Mumbai, the city of dreams, is India's financial capital and home of the Bollywood movie industry. It's also India's most diverse and extreme city—extending from cosmopolitan and carefree to crushing poverty. One of the country's richest businessmen lives in Mumbai, in a 20-floor tower estimated to have cost up to $2 billion to build. Yet, the city also has one of the largest slums in Asia.
With a current population of more than 20 million people, it's hard to comprehend that Mumbai was once seven sparsely inhabited islands before the British began developing it in the 19th century. Since then, the city has evolved into a complex mix of skyscrapers and swanky shopping malls, Gothic-style British heritage buildings, and age-old infrastructure such as the dhobi-ghat (a massive, manual open-air laundry that was set up in 1890 to service the city's English and Parsi immigrants).
This itinerary for 48 hours in Mumbai incorporates the city's extremes to provide an engaging exploration of its various sides.
One of the best things about Mumbai is that cabs are plentiful and usually go by the meter, without quoting inflated prices for tourists. This means that you can readily follow the itinerary without having to hire a car and driver for the day. Uber is another convenient and inexpensive option, if you're using your cell phone in India.
Day One: Morning and Afternoon
Morning: Arrive in Mumbai and check into your accommodations, preferably somewhere in the Colaba or Fort tourist districts of south Mumbai. If you'd like to stay in luxury, the iconic Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel is ideal. Otherwise, choose from these top cheap hotels and guesthouses or budget hotels in Mumbai.
Noon: Head over to Leopold Cafe on Colaba Causeway for lunch. Possibly Mumbai's most famous restaurant, it has been in business since 1871 but rose to notoriety in Gregory David Robert's epic book Shantaram, published in 2003. The restaurant was also a target in the 2008 terrorist attack on the city, and it's still possible to see the bullet holes in the walls. A mix of Indian and Continental cuisine is served, but you'll be going there for the atmosphere more so than the food.
2 p.m.: Spend some time browsing through the street market that lines Colaba Causeway. It's a popular place to shop for all kinds of items including inexpensive junk jewelry, clothes, shoes, handicrafts, books, crystals and incense. Make sure you haggle to get the best price! If shopping at boutiques is more your style, don't miss Clove The Store (2 Churchill Chambers, Allana Road), which recently opened in Colaba's atmospheric Art Deco quarter. This fashion and lifestyle concept store stocks products from a variety of Indian designers, plus Ayurvedic wellness brands.
3 p.m.: Stroll along Colaba's picturesque Strand Promenade (officially renamed as P. J. Ramchandani Marg) from the Radio Club to the Gateway of India. The left side is flanked by crumbling Colonial mansions, while the right side borders the Arabian Sea.
4 p.m.: Splurge on an elaborate high tea at the Sea Lounge of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel (Apollo Bunder, opposite the Gateway of India). This regal heritage hotel dates back to 1903 and oozes history. As its name suggests, the Sea Lounge has expansive sea views across Mumbai Harbour and the Gateway of India.
Day One: Evening
5 p.m.: Take a cab along Marine Drive towards Girgaum Chowpatty (about 20 minutes away) in time for sunset. This city beach is an evening hangout spot for Mumbai's residents, who flock there to watch the sun evocatively disappear behind the posh Malabar Hill skyline and munch on snacks from the stalls. Try some bhel puri, pav bhaji, or vada pav—classic Mumbai street food. If you're concerned about hygiene and would prefer to sample local fare in a restaurant, Vinay Health Home (Jawar Mansion, Dr BA Jaikar Marg, Charni Road) is clean and renowned for its vegetarian Maharashtrian cuisine.
7 p.m.: Take a cab to Kala Ghoda in the Fort area of south Mumbai and wander around this atmospheric arts district. Although the Jehangir Art Gallery and Museum Gallery close by 7 p.m., many shops stay open until later. Sancha Tea Boutique (Store 2A, 11A Machinery House Kala Ghoda, Fort. Opposite Trisha restaurant. Closes at 9 p.m.) is a must-visit for tea lovers. Kulture Shop (9 Examiner Press, 115 Nagindas Master Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort. Closes at 8 p.m.) sells unique products by leading Indian graphic artists and is one of the the top places to buy handicrafts in Mumbai. Funky fashion and lifestyle store Chumbak (141 Sassoon Building, M.G. Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort. Next to Khyber restaurant. Closes at 9 p.m.) also has colorful prints. If you're interested in handwoven Indian clothing and home products, Fab India (137 Jeroo Building, M.G. Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort. Closes at 8.30 p.m.) is next to Chumbak.
