India, and Delhi in particular, is known for it's intensity. An unrelenting, all-out attack on your senses. It's also known for being rife with scams, tourist traps and pick-pockets. However underneath all that, is one of the most interesting and unique cities in the world. To help you navigate the amazing and chaotic mess that is this city, these are my top 10 favorite things to do in Delhi, India.
FOR A LIST OF MY FAVORITE STREET FOOD SPOTS AND RESTAURANTS, CLICK HERE
1. SPICE MARKET (Khari Baoli)
Khari Baoli is a single street in Old Delhi, known for being the largest wholesale spice market is Asia. Close to Red Fort, the market has been in operation since the 17th century, with no hint of slowing down. It's in a constant state of chaos as thousands of traders and shoppers run from place to place looking for the best deal.
Interesting fact, rather than having a proper name, all the shops on this street are known by their serial numbers and are run by 9th or 10th generation families. A fantastic place to spend an hour or two, the spice market is a classic destination for seeing the "real" Delhi.
Hours: Daily 8:00am - 10:00pm
Address: Gadodia Market, Khari Baoli, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, Delhi 110006, India
2. HUMAYUN'S TOMB
This fascinating structure, is the resting place of the Mughal Emperor Humayun, who died in 1556. His widow commissioned the tomb shortly after, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 (which basically just means it costs more).
The building itself is absolutely stunning and also features several other prominent monuments scattered around the grounds. The best time to go is close to sunset (if possible) as the reflection off the water around it is insane. Also nearby is Arkshardham temple, which I'll cover later on.
Price: Rs500 (+25 rupee for filming but if your not obvious about it they won't say anything)
Hours: Daily 6:00am - 7:00pm
Address: Mathura Road, Opposite Dargah Nizamuddin, Nizamuddin, Nizamuddin East, New Delhi, Delhi 110013, India
3. VISIT A SLUM
If theres one thing you absolutely must do, its visit an slum or colony. I think its important to put things in perspective, especially when visiting Delhi. Many people will dismiss this idea instantly and being unnecessary or dangerous, but I couldn't disagree more.
I visited three different slums while in Delhi and found some of the nicest, most friendly people I had ever met. I even pulled out a deck of cards and did a few magic tricks for some kids, which seemed to be a huge hit. Now, I'm not saying that you should be completely oblivious or ignore any dangerous situations that could arise, all I'm saying is that you can't let that be the reason you don't go. As long as you are confident and aware you should be fine (and yes, I realize how arrogant that statement may sound...).
The first slum I would consider visiting is the Kathputli Colony. It is made up entirely of street performers in the Shadipur Depot area of Delhi, housing over 2,800 families. The special thing about this particular colony is that everyone living here is a performer of some kind, magicians, snake charmers, acrobats, singers, dancers, actors, traditional healers and musicians are among those living here. This makes it world’s largest community of street performers (need I say more?). Don't expect everyone to be performing some act when you go, but just keep it mind and you'll notice subtle nuances hinting at their professions.
TIP: Indians are typically embarrassed by the slums and may not want to take you there. Because of that it's best to tell the driver a landmark near the slum and then just walk over, otherwise you risk getting into an argument about why you want to go there. Other slums worth looking at are the Seemapuri slum, and the Kusumpur Pahari slum
Hours: Anytime (recommend sometime in the afternoon)
Address: Kathputli Slum: Close to the Shadipur metro station
Seemapuri Slum: Near Old Seemapuri, Taharpur
Kusumpur Pahari Slum: Near Vasant Vihar
4. PAHARGANJ (Main Bazaar)
If your not comfortable with haggling, this might not be the place for you. The main bazaar of Delhi sells just about anything you would ever want, and a lot of stuff you don't. Jewelry, leather, luggage, blankets, tools, tires... you get the point. This is the quintessential Indian market and everyone who visits Delhi should stop by at least once during their visit.
The main street is called "Main Bazaar Rd" also known as Baba Namdev Marg, located just west of the New Delhi Railway Station. Get ready for your senses to be overwhelmed as you navigate the streets and back alleys of this incredible authentic street market.
In terms of tips for haggling, my number one rule is that if you don't walk away at least once, you're getting ripped off. As a foreigner you'll be quoted a price probably double or triple what they would normally sell it for. The best way to go about it is to not set your eye on anything (there will always be another being sold down the street) and try to see the lowest the vendor will sell it for. That way you don't get too attached to anything and have the freedom to walk away.
Hours: Always open
Address: Main Bazar, Aram Bagh, Paharganj, New Delhi, Delhi 110055, India
5. THE LOTUS TEMPLE (Bahá’í House of Worship)
This is one of the more modern temples in Delhi, completed in 1986. Its characterized by its unique lotus flower shape and the fact that it's open to everyone, regardless of belief. It's probably the most popular destination in Delhi, with over 100 million visitors (2014), making it one of the most visited buildings in the world.
The acoustics of the inside are absolutely stunning and if you're lucky you might be able to catch a choir group while you're there.
Hours: 9:00am - 7pm (closed Mondays)
Address: Lotus Temple Rd, Shambhu Dayal Bagh, Bahapur, Shambhu Dayal Bagh, Kalkaji, New Delhi, Delhi 110019, India
6. CHANDNI CHOWK & CHAWRI BAZAAR
Sick of all the markets yet? Didn't think so. Here are two more markets in Delhi that are a bit more specialized and whose customers are all Indian rather than foreigners. The Chawri Bazaar specializes in the wholesale market of brass, copper and paper products, while Chandni Chowk sells some of the best snacks, sweets and food that Delhi has to offer.
Both markets are about as local as you can get and are each within a 5 minutes walk of the other, just north of Connaught Place. I recommend taking the metro to the Charwi Bazaar metro station and walking from there.
