Delhi City Guide: Where to Stay, Eat, Drink and Shop in India’s Underrated Capital

Delhi is often dismissed as a bustling beast of a city by international visitors, who land at Indira Gandhi Airport, give the illustrious metropolis a jetlagged night or two, then set off in search of beaches and backwaters . This is a rookie mistake, as Delhi is not the place to walk around when you are short on time and exhausted after the flight.

In fact, there’s so much to absorb in India’s capital, which manages to be both decidedly modern and vaguely ancient. The first incarnation of the city, Indraprastha, is believed to have been established 5,000 years ago, so to call it “historically rich” is an understatement. Make this stopover in India part of your itinerary when you’re fully loaded and ready to enjoy the wow factor of one of the oldest cities in the world: consider spending a few days after a visit to explore it before setting off. The utterly unique and moving spirit of Delhi is ever present – as long as you take the time to seek it out.

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

What to do

Park life

Delhi is surprisingly green, with verdant parks and stretches of woodland dotted around every corner of the vast city. It is thanks to the tombs and ruins, which have been respected by the centuries of the predecessors who artfully built around them. Consequently, the city is full of archaeological sites, with more ruins to visit than Rome. The best of these ancient relics of past empires can be found in Lodi Gardens, full of 15th century tombs, and Hauz Khas Park, with its 14th century palace. Or take a tuk-tuk south to Mehrauli, where the 12th century Qutab Minar complex will knock your socks off.

Spiritual landmarks

Whatever your stance on religion, it is impossible to visit India without being moved by its spirituality and wide range of devout religions. Delhi is a macrocosm of this – a pulsating city of belief, the perfect place to delve into the divine. Whether visiting the huge Akshardham Hindu Temple; pick up a hymnal qali service to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah Sufi shrine; To see the Jama Masjid Mosque; or jain temple Sri Digambar Jain Lal Mandir, with its bird hospital; or listening to shabads sung at the Sikh Gurudwara Shri Bangla Sahibmake sure you dress appropriately and act respectfully.

Magnificent architecture

India’s capital is an architecture enthusiast’s dream. Home to the finest Mughal buildings this side of Agra, visitors to Delhi really cannot miss the sprawling strong red (formerly Mughal Royal Palace), the illustrious Humayun’s Tomband the slightly faded Safdarjung’s tomb. If it’s modernism you’re after, treat yourself to a tour of New Delhi’s imperialist Luytens structures – most are closed to the public as they are now government buildings, but Jaipur House (home to the city’s headquarters Modern Art Museum) and Bikaner House are generally accessible. Or for a touch of Indian-style brutalism, check out the 1980s masterpieces of Kuldip Singh, the National Cooperative Development Corporation pajama building in Hauz Khas, with the Palika Kendra Building.

Chawri Bazar Market in Old Delhi

(Getty Images)

Where to stay

It goes without saying that Delhi is a huge city with a multitude of neighborhoods and environments, from the leafy suburbs of Hauz Khas to the deliciously chaotic lanes of Chandni Chowk market in the heart of Old Delhi. If you want to dive into the depths, opt for the truly immersive experience of staying in a breathtaking heritage property, Haveli Dharampura. One of the few remaining traditional Mughal-style “haveli” houses in the old city, the Dharampura has been restored to its former glory and offers some of the most ornate rooms in the city, as well as magnificent views of the area from the terrace on the roof. Doubles from £110, B&B.

Another notable period property just north of Old Delhi is Maiden’s Hotel, in the former Colonial-era Civil Lines neighborhood. The Edwardian-style building is made up of columns and arches, with huge gardens and two swish pools to enjoy after exploring the city. Doubles from £64, B&B.

For great Airbnb options and cleaner, greener air, consider a stay at Hauz Khas. Sarai Khaas is a superb rental apartment overlooking the park below; It’s £50 per night for the whole space or you can rent individual rooms. Somewhere else, The lazy patio Homestay can accommodate up to eight people for £140 a night, ideal for families and groups.

Also in the area is the most unique hostel in town, Jungle Mei Mangalwhose simple rooms feature futuristic interiors by host Nitin, who has used technologies and recycled plastics to weave his creative hub. Singles from £10 room only.

(Maidens Hotel)

Where to eat

While a number of Indian cities vie for the title of culinary capital, Delhi certainly does well, notable for both the quality and diversity of cuisines available. You can find dishes from all corners of the world in this multicultural metropolis, but most importantly, from all corners of India. For Delhi’s ultimate meat feast, head to the original branch of Karim’s Hotel at Chandni Chowk, a local institution that has been serving its Mughal cuisine for over 100 years, including the famous mutton burra kebab.

