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Delhi can seem chaotic and overwhelming at times, teaming with diverse ideologies and throngs of people. But once you get below its frenetic surface, it offers a rich tapestry of culture, history and architecture for the intrepid traveller to discover. Explore the city’s Mughal past on the streets of Old Delhi before discovering imperial New Delhi with its skyscrapers and leafy avenues. But before you go, check out our complete guide to Delhi travel.
Getting to and from DEL
There is a metro service that runs from Indira Gandhi Airport to New Delhi Railway Station, with several stops in between, that departs every 20 minutes. The first coach is usually reserved for women. The metro is fully air-conditioned and very safe but be sure to hold on to your belongings as the trains can get a bit crowded. You can also opt for a taxi, although we’d recommend booking it in advance through a third party such as your hotel or travel company in order to avoid costly disagreements on price. We’d also recommend that female travellers moving around on their own be wary of using private taxis, and should instead book through their hotel or travel agent. Uber is also a reliable and convenient option for transportation from the airport into the city.
Getting around Delhi
The main Inter State Bus service terminal can be found in Old Delhi while the main train station can be found in New Delhi to the south. The metro is the better option, offering cheap and regular service around the city. As before, the first carriage is reserved for women only and the whole train will have air-conditioning. You can purchase individual tickets, or if you’re staying a few days and planning to see sites, we’d recommend you purchase a rail card.
Tuk-tuks and rickshaws are a fun way to see the city and get to know the locals as you go, and can be picked up almost anywhere. Taxis will mostly need to be booked in advance as you won’t often find them on the roads touting for business. Book one through your hotel or travel company.
Delhi is a huge city; it would not be practical (or pleasant!) to try to walk around it on foot, although some areas such as Old Delhi can mostly be covered without transport — and should be in order to soak up the atmosphere! It should also be noted that while it is safe to walk around the city during the day, we would advise travellers, particularly women (sorry ladies!), to be careful going out after dark, especially if you’re alone.
Things to do in Delhi
History lovers should take time to explore Old Delhi’s historic Red Fort area and then wander over to the nearby Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque. Humayun’s Tomb is another must see for historians, as it is a stunningly superb example of early Mughal architecture.
Immerse yourself in Indian popular culture by going to watch a Bollywood blockbuster. There are plenty of cinemas in the city to choose from, many of which are located in the bigger shopping malls. We’d recommend trying one of the vintage cinemas located near Connaught Place, the city’s original movie mecca.
Indian food is world-renowned but where to start?! Take a food tour around the city and dive mouth first into Indian culinary culture. Or why not go one step further and experience an authentic meal in the home of a local family? Check out our Home Cooked Delhi tour for a true foodie adventure.
The Akshardham Temple (see image at the top of this article) was built less than 20 years ago but it looks like an ancient house of worship, constructed by an army of artisans and volunteers using ancient techniques. Impressive architecture aside, the temple complex provides exciting interactive experiences for visitors including a lavish light show at sunset which tells stories of popular Indian mythology using actors, music, water and lights. Several exhibitions, attractive sculpture gardens and a boat ride that includes animatronics and musical fountains make it an enjoyable and educational day out for the whole family.
The Mehrauli Archaeological Park sits next to the more well-known Qutub Minar minaret. It’s a magical place where you will stumble across ancient monuments, all set in an attractive park that boasts a lake, a rose garden and a healthy bird population.
For a unique experience, you can visit Asia’s largest wholesale spice market, Khari Baoli, and breathe in the intoxicating smells and soak up the bustling atmosphere of one of the city’s busiest markets.
For a quirky day out, visit one of Time magazine’s top 10 unusual museums in the world: the Sulabh Museum of Toilets, which boasts an impressive collection of waste disposal devices from ancient times to the modern day, including Queen Victoria’s bejewelled loo seat. There is a serious side to all this though, as the museum’s founder started the project back in the 1990s to highlight the importance of good quality sanitation in Indian cities.
