5 things to do in Mumbai

Published 07 February 2017

Sandy Dhaliwal

Welcome to Bollywood, India’s renowned film industry capital, as well as one of the country’s most vibrant, yet contrasting destinations.

This bustling, coastal metropolis may well be known first and foremost for its glitz and glamour, but Mumbai is at the same time home to Asia’s largest shanty town, the Dharavi slum; which funnily enough has been immortalised on the silver screen, though this time by Hollywood in the Oscar award winning Slumdog Millionaire. It truly is a tale of two cities here, with both staggering wealth and extreme poverty equally straddling the opposite ends of the spectrum, so simultaneously and vividly across the city.

Relic in the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai

Relic in the Prince of Wales Museum image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Contradictions are at the heart of this lively location’s make up. You’ll experience the chaotic and overcrowded streets side by side with Mumbai’s peaceful open spaces and sprawling shorelines, as well as a sense of East meets West, with stunning colonial architecture and fascinating galleries and museums interweaving amongst the atmospheric bazaars, food vendors, ancient historical sights and tranquil places of worship.

Shopfronts in Colaba, Mumbai

Shopfronts in Colaba image: Sandy Dhaliwal

So, if you’re hoping to experience cosmopolitan India where old world meets new, stunning scenery as well as captivating history, you will not be disappointed with this charming, rugged-around-the-edges southern escape.

In another life, while taking a year off to teach and volunteer, I found myself living in nearby Goa. Often I would leave the bubble of the beach by sleeper train, keen to explore all that diverse Mumbai has to offer. Each time, I came away more of an expert, and have tried to impart this knowledge with this semi-local’s insider guide.

Colaba markets, Mumbai

Markets in Colaba image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Explore coastal Colaba

Located on the city’s southern Peninsula, the wonderful district of Colaba is the perfect place to make as your base, due to its variety of lodging options and its closeness to the action. From here, you’ll be able to easily navigate your way around a majority of the city’s most interesting landmarks, as well as depart to other parts of the country or head off on a day trip.

Gateway of India, Mumbai

Gateway of India image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Cutting a striking shape across Colaba’s impressive skyline, is one of Mumbai’s most famous monuments, the Gateway of India; an Arch De Triomphe-style structure that was originally built in the early 20th Century, during the reign of the British Raj. Facing the harbour, the gateway can be seen from far out and was designed to greet travellers venturing towards Indian shores. Nowadays, it poses an exit point for those visiting nearby Elephanta Island or Mandwa. Additionally, the gateway is a great place to people watch, as locals and tourists can be found congregating here on a daily basis; providing a truly charismatic atmosphere with hubbub of the sellers, commuters, visitors and natives alike thrown together.

Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai

Taj Mahal Palace image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Directly opposite is also the iconic Taj Mahal Palace, one of Asia’s most lavish hotels, fusing fairytale-like Islamic and Renaissance architectural styles. The magnificent building was constructed in 1903 by leading Parsi industrialist JN Tata, after he was refused entry to the ‘Whites Only’ Watsons Hotel.

Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum) image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Further inland, you can marvel at the rich collection of religious relics, archaeological wonders, indigenous art and natural history at India’s biggest and best museum, the picturesque Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya - formerly the Prince of Wales Museum. Inspiring works by a wide range of local and international artists can also be viewed at the nearby Jehangir Art Gallery and National Gallery of Modern Art.

Victoria Terminus, Mumbai

Victoria Terminus image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Wander the colonial Fort precinct

Explore this enchanting part of the city by foot so you don’t miss any of the fine examples of delightful architecture left over from the British Raj. The likes of the grand Victoria Terminus, David Sassoon Library, Town Hall, Asiatic Society, Elphinstone College, Flora Fountain, University of Mumbai, High Court and St Thomas’ Cathedral are just a few of the many majestic colonial sights that can be found dotted along the palm tree lined streets.

Oval Maiden and Rajabai Clock Tower, Mumbai

Oval Maiden and Rajabai Clock Tower image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Round off your time in this area by catching one of the many local cricket matches or just sit and watch the day go by on the lawns of the Oval Maiden. Here you can also admire views of the ornate Rajabi Clock Tower. The park is flanked by many of Fort’s heritage buildings, so it could be the ideal location for a picnic or watching the sunset after a busy time of it sightseeing.

Gandhi's House, Mumbai

Gandhi's House image: Sandy Dhaliwal

Take in the views at Malabar Hill

Located along the city’s northern coast is Malabar Hill, Mumbai’s most exclusive neighbourhood, housing the region’s towering skyscrapers, elaborate palatial complexes and temples, elite apartment buildings and a handful of museums and cultural points of interest. On a clear day, the hill provides the most spectacular views of the city, stretching out all the way across the bay to the stunning beaches of Marine Drive and Girguam Chowpatty.

A little further out from here, but definitely worth a look is Gandhi's House, or Mani Bhavan as it is otherwise known. This fascinating heritage attraction is where Gandhi once lived. View his humble bedroom, as well as an extensive library and exhibits dedicated to his work for independence.

A stay in Mumbai would not be complete without a trip to the home of one of India’s most famous sons.

Additionally, there are two holy shrines situated close by that will not disappoint either, the stunning Haji Ali Dargah, located on a nearby islet, and the enchanting Babu Amichand Panalal Jain Temple.

Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai

Dhobi Ghat image: Sandy Dhaliwal

See a slice of everyday life at Dhobi Ghat

Dhobi Ghat is the city’s oldest and largest human-powered washing machine. Thousands of hard working people make their living in this open air laundrette every day, hand beating and washing clothes, ensuring the city’s natives are looking their best. Watching the locals at work is truly humbling stuff.

Elephanta Caves, Mumbai

Elephanta Caves

Take a trip to Elephanta Island

Catch a boat to Elephanta Island to see the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site housing a beautiful collection of 7th Century rock cut cave shrines dedicated to Shiva, god of destruction. The island also offers spectacular views of the city, as well as the chance to spot the diverse varieties of wildlife that call this quaint island home.

If you’re interested in exploring similar caves, the Kanheri Caves located in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, is home to historical Buddhist cave settlements, dating back to the 1st Century B.C. While the Bhaji Caves and Karla Caves, found halfway between Mumbai and the Pune border, contain carvings, temples and statues dating back to the 2nd Century B.C. Both places would need a full day to travel and explore, so would be a great options, should you be looking to escape the city for a day or two.

Spend two nights in Mumbai with Round the World Experts' Unexplored Central Indian Wildlife holiday, which includes a safari in Pench National Park.

You might also like:

10 Things to Do in Southern India

India: A Year in Festivals

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