Delhi, India's capital, is an evocative city of ancient and modern contrasts. Its many previous rulers have all left their mark, including many majestic monuments, there. What's so phenomenal is that least eight cities have preceded the Delhi of today. The first is believed to have been the settlement of Indraprastha, which featured in the great Hindu epic The Mahabharata. This text possibly dates back as far as 400 BC.
Nowadays, Delhi is divided into two distinct parts — old and new. What's referred to as crumbling Old Delhi was the illustrious 17th-century city of Shahjahanabad, built for mighty Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The British formed New Delhi in 1911 when they decided to move their capital there from Kolkata. They went on a construction spree, and this part of the city is orderly and well-planned, with many imposing government buildings. To the south of New Delhi, affluent South Delhi has leafy upscale residential neighborhoods, as well as some popular markets and significant historical attractions.
Only have a couple of days to explore Delhi? The best strategy is to divide and conquer — splitting your sightseeing into separate districts. Ease yourself into it by starting in South Delhi and leaving Old Delhi until your last day. This comprehensive itinerary for 48 hours in Delhi mixes heritage with spirituality, shopping, and delicious food! Do note that shops in Old Delhi's Chandni Chowk are closed on Sundays, and some monuments are closed on Mondays.
Although Delhi has an excellent Metro train system, for the sake of convenience it's easiest to hire a car and driver for the duration of your stay to get around. You'll be harassed much less too, as your driver will look after you. Just make sure you avoid getting stuck in heavy traffic in the mornings from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and evenings from 5.30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Day One: Morning and Afternoon
Morning: Arrive in Delhi, check into your accommodations, and have lunch. If you're visiting India for the first time, choose one of these top Delhi bed and breakfasts for personalized assistance and service. Delhi also has some excellent boutique hotels and luxury hotels, if that's more your style. Alternatively, if you're on a budget, here are some inexpensive places to stay in Delhi.
2 p.m.: This afternoon will be devoted to exploring the sights of South Delhi, starting with Qutab Minar in Mehrauli. Many people are tempted to skip Qutab Minar because it's situated so far south, away from the city's other top attractions. However, it's a big mistake to do so. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most important places to visit in Delhi. Qutab Minar was built in 1206 and is the tallest brick minaret in the world. It's an incredible example of early Indo–Islamic architecture, with a mysterious history. (Entry fee: 600 rupees for foreigners and 40 rupees for Indians. Free for children under 15 years old).
3 p.m.: Adjacent to Qutab Minar and spread over 200 acres is Mehrauli Archaeological Park. Although it contains more than 100 historically significant monuments, it remains a lesser-known Delhi attraction. Each monument has a unique story to tell. Two highlights are the 16th century Jamali Kamali Mosque and Tomb, with its alluring architecture, and the ancient step well Rajon Ki Baoli. (Entry fee: Free for all).
Day One: Evening
4 p.m.: Head over Hauz Khas Village, where hip meets medieval heritage, and spend the evening there. In case you're starting to feel fatigued, make Kunzum Travel Cafe your first stop (T49 Hauz Khas Village. Open 11 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. except Mondays). Replenish yourself with coffee and cookies, and only pay what you like.
5 p.m.: While it's still daylight, check out some of the remarkable historical sites around Hauz Khas, conveniently located only meters away from Kunzum Travel Cafe. Hauz Khas (meaning "royal tank") gets its name from the 13th-century reservoir there, which is now encircled by a paved walking track. Of note near the edge of it are the remains of a fort, a 14th-century madrasa (an institution for Islamic learning), mosque, and tomb of Firuz Shah (who ruled over the Sultanate of Delhi from 1351 to 1388). The setting is particularly picturesque at dusk.
6 p.m.: Return to Hauz Khas Village and wander through its atmospheric narrow lanes, admiring the colorful street art, and stopping by boutiques and art galleries of interest.
8 p.m.: It's time to decide on a restaurant for dinner. For lip-smacking gourmet south Indian food try Naivedyam (1 Hauz Khas Village, near Cloud Showroom) or Coast Cafe (Above Ogaan, H2 Hauz Khas Village). For modern Indian food, Auro Kitchen & Bar (31 DDA Shopping Complex, Aurobindo Place Market, Hauz Khas) is recommended. Yeti The Himalayan Kitchen (30 Hauz Khas Village) serves authentic Tibetan and Nepalese cuisine. Otherwise, Elma's Bakery Bar & Kitchen (31 Hauz Khas Village) does decent Continental food.