If you’re not brave enough to try the street food here, but need a quick fix on the go, dip into a branch of Haldiram, which you will find all around Old Delhi. It’s an ultra-cheap canteen and a favorite since it opened in the 1930s. For a sit-down dinner, head to Connaught Place in New Delhi. The Edwardian Mall is packed with great restaurants, including the legendary United Coffee House, which has been around since 1942 (the lavish, nostalgic interior decor is a giveaway) and does the best black dal makhani in the city. For Punjabi specialties, cross the crescent to Daryaganj Restaurant, another local institution since the 1940s, and be sure to order from the incredible tandoori menu.

In Hauz Khas, Naivedyam is the best South Indian restaurant in town, whose dosas are the best outside of Kerala. Vegetables will do well in the residential area of ​​Kailash, where mastodon serves top-notch vegetarian and vegan dishes and the Greenr Cafe has the best health foods around.

Food at Naivedyam in Hauz Khas, Delhi

(Naivedyam Foods)

where to drink

There’s a big cafe scene in Grand Kailash, the upmarket residential area in the southeast of the city. Diehard coffee fans will want to check out Caffena, a small independent roaster with a take-out operation where you can grab a brew or beans to go. There’s a Coffee Bond, in the same neighborhood, a stellar Aussie-style chain that takes its beans seriously and is popular with Delhiites. More Blue Tokai Coffee has a Kailash branch – it’s India’s up-and-coming local coffee brand, with more than 20 coffee farms and three roasters across the country.

For night owls, heading to the southern suburbs is a good starting point. South Delhi is full of great bars, like food gurus Dear Donna, who specialize in refreshing spritzers, and Sidecar, a chic cocktail bar whose picky bar staff will keep you entertained with their handcrafted mixes until breakfast. morning. PCO at Vasant Vihar is a fun speakeasy-themed haunt that requires a password to enter, so drop them a line ahead of time. And for the music heads, The Piano Man Jazz Club at Hauz Khas hosts daily live music in their elegant wood-panelled joint which sees local and international talent perform for a crowd of eager regulars.

(Bahrison Booksellers)

Where to shop

Delhi has some of the best malls in India, which house all the Asian and Western brands you could possibly need. But if you’re looking for local produce, head to Dilli Hat – the local government’s attempt to recreate a village market place. It might seem a bit staged, but it’s undeniably convenient to have traditional arts and crafts from all over the country on sale at these regionally themed stalls. Domestic tourists love this place for its wide range of goods, including silverware, silks and spices, as well as the food hall.

Khan Market is a historically renowned shopping mall and home to Bahrisons Booksellers, one of the best bookstores in Delhi. It’s a small, compact mall, full of shops selling useful everyday items, so much less touristy – plus it’s full of restaurants.

The best antique shops are nestled around New Delhi, with the Janpath district being a particularly good street for nostalgic and spiritual rarities. Plus, the Chandni Chowk area in Old Delhi is technically one big, sprawling market, with designated lanes for woodwork, electrical appliances, textiles, and even wedding dresses. Even if you’re not buying, it’s fun to walk around and take it all in.

Architectural highlight

With a crowded field, this one is almost impossible to narrow down – but Agrasen Ki Baoli, the 10th century step well, is a real wonder. It is tucked away in a quiet lane in New Delhi and can be visited for free.

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Nuts and bolts

What currency do I need?

Indian rupees.

What language do they speak?

Hindi, Urdu and English, among others.

Should I tip?

Yes; 10 percent.

What is the time difference?

It is 4.5 or 5.5 hours ahead of the UK, depending on GMT or BST.

What is the average flight time from the UK?

Eight hours live.

How should I get around?

The city’s metro system is good and surprisingly cheap, but for a more panoramic view of the city, use Uber to flag you down in tuk tuks and zip off into the fresh air.

What is the best view?

Head to the top of the minaret of India’s largest mosque, the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi. Entry is free but it’s £2 to take pictures – well worth it as the views from Chandi Chowk below are awe-inspiring.

Insider tip?

Dress appropriately for sightseeing (no shorts, vests, or sleeveless t-shirts) and wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off, so your attire doesn’t prevent you from entering temples and other religious buildings.

Getting There

Try to fly less?

In times without conflict and without Covid, it was possible to take the train from the UK to South Asia – but this involves going via Russia (which the Foreign Office advises against all travel) for the Trans-Siberian railway to China (not currently open to the British). To enter France by train, you can travel by freighter from Le Havre in France to Singapore and then take the train to Bangkok (via Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia), but getting between Bangkok and Delhi requires more than two days drive.

Good with flying?

Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Air India all fly direct from the UK to Delhi.

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