The Ultimate Guide to Mumbai, India – Check Out What To See & Where To Eat
Undoubtedly, every person traveling in India will sooner or later end up in Mumbai, one of the countrys largest cities. Mumbai is a city of great contrasts that are especially visible here. It is in Mumbai that the richest Indians live, and here are also one of the largest Asian slums. And when you add Bollywood, the countrys most prolific film industry, and high crime rates, it creates an explosive mix. This city could be described for a long time, but in fact no words will ever fully describe its specific atmosphere. Thats why its best to experience Mumbai for yourself first and then form your mind about it. What are my thoughts on this city? You will find out by reading the ultimate guide to Mumbai below. I hope it will help you plan your trip!
Mumbai at glance
Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, due to its location, today is the largest seaport in the country, and together with adjacent towns creates one of the most populated and richest agglomerations in India, with a total population of over 20 million! Here you will find attractions inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, such as caves on the island of Elephanta, the impressive Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, as well as many other interesting buildings in the colonial style.
I must admit that I was encouraged to visit Mumbai, as well as to many other places in South India, after reading one of my favorite books (probably well known to everyone), namely Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. The Mumbai world described in the book seemed so interesting and exotic and different from the one we live in that I immediately wanted to become a part of it, even for a moment.
How to get to Mumbai?
I flew to Mumbai by plane from Kerala Kochi. This is the best and fastest, but also the most expensive option to get to the city. The flight time from Kochi is approximately two hours. To this should be added the time of taxi travel to the hotel. Unfortunately, during my visit, it turns out that despite the fact that it is evening, the city is completely jammed and the drive to my guesthouse takes me almost two hours. Of course, there are also other ways to get to Mumbai, such as traveling by bus from one of the private carriers or by train. However, I definitely recommend you to fly by plane, although you will pay several thousand rupees per person, the journey is definitely more comfortable. In addition to from Kochi, there are also direct flights to Mumbai from many other Indian cities, such as Delhi, Chennai, or Bangalore, as well as Goa.
Where to stay in Mumbai?
Residency Hotel Fort
During my visit to Mumbai, I stayed at the Residency Hotel Fort and I can recommend this place to you with a clear conscience. The hotel is located in a very good location, in the heart of the Mumbai cultural district, just a hundred meters from Victoria Terminus and within walking distance of the Gateway of India and the pedestrian street in Colaba. In addition, to my surprise, at the very beginning I received a free upgrade in the form of a completely new, well-equipped deluxe room with a large four-poster bed and a luxurious marble bathroom at a price of five thousand rupees per night. The only downside was the fact that the room was located in the house next door, so to get for breakfast, you had to walk through the court to the main building, but fortunately it was only a few steps.
Breakfast at the hotel was quite varied, served in a buffet, so that everyone (whether Indian or European ;)) could find something for themselves. In addition, there was also a live cooking stand every day, where chefs at our request prepared pancakes and eggs in many different ways. However, what made this hotel stand out from the rest was undoubtedly the great service (almost five stars!), One of the best Ive had the opportunity to meet during all our trips so far. All employees were extremely helpful and friendly, they served me freshly brewed tea or coffee at any time and it was obvious that they care about the well-being of their guests. If you plan to stay in Mumbai, then only at the Residency Hotel!
What to see in Mumbai?
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
One of the first places I visited in Mumbai was one of the biggest attractions of the colonial era in Mumbai, namely the famous Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, known at the end of the 19th century, formerly known as Victoria Station, in honor of the British queen. Although the interior of the station does not make a positive impression on us, on the contrary (it is ugly and neglected), I must admit that its monumental facade with dog-faced gargoyles is really impressive and is a real mix of several styles, with a distinct neo-Gothic predominance. It is not surprising that in 2004 this building was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Apparently, it was from this place, several dozen years earlier, before the construction of the current station, the first Indian train set off. A place worth seeing.
Jehangir Art Gallery
In addition to Victorian buildings, one of the citys main attractions are also numerous art galleries and museums. One of them that I managed to visit during our stay in Mumbai was the Art Gallery named Jehangir Art Gallery, in which you can admire many fascinating works of Indian contemporary art free of charge. It is also worth visiting, if only because of the views from the roof of the gallery. Unfortunately, during my visit, the café located on the roof is closed, which, however, does not prevent me from admiring the views 😉 The art gallery is open from 11.00 am to 7.00 pm.
Another popular place in Mumbai, frequented by both locals and tourists, is the seaside promenade, more than three kilometers long, stretching along one of the main streets of the city with the same name - Marina Drive. This promenade is also known as the Queens Necklace, because viewed from above at night, thanks to street lights and its arched shape, it resembles a string of pearls. This promenade never sleeps, in the evening it seems to be even more crowded than during the day. However, despite all, it is worth taking a walk, especially in the glow of the setting sun, because then it looks definitely the best.
While in Mumbai, it is also worth going to Chowpatty Beach located at the northern end of Marine Drive. This place apparently looks the most beautiful during sunset. Unfortunately, during my visit the sky was too cloudy, which is why I had no opportunity to find out. This beach is a popular resting place among families and couples, although there is no reason to count on swimming, because the sea water is toxic. A must visit on the beach is a visit to one of the stalls serving bhelpuri, probably the most popular salty snack in the city made from puffed rice, tomatoes, onions and boiled potatoes and served with several sauces. It is worth a try!
Gateway of India
Located at the southern end, in one of the citys most tourist districts - Colaba, the Gateway of India is undoubtedly one of Mumbais main showcase, if not all of India. This basalt arch about 30 meters high was erected in the first half of the 20th century to commemorate the visit of King George V and his wife, so it is a true symbol of conquest and colonization. Currently, it is one of the favorite meeting places of residents, sellers, photographers and tourists from around the world, as well as an ideal place to enjoy various local specialties. Unfortunately, during my visit, the Gateway of India was closed, which is why I did not have the opportunity to see how this place looks on a daily basis. However, in my opinion, the most beautiful view of the Gateway of India is the one admired from the sea from the ship during a cruise to the nearby island of Elephanta.
Taj Mahal Palace
Located right next to the Gateway of India, this world-famous fabulously luxurious five-star hotel is today one of the most-photographed facilities in all of India. Well, I have to admit that the Taj Mahal Palace from the sea really looks quite impressive 😉 In addition, this hotel boasts a long and interesting history. It hosted many distinguished personalities, and during the war of independence it gave shelter to many in need. Unfortunately, after the attacks in 2008, when photos of the burning hotel spread all over the world, it also became a symbol of terrorism incidentally. It is worth staying at this hotel for at least one night. Unfortunately, my budget did not allow me to do that 😉
Cruise to the island of Elephanta
If, like me, after a few days you get bored of the loud and crowded center of Mumbai, it is worth taking a relaxing cruise to the nearby Elephanta Island, where the ancient temples of Shiva are carved into the rock. There are many ferries to the island every day from the quay just outside the Gateway of India (9.00 am to 3.30 pm). Tickets costing around 200 rupees can be purchased at the booths on site, immediately before departure. The whole cruise takes about an hour, it is worth taking a roofed place, because the sun can take its toll on us quickly. After arriving, you still have a short walk along the concrete pier and climbing the stairs on both sides, surrounded by stalls with troublesome stretchers. The game is worth the candle, however, as the walk through the caves itself is quite pleasant. Unfortunately, you have to pay an additional fee for entering their premises (250 rupees per person). During the self-tour, you have the opportunity to see seven ancient caves (unfortunately some of them are almost completely destroyed) and many statues carved in the rock, including a six-meter statue of the god Shiva with three faces, located in the so-called Great Temple. You need about two hours to visit the entire complex calmly. It is worth going to Elephanta if you are staying longer in Mumbai, as the whole trip takes about half a day.
Dharavi slums tour
Mumbai is without a doubt a city of huge contrasts. Along with the richest people in the world, nearly 60% of the citys population live in extremely poor conditions in the so-called slums. One of the largest and oldest of them is Dharavi, a three-kilometer area where about one million people live, making this place one of the most densely populated areas in the world! Initially, fishermen lived here, but eventually the British began to settle here also other workers from other parts of the country, including potters from Gujarat, workers of textile factories from Uttar Pradesh, as well as Tamil leather tanners operating here to this day.
Reality Tours & Travel
I have been thinking for a long time about whether I should visit Dharavi and whether this experience will be something different from a visit to the human zoo in Chang Rai. In the end, however, when I accidentally came across the Reality Tours & Travel website, I decided to visit the slums in the morning with one of the local guides at a price of 900 rupees per person (if you are planning a tour to Dharavi, then only with this office, because 80% of the profit is donated to a charity that supports, among others, childrens education). During the four-hour tour, overcoming the real labyrinths of narrow streets, I had the opportunity to take a close look at the lives of local residents, who, despite the huge poverty and difficult housing conditions, seem to be doing great. Nearly 15,000 small manufactories operate in the slums, and the average annual turnover is estimated at almost $600 million! Compared to other slums, there is also a relatively low illiteracy rate and almost 15% of children have a university degree. In addition to shops, factories and multi-faith temples, there are also hospitals and schools. I had the opportunity to visit one of them myself, to provide the children with the necessary utensils.
Local small businesses
In addition to school, during the tour I also visited many small enterprises, including potters, soap makers, textiles, as well as leather-cutters, where leather bags could be bought. A large proportion of Dharavi residents are also involved in the manual sorting of garbage brought here from all over Mumbai. Its amazing how every smallest waste after processing in one of the local plants finds its second use here. We could really learn a lot from the locals. You can safely venture to say that they are almost self-sufficient. I must admit that we are impressed by their hard and arduous work, done for so little money, often in conditions that have nothing to do with security principles. Despite the difficult living conditions and the lack of money, the inhabitants of Dharavi do not complain, on the contrary, they are proud of where they come from and their small, but really big businesses.
If you complain about your work, be sure to visit Dharavi, and I guarantee you that you will leave it with a completely different attitude and approach to life. The visit to the Mumbai slums gave me a lot to think about and will stay in my memory for a long time.
Of course, for obvious reasons, it was not allowed to take any photos while exploring the slums. Fortunately, the organizers have given me some of their own, which I present to you below 🙂
Where to eat in Mumbai?
A great, modern and stylish restaurant located near the artistic district of Khala Goda, definitely the best of all that I had the opportunity to visit in Mumbai. You will find here delicious Burmese food at a fairly affordable (for such quality) price. It was so tasty that we were tempted by both a starter (corn puree and coconut cream with crispy paratha breads), a main course (aromatic Khowsuey soup with noodles), as well as fancy cocktails and desserts. Although it was my first experience with Burmese cuisine, I was definitely not disappointed!
The Goose and Gridiron
Being near the famous Victoria Terminus, it is worth dropping in for dinner at The Goose and Gridiron restaurant located in a stylish tenement house. This tavern has a quiet, charming garden and from the threshold captivates us with its original design. The menu includes a wide selection of different international dishes. During my visit, I ordered a vegetable soup, an Indian variation of my favorite dish Khao soi and white fish in a lemon-mustard sauce with fresh herbs. Everything tasted very good, so I left the pub fully satisfied. I recommend to all those who have already got bored of Indian cuisine and want to eat something different.
If you are in Colaba and want a quick, casual lunch in a European style, and by the way you want to drink a good drink, go to the old school Cafe Mondegar. This place is very popular with both locals and tourists. During my visit, the main hall is full of people, so I was seated in a smaller, cozy room at the back of the restaurant. As I was really hungry that day, I choose a large plate full of cream spaghetti for the main course. Although it was not as good as the pasta I had the opportunity to eat in Tuscany, it tasted surprisingly good with a glass of white wine 😉 A perfect place to go with a friends.
I went to Revival, a place overlooking the sea that supposedly serves one of the best thali in the city, while visiting Chowpatty Beach. I went to the restaurant in the hope that we would be able to taste as good thali as we had the opportunity to try during my stay in Palolem. Unfortunately, iIt turned out that you cannot order one thali for two people, because it is served in the all you can eat formula. Well, the waiters were obviously afraid that we would eat too much 😉 Although after a stormy discussion with the staff, we finally managed to order only one thali, I completely lost my appetite throughout this situation. Although I must admit that the thali itself turned out to be quite tasty (but at the same time quite expensive, as it cost about 500 rupees). The waiters dressed in elegant clothes kept sending us new sauces and additions, and we left the place with full bellies. Despite the unpleasant and pompous service, for lovers of thali, a must!
If you feel like delicious coffee or something sweet while exploring Mumbai, be sure to visit The Pantry bakery and cafe, located in a stylish, restored tenement house. In addition to the beautiful interior, which reminds us a little of French eateries, this place also boasts a wide selection of sandwiches, cakes, cookies and other pastries. In addition, delicious, healthy lunches and a varied breakfast are also served. And all this in the vicinity of the artistic district of Khala Goda, which only intensifies the atmosphere of this place. Although the prices are quite high for Mumbai, who could resist such delicacies? 😉
The last restaurant I visited in Mumbai and India in general was located right next to Marina Drive, in a modern tower block, Sassy Spoon. This place literally smells new and in its menu you will find many interesting items referring to Mediterranean cuisine and modern Indian cuisine. I ordered a three-course feast in the form of baked camembert tartlets with chili preserve, Korean wings, nutty raviolli with ricotta and garlic cream, dark chocolate cakes with basil filling and red cake with cappuccino foam and raspberry caviar. All dishes taste great and despite the relatively small portions and high prices, I left the place satisfied. The perfect place to go out for a drink in the evening!
Unfortunately, after a few days in Mumbai, I regret to say that it did not impress me. Partly because I left it at the end of the trip, and partly because compared to other cities I visited in India, it was relatively bland.
Tiring, stuffy air, overwhelming number of people and pushy sellers are just some of the reasons why I probably wont be there again. In addition, I had the impression that the city is not adapted to tourists at all, it is very difficult to visit it, both on foot and by transport (due to huge traffic jams). It is also impossible to pass indifferently by the homeless, of whom there are, unfortunately, a lot on the streets of Mumbai…
On the other hand, what I liked about this city are the great restaurants where you can try specialties from all over the world, and (most of all) great people. A visit to the slums made me realize that it is not worth visiting Mumbai for its monuments, beautiful architecture or museums, but for places such as Dharavi and its optimistic inhabitants who prove that you can be happy without having practically anything.
What do you think about Mumbai? Share your thoughts in the comments below!