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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 14 December, 2022
Expert travel writer: Amar Grover

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

‘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.

New Delhi

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.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Red Fort

Delhi, India

Vast sandstone-walled fort with gardens, audience halls and royal apartments – a high point of Mughal military architecture.

Best for ages: 13+ | £5

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Raj history in Delhi

Delhi, India

Britain’s rule from 1858 to independence in 1947 known as the ‘Raj’ was a defining period in India’s history.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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Delhi’s food & drink

Delhi, India

The most varied and cosmopolitan cuisine in India, served in every venue imaginable, from world-class restaurants to sprawling food markets.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum
Experience

Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum

Delhi, India

The former bungalow residence of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is now a slightly macabre museum. Assassinated here in 1984 by her bodyguards, even that very spot remains spotted with blood.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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Lodi Garden
Experience

Lodi Garden

Delhi, India

Among Delhi’s quietest and leafiest parks, Lodi Gardens contain several 15th- and 16th-century tombs and monuments, most relating to the Afghan Lodi dynasty, which was eventually replaced by the Mughals.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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National Gallery of Modern Art
Experience

National Gallery of Modern Art

Delhi, India

Formerly a palace belonging to the Maharaja of Jaipur, the gallery is now a superb repository of Indian paintings, sculpture and even photography.

Best for ages: 18+ | £5

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Qawwali singing

Delhi, India

A unique opportunity to experience traditional devotional music, performed in the courtyard of an ancient Sufi tomb-shrine in south Delhi.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free | 1 hour

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

Arrival Meet & Assist service at Delhi Airport with optional Private transfer

Arrival Meet & Assist service at Delhi Airport with optional Private transfer

New Delhi

Arrive in Delhi with ease when you pre-book this private airport transfer with VIP assistance.The VIP assistance includes the added benefit ...

₹2,700 | Rating 4.79 / 5 [109 ratings]

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Day Tours Delhi-Full Day Private Old and New Delhi Tour

Day Tours Delhi-Full Day Private Old and New Delhi Tour

New Delhi

A guided tour in a private A/C car into the Delhi’s must-visit places which are the essence of the capital. You will be accompanied by a loc...

$40 | Rating 4.83 / 5 [30 ratings]

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Full Day Delhi Tour By Tuk Tuk-Private Tour

Full Day Delhi Tour By Tuk Tuk-Private Tour

New Delhi

The uniqueness in our tour is our Tuk-Tuk which is a modified one and it has - Free Wi-Fi - Bluetooth Music Device - Fan - Curtain - Refre...

$44 | Rating 4.98 / 5 [57 ratings]

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Make your own: Custom private tour of Delhi with transfers

Make your own: Custom private tour of Delhi with transfers

New Delhi

Explore the gorgeous city of Delhi in your own way in this 8-hour long personalised tour. Take help of your guide to narrow down and choose ...

$50 | Rating 4.66 / 5 [9 ratings]

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Thikana Delhi

Delhi, India

A small but comfortable B&B with the ambience of a homestay, featuring recently-renovated rooms and super-friendly hosts.

Official star rating:

Haveli Dharampura

Delhi, India

Elegant boutique hotel in the heart of Old Delhi which lends a more immersive experience to this fascinating corner of the capital.

Official star rating:

ITC Maurya Hotel

Delhi, India

A solid and dependable luxury hotel with top-notch facilities, including an ayurvedic spa, a lovely swimming pool and famous restaurants.

Official star rating:

Leela Palace

Delhi, India

Modern, high-rise and self-consciously palace-styled hotel, set beside the capital’s genteel diplomatic enclave with an ‘Indo-baroque’ vibe, slick service and rooftop infinity pool.

Official star rating:

When to go

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.

Getting there and away

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.

Getting around

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.

Where to stay

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.

Where to eat or drink

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.

Where to shop

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.

What to buy

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.

Our writer’s recommended itineraries for this destination

Other guides relevant to this destination

Agra destination guide

Uttar Pradesh, India

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.

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