What to see in Delhi, India
There are various private “tourist information” offices around Connaught Place openly claiming to be the official government tourist office. They’re actually just travel agents that have nothing to do with The Government of India, and since they prey on tourists, anything you buy from them will be grossly overpriced compared to doing it yourself.
The Red Fort (Lal Qila) is one of Delhi‘s top tourist sights. A brilliant red sandstone fort built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (who also built Agra‘s Taj Mahal) as his ruling palace. Completed in 1648, the years since have not treated the buildings kindly: the rooms have long since been stripped of all objects, the marble inlays are long gone and quite a few buildings are off limits. Still, the scale remains imposing and the gardens are kept lush and green even in midwinter. Major buildings within include:
Chatta Chowk, (Covered Bazaar). True to the name, this is a covered bazaar between the gate and the fort itself, now filled with souvenir hawkers.
Diwan-i-Am, (Hall of Public Audience). This building separates the outer court from the inner court, and has a marble platform for the emperor’s throne.
Hayat Baksh Bagh, (Life-Bestowing Gardens). Once a grand garden of full of fountains and streams, now sadly all dry — only dry channels and acres of green grass remain.
Diwan-i-Khas, (Hall of Private Audience). Built completely of marble, this is where the emperor received special visitors.
Khas Mahal, (Private Palace), The Emperor’s main residence. The octagonal Mussaman Burj tower looks out toward the Yamuna River, and is where the Emperor used to appear before the public for each morning.
Rang Mahal, (Color Palace). The residence of the Sultan’s main wife.
Mumtaz Mahal, (Jewel Palace). Contained six apartments for the Sultan’s harem. Now used as a museum of court textiles, carpets, weapons, etc (free).
Daawat Khana, A minor palace at the north most end of the Fort, this was originally the residence of a prince, but it was converted into a tea house by the British, a function it continues today.
Swatantra Sangrama Sangrahalaya, (Museum of the Independence Movement). To the left after the Chatta Chowk, this is a reasonably well-presented museum on the history of independence activism in India, starting from the Mutiny of 1857 all the way to Gandhi.
The only open entrance is Lahore Gate, on the west side. Security in and around the Fort is very heavy, as it was the scene of a terrorist attack in 2000 that killed three people. Bags are allowed, but they’ll be X-rayed and you’ll be patted down. Open sunrise to sunset daily except Monday. Allow for 3-4 hr in your schedule in case of long weekends and national holidays as lot of tourists flock around then. The most scenic way of reaching the fort is to take the Metro to Chawri Bazaar and then a cycle-rickshaw through the incredibly packed bazaar to the Fort.
The fort has a light and sound show in the evenings from 7:30PM-9PM, depending on the season.
Be careful buying tickets at the booth, as the ticket sellers will attempt to shortchange you. Try to have a small bill. Due to enhanced security the parking can be a bit tricky as the walk from the now distanced away parking at nearby alternative slots is quite a bit. The congested traffic makes crossing the road even trickier.
Humayun’s Tomb in south Delhi, near Hazrat Nizamuddin station, is one of Delhi’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Open daily from sunrise to sunset.
The tomb is in large, immaculately maintained gardens in the Persian Char Bagh (four corners) style that were thoroughly renovated in 2003 with the Aga Khan’s help and are consequently probably the best in Delhi. As you enter the complex, the first major structure on your right is the bulbous, octagonal tomb of Iza Khan, a court noble who built it in his own lifetime, some 20 years before Humayun’s tomb. As you pass through the first gate, you will glimpse the dome of the tomb and enter a floral path leading to the second (West) gate, which now acts as the entrance to the giant central garden.
The centerpiece is the eponymous tomb of Humayun, the second Mughal emperor. Built starting in 1562, it was the first major Mughal structure in the city and has been described as a predecessor or prototype of Agra’s Taj Mahal. The structures are, indeed, stylistically similar, although Humayun’s Tomb is built from red sandstone, not white marble, and was built by a wife grieving for her husband, not the other way around. You can climb up to the second level (the stairs on the west side are very steep, those on the south side less so), and on the south side you will find the entrance into the main crypt where Humayun is buried.
Before you leave, be sure to visit the South Gate, the original royal entrance, from where you can get picture-postcard views without too many tourists in the way. In the southeast corner is the Barber’s Tomb, also built in the same style. Historians do not know who is buried in this picturesque tomb made of red and grey sandstone.
