New Delhi is the perfect intersection between culture, religion, and history. Needless to say, there are many things to do in Delhi. After living in the capital of India for some time, the city has become my third home.
There are many things to do in Delhi that will make you fall in love with India’s history and culture. Of course, it took me 5 months of living in the city to truly realize the magnificence of Delhi.
It was the second week of my first trip in India. I was absolutely miserable. ⠀
I had caught the worst of Delhi belly and was a few pills away from finishing half a box of Tylenol. Just hours before, I got lost in Delhi’s bustling streets and missed my first day of work. On the way back, my phone drowned and died in the sudden monsoon downpour. ⠀
There seemed to be an endless amount of tasks-registering with the government, installing WiFi, finishing the piling paperwork, getting clean drinking water, figuring out the bank and rental, adjusting to a different setting, and now, finding an affordable phone. ⠀
Not being dramatic, but Indian summers are really, really hot. I laid in my windowless, ac-less room that was no less than 35C and dealt with the bursts of Delhi belly (those who know, know) and cried and sweated and sweated and cried.⠀
Obviously, India wasn’t love at first sight. But in-between all the chaos, it grew on me. Maybe it was the first time I successfully leaped onto a moving bus, or navigated with comfort through the clustered streets at night. Maybe it was when our neighborhood street vendor would give me a few extra momos or when I became pro at tuktuk rates. But after moving three times and getting lost ten times more, I became accustomed to the beat of Delhi.
Yet, during my 5 months’ stay, I always sought to escape the city. Whether it be the Himalayas or Punjab, I just couldn’t stay put within the walls of Delhi’s bustling being. As such, I left the capital of India in 2016 without visiting any of its major tourist attractions!
Thankfully, three years later, I was given a chance to right my wrong. During a week-long work trip, I quickly reacquainted with the place I once called home. I also took on the challenge to visit the must-sees in Delhi as I should have the first time around.
The Best Things To Do In Delhi
- Lotus Temple | An hour exploring the lotus-shaped Bahá’í House of Worship;
- Humuyun’s Tomb | Two-three hours at the tomb of a Mughal Emperor;
- Swaminarayan Akshardham | Two-three hours at this beautiful Hindu Temple;
- Red Fort & Chandi Chowk | Three hours exploring the historic Mughal fort;
- Connaught Place | Night out at one of the biggest commercial districts of New Delhi;
- Qutab Minar | An hour at this UNESCO World Heritage Site in South Delhi;
- Hauz Khas | Two hours for lunch and relaxation at this hip neighborhood;
- Sarojini Market | Two-three hours for the shopping craze at one of the biggest markets;
- Street of Museums | Visit a few museums and learn the diverse history that defines India;
- India Gate & President’s House | Save sunset for a tour around one of the most visited monuments in India.
1. Lotus Temple
Begin your day at Lotus Temple, a Bahai House of Worship that resembles-you guessed it, a white lotus.
The Bahai Faith emphasizes equality and unity among all, regardless of religion, sex, and race. It originated from Persia and currently has 5-8 million followers spread throughout the world.
The Lotus Temple lies in a beautiful garden in South Delhi. After following a line into the gates, head down a green path towards the beautiful structure you will see from a mile away.
Mid-way to the temple, there will be a small shoe-drop space that will require you to move on barefoot.
The temple wasn’t particularly big on the inside, but it was extremely peaceful. Despite the number of visitors and worshippers, there was barely any noise. Looking up, I was mesmerized by the design of the ceiling that the gentle cloudy-day glow shone through.
Once outside, head down the stairs toward the blue pools that surrounded the temple. The water/liquid/chemical mixture within these man-made holes is piercing blue, even in the dead of post-Diwali pollution. ?
2. Humayun’s Tomb
One of my favorite destinations in New Delhi is Humayun’s Tomb. It sits a 20 min drive from the Lotus Temple and houses the body of Mughal Emperor Humayun. This massive structure was built in the 1560s and is accompanied by several smaller monuments within the same garden complex.
