Beyond popular things to do in Gangtok, discover local food, meaningful experiences and Gangtok attractions beyond the beaten path.
Some connections are just meant to be. Like Gangtok and me.
At first glance, the city felt like any other hill station. But as I delved deeper, I got a wistful peek into an India that could have been. Flanked by the majestic Himalayas, the first thing that struck me is the city’s cleanliness. No litter, no noise and no pollution – rules that locals strictly abide by.
Things to do in Gangtok
Traditional old monasteries stand in perfect harmony with Gangtok’s evolving cafe culture. The mountains, the greenery, the misty mornings give it that hill station feeling, while the little craft shops and hole in the wall eateries give it a distinct Sikkimese character. The laid-back vibe of the locals certainly rubbed off on me.
Our original plan was to transit through Gangtok on our way to North Sikkim. But plans have a way of changing themselves, and we ended up staying for a week, discovering the many wonders of the city beyond typical tourist attractions in Gangtok.
Whether you’re looking for the best things to do in Gangtok, unusual sightseeing around Gangtok, unique things to buy from Gangtok or charming hotels in Gangtok, this offbeat travel guide is for you. Stay a while, and let the city work its charm on you too:
- 1. Discover Gangtok attractions on foot
- 2. Spend an afternoon at Rumtek Monastery (easily among the top 10 places to visit in Gangtok)
- 3. Try Sikkimese food at Nine Native Cuisine, MG Road – of the few traditional restaurants in Gangtok
- 4. Hike from Darjeeling to Sikkim
- 5. Find quirky things to buy in Gangtok at Curio Craft Gallery
- 6. Try the local Hit Beer, anywhere
- 7. Browse books by local authors at Cafe Fiction
- 8. Stay in a traditional Sikkimese house on the Silk Route to Tibet
- 9. Join a meditative chant at a local monastery
- 10. While away an afternoon above the clouds, at Baker’s Cafe
- Where to stay in Gangtok
- Your questions about local experiences and things to see in Gangtok
- What are your top things to do in Gangtok? What are you most looking forward to?
1. Discover Gangtok attractions on foot
If I ever decide to lay my bags in a city again, I have one major criteria – it should be walking friendly. That means good weather, little pollution, and plenty to see and discover on foot.
Gangtok might be the only Indian city that qualifies. I walked for hours, along quaint neighborhoods, nodding at friendly passersby, now along tree-laden walks, now on skywalks overlooking the frenzy of cars below, mapless and directionless, soaking it all in.
Leave your Gangtok things to do checklist at home, and wander along the by-lanes of the city to really discover what’s special about it.
2. Spend an afternoon at Rumtek Monastery (easily among the top 10 places to visit in Gangtok)
Among the many places to go in Gangtok, Rumtek Monastery is one that I recommend for any first visit. There are lots of small monasteries within the city, but none quite as grand or isolated as Rumtek, the biggest in Sikkim.
Make your way up, half an hour away from the city by car and another 10 minutes on foot, to meet the monks who live, study and work here. I happened to visit in the late afternoon, and watched in awe as the monks chanted in the courtyard, then broke into pairs for philosophical debates in the Tibetan language.
3. Try Sikkimese food at Nine Native Cuisine, MG Road – of the few traditional restaurants in Gangtok
Hands down, the best Sikkimese food I tasted in Gangtok, and perhaps all of Sikkim.
The set meal is a must try, with local delicacies like gundruk (fermented Spinach soup), fermented soy and flavorful curries. The melt-in-your-mouth-momos are to die for. And regional dishes like the Bhutanese Ema Datchi (a curry made with cheese, potatoes and chillies) are delicious. Chat about Sikkim with the friendly owner while you wait for your meal.
4. Hike from Darjeeling to Sikkim
If like me, you love to get off the beaten track, I’ve helped curate the perfect trail at India Untravelled. You stay on an organic tea farm in a village near Darjeeling, hike from Darjeeling to Sikkim and acquaint yourself with Gangtok while staying at a B&B-cafe-bookshop rolled into one.
Finally, pamper yourself at a heritage estate nestled amid the mountains of West Sikkim, in the lap of the snow-capped Mount Kanchendzonga.
5. Find quirky things to buy in Gangtok at Curio Craft Gallery
A short walk from MG Road, on the road that leads to the stadium, stop by a curious little shop of souvenirs and handicrafts called Curio Craft Gallery.
They source fascinating pieces of art from regional artists and craftsmen across Sikkim, at very affordable prices. I seldom buy souvenirs, but couldn’t resist a hand-embroidered painting depicting the spirituality in everyday life in these mountains.
Also read: My Alternative Travel Guide to Goa
6. Try the local Hit Beer, anywhere
Before I arrived in Sikkim, I could have never guessed that the state brews the best Indian beer I might ever sample – Hit Beer. A local I met joked that Danny Denzongpa’s (the famous Sikkimese actor who owns the brewery) only gift to Sikkim was ensuring that every Sikkimese man became a drunk!
