With numerous historical landmarks, bustling markets, and endless cultural institutions, Mumbai, AKA the city of dreams, is a city full of places that will please any visitor. “Tradition meets modernity” is a common travel guide phrase that is used to describe pretty much every major city in an emerging market…But here, the saying really comes true.
The metropolis of millions in the state of Maharashtra is located directly on the Arabian Sea and is considered the economic and cultural center of the country. Until 1996, the port city was still called Bombay under British colonial rule. Here is an interesting fact, the name of the typical Indian film industry, Bollywood, was derived from this city name (Bombay + Hollywood = Bollywood).
Mumbai, as a city, probably embodies just about everything India commonly stands for Hinduism, Bollywood, colonial history, traditions, and a burgeoning economy. All these facets are reflected in the countless sights that make Mumbai an essential stopover on a trip to India. No matter what your interest is, you will find something that will please you here.
To give you a clue which places are absolutely worth seeing in this lively hustle and bustle, here is our list of the best activities to do in Mumbai and places to visit.
Gateway of India
As a famous landmark in Mumbai, the Gateway of India is definitely one of the most famous sights in the city. The gateway is located in the south of the city, in the Colaba district. To get to this famous square, you first have to pass through a security gate, but this is usually really quick. On the lively square itself, you can take all the time in the world to enjoy it and take great pictures. It’s a real spectacle how many people pose in front of this triumphal arch every day!
Built in memory of the visit of the British King George V, the Gateway of India easily qualifies to be Mumbai’s most well-known historical monument. Designed by Scottish architect George Wittet, who drew from Indo-Islamic, Indian and Roman influences, the 26-meter high and 50-meter-wide archway was built from 1911 to 1924.
After taking tons of pictures at the gateway, we recommend taking a boat trip from there. From the sea, you have an excellent view of the Mumbai skyline. It would be great if you could take your trip at sunset to see the skyline bathed in the most beautiful shades of yellow and red.
However, if you’re afraid of seagulls, this boat ride might not be for you: the boats are circled by countless seagulls hoping for tourists to throw food scraps into the water. By boat, you can take a short round trip or a specific tour to the neighboring island of Elephanta.
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai
You can’t make it to Mumbai without visiting the historical and architectural piece of art, AKA the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. The hotel is located right next to the Gateway of India. The building’s iconic dome was the first visual trademark of the Mumbai port until the Gateway of India was built 20 years later. Built in 1903, the hotel is among the most famous hotels in the country, and it is an architectural masterpiece of equal Victorian and Islamic influences.
The luxury Taj Mahal Palace hotel was built in the Colaba district by Indian entrepreneur Jamshedji Tata. You probably won’t get around this name in the metropolis of Mumbai (and all of India). The Tata group of companies currently comprises 30 companies (from the energy, metal processing, and vehicle construction sectors, among others).
After Tata himself had been denied access to another hotel in Mumbai, he decided, without further ado, to build a magnificent hotel in Mumbai himself. The hotel was finally opened in 1903 and has since remained one of Mumbai’s most impressive buildings. According to the entrepreneur Tata himself, the Beatles as well as Bill Clinton, and Prince Charles have stayed there.
You can easily get to these two landmarks, the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, by bus, train, and cab. The nearest train station is Churchgate Train Station, about 1.5 km from the archway. From here, you need about 20 to 25 minutes on foot.
The lush, forested Elephanta island in Mumbai harbor is located about 10 kilometers from the Gateway of India. The island is the home of around 1,200 residents, and most importantly, the historic Elephanta Cave Temples.
If you eventually get exhausted from all the hustle and bustle, the Elephanta Caves offer you a chance to escape the bustling city and explore another exciting Mumbai sight. More than 1400 years ago, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Elephanta Caves, was carved into the rocks. The Elephanta Caves are dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva and are altogether a true masterpiece of sculpture.
Here, you will find 6 cave temples in an area of about 2 square kilometers, where the Hindu god Shiva is worshiped. In the 16th century, a giant stone elephant statue stood on the island’s harbor, which is why the Portuguese gave the island the name Elephanta. A trip to the cave temples is definitely worthwhile, and it is one of the best things to do in Mumbai. You can visit the caves every day except Monday from 09:30 to 17:30.
Speaking of caves, you can also visit the Kanheri Caves in north Mumbai. The Kanheri Caves are Buddhist caves. It is a bit quieter here than at the Elephanta Caves, as there are fewer tourists at Kanheri Caves. Here, at an altitude of 150 to 450 meters, you will find more than 100 caves carved into a large rock of basalt lava.
