Gateway of India
Mumbai's most recognized monument and one of the top Mumbai attractions, the Gateway of India was constructed to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to the city. Designed to be the first thing that visitors see when approaching Mumbai by boat, the looming Gateway was completed in 1924 and remains as a striking symbol of the British Raj era. After this era ended in 1947, the last of the British troops departed through the Gateway. Its architecture is Indo-Saracenic, combining Islamic and Hindu styles.
The Gateway of India is a popular place to start exploring Mumbai. These days the atmosphere around the monument resembles a circus at times, with numerous vendors peddling everything from balloons to Indian tea.
In 2011, Lonely Planet listed the Gateway of India as one of the world's best free attractions.
- Where: On the waterfront in Colaba, south Mumbai. Opposite the Taj Palace and Tower Hotel.
Taj Palace and Tower Hotel
Mumbai's landmark Taj Palace Hotel, built in 1903, is an unsurpassed architectural marvel that brings together Moorish, Oriental and Florentine styles. Its structure is striking, with many chandeliers, archways, domes, and turrets. The hotel also has a noteworthy collection of artwork and artifacts that gives it an eclectic feeling.
Treat yourself to high tea at the renowned Sea Lounge in the Heritage wing, or a meal at Souk overlooking Mumbai harbor.
- Where: Colaba, in south Mumbai. The hotel sits behind the Gateway of India.
- More Information: The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel: Architectural Jewel of Mumbai, Why stay at the Taj Palace Hotel.
Royal Bombay Yacht Club
Founded in 1846, the Royal Bombay Yacht Club is one of the oldest and most elite clubs in Mumbai. Designed by a British architect, John Adams (Executive Engineer to the Bombay Government), it has imposing Gothic style architecture. Steeped in nostalgia, Queen Victoria bestowed the title of "Royal" upon the club in 1876.
- Where: Opposite the Gateway of India, near the Taj Palace and Tower Hotel.. Chhatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj Marg, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, south Mumbai.
- More Information: Royal Bombay Yacht Club website.
Dhanraj Mahal is an Art Deco building, a design style that originated in Paris in the early 20th century. It has an interesting history. Built in the 1930s, it was the former palace of the Raja Dhanrajgir of Hyderabad, and once the largest and costliest building in Mumbai. The Ministry of Defense acquired it during World War II but later gave it back to the royal family.
Now, Dhanraj Mahal is rented out to residential and commercial tenants. It has a total area of 130,000 square feet and a huge central courtyard. Its scenic location is close to the Arabian Sea.
- Where: Chhatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj Marg, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, south Mumbai.
The first of Mumbai's Art Deco style cinemas, the Regal Cinema was built during the cinema boom of the 1930s. Other cinemas that also came up during this time were Plaza Central, New Empire, Broadway, Eros, and Metro. The first film to be shown at the Regal Cinema was Laurel and Hardy's The Devil's Brother in 1933. Movies are still being shown there today.
- Where: Opposite Regal Circle at the end of Colaba Causeway, south Mumbai.
Maharashtra Police Headquarters (Sailors' Home)
The Maharashtra Police Headquarters moved into what was known as the Royal Alfred Sailors' Home, in 1982. Construction began on the building in early 1872 and was finished four years later, in 1876. As its name suggests, it was made to accommodate 20 officers and 100 seamen. However, the building was actually conceived to commemorate the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1870. The Duke laid the Foundation stone during his visit.
The Maharashtra government acquired the building in 1928 to house the Bombay Legislative Council. The Police department subsequently moved in after it was vacated.
- Where: Opposite Regal Circle at the end of Colaba Causeway, south Mumbai.
- More Information: Maharashtra Police website.
The Elphinstone College building is among the finest Victorian structures in India. It was designed by Trubshaw and Khan Bahadur Muncherjee Murzban in the 1880s and originally meant to house the Government Central Press. However, it's been used for academic activities since April 1888.
The building has breathtaking Gothic architecture and is classified as a Grade I heritage structure. The Kala Ghoda Association recently restored it.
Horniman Circle is made up of a strong sweep of stately building facades, laid out in a semi-circle. The Horniman Circle Gardens is at the center of it.
