My Favorite 20 Things to do New Delhi, India
My Favorite 20 Things to do New Delhi, India - Understand
Don't be discouraged by the sheer size of the urban sprawl of New Delhi; this guide will help you find the best places so you can enjoy the city like a local. New Delhi is one of humanity's oldest settlements and has amassed 25 million inhabitants in a seemingly endless and uncontrolled expansion of urban areas. The city is full of contrasts, with traffic that will make your ears pop and huge crowds but also lovely parks and green spaces in the center.
New Delhi is scorching from April to September but chilly in winter, with freezing nights.
I have visited New Delhi many times and it has come a long way; southern Delhi and Gurgaon now look more than Singapore than most of India. Productivity has been rising and there's now lot of new hotels, malls and offices and sleek apartment buildings. Compared to a few years ago, it can be really difficult to find a roaming cow; not so long ago many a building had a bunch of cows grazing right out front.
New Delhi is not an easy place to visit but if you are ready to invest, it will be rewarding and will open you up to lots of culture, religion and great food (which is something India really excels at). Don't let the epic chaos of Indian cities discourage you in your quest. New Delhi has enough to see for a week or more, but the challenge is to have the energy to go out and explore here.
India is usually great value; 5 star hotels sell rooms for under $100 a night on average and the quality and service of Indian hotels is usually excellent (despite its developing country status).
Pollution used to be extreme in New Delhi but the city has made a lot of progress. It's still polluted but not more than, say, Jakarta.
My Favorite 20 Things to do New Delhi, India - Get Around
There are so many options for getting around Delhi. There's several different Uber options, the local Uber copycat, tuk-tuks, taxis, the Metro, buses and a modern airport train. Indians (like Indonesians) are addicted to driving, but traffic is a big mess. Roads are clogged, Uber drivers have trouble picking you up, the Metro stations are out of the major population centers and the pedestrian walkways are rarely walkable. Plus the scorching heat just makes everyone anxious. Things are cheap here but all the options I tried are tiring in their own ways.
The Metro is clean and slick (as well as cheap) but can be super-crowded and you will likely need another ride from the station anyways. Uber drivers speak no English and have phones that go offline all the time (mobile data networks are a pain in India), so it's hard to communicate.
Just plan extra time for each trip and be VERY patient.
My Favorite 20 Things to do New Delhi, India - Safety
Despite the widespread poverty, property crime and violent crime used to be almost non-existent in India. There have been a number of tragic high-profile cases of sexual violence, but keep in perspective the enormous size of the population. India is still an exceedingly safe country that has also seen far fewer terrorist attacks than its shaky security apparatus suggests.
Traffic can be dangerous and while it's likely that you won't suffer any serious injuries, there is so much going on here on New Delhi's crowded streets that it seems almost impossible to avoid a mini-crash. I have been in a number of car crashes here (though not while I was driving myself!)
Hygiene is NOT India's forte and the Indian curries tend to be pre-cooked and warmed up when ordered. They can often give you stomach pain, which is no fun, but it's almost never serious and the awesome flavors will make up for it.
Malaria is still common in rural areas and even in the cities you should do everything you can to avoid mosquito bites.
My Favorite 20 Things to do New Delhi, India - Sights
New Delhi is spread out quite a bit and, given the traffic conditions, it can easily take an hour from one sight to another in an Uber. It's a good idea to cluster your sightseeing together and then do as much exploring as you can before everything closes.
Annoyingly, the admission fees for foreigners are usually 25x what locals pay, which always makes me feel uneasy even if the admission usually comes out to $10 or less per sight. It also makes sights extra-crowded, since India has a huge middle class population (with incomes almost the same as in the US), who get a free ride.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the location of the world's highest brick minaret tower, built in the 13th Century by the Muslim rulers of Northern India at the time. It costs INR 500 to access the site, which can get crowded, but it's close to the airport and a fun way to see some history for half an hour.
Jawaharlal Nehru University
JNU has a huge campus and an even bigger green wilderness in the middle of New Delhi proper; think of a Stanford-like park. You do not need a visitor pass to enter and you can stroll freely around the grounds.
The buildings are decrepit but there is a lot of spirited thinking going on here.
This is New Delhi's newest and poshest mall. You will know all the chains from back home, including chain restaurants, and prices are likely the same as well. Cool down and rest up here.
Hauz Khas Village
This is the closest thing to urban lifestyle you can find in New Delhi. The nearby Hauz Khas residential enclave resembles a posh Singaporean neighborhood and the village is where New Delhi comes alive at night.
The Jagannth Mandir temple is a great example of a neighborhood sight here.