10 p.m.: Depending on what night of the week it is, and how much energy you have, you may wish to kick on at a bar. Hauz Khas Village is a hot party place on weekends. Make sure you get enough rest though because the next day of sightseeing will require stamina! Top picks are Lord of the Drinks (inside the Deer Park, Hauz Khas) for a garden setting. Hauz Khas Social (9A and 12 Hauz Khas Village) for a lively ambiance. Summer House Cafe, Bandstand, or Auro Kitchen & Bar (all located in Aurobindo Place Market just outside Hauz Khas Village) for live music and DJs.
Day Two: Morning
7 a.m.: Rise and shine early, and start the day with a refreshing walk in Lodhi Gardens (Lodhi Road, New Delhi). As well as being a favorite morning destination of Delhi's local residents, Lodhi Gardens is home to a number of monuments, including tombs of 15th and 16th-century rulers. The gardens were built around them by the British in 1936. (Entry fee: Free for all).
8.30 a.m.: If you haven't had breakfast and are hungry, drop into The All American Diner at the India Habitat Center (opposite Lodhi Gardens on Lodhi Road). You'll feel like you've been transported back in time to the 1960s! Tuck into waffles, milkshakes, pancakes, cereal, oatmeal, pastries, eggs, bacon and sausages.
9.30 a.m.: Proceed to Humayun's Tomb (Mathura Road, Nizamuddin East) about 5 minutes away. It was built in 1570 and houses the body of Mughal emperor Humayun. The first Mughal architecture of its kind in India, its design inspired the more prominent Taj Mahal and you'll definitely notice the resemblance. (Entry fee: 600 rupees for foreigners and 40 rupees for Indians. Free for children under 15 years old).
10.30 a.m.: Nizamuddin Dargah*, the mausoleum of famous 14th century Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, is close by on Lodhi Road. It's surrounded by a fascinating but congested tangle of alleyways and has an ancient holy step well. A number of other historical figures, including Persian and Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib, are also buried in the tomb complex. If you don't want to brave the crowds to see it, and would rather do some clothes shopping, visit Anokhi's discount store (Shop 13, Nizamuddin East Market, enter from Gate #9 . Closed Sundays) instead. Anokhi sells women's clothing made out of gorgeous block-printed cotton fabrics. The discount store stocks factory seconds and end-of-line pieces at 35-50% less than 13th-centurymarket price.
11.30 a.m.: Continue your sightseeing at India Gate, about 10 minutes away on Rajpath. This iconic arch-shaped monument is a war memorial that honors the Indian soldiers who lost their lives in World War I. It was designed by British architect Edwin Lutyens, who was responsible for much of New Delhi's construction under British rule in the 1920s and 1930s. (Entry fee: Free for all).
*Do note that it's necessary to dress conservatively when visiting Nizamuddin Dargah and later on at Swaminarayan Akshardham, as they are places of worship. This means covering your upper arms and legs. It's also respectful to cover your head (with a handkerchief, scarf or shawl) inside Nizamuddin Dargah.
Day Two: Afternoon and Evening
12.30 p.m.: Have lunch at Connaught Place, New Delhi's financial and commercial precinct. The menu at Zaffran (Hotel Palace Heights, D-26/28, Inner Circle, Connaught Place) features Punjabi and Mughlai specialties. Parikrama (22 Antriksh Bhavan, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Connaught Place) is a revolving restaurant with city views, serving Indian and Chinese food. Astonishing Junkyard Cafe (91 N Block, Outer Circle, Connaught Place) is full of re-purposed and up-cycled trash. Also, check out some recommendations of what to eat in Connaught Place.
