“I asked my soul: What is Delhi? She replied: The world is the body, Delhi its soul”, said Mirza Ghalib 200 years ago, and how true that still is today!
There is truly no city that can compare to Delhi, both old and new. Delhi gets a bad rep for being dirty, hectic and unsafe, but it should definitely be on your bucket list! I feel like you build up to Delhi slowly, so if your 60 something-year-old parents who have never been to India are visiting you for the first time, maybe skip Delhi. If, however, you want to dive deep into the culture, history and food (and what fantastic food it is), here is my ultimate city guide.
Old Delhi is a world of its own. I have traveled quite extensively both privately and for work and I shy away from nothing, so I was thinking to myself, look at all these amateurs warning me about how crazy Old Delhi is. And then I set foot in Old Delhi and it all became clear. It is insane. The sights, the smells, the noise and the crowd all fight for your attention in what must be one of the most highly populated areas in the world. If you are worried about your safety in Delhi, you really don’t have to be in Old Delhi. Sure, there are pickpockets, but I find the general rule of thumb in India to be; the more crowded the space, the safer you are, and boy is Old Delhi crowded.
The first thing I did was book myself a Delhi by Bike “Old Delhi with a twist” tour. Everyone thought I was insane for wanting to cycle around the narrow alleyways, but I was so happy I did it- and here is why you should do it too. The tour starts at 6.30 am, early enough for the streets around Chandi Chowk and Chawri Bazar to just begin to wake up as you build your confidence on the bicycle. I was the only person on the tour that morning and the guide and founder of Delhi by Bike Tenzin made me feel extremely safe and comfortable. He showed me the side of Delhi I would never normally see. Tenzin told me the youngest cyclist they ever had on the tour was nine years old, but if you are thinking of doing it with your kids, you should either be Dutch and live on a bike or wait until they are at least 12-13 years old. At times it is quite overwhelming to navigate the traffic, as it gets busier. The tour takes you to a chai wallah on the spice market and up on the rooftops overlooking the markets and the courtyards. For those looking for “hidden gems” and “off the beaten path,” this is it. Tenzin is Tibetan himself and so it was fitting and lovely that the tour ended at the Tibetan Colony with a lovely Himalayan breakfast. All in all, a one of a kind experience!
Delhi is famous for its food but also for Delhi belly and let me tell you; you do not want Delhi belly. I love love, love street food and firmly believe the best way to get to know a place and its people is to share their meals. On the morning of Dussehra, I joined a Delhi Food Walks breakfast tour of Old Delhi to experience all the yumminess and avoid all of the tummy aches. This tour is a bit on the pricier side so my husband spent the whole evening before grumbling how he can take me around to eat for a quarter of the price, but he was absolutely converted by the end of the epic four-hour trail. The founder Anubhav is extremely knowledgeable about food, its origin and the traditions around it. There are some dishes you only get in Old Delhi and just in the mornings and some you only get on a holiday and we got lucky with all of the above. If you were in Delhi only for a weekend, this would be the thing I recommend doing. It will truly give you a taste of Old Delhi.
My friends back home got the wrong impression through my Insta stories that Delhi is only rickshaws, cows, and chaos. Delhi is also one of the most expensive and high-end places on earth. After finishing the Delhi by Bike tour, I treated myself to an afternoon at Khan Market. Khan Market started off as a neighborhood bazaar and is now one of the most expensive high streets in the world. You will find our Vine Bangalore favorites like Nicobar and Good Earth here, along with fantastic family owned bookstores, niche perfumeries, and great restaurants. It suffices to say this is the Delhi home of Sly Granny, one of our favorite high-end places in Bangalore. Do not miss The Big Chill Cakery. The orange soufflé chocolate cake is to die for. I suggest picking up a book at Ms Faqir Chand and Sons and settling in for a piece of cake and a cup of tea. I picked up a gorgeous cookbook, a collection of V. S. Naipaul’s essays on India and a book about the Raj era. The owners are very knowledgeable so just let them know the genre you are interested in, and they will find the most amazing books for you.
My favorite area of Delhi is Sunder Nagar with its beautiful vintage stores and leafy streets. I suggest spending the morning at the National Gallery of Modern Art and having lunch at Basil and Thyme at Sunder Nagar afterward. Just be mindful that the Gallery, like most museums in the world, is closed on Mondays.