This complex in Mehrauli, houses structures dating from the Slave Dynasty (1206-1290) and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The gardens are kept in excellent shape, making this a popular relaxation and picnic spot. Open daily from sunrise to sunset, entry is 15/500 rupees Indians/foreigners. Light-and-sound show held most nights after sunset. Now easily accessible via Qutub Minar station on the Metro Yellow Line, followed by a short auto ride.
Qutub Minar, The most famous structure on grounds, this 72.5 m minaret was the tallest “skyscraper” in the world when built (1193-1368) – it was constructed on the orders of Qutb-ud-din Aybak. Delicately carved, it has been astonishingly well-preserved and is still an awe-inspiring sight today. It’s often visible from air when flying into IGI airport! (Sticklers for archaeological truth will, however, note that the top of the tower has twice been rebuilt after an earthquake, and the base has been restored more recently.) While entry into the tower itself is no longer permitted you can view the scenery via a little webcam on top.
Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, Delhi’s first and grandest mosque, now mostly in ruins, but many parts of the complex are still standing and the sandstone decorations are still impressive. Check out the extraordinarily ornate carvings near the tomb of Iltutmish on the west side of the complex.
Iron Pillar, iIn the centre of the mosque. True to its name, this is a 7 m iron pillar erected in 400 AD by Chandragupta II Vikramaditya, also known as “he, by the breezes of whose prowess the southern ocean is even still perfumed” according to the inscription carved on the base. Alas, Chandragupta II’s perfume has long since faded, but to the amazement of metallurgists everywhere, his pillar is still going strong, after 1,600 years.
Ala-i-Minar, Ala-ud-din-Khilji set out to build a tower twice as high as the Qutub Minar, but died after a mere 24.5 m was complete. The first story stands to this day.
Ala-i-Darwaza, This square, domed building once acted as the entrance to the mosque, but is now tucked away behind the minar. Inlaid marble decorations and latticed stone screens.
Tomb of Imam Zamin, Outside the main complex, next to the Ala-i-Darzawa, this octagonal tomb commemorates a Turkestani iman who was based in the mosque during the reign of Sikandar Lodi.
Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, 145 DLF South Court Mall, Saket. Established at the initiative of avid art collector Kiran Nadar, KNMA opened in January 2010, as the first private museum of Art, exhibiting Modern and contemporary works from India and the subcontinent. The core corpus of KNMA highlights the most extraordinary works from F.N. Souza, M.F. Hussain, S.H. Raza, V.S. Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar, A. Ramachandran, Rameshwar Broota and several others. Located in the popular tourist destination of Saket, the museum is open Tues-Sun’, 10:30AM-6:30PM. Entry is free. The nearest Metro Station is Malviya Nagar.
Gandhi Smriti. 10AM-5PM (closed Monday). This estate is the site of Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom. Includes a museum celebrating his life and the room he lived in during his final days.
India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Rd. This center though not a museum in the strictest sense of the word, is most noted for its ever-changing art exhibits, plays and films, as well as an international selection of food items in its food court. Only members can avail of the dining facilities at its following two restaurants-Dilli-O-Dilli & the Oriental octopus wheras he eatopia and the American Diner are accessible to all.
International Doll’s Museum, Nehru House, 4 Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. T-S 10AM-6PM. A museum of dolls from all over the country. You get to see the costumes and art from all over India, as well as some nice crafts.
National Museum, Janpath. The layout here is a labyrinthine and the presentation won’t win any awards, but the collection is unparalleled and contains some true masterpieces. The section on the Indus Valley Culture and the one on Buddhist Heritage is most informative. The museum also showcases the arts and handicrafts from different regions of India. Keep an eye out for the 4,600 year old Harappan temple dancer, the Gandhara-era standing Buddha with Greek hair and a Roman toga, the stunning miniature painting gallery, and the giant temple chariot parked outside. An informative place for all interested in knowing more about Indian culture and history. Open Tu-Su 10AM-5PM.
National Science Centre, Gate No. 1, Pragati Maidan. Although the name is too grand, the museum is definitely a must see for science enthusiasts, especially those who are young. A good place to refresh your basics, particularly in Physics. Has a recently built section on DNA Science and also a section on Dinosaurs. A section on ancient Indian Science and Technology, including Vedic Mathematics & Ayurveda. The “Energy Ball” display near the entrance is interesting and perhaps the most captivating of all. A section on Electronic Technologies sponsored by Samsung is also a must see.
