A buzzing international metropolis home to seventeen million people (and counting), sprawling Delhi is the capital of India, and also functions as the prime hub of wider South Asia. While this may conjure visions of urban chaos, and while those visions may be almost precisely accurate in teeming Paharganj and other older districts, much of the city is low-lying and surprisingly green, as best witnessed from the elevated sections of the excellent metro system. Delhi boasts a rich and varied history, and you’ll come across tombs, temples and ruins dating back centuries;
Delhi: Where Tradition Meets InnovationOn the flip side of the coin, a burgeoning youth scene is exemplified by designer bars, chic cafés and decent clubs. The result is a city full of fascinating nooks and crannies that you could happily spend weeks exploring.
From a tourist’s perspective, Delhi is divided into two main parts. Old Delhi is the city of the Mughals and dates back to the seventeenth century. It’s the capital’s most frenetic quarter, and its most Islamic, a reminder that for more than seven hundred years Delhi was a Muslim-ruled city.
Old Delhi’s greatest monuments are the magnificent constructions of the Mughals, most notably the mighty Red Fort, and the Jama Masjid, India’s largest and most impressive mosque.
To the south, encompassing the modern city centre, is New Delhi, built by the British to be the capital of their empire’s key possession.
A spacious city of tree-lined boulevards, New Delhi is also impressive in its own way. The Rajpath, stretching from India Gate to the Presidential Palace, is at least as mighty a statement of imperial power as the Red Fort, and it’s among the broad avenues of New Delhi that you’ll find most of the city’s museums and its prime shopping area
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Best things to do in DelhiFrom the imposing spendour of the Red Fort to the country’s finest museum, exhibiting more than five thousand years of Indian culture, here are the best things to do in Delhi.
#1 Visit the Red FortThe largest of Old Delhi’s monuments is Lal Qila, known in English as the Red Fort because of the red sandstone from which it was built. It was commissioned by Shah Jahan to be his residence and modelled on the fort at Agra.
Work started in 1638, and the emperor moved in ten years later. The fort contains all the trappings you’d expect at the centre of Mughal government: halls of public and private audience, domed and arched marble palaces, plush private apartments, a mosque and elaborately designed gardens.
The ramparts, which stretch for more than 2km, are interrupted by two gates – Lahori Gate to the west, through which you enter, and Delhi Gate to the south. Shah Jahan’s son, Aurangzeb, added barbicans to both gates.
In those days, the Yamuna River ran along the eastern wall, feeding both the moat and a “stream of paradise” which ran through every pavilion. As the Mughal Empire declined, the fort fell into disrepair. It was attacked and plundered by the Persian emperor Nadir Shah in 1739, and by the British in 1857.
Nevertheless, it remains an impressive testimony to Mughal grandeur. Keep your ticket stub, as you may have to show it several times.
#2 Wander Rajpath, the centrepiece of Lutyens’ imperial New DelhiVijay Chowk, immediately in front of Rashtrapati Bhavan, leads into the wide, straight Rajpath, flanked with gardens and fountains that are floodlit at night, and the scene of annual Republic Day celebrations (Jan 26).
The Rajpath runs east to India Gate; designed by Lutyens in 1921, the high arch – reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris – commemorates ninety thousand Indian soldiers killed fighting for the British in World War I, and bears the names of more than three thousand British and Indian soldiers who died on the North-West Frontier and in the Afghan War of 1919.
The extra memorial beneath the arch honours the lives lost in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
#3 Explore more than five thousand years of Indian culture at the National MuseumThe National Museum provides a good overview of Indian culture and history. At a trot you can see the museum in a couple of hours, but to get the best out of your visit you should set aside at least half a day.
Guided tours are available, though they cover a rather random selection of exhibits. The most important displays are on the ground floor, kicking off in room 4 with the Harappan civilization.
The Gandhara sculptures in room 6 betray some very obvious Greco-Roman influence, while room 9 around the corner has some very fine bronzes, most especially those of the Chola period (from south India, between the ninth and the thirteenth centuries), and a fifteenth-century statue of Devi from Vijayanagar in south India.
Among the late mediaeval sculptures in room 10 is a fearsome, vampirelike, late Chola dvarapala, also from south India, and a couple of performing musicians from Mysore. Room 12 is devoted to the Mughals, and in particular their miniature paintings – look out for two depicting the nativity of Jesus, a subject you might not expect.