Following the footsteps of his father Babur, Humayun became second to ascend the throne of the Mughal Empire. He ruled over a territory that spanned near one million sq k at the time of his death.
At RS 500, the entrance for the tomb is quite pricey (per Delhi standards). But it is worth it. The garden is spacious and relaxing. There are many structures to see and an endless amount of history to relive. You can stroll along the brick walls that surround the tomb of Isa Khan Niyazi, which provides a beautiful overview of the space in front.
After exploring the monuments in passing, head towards the back of the trail towards Humayun’s Tomb and its surrounding gardens.
Akshardham sits a bit far from the main tourist attractions surrounding the city. However, if you have a day in Delhi, do visit this gorgeous Hindu temple.
The complex doesn’t have as much historical significance as others above, but it does showcase traditional Hindu culture through its infrastructure. It also features various pay-per-view exhibition halls that detail the values and principles of Swaminarayan Hinduism.
The majority of the Akshardham compound is free to visit. There is a list of prohibited items, including phones and cameras (ok), and masala (huh?) that are to be placed in a deposit area outside the main gates.
I spent a few hours wandering around the campus and quickly fell in love with the architectural magnitude of Akshardham Mandir, which has on its exterior intricate carvings of deities, dancers, flora, and other cultural-relevant artwork. Taking a culture-infused tour here is definitely one of the best things to do in Delhi.
4. Red Fort
After the few attractions and a quick bite, head north-west towards Old Delhi, specifically the Red Fort for a late afternoon stroll.
The Red Fort was a great feat that took a decade to complete. Under the supervision of Emperor Shah Jahan, construction ended in 1648 and remains significant to Indian Independence.
Did you know that the British still refuse to return several valuables they looted from the Red Fort during their occupation of India?
Due to the time, I chose not to enter Red Fort and contented myself with its outer sphere. On the backside of the fort, there is a funfair and a few Hindu temples that are worth a visit. One of the many things to do in New Delhi is walking down Chandni Chowk and visit the bazaars in that buzzing neighbourhood.
5. Connaught Place
If you are looking for a night out, some of the best bars and clubs are located in Connaught Place! CP is one of the biggest financial and commercial centers in New Delhi. It also has some of the most luxurious hotels and restaurants in the city. It was in the Imperial Hotel that political matters were met and discussed, one of the topics being the Partition of India.
Stop for a drink or have a fun night out at Privee, which is in Shangri-La, or The Junkyard Cafe, or Lord of the Drinks. The options are endless.
6. Qutub Minar
The original Qutub Minar can be best described by Ibn Battuta, who detailed its layout during his travels through Delhi:
The Cathedral Mosque occupies a vast area; its walls, roof, and paving are all constructed of white stones, admirable squared and firmly cemented with lead. There is no wood in it at all. It has thirteen domes of stone, its mimbar also is of stone, and it has four courts. In the center of the mosque is the awe-inspiring column of which it is said nobody knows of what metal it is constructed. One of their learned men told me that it is called Haft Jush, which means ‘seven metals’, and that it is composed of these seven. A part of this column, of a finger’s length, has been polished, and this polished part gives out a brilliant gleam…In the northern court of the mosque is the minaret, which has no parallel in the lands of Islam. It is built of red stone, unlike the stone used for the rest of the mosque, for that is white, and the stones of the minaret are decoratively carved.
-The Travels of Ibn Battuta
Of course, Qutub Minar’s exterior does not exactly resemble the words by Battuta, who first laid eyes upon the structure some 700 years ago. Maybe it’s the nerd in me, but I find it so exciting to be walking the grounds of places mentioned in published works. There’s something magical and surreal that transcends time and space.
However, it still retains some of the essentials from its early days, including the minaret, which is typically built into or adjacent to mosques with the main purpose for the Muslim call to prayer.
