There's no denying that the weather in Delhi can get uncomfortable. Whether you're facing the summer heat (with temperatures soaring to 113 F, or 45 C) the post-summer smog, or simply a day of rain, there are times every year when you definitely won't want to be outside for too long. That counts out a lot of sightseeing at the city's monuments. Instead, here are the best things to do indoors in Delhi.
Delhi's art scene is booming—many new galleries have opened up in recent years, in addition to the following well-established places. The National Gallery of Modern Art is the Indian government's premier art museum. It was founded in 1954, in what was once the residence of the Maharaja of Jaipur. Its comprehensive collection has more than 15,000 works, mainly from the early 19th to early 21st centuries.
The Lalit Kala Akademi, India's national academy of fine arts, holds various exhibitions. Delhi Art Gallery, in Hauz Khas village, has India's largest collection of modern art, with more than 30,000 works mostly from the 20th century. The gallery owns the majority of its collection and focuses on artists most worthy of being preserved.
Dhoomimal in Connaught Place is Delhi's oldest contemporary art gallery, founded in 1936. It's part of a mega art complex that also includes a sculpture gallery, art museum, and art library. The newer Dhoomimal Art Center is also a must-visit for art lovers. Not far from Connaught Place, Art Heritage Gallery is located in the Triveni Kala Sangam art complex. It has exhibitions of modern art from some of the best known artists in India. If you're into tribal art, Delhi also has the world's first dedicated to Gond art gallery.
The National Museum is fully air-conditioned. It's among the largest museums in India, and you could spend the whole day browsing through its galleries. The collection consists of about 200,000 objects, mainly from the Indus Valley Civilization (also known as the Harappan period) dating as far back as 2,500 BC. Other items include bronze statues from the Chola Dynasty, Buddhist relics, coins, textiles, musical instruments, tribal artifacts, armor, decorative arts, and miniature paintings.
If you're interested in history, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum is dedicated to controversial former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1984. She was India's first female prime minister, and her residence (where she was killed) has been turned into the museum. The National Rail Museum showcases India's rail heritage and is popular with families. Many exhibits are outside, but its indoor gallery is air-conditioned. The National Science Center is an interesting museum devoted to science, and is another air-conditioned option.
Watch a Play, Classical Music or Dance Performance
The India Habitat Center and India International Center both have frequent classical music and dance concerts. Kamani Auditorium is part of the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra Complex, which is dedicated to Indian classical and folk music, dance and drama. This prestigious theater has a convenient central location and hosts all kinds of cultural performances.
Nearby, the Sri Ram Center for the Performing Arts grew from what was originally the Indian National Theater in 1948. It holds plays and a Summer Festival. The Indira Gandhi National Center of Arts is the city's premier government-funded arts organization, established in 1987. As well as exhibitions and cultural programs, it periodically has diverse performances.
Take an Indian Dance Lesson
If you'd prefer to learn how to dance rather than watch a dance performance, Delhi Dance Academy offers a two-hour Namaste India Dance Workshop, especially for travelers. You'll be introduced to three Indian dance forms—Bollywood, Bhangra, and Dandiya (this Gujarati folk dance with sticks is commonly seen during the Navaratri festival). The dancing is choreographed to popular songs and you'll get a two minute video of your performance, dressed in full Bollywood attire if you wish, to take away.
Get a Spa Treatment
Getting a spa treatment in Delhi is a fantastic way to relax and beat the heat! There are plenty of options, ranging from traditional Ayurvedic to Thai. Most luxury hotels have spas, but many are for guests only. CHI, The Spa at the Shangri La's Eros Hotel is an exception. It focuses on traditional techniques from Asian cultures. The NeoVeda Spa at The Metropolitan Hotel offers great Ayurvedic massages. Another decent spa in Connaught Place with a wide range of treatments is Blue Terra.
Alternatively, Orchid Spa specializes in authentic Thai therapies. If you really want to pamper yourself close to Delhi airport, head to the award-winning Aheli Spa at The Roseate. It's out of this world. The Quan Spa at the JW Marriott Aerocity is also highly recommended.
Shop at a Mall
Plush shopping malls have popped up all over Delhi during the last decade, and provide a welcome respite from the heat. The only drawback is that the best ones are in south Delhi, which is out of the way unless you're staying in that area.
Select CityWalk is definitely the top pick. It has 175 international and Indian brands, a cinema, and heaps of restaurants. If you get bored there, just pop next door to DLF Place. This mall isn't as large but it has a different variety of shops.
There are three other smaller malls in Saket District Center as well. Vasant Kunj in south Delhi is the other neighborhood with the city's top malls. They're all in a row along the same road. Head to DLF Promenade first. It has a special kids' zone. Or, if you want high-end luxury brands, DLF Emporio. Ambience Mall is also popular. If you don't want to travel so far, Connaught Place has an air-conditioned underground shopping complex called Palika Bazaar (between the Inner and Outer circles, opposite Gate 6, Rajiv Chowk Metro Station). It attracts bargain shoppers. Prepare to haggle (here are some tips).
Chill at a Restaurant or Cafe
Travelers can meet like-minded people, and browse through books and magazines, at the Kunzum Travel Cafe in trendy Hauz Khas Village. Travel-related events are often held there as well, so do check!
Having a cold beer on a hot summer day is so refreshing, and The Beer Cafe has branches all over the city, including two in Connaught Place. It's India's largest beer chain, and serves 50 different varieties. Lord of the Drinks has Medieval-themed interiors and a great range of beers (plus other drinks) too.
These days, the Outer Circle of Connaught Place is alive with trendy bars and restaurants, so you'll find plenty of other options there. If you'd prefer somewhere more upmarket, head to The Spice Route restaurant at The Imperial Hotel. It has a special summer menu featuring the king of fruits—the mango. Lodhi the Garden Restaurantalso has a delicious summer menu every year. This gorgeous fine-dining restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine using organic and seasonal ingredients. There are live performances in the evenings. Check out these top fine dining Indian cuisine restaurants in Delhi and top bars and clubs in Delhi for more options.
Have Fun at Kingdom of Dreams
Get out of Delhi for the day and take a trip an hour south to Gurgaon, to one of India's best theme parks, the spectacular Kingdom of Dreams. It brings together the carnival that is India with live productions (including Bollywood musicals), and an air-conditioned boulevard featuring food and culture from various states. It also has street bars, an arts and crafts village, folk dances, an Indian tea house, and shops. Tickets for stage shows and other productions can be booked online.