The inscriptions of the caves already mention names of rulers who lived in the 2nd and 3rd centuries after Christ. This suggests that the caves must have already existed at that time and thus must be about 1,800 years old today.
Haji Ali Dargah
The breathtaking Haji Ali Dargah mosque is one of Mumbai’s most iconic architectural structures. The mosque was built in memory of Sayyed Peer Jaji Ali Shah Bukhari, a rich Muslim merchant from what is now known as Uzbekistan who was on his way for a pilgrimage to Mecca. The brilliant white Mughal-style building is located on an island off the coast of Worli.
The mosque is accessible via a narrow walkway that is 500 meters long. Due to its unusual location, far from the shore, the mosque is only accessible at low tide. This is because, during high tide, the 500-meter walkway is flooded by seawater. You can either explore the mosque and the burial site on your own or have locals show you around on a guided tour.
The building complex is about 4500 square meters and includes both a Muslim mosque and the tomb of the Muslim merchant Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. Legend has it that he started a pilgrimage to Mecca as a wealthy merchant. Before that, he had given up all his wealth and renounced worldly materialism.
When Haji Ali Shah Bukhari passed away on his way to Mecca, his coffin floated from there to the place where his tomb still stands in his memory. The Haji Ali Dargah is made of the same marble as the Taj Mahal in Agra in northern India, and it rightfully qualifies to be one of the best things to see in Mumbai.
Stroll Along the Marine Drive
Marine Drive is an approximately 3.5km long c-shaped boulevard consisting of six lanes. It owes its second name, “Queen’s Necklace,” to its thousands of lanterns that resemble a royal necklace in the evening. Along the promenade, you can take a wonderful stroll while gazing at the Mumbai skyline.
In the Presence of Gandhi
Mumbai is home to the residence of Mahatma Gandhi, where the world-famous resistance fighter lived for 17 years. Through numerous photographs, books, and original pieces of furniture, as well as clothing, his life story is told in an impressive way in a museum.
The Mahatma Gandhi Museum is an absolutely historic and important place for India. From 1917 to 1934, Mahatma Gandhi lived here in the so-called Mani Bhavan building. In 1919, the first protest movement against British colonial rule was also started from here.
Admission to the museum is generally free of charge. Visitors are welcome between 9 am and 6 pm. Only a voluntary donation is requested.
High Court, Mumbai University & The Rajabai Bell Tower
Located right next to each other in south Mumbai, you will find the High Court, Mumbai University, as well as the Rajabai Bell Tower – 3 Mumbai sights you should not miss.
Mumbai University was founded in 1857, making it one of the three oldest universities in the country. Mahatma Gandhi was also educated here.
On the grounds of the university, you will also find the Rajabai Clock Tower. If you have ever been to London, the clock tower may remind you of London’s Big Ben. No wonder the British architect George Gilbert Scott based his design on this London bell tower.
Right next to Mumbai University and the Rajabai Clock Tower, you’ll also find the Mumbai High Court in its Victorian Gothic architectural style. The building was completed as early as November 1878 and has been used as a courthouse ever since. The three sights present quite a nice break from the other city’s sights; their visit is surely one of the top things to do while in Mumbai.
Here is a fact that many may not be aware of: Mumbai is home to one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the world in terms of housing. We’re talking about Altamount Road, AKA India’s Billionaires’ Row, home to India’s Bollywood stars and top entrepreneurs, and which represents India’s fierce contrasts like no other.
Antilia, a large residential building, is particularly eye-catching in the neighborhood. At first glance, you would think it was an apartment complex of the luxury variety. But the truth is far from it; this is nothing less than the largest and most expensive single-family home in the world.
Construction costs are estimated to be as high as $70 million. It is also home to someone, namely India’s richest man, entrepreneur Mukesh Ambani. The sights in the neighborhood will blow your mind away; you won’t regret this visit.
Visit One of the Many Hindus Temples
About 80 percent of the people in India belong to Hinduism. Accordingly, Hinduism makes up a large part of Indian culture. For this reason, you should not miss visiting one of Mumbai’s numerous Hindu temples.
When you are blessed in one of the Hindu temples in India, a so-called Tilaka (colloquially also called Tika) is applied to your forehead. The Tilaka is a blessing sign in Hinduism that is dabbed onto your forehead with red pigment. Therefore, be prepared to leave the temple with a significant red mark on your forehead.
There are numerous temples to choose from, to name a few, Mumba Devi Temple that is dedicated to the goddess Mumba, whom the city of Mumbai was named after, and that is what makes this temple remarkable. You can find it near Dagina Bazar on Mumbadevi street. There is also Mahalaxmi Temple, which is one of the oldest temples in Mumbai, as it was built in 1782. Take the long staircase up to it from the Arabian Sea. It is such a unique experience.
