Hampi was the imperial capital of Vijayanagar, a 14th century empire. The ruins are spread out over an area of 26km². "A Forgotten Empire" (ISBN 1419101250) by Robert Sewell is an interesting book which describes the rise and fall of the Vijayanagar empire. Before the fall of Vijayanagar, diamonds were sold on the streets, but the main street selling diamonds and other precious stones was surprisingly called Pan Supaari Street (translated in English, it means betel-leaf betel-nut street). A visitor can still see the exact location of Pan Supaari Street in Hampi, which has been marked with a board by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Hampi is well worth the visit. The area is simply stunning and you will be in awe of the millions of boulders surrounding the area. Within this arid landscape lies a little oasis with lush palm, banana, and mango trees nestled near the river.
Hampi is a great place to spend a few days wandering around and discovering the rich, vibrant history while also having a bit of 'you' time.
Hampi hosts Hampi Utsav every year during first week of November. It is a visual delight as all the monuments/ruins are lit at night and it is a cultural extravaganza of dance and music. 2010 marked 500 years since the Vijayanagar king Sri Krishnadevaraya ascended to the throne.
A Forgotten Empire Vijayanagar: A Contribution to the History of India by Sewell Robert. A well-written account of the history of the Vijayanagar Empire
The nearest airport, Jindal Vijaynagar Airport (VDY), is located near Bellary and around 40km from Hampi.
The nearest relatively major airport is at Hubli, 143km away from Hampi. Consider flying into Bangalore, a major international hub. Flying from places like Goa means that you have to change planes in Mumbai (or Bengaluru), making it an expensive and time consuming trip, and therefore useless.
The nearest railway station is Hospet Junction (IR station code: HPT), 13km away.
Overnight trains run several times a week from Bangalore, Hyderabad and Goa. The trains are a much cheaper and more comfortable route than the tourist buses most people are led into. (2nd class air-con - bed with linen - costs ₹750 from Bangalore to Hampi). You can also catch an overnight train from Mysore to Hubli and from there to Hospet/Hampi. You can also get an overnight train, the Hampi Express, direct from Mysore to Hospet Junction. It departs Mysore at 18:15 and is scheduled to arrive at 07:45 the next morning.
Here are some useful trains to get into Hampi:
The real pleasure in exploring Hampi comes from being on a bicycle or by walking around. Virtually every rock in Hampi has a story to say. This story is best heard if you give it time and walk around from rock to rock.You can even visit the State Tourism Center inside the premises of Virupaksha Temple from where you can avail bicycle tours around the ruins accompanied by a guide. The guides will show you a booklet saying that the government approved rates are about Rs. 1300 for 4 hours (half-day trip) and Rs. 1800 for 8 hours (full-day trip), but do not take it at face value. You MUST bargain for a fair price and make sure you and the guide have both agreed to the list of places that the guide will take you to. This is very important before you finally decide to hire their services - ask them to clearly tell you the list of places that they will cover. A better choice would be to approach the Tourist office at the Virupaksha temple and hire a guide from the office. The tourist office guides have a fixed rate and will cover all the important places. For any complaints, you can always go back to the office.
Hampi is a visual delight, especially due to its stark contrast from most other places. Rocks are all you see whichever direction you look at. Vegetation is visible in the wet months, but again it never dominates the landscape. It is an ideal spot for people who are interested in history and/or nature.
There are many sites of interest in and around Hampi. The must-visits are Virupaksha Temple, Hampi Bazaar, Monolith Bull, Lakshmi Narasimha temple, Hemakuta Hill temples, Big Shivlinga, Vithala Temple (the famous Stone Chariot is located here), Hazara Rama Temple, Royal Enclosures, Queen's Bath, Zanana Enclosure (which also houses the Lotus Mahal), Elephant Stables, Achyut Raya temple, Statue of Lakshmi Narasimha (often mistaken for Ugra Narasimha, a fiery form of Vishnu, owing to the damage suffered by this monolithic statue), Mahanavmi Dibba, the Stepped Bath, and the Matanga Hill (from where one can see the most beautiful sun set ever). All these places are on the Hampi Bus Stand side of the river.
You can buy a local map costing ₹15, and cover all the places on your own by foot or renting a bike or scooty. See "Get around" section above. Otherwise, you can hire a car to do local sightseeing. It would cost you about ₹400-500.
Tungbhadra dam is 16km from Hampi towards Hospet. If you have plans to catch your train/bus back from Hospet, you could see Tungbhadra dam on the way to Hospet. It takes around 45min to 1h to see Tungbhadra dam. You need to park your vehicle at the entrance and take Govt bus to the top and back. It takes ₹20 for to and fro.
There are also several "Shivalings" along the river which the boatman will guide you to. The old capital called Anegundi, across the river from Hampi also has many sites. You can also go to Anegundi from Virupapur gadde by road. There is a road alongside old broken bridge (Bukka's Aqueduct). The Hanuman Temple on Anjenaya Hill (involves climbing up 572 steps, is believed to be the birth place of Hanuman) and the Pampa Sarovar are worth a visit. Both of these places are around 2-8km from Old broken bridge.
There is Daroji bear sanctuary around 16km from Hampi, opposite side of Kamalapura/Hospet. It is open from 13:00-18:00. Not a must see but you can go there for a nice drive/ride if you have some time to kill.
To do justice to all the sites, you need a minimum of 3 full days of sight seeing. To discover all the ruins, it may take much more than 3 days - perhaps months.