National Railway Museum, Chanakyapuri houses a collection of Indian trains from the past to the present – a worthwhile look into India’s proud railway heritage. The collection includes carriages belonging to Indian potentates and British viceroys. Children can ride the small train that circumnavigates the museum. There is a small cafe on the premises. Open 9:30AM-7:30PM (Apr-Sept) and 9:30AM-5:30PM (Oct-Mar). Closed Mondays and national holidays.
Nehru Memorial Museum (Teen Murti Bhavan). 9AM-5PM (Closed Monday). Former residence of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, now and a museum of his life. Was used by the Commander-in-chief of the Indian Army before Indian Independence. Includes a Planetarium. Here they show a small movie on Astro and Universe.
Tibet House, 1 Institutional Area. 10AM-5:30PM. Established by HH Dalai Lama with the aim of preserving the cultural heritage of Tibet. There is a museum, exhibition space and library.
National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum, Pragati Maidan, Gate #5, Bhairon Road, New Delhi-110001. 10AM-5PM. Also sells handicrafts.
Rajpath, This is a main parade route that leads from Rashtrapati Bhavan (the President’s residence) to India Gate, with many grassy lawns along the way. Especially nice in the evenings and at night when the buildings are lit and the vendors come out to supply the many picnicking families.
India Gate, This monument has been built as a memorial for the Indian soldiers who died in World War I. There is also a fire (“eternal flame”) burning for all fallen Indian soldiers.
Jantar Mantar. 9AM-6PM. One of five astronomical observatories commissioned by Sawai Jai Singh II of Jaipur during the 18th century. The odd structures inside are actually enormous scientific instruments for measuring the movement of celestial bodies
Raj Ghat. 9:30AM-5:30PM. Memorial to Mahatma Gandhi at the site of his cremation. Check for closure dates/security checks around national holidays/gandhiji’s death anniversary
Purana Qila (Old Fort), (next to the Delhi Zoo). 10AM-5PM. Ruins of the 16th century city of Shergarh, this complex sits on top of what is believed to be the site of Indraprastha, the capital of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata epic.
Tughlaqabad Fort. Massive fortress built by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq in the 14th century and was the third city of Delhi. The monstrous ruins of this complex are now overrun by hordes of Langur monkeys.
Azaad Hind Gram, (Tikri Kalan on NH-10). 10AM-6PM. A tourist complex dedicated to Netaji (respected leader) Subhash Chandra Bose, a leader in the Indian independence movement.
Parks and gardens
Delhi, the national capital of India, has very popular gardens located in it. Few of the name are Mughal Garden , Garden of Five Senses, Kalindi Kunj and many more. The Mughal Garden, that resides in President House is very popular. It only opens 30 days in a year (from February to March).
Lodhi Garden is a peaceful park in the heart of New Delhi. Lodhi garden is ideal for morning walks in the hot season and for afternoon strolls and picnics during the cooler months
Nehru Park is a large park in the New Delhi neighborhood of Chankayapuri, lying in the southwest.
Waste to Wonder Park is a park near nizamuddin railway station. It has replica of some great structures around the world. Google Map location
Bahá’í Lotus Temple Kalkaji, South Delhi. Shaped like a lotus bud with 27 petals, this stunning temple suspended above milky-blue ponds is surely one of the most magnificent monuments ever made from concrete, however there is very little to see inside. The lush park around is well landscaped but mostly off-limits. Expect very long queues on weekends on on holidays. Free entry. Open Tue-Sun, 1st April to 30th September 9AM-7PM, Last Entry 6:30 PM, 1 Oct-31 Mar 9:30AM-5:30PM, Last Entry 5:00 PM.
Chattarpur Mandir . Huge & beautiful temple complex with a big surrounding campus – located near Mehrauli area of South Delhi.
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, just off Baba Kharak Singh Marg near Connaught Place, is the main gurudwara for the many Sikhs of Delhi. You will need to cover your head (scarves provided for free) and stash your shoes in the shoe storage run by volunteers (also free).
Gurudwara Sis Ganj, Chandni Chowk (Old Delhi). An important Sikh place of worship. Built on the spot where their ninth guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was beheaded on the orders of the mughal emperor Aurangzeb, it is an oasis of calm in the chaos of Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. You will need to cover your head (scarves provided for free) and stash your shoes in the shoe storage run by volunteers (also free).
Sacred Heart Cathedral , 1 Ashok Place, off Baba Kharak singh Marg and Bhai Veer Singh Marg near Connaught Place near to Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. It is the biggest church in terms of structure and also the headquarters of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese. A must visit to enjoy the beautiful architecture and pristine beauty.