I’m convinced the women love it too, with its delicate taste and high alcohol content. Buy it in a local liquor shop or at any restaurant. You wouldn’t find this among the must do things in Gangtok lists, but you simply must try it.
7. Browse books by local authors at Cafe Fiction
Easily one of Gangtok’s best kept secrets (and among unusual activities to do in Gangtok), Cafe Fiction is run by the “Bookman” of the city! This quaint bookshop-cafe-B&B is located in the quiet Development Area, a 10-minute walk from MG Road.
There is nothing more refreshing than a dose of their signature coffee or organic tea, a grilled sandwich, and a conversation with the Bookman himself. Let him recommend some reading treasures from Sikkim and Northeast India that you’re unlikely to find in bookstores elsewhere in the country.
8. Stay in a traditional Sikkimese house on the Silk Route to Tibet
Built with wood and stone in the 1950s, on the silk trade route to Tibet, Netuk House offers a glimpse of the times gone by. If you’re in the mood to splurge, settle in with stellar views of Mount Kanchendzonga, indulge in authentic local food and delve into the traditional architectural style (with woven bamboo straws) that keeps cool in summer and warm in winter.
It’s high on my list for next time!
9. Join a meditative chant at a local monastery
At 4 pm every afternoon, the monks at most Buddhist monasteries gather for chants in the monastery’s temple. Make your way to any local neighborhood of Gangtok, and seat yourself outside the temple (or inside, they don’t mind, but it does feel a little intrusive to me), and let their melodic chants and music move something inside you.
10. While away an afternoon above the clouds, at Baker’s Cafe
Most people seem to choose The Coffee Shop over Baker’s Cafe and I can’t grasp why, because the latter far exceeds the ambiance and quality of food. Choose to sit above the rooftops of Gangtok, far from the street, with windows overlooking the Himalayas, and order yourself one of their many herbal teas. The paninis and bakery items are great to munch on, as the calm outside soaks your soul.
Where to stay in Gangtok
On a budget: Bookman’s B&B
A cafe, a bookshop and a B&B? Sign me up!
Rachna bookshop and cafe, run by the “bookman” of Sikkim, is already an institution among Gangtok locals. Bookman’s B&B is an extension of this creative space for discerning travellers.
On offer is a curated collection of books by Sikkimese and regional authors. And conversations with the bookman himself, for a peak into Sikkim’s alternative creative scene. If you’re not on Airbnb yet, sign up with my referral and get 40$ off your first stay.
Boutique hotel: Nettle & Fern (one of the best hotels in Gangtok)
Bookman’s wasn’t operational while I was in Gangtok. As I slowly kept extending my trip, hoping to get better, I pretty much sampled every decent place to stay.
At Tara Palace, they shut the hot water supply (without informing you) at 9 am. Bella Casa overbooked by mistake and tried to kick us out! The blankets at Ming Tok Ling guesthouse gave my friend an allergy.
Nettle & Fern was by far, the best place to stay in Gangtok. 10 minutes walk from MG Road, in a quiet neighborhood, with extremely helpful staff, rooms overlooking the valley below, and kind on the pocket. Book early.
Luxury stay: Hotel Ninamma
When my parents travelled to Sikkim, we decided to splurge and book them a stay at Hotel Ninamma. Centrally located, with beautiful views over the mountains. They loved it!
Your questions about local experiences and things to see in Gangtok
How to visit Gangtok
The closest airport and train station to Gangtok are at Siliguri (Bagdogra) in West Bengal, a 4-5 hour taxi ride away.
How to get around Gangtok
Shared taxis are the fabric of life in Sikkim. I highly recommend you choose them over private cabs for the unique experience of interacting with the locals and being a little more environmentally friendly.
Adventure activities in Gangtok
Rafting in Gangtok on the River Tiesta River and paragliding off a cliff near the city sound like fun. I’m yet to try my hand at either though.
Best time to visit Gangtok
Although most people suggest visiting in early summer or after the rains, I thoroughly enjoyed monsoon in Gangtok! Those misty mornings and the feeling that you’re walking in the clouds.
Things to do in Gangtok in April
With spring in the air, walk all over the by-lanes – a rare experience in an Indian capital – and even go trekking in Gangtok!
Places to visit in Gangtok in July
As rains engulf the city, hide out at a rooftop cafe and watch the clouds play hide and seek with the mountains. On a rare morning, wake up to see the clouds part and reveal the mighty snow-capped mountains. It’s absolutely possible to visit the lakes and remote villages of West Sikkim too.
Things to do in Gangtok in December
I imagine that winter will be cold but quite spectacular in Gangtok, with clear blue skies and snow-clad mountains. If you’re layered up and staying in a place with adequate heating, savor the quite MG road, indulge in a hot bowl of stinging nettle soup and attend chants at a local monastery.
Sightseeing near Gangtok
We spent time at Mayal Lyang homestay in Dzongu, a beautiful, remote valley not too far from Gangtok (except the roads are terribly broken). And I absolutely loved my time at a heritage farmstay in West Sikkim. I’d recommend spending a few nights if you’re travelling far out though.
What are your top things to do in Gangtok? What are you most looking forward to?