Mumbai is an enchanting city filled with activities to awaken and delight your senses. Like many countries, India’s hub of commerce is not at the country’s capital but in its best port. Mumbai is a bustling port city like New York City, Hamburg, Dubai, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Shanghai and San Francisco.
Formerly called Bombay by the British, and situated on the west coast of India, it was once an archipelago of seven islands controlled by indigenous leaders before ceding first to the Portuguese, and then to the East India Company, before falling under British rule alongside the whole of India from 1858 until independence in 1947. Because of its useful geography and developing infrastructure, this city became a major seaport along the Arabian Sea linking the riches of India’s interior to Europe.
You’ll probably fly into Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport which has excellent services with most major cities around the world. The airport is 28km (17.4 miles) from downtown and a pre-paid taxi is your safest and most efficient option. Be prepared for a long commute as the traffic in Mumbai is legendary. There are many taxi offices as you exit the airport. You shouldn’t pay more than Rs 450-650 (£4.33-£6.26) for the trip downtown. Unless you are a native, moving around the city is best with a licensed taxi or hotel car.
Here’s a Pro-tip: Autorickshaws are a fun experience in some parts of the city. Just make sure to bring along a facemask or scarf to cover your nose and mouth and protect yourself from the traffic fumes!
There are so many interesting sights to experience in this exciting city. Here are a few I’d recommend you visit:
- Gateway of India – Enjoy the breath-taking backdrop of the Arabian Sea as you embark on a ferry ride at sunset to view the archway that is the Gateway of India. It was built to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary on their visit to India in 1911.
I’ve known some two-faced people but three-faced??!!
- Elephanta Island – This UNESCO world heritage site contains hand-cut temples that were carved into the rocks over 1,500 years ago. This architectural wonder is located on an island accessible only by ferry. My favourite sculpture is the three-headed Maheshmurti Shiva, thought to represent creation, protection, and destruction.
- Shopping – it has excellent markets where you can find all sorts of antiques, souvenirs and tapestries including the Chor Bazaar and the Colaba Causeway.
- Haji Ali Dargah Mosque – This iconic ‘floating’ mosque sits uniquely on an island not much larger than itself. The mosque was built in the 19th century and houses the tomb of Saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. Legend has it that Saint Haji Ali died whilst on a pilgrimage to Mecca, but miraculously, his casket floated across the sea to Mumbai.
- Magen David Synagogue – This bright blue structure with stained glass windows is located in Mumbai’s bustling neighbourhood of Byculla. One of the largest outside of Israel and constructed in 1832, the synagogue offers a non-denominational breakfast after its morning services.
- Sanjay Gandhi National Park –The “Green Lung” of Mumbai, 103 km2 of luscious greenery, beautiful lakes, thick forest and wild animals exist all within the city.
- Mumbai Film City –This is the Indian version of Universal Studios, encouraging visitors to explore behind the scenes of Bollywood. There are over 1000 film sets to discover and explore.
- Festivals – One of my favourite delights about visiting India is the many colourful festivals throughout the year. My favourite is the Holi, which celebrates love, the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil. During this exciting festival, the participants throw multi-coloured dust on each other. It is messy, but fun!
Here’s another pro-tip: Art lovers should spend time in the Kala Ghoda Precinct exploring the galleries and cafés.
Mumbai is a city where chillies reign supreme so the sensitive traveller is warned to beware. Here are a few not-to-miss places to eat:
- Akuri on Toast – Start the day with this classic Parsi dish made from eggs (or tofu), onions tomatoes, red chilli pepper and green chillies topped with fresh coriander. There are many Parsi cafés dotted around the city. My favourites are Britannia & Co. and Café Military.
- Ziya – This innovative and contemporary restaurant is located in the famous Oberoi Hotel. Their multi-course gourmet tasting menu is curated by the Michelin starred chef, Vineet Bhatia.
- Peshawri – this traditional west Indian food restaurant is a favourite for both its meat and paneer dishes.
Here’s a final Pro-tip: If you’re looking to whet your palate with excellent street food then visit Crawford Market and Juhu Chowpatty for the best Vada Pav (deep-fried potato dumpling sandwiches) and Panipuri (crispy bite-sized snacks often stuffed with chickpeas and chutneys). With influences of so many cultures and cuisines, each street market is a cornucopia of smells and flavours.
Mumbai has a vibrant nightlife. There are plenty of glamorous bars, craft beer pubs in a city that never sleeps. Here are a few recommendations:
- Opera House – Its beautiful chandeliers and red velvet seating will make you feel like royalty. A performance in this venue is sublime and memorable.
- Doolally Taproom – This cool bar is the perfect spot to try craft beers in a laid-back ambience. Try a locally made mango cider.
- Aer – Head to the 33rd floor of the Four Seasons Hotel for a beautiful sunset view over the city skyline. This is a place to see and be seen so dress to impress.
You’ll need somewhere to escape to when you need a break from the busy city chaos, here’s where to stay:
- The Oberoi – This modern and comfortable hotel is one of the most convenient in Mumbai. Located on the sea but close to shopping and nightlife, you’ll find this wonderful property provides excellent service in a cool style.
- The Taj Mahal Palace – Standing majestically opposite the Gateway of India, this iconic hotel was built in 1903. This beautiful structure, with its renaissance architecture and Islamic touches is the most prestigious place to stay. Be spoiled for choice with their 10 restaurants, beautiful swimming pool and luxury spa.
- JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu – Its award-winning Quan Spa is just one of the many features that make this one of my favourite hotels. The beautiful rooms overlook the Arabian sea, as does its relaxing swimming pool.
You don’t just visit Mumbai, you feel it in your soul! Filled to the brim with a variety of cultures to experience and understand, history to absorb, and spices to entice and excite, it’s easy to fall in love with this engaging and friendly metropolis.