Mumbai might be off-putting because of its crazy and hectic atmosphere, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying some of the truly unique things to see and do in one of India’s most vibrant cities
Cities like Mumbai may seem chaotic at first, and even if the first reaction of many travelers is to flee to the relatively peaceful beaches of Goa, Mumbai is a diverse, cosmopolitan, noisy city, and one of the most interesting places in India. India, as a subcontinent, is huge and traveling around it is both refreshing and challenging.
Mumbai is that type of place that you’ll either love or hate because it’s just so damn big (19 million people and growing). Microcosms of different cultures make up distinct neighborhoods of the city and there aren’t as many tourist attractions to see as there are in New Delhi or other more touristic places in India, but don’t skip out on the city entirely.
Mumbai is exciting and interesting and overwhelming—and it’s just that craziness that makes it a special place to visit.
Top 10 Things to Do in Mumbai
1. Appreciate the architecture
Mumbai’s history is marked by its British rule, and the architecture reflects this colonial past. From the Taj Mahal Palace hotel to the Gateway of India, and the central train station Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Mumbai’s top monuments are awe-inspiring for first time visitors.
One of the most impressive examples is the Bombay High Court, a massive building designed to inspire respect and reverence for the Indian law. Elsewhere throughout Mumbai, the tiny and chaotic streets crowded with cars and rickshaws offer a view of Mumbai’s many neglected buildings set against new and coming-soon skyscrapers.
2. Shop for souvenirs, tea, and fashion
A city of markets, there are many opportunities for getting lost in Mumbai’s bazaars and street shops. You can find practically anything: shoelaces, second-hand books, phone repair shops, and even translators. Some boutique stores like Nicobar, with trendy designs and unique artworks are located next to chocolate stores La Folie du Chocolat and tea boutiques such as Sancha Tea (check the store for the tea samples, but you probably won’t leave without buying something). Fabindia, a small department store with many locally-produced merchandise, is famous for its traditional Indian clothing, textiles, furniture and more. For Mumbai’s best shopping, wander the streets around the Kala Ghoda neighborhood equally famous for its street art and boutique shopping.
3. Read Indian authors
My first trip to India was a reading experience in itself. I had the chance to disconnect and learn more about the country through the words and images of local authors. Reading is part of the journey.
So if you want to submerge yourself in weird, crazy stories, some of them located in Mumbai and others in the rural villages of India, then check the book selection at bookstores like Crossword or Kitab Khana.
The bookstores often have their own cozy cafes perfect for a relaxing cup of tea or light snack. And for those on a budget, check the second-hand collections (including many illegally photocopied books) in the street markets and bazaars. Books are sometimes sold for around 100 rupees on the street.
4. Watch a sunset at Bandra Fort
Really popular among locals who come here to make funny selfies and sit to enjoy the sunshine, Bandra Fort is an intriguing stop for travelers. First, getting there and leaving requires some expertise with rickshaw drivers, so brace yourself for some bargaining.
Second, the weather and the smog are tricky, but if you’re lucky, you might be there while the orange sun sets and when the colors create shadows in the water, turning fishermen and their ships into silhouettes moving slowly in the Arabian Sea.
The Worli Sea Link bridge is one of Mumbai’s most photographed symbols and the view from Bandra Fort can’t be beat. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Bandra Fort closes shortly after sunset, so afterwards you can head out to the trendy bars and restaurants in nearby Bandra.
5. Taste the street and gourmet food
From the street vendors who sell pani puri to the fine cuisine restaurants of Bandra and Colaba, food is one of the best reasons to explore Mumbai. Pani puri is a local Mumbai street food—equal parts delicious, spicy, and sweet.
Try it at the street food stand Elco Restaurant in Bandra which makes pani puri with purified water—so you know it’ll be safe to eat! In Bandra, try brunch at hipstery Kitchen Garden or at local restaurant Candies, and enjoy a cold coffee with a cake at Coffee By Di Bella. In Colaba, one of Mumbai’s most famous cafés is Leopold Café (targeted in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks), but Pizza Express (an Indian chain) and Bademiya are also good options.
