What Mumbai lacks in famous historical monuments, it makes up for with impressive architecture and some unconventional attractions. As India's most cosmopolitan city, there's no shortage of nightspots either for those who want to party late. Here's our pick of the top things to do in Mumbai. This two-day Mumbai itinerary and one-week Mumbai itinerary will also help plan your trip.
Wander Through Mumbai's Neighborhoods
To get a feel for the city, start by strolling through its nostalgic neighborhoods and soaking up the atmosphere. The Colaba tourist district is a great place to begin and is home to the landmark Gateway of India. The Fort district bordering Colaba was the heart of Bombay (the city's colonial name) under British rule. Its trendy Kala Ghoda (Black Horse) Arts Precinct is a highlight.
Admire the Architecture
You'll find Mumbai's UNESCO-listed ensemble of 94 Victorian Gothic and Art Deco style buildings dotted around the Oval Maidan in South Mumbai. Those made in 19th-century Victorian Gothic revival style include the Bombay High Court, Mumbai University, and Elphinstone College. Many of the Art Deco buildings line Marine Drive. However, there are actually about 600 structures of this style scattered across the city. Notably, Mumbai is said to have the second-largest Art Deco collection in the world after Miami! Chhatrapati Shivaji Mahaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mumbai with awe-inspiring Gothic architecture. Join one of the interior guided walks, conducted from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, to fully appreciate it.
Uncover the Past at a Museum
Mumbai's main museum, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (King Shivaji Museum), is housed in a massive Indo-Saracenic style building dating back to the early 20th century. This outstanding art and history museum has extensive exhibits from the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. To learn about Bombay's development from seven islands to an industrial city and port during British rule, don't miss the compact but atmospheric Bhau Daji Lad Museum. Its garden setting with statues, cafe, shop, and contemporary art space is an appealing spot to relax. The exciting new National Museum of Indian Cinema will also delight movie buffs with its interactive galleries dedicated to its film heritage.
Visit Diverse Places of Worship
Although Hinduism is the predominant religion in Mumbai, diverse faiths coexist, including Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Many of their places of worship are characterful and steeped in history, such as the 15th-century Haji Ali mosque and tomb, 18th century Saint Thomas Cathedral, 18th-century Mumbadevi Temple (from which the city got its current name), and recently restored 19th-century Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. Discover more in this roundup of top religious places in Mumbai.
Go on a Tour
Guided tours are ideal for travelers who really want to immerse themselves in the city, and there are some interesting, off-beat ones on offer. It's worth getting out of bed before sunrise to witness the lively activities of Mumbai waking up on No Footprints' Mumbai by Dawn tour. Khaki Tours conducts super insightful tours centered around stories that bring the city's heritage to life. Their Urban Safari in an open-top jeep is unique. A tour of Dharavi slum (one of the largest slums in Asia) will reveal its vibrant community spirit and thriving small scale industry. These top tours in Mumbai and walking tours in Mumbai are recommended as well.
Sample the Street Food
A trip to Mumbai wouldn't be complete without digging into its distinctive street food. Locals flock to the city's tucked-away khau gallis (eat streets) for delicacies such as vada pav, pav bhaji, misal pav, and bhel puri. The most accessible khau gallis in South Mumbai are Mohammed Ali Road (best for non-vegetarians), Churchgate to SNDT College alongside Cross Maidan, and Princess Street near Mangaldas Market and Zaveri Bazaar. Plus, there's an array of food stalls on Girgaum Chowpatty (beach).
Explore Ancient Rock-Cut Cave Temples
Mumbai's third UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated on Elephanta Island off the coast of Colaba. The Elephanta Caves are thought to have been hand-carved out of rock sometime around the 6th century and contain spectacular sculptures of Lord Shiva. If you can't visit the Ajanta and Ellora caves in Maharashtra, these caves are a popular alternative. Here's what you need to know about the Elephanta Caves and how to visit them. There are more ancient rock-cut cave temples in Sanjay Gandhi National Park, on the city's northern fringe. Ride the Mumbai local train there for added adventure!
Hunt Through Trash and Treasure at Chor Bazaar
Looking for antiques, old Bollywood film posters, curios, or secondhand goods? You never know what you'll uncover in the jumble of stores that line Mutton Street near Mohammad Ali Road in South Mumbai. Known as Chor Bazaar (Thieves' Market), it's one of the city's oldest markets with a history that can be traced back to the time of British rule, although redevelopment works are now changing its vintage feel. See some of what's up for grabs at Chor Bazaar. If you're keen to do some serious shopping, check out these top markets in Mumbai and where to buy Indian handicrafts as well. These tips for haggling will help you get the best price.
