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12 Best things to see & do in Delhi

  • India

Last updated: 15 June, 2024
Expert travel writer: Amar Grover
  • Delhi, India

Red Fort

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Red Fort

Delhi’s largest historic monument was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the 1640s, and the massive sandstone walls still bristle with crenellations between the elegant cupolas. Within lies a 250-acre complex of gardens, audience halls, pavilions, royal apartments and a small white-marble mosque.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fort personifies the scale and power of the dynastic Mughals whose three-century reign profoundly influenced the history and culture of North India.

Adult price: £5

Good for age: 13+

  • Delhi, India

Exterior view of Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, is the official residence of the President of India

Bucket List Experience

Raj history in Delhi

The ‘Raj’ refers to Britain’s formal rule over India from 1859 until independence in 1947. Yet Britain’s involvement dates back to the East India Company’s (EIC) first toehold in the subcontinent in 1608, when its ships docked in Surat (in Gujarat state), followed by more trading posts in Chennai and Kolkata.

Gradually eclipsing their Portuguese and Dutch rivals, King Charles II granted the EIC powers to acquire territory, form armies and essentially become a colonial government.

By the 1770s the EIC had financial troubles, and its controversial bailout by the British government converged with a realisation that its power and influence was underpinned by corruption, cronyism, plunder and greed. Things came to a head with the so-called Indian Mutiny of 1857, when its own Indian soldiers rebelled.

In the wake of this disastrous episode, the British government stepped in, bringing much of the EIC’s holdings under Crown control. In 1877 Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India; the legacy of her rule endures India’s legal and administrative systems.

Rather more tangible for visitors is its public, often grand, architecture. New Delhi was a Raj creation, many cities still have ‘cantonments’ (or garrison neighbourhoods) and the Himalayan foothills are dotted with ‘hill stations’ where the Brits could escape the worst of the pre-monsoon heat.

Good for age: 18+

  • Delhi, India

Delhi’s food & drink

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Delhi’s food & drink

Thanks largely to its luxury hotels, Delhi’s food scene is as varied and cosmopolitan as you’ll find anywhere in India.

North Indian cuisine – Punjabi in particular – is ubiquitous in Delhi. Typically dominated by rich meat and vegetable dishes using clarified butter, or ghee, as a base for their sauces, they’re accompanied by a range of leavened and unleavened breads such as chapatis, rotis and naan. A healthier option is meat cooked in a clay oven, or tandoor, with its distinctive spices and flavour.

Carnivores might also embrace ‘frontier (as in the Northwest Frontier of present-day Pakistan) cuisine’ with its simple rustic style and predominance of tandoor-cooked kebabs.

Chaat, or savoury snacks, are served from an array of hand carts, stalls and eateries across the city. This ever-popular tasty ‘street food’ typically encompasses combinations of potatoes, dal, chickpeas and fried dough garnished with onions, spices, curd and sauces. Perhaps the only downside is that delicate stomachs might struggle with the hygiene.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: -

  • Delhi, India

Akshardham Temple

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Akshardham Temple

Five years in the making with a vast workforce, the huge Akshardham Temple complex was completed in 2005 by the Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism. Drawing on the venerable traditions of temple architecture, colossal amounts of carving were augmented by spacious parkland and gardens.

Yet it’s more than just a temple – a musical fountain, animatronic displays and a ‘Hall of Values’ aims to distil the wisdom and spirituality of India in a kind of cultural campus, all infused with Swaminarayan’s philosophy.

It was built according to ancient Hindu texts, which describe specific methods for constructing Hindu temples. 7,000 artisan sculptors and thousands of volunteers helped build the vast building, adorned with thousands of intricate carvings including sages, rishis, devotees and playful elephants.

Good for age: 18+

  • Delhi, India

National Museum of India

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National Museum of India

Casting the curatorial net to embrace not just modern India but the wider subcontinent and parts of its immediate hinterland, this excellent museum provides a fine overview of several millennia of the region’s arts and history.

While its main strength is an array of sculpture depicting the vast pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses, exhibits encompass Silk Road artefacts, various schools of miniature painting, tribal arts and crafts, weaponry, textiles and jewellery.

The museum also houses the Sacred Relics of Buddha (5th-4th century BC), unearthed in Uttar Pradesh, and an exceptional collection of rare musical instruments from the 15th to 19th centuries.

Adult price: £7

Good for age: 18+

  • Delhi, India

Friday Mosque

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Friday Mosque

Completed in 1656 and still among India’s largest and most beautiful mosques, the Friday Mosque, or Jama Masjid, was yet another of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s great projects (which climaxed in the Taj Mahal).

With a huge courtyard, a great bulbous dome and a pair of slender striped minarets, its graceful form is enhanced by the decorative interplay of sandstone and marble. Pivotal to the character and atmosphere of Old Delhi, it’s often full to capacity – around 25,000 – during Friday morning prayers.

For a small fee you can climb one of the minarets. Although the narrow stairwell is claustrophobic, there are stunning views over the courtyard across Old Delhi to the Red Fort.

Adult price: £3

Good for age: 18+

  • Delhi, India

Humayun’s Tomb

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Humayun’s Tomb

Built in the late 1500s as a mausoleum for the Mughal emperor Humayun, this Persian-inspired confection of sandstone and marble laid the foundations for a style that reached its apogee in the Taj Mahal. Set atop an imposing arcaded plinth, it’s a profoundly elegant and atmospheric monument.

Like the Taj Mahal, this tomb is also a ‘monument to love’, built at great expense by Humayun’s second wife nine years after his death.

The surrounding formal gardens, with their shallow water channels and features, are integral to the site’s appeal and make for one of Delhi’s loveliest and most tranquil havens.

Adult price: £1

Good for age: 18+

Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum

  • Delhi, India

Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum

Experience

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.

Good for age: 18+

National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi

  • Delhi, India

National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi

Experience

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

Adult price: £5

Good for age: 18+

  • Delhi, India

Rickshaw ride in Old Delhi

Bucket List Experience

Rickshaw ride in Old Delhi

For a thoroughly earthy and immersive experience of Old Delhi, hire a cycle rickshaw to take you there and navigate the backstreets and lanes of one of the city’s most atmospheric, if not chaotic, areas.

Despite the clamour and congestion, it’s a vibrant friendly place and a fascinating way to reach the Red Fort and/or the Friday Mosque (Jama Masjid).

Rickshaws weave their way through the chaotic traffic, squeezing through the tightest gaps, so keep knees and elbows in at all times. It can be a little nerve-wracking at first, but the drivers are experienced and know what they’re doing.

Adult price: £1

Good for age: 4+

Duration: 15+ minutes