There’s a popular hindi song, the lyrics of which goes as ‘Aye Dil Hai Mushkil Jeena Yahan, Zara Hat Ke, Zara Bach Ke, Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan’…basically means life in Mumbai is tough. But then its also the place where dreams come true, with countless instances of rags-to-riches stories.
Most first-time visitors to Mumbai actually get pleasantly surprised by the chaos, crowd, cacophony, & the simple pleasures (chai tea, street shopping, and more) that the city has to offer.
Mumbai may not have as many historical attractions as some other places in India, neither does it have an imposing skyline similar to other big cities in Asia, such as Singapore or Hongkong, but there are many interesting sights that more than compensates, and will fascinate the first time visitor.
For the Indian Visitor
Mumbai can be really hot and humid during the summers, but that still doesn’t stop several Indians from coming to Mumbai. Actually, that’s the time when children have holidays and for most it happens to be the best time to catch-up with friends/relatives.
And despite the weather, they all love Mumbai. After all, its home to Bollywood and some of the biggest names in cricket (including Sachin Tendulkar). Visitors hope to get a glimse of their favorite Bollywood stars while they’re here.
Gateway of India, Marine Drive Chowpatty, Bandra-Worli Sea Link, Monorail and the Metro, are some of the things that’s on the mind of all the visitors who’re in Mumbai. Mumbai shopping and street food is also something that most look forward to.
At any given time of the year, you can see several foreigners in India. And because of the IPL (cricket league), there are many who come here during summer as well, although it can be difficult for foreigners to bear the hot and humid weather.
The recently opened terminal T2 at the international airport makes a good first impression on foreigners. They all like Mumbai, although they’re extra careful because of the fear of being taken for a ride.
Colaba, Kala Ghoda, art gallery and the museum are some places they like to visit. The more adventurous ones even try out the pav bhaji, bhel puris, vada-pavs & currys in Mumbai, though it may not suit those who’re used to eating bland food (unless you eat at a good restaurant).
Its also a good idea to wear traditional dresses like salwars and kurtas when out on sight-seeing, to avoid the stares from men on the streets, and to keep the beggars, eunuchs, & urchins away.
Top Mumbai Attractions
Here are the top 10 attractions in Mumbai (there are many more though), which any tour operator is likely to take you through:
- Gateway of India: Mumbai’s most recognized monument, located in South Mumbai (favorite with foreigners). It was constructed to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the city. When India achieved independence, the last of the British troops departed through the Gateway of India.
Location: On the waterfront in Colaba, south Mumbai. Opposite the Taj Palace and Tower Hotel.
- Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat: This massive open air laundry provides an unforgettable glimpse into the inside of the city. Dirty laundry from all over Mumbai is brought here and painstakingly hand washed by the dhobis (washermen) in the seemingly endless rows of concrete troughs. All the hard work earns them about 100 rupees (around $2) per day each. Mahalaxmi is also home to the Mumbai race course (modeled on the Melbourne Race Course) but its not open to the public.
Location: Next to Mahalaxmi railway station (not far from Churchgate in South Mumbai, station falls on western railway line).
- Haji Ali: Both a mosque and tomb, the imposing structure was built by wealthy Muslim merchant and Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari in 1431. Situated in the middle of the ocean, Haji Ali is accessible only during low tide by a narrow, 500 yard long walkway. Its crowded on Thursdays and Fridays as pilgrims flock there to receive blessings from the dead saint. Women can visit its large open area, but are not allowed to enter the shrine’s inner sanctum. Nehru science centre & planetarium is not far from this place.
Location: Just off the coast of Worli, not far from Mahalaxmi railway station.
- Bollywood: Mumbai is the center of India’s booming “Bollywood” film industry. If you’re a Bollywood movie buff, just go on a tour to the heart of the action in Film City.
Location: Film City is in Goregaon, in the western suburbs of Mumbai.
- Kala Ghoda Art Precinct: This crescent-shaped stretch is home to Mumbai’s best art galleries and museums, including the acclaimed Jehangir Art Gallery. Kala Ghoda (meaning “Black Horse” in reference to a statue that was once located there), is Mumbai’s cultural center. It’s also filled with cultural spaces, including some wonderful pavement galleries. Every year in February, the Kala Ghoda Association hosts a nine day Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, which is interesting.
Location: Between Fort and Colaba, in south Mumbai.