#4 Escape the heat at Humayun’s TombClose to the centre of Nizamuddin stands Humayun’s Tomb, best photographed in late afternoon. Delhi’s first Mughal mausoleum, it was constructed to house the remains of the second Mughal emperor, Humayun, and was built under the watchful eye of Haji Begum, his senior widow (and mother of Akbar), who camped here for the duration, and is now buried alongside her husband.
The grounds were later used to inter several prominent Mughals, and served as a refuge for the last emperor, Bahadur Shah II, before his capture by the British in 1857. The tomb’s sombre, Persian-style elegance marks this as one of Delhi’s finest historic sites.
Constructed of red sandstone, inlaid with black and white marble, and set on a commanding podium looking towards the Yamuna River, it stands in the centre of the formal charbagh, or quartered garden. The octagonal structure is crowned with a double dome that soars to a height of 38m.
Though it was the very first Mughal garden tomb – to be followed by Akbar’s at Sikandra and, of course, the Taj Mahal at Agra, for which it can be seen as a prototype – Humayun’s mausoleum has antecedents in Delhi in the form of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq’s tomb at Tughluqabad, and that of Sikandar Lodi in Lodi Gardens.
#5 See Sufi shrine, Hazrat NizamuddinThe marble dargah is the tomb of Sheikh Nizam-ud-din Aulia (1236–1325), fourth saint of the Chishtiya Sufi order founded by Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti of Ajmer, and was built the year the sheikh died, but has been through several renovations, and the present mausoleum dates from 1562.
Lattice screens and arches in the inner sanctum surround the actual tomb (closed to women), which is surrounded by a marble rail and a canopy of mother-of-pearl.
Sheikh Nizam-ud-din’s disciple, the poet and chronicler Amir Khusrau – considered to be the first Urdu poet and the founder of khyal, the most common form of north Indian classical music – lies in a contrasting red-sandstone tomb in front of his master’s mausoleum.
In the evenings qawwali music is performed here, in the form of chanting accompanied by a harmonium, dholak (barrel drum) and tabla (hand-drum). Its hypnotic rhythm is designed to lull its audience into a state of mast (spiritual intoxication), which is believed to bring the devotee closer to God. Spectators are welcome but should dress respectfully.
#6 Head to trendy Khan Market and Hauz KhasSet amid parks and woodland, the wealthy suburban development of Hauz Khas is typical of South Delhi in being a thoroughly modern area dotted with remnants of antiquity. The modern part takes the form of Hauz Khas Village, a shopping area packed with chic boutiques and smart restaurants.
There’s also a very pleasant deer park and a rose garden, but of most interest to visitors, apart from the upmarket drinking and shopping possibilities, are the ruins of a fourteenth-century reservoir at the western end of the village.
Sultan Ala-ud-din Khalji had the reservoir (or “tank”) built in 1304 to supply water to his citadel at Siri, Delhi’s “second city”, and it became known as Hauz-iAlai. Half a century later, it was expanded by Firoz Shah, who added a two-storey seminary and a mosque at its northern end.
Among the anonymous tombs scattered throughout the area is that of Firoz Shah himself, directly overlooking the southern corner of the tank. Its high walls, lofty dome, and doorway spanned by a lintel with a stone railing outside are fine examples of Hindu Indian traditions effectively blended with Islamic architecture.
#7 See the ruins of Delhi’s first incarnation at Qutb Minar ComplexAbove the foundations of Lal Kot, the “first city of Delhi '' founded in the eleventh century by the Tomar Rajputs, stand the first monuments of Muslim India, known as the Qutb Minar Complex, 13 km south of Connaught Place.
Pride of place goes to the fluted red-sandstone tower of the Qutb Minar itself, which has become one of Delhi’s most famous landmarks. Covered with intricate carvings and deeply inscribed verses from the Koran, the Qutb Minar tapers upwards from ruins to a height of just over 72m.
In times past it was considered one of the “Wonders of the East”, second only to the Taj Mahal, but historian John Keay was perhaps more representative of the modern eye when he claimed that the tower had “an unfortunate hint of the factory chimney and the brick kiln; a wisp of white smoke trailing from its summit would not seem out of place”.