The Circle was constructed in 1860, around what was know as the Mumbai Greens -- a vast 15-acre space opposite the Town Hall where live music was played every evening after sunset. The Mumbai Greens later became the Horniman Circle Gardens, in tribute to Mr.B.G. Horniman, Editor of The Bombay Chronicle.
There's an ancient banyan tree within the Circle, which apparently acted as the venue for India's first stock exchange. Nearby historical buildings include the stock exchange and St. Thomas Cathedral.
- Where: Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, next to the Town Hall (Asiatic Library) in the Fort district, south Mumbai.
Flora Fountain (Hutatma Chowk)
Hutatma Chowk, meaning "Martyrs' Square" in the local language, was renamed from Flora Fountain in 1960. The name is in memory of the members of Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti, who lost their lives when police fired upon their demonstration. It was part of a struggle with the Government of India for the creation of Maharashtra state.
The Hutatma Chowk square is bordered by buildings constructed during the British Raj. In the middle of it, the ornate Flora Fountain was created in 1864. It represents the Roman Goddess Flora, the Goddess of Abundance.
- Where: Veer Nariman Road, south Mumbai.
Bombay High Court
The Bombay High Court was built from 1871 to 1878. The first sitting took place in January 1879. Designed by Col. J.A. Fuller, a British engineer, the Court is a masterpiece of Gothic architectural style that was apparently modeled on a German castle. Its structure is made up of black stone, with octagonal towers. On top of the building, statues of Justice and Mercy inspire upholding the Indian law.
It's highly recommended that you go inside and see a trial for some real entertainment. Rooms 19 and 20 have most of the action. Be there by around 10 a.m., and be aware that cameras are not allowed inside the court.
- Where: High Court Building, Dr Kane Road, Fort.
University of Mumbai
Established in 1857, the University of Mumbai (known earlier as University of Bombay) was one of the first three universities in India. Its architecture is Venetian Gothic inspired. It's possible to take a walk around the campus and have a peek inside both the University Library and Convocation Hall. The University Library has exquisitely stained glass windows that have been restored to pristine glory.
- Where: MG Road, Fort, Mumbai. Near the High Court.
- More Information: Mumbai University website.
Rajabhai Clock Tower
Located within the University of Mumbai, the 260-foot high Rajabai Clock Tower is modeled on Big Ben in London. The clock tower was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, an English architect. Completed in November 1878, it took nearly 10 years to build. It was named after the mother of a wealthy 19th-century stockbroker who funded its construction.
An extensive renovation of the clock tower and University Library was recently undertaken and completed in 2015. The restoration was the first in the history of the clock tower and more 4.2 crore rupees ($700,000) was spent on it. The Indian Heritage Society had been pursing the restoration for a number of years, and it finally commenced in 2012 after the funding was donated by a subsidiary of the renowned Tata Group.
The clock tower's interior is magnificently ornate, and its stone exterior is flanked by 24 statues depicting the various castes and communities of western India. The sculptures were made by Indian artisans and the students of JJ School of Art, under the guidance of art teacher Sir Lockwood Kipling.
Unfortunately, the public isn't allowed to enter the university grounds, so the clock tower can only be viewed on the outside from the street.
- Where: The Rajabai Clock Tower is located above the Mumbai University Library. It's best seen from the Oval Maidan, Fort, Mumbai.
The Mumbai Mint is one of four mints in India. It was built in the 1920s, along with the Town Hall, and has similar architecture with pillars and Grecian porticoes. An inscription on the building states that it was designed by Major John Hopkins of Bombay Engineers. The East India Company sanctioned its construction in 1923.
The Mint mainly produces commemorative and development-oriented coins, which are available for sale. It also makes medals of various types, including for the Ministry of Defense.
- Where: Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg, Fort, Mumbai. (Just opposite the Reserve Bank of India).
- More Information: Mumbai Mint website.
Remains of St George's Fort
Those unfamiliar with Mumbai's history may wonder why the Fort district is referred to as such. It got its name from a fort that used to exist there. Fort St. George was built by the British East India Company around Bombay Castle (one of the oldest defensive structures in Mumbai). Named after King George III, it was 1.6 kilometers (one mile) long and 500 meters wide.
The fort was demolished around 1865. However, remains of it still exist in some areas.
- Where: Near St. George's Hospital, P D Mello Rd, Fort. (Close to the General Post Office and CST train station).