7. Hauz Khas
After Qutub Minar, take a tuk-tuk towards Haus Khas. This hip neighborhood is known for its many eateries and cafes. At night, it turns into a bar and club haven visited by those in their early 20s. It’s a more affordable version of CP and has plenty of events that will keep you busy.
During the day, the Hauz Khas Park is the perfect place to take a stroll. Although there was no entrance fee a few years ago, the park now charges RS 350 for a visit. Regardless, there is plenty to see, especially if you plan on having a picnic in the park or relax by the ruins.
8. Sarojini Market
If you’d like to do some cheap shopping, I highly recommend visiting the Sarojini Market in New Delhi. It’s one of the most vibrant, crazy, and exciting corners that sits just a dozen or so minutes away from Hauz Khas.
You can find hundreds of vendors and thousands of shirts, pants, Kurtas, and Kurtis for RS 300 or less. There is also an endless selection of other accessories, shoes, belts, and household items. Although it is possible to bargain with some merchants, not all prices are up for negotiation. I mean, there really isn’t much reason to fight over a few rupees, unless you are purposely seeking that thrill.
The quality of products may be debatable and there are often people thrusting items into your face. But keep a firm/nice stance and simply say “nahin, shukriyaa bhaee (no thank you, brother)” and they will often leave you alone.
The better-quality sarees and merchandise are usually located inside proper stores. They sit right behind the street vendors and often have greeters that will sweet-talk you inside.
I’d say finding a good deal Sarojini Market is one of my favorite things to do in Delhi. Of course, if you aren’t a fan of busy crowds, do avoid it at any cost.
9. Museum District
More than a few days can be spent between the various museums in New Delhi. If you’d like to learn more about India’s history and culture, head towards the National Museum and the Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum. Otherwise, do research the numerous choices beforehand and see what you’d like to better understand. Or, skip this step altogether if you aren’t an in-door enthusiast!
Some of the most popular museums in New Delhi are:
- Gandhi Smriti: Documents Gandhi’s life and his activism
- National Gandhi Museum and Library: History of India in a chronological manner, with an emphasis on Gandhi
- Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum: Collection of photos of Gandhi and his life’s tale
- National Gallery of Modern Art: Exhibits Indian paintings from numerous artisits
- National Rail Museum: History of India’s railway system
- Crafts Museum: Displays a narrative from primeval times
- Madame Tussauds Delhi: Wax figure museum with numerous celebrities
- National Museum: From coins to decorative arts, this museum holds a great collection of India-related works
- Jantar Mantar: A historical observatory t with 13 architectural astronomy instruments built by Maharaja Jai Singh II
- National Science Center: A source of knowledge to better understand the evolution of Indian civilization
10. India Gate & President’s House
Last but not least, one of the best things to do in Delhi holds lots of historical significance.
Do spend sunset near Indian Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan, otherwise known as the Presidential Palace.
India Gate is a monument that memorializes the 70,000 British Indian Army soldiers that lost their lives in the First World War. and the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The gate has approximately 13,000 names inscribed upon its surface and is one of the largest war memorials in India.
If you’ve been to Rome or Paris, you might find the architectural style resembling that of the Arch of Constantine or Arc de Triomphe. At night, the India Gate is illuminated with colors of the Indian Flag.
Just down the street, you will find a gate towards the most prominent government buildings in Delhi. Cars and tuk-tuks are not always allowed, but you can easily walk along the well-paved roads.
The architecture is European in style. Like Indian Gate, these government buildings light up at night.
I learned a lot from living in India. Whether it be staying at an ashram or visiting Tungnath, the highest Shiva Temple in the world, the country provides an experience like no other. Here are some of my other tips for visiting this magnificent state!
What To Eat?
Momos!!! Momos are my favorite kind of street food (unless you count fresh juice as street food). Whether it be chicken momos or paneer momos or fried momos or steamed or sauced or not, momos are the most delicious-dumpling-like things. You can have it as a meal, a mid-meal snack, a side treat, regardless, I highly recommend it!