- Heritage Buildings: Mumbai has some captivating heritage buildings where you can marvel at the intricate colonial architecture; most of these are again located in South Mumbai. The best ones are the Gothic looking Prince of Wales Museum in the Kala Ghoda art precinct, Victoria Terminus railway station, the Bombay High Court (you may go inside and be entertained by a trial if you wish) and the buildings of Horniman Circle in the Fort area; the huge gardens here provide a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Also have a wander past the historic 18th century homes in Khotachiwadi village.
Location: In and around South Mumbai.
- Caves and National Park: I know it sounds a bit surprising considering the millions of inhabitants and sprawling development in Mumbai, but the city does have a national park located within its limits. One of the main attractions to the National Park is the lion safari.
It’s also worth a visit to see the many ancient Buddhist caves, which have been hand carved into volcanic rock there. More caves, dedicated to the Hindu Lord Shiva, can also be found on Elephanta Island (these two places are not nearby, they fall on different routes). Elephanta Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been a commercial, military and religions centre for centuries
Location: Sanjay Gandhi National Park, in the suburb of Borivali, is 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Mumbai city center. Elephanta Island is 10 kilometers (6 miles) east of Mumbai.
- Mumbai Dabbawalas: Dabbawala means a person who carries a container. Thousands of dabbawalas’ deliver ‘hundreds and thousands’ of lunch boxes of freshly cooked food everyday, to the city’s office workers. This unique concept was started to meet the needs of British rulers. However, it’s now continued on to service Indian businessmen who can’t get home for lunch. Witness this incredible system in operation at Churchgate station from around 11.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m., as the dabbawalas unload the lunch boxes from the trains and prepare to head to their customers’ offices. You may also watch them in action in the Bollywood movie ‘Lunchbox’.
Location: Railway stations around Mumbai, particularly at Churchgate terminus in south Mumbai.
- Markets and Bazaars: Mumbai is full of interesting places to go street shopping. Stock up on attractive souvenirs at Colaba Causeway, delight in cheap shoes and clothes at Linking Road (Bandra), scour the narrow alleyways of Chor Bazaar (Thieves Market) for antiques (open 11am-7pm except Fridays), and sample the fresh food while marveling at the architecture of Crawford Market.
Location: Colaba Causeway, Linking Road in Bandra, Crawford Market near Churchgate, and Chor Bazaar on Mutton street (opposite Shafi Masjid).
- Juhu and Marine Drive Chowpatty Beaches: These are two most popular beaches in Mumbai, though you won’t see anybody swimming in the water, except for some kids playing along the shores. At the end of a tiring day of sightseeing, you may relax with the locals on the beaches of Juhu and Marine Drive, and watch the sunset. If you’re feeling adventurous, feast on tasty snacks offered by the multitude of food stalls and mobile food vendors. Favorites include roasted corn on the cob, bhel puri, pani puri and pav bhaji.
Location: Exclusive Juhu is around 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of the city centre, while Marine Drive Chowpatty is in central Mumbai, a short drive from the Gateway of India.
Tour of Mumbai
Interested in Architecture?
Here are the things to see:
- Gateway of India: Its architecture is Indo-Saracenic, combining Islamic and Hindu styles.
- Taj Palace Hotel: An unsurpassed architectural marvel that brings together Moorish, Oriental and Florentine styles, with many chandeliers, archways, domes, and turrets.
- Royal Bombay Yacht Club: Gothic style architecture
- Dhanraj Mahal: Art Deco style building, former palace of the Raja Dhanrajgir of Hyderabad,
- Regal Cinema: Art Deco style cinema
- Elphinstone College: One of the finest Victorian structures with breathtaking Gothic architecture.
- Horniman Circle: Made up of a strong sweep of stately building facades, laid out in a semi-circle.
- Flora Fountain (Hutatma Chowk): Bordered by buildings constructed during the British Raj.
- Bombay High Court: Gothic architecture
- University of Mumbai: Venetian Gothic inspired architecture.
- Rajabhai Clock Tower: Modeled on Big Ben in London.
- Mumbai Mint: Built along with the Town Hall, it has similar architecture with pillars and Grecian porticoes.
- Chhatrapati Shivaj Terminus (Victoria Terminus) Train Station: Fusion of influences from Victorian Italianate Gothic Revival architecture and traditional Indian architecture.
- Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum: Palladian Renaissance Revival design
- Khotachiwadi: Home to old Portuguese-style bungalows and a tiny church.
- Antilia (home of Billionaire Indian businessman – Mukesh Ambani): Looks like the home of one of the richest men in India.
