Known for: A LOT. New Delhi is the capital of the country so of course there’s many governmental buildings, etc. But the city is filled with fantastic food, bustling markets and TONS of monuments (I’ll talk about those in a bit).
Climate: Hot, muggy, wet summers with warm, dry, short winters. I’d suggest not visiting in the summer months because that’s monsoon season for Delhi. It usually starts mid-June and lasts through mid-September.
Delhi: A city of old and new, blended together to make this fast paced, booming metropolis which spans 573 square miles. Delhi is home to millions of people with New Delhi as the country’s capital city. While the city continues to grow, it’s rooted in the past with monuments and temples centuries old. You can still get a sense of what the city was like in the past as you wander through the narrow streets of Old Delhi, meandering through the bustling bazaars and admiring the old havelis. You can’t help but notice the crazy traffic patterns with streets teaming with Rickshaws and cars zipping in and out of lanes.
The city is home to three world heritage sites Qutub Minar, Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb. Head over to New Delhi and explore the newer part of the city. Despite its name, New Delhi is home to a number of historic sites like India Gate, which looks very much like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. There’s millions of things to see and do in this vast city. But don’t worry I’ll break down some of my favorites so it feels less overwhelming.
A bit of history: Honestly, it’s hard to sum up any history in India because there’s so much to cover. But I’ll try and keep this brief. The city was ruled by some of the most powerful emperors in India over it’s many years of existence. Through the years the power in the city shifted from Hindu Kings to Muslim Sultans.
In 1803 the city came under British rule. And in 1911 the British decided to change the capital of india from Calcutta to Delhi and it soon became the center of all government activities. But as history goes, the city had a reputation of overthrowing its rulers and in 1947 India officially became free of British Rule. It was then that New Delhi became the capital of the country.
How to get here: There are direct flights from the states to India. There’s a direct from Chicago, New York, New Jersey and San Francisco. Most other cities will have a stopover in Dubai, China or Abu Dhabi. If you flew direct from Chicago it’s about a 15 hour flight. When we went over we flew on Emirates from Chicago to Dubai and then had a short layover before we flew to Delhi. The newly revamped Indira Gandhi Airport is located about 10 miles southwest of New Delhi.
If you’re coming from within India, there are a number of cheap and easy domestic flights from basically any city you’d be visiting in the country. You can also access the city by bus or train.
Getting around: There’s tons of ways to get around Delhi. Whether its by bus, car, rickshaw or tuk tuk. Personally, I suggest taxis or cars provided by the hotel you’re staying at. But if you want to be adventurous, you can try a tuk tuk. I might not recommend it if you don’t want to get a little dirty or breathe in emissions. I would however recommend hiring a rickshaw near the Chandi Chowk area. It’s such a unique experience and I think it goes hand in hand with Indian culture. The drivers are super sweet and point out interesting sites throughout the area.
There is of course public transportation like buses and the Delhi Metro but we didn’t use those on this trip.
Lingo: The main language in Delhi is Hindi. You’ll find that most people will have a working knowledge of English but it’s always fun to learn a few words to make an effort in the country you’re visiting. So here’s some easy-ish phrases you can brush up on before you go.
Thank you: Dhanyavad (Dhanya-vaad)
Sorry: Maaf kijiye (Maaf ki-jie)
Excuse me: Suniye (Sunie)
Where are the restrooms?: Shauchalay kahan hai? (Shauch-alay kahan hai)
How much?: Kitna? (Kit-naa)
There are tons of great options when it comes to hotels in Delhi. I will preface this by saying I would not recommend staying at anything below a 4-star property. MANY people do. But it’s not the way I chose to travel in India. While we were in Delhi we stayed at the Oberoi New Delhi which was just reopened this year after two years of renovations. Before I speak about this specific hotel, I have to say the Oberoi hotel group is my preferred choice of hotels throughout India. The brand has a rich history in the country and a great story about how it was started. Beyond that the level of service is unparalleled and each property has its own character and vibe, unique to the area it’s located in.