Watch the Washermen at Work
A panoramic view of Mumbai's landmark dhobi ghat (open-air laundry) is available from the bridge next to Mahalaxmi railway station. However, nothing beats going down into the heart of the action where hundreds of washermen manually flog dirty laundry from all over the city in rows of concrete troughs. A representative will usually be at the dhobi ghat entrance to show you around for a small fee. It's an intriguing place, and even appears in the Guinness Book of Records. This guide to Mumbai's remarkable infrastructure has more details.
Mumbai's 5,000 dabbawalas have received worldwide recognition for their extraordinary delivery of some 200,000 dabbas (lunch boxes) to office workers in the South Mumbai business district every day—and they've been in business since 1890! The dabbawalas carry the lunch boxes by train from suburban homes and use a special system to sort them. Be outside the Churchgate railway station between 11.30 a.m. and noon to observe the process.
Walk Around Holy Banganga Tank
One of Mumbai's biggest surprises, Banganga Tank is the oldest continually inhabited place in the city, and it really feels like time has stood still there for centuries. The tank's origin is connected to Lord Ram in Hindu mythology, and Hindus believe that walking around the tank has immense purifying benefits. The route will take you past weathered temples, homes, and dharamsalas (rest houses for pilgrims).
Children will love the big floppy-eared Gir cows at Bombay Panjrapole, and even adults will find it hard to resist their eager demands for attention. An animal shelter, housing hundreds of cows in the middle of a teeming market area, is a surreal attraction, but Mumbai is a city of extreme contrasts! The shelter was set up by a couple of Parsi philanthropist businessmen in 1834 to look after stray dogs and pigs that the British wanted to shoot. It has grown to accommodate all kinds of animals and birds.
Catch a Game of Cricket
You may have heard that Indians are crazy about cricket. If you head over to one of South Mumbai's maidans (open fields), you'll be able to see for yourself what the game is all about and maybe even join in. Local teams train mainly on weekends, but you'll likely come across a game or few underway during the week as well—such is the popularity of the sport! Oval Maidan is perfectly positioned for a break between sightseeing. Cross Maidan and Azad Maidan are other top spots in the area.
Relive the Shantaram Legend at Leopold's
Those who have read Gregory David Robert's epic "Shantaram" will be familiar with Leopold Cafe, the shady central meeting place in the book. Leopold's has been around since 1871 and further rose to notoriety when it was attacked by terrorists in 2008. These days, the cafe may not be as mystic and dark as you imagine, but it's always buzzing with an eclectic crowd. On the same road, Cafe Mondegar is another of Mumbai's top hangout places where music pumps from a retro jukebox and the beer flows freely.
Step Back in Time at an Historic Cafe
Nothing will take you on a trip down memory lane like Mumbai's last remaining Irani cafes and bakeries. Their decor hasn't changed from when they were set up in the 1900s by Irani Zoroastrian immigrants who fled persecution. These quaint and quirky establishments are renowned as much for their unpredictably eccentric owners as they are for their characteristic food. Among the most famous ones in the congested northern end of Fort are Yazdani Bakery and Britannia & Co. There are a few more in the Marine Lines district of South Mumbai, including the oldest surviving one, Kyani Bakery & Co opposite Metro Cinema.
If classy is more your style, afternoon high tea at the luxurious Taj Palace Hotel in Colaba is regarded as a city ritual. It is served daily, since the 1980s, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the hotel's old-world Sea Lounge overlooking the Gateway of India. The full buffet costs about 2,200 rupees per person (around $30), but it's a stupendous spread. Alternatively, you can order teas separately from the menu. More than 25 varieties are on offer.
Settle in for Sunset
Being a coastal city, Mumbai has some pretty stunning sunsets. They're best enjoyed at a rooftop bar accompanied by a sundowner cocktail or on the beach with the locals. Girgaum Chowpatty, at the northern end of Marine Drive, is the city's classic sunset location. Other popular ones include Worli Seaface, and Bandra Bandstand, and Juhu Beach in the suburbs.
Party the Night Away
You won't have to look far to find a pub or bar in Colaba. Hip 145 Kala Ghoda is only five minutes away from there too. More bars and clubs are clustered around Lower Parel and Bandra West in the suburbs. While bars usually stop serving alcohol and close by 1:30 a.m. due to legal restrictions, swanky clubs in five-star hotels will stay open up to 4 a.m. on weekends.