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, endless shopping, a busy cultural calendar and a vibrant nightlife; there’s a lot of things to do in Delhi.
Best time to visit: The best months to visit Delhi is from October to March.
How to reach
By Air: Indira Gandhi International Airport is the main airport that serves Delhi and is located 16km away from the center of New Delhi in Palam. IndiGo operates more than 150 flights between Delhi and other key locations in Delhi and abroad.
By Train: New Delhi Railway station and Old Delhi Railway station along primarily serves Delhi, connecting it to rest of the country through numerous trains.
By Bus: Delhi is well-connected to all other parts of the country through many government-run buses and privately-run buses.
Getting around: Delhi has a vast network of buses run by DTC and private operators. Auto-rickshaws, taxis, app-based cab services like Ola, Uber, Meru as well cycle-rickshaws and e-rickshaws are other common modes of transportation. Besides all, Delhi metro plays a significant role in connecting all corners of the city closely.
Old 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!
Started 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.”
Founded in 1948, this colonial-style restaurant serves a terrific chana bhatura and tandoori chicken, besides the signature embassy samosa, murgh musallam and dal meat.
Why 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.
Venture 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.
From 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.
The 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.
Restaurateur 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!
Emporiums: 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.
Dilli Haat: 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.
Janpath, CP: While in CP, Janpath and the underground shopping centre Palika Bazaar, with its over-zealous hawkers and salesmen, has to be experienced.
GK-I, II and South Ex. – I, II: Besides Greater Kailash (GK-I and GK-II) and South Extension (South Ex-I and II) for general shopping,
Street shopping: Sarojini Nagar and Lajpat Nagar are excellent for roadside bargains for garments.
Boutique stores: 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, kitschy knick knacks, antique furniture; there’s always a good deal to be found.
Chor Bazaar: Every Sunday, at 7 am, 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 about 10 am!
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 excellent 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, new 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 favourite hangout overnight after Coldplay’s Chris Martin made a surprise appearance there.
In Connaught Place, there are F-Bar, FLYP@MTV and Sunday pool parties at Aqua in The Park. Moets Shack at Def Col (Defence Colony) is another favourite party spot, as is TC (Turquoise Cottage). Keya at Vasant Kunj has a lovely vibe with outdoor seating and open lounge areas.
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.
The Imperial, Connaught Place Excellent location on Janpath, this colonial haunt completed 80 years in 2016. High ceilinged rooms, crystal chandeliers, marble floors, mahogany tables, priceless art in its corridors and award-winning restaurants from Italian to south-east Asian.
Haveli Dharampura, Chandni Chowk An 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, Janakpuri A 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 Nagar A 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.
Heritage walks and Cycle tours: 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.
Mehrauli Archaeological Park: Settled amidst the bustling area of South Delhi, this unexplored archaeological park in Mehrauli is a must-visit for history buffs. This massive park includes more than 100 heritage monuments belonging to the era of different rulers, starting from Tomar, Rajputs to Mughal emperors. Some of the notable structures hers are the mosque of Jamali Kamali, three baolis, Zafar Mahal among few others. The best time to explore this place is early morning.
Phulwalon-ki-Sair: A local 3-day festival in October celebrated by Delhi’s flower-sellers at Mehrauli since the 16th century, is marked by floral processions and offering of pankhas (fans) at a Hindu temple and a Sufi shrine. Delhi Tourism organises the 3-day Qutub Festival of Indian classical music and dance in November.
Events in Delhi: 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.
Fun things in Delhi: 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 into the Crafts Museum or Doll Museum, and believe it or not, there’s also Sulabh International’s Museum of Toilets!
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 essential 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).