1. Find the heart of Old Delhi
Delhi is not one but two cities, with New Delhi built by colonial British rulers in the early twentieth century and the walled seventeenth century Old Delhi some 6km from the centre of present-day Delhi. Of course, what’s known as Old Delhi is not actually the oldest part of the city either, but that’s another story… Confused? That’s half the fun! Step through one of the 14 crumbling gates and go back to the time of the Mughal emperors, with many of Delhi’s most fascinating historic sights contained within, as well as riotous bazaars, colourful characters and secret snickelways. Take a tour with a local guide to get a full grasp on this area – and to get the best recommendations on what to eat!
2. Visit the Red Fort
A top Delhi attraction and unmissable landmark, the Red Fort or Lal Quila, is the spectacular former royal palace fort of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and the citadel of Old Delhi. This red sandstone masterpiece, built between 1638 and 1648, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Look out for the evening sound and light shows which transport you back through Delhi’s history, with the help of music, historical narration and light displays.
Opening times: Sun to Sat, 9:30am – 16:30pm.
Location: Netaji Subhash Marg, New Delhi.
3. Haggle at Dilli Haat
If you’re a pro at haggling, this is the place to go. Dilli Haat is an outdoor local handicraft village that sells beautiful clothing, handmade slippers, embroidered tablecloths, traditional paintings, incense, jewellery and much more. There is also a great open-air food plaza with speciality dishes from different regions of India.
Opening times: Daily, 10am – 10pm.
Location: (opposite INA Market), Sri Aurobindo Marg, Laxmi Bai Nagar, New Delhi.
Price: Small fee.
4. See the Lotus Temple
The Lotus Temple (also known as the Bahá’i House of Worship) is a stunning white marble building. It’s made up of 27 petals that form the shape of a sacred lotus flower, a symbol common to the religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Janeism, although Baha’i is a distinct religion in itself. Surrounded by gardens and ponds, it took over 10 years to construct and welcomes visitors of all faiths.
Opening times: Tue to Sun, 9am – 5:30pm (Mondays closed).
Location: Near Kalkaji Temple, East of Nehru Place.
5. Look up at Qutab Minar
Built in 1193 and standing at 73 metres high, Qutab Minar is famous for being the tallest brick minaret in the world. People see this as a very lucky place and believe that if you stand with your back to the pillar with your arms wrapped around it and make a wish, your wish will be granted.
Opening times: Daily.
Location: Mehrauli (nearest Metro Station: Qutab Minar).
6. Get some Henna
Henna (also known as mehndi) is a dark brown paste that is applied to the skin in intricate patterns and leaves a (non-permanent) stain. There are hundreds of henna artists outside Hanuman Temple in Connaught Place, as well as at Lajpat Nagar market, who will decorate your skin for a small fee so why not embrace a local tradition? Beats that ill-advised tribal tattoo you got whilst drunk in Thailand…
7. Pay your respects at the India Gate
The centrepiece of Delhi, the India Gate is a symbol of New Delhi, built to pay tribute to the soldiers who died during World War I and the Afghan Wars. Visit at night to see the 42-metre-high arch brilliantly lit up. The lush green grounds surrounding make a fab place for a picnic during the day.
8. Humayun’s Tomb
If you don’t get a chance to travel the 200km to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, this is the closest you will get to it. Humayun’s Tomb was built in 1565 and is an impressive example of Persian architecture, believed to the inspiration behind the Taj itself. You’ll find the beautiful Lodi gardens nearby; visit in the late afternoon for those perfect, Instagram-worthy shots.
Opening times: Sunrise to sunset.
Location: Mathura Road, opposite the Nizamuddin Dargah.
9. Learn some Indian dance at the India Habitat Centre
If you come to Delhi, you should definitely make the effort to learn some authentic Indian dance moves. Visit the Habitat Centre where you can watch music, dance and theatre recitals or take part in workshops yourself. Check the website for local art and photography exhibitions as well.
Opening times: Daily, 10am – 7pm.
Location: Lodhi Road, New Delhi.
Price: Varies depending on event.
10. Listen to Qawwali music
Continuing your musical education, don’t miss the chance to listen to the devotional music known as Qawwali. Go to the shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin on a Thursday at sunset. The air fills with incense and rose water, as well as the energetic vocals, and the crowd all join in this spiritual chanting experience.
11. Eat street food at Chandni Chowk
As soon as you arrive at Chandni Chowk, you’ll smell the enticing aroma of freshly-cooked food. This area in Old Delhi has the best street food in the city. Be sure to buy some chaat, which are delicious fried savoury snacks stuffed with different vegetables and spices. Papri chaat are fried dough wafers filled with chilli, chickpeas, yoghurt, tamarind chutney and spicy potatoes. Go to Karim’s Hotel on Jama Masjid, a local chain known for its tender meat kebabs. Save room for dessert though: there’s jalebi (swirls of sweet batter) and kulfi (ice cream stuffed into frozen fruit) to try!
12. Get a tailor-made suit or saree
If there’s one thing to in Delhi, it’s kit yourself out with some fine clothes. Not only is the quality of fabric excellent here, but the prices are unbelievable compared to Western equivalents. Khan Market is renowned for its talented tailors who will create a custom-made suit from scratch. For sarees, check out Lajpat Nagar market which has a huge range of colourful materials adorned with jewels and beautiful designs.
13. Visit Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
A temple virtually glowing with golden decoration, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is an important holy site for Delhi’s Sikh population, and a peaceful, welcoming place for everyone else. Food is still prepared in the kitchens and given as charity for those who need it and there’s a small art gallery dedicated to Sikh history in the basement. Wander the beautiful grounds with their calm glassy pond, and find your perfect meditation spot.
Opening times: Sun – Sat 12am – 11:45pm.
Location: Ashok Road, New Delhi.
14. Breathe in The Garden of Five Senses
If the hassle of the crowds in Delhi gets too much, this is the place to escape. Popular with couples, this pretty complex of landscaped gardens is a dream to walk around on a hot afternoon, shaded by fragrant trees and surrounded by sculptures, a blaze of colourful flowerbeds and gently trickling water features.
Opening times: (Apr to Sept) Daily, 9am – 7am. (Oct to Mar) 9am – 6pm.
Location: Said-Ul-Azaib village, Mehrauli-Badarpur Road.
Price: Rs. 30.
15. Live it up at Connaught Place
The business centre of New Delhi, there’s an eclectic mix of cultures also thriving at Connaught Place or ‘CP’ for short. An open-plan shopping arcade built by the British in the style of Georgian Bath, CP is now filled with contemporary brands and the hip Delhi crowd. There’s also two contemporary art galleries, vintage cinemas showing Bollywood and Hollywood movies and cultural venue the ICCR Auditorium. Modern Delhi in a nutshell, you can spend a pleasant day shopping and then dropping at one of the ‘My Bar‘ venues just in time for happy hour.
How to get to Delhi
Direct flights to Delhi go from London Heathrow several times a day, with airlines like Air India, Etihad and Virgin Atlantic. You can also fly non-stop from Birmingham and there are further connecting flights from UK airports like Edinburgh and Manchester.
Delhi’s airport is officially called Indira Gandhi International Airport, the busiest airport in India, and is about an hour from the centre of New Delhi via Metro rail or shuttle bus.
Book your flights to Delhi here, and start planning your trip!