The Oberoi New Delhi is certainly more of a business hotel, compared to the other Oberoi hotels. It’s a 5-star luxury hotel right in the center of the city and only a 45 minute drive from the international airport. When you walk into the hotel you’re struck by this incredible modern metal sculpture which is the focal point of the hotel. What I love about Oberoi hotels is that check in is done in the room. There’s nothing worse than having to stand in line at the front desk when you’ve come off a long haul flight waiting to get into your room. This procedure is just one of the many ways the Oberoi hotels stand apart from the crowd.
The rooms are lovely and filled with hand picked artwork. Depending on which side of the hotel you’re on you will either have a view of the Delhi Golf Course on one side or Humayun’s Tomb on the other.
There’s tons of restaurants to choose from within the hotel. Threesixty is the main restaurant which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner (a killer breakfast buffet I must say). There’s Omya, which is the super yummy Indian restaurant. On the very top floor you’ll find Baoshuan, a Chinese restaurant. Opposite that is the open air rooftop bar which boasts amazing views of the city.
Other hotel recs:
Honestly, there’s SO MUCH to do here. It’s hard to narrow it down, so I’ll keep it to what we did so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
This is the largest mosque in India and it’s located right in the heart of Old Delhi. The courtyard alone is capable of holding 25,000 people. It’s open every day of the week and dressing conservatively is required. You might even be asked to wear one of the robes provided (I was lol). Make the most of it. It’s one of the few places you’ll be asked to do so. It’s free to enter and if you want to take photos on a professional camera it costs 300 rupees.
Take a rickshaw through Chandni Chowk
This is where you go to shop. This market has been around for more than three centuries, can you believe that? You can pretty much find anything here. Spices, fabric, souvenirs, food, ANYTHING! This is where we also picked up Rickshaws that took us around the area so we could get a sense of the place. It was a fun short ride and I highly recommend it.
Have a peek at the Red Fort
The walls of the fort were built in 1638 and were designed to keep out invaders. The fort is made of red sandstone and you can see it as you leave the chaos of Chandni Chowk.
Visit Humayun’s Tomb
This garden tomb is stunning! It’s also the finest example of Mughal architecture in India. What’s really interesting is the tomb is what inspired the Taj Mahal which was built a century later. Humayun’s Tomb was built in 1565 after the death of Humayun. There’s a number of other emperors buried inside the structure. Take some time to walk around the gardens and explore the buildings surrounding the tomb. The tomb is open daily from sunrise to sunset and costs 500 rupees to enter.
Stop at Qutab Minar
This gigantic minaret stands 73 meters tall and was built in 1193 after the defeat of Delhi's last Hindu kingdom. I like to call it India’s leaning tower of Pisa because right when you walk in, there’s these little stumps for you to stand on. And if you get the angle just right, it looks like you’re touching the top of the minaret. It’s silly, but you gotta do it for the photo right?
Do a city walk tour with Salaam Balaak Trust
This is a must. I’ve said this before, but I feel that in order to get a true sense of a destination you need to see the good, the bad and the ugly. If you’ve heard anything about Delhi you know that homelessness is rampant in this population. There’s about 100,000 homeless people living in Delhi and about half of them are children. The Salaam Balaak Trust is working to address this issue. The trust works to find these children and get them off the streets and into a loving environment where they can get an education and get back on their feet.
The trust also provides tourists with a walking tour through the streets of Delhi. The guides are the children who have gone through the Salaam Baalak program. You’re paired up and taken on a tour of the winding streets. We saw what life is like for people who live in the not so pretty places of the city. What I liked best about this experience is you learn FIRST HAND from someone who has lived this life. It’s heartbreaking to hear these children’s stories, but it gives you hope when you see how far they’ve come and hear their plans and goals for the future.
I’ll be sure to do a more detailed post on the trust in the future. But until then, I highly recommend booking a tour with them if you do visit Delhi.
