India is a land of vivid colors and intense flavors. This heaving melting pot of humanity has a rich and deep culture that has produced some of the world’s most profoundly influential philosophical ideas and thinkers. We’ve all heard stories about this magical place, but the only way to really understand the unique atmosphere of India is to go there and experience it first-hand.
India’s two main cities, Mumbai and New Delhi, are very different places. Mumbai is the financial and commercial capita and is very cosmopolitan, exuding glitz and glamour. Delhi is more traditional and rough around the edges. It is the seat of political power in India and it positively drips with history, intensity and intrigue.
If possible, you really should see both cities in order to get a good understanding of how urban India works. We recommend flying into Mumbai to soak up the sights and sounds before taking the overnight train to New Delhi. From Delhi you can travel by road to Agra for the majestic Taj Mahal.
To make sure that your trip to the Land of Prayers is full of ambrosial scents and vivid sights as opposed to noxious whiffs and industrial eyesores, it’s best to spend a fair amount of time planning ahead. Check out our list of things to see and do in Mumbai and New Delhi and take note of the activities that most appeal to you in your BUCKiTDREAM planner.
Activities in Mumbai
Experience the Throbbing Humanity in ‘Mumbai’s beating heart’ on a Slum Tour Dharavi is one of Asia’s largest slums. Take a tour with a friendly local guide and get an inside look at the many innovative businesses and shops that are operating in the area. Visit the residential districts where people from all over India live side by side and if you’re lucky, you may even enjoy lunch with a local family.
Sample the Best Local Street Food on a Street Food Tour Taste the best street food that Mumbai has to offer, as selected by an expert local guide. Go off the beaten track and find the hidden gems that most tourists never get to experience.
Imbibe the Glitz and Glamour on a Bollywood Tour Go behind the scenes on a real Bollywood movie shoot. Meet the people involved, see the spectacular sets and learn how the films are made.
Relax Under the Magic Hands of an Ayurvedic Masseuse Let your muscles release any tension and feel your stresses float away with a delectable Ayurvedic massage.
See Mumbai from on High Catch a plane ride over the ‘Maximum City’ and see the spectacular metropolis from a unique vantage point. You’ll get a real taste of the sheer size and intricateness of the city formerly known as Bombay when you fly over it.
Visit the World’s Most Spectacular… Laundromat Take a tour of Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai’s outdoor laundry. Walk around this huge, busy laundry and meet the locals who work there. This is the world’s largest outdoor laundry and a must-see in Mumbai.
Activities in New Delhi
Explore Delhi’s Streets with a True Expert on the Streetlife Walking Tour This is a walking tour with a difference. Your guide will be a young man or woman who used to live on the streets of Delhi. Hear fascinating stories of street life from somebody who has experienced it first-hand during this humbling and beautiful experience that will live in the memory forever.
Take a Day Trip to the Iconic Taj Mahal You can’t visit India without taking a trip to the Taj Mahal! This tour provides a car and driver as well as a knowledgeable local guide. The four-hour drive on the new expressway is the quickest way to get to the Taj Mahal from Delhi and the tour includes a visit to the Taj Mahal at sunrise and a trip to the Red Fort later in the day.
Explore the Amazing Architecture and Luscious Green Spaces at Lodi Gardens This serene and beautiful park is Delhi’s favorite retreat and is popular with local joggers, families and couples. It contains many beautiful ancient tombs and mosques that are sure to satisfy anyone’s culture bucket list.
Dig Through the Ancient Treasures at the Indian National Museum This museum houses some wonderful collections of ancient Asian artifacts.
Feel the Passion at the Feroz Shah Kotla Cricket Ground Indian’s have an almost religious devotion to cricket. The atmosphere and noise in this historic stadium makes it one of the world’s great sporting venues. Seeing a match here is a great way to meet locals in their element.
Visit the Ancient Astronomical Observatories at Jantar Mantar Built in 1724 to help astronomers observe the heavens, Jantar Mantar is a series of huge stone structures that measure the positions of the stars and planets. Sadly it is not fully useable anymore due to the surrounding tall buildings, but it is still a beautiful and rather surreal park to visit.
High-end The Taj Mahal Palace is opulent 5-star luxury through and through. The decor is grand and the view of the Arabian sea is delightful, a must for anyone looking to splash out.