Hauz Khas is a wonderful area to spend half a day in. Start by exploring the ancient ruins and end with drinks in one of the many bars. This is where the hip and the cool of Delhi party. I suggest getting a spot at The Social rooftop as the sun sets and ordering their infamous chicken tikka to kick off the evening. Do not miss out one of the best jazz bars in India, The Piano Man close by for a truly unforgettable night of live music. If anyone knows of equally great jazz bars in Bangalore, let us know!
Treat yourself to dinner at The China Kitchen at the Hyatt Regency for some of the best dim sum around, and when I say around, I mean in India. Order the spring onion egg pancake roll and thank me later.
There is no visit to Delhi without a visit to Bukhara. Every US president that visits Delhi dines there, and if it is good enough for Obama, it is good enough for me. They are famous for the naan and daal as well as the amazing kebabs.
Khan Market, 61A, Khan Market, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110003
Nicobar, Ground Floor, Shop No. 31A & 31B, Khan Market, New Delhi, Delhi-110003, www.nicobar.com
Good Earth, Shop No.9 A.B.C. Ground 1st & 2nd Floor, Khan Market, Delhi – 110003, Tel: 11246 47175, www.goodearth.in
Sly Granny, No.- 4, Khan Market, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110003, Tel: 11490 8941, Facebook Page
The Big Chill Cakery, Shop No. 1 B, Khan Market, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110003, Zomato Page
National Gallery of Modern Art, Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India, Jaipur House, India Gate
New Delhi – 110003, Tel: 11233 84640, 11233 82835, ngmaindia.gov.in
The Social, 9A & 12, Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi 110016, Tel: 78386 52814, www.socialoffline.in
The China Kitchen, Ground floor, Hyatt Regency Delhi, Bhikaiji Cama Place, Ring road, New Delhi, Delhi 110066, Tel: 11130 054102, www.hyatt.com
Bukhara, TC Maurya, Diplomatic Enclave, Sardar Patel Marg, New Delhi, Delhi, 110021, Tel:11261 12233, www.itchotels.in
There is so much to see and explore in Delhi; you can literally spend a week just marveling at the architecture. There are two things though that you should definitely not miss: the Humayun’s Tomb and Qutub Minar. These two marvels of Mughal architecture are truly amazing. There is something about the symmetry of Mughal architecture that is just mind-blowing. Red Fort and Jama Masjid in Old Delhi should also be visited, and if you do either of the Old Delhi tours we suggested you will get to see them up close.
Qutub Minar, Mehrauli, New Delhi, Delhi 110030
Red Fort, Netaji Subhash Marg, Lal Qila, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, Delhi 110006, asi.nic.in
Jama Massjid, Meena Bazaar, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, Delhi 110006
Delhi is huge! It is actually quite tiring to get around because the traffic is crazy and the distances are much greater than in Bangalore, which is why metro all the way. The Delhi Metro Rail is clean, fast and well connected. I spend a day with a driver before deciding it made no sense and relied solely on the metro for the rest of my stay. I was alone during the day and felt completely safe so don’t worry about that at all.
THE VINE TIPS:
Visit Akshardham, but do not expect to be spiritually enlightened. It is beautiful, and the water show is worth seeing, but my friend put it best when she said it is like a Disneyland temple. You also cannot carry your phone or bag inside so if you are only going for the Instagram pictures, you can skip it.
Go shop at Sarojini Nagar, but don’t get too overwhelmed! It is a fun experience and you can get some great bargains, but skip it if huge crowds freak you out.
Wake up super early and get to India Gate at sunrise. Delhi is infamous for its terrible air pollution but sadly, that morning haze makes for a lovely sunrise. Also, getting there early means you’ll beat the crowds
Wear loose but conservative clothes, especially in Old Delhi. I packed all of my kurtas for this trip. Firstly, the sun is really sharp and secondly, Old Delhi is very conservative. Dress accordingly.
I TRAVELED: alone, with friends, with my husband, with older family members, with kids, for work
TYPE OF TRAVEL: child-friendly, adventurous, luxury, budget, relaxing, cultural, city, beach
FOR: 5 days
PRICE POINT: $-$$-$$$
Photo by Elena Ermakova