Visit Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
This is the most prominent Sikh temple in Delhi. It’s not hard to miss with its gold domes and tall flag pole. Sikhism is the 5th largest religion in the world and is a monotheistic religion. You might recognize Sikh men for the dastaar, or turban they wear on their head.
The reason this site is worth visiting is to see how much this group of people gives back to the city. We were shown around by a guide who is Sikh and he told us the temple feeds 80,000 people a day (there’s a little discrepancy on exactly how many people are fed per day but the point is it’s A LOT). There is no discrimination when it comes to who gets to eat. It doesn't matter who you are, what you believe in or what your economic status is. You can come for a free meal at the temple. Volunteers and devotees work in the massive kitchen to prepare the vast amount of food consumed each and every day.
This is certainly an important site to see. You can even help out in the kitchen if you want to! I only suggest having a guide when you tour. It makes the entire experience more meaningful and easy to understand.
Take a Bollywood Dance class
Okay...this was by far my favorite thing that we did in Delhi. I LOVE to dance and have been doing so since I was about 3 years old. So I thought it would be fun and certainly funny to see if I could hold my own when learning to Bollywood dance. And I’m not so sure if I could. But one thing is for sure, I had an awesome time. Oh and did I mention, Linda took the class with me? She’s such a trooper lol.
We went to the Delhi Dance Academy where the instructors couldn’t have been more friendly and welcoming. We even got to wear saris, SCORE. We learned three different dances and most likely looked like idiots when we were being recorded. You can check out how we did if you watch the video that goes along with this guide.
Indian Accent: This restaurant is a must! The restaurant has been named the top restaurant in India 4 times by Tripadvisor and ranked number one restaurant by various other publications including Conde Nast Traveler. They have locations in London and New York too.
Let me tell you… It did not disappoint. The restaurant focuses on innovative Indian cuisine while taking a global spin on the creation process. Chef Manish Mehrotra is the man behind the magic and has been called the most exciting modern Indian chef in the world today. And it’s not hard to see why. His dishes look like artwork but taste like soul food.
Spice Route Restaurant: This place is way too cool. It’s located inside the Imperial New Delhi hotel and took 7 years to create. When you walk inside, it’s not hard to understand why it took years to create this masterpiece. The restaurant is bursting with character and paintings cover every inch of the space. The restaurant is designed to represent the stages of life. When you enter the columns and pathway represent birth and new beginnings. And as you walk through the restaurant you’re taken on a journey through the many exciting stages of life. There’s even a room that's’ covered floor to ceiling in gold and it’s insured for 7 million dollars lol.
Aside from the decor the food is to die for. It’s a mix of south east Asian cuisine and the menu is full of traditional and interesting options. If you’re looking for a memorable and delicious dining experience, you have to go here.
G.T. Road: This restaurant has the most amazing food. The concept is inspired by the longest road in Asia, the Grand Trunk Road. The road goes through four different countries and at the restaurant you’ll experience cuisine from all of those countries. What I loved most is the appetizer portion of the meal. They have kabobs warming over coals in the centre of the table and waiters are walking around with various dishes to sample. My favorite was this seasoned pineapple that they cut off of this super long skewer. It was warm and super juicy. I could have eaten the whole pineapple lol.
Megu: Full disclosure, we didn’t eat here but we did walk through when we were visiting the Leela Palace and I have to say the decor alone is reason to visit. This restaurant is an authentic Japanese restaurant located within the Leela Palace hotel. If the decor and reputation of the Leela is any indication, a meal here would be a total treat.
Wow… that was a lot of ground to cover lol. But that was only just Delhi! There’s still so much more to talk about and I can’t wait to share my guides for the other cities we visited in India. Most importantly I hope this little glimpse into Indian culture gave you an idea of how amazing, immersive and unique this country is.
If you have ANY questions about India feel free to reach out to me via social media or my email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be more than happy to answer them. In the meantime be on the lookout for more India content coming soon!