Work on the Qutb Minar started in 1202; it was Qutb-ud-din Aibak’s victory tower, celebrating the advent of the Muslim dominance of Delhi (and much of the Subcontinent) that was to endure until 1857.
#8 Explore Parathe Wali Gali, the hugely atmospheric little alleyTeeming with people, this hugely atmospheric little Old Delhi alley features several small outlets making parathas to order – a cheap meal and a rich experience, all in one.
Not a restaurant, but an alleyway – super-crowded though it may be, don’t leave Delhi without eating here. Signed off Chandni Chowk, it’s famed for parathas filled with anything from paneer and gobi to mutter and mooli, all cooked to order and served with a small selection of curries for ₹60–70.
There are several basic, generations-old paratha-walas in the alley; Pandit Gaya Prasad at #34 has the best selection of fillings, including bitter gourd, cashew and even lemon.
#9 Browse the shops of Chatta ChowkThe main entrance to the fort from Lahori Gate opens onto Chatta Chowk, a covered street flanked with arched cells that used to house Delhi’s most talented jewellers, carpet-makers, goldsmiths and silk-weavers, but is now given over to souvenir-sellers.
At the end, a path to the left leads to the Museum of the Struggle for Independence, depicting resistance to British rule. Diwan-i-Am The Naubhat Khana (“Musicians’ Gallery”) marked the entrance into the royal quarters. Beyond it, a path leads ahead through wide lawns to the Diwan-i-Am, or “Hall of Public Audience”, where the emperor used to meet commoners and hold court.
In those days it was strewn with silk carpets and partitioned with hanging tapestries. Its centrepiece is a marble dais on which sat the emperor’s throne, backed by twelve panels inlaid with precious stones, mostly depicting birds and flowers. The most famous of them, in the middle at the top (and not easy to see), shows the mythological Greek Orpheus with his lute. The panels were made by a Florentine jeweller and imported from Italy, but the surrounding inlay work was done locally.
#10 See where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated at Raj GhatWhen Shah Jahan established his city in 1638, its eastern edges bordered the Yamuna River, and a line of ghats – steps leading to the water – were installed along the riverbanks. Ghats have been used in India for centuries, for mundane things like washing clothes and bathing, but also for worship and funeral cremation.
Raj Ghat, east of Delhi Gate – really more a park than a ghat, since the river is now some way to the east – is the place where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, on the day after his assassination in 1948.
The Mahatma’s samadhi (cremation memorial), a low black plinth inscribed with his reputed last words – “Hai Ram”, meaning “Oh God” – receives a steady stream of visitors, and he is remembered through prayers here every Friday evening at 5pm, and on the anniversaries of his birth and death (Oct 2 & Jan 30).
North of Raj Ghat, within the same park, memorials also mark the places where Jawaharlal Nehru (at Shanti Vana), his daughter Indira Gandhi (at Shakti Sthal), and his grandson Rajiv Gandhi (at Vir Bhumi) were cremated.
#11 Find out more about the Indian hero Gandhi at the National Gandhi MuseumThe National Gandhi Museum houses some of the Mahatma’s writings, as well as hundreds of photographs from his life and funeral, some of his old spinning wheels and leather sandals, and the blood-stained dhoti he was wearing when he was assassinated, together with one of the three bullets that killed him.
At the top of the staircase you’ll see four old telephones, and through their receivers you’ll hear Gandhi’s voice, which is quite entertaining in its own way. A half-hour film biography is shown alternatively in Hindi and English, and at weekends a longer film on Gandhi’s political and personal life.
Best areas to stay in DelhiDelhi has a vast range of accommodation, from dirt-cheap lodges to extravagant international hotels. It’s easy to book rooms online, even for cheaper places. Independent budget travellers are advised to book at least the first night in advance, since hauling a backpack from place to place around Paharganj is not only stressful but will see you treated as a target by touts.
Rough Guides tip: make sure to read about the best areas to stay in Delhi
Old Delhi and PaharganjChandni Chowk and Paharganj combine to create the hectic and historic heart of Old Delhi. Inside the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk are plenty of budget guesthouses and cheap digs as well as the odd boutique hotel.
