Juxtaposed on the ruins of nine older cities, India’s historic capital is a mishmash of excesses and contrasts, of untold heritage and unimaginable squalor, crowded bylanes and spacious parks, where wars and mutinies have seen the rise and fall of dynasties and empires. Stunning architecture, mouth-watering cuisine, limitless shopping, a busy cultural calendar and a vibrant nightlife; there’s a lot of things to do in Delhi.
What to see and do in Delhi
One of Delhi’s most iconic monuments is the Qutab Minar, erected in 1192 to mark Mohammed Ghori’s victory over Prithviraj III, the last Hindu king of Delhi. Continue through south Delhi to Sultan Alauddin Khilji’s 14th century hauz khas or royal reservoir, dug to supply water to his new city Siri, now a watering hole for Delhi’s hip crowd. Browse boutiques and explore Hauz Khas’ royal tombs (notably Feroz Shah Tughlaq) and move on to Lodhi Gardens, bookended by Safdarjung’s tomb and UNESCO World Heritage Site Humayun’s tomb, the perfect example of a Mughal garden tomb. Shah Jahan’s 17th century capital Shahjahanabad (today’s Old Delhi) has another UNESCO site, the Red Fort, where the Sound and Light show is a must do, besides a visit to Jama Masjid, lunch at Karim’s and the bazaars of Chandni Chowk.
Peel off layers of history with Delhi Heritage Walks and Delhi By Cycle tours as you trace the evolution of a capital. From a sensory trip of Khari Baoli (Asia’s largest wholesale spice market) to the smells of Parathewali gali, Delhi is an all out assault on your senses. Connaught Place and Raj Path, the city’s commercial and administrative heart, were designed by Edwin Lutyens in the early 1900s. Couple it with a visit to the Maharaja Jai Singh II’s astronomical observatory Jantar Mantar, the ancient stepwell Agrasen ki Baoli, the India Gate war memorial, the National Museum, Purana Qila and Delhi’s popular exhibition space and cultural pavilion Pragati Maidan. Further north, take a Raj tour of the Civil Lines, built by the British in 19th century, a spacious, colonial quarter with St James Church and Nicholson Cemetery, one of the oldest British cemeteries in the subcontinent. Delhi also has diverse places of worship that are architectural gems – Birla Mandir, Akshardham, Chhatarpur and Bahai temple, Nizamuddin Dargah, Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, Rakabganj and Sisganj Sahib.
Phulwalon-ki-Sair, a local 3-day festival in October celebrated by Delhi’s flower-sellers at Mehrauli since 16th century, is marked by floral processions and offering of pankhas (fans) at a Hindu temple and a Sufi shrine. Delhi Tourism organizes the 3-day Qutub Festival of Indian classical music and dance in November. Festivals like Holi, Diwali and Navratri/Dussehra are held with pomp, with ramlila performances culminating in the effigies of Ravana, his son Meghnath and brother Kumbhakaran being set ablaze, best experienced at Ramlila Maidan. The scorching summer is sweetened with the International Mango Festival at Dilli Haat Pitampura in June. But one of Delhi’s most popular celebrations is the qawwali at Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, which takes place every Thursday.
The best restaurants in Delhi
Karim’s, Jama MasjidOld Delhi’s iconic 1913 eatery (with an outlet in Nizamuddin) serving excellent Mughlai fare including kebabs and an array of rich meat curries with naan. The ambience strips away all frivolities so that the only thing that stands out is the mind-blowing food!
Moti Mahal, DaryaganjStarted in 1920, this is believed to be the birthplace of the butter chicken. For the complete cholesterol package, order the butter naan and dal makhani as well! When the Shah of Iran came on a state visit, Maulana Azad remarked, “coming to Delhi without eating at Moti Mahal would be like visiting Agra without seeing Taj Mahal.”
Embassy, Connaught PlaceFounded in 1948, this colonial-style restaurant serves a terrific chana bhatura and tandoori chicken, besides the signature embassy samosa, murgh musallam and dal meat.