Hours: All Day, Everyday
- Chawri Bazar, Hauz Qazi Chowk, Kaccha Pandit Main Bazar, Lal Kuan Bazar, Old Delhi, New Delhi, Delhi 110006, India
- Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, Delhi, India
7. AKSHARDHAM TEMPLE
This probably looks like it was build a really long time ago right? Whats your guess? 1584? 1687? While I would agree with you, this particular Hindu complex was built in 2005! The main attraction is Akshardham Mandir which was built using a combination of architectural styles from all over India.
It even was awarded a Guiness world record in 2005 that stated, "...The grand, ancient-style, ornately hand-carved stone temple has been built without structural steel within five years by 11,000 artisans and volunteers...Akshardham showcases the essence of India's ageless art, borderless culture and timeless values."
Its easy to spend a couple hours at this temple whether you're learning about India's rich history, or exploring some of its magnificent art exhibits (cameras aren't allowed inside though!).
Hours: Daily 9:30am - 6:30pm (except Mondays, closed)
Address: Noida Mor, Pandav Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110092, India
The food in Delhi is absolutely outstanding but I find that most people end up wasting the opportunity because they are scared of getting sick. While there's no doubt that should be kept in mind, that shouldn't stop you from enjoying the awesomeness that is Delhi's food scene.
I should note that while I was in Delhi, I ate street food like a madman and not once got sick. Whether I was smart, lucky, or under the protection of some mystical food angle, I have a couple tips for avoiding street food sickness.
I'll start with the obvious ones, the first being don't eat anything that hasn't been cooked (especially vegetables). Usually it's pretty easy to tell if something has been sitting in the open for a few hours but if you're unsure, it's not worth the risk. There are no shortages of street food in Delhi so don't be worried about going hungry by passing up the first cart you see.
Aside from street food, you should have no worries eating in a restaurant (a list of my recommendations can be found on this page), and there are plenty to choose from. At the end of the day it's just a judgement call on whether something is good to eat or not. All I'll say is that sickness in India is generally overhyped (probably for good reason) but I wouldn't let that stop you from enjoying a delicious meal in Delhi.
Check out a list of my favorite restaurants and street food stalls here.
9. TAJ MAHAL
Even though the last two places on my list aren't technically in Delhi, it would be crazy not to make the trip down to see them. Number one on that list is the Taj Mahal.
The name in Hindi means "crown of the palace" and is actually the tomb of Mughal Empress, Mumtaz Mahal. Commissioned in 1632, this gorgeous building is made entirely of ivory white marble and cost a whopping $827 million USD (in today's terms). I recommend making the effort to go either at sunrise or sunset, and start across the river, giving you a wide view of the complex.
The palace is located in Agra, part of the so-called "Golden Triangle", about three hours from Delhi. You can take the train (which is the best way), and costs as little as $4 USD. If anyone tells you otherwise it's almost a guaranteed scam (including that the trains are "closed" or derailed). Alternatively you can hire a car for probably 20 times that amount and take the same amount of time to get there. I CAN'T STRESS IT ENOUGH, if anyone tries to persuade you not to do it on your own by saying it's dangerous, time consuming, or impossible, they are 100% lying to you to get you to pay them somehow. Remember, these guys do this for a living and will always be able to outsmart you (speaking from experience here).
The easiest way to avoid all that (even though it requires more effort) is to just do it all yourself. Go to the train station yourself and see ticket prices and times, unfortunately you cant trust anyone when it comes to tourist information. That being said I made tons of friends when I was there and felt totally comfortable with Indians in general (As long as they were outside the tourist industry, i.e. not trying to sell me anything).
Hours: Sunrise to Sunset (Expect Friday; Closed)
Address: Dharmapuri, Forest Colony, Tajganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282001, India
10. GALTAJI (Monkey Temple)
Surrounded by hills, the temple was built at the entrance to a mountain pass and is home to thousands of monkeys that roam the grounds.
An ancient Hindu pilgrimage site, Galtaji is about 10km from Jaipur and can be reached by two main methods. The first is to hire a car which, including an hour wait at the temple, will cost you between Rs400-650 depending on how good you bargaining skills are. The second is to hike up, which has the added bonus of taking you past the sun temple. This will take about 30min and starts at Surajpol Bazar Road, then follows the path east through the large pink stone archway.
You can also purchase nuts and fruit at the entrance for Rs10 to feed the monkeys which is always fun. Theres no actual entrance fee to get into the temple, however if you have a camera you are expected to make a donation (around Rs100-250)
Hours: Daily, 5:00am - 9:00pm
Address: Galta Ji, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302031, India
WHERE TO STAY?
Delhi is very much a "sprawling" city and finding the right place to stay can be difficult. I'll start, as I always do, with recommending Airbnb. I believe it is the best option for traveller's at the moment when its comes to cost and quality (not to mention the added benefit of staying with a local!).
There are a few main areas you can stay while in Delhi, that will put you close to most of the attractions. The first is the Main Bazaar, somewhere on along Main Bazaar Rd. This may seem like an odd choice, but it puts you in the center of the action and within walking distance to a few great restaurants (it's also super cheap!). You don't have to worry about noise because the market shuts down and opens up at fairly reasonable times.
Another option is South Delhi, which is a bit farther away from the attractions but has an entirely different feel from the rest of the city. While central Delhi is a mess of chaotic markets and hectic streets, South Delhi is much more peaceful (relatively, of course). You'll find this neighborhood is more upscale and a bit pricier than some of the other options.
If anyone is interested, here's the airbnb that I stayed in while in Delhi for $15 a night (in the Main Bazaar): (more for budget backpackers than anyone else)