Delhi's museums are an excellent starting point to learn more about the history of India and unravel the country's complexities. They're not staid and stuffy either! Many provide an interactive experience, spanning diverse subjects from handicrafts to rail transport. Here's for our pick of the museums in Delhi. Do note that government museums are closed on Mondays.
Delhi's flagship National Museum is one of the largest museums in India. This expansive museum was founded on India's Independence Day, Aug. 15, 1949. Since then, it has accumulated more than 210,000 objects, covering an incredible 5,000 years of Indian heritage and culture. A substantial part of the collection features artifacts from the Indus Valley Civilization (also known as the Harappan period) dating as far back as 2,500 BCE. There are also paintings, sculptures, art, coins, manuscripts, armor, and textiles from significant periods of India's history. Other highlights include three newly renovated galleries dedicated to the tribal lifestyle of Northeast India, musical instruments, and wood carvings. The museum is open daily, except Mondays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets cost 20 rupees for Indians and 650 rupees for foreigners (including an audio guide). The closest Metro train stations are Central Secretariat and Udyog Bhawan.
India's Ministry of Textiles runs the village-themed National Crafts Museum, which provides excellent insight into India's distinctive handicrafts. It's an interactive museum that's divided into three parts—the village complex with 15 styles of rural abodes, indoor galleries, and live craft demonstrations by different pan-Indian artisans each month. Their wares are available for purchase too. The gallery section has about 33,000 objects, including textiles, handicrafts, paintings, and sculptures. There's also a contemporary cafe (Cafe Lota) on the premises, which serves delicious Indian cuisine with regional flavors. Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily except Mondays. Tickets cost 20 rupees for Indians and 200 rupees for foreigners. The museum is located next to the Purana Qila. The closest Metro train station is the Supreme Court (Pragati Maidan).
Sanskriti Museums in South Delhi is another must-visit destination for fans of indigenous arts and crafts. The peaceful complex, on the campus of the Sanskriti Foundation, is made up of the Museum of Everyday Art, Museum of Indian Terracotta Art, and Museum of Indian Textile Traditions. Together, the collection has around 2,000 functional Indian household objects, 1,500 terracotta objects from tribal areas of India, and 450 textile items. Regular handicraft workshops are held on the campus as well. The museums are open daily, except Mondays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry is free. The closest Metro train station is Arjan Garh.
One of the top things to do in Delhi with kids and a delight for railway enthusiasts, the National Rail Museum showcases the history of rail transport in India. Its extensive exhibits comprise vintage locomotives, wagons, and carriages of India’s princely states, armored trains, model trains, signaling equipment, telecommunication systems, antique furniture, uniforms, photos, and documents. Entry tickets cost 50 rupees for adults and 10 rupees for children during the week. Prices increase to 100 rupees for adults and 20 rupees for children on weekends and government holidays. Separate tickets are required for the diesel and steam simulators, virtual 3D coach ride, and train joy rides.
The Red Fort's refurbished British Barracks houses four new museums dedicated to India's freedom fighters. The museum complex, known as Kranti Mandir (Revolution Temple), was inaugurated in January 2019. It covers 160 years of Indian history in the lead-up to India's independence from British rule. This includes the First War of Independence in 1857, Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army, India's participation in World War I, and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar. One of the museums, the Drishyakala Museum, is a collaboration with Delhi Art Gallery. It has over 450 rare historical works of art such as paintings by Raja Ravi Varma, Amrita Sher-Gil, Rabindranath Tagore, Abaniindranath Tagore, and Jamini Roy. Tickets, in addition to those for the Red Fort, are required to visit the complex. The cost is 30 rupees for Indians and 350 rupees for foreigners.
This museum is a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, who is revered as Father of the Nation in India. It's located at Birla House, where Gandhi spent the final 144 days of his life before being assassinated by a religious extremist on January 30, 1948. He was shot during his evening prayers at the place where the Martyr's Column now stands. Other attractions at the museum are the room where Gandhi stayed, his personal belongings (including pocket-watch, which was stopped at the time of his death), film footage, art, and a small shop selling garments made from khadi (homespun cotton, promoted by Gandhi during the Independence movement). Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily except Mondays, and entry is free. The closest Metro train station is Lok Kalyan Marg.
To delve deeper into the life and principles of Mahatma Gandhi, head to the National Gandhi Museum at Raj Ghat. This comprehensive museum has galleries containing photos, sculptures, artwork, spinning wheels, personal effects, commemorative items such as stamps, and models of the various cottages where Gandhi lived. In particular, the Martyrdom Gallery features the blood-stained clothes worn by Gandhi when he was assassinated, one of the bullets that killed him, and the urns that his ashes were carried in for immersion. There's also a library with almost 40,000 publications. The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, daily except Mondays, and entry is free.
Indira Gandhi, the first female Prime Minister of India, was also assassinated, and her residence turned into a museum. Known as the "Iron Lady," she was involved in many controversial landmark decisions, leading to two of her bodyguards shooting her on Oct. 31, 1984. The museum provides a look into her life and India's development while she was in power. Exhibits include photographs documenting the Nationalist movement and powerful Nehru-Gandhi political family, personal belongings of the family, and the sari Indira Gandhi was wearing when she was killed in her garden. Opening hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., daily except Mondays, and entry is free. The closest Metro train station is Lok Kalyan Marg.
This lesser-known museum is maintained by India's national academy of music, dance, and drama, and has a collection of more than 2,000 items related to the performing arts. The 600-odd musical instruments from across India are a highlight. They're divided into wind, string, and percussion instruments. On display are rare instruments such as the kachwa sitar of North India and gettu vadyam of Tamil Nadu in South India. Let the museum know in advance if you want to see the impressive collection of puppets and masks. Opening hours are 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, and entry is free. The closest Metro train station is Mandi House.