1.30 p.m.: Drive 20 minutes to Swaminarayan Akshardham (NH 24, Akshardham Setu, New Delhi. Closed Mondays), on the other side of the Yamuna River. This sprawling Hindu temple complex, with its thematic gardens, is an architectural marvel. Ideally, half a day or more should be devoted to seeing it all, but this isn't possible due to time constraints. Do be aware that umbrellas, luggage, toys, food, and electronic items aren't permitted inside. This includes cameras and cell phones. There is a cloakroom where you can leave them but the line may be long. (Entry fee: Free for all. However, tickets are required for the exhibitions and multimedia water show).
4 p.m.: Arrive at Gandhi Smitri (5 Tees January Marg, New Delhi. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays). It takes about 25 minutes to get there from Akshardham, so make sure you leave the temple by 3.30 p.m. Gandhi Smriti is where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948. The room that he slept in has been kept exactly how he left it. There are also plenty of photos, sculptures, paintings, and inscriptions on display. (Entry fee: Free for all).
5 p.m.: Spend the evening at Dilli Haat (opposite INA Metro Station, South Delhi. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.), which has been set up by the government to provide a platform for artisans to come and sell their wares. It gives the feel of a traditional weekly village market (called a haat). Cultural performances and food from the various states in India are added attractions. It's a fantastic place to pick up souvenirs and eat. (Entry fee: 100 rupees for foreigners and 30 rupees for Indians. 20 rupees for children). If you want to shop for cheap clothes, stop by Sarojini Nagar market (closed Mondays) where you'll find export surplus brand names at throwaway prices. Follow these tips for bargaining to get the best deals.
Day Three: Morning
Having had a couple of days to settle in and acclimatize, it's now time to tackle Old Delhi. In contrast to spacious New Delhi, this chaotic and crumbling area teems with life. It's easy to become overwhelmed. Hence, consider taking a guided tour to make your explorations more manageable. There are many to choose from, depending on your interests. It's advisable to get an early start to avoid the masses as much as possible. Old Delhi really becomes intense and noisy after 11 a.m.
6.30 a.m.: If you're an active person, go on one of the Delhi by Bicycle tours of Old Delhi (daily, 6.30 a.m. to 10 a.m. including a stop for breakfast). There are three tours available, each focusing on different aspects of Old Delhi. The cost is 1,865 rupees per person.
8 a.m.: If you'd prefer to begin your day in a more sedate manner, try a two or three-hour walking tour of Old Delhi. If you're a foodie, take the Old Delhi Breakfast Trail offered by Delhi Food Walks (daily, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m) or Old Delhi Food Trail offered by Delhi Magic (daily, 10 a.m. to noon). If you're keen on experiencing the markets in Chandni Chowk, Delhi Magic also runs an Old Delhi Bazaar Walk (daily except Sundays, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.). The former street children of Salaam Balak Trust do a wonderful job of guiding this Old Delhi Walk, which ends at the shelter home where they once lived (daily except Sundays, 9 a.m. to noon). The early morning Old Delhi Bazaar Walk and Haveli Visit offered by Masterji ki Haveli is also recommended.
Don't Want to Take a Tour?
Get your driver to drop you off at the gigantic sandstone 17th century Red Fort (sunrise until sunset, daily except Mondays) at the end of Chandni Chowk. The fort served as the residence of Mughal rulers for nearly 200 years, until 1857. Inside, there's a war museum, some shops, palace ruins, and a little-known step well. If you're going to Agra, you might want to skip the Red Fort in favor of Agra Fort, which is more impressive. This is especially so if you're short on time and/or money. (Entry fee: 600 rupees for foreigners and 40 rupees for Indians. Free for children under 15 years old).
Next, cross the main road to Jama Masjid (daily, 7 a.m. until prayers at noon), which is India's largest mosque. You can climb the narrow staircase of one of its minaret towers for a captivating view over the city. (Free to enter. However, it costs 100 rupees to climb the tower and 300 rupees for cameras).
Now, walk along Chandni Chowk until you reach the Sis Ganj Gurudwara (Sikh temple) and Golden Mosque. Turn left from there and you'll enter Kinari Bazaar, which specializes in everything you can think of for weddings. Keep going straight along Chandni Chowk until you reach Fatehpuri Masjid at the end of the road. Turn right onto Khari Baoli Road and enter the biggest wholesale spice market in Asia. Gadodia Market, nearby, is where most of the spice shops are situated.