Bombay Stock Exchange: Contemporary architecture
Best Places in Mumbai for Eating and Drinking
Here are the places to visit if you’re craving street food or seafood!
- Bademiyan: Roadside restaurant in Colaba, serving mouthwatering kebabs.
- Leopolds Cafe: Favorite hangour of youngsters & foreigners
- Indigo: One of Mumbai’s most fabulous fine dining restaurants with real charm. The Sunday Brunch is outstanding.
- Mahesh Lunch Home: Famous for seafood; its a chain now but the oldest one is in South Mumbai
- Mohamad Ali Road: This kilometer stretch of road in south Mumbai, packed with food stalls, is best experienced during Ramadan when it comes alive for feasting every night.
- Mohanlal S Mithaiwala: One of the largest Indian sweet shops in the city. Find it at 271/273, Sheikh Memon Street Zaveri Bazar, Kalbadevi.
- Tea Center: Established in 1953 by the Tea Board of India to promote tea, it has a nostalgic colonial feel.
- Aer Bar: Views across Mumbai from the 34th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel, Worli.
- Peshwari ITC: Make this renowned restaurant at the ITC Marartha your last stop before you catch your flight, for a taste of India’s North West Frontier cuisine.
- Khau Galli: If you don’t feel like braving street food at Mumbai’s Khau Galli (food lane, near Churchgate station), head to Khau Galli restaurant, which serves all the favorites in an authentic and hygienic manner.
More Places for Shopping in Mumbai
Mumbai may not have as many markets as, say, Delhi, but it does have plenty of places where you can shop.
- Linking Road in Bandra: A fusion of modern and traditional, and East meets West, where streets stalls contrast with brand name name shops. Great for cheap shoes, bags, and accessories.
- Colaba Causeway: The everyday carnival that is the Colaba Causeway market is a shopping experience like no other in Mumbai. Geared especially towards tourists.
- Fashion Street near Fort: Fashion Street is literally just that — a street lined with fashion! There are around 150 inexpensive stalls there.
Chor Bazaar in Crawford Market: Navigate your way through crowded streets and crumbling buildings, and you’ll find Chor Bazaar. Its name means “thieves market”. There are all kinds of weird and wonderful items there.
- Crawford Market: This old-style market, housed in an historic colonial building, specializes in wholesale fruit and vegetables, pets, and imported electronics.
- Zaveri Bazaar/Bhuleshwar Market/Mangaldas Market: Buy gold and cloth at these markets, just north of Crawford Market.
- Lamington Road: Find the cheapest electronic goods, both old and new, in Mumbai here. Near Grant Road station.
- High Street Pheonix: Mumbai’s premier mall just keeps growing! It includes a luxury retail precinct called the Palladium.
- The Bombay Store: Trendy Indian home decor items.
- Kitab Khana: Relax and read in this wonderfully ambient bookstore in Fort.
Double Decker ride
How to Reach Mumbai
Mumbai (capital of the state of Maharashtra) is well connected to the rest of the world and India. International fights are landed at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (formerly known as Sahar Airport) while at Chhatrapati Shivaji Domestic Airport (formerly known as Santa Cruz Airport) for domestic fights. These two airports are around 4 km apart and are approximately 25km-30km from Nariman Point in south Mumbai.
Mumbai Central, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST or VT), Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT) connect the city to the rest of the country via trains.
Long distance buses also run from Mumbai Central S.T. (State Transport) Bus Depot to several towns and cities.
Mumbai Travel Tips
Here are some more Mumbai travel tips.
Local trains and local buses (run BEST), three-wheeled auto-rickshaws & cabs are the primary means of transport within Mumbai.
Local Trains leave every few minutes from stations in both directions from 4.30 am to 1.30 am. The Mumbai Railway network is categorized as Western line, Central line & Harbor line.
June to September are the monsoon months. November to February are the cooler months compared to March-May in Mumbai, India.
- Police: 100
- Fire: 101
- Ambulance: 102
- Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport: 022-66851010
- Railway Enquiry: 265 9135, Central Railway General Enquiry: 134, Western Railway General Enquiry: 131
Poor Overall Tourist Experience?
Mumbai might be India’s fashion capital, home to Bollywood, and the financial capital of India, but foreign tourists do not seem to be enjoying their overall experience in Mumbai. According to a recent survey that was done by leading travel site TripAdvisor, tourists ranked Mumbai last (among the top 37 cities in the world) for the best overall tourist experience. Read more here…