Chhatrapati Shivaj Terminus (Victoria Terminus) Train Station
The piece de resistance of Raj era architecture, the Chhatrapati Shivaj Terminus (formerly known as Victoria Terminus) resembles St Pancras Station in London. Designed by architect Frederick William Stevens and built in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, it's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The construction is a fusion of influences from Victorian Italianate Gothic Revival architecture and traditional Indian (Mughal and Hindu) architecture. The skyline, turrets, pointed arches, and layout are close to traditional Indian palace architecture.
The architectural drawings, which show the detail of the building as a whole as well as all the pillars and gargoyles, are apparently now locked in the archives.
Central Railways and the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation have developed themed lighting for the building, which draws attention to its intricate design and grandeur by illuminating all the corners.
There's a Heritage Museum inside the building with guides that conduct tours. However, it's only open from 3-5 p.m. on weekdays. Tickets cost 200 rupees.
- Where: Near the start of the JJ Flyover and P D Mello Rd, Fort.
Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum
The oldest museum in Mumbai, the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (formerly the Victoria and Albert Museum) is an extraordinary example of Palladian design (derived from Andreas Palladio, an Italian architect of the 16th century). Originally established in 1855 as a treasure house of the decorative and industrial arts, it was rebuilt in 1862 in the Renaissance Revival style of Palladian. The Museum was painstakingly and comprehensively restored between 2003 and 2007. A new wing is also in the process of being built. It's expected to be open by 2018.
- Where: Rani Bagh, 91/A, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Road, Byculla, Mumbai. (Next to the botanical gardens and zoo). Closed on Wednesdays and some public holidays.
- More Information: Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum website.
If you love history and architecture and want to get a feel for how Bombay was back in the day, don't miss walking through the village of Khotachiwadi.
The narrow winding lanes of Khotachiwadi village are home to old Portuguese-style bungalows and a tiny church. Evidence indicates that Khotachiwadi started developing as an urban form before Bombay became a city. In time, it became integrated into the surrounding space. Then, a century after the Portuguese arrived, they gave Bombay away to the British as part of a dowry gift to Charles II of England. A walk though Khotachiwadi village will transport you back in time to relive this part of Mumbai's history. It's now also possible to stay in one of the heritage homes.
Sadly, the village is gradually giving way to development though. Less than half of the original 65 bungalows are left.
- Where: Girgaum, in south Mumbai. It's located a few streets behind Girgaum/Marine Drive Chowpatty. The closest railway station is Charni Road on the Western Line.
Antilia (Home of Businessman Mukesh Ambani)
What kind of home does one of the richest men in India have? Take a look at Antilia, the towering residence of businessman Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries. It was named after the mythical Atlantic island of Antillia. The house is reportedly one of the world's most expensive, costing between $1-2 billion to build. Over 20 stories high, hundreds of staff are also employed to maintain and run it.
Reactions to Antillia have been wide and varied. Some Indians are proud of the overt display of wealth, while others view it as shameful while the poor continue to go hungry.
- Where: Altamount Road, Cumballa Hill, south Mumbai.
Banganga Tank is an ancient water tank that's one of the oldest surviving structures in Mumbai. It dates back to 1127 AD, to the time of the Hindu Silhara dynasty, when it was built over a freshwater spring by one of the minister in the dynasty's court.
Over the years, Banganga Tank has provided inspiration to many artists, on film and on canvas. It's also a wonderful place to go to get some respite from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai.
These days, surrounding it, you'll see a mismatch of apartment complexes, skyscrapers, and religious temples. The narrow path leading down to the tank will transport you back to the Mumbai of old, amidst the obviously encroaching urbanization.
- Where: Walkeshwar temple complex, Malabar Hill, south Mumbai.
- Read More: Banganga Tank Photo Tour, Inside Ancient Hidden Mumbai
Bombay Stock Exchange
A prominent example of contemporary architecture in Mumbai, the current Bombay Stock Exchange building was constructed during the late 1970s. The building has a total of 29 floors. At the time it was completed in 1980, it was the tallest building in India.
- Where: Phiroze Jeejeebhoy Towers, Dalal Street (Broker Street), Fort, south Mumbai.
- More Information: Bombay Stock Exchange website.