If you arrive during daylight, stroll through the ruins and around the lake and watch the sunset from one of the many rooftop bars.
Lotus Temple (Bahá'í House of Worship)
Every continent has just one Baha'i temple - I've visited the one in Haifa in Israel and Kampala, Uganda, and the one in India is right there in New Delhi.
It's amazing what you can do with a lot of concrete and the gardens are striking as well.
Swaminarayan Akshardham is the world's largest comprehensive Hindu temple that was just built in 2005 (not that you can tell). Admission is free but the security resembles that of a major airport; no electronics (including cameras and phones) are allowed inside the temple area. A bag check is mandatory and takes a while and security is tight. The temple and surrounding area is beautiful, though, so it's hard not to enjoy your visit.
This symbol of India and its independence was actually put in place by the British colonial regime in the 1920s.
There's a bunch of street sellers around the memorial; if you bargain well, you can load up on lots of little knick-knacks for very little.
National Gallery of Modern Art
This museum has a beautiful location near the India Gate memorial and admission is INR 500 for non-Indian passport holders. There's easily a hundred pieces of art on exhibition here, from Indian artists from the 20th Century. However, I found it hard to get excited by anything in the exhibition halls. It's refreshingly cold, though :)
Gandhi Smriti is a whole museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi - who is, for many of us, synonymous with India.
After all those trips to India, I have still not been to the Red Fort. It's not that I do not want to see it but it takes extra effort since it is in the older part of town that is extra-choked with traffic and pollution. Admission is just INR 150 but security is tight and lines are long, so plan a half-day for the fort if you plan to go.
This is New Delhi's version of the Taj Mahal but built from red sandstone instead of white marble. This isn't as pretty but it's still a great place to visit. It's quiet and your INR 500 is well-spent for a 45-60 minute excursion into 16th Century Mughal architecture.
This is another option to explore Mughal architecture. It's a huge complex that comes without an admission fee.
Make sure you have comfortable shoes and wear Dri-FIT-type (moisture wicking) clothes in the summer months to help resist the exhaustion that will set in quickly.
My Favorite 20 Things to do New Delhi, India - Eat & Drink
Bukhara and its sister restaurant Peshawri in Mumbai are often described as India's best (and most expensive) restaurants. Both can be found inside an ITC hotel and are managed by the same. The kebaps and tandoori (as I tried at Peshawri) are indeed heavenly. Every dish is a perfect composition of flavors and done to perfection. Entrees start at INR 2,000 plus 30% tax and a service charge. It's not cheap but it's easily the best Indian food money can buy.
Gulati is a traditional Northern Indian restaurant close to India Gate. It makes fantastic (but heavy and spicy) curries and has awesome tandoori. It's not as good as Bukhara but it's just a third of the price and has friendly staff and a good atmosphere, too.
Hauz Khas Village used to have fantastic rooftop restaurants with views over the ruins. They mostly closed because of environmental concerns and Naivedyam is the only one left (and the new generation of restaurants here are surprisingly touristy). Naivedyam features fantastic South Indian cuisine (which is lighter, fresher and mostly vegetarian); I loved all the dishes we tried here. You can bring your own alcohol as well. Highly recommended!
Right next to Naivedyam is this hip nightlife place. It has several different floors which each have different music but it also offers great food. It's not cheap but it's worth it.
Punjabi by Nature
This is a great option inside most malls in India. Punjabi by Nature, as the name suggests, serves hearty Northern Indian cuisine. I loved their tandoori - fantastic pieces of meat in a wonderful marinade and cooked to perfection. I'm not so sure about their curries but I liked the butter chicken and the naan (though not as much as the tandoori).
This is a bit of a wild card in Indian food discovery. It's right next to the Red Fort in the crowded Old Town and reviews range from incredible to terrible. If I make it to the Red Fort, this is where I will eat next.
Khan Chacha has several locations all over Delhi and is known for its Indian kebaps and meats.
PCO is a speakeasy bar in Vasant Vihar that stands true to its name as it hides out in a neighborhood and has a hidden door. Good luck finding it - but the reviews and pictures look awesome.
Sadly, New Delhi has no non-chain coffee shops that I could find. Espresso is not a drink anyone craves here. The few Starbucks open in the city are your best bet.
My Favorite 20 Things to do New Delhi, India - Where to Stay
There is no shortage of 4 and 5 star hotels in New Delhi or its southern neighbor Gurgaon. Keep in mind that traffic is often bad, so stay as close as possible to the sights you'd like to see. I was very happy with the Hyatt Regency New Delhi, which is a great hotel that has been delivering fantastic service since 1983.