Action-packed Mumbai, India's financial capital, is known to be a loud and chaotic city that's overwhelming at times. As a result, it's natural to want to escape for a while. The best day trips to take from Mumbai offer adventure, nature, history, beach, wine and more. Here's where to go.
Just north of Mumbai, in the opposite direction to Alibaug, the beach town of Vasai feels more like Goa with its pervasive Portuguese heritage and peaceful palm-lined streets. Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, Vasai was much larger and more important than Mumbai—although, nowadays this is hard to believe! The remnants of historic Vasai Fort, which was the headquarters of Portuguese rule, is the main attraction and its history is fascinating. You can also marvel over ornate churches and ancestral homes (some of which are centuries old), visit a religious statue carving workshop (the statue makers have received multiple UNESCO awards for heritage conservation), and dine on delicious local cuisine.
Alibaug has always been a popular getaway from Mumbai, as it's a short ferry or speedboat ride from the Gateway of India in Colaba. However, it recently became even more appealing as a day trip destination after the opening of some hip new restaurants. The best of them is Boardwalk by Flamboyante at Mandawa Port. Situated right on the seafront, just a few steps from the jetty, you'll be able to kick back with a cocktail and feel like you're somewhere in the Mediterranean. You can even travel there in style, as one of the owners has a luxury yacht and packages are available (phone 99205-69772 for details). Alternatively, charter your own boat for the day! If you're going on a weekend, be sure to book a table well in advance.
Also at Mandawa Port, Beach Box is India's first container park, where old shipping containers have been turned into into fashionable boutiques set around an amphitheater. Kiki’s Cafe and Deli is another outstanding oceanfront option for dining at the jetty. It's open for breakfast onwards, for those who like to get an early start.
If you want to venture further afield, there are some interesting art galleries in and around Alibaug such as The Guild and the Dashrath Patel Museum. Another trendy place to hang out for the day is Bohemyan Blue.
Matheran is delightfully unique because it's the only hill station in India where vehicles aren't allowed. Situated about 2.5 hours east of Mumbai, it's an ideal place to escape the ubiquitous honking and city pollution, and enjoy the fresh mountain air. Getting there, by toy train or horseback from the car park, is also memorable. More than 35 viewpoints are dotted around Matheran, reached by walking tracks through the forest. For an extra dose of nature, stop by Saguna Baug Farm near Neral, about 35 minutes from Matheran. It offers an exceptional rural experience, with so many things to do that it's worth spending a whole day there for great family fun. Packages, including lunch, are available.
If you've got kids, they'll be thrilled with a day trip to one of India's top amusement parks in Khopoli, a couple of hours from Mumbai on the way to Pune. Conveniently spread across 300 acres just off the Expressway, Adlabs Imagica is made up of a theme park, water park and snow park. Oh, and there's a luxury Novotel hotel too, in case you want to extend your time there. The theme park has more than 25 rides for kids, families and thrill-seekers (including India's largest roller coaster). The novel 15,000 square foot snow park offers numerous activities, from toboggan rides to climbing a snow castle, in freezing conditions. You can also experience real snowfall. If that hasn't cooled you down enough, the 15 rides at the water park definitely will!
Paragliding at Kamshet
Love paragliding or want to give it a try? The oldest and best paragliding training school in India, Nirvana Adventures, is located about 2.5 hours from Mumbai in Kamshet near Lonavala. They offer 10-30 minute tandem flights during the paragliding season, which runs from October until the end of May each year. Fearless fliers can opt for acrobatics, for added adrenaline. It's wild! Nirvana Adventures operates from its base at Native Place guesthouse, a serene and arty place surrounded by an extensive garden.
Karla and Bhaja Caves
Although nowhere near as impressive as the Ajanta and Ellora caves in Maharashtra, the rock-cut Karla caves are noteworthy for having the biggest and most well-preserved Buddhist prayer hall in India. It's part of a Buddhist monastery with 15 other excavated cave rooms and apparently dates all the way back to the 1st century BC. Combine your trip to the Karla caves with the nearby Bhaja caves, and twin Lohagad Visapur hill forts. They're situated in the Lonavala area of Maharashtra, about 2 hours from Mumbai, and can also be visited on the way to paragliding at Kamshet. If you're particularly interested in ancient rock-cut caves, more can be found at Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai's outer northern suburb of Borivali.
The glorious golden Global Vipassana Pagoda is an unexpected attraction in Gorai, on the northern outskirts of Mumbai, near Essel World and Water Kingdom (another popular amusement park). It's part of one of India's top Vipassana meditation centers. The pagoda been designed as a replica of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. It's as tall as a 30 floor building, making it one of the largest stone monuments in Asia. However, what's even more remarkable is that the pagoda doesn't have any pillars and was solely built by volunteers over 11 years. Inside, there's a huge mediation hall for 8,000 people and some authentic Buddhist relics. Other attractions include a magnificent gallery of paintings that depict the life of Buddha. For the most peaceful experience, avoid going there on Sundays because it does get noisy and crowded then.
Wineries at Nashik
If you don't mind traveling and would like to explore India's biggest wine region, Nashik is situated about three hours drive northeast of Mumbai and can be done in a day. Many of the top wineries have tasting rooms and offer guided vineyard tours. Red Grapes conducts one day trips to Nashik, including three wineries plus the new Wine Information Center.