Cathedral Church of Redemption Address: Church Lane, Near Rashtrapati Bhawan. It is the headquarters of the Church of North India, Delhi Diocese. Built by Henry Medd between 1927-1935 it is a fine example of Colonial architecture.
St. Peter’s Cathedral Bhai Veer Singh Marg, near St Columbas’ school the headquarters of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox church in Delhi. It is known as the Antioch of the East and is a fine example of Oriental architecture blended with modernity.
ISKCON (Hare Krishna) temple, at East of Kailash – Centre for Krishna Consciousness, it has robotic shows and multimedia presentations, apart from the traditional temple complex. Lively atmosphere and excellent tasting sweets.
Jama Masjid , opposite the Red fort, next to Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi (Metro: Chawri Bazaar) – The largest mosque in India and a must-see while in Delhi. Entry is free, although you’ll be charged if you have a camera with you (this is only sold as a combined ticket and includes the minar climb). If you don’t have a camera with you, be prepared to politely insist that you don’t have to pay (you may be asked to show your pockets), as they will assume that all tourists have one. Beware of the tenacious guides who will try and convince you that a tour guide is mandatory and is included in the camera fee; they will give you an extremely hurried ‘tour’ of the mosque and then demand a further payment for the tour. You can climb to the top of the minaret. The climb is steep, dark and somewhat claustrophobic, but you’ll get great views over the complex and the city. You’ll need to cover up your shoulders and legs (scarves and lungis available for rental), and take off your shoes (expect to tip the shoe minder, or carry your shoes with you in your own bag). Open from 7AM-sunset, but note that tourists are not allowed in from 12:15PM-1:45PM or in the half-hour before sunset. Pictures should not be taken during prayer hours. If you’re going to sit down don’t look too comfortable. Certainly don’t eat or become too engrossed in any reading material you may be carrying, the rule is that non-Muslims must make their visits brief and guards will usher along visitors who linger.
Lakshmi Narayan Temple or popularly known as Birla Mandir, this temple is located next to Connaught Place. It is a big impressive Hindu temple complex. Closest Metro – Rajiv Chowk (Yellow Line). It will take you 45 min to visit, and you will not be able to take pictures from inside the Temple. With a great park behind it, it is an oasis of calm from Delhi. Its multiple shrines and paintings (often) have English explanations. Take your shoes off at the entrance.
Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple off National Highway 24 (Metro Akshardham), East Delhi. Completed in 2005 by the socio-spiritual organization BAPS, no expense has been spared in decorating this large and elaborate temple carved of red sandstone. The central monument, built without any steel, houses an 11-ft golden statue of the founder of the Swaminarayan faith, Bhagwan Swaminarayan. The Premvati food court on the grounds serve up fast, cheap, huge but mediocre portions of vegetarian food. There is a strict ban on all electronic items, cameras, tobacco and pretty much everything except the clothes on your back, your wallet, and your passport. You can leave your worldly belongings in the cloakroom outside, and for that you have to wait in long queues. Visiting during daytime will be hectic, try visiting during evenings. Free entry. Allow at least three-four hours to explore it all. Open Tu-Su 9AM-7PM.
Sai Baba Temple , 17,Institutional Area, Lodhi Rd. Although there are many Shirdi Sai Baba Temples in and around Delhi, the one located at Lodhi Road is the oldest. Temple Opens at 5AM. Kakad Aarti 5.15AM. Mangal SNAN 6AM. Noon Aarti at 12 noon. Doop Aarti evening prayer 6.30PM. Shej Aarti at 9.30PM.
Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Campus, Not usually considered a “place of interest” for tourists, this one of a kind campus of the premier National University of India remains a hidden gem of the city. The campus is hilly and rocky and some areas look more like a jungle with peacocks. The hostels represent the geographical vastness of India as they are named after Indian Rivers. Specific areas of the campus are named after a particular geographical region in India. Some of the non-scholarly attractions of India’s best University include 24×7, an eating joint which is open, as its name suggests, is open round the clock. For a visit to the JNU campus, board bus # 615 from Connaught Place. The famous Qutab Minar is very close to the JNU campus.
The Parliament House
Majnu ka Tilla Tibetan Colony, This is one of the more accessible Tibetan resettlement areas in India, and certainly a nice piece of variety for Delhi. To get there head north along Ring Road just past Majnu ka Tilla Gurudwara, or take the Metro to Vidhan Sabha station, and cycle-rickshaw from there.