Dakshin, Sheraton New Delhi Hotel, SaketWhy would one eat South Indian in North India? Only when it’s as good as the gongura mamsam (Andhra), meen moilee (Kerala), istew (Karnataka) and chicken Chettinad (Tamil Nadu) at Dakshin. ITC’s other restaurants – Bukhara and Peshawri for North West Frontier cuisine and Dum Pukht for Awadhi – are equally good.
Yeti—the Himalayan Kitchen, GK IIVenture beyond Delhi staples like momo-thukpa to try pan-Himalayan cuisine – sekuwa (char-grilled mutton) from Nepal, tingmo (Tibetan steamed bread), ema datchi (Bhutanese chilli cheese) and Khasi cuisine of North East.
Swagath, Defence ColonyFrom the guys who gave us Def Col’s veg stalwart Sagar Ratna is its non-veg equivalent serving top class Mangalorean and coastal fare. Prawn koliwada, neer dosa, appam and the freshest seafood in town...
Indian Accent, Friends ColonyThe only restaurant in India to make it to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016, Chef Manish Mehrotra’s ‘inventive Indian cuisine’ with an international twist is groundbreaking. Pulled pork phulka taco, meetha achaar Chilean spare ribs, Duck khurchan cornetto, tuna bhel ceviche, wasabi malai... you get the idea! The six-course Chef’s Tasting menu starts at Rs3,300/person.
Guppy by ai, Lodhi ColonyRestaurateur AD ‘Olive Bar’ Singh’s offering just reinforces Delhi’s love for Japanese food (Fujiya, Megu, En, Wasabi, Akira Back), but with a quirky touch of anime murals and sushi and shrimp tempura to kill for!
The best places to party in Delhi
Some of the best places to party in Delhi are nightclubs located in upscale hotels – the top-end Kitty Su at The Lalit in Connaught Place, the purple n’ red themed Club Pangea at The Ashok Hotel in Chanakyapuri, Hype in Shangri-La’s Eros Hotel and Jynxxx at Eros Hotel in Nehru Place. Hotel Samrat, which had a good run with its popular clubs Skooter and model-turned-actor Arjun Rampal’s LAP, Delhi's premier members-only club, has now started Playboy. The Blue Bar at Taj Palace, with its bold red and black interiors, is another great lounge. Mehrauli is fast becoming a party destination with clubs like Shroom hosting top musicians and DJs on weekends. There is usually an entry charge and some clubs do not allow stags.
For a great night out, head straight to Hauz Khas Village with a slew of bars, interesting cafés, rooftop restaurants and lounges. There’s TLR (The Living Room), Hauz Khas Social, Raasta, Moonshine, Fork You, Bulldogs, Moonshine and Summerhouse Café, which became a popular hangout overnight after Coldplay’s Chris Martin made a surprise appearance there. In Connaught Place, there’s F-Bar, FLYP@MTV and Sunday pool parties at Aqua in The Park. Moets Shack at Def Col (Defence Colony) is another popular party spot, as is TC (Turquoise Cottage). Keya at Vasant Kunj has a lovely vibe with outdoor seating and open lounge areas.
As with Bangalore, in Delhi NCR, you’re either a start-up or you are starting up a microbrewery! Delhi may be the capital, but Gurgaon is the capital of craft beer. Make sure to wet your whistle at these whistle stops – Brewer Street, Vapor, Manhattan Craft Brewery, Striker, Hops n Brew, Howzatt...
Where to stay in Delhi
Haveli Dharampura, Chandni ChowkAn 1887 late Mughal haveli recently restored into a WelcomHeritage hotel, its rooftop affords a stunning view of Jama Masjid and Sisganj Gurudwara. The ground floor restaurant, called Lakhori after the small kiln-fired bricks used in the building, serves local street delicacies. Learn kabootarbaazi, kite-flying, classical kathak and the old ways of life in Purani Dilli.