Connaught PlaceLocated in New Delhi, Connaught Place is a bustling commercial and shopping district that exudes colonial charm. Its circular layout, elegant colonnades, and iconic white buildings make it a popular choice for visitors. From luxury hotels to budget accommodations, Connaught Place offers a range of options but you do tend to pay a premium to stay here.
South DelhiThe pleasant residential neighbourhoods of South Delhi can be a good alternative to Connaught Place and Old Delhi. Most places to stay are mid-range or luxury, but there are some boutique hotels, guesthouses, and serviced apartments for a comfortable stay. peaceful lodgings in pleasant, upmarket, residential neighbourhoods. There are one or two hostels, but most accommodation is midrange and top-end.
AerocitySituated near the Delhi airport, Aerocity is a modern and convenient district that caters to business travellers and those with layovers. It offers a range of luxury hotels and business-friendly accommodations. Good for early morning flights.
Browse the best hotels in Delhi.
Best restaurants and barsMost restaurants close around 11pm, but those with bars usually stay open until midnight. If you’re looking for a late-night meal, you could eat in one of the restaurants in a top hotel.
With an ever-increasing number of pubs and clubs, Delhi’s nightlife scene is in full swing. During the week, lounge and dance bars are your best bet, but come the weekend the clubs really take off.
India Gate and Rajpath attract nightly "people’s parties" where large crowds mill about, snacking and eating ice cream; these are not advisable for women on their own, as you’re likely to get hassled.
Old DelhiOld Delhi is a culinary paradise, with its narrow streets adorned with snack stalls and small eateries. It is renowned for its street food culture, offering a variety of delectable options.
Additionally, it is home to some of the city's best Muslim cuisine, including the famous Karim's restaurant. Paharganj, located in Old Delhi, serves as the primary hub for backpackers and features no-frills restaurants that serve a diverse range of global cuisines, from pizza to burgers.
New DelhiNew Delhi offers an extensive range of dining options that cater to various budgets. For affordable eateries, Connaught Place is dotted with street food joints and cafes that provide a nostalgic experience, such as Indian Coffee House and Coffee Home.
Moving further south, in the government bungalow area surrounding Rajpath, visitors can find excellent-value state bhavans that open their staff canteens to hungry guests. Connaught Place is also home to numerous exceptional midrange restaurants, perfect for a dining break during shopping sprees.
South DelhiSouth Delhi hides some hidden culinary gems, with fantastic independent restaurants and cafes nestled in the southern suburbs of Hauz Khas and Shahpur Jat Village. The upscale shopping areas of Greater Kailash, such as M-Block and Kailash Colony Market, also feature excellent eateries.
It's worth exploring the food halls as well, as some of the metro-station complexes house popular ones, including the Epicuria food hall at Nehru Place metro station.
How to get aroundEven with the addition of a very decent metro system, public transport in Delhi is still inadequate for the city’s population and size, and increased car ownership is adding to the general chaos. Cows have been banned from much of central Delhi, but not the more traditional districts.
By metroDelhi’s metro system is still expanding, with eight colour-coded lines so far – the choice of colours is curious to say the least, and it’s easy to get confused between the Violet, Pink and Magenta lines (stay confusing, Delhi!).
By busWith auto- and cycle rickshaws so cheap and plentiful, few tourists use Delhi’s crowded buses, but they do prove useful from time to time, and some are even a/c.
Auto-rickshaws are often the most effective form of transport around Delhi. South of Connaught Place, where Janpath begins, as well as at stations and bus terminals, there are prepaid auto-rickshaw kiosks, charging certified official fares.
Otherwise you’ll need to negotiate a price before getting in; prices for foreigners vary according to your haggling skills.
By cycle rickshawCycle rickshaws are not allowed in Connaught Place and parts of New Delhi, but are handy for short journeys to outlying areas and around Paharganj.
What is the best time to visit Delhi?At the northwestern end of the Gangetic Plain, with the Himalayas to the north and the Thar Desert to its west, Delhi can get very hot in summer (April through June) and surprisingly cold in winter (December and January), when heavy fog can disrupt train timetables quite severely.
July to September is the wet season, making February, March, October and November the best times to visit Delhi, climate-wise.
Find out more about the best time to visit India.
How many days do you need in Delhi?Delhi is a city with a rich history, diverse culture, and numerous attractions, so ideally, spending at least 2-3 days would allow you to explore and experience the essence of the city. Some will fly in a move on just as quickly, but it's worth trying to get at least four days out of the city.
