The cliche of old-world charm applies to Mumbai's Colaba neighborhood, which was originally one of the seven islands that made up Bombay under Portuguese possession. The British started developing the area in the 1800s, and although Colaba has evolved into the city's unofficial tourist headquarters, it retains many atmospheric buildings with various styles of architecture. These top things to do in Colaba incorporate the district's heritage. Once you've explored Colaba, check out some other cool neighborhoods in Mumbai.
Visit the Gateway of India
One of Mumbai's top attractions and the city's most famous monument, the iconic Gateway of India is a popular place to start exploring Colaba. This striking symbol of the British Raj era was completed in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. It was designed in Indo-Saracenic style by Scottish architect George Wittet (who designed many other landmark monuments in Mumbai), combining Hindu and Muslim architecture, with elements of the Roman triumphal arch. The last of the British troops left through the Gateway when British rule came to an end in India, in 1947.
It's possible to take a boat cruise around Mumbai Harbor from the Gateway of India, and get an alternative perspective of Colaba. Regular ferry boats also depart from the Gateway of India to the rock-cut caves at nearby Elephanta Island, and to Alibaug.
Wander Through the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
Opposite the Gateway of India, the luxurious Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel was completed in 1903 and is the flagship property of India's Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris group. It was created as a suitably grand property to accommodate various visiting dignitaries, royalty and other important people. The hotel is divided into two wings—the original heritage wing, and the newer tower wing that opened in 1973. Much of the heritage wing had to be rebuilt after being extensively damaged during the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai. Treat yourself to an elaborate afternoon high tea at the hotel's Sea Lounge, while looking out across the bay. Or, have a drink at the modern new-look Harbour Bar, which was first licensed bar in Mumbai.
Appreciate the Architecture
The interesting shift in Mumbai's architectural styles—from Gothic to Gothic Revival to Indo-Saracenic to Art Deco—can be seen around Colaba. Holy Name Cathedral, built in Gothic Revival style in 1905, is conveniently located on the road behind Colaba Causeway. Further away, towards the tip of Colaba at Navy Nagar, the Afghan Church (formally called the Church of Saint John the Evangelist) dates back to the mid 1800s and honors the soldiers who were killed in the First Afghan War. Dhanraj Mahal is one of the most noteworthy examples of Art Deco architecture, which was brought to India in the 1930s by well-traveled royal families and merchants. The building was once the palace of Raja Dhanrajgir of Hyderabad, but is now occupied by residential and commercial tenants. You can go inside it.
Shop 'til You Drop
The market stalls that line Colaba Causeway attract locals and tourists alike, who come to buy souvenirs, cheap junk jewelry, shoes, clothes and more. In the same area, Avante Cottage Craft is one of the best places to shop for handicrafts in Mumbai. This family-owned business was established in 1950 and stocks items from across India. Best of all, prices are reasonable and service is not intrusive. For designer fashion and lifestyle products, plus Ayurvedic wellness brands, head to trendy new Clove The Store at Churchill Chambers in Colaba's Art Deco quarter.
Colaba has much to offer foodies, with diverse cuisine ranging from global fine-dining to unusual local delicacies. Tourists inevitably end up at both Leopold's Cafe and Cafe Mondegar on Colaba Causeway. Leopold's has an additional fame factor, as it's featured in Gregory David Robert's epic book Shantaram and was a target in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. Some of the bullet holes can still be seen in its walls. Take a look at these hangout spots with cheap beer in Colaba and top restaurants in Colaba for more options. If you're keen for a classy spot to have a drink and meal, try Havana at the Gordon House Hotel.
Take in the View from a Rooftop
Colaba is blessed with a handful of open-air rooftop restaurants that offer captivating views of the neighborhood. The Marina Upper Deck at the Sea Palace hotel and Bayview Cafe at the Harbour View Hotel are situated side by side opposite the Radio Club on the Strand Promenade. Until recently, the Marina was the more upmarket of the two. However, Bayview has been given a makeover (along with the hotel) and is now similarly priced. Either place is ideal for a sun-downer with front row seats to the bay. Just around the corner, Koyla serves rich north Indian cuisine and has breezy shamiana seating. Cloud 9, on the 9th floor of the Godwin Hotel, is another option that looks out to the Arabian Sea and Taj Mahal Palace hotel.
See Sassoon Dock
One of Mumbai's oldest and largest wholesale fish markets takes place at Sassoon Dock in Colaba. The dock was built in 1875 by the wealthy Jewish Sassoon family, who shipped cotton yarn and opium from Mumbai to China. These days, about 1,500 fishing trawlers use the dock. The action starts as early as 5 a.m, when the trawlers start arriving to be unloaded, and continues until about 9 a.m. when all the fish is sold. Keep an eye out for the murals on the buildings while you're there. Sassoon Dock was also the venue for a street art project and festival in 2017. The dock is included in many morning tours of Mumbai, including this No Footprints' Mumbai by Dawn tour and this Good Morning Mumbai tour offered by Mumbai Magic.
Colaba's Art Deco Regal Cinema sits at the beginning of Colaba Causeway and was thrown open to the public during the cinema boom of the 1930s. It's one of the last remaining single-screen cinemas in Mumbai and shows Hindi movies every day. Check the website for details as to what's on and when.