Many travellers limit themselves to the historic neighbourhoods of south Mumbai and miss out on Mumbai's modern cutting edge. Here’s a look at some of the sights and activities that help you to get under the cosmopolitan skin of India's 'Maximum City'.
Shop like a fashionista
Rising from the ashes of what was once a colonial cotton mill, High Street Phoenix (highstreetphoenix.com; 462 Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel West) is Mumbai’s top destination for shopaholics, particularly those with a weakness for premium designer labels. Appealing to Mumbai's icons of film, fashion and finance, this luxury shopping complex – the largest of its kind in the city – houses top global brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Jimmy Choo and Gucci. If you have any red carpet events coming up, this is the place to get kitted out in the latest catwalk chic. Refreshingly, High Street Phoenix also has a generous smattering of home-grown haute couture labels such as Rohit Bal (rohitbal.com) and Anita Dongre (andindia.com), whose gorgeous ethnic dresses and modern-medieval ensembles find their way onto the sales racks after being showcased at the Mumbai and Delhi fashion weeks.
Where India goes organic!
There are more cafés in Bandra than there are houses, or so locals like to claim. And to be fair, this posh neighbourhood in central Mumbai does indeed boast some of India’s best delis, coffee shops, snack bars, breakfast joints and tearooms, serving a divine range of espresso-based pick-me-ups and organic comestibles in cool and laid-back interiors. The trendiest name on this circuit is The Birdsong (Off Hill Rd, Bandra West), where life-affirming organic healthfood comes to your table in imaginative and tasty avatars, such as organic khichda (like kedgeree version 2.0) and vitamin-rich quinoa salad. Then there’s Yoga House (yogahouse.in; Sherly Rajan Rd), which supplements its yoga classes with wholesome vegan and vegetarian food, including famous salads, multigrain bread and hash browns with spinach and mozzarella. To pamper your sweet tooth, swing by Theobroma (Link Square Mall, Linking Rd), a satellite branch of the famous south Mumbai confectioner, for the best walnut brownies and vanilla cinnamon custard tarts in town.
Given that Indian art now sells for millions of dollars at exhibitions and auctions around the world, no Mumbai trip would be complete without a tour of the top-flight art galleries. The Chemould Gallery (gallerychemould.com; Queens Mansion, G. Talwatkar Marg), one of India’s oldest art houses, keeps metamorphosing through the decades, but consistently represents the country’s most respected artists, from past masters such as MF Husain and Tyeb Mehta to contemporary visionaries such as Jitish Kallat and Atul Dodiya. Another creative hotspot is Chatterjee & Lal (chatterjeeandlal.com; Kamal Mansion Floor 1, Arthur Bunder Rd), which promotes contemporary mixed media, installations and video art, with a catalogue that includes some of the most sought-after artists of India's new millennium. For a more comprehensive sampling of Mumbai’s art scene, detour south to Fort and schedule a stop at the Sakshi Art Gallery (sakshigallery.com; Grants Building, Arthur Bunder Rd), the recently renovated Jehangir Art Gallery (161B MG Rd, Kala Ghoda) and the venerable National Gallery of Modern Art (MG Rd), all showcasing the best of contemporary Indian and international creativity.
Seek out local design
If you like to lead rather than follow when it comes to fashion, your trip to Mumbai absolutely must include pit-stops at the some of the funky boutiques springing up to showcase local design talent. Tops on this list is On My Own (OMO; Chimbai Rd, Bandra West), a store that’s ragingly popular with the city’s starlets and style-setters, with affordable but gorgeous dresses featuring block prints, jute embellishments and tie-dye motifs to go with sassy leather shoes and hippie-chic bags. Down by the sea, Bombay Electric (bombayelectric.in; 1 Reay House, Best Marg) stocks a mind-boggling range of handicrafts, jewellery and accessories, mixing traditional and modern motifs. And don’t forget to check out the fabulous Obataimu (Bharucha Marg, Kala Ghoda), a swish boutique with Japanese aesthetics, that specialises in statement dresses (they even have their own tailoring school).
Music & more
Like every world city worth its reputation, Mumbai has a robust live music scene, with everything from Indian experimental electronica to international metal. Blue Frog (CD House, Mathuradas Mills Compound, Lower Parel), an iconic institution conceived as a platform for emerging musicians from India and abroad, comes to life as the weekend approaches, with bands and soloists belting out everything from Indian classical ragas to headbanging classic rock, staccato ska, and dub, funk and hip-hop beats. The space-age pod restaurant has a menu as diverse and eclectic as the music. For a more refined evening, the National Centre for Performing Arts (Marine Dr & Sri V Saha Rd, Nariman Point) has an impeccably curated schedule of cultural goings-on, from Indian and international music, dance performances and workshops, to modern theatre, photography shows, art exhibitions, lectures, recitals, and film screenings. If you visit during winter, take your tapping-foot along to the high-octane Mahindra Blues Festival (mahindrablues.com) in February, featuring the best jazz and blues acts from around the world (we’re talking Derek Trucks, Buddy Guy, and appropriately, Taj Mahal, here!).