Within this timeframe, you can visit popular landmarks such as the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Humayun's Tomb, Qutub Minar, and India Gate. You can also explore the bustling markets of Old Delhi, indulge in the street food scene, and visit museums like the National Museum and the Gandhi Smriti.
Additionally, if you have an interest in spirituality, you may want to visit temples such as the Akshardham Temple or the Lotus Temple. But in truth, you could spend weeks here and still only scratch the surface.
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How to get hereDelhi’s international airport is India’s main point of arrival for overseas visitors, and the city also functions as north India’s major transport hub, with four long-distance railway stations and three intercity bus terminals.
Scores of travel agents sell bus and train tickets, while many hotels – budget or otherwise – will book them for you too. There’s an ever-expanding network of internal flights, but it’s still best to book these (for price reasons) and train tickets (for reasons of capacity) as far ahead as possible; at peak times such as Diwali, demand is very high.
By planeIndira Gandhi International Airport 20 km southwest of the centre, IGI currently has three separate terminals (another three are planned). T1 and T2 are domestic terminals, while T3 is the main hub for international flights, plus Air India and Vistara domestic services.
By metro The quickest and easiest option is the Airport Express Link metro line, which takes travellers between the airport (T2 & T3) and New Delhi railway station or Shivaji Stadium (for Connaught Place). railway station (the opposite side to Paharganj). T1 is on the Magenta Line, which is useful for South Delhi; for the centre you can change to the Yellow Line at Hauz Khas. T1 is also connected by shuttle bus to Aerocity station on the Airport Express line.
By taxiTaking a taxi is particularly advisable if you leave or arrive late at night. There are official prepaid taxi kiosks.
How to avoid scams in DelhiDelhi can be a headache for the first-time visitor because of scams to entrap the unwary – even down to dumping dung onto visitors’ shoes and, then charging them to clean it off. The most common wheeze, though, is for taxi drivers or touts to convince you that the hotel you’ve chosen is full, closed or has just burned to the ground so as to take you to one that pays them a commission.
They may even pretend to phone your hotel to check, or will take you to a travel agent (often claiming to be a “tourist office”) who will do it, dialling for you (a different number); the “receptionist” on the line will corroborate the story, or deny all knowledge of your reservation.
The driver or tout will then take you to a “very good hotel” – usually in Karol Bagh – where you’ll be charged well over the odds for a night’s accommodation. To reduce the risk of being caught out, write down your taxi’s registration number (make sure the driver sees you doing it), insist on going to your hotel with no stops en route, and don’t hand over your payment slip until you’ve reached your destination.
Heading for Paharganj, your driver may try to take you to a hotel of his choice rather than yours. To avoid this, you could ask to be dropped at New Delhi railway station and walk from there. You may even encounter fake “doormen” outside hotels who’ll tell you the place is full; check at reception first, and even if the claim is true, never follow the tout to anywhere they recommend.
These problems can be avoided by reserving in advance; many hotels will arrange for a car and driver to meet you at your point of arrival.
Railway station troubleNew Delhi railway station is the worst place for touts; assume that anyone who approaches you here – even in uniform – with offers of help, or to direct you to the foreigners’ booking hall, is up to no good. Most are trying to lure travellers to the fake “official” tourist offices opposite the Paharganj entrance, where you’ll end up paying way over the odds, often for unconfirmed tickets. And don’t believe stories that the foreigners’ booking hall has closed.
On Connaught Place and along Janpath, steer clear of phoney “tourist information offices” (which touts may try to divert you to – a typical CP tout chat-up line is to inform you which block you are on, so be suspicious of anyone who comes up and tells you that unasked), and never do business with any travel agency that tries to disguise itself as a tourist information office.
TaxisFinally, be aware that taxi, auto and rental-car drivers get a hefty commission for taking you to certain shops, which will be added to your bill should you buy anything. You can assume that auto-wallahs who accost you on the street do so with the intention of overcharging you, or of taking you to shops which pay them commission rather than straight to where you want to go.
Always hail a taxi or auto-rickshaw yourself, rather than taking one whose driver approaches you, and don’t let them take you to places where you haven’t asked to go.
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