Mumbai is the largest city of India. During the planning of our India itinerary we felt that this destination had to be on the list. Until 1996 this city was called Bombay, the English version of the earlier Portuguese name for the city Bom Bahia (translation: good bay). In the nineties the local authorities decided to give the city a more Indian name: Mumbai. In all honesty, I did not know what to expect of Mumbai, because I only knew the city of the slums (thanks to Slumdog Millionaire). But during my three-day stay I discovered that Mumbai had a lot to offer. Firstly, it is a modern city without dusty roads and holes in the road. There are pedestrian crossings, traffic lights and sidewalks. Finally we could walk around without watching out for tuk tuks, scooters and holes in the roads. In chaotic (but beautiful) Rajasthan wandering around a city was a real challenge. Secondly, the colonial era have left behind some stunning architecture. When I was walking around I just kept looking up to the buildings. And last of all, the city offers a lot to do and see. In this post I will give you ten tips for thing you can do in Mumbai.
1. Walk around the Gateway of India
At the beginning of last century the Prince of Wales paid his first visit to – then under Britisch colonial empire – India and for this visit the country showed everything they got. The historical centre of Jaipur (Rajasthan) was painted pink, the color of hospitality, and in Mumbai plans were made to build a big monument to show the wealth of the British Raj: the Gateway of India. It literally functioned as the gateway to the harbor area from the Arabian Sea. Unfortunately, the Prince of Wales only got the see the foundation of this gateway during his visit. The construction was finished in 1924, thirteen years after the royal visit. Today, the triumphal arch is an icon of Mumbai and is visited by national and international tourists. Not far from the Gateway you can visit the Taj Mahal Palace, a beautiful five-star hotel. It didn’t always serve as a luxurious hotel, in the First World War it was also used as a hospital.
2. Walk around in the garden of the Prince of Wales Museum
Not only the Gateway of India was a commemoration of the visit of prince George V, in 1923 Mumbai also built a museum for the prince. The official name is the Museum of the Prince of Wales, but the Indian name is Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (abbreviation: CSMVS). The building immediately attracted my attention because of the mixed Western-Eastern style and the big grey domes. Unfortunately we did not have time to visit the museum, but we did walk around the beautiful garden. Totally free, I highly recommend it.
3. Walk along the iconic boulevard Marine Drive
Marine Drive is the most iconic boulevard in India. It is over three kilometers long and stretches out in the shape of a half moon along the coastline of Mumbai. This is the perfect place to escape the busy city centre and take a stroll along the coast. Marine Drive is also a good place to the admire the Art Deco architecture of the city. Art Deco is an architectural style from the twenties and it is known for its futuristic glamour, geometrical patterns and pastel colors. Did you know that Mumbai has the second largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world? Probably not, and you are not the only one. I also did not know this. To create more attention for this extraordinary heritage, in the summer of 2017 Art Deco Mumbai was established. This non-profit organization focuses on the conservation of these unique buildings in Mumbai. On their website there is a handy little map with all the location of Art Deco buildings in the city.
4. Relax at the city beach Chowpatty Beach
Mumbai is a coastal city, so there are a couple of beaches you can visit. I chose Chowpatty Beach, because it is easy to go to by local train. Unfortunately, swimming is not an option at Chowpatty, because the sea water is too polluted. I saw some local kids playing in the water, but their resistance is different than ours. Still, you can sit down in the sand and relax. During the day the beach is almost empty, but in the evening everyone comes to the beach with their family and take a stroll or sit down and relax. Balloon vendors walk around and the popular food stalls open. A lot of people also come to the beach for their dinner. They buy different dishes of street food, sit on the big rug on the sand and eat with a big group of people. Tasty and very cheap!
5. Go to the park at Hanging Gardens
In for some green and nature? Head over to the Hanging Gardens in classy Malabar Hill. This area is located at the very end of Marine Drive. At the highest point of Malabar Hill you will find the entrance of the Hanging Gardens. The name comes from the layered lay-out of the gardens spread out over a hill. The reason most tourists come to these gardens are the hedges in the shape of animals. Elephant, giraffe and deer, anything can be made from hedges! Another perk of this area: the gardens are located on the top of a hill, so you have a spectacular view over Marine Drive.
6. Get scouted as an extra in Colaba
Colaba is the place to be in Mumbai. This old British quarter is today’s touristic heart of Mumbai with tourist attractions as the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. In this area you see a lot of influences by western culture in the shape of big coffee shops and restaurants with burgers and beers. Iconic restaurants as Cafe Mondegar and Leopold café are everyday filled with tourists. Just before Cafe Mondegar the street market of Colaba Causeway starts. This is an extremely busy spot where you can buy sunglasses, jewelry and shoes. I wasn’t a huge fan of this market, because of the narrow streets and the large crowds. We also found out that Colaba is a good spot to get a part in Bollywood movie as an extra. We went for a coffee to the Coffee Day and were asked twice if we wanted to play a small part in a Bollywood movie. That could have been pretty cool, but unfortunately we couldn’t because we were about to leave Mumbai. Maybe next time!
7. Looking for the best architecture in Fort
The area of Fort is the financial heart of Mumbai and it is also one of the most beautiful areas of Mumbai. I was continuously looking up at the beautiful old buildings. This area offers a great mix of colonial heritage. Absolute highlights are the Bombay High Court, the University of Mumbai and David Sassoon Library and Reading Room. Gorgeous! Like you’re walking nineteenth century England. The name of the area is a reminder of the old Fort George that used to stand here, built by the British East India Company. It got demolished in 1862. You can still visit the remains of the fort.
8. Make a stop at Victoria Terminus
Another highlight in the neighbourhood Fort, which definitely earns a spot on its own on this list, is the Victoria Terminus. Also known under the Indian name Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. This is by far one of the most beautiful train station in the world. It looks more like a British university building than like a train station. It is designed by a British architect at the end of nineteenth century and it is mix of Indian and Victorian architectural styles. The train station is still actively used and it is one of the busiest train station in the world.
9. Discover art district Kala Goda
On the way of Colaba to Victoria Terminus we crossed a beautiful area called Kala Goda. In contrast to well-known Colaba in Kala Goda you hardly see any tourists walking around. Kala Goda is also called the art district because of the various art galleries and museums. The entrance is marked by the brightly blue colored Rhythm House. In this area you can also the see the oldest synagogue of Mumbai: the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. This light-blue colored and visibly decaying building certainly grabs your attention. I was also surprised by the bits of streets art I saw in this area and the lack of busy traffic! It was peaