. The supersized rooms have plush beds and private bathrooms with free toiletries. Breakfast is provided each morning and there is free parking and WiFi. You can also rent a car from the property. A Deluxe Double room costs 4413 INR ($53 USD).
- Courtyard Marriot – The newly built Courtyard Marriot is the most luxurious hotel option in Shillong. Set in a prime location on the edge of the Police Bazaar, it is complete with a pool, spa, and a restaurant serving American and Italian food. Daryl’s parents come here often just to dine and they say it is absolutely beautiful! Expect to pay around 11574 INR ($139 USD) on average per night.
- Vivanta Meghalaya, Shillong – Another impressive place to stay is the 5-star Vivanta which is very close to the Courtyard Marriot near the Police Bazaar. The Vivanta hotel chain is reputable throughout India. The staff are warm and friendly and the rooms are modern and nicely decorated. You can enjoy the spa and fitness center, or dine at the Chinese restaurant that has a beautiful domed white glass roof. The average nightly rate 13989 INR is ($168 USD).
Final Word on the Best Things to do in Shillong
Thanks for sticking around until the end of this blog! Shillong is one of India’s most beautiful hill stations. If you haven’t visited before I would highly suggest adding it to your India bucket list because there are so many unique things to do in Shillong including both cultural experiences and natural attractions!
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