Other temples to consider are the Babulnath Temple; this ancient temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of a Babul tree, sits 1,000 feet above sea level. ISKCON, the marble temple of the complex, is one of India’s most beautiful Krishna temples, with its walls decorated with beautiful murals and sculptures.
Last but not least is Babulnath Temple, which is one of the oldest in the city. The spectacular temple was dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva, and it dates back to the 12th century. It was built by the local ruler Bhimdev.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
Victoria Terminus or Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, as its official name has been since 1996, is a train station operated by the state-owned Indian Railways. So far, so boring? Not at all! The sheer size of this station knocks the socks off any traveler, and on top of that, its neo-Gothic architecture is simply beautiful.
It is probably the most beautiful railroad station in India, if not one of the most beautiful anywhere. To top it all off, it is also very atmospherically lit in the evening. By the way, Victoria Terminus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even if you are not traveling by train from Mumbai, visiting the station is still a must; it is one of the best sights in Mumbai.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya
Besides the temples and mosques, Mumbai has many other impressive attractions and buildings to offer. One of them is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, very close to Mumbai University and the Rajabai Bell Tower.
In this museum, you will find about 50,000 artifacts from the fields of art, archaeology, and natural history in an area of 12,000 square kilometers. The museum is surrounded by a large palm garden, and the exterior is as impressive as the interior.
As early as November 11, 1905, the Prince of Wales laid the first stone for this catchy building in what was then Bombay. Until 1990, it was still called the Prince of Wales Museum. Actual construction began only in 1909 under the supervision of Scottish architect George Wittet (who also designed the Gateway of India) and ended in 1915.
During World War I, the building was used as a military hospital. It was not until January 10, 1922, that the building became the museum it is today. The museum is open daily from 10:15 am to 6 pm, and it is one of the best places to visit in Mumbai.
Art Galleries and Museums
What many people don’t realize is that Mumbai is a city of arts and an absolute cultural center. In addition to a great music scene, the city offers an incredible number of good art galleries and museums, some of which are world-class ones. First and foremost is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum, which houses an impressive collection of about 50,000 exhibits (art, archaeology, and natural history). The museum’s magnificent building alone is a highlight.
Admission is 500 rupees, and the museum is open every day from 10:15 am to 6 pm. Audio guides are also available in English. Mumbai’s contemporary art scene also enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide, thanks to the outstanding National Gallery of Modern Art. Since 1996, renowned artists from India and around the world have been exhibited here.
The gallery is open to visitors every day except Monday from 11 am to 6 pm. You will find it directly opposite the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum, and you will have so much fun inside.
Time For Shopping!
Mumbai has plenty of good markets to explore and buy souvenirs for your loved ones back home. While we may not be able to include all of them, here are some of the best markets to consider while in the city.
Crawford Market (Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market)
The Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market, better known to travelers as Crawford Market, is a fundamental Mumbai institution – after all, it has been around since 1871. It is located near Victoria Terminus, under the roof of a huge historic building. In the center of the market, there is a stone fountain along with a clock tower, as is common with buildings of this era.
The market is very popular not only with tourists but also with the locals. The market has everything you might need, and by that, we mean really everything! Everything can be found here, from clothes and jewelry to household goods, toys, food, and car parts.
This old market is one of the country’s largest markets. Legend has it that Chor Bazaar (Thieves’ Market) is the destination to go to if any of your items disappeared while in Mumbai.
The peculiar name of the market comes from the alleged tale of particular possessions belonging to Queen Victoria that disappeared when one of her ships was in Mumbai, and the possessions were offered for sale later in the market. The bazaar provides a diverse selection of goods to offer.
Other markets to have on your list are Fashion Street, which is literally just that – a street that is brimming with fashion! There are around 150 affordable stalls there. There is also Lamington Road; this is where you will find the cheapest electronic goods, both old and new, in Mumbai. Also, High Street Phoenix, which is Mumbai’s premier mall that includes a luxury small package zone called the Palladium.
Day Trip to Matheran
One of the things you shouldn’t miss while in Mumbai is taking a day trip to the mountain village Matheran. The small town with about 5,000 inhabitants is the perfect way to escape the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, get some fresh air, and gather new energy in nature. You also have the opportunity to meet countless monkeys here.
The place is about 30 kilometers from Mumbai and is located in the middle of nature, on a table mountain. What makes this place unique is that cars are not allowed here. This makes the air much fresher and cleaner than in Mumbai. On the other hand, you can enjoy the silence, which is rather unusual for Mumbai, since neither engine noises nor horns can be heard here.