Art lovers will love the National Art Gallery of Modern Art. Housed in the former residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur, it offers over 15,000 Indian and colonial art works dating from 1850 for visitors to gaze upon.
The Taj Mahal and the splendours of Agra are only three hours away from Delhi, so a day trip is definitely manageable and well worth it if you don’t have the time to stay closer to the world’s most beautiful building.
Delhi Day Tours
Looking for more things to do? Urban Adventures offers day tours in Delhi, all led by local experts, that will give you a taste for local life:
Much loved, oft-quoted, sorely missed, inspirational Gandhi was possibly India’s most influential (not to mention inspiring) figure. This Delhi tour honours the great man, his work, his words, and enduring legacy.
Culture Vulture Delhi
As far as Delhi tours go, this one covers all the cultural bases. Learn about Gandhi’s life and influence, get a slice of the street food action, explore Hinduism at a local temple, and cup some hot chai in your hands.
Delhi Food Walk
Go beyond the cliched curry and try some authentic Indian bites on this Delhi tour. From homemade ice cream to fruit beer and dumplings, Delhi’s food scene is thriving and surprising.
Home Cooked Delhi
Skip the celebrity chefs and head straight to the source of authentic Indian cooking secrets on this Delhi tour that delves into the heartland of Indian cuisine – a local’s home!
Made In Delhi
Explore one of Delhi’s most lively and popular markets. Mingle with locals and store owners, try delicious street food and discover the best places to shop for exquisite fabrics, kurtis and souvenirs. This shopping mecca is jam-packed with emporiums, showrooms, handicrafts, museums, street food stalls and bars, all waiting to be discovered.
Delhi to Agra Day Tour
Breathtaking views, nostalgic stories of chivalry and romance, and impressive architecture make up this full-day adventure to Agra! You’ll see iconic sites like the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, and hear the stories and legends behind the lavish lives of the Mughal emperors.
What’s on in Delhi
Delhi-wallahs love a good festival; here are a few of our favourites:
The Delhi Flower Show occurs in the month of February and is one of the highlights in the city’s event calendar, offering visitors a feast for the eyes as they gaze upon beautiful native and exotic flowers and impressive hybrids.
Often when travellers think of a festival in India, they’re thinking of the Holi festival. Images of happy locals smearing colourful dye all over themselves and their surroundings has become a hit on Instagram. This wildly popular festival takes place across India every March (dates differ every year, so be sure to check before you travel).
Over the summer (usually in June or July), Delhi celebrates one of India’s favourite fruits — the humble mango — with the brilliantly fun and delicious International Mango Festival. This loving salute to the juicy yellow fruit includes over 500 varieties on display, some fantastic mango products to buy including chutneys, pickles and juice blends, a mango eating competition and even a quiz to test your mango knowledge!
The Qutb Festival of Indian classical music and dance occurs annually in November/December in the sublime setting of the Qutb Minar complex and showcases some of India’s most talented artists.
Delhi on the big screen
Delhi 6 is an excellent Bollywood musical drama set in and around the city, which deals with the classic Bollywood (and Hollywood) tropes of love, family and tradition. Western films that have been shot here include Victoria and Abdul with Judi Dench and Holy Smoke! with Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel.
Delhi on record
The classic sound of India is known as ‘Raga.’ If you’re looking for something a bit more pop/rock then look up Delhi-based rock bands Parikrama and Indian Ocean, who have been in the top 10 lists of India’s favourite bands since the early 1990s. A hilariously over-the-top anthem was written for the city to mark its 80th birthday back in 2011; the song is a celebration of Delhi and encourages residents to be proud of their glorious city and to “do their bit.”
Delhi in books
Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali was first published in the UK in 1940 and it follows the decline of colonialism in India and the rise of Indian culture and politics. It’s still a thrilling read. Those Pricey Thakur Girls by Anuja Chuhan is a great option if you’re looking for a spot of holiday escapism, following the story of a retired judge and his five daughters.