Min age: 0
Rating 4.93 / 5 [1596 ratings]
Tour supplied by:
Bucket list destination:
One of India’s main international gateways, the seemingly vast capital is filled with sights and monuments of which most visitors only see a fraction. Though its size and intensity might seem daunting, many of its top attractions – such as the stunning Mughal tombs and the Red Fort – are set in gardens offering respite from the hectic ambience and crowds.
Perhaps no other city in India offers so many layers of tangible history – invaders, rulers and empires have all left their mark so that amidst its urban sprawl lies a rich architectural heritage.
Part of the city’s appeal is a curious blend of the modern and the medieval, when ‘Old Delhi’ meets ‘New Delhi’…
‘Old Delhi’, the dense historic heart of the city, was originally a substantial walled enclave that served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1659. It’s characterised mainly by narrow roads and lanes stretching away from the magnificent Red Fort and the imposing Jami Masjid mosque, two of this area’s most significant historic sites.
Today its seething if not zany intensity and clamour are exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure – and you’ll likely come across moments and people reminiscent of centuries-old lithographs.
Neat leafy ‘New Delhi’ lies just south of Old Delhi.
Inaugurated in 1931 but mostly built in the 1920s, this was the orderly culmination of the British Raj’s shifting of its imperial capital from Calcutta (present-day Kolkata) – much of it designed by British architect Edwin Lutyens. Today it’s a part of the so-called National Capital Territory of Delhi, the national capital and seat of government. Centred on Connaught Place (officially renamed Rajiv Chowk), New Delhi’s broad leafy boulevards host India’s national Parliament, various government ministries and many top hotels.
Top New Delhi hotels offer some of the country’s finest accommodation and dining, while heaving Old Delhi bazaars and lanes lend a window onto a more ‘exotic’ world whose sights, sounds and smells conjure an earthy, unvarnished vitality.
Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers
Min age: 0
Rating 4.93 / 5 [1596 ratings]
Min age: 0
Rating 4.68 / 5 [145 ratings]
Min age: 3
Rating 4.99 / 5 [138 ratings]
Min age: 0
Rating 4.80 / 5 [84 ratings]
Min age: 15
Rating 4.97 / 5 [73 ratings]
The main tourist season runs from October to March, though September and April are also fine – clear skies with warm to hot days. Peak season is Christmas and New Year as well as the Indian festival of Diwali in late autumn. Mid-December to early February can deliver surprisingly cool nights and Delhi is prone to fog (which can delay flights and trains).
May and June bring extreme heat and are worth avoiding while the July and August monsoon cools temperatures slightly but brings more humidity.
The cheapest and fastest way to central Delhi from Indira Gandhi International Airport is via the Delhi Airport Metro Express (or ‘orange line’), part of the city’s extensive metro system, which takes around 18 minutes.
Taxis are inexpensive (if booked and paid for at the Pre-Paid Taxi Booth in the arrivals hall) and take a little longer: 45-60 minutes depending on traffic.
Most arrivals by train involve New Delhi Railway Station (which has a pre-paid auto-rickshaw booth in the Paharganj-side car park) where you can connect with the city’s metro. Some services terminate at Old Delhi or Nizamuddin stations.
Delhi’s metro network is remarkably efficient, clean and spacious but can get very crowded during morning and evening rush hours. Buy tickets (tokens) at manned booths or machines, though remember the latter are likely to reject all but the crispest banknotes.
Auto-rickshaws and taxis usefully fill the gaps but you’ll probably need to bargain hard for a sensible price. Cycle rickshaws are useful for Old Delhi’s fascinating lanes.
High-end hotels or local travel agencies can arrange chauffeured cars for ultimate comfort.
Most of the city’s top-end hotels are scattered across New Delhi’s quieter, leafier neighbourhoods such as Chanakyapuri (the diplomatic enclave) and near Delhi Golf Club, plus in the vicinity of Indira Gandhi International Airport (not particularly characterful but, with the metro, not exactly inconvenient either).
Central Delhi’s Rajiv Chowk (Connaught Place) is as close to being ‘at the heart of things’ in Delhi, but this is somewhat superficial as, given the traffic, few sights or shopping are within enjoyable walking distance and this is not a late-night city.
For all its atmosphere and incredible hubbub, Old Delhi has very few good hotel options and its grungier accommodation will put off all but the hardiest.
Many of Delhi’s best restaurants are in the luxury hotels, though there’s a scattering of options elsewhere – notably on Connaught Place and the shopping enclaves in South Delhi, including Hauz Khas, Khan Market and Greater Kailash.
Street food abounds across Old Delhi in particular, particularly on Chandni Chowk, though for those of a delicate disposition hygiene might be an issue. In general, basic but busy eateries are probably a safer bet. Avoid food that looks like it’s been sitting around for long and possibly unwashed items (such as salads); ice is a no-no.
Stand-alone pubs and bars close before midnight, so much of the action centres around top hotels in polite bars.
Much of the more sophisticated shopping lies in South Delhi’s Hauz Khas, Khan Market and Greater Kailash neighbourhoods with their small plazas and boutiques.
In New Delhi, Connaught Place’s numerous boutique-like shops – mainly clothes and shoes – offer the convenience of a relatively compact and pedestrian-friendly area but few are truly high-end. The ever-reliable Central Cottage Industries Emporium stocks a good range of handicrafts.
Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk has innumerable tiny shops and stalls – good for fabric, costume jewellery and simple electronic items. Even if you’re not shopping here, its sheer zany spectacle makes for a worthwhile excursion.
Delhi’s probably the best place in India to find handicrafts from all its other states – like papier mache from Kashmir, inlay and marquetry from Karnataka, Rajasthani pottery or the almost ‘tribal’ bamboo and cane products from Assam. Running southwest from Connaught Place, Baba Kharak Singh Marg has various government-run emporiums representing different Indian states and it’s well worth investigating these if you’re after something specific.
Originating in Persia, zardozi – metallic (originally gold or silver) embroidery embellished with pearls, beads and sequins on velvet, silk and satin sheets – remains an Old Delhi speciality.
Other guides relevant to this destination
India’s cultural essence combined with its most iconic sights and greatest bucket list experiences, all distilled into one compact, diverse and vibrant region.
Home to the iconic Taj Mahal, the relentlessly congested and clamourous city of Agra and its hinterland host an array of superb Mughal architecture, along with vigorous bazaars.
Rajasthan’s state capital is a compelling blend of huge hillside forts, extravagant palaces, bustling bazaars, memorable heritage hotels and almost comically thronged streets.