9 p.m. There are numerous options in the area for dinner, depending on your palate. Khyber (145, M.G. Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort) has won awards for its traditional Northwest Frontier cuisine and has regal Afghan-inspired interiors. The south Indian coastal cuisine at Trishna (7 Saibaba Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort) is among the best in Mumbai. Nearby in Colaba, there are some outstanding fine-dining restaurants serving global cuisine. The Table (Kalapesi Trust Building, opposite Dhanraj Mahal, below Hotel Suba Palace, Apollo Bunder) is highly recommended. Or, if you'd prefer somewhere relaxed and lively, landmark Cafe Mondegar (Metro House, Colaba Causeway) has a jukebox and beer.
Day Two: Morning
6 a.m.: Rise and shine early to experience the city as it wakes up (and beat the insane traffic jams). The easiest way to do so is to take a tour, such as this Good Morning Mumbai tour offered by Mumbai Magic. It covers vibrant Dadar wholesale flower market, washing activity at the dhobi ghat, a drive past British heritage buildings with magnificent architecture, and Sassoon Docks to see the fishing trawlers return and get unloaded.
9 a.m.: Feeling hungry? The Pantry (Yeshwant Chambers, Military Square Lane, near Trishna restaurant, Kala Ghoda, Fort), Kala Ghoda Cafe (Bharthania Building A Block, 10 Ropewalk Lane, opposite Trishna restaurant, Kala Ghoda, Fort) and Bake House Cafe (43 Ropewalk Lane, Kala Ghoda, Fort) all serve delicious gourmet western-style breakfasts, tea, coffee and juice.
10 a.m.: Check out the diverse exhibits at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (159-161 M.G. Road, Fort. Tickets: 500 rupees for foreigners and 85 rupees for Indians), Mumbai's main museum.
11:20 a.m.: Take a cab to Churchgate railway station (about 10 minutes away) to see the renowned dabba-walas in action. They exit the station between 11.30 a.m. and noon, carrying huge trays of tiffins to be delivered to Mumbai's office workers for lunch.
Noon: Have lunch at nearby Gaylord restaurant, or check out your options for brunch. (Mayfair Building, Veer Nariman Road, Churchgate) if you'd like to eat north Indian or Continental cuisine, or Samrat (Prem Court Building, Jamshedji Tata Road, Churchgate) for a traditional vegetarian Gujarati thali (platter).
Day Two: Afternoon and Evening
1 p.m.: Take a cab to Banganga Tank (Walkeshwar Road, Teen Batti, Malabar Hill), about 20 minutes away. It's the oldest continually inhabited place in Mumbai, making it one of the most remarkable places to learn about the city's history. You may wish to hire a guide for a tour of the area.
2:30 p.m.: See what's up for grabs at Chor Bazaar, Mumbai's infamous thieves market (Mutton Street, Kumbharwada, near Mohammad Ali Road. Closed Fridays). This fascinating 150 year old market has more antique and vintage items than stolen goods, nowadays. However, you won't believe all the stuff that's available there!
4 p.m.: Visit Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum (91 A Rani Baug, Veer Mata Jijbai Bhonsle Udyan, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Marg, Byculla East. Tickets: 100 rupees for foreigners and 10 rupees for Indians) and have afternoon tea at the Museum Cafe. This nostalgic, small museum opened in 1857, and is the oldest in Mumbai. It has been beautifully restored and showcases the cultural heritage of the city.
6 p.m.: Enjoy a cocktail or champagne during happy hours at chic Aer bar (Four Seasons Hotel, Dr. E. Moses Road, Worli), while taking in the mesmerizing panoramic views from the 34th floor. It's one of the highest bars in Mumbai.
8 p.m.: Head to the Kamala Mills compound in Lower Parel for dinner at The Bombay Canteen or Farzi Cafe. Once occupied by the city's cotton mills, which proliferated there in the early 1900s, this sprawling industrial area has been redeveloped into Mumbai's hottest dining destination. Both restaurants are highly regarded for their inventive contemporary Indian cuisine. Do reserve a table well in advance!
Day Three: Morning
8 a.m.: Drop into Yazdani Bakery (11/11A Cawasji Patel Street, Fort), one of the oldest Parsi cafes in Mumbai, for chai and brun maska (buttered crusty bread roll). It's freshly baked in a wood-fired oven. The hearty apple fruit pie is also delicious.
9 a.m.: Go on a guided walking tour of Mumbai's massive Dharavi slum. Far from being voyeuristic poverty tourism, the tour gives amazing insight into this inspiring community and its thriving small-scale industry, and shows what people can achieve despite their challenging conditions. You'll be impressed!
One of the most popular Dharavi tours is offered by Reality Tours and Travels (900 rupees per person). It departs from Churchgate railway station daily at 9.15 a.m. Part of the proceeds are used to support Dharavi residents. There's the option to have a home-cooked lunch with a local family afterwards if you wish. Do bring extra money for shopping, as you can buy everything from leather goods to fabric at great prices, made by Dharavi businesses.