Medium The Residency Hotel is centrally located in Mumbai’s Heritage Precinct and is a clean and comfortable hotel with cool modern rooms, perfectly situated for you to leap out into the action.
Budget The first backpacker’s hostel in Mumbai, Backpacker Panda, Mumbai is clean, comfortable, friendly and a great place to meet fellow travelers.
High-end The Leela Hotel is an unabashedly luxurious hotel with ostentatious decor. Several great restaurants and a luxury spa make this a relaxing haven in hustling, bustling central Delhi.
Medium Situated close to central Delhi, the Bajaj Indian Home Stay Hotel is a mix between a hotel and a guest house and has a friendly, intimate feel. Spending a night here feels like staying in a real Indian home.
Budget Airbnb has some excellent offerings for very cheap, high-quality accommodations all over Delhi.
Indian food absolutely deserves its place at the top table of global cuisines. It is adored the world over for its robust, spicy and delicious flavors.
Both Mumbai and New Delhi have an array of excellent street food options.
Vada Pav is Mumbai’s most popular street fare; it is a delicious deep-fried potato patty with coriander and spices. Pani Puri, Bhel Puri, Sev Puri and Dahi Puri are all very popular snacks with local Mumbaikars. Eaten at all times of day and night outside roadside stalls, street food brings locals of all classes and walks of life together like nothing else.
Street food in New Delhi is also excellent. The markets of Old Delhi are the best places to find local favorites such as korma, kebabs, kheer and kulfi.
For a more upmarket a la carte dining experience in Mumbai, Ziya at the Oberoi Hotel offers excellent modern Indian cuisine in luxurious settings with a sublime view over the Arabian Sea.
In New Delhi, the critically acclaimed Indian Accent serves fantastic contemporary Indian food. The six-course tasting menu, accompanied by delicious samples of Indian and world wines, is the perfect way to sample a wide variety of the imaginative cuisine on offer.
Drinks and Nightlife
Mumbai’s nightlife is livelier and more glitzy than New Delhi’s.
Being the centre of India’s fashion, film and media industries, Mumbai has a host of glamorous nightclubs and bars that rival anything found in Hong Kong, Paris or New York. Bonobo is a hip bar/nightclub with a young, fashionable clientele and a very nice rooftop terrace. For live music in Mumbai, Blue Frog is an excellent choice with an eclectic listing of jazz, funk, blues and rock gigs.
Delhi nightlife has picked up pace over the last few years with quite a few new bars and nightclubs opening, especially around Connaught Place and the upmarket southern suburbs. Hype is a nightclub in Nehru Place, south Delhi and is one of the hottest clubs in town right now. It has an excellent selection of DJs and a great sound system. Vapour is also worth a visit as it’s a funky bar and grill that brews its own delicious beer on site.
Tips and Culture
India is a vast country and Mumbai and New Delhi follow suit by being particularly vast cities, so you won’t be able to see everything. Be OK with that. Relax and don’t put too much pressure on yourself by pre-planning what you particularly want to see and then just chill and enjoy.
India is a very populous country and personal space is not really a concept that exists. It will be crowded. Be OK with that too.
Don’t carry large sums of cash. Pickpocketing is always a possibility in crowded areas.
Stick to bottled water.
Each year in March, India celebrates Holi Festival. This is a Hindu religious festival also know as ‘The festival of colors’ and ‘The festival of sharing love’. It’s a two-day festival of jubilant celebration and wild partying. Music, dance and truckloads of brightly colored powder make this spectacle a definite ‘must-see’.
Spending Holi in Dharavi, Mumbai’s largest slum, is a wonderful experience. You can join the locals at a Holi party complete with colors and music.
In New Delhi the Holi Moo Festival is a huge music and dance festival spread over four stages, with pioneering Indian artists, delicious street food and a friendly atmosphere.
India is one of the world’s great travel destinations; it has so much to offer and we’ve really only scratched the surface here. So copy all of your top Mumbai and New Delhi recommendations from this article into your BUCKiTDREAM planner and while you are dining with the locals in Dharavi or taking in the raucous atmosphere at a Holi Festival party why not inspire your friends by sharing your dream India experiences on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram?