Delhi has a rich cosmopolitan culture of its own that has something for everyone. The city’s roots go back more than a thousand years and the number of monuments here is comparable to Rome. Because of its political importance, Delhi has always received a large number of migrants who brought along diverse cultures that found a home here. Thus, even long term residents of the city constantly discover unfamiliar places and experience a thrill of discovery.
We have put together a list of our top 10 things to do to get a flavour of Delhi’s soul while having insane fun! ☺
1. Explore Mehrauli Archaeological Park
Spread over 200 acres and dotted with more than 100 monuments from India’s medieval history, this park is one of Delhi’s best-kept secrets. While most people who visit Delhi go see the Qutub Minar, very few of them make it to this place which is right next door! In fact, it wasn’t until 1997 that formal excavation work started here!
Our favourite spot is Balban’s tomb, the way to which is through the ruins of a 16th-century neighbourhood – a fresh change from the usual forts/havelis! Ghiyasuddin Balban was Delhi’s Sultan from 1266-1287 AD. Part of the Slave dynasty, he ruled Delhi with an iron fist, but also strengthened the empire and warded off Mongol attacks. It was here in this tomb that the Indian artisans perfected a true arch for the first time!
Other highlights of the park are the Jamali Kamali Mosque, Mughal General Quli Khan’s tomb, Rajon ki Baoli, Gandhak ki Baoli, and Sohail Wali Masjid.
2. Meet the Djinns at Kotla Feroz Shah
Delhi is called the ‘city of djinns’ for a reason. The Kotla Feroz Shah Fort complex is believed to be haunted by djinns. Visit it on a Thursday afternoon to see people praying to these invisible beings, leaving letters full of wishes to be fulfilled and lighting diyas and incense for homage. Who needs Aladdin’s lamp when you can have a fort full of a ministry of djinns?
3. Have a gustatory adventure at Majnu-ka-Tilla
Officially called New Aruna Nagar Colony, Samyeling and Chungtwon, and known popularly as ‘MKT’, this is a Tibetan colony on the banks of river Yamuna. The narrow alleys lead to a colourful courtyard and a Buddhist shrine, various restaurants, cafes, shacks and shops selling everything from little trinkets to clothes and woven bags. You can pick from a variety of cuisines including Tibetan, Nepalese, Chinese and Korean. And while you’re there, don’t forget to try laphing: a spicy and mouth-watering cold Tibetan snack!
There is also a gurudwara of the same name in the vicinity. Interestingly, ‘Majnu’ was a Sufi mystic in the 15-16 th centuries who ferried people across the Yamuna for free. Impressed by his service, Sikh guru, Guru Nanak stayed in this area for a while. It is after this Majnu that this area is named. 🙂
For more about this place, you may like this article on LBB.
4. Witness a mesmerizing qawwali evening at Nizamuddin Dargah
Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah is the shrine of one of the most beloved and revered Sufi saints of the city. The throngs of believers and a number of hawkers selling their wares make it a very lively place. In the Sufi tradition, devotees often express their love for God through lyrical songs called qawwali. You can go listen to this beautiful music from 5 PM to 9:30 PM on any day except Thursday. The timings tend to change sometimes, so we recommend checking their website before you go.
Also, amazing and cheap food like kebabs and biryani is available in abundance around the dargah for a different kind of sensory stimulation. 😉
5. Lose yourself in the gallis of Shahjahanabad
The walled Mughal city built by Shah Jahan is more popularly known as ‘Old Delhi’ today. It has two major areas – Chandni Chowk and Jama Masjid. Both offer a motley of cultural phenomena including architecture, food, and lifestyle. Having been constantly inhabited since it was built and transforming into a burgeoning commercial centre, Shahjahanabad offers a fascinating mix of both history and modernity.
While the main street at Chandni Chowk is interesting, have you ever explored some of the lanes inside? One of our favourites is Kinari Bazaar. Walking down the main street with the Red Fort behind you, take the second left next to the ‘Old Famous Jalebi Wala’ (we recommend trying out the samosas and jalebis here). Walking straight from here, take a right and you’ll enter the Kinari Bazaar. This is one of the most colourful streets in this area with shops selling a wide array of trinkets.
Within this bazaar is also a heritage street called Naughara that has nine old havelis with beautifully painted doorways. At one point, the Kinari Bazaar converges with the Paranthe Wali Gali where the Mirchi Parantha is to die for!
The Jama Masjid area has a unique vibe with the mosque being a centre of both architectural magnificence as well as social life. Here, you can also witness the fascinating sport called ‘Kabootarbazi’, unique to the walled city. You can watch people make domestic pigeons fly in formations from the rooftops and compete to keep the flock together.
Sign up here for a walking tour of the old city with us.
6. Cycle around in Lutyen’s Delhi
Designed by Edwin Lutyens in the early 20th century as the political and administrative capital of India, New Delhi is home to imposing British-style structures in lush green open spaces. One of the best ways to see this place is on a bicycle – which can easily be rented from the parking of Patel Chowk Metro station. The rent is about INR 10 per hour and you will need to deposit your ID card as collateral.
You can then cycle your way to monuments like the Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate. The area also has many cool museums and galleries. The National Gallery of Modern Art has a collection of more than 14,100 works of modern and contemporary art from India. What’s more, the gallery is never crowded and gives a very serene vibe — we especially recommend it during the hot summers. After this, you can head over to Andhra Bhawan to try some lip-smacking South Indian food and filter coffee, at dirt cheap prices!
Another must-visit-place is the beautiful Agrasen ki Baoli, a historical stepwell, made rather famous after Aamir Khan’s PK was shot here!
You can also sign up for an e-cycle tour with us here.
7. Go for a jog or a picnic at the Lodi Garden
This is a lush-green and well-maintained park dotted with a few Lodi-era monuments that give it a unique character. You can do a nature walk to spot the different varieties of plants and trees, have a jog or a nice game of frisbee. The Lodhi Garden also has some amazing picnic spots if the weather is pleasant. There are also special gardens like the Herbal garden and Bamboo garden, as well as ducks and ponds. The squirrels and dogs are quite friendly and you can bring your own pets. The park also attracts a variety of birds.
8. Jazz it up at the Hauz Khas Village
Boasting of a deer park, a lake, a medieval monument and a street full of fancy cafes and restaurants, this place is perfect to spend a lazy day strolling around. The architecture and history buff in you can admire the ruins of a madrasa built by Firuz Shah Tughlaq next to an artificial lake dug under the reign of Alauddin Khilji. This used to be a world-renowned institution of higher education. The complex also has some pavilions for small groups in a garden, which would’ve made it a very lovely place to study at!
Besides this, you can have a nice walk in the deer park if the weather is good. The park is great for photography and bird-watching—aside from the deer, of course. You can also head over to the Kunzum Travel Cafe to meet other travellers and exchange stories over coffee.
9. Serve and eat in the langar at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
Located in the centre of the city, this large white marble building with distinct golden domes is one of the most prominent Sikh shrines in Delhi. Apart from the tranquil atmosphere and large Sarovar (water reservoir with lots of koi fish!), the Gurudwara also has the largest community kitchen in Delhi that serves around 25,000-30,000 people every day! What’s more, most of the food preparation and service is assisted by volunteers. We recommend volunteering here to experience the making of humongous amounts of food while being useful to the community. After you’re done serving, have a seat and enjoy the meal yourself. 🙂
10. Experience tranquillity and beauty at Humanyun’s Tomb
Everyone knows about the Taj Mahal, but have you ever seen this lesser-known ancestor whose design the Taj Mahal borrows from? You heard right! Humayun’s Tomb is an older monument of love, made uniquely beautiful by its red and beige sandstone, white and black marble and blue glazed tiles.
The monument is surrounded by a Charbagh (quadrilateral garden) imitating the concept of paradise. It has some extremely old and huge trees, perfect to sit under and admire the architecture as well as the noticeable absence of city noises.
The complex also has other architecture, notable among which is Isa Khan’s Tomb with distinct blue chhatris and a pretty garden around. What’s more, Humayun’s Tomb is one of the best-preserved monuments in the city, with its restoration story being no less fascinating than its origin.
You can also tune into an audio tour while exploring the complex.
We would love to hear your experiences at these or other interesting places in Delhi in the comments below!