Mumbai – Where to Stay
Note that when in India, you often pay 100% of the Booking transaction upon arrival and you can usually cancel up to one day before, so it doesn’t hurt to make a reservation early. The Grand Hotel, a 3-star budget boutique property (at approximately 70-80€/night) is comfortably located walking distance to Colaba and the super-cool Kala Ghoda neighborhoods.
Other locations to look for accommodation would be in Bandra or South Mumbai (specifically in Colaba).
6. Experience the spiritual side to Mumbai
With many mosques, temples, and places of devotion and spiritually, Mumbai seems to have a shrine in every corner. The Haji Ali Dargah mosque is surrounded by water, and the Shree Mahalakshmi Temple, dedicated to the goddess of wealth, are not far from one another and the journey between the two is perfect for a walk to avoid the hectic streets of Mumbai. You will probably need some coins and small bills to pay for shoe keeping outside the temples, and many of them have also a strict policy against photographs.
7. Photograph the street art and the fish at Colaba market
If you don’t like strong smells, skip this one! The port area of Colaba is loud, busy, and has a distinct smell of sweat, fish, dirt, curry, incense, and oil—but the area is slowly turning into a tourist destination. The Sassoon Dock Art Project aims to paint the walls of Colaba market with large murals. Many of them are identified with artist tags but it’s worth just exploring on your own. Locals may ask you to take pictures and will probably charge you if you agree.
8. Don’t exploit poverty for your own entertainment
Mumbai is a city full of slums (despite being the world’s 12th wealthiest city) and the Hollywood picturesque images from Slumdog Millionaire reportedly caused friction among locals and tourists. There are some ‘slum tours’ and many tourists take them to discover how harsh the conditions of the poorest citizens are.
However, if you visit Mumbai, no matter how hard you try, poverty will slap you in the face. So, count your blessings. Be thankful for what you have and don’t turn poor people into objects; treat them with respect.
9. Explore Chowpatty Beach and the Queen’s Necklace
With a great panoramic view of the Back Bay, Chowpatty Beach is a great stop to chill out, talk to friends, enjoy a moment of silence and privacy or simply contemplate the sea. While many brave people bathe in the waters, I mostly recommend it as a place for contemplation.
Go for a walk along the Queen’s Necklace and Marine Drive—the long stretch of pedestrian road from Chowpatty Beach to Nariman Point. And after the selfies and the great opportunities for an Instagram pic, plan a stop for delicious ice cream at K’Rustom’s Ice Cream. A popular stand for locals with ice cream sandwiches in lots of different flavors. That tiny ice-cream store is a must.
10. Pay tribute to Gandhi
One of Mumbai’s most notable tourist attractions is the former house of passive resistance leader Gandhi. The house is now a small museum, Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, with includes details of his personal life, letters to global leaders and writers, and many installations on the impact of Gandhi’s activism in India’s history (and the world’s history as well).
Be sure to step out onto the balcony and listen to the many parakeets singing in the trees on the second floor. The museum is donation-based so this is a good chance to practice generosity. Give according to your means.
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More things to do in Mumbai
- Visit the Jehangir Art Gallery for contemporary art and photography
- Ride the Mumbai metro train lines (but avoid it during rush hours because it’s ridiculously overcrowded to the point of claustrophobia)
- Take a selfie on the front steps of the Asiatic Library in Horniman Circle (it’s nice to visit inside, too, if you happen to be there when it’s open)
- Try local craft beer at pubs in Bandra such as Doolally Taproom (which also hosts regular weekly events like a pub quiz and chess tournaments)
- Walk through the Taj Hotel’s lobby for shopping and a bit of glamour
- Drink chai from one of the many chai vendors (the Raju Chai stall in Kala Ghoda is especially colorful)
- Fight for a fair fare from a rickshaw (good luck—it’s not easy!)
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Mumbai is a great city, and even with the huge challenges of poverty, air pollution and transport chaos, the urban scenario is changing every day. The metro is under construction and the train lines work regularly (second-class is always crowded and first-class is relatively emptier).
Visit the parks and gardens and explore the street life, but don’t forget that, after all, many Indians and local expats are also overwhelmed by Mumbai’s hectic life. So don’t believe you are a stronger god or goddess capable of conquering this city. Embrace it as it is: with its many ups and downs. Welcome to Mumbai!