Delhi is a gobsmacking cornucopia of history, culture, cuisine, art, craft and street life with countless activities to keep a visitor thoroughly engaged. At first glance it’s not an easy city to negotiate, give it time and the chaos gives way somewhat to indulgent, often, resigned acceptance.
Here are 20 great things to do in India’s capital.
1. Try Delhi’s street food
Tangy delights such as chaatpapdi (fried wafers loaded with potatoes, chickpeas, yoghurt and chilli) or golgappas (fried hollow dough filled with chickpeas and spicy potatoes), are de rigueur in Old Delhi. And so are stuffed parathas (fried breads with potato fillings), sizzling kababs, and treacle-dripping jalebis.
2. Check out Humayun's Tomb
Humayun's Tomb combines Persian style with local craftsmanship, and is surrounded by the fiercely symmetrical Mughal Gardens. Take a photo tour, stroll here at dusk, or simply admire the architecture. Believed to be the precursor of its more famous look-alike, the Taj Mahal, it is a UNESCO protected monument with a relatively higher entry fee.
3. Visit the Red Fort
Explore the great sandstone carcass of the Red Fort, and imagine the last days of the Mughal empire and the British era. If possible, catch the Republic Day celebrations here when the Prime Minister hoists the Tricolor from its resplendent ramparts. Other times browse through the wares at Meena Bazar, once the exclusive shopping domain of the ladies of the Mughal court.
4. Listen to gawwalis
Hear qawwalis (devotional music) sung at dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya; resounding renditions of faith at around sunset each Thursday at one of Sufism’s most revered sites. Buried close to his spiritual master is Amir Khusro, celebrated poet from the 13th century. The qawwalis take on a special hue during Basant, the festival of Spring, when both dargah and devotees are awash in yellow.
5. See the city on a bus tour
Catch a quick glimpse of Delhi with the HOHO Bus tours for as little as Rs 500 a day. Except for Mondays, they ply daily and through the day at regular intervals of 30 to 45 minutes, leaving visitors with plenty of time to acquaint with the city's history and heritage. Choose from half-day, one-day or two-day tours depending on time availability.
6. Go on a shopping spree
Lose yourself to shopping, in the temples to Indian craft that are Delhi's government emporia on Baba Kharak Singh Marg close to Connaught Place. For bargains, hit the flea market stalls on Janpath and in Sarojini Nagar. For crafts of India, look no further than Dilli Haat for a fill of souvenir shopping.
7. Lose yourself in Old Delhi
Get lost and confused in the narrow bazaars of Old Delhi, and feel like you've wandered somewhere medieval. Wrong turns spring surprises as you variously stumble upon the home of the legendary Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib at Ghalib’s haveli, Jama Masjid India's largest mosque, or Khari Baoli – Asia’s largest spice bazaar. Perhaps include in your stroll the cluster of nine well-preserved and colourfully painted Jain havelis, circa 18th century.
8. Explore the sprawling Sunder Nursery
Step into the serenity of the 90-acre Sunder Nursery, a beautifully restored park dotted with Mughal monuments, water bodies and several hundred species of trees alive with birds and butterflies. Replete with the flowerbeds that lend the park its name, it hosts a couple of amphitheatres; expect to see performances by talent from nearby Nizamuddin Basti.
9. Watch the Changing of the Guard
Attend the relatively unknown Changing of the Guard at Rashtrapati Bhavan’s forecourt every Saturday morning. The President’s Bodyguard, kitted out in their ceremonial regalia, put on an equestrian display for a gathering of no more than 200, to a backdrop of the imposing edifice that is the Presidential Palace.
10. Visit Indira Gandhi's former home
Pay a visit to the former home of Indira Gandhi, Indira Gandhi Smriti, where she was shot dead by one of her bodyguards in 1984, and learn about India's most powerful dynasty.
11. People watch at Lodhi Gardens
Wander around Lodhi Gardens on a Sunday afternoon, the perfect place for people watching. Other times, carry a picnic basket, relax with a book, take a photo tour, or put its jogging tracks to good use.
12. Wander the Hauz Khas district
Discover the district of Hauz Khas, with its crumbling Mughal tombs and tempting art, antique and fashion boutiques. Enjoy a quick bite or leisurely meal in any number of eateries overlooking the lake. Or simply catch a coffee over conversation at Kunzum Travel Cafe.
13. Feast on the best of Indian fare
Chow down on scrumptious masala dosas at the Janpath branch of Saravana Bhavan, and finish your meal with a deliciously gritty south Indian coffee. For north Indian fare, look no further than the cluster of Mughlai restaurants at Pandara Market; Pindi and Gulati, notably.
14. See the city from a different angle
Use the map from William Dalrymple's City of Djinns for a different way to explore the city. Alternately, grab Madhulika Liddle’s The Eighth Guest and Other Muzaffar Jang Mysteries and traipse around Shajahanbad in the footsteps of her intrepid Mughal-era detective.
15. Put your dancing shoes on
Take a dance lesson at the Delhi Dance Academy. Their two-hour Namaste India Dance Workshop is a fun way to learn Bollywood, Bhangra, and Garba, all popular styles. The cost includes costume hire and a video of the choreographed performance.
16. Grab a bite at the Khan Market
Shop middle-class Delhiite-style at laidback Khan Market, browsing its bookshops and hanging out for a chat at Café Turtle, fuelled by coffee and gooey cake. Order a shake at Big Chill or sushi at Yum Yum Cha, or step up to Perch, the city’s first wine and coffee bar.
17. Take time out at Qutb Minar
Take a trip out to peaceful Qutb Minar, with its towering minaret resembling an ornate factory chimney. Walk around the complex teeming with monuments straddling several centuries; of immense interest to history, architecture and calligraphy buffs.
18. Admire India's largest mosque
19. Get acquainted with Indian art
Be flabbergasted by the wealth of Indian art at the National Museum. Introduce yourself to avant-garde artists and their work, installations included, at the National Gallery of Modern Art, not too far away.
20. Escape the chaos at Gandhi's tomb
Visit Gandhi's simple tomb in its tranquil gardens, and drink in the atmosphere – nowhere else in Delhi is as peaceful as this.
This article was first published in October 2010 and updated by Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu in June 2018.
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