Shanti Home, JanakpuriA 17 room boutique hotel with India-themed décor, three lounge spaces, rooftop restaurant and a gymnasium. They also offer cooking classes, henna, Ayurvedic massages and custom tailoring service on the premises.
Devna, Sunder NagarA charming B&B run by Atul and Devna Khanna with interiors dedicated to contemporary art and curios from around the world, it’s a great base to cover Purana Qila, Humayun’s Tomb and the National Gallery of Modern Art nearby.
where to shop in Delhi
Delhi is built for shopping and simple joys like bargaining! Being the capital city, all the various state emporiums are located in one complex on Baba Kharak Singh Marg in Connaught Place. Shop for sandalwood inlay work from Karnataka or marble inlay from Uttar Pradesh and handicrafts from Tripura to Rajasthan. Another great place where you get different things under one roof is Dilli Haat, be it dokra sculptures from Chhattisgarh or Madhubani, bamboo handicrafts from the North East or Mithila paintings from Bihar. While in CP, Janpath and the underground shopping centre Palika Bazaar, with its over-zealous hawkers and salesmen, has to be experienced.
Besides Greater Kailash (GK-I and GK-II) and South Extension (South Ex-I and II) for general shopping, Sarojini Nagar and Lajpat Nagar are excellent for roadside bargains for garments. For boutiques, home décor, art galleries and alternative stuff head straight to Hauz Khas, Mehrauli, Khirkee Extension and Meharchand Market behind Indian Habitat Centre. Old LPs, retro movie posters, kitsch knickknacks, antique furniture; there’s always a good deal to be found. Every Sunday, at 7am, the area behind Red Fort transforms into Chor Bazaar or Thieves Market where second hand clothes, damaged or stolen goods, export surplus, hardware and ‘genuine fakes’ are sold. Hang around long enough and you can catch the Sunday book market at Daryaganj nearby that opens around 10am!
6E & Cheeky
The joy of discovering Delhi is on foot and its parks, marketplaces and monuments offer lovely walking opportunities. The Delhi Ridge, a peaceful forested tract ideal for long walks, was witness to pitched battles during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny and a slew of lesser-known monuments stand testimony to it. Okhla Barrage and Sultanpur are lovely spots for birdwatching. However, there are several cool ways to enjoy your ‘Dilli darshan’.
Delhi Tourism has a convenient Hop On-Hop Off (HOHO) bus service that covers key tourist sights. The Delhi Metro spans the length and breadth of the NCR (National Capital Region) with transits via the central Rajiv Chowk station. Thematic cycle trails developed by Delhi By Cycle – Shahjahanabad, Haveli, Raj, Nizamuddin and Yamuna Tours – are a fun way of exploring the nuances of this fascinating city. Food lovers must try the Delhi Food Walks with as many as 16 circuits to choose from, including a Gurudwara Walk for free langar and a bite at the State Bhawans (from Andhra Bhawan to Parsi Anjuman). Famished?
Delhi has a vibrant nightlife and there’s a culture of going out and having fun. Picnics on the spacious lawns of India Gate, Lodhi Gardens and Garden of Five Senses, dinner at Pandara Road, ice-cream at India Gate, Hot Chocolate Fudge at Nirula’s; these are must-dos for tourists in Delhi. The backpacker haunt of Paharganj, best enjoyed on foot, cycle or a hair-raising rickshaw ride, comes alive at night, as do popular haunts like Hauz Khas, Khan Market, Def Col and Saket. The young student population of DU (Delhi University) gives North Campus a restless vibe, always abuzz with activity and college fests. Majnu ka tila, Tibetan Market and K’Nags (Kamalanagar to the uninitiated) are cool hangouts, as is the Freeze Lounge in Rajouri Garden with ice chairs and glasses at 45°C! The capital city also has a treasure trove of museums – spot the famous dancing girl of Harappa at the National Museum, drop in to the Crafts Museum or Doll Museum, and believe it or not, there’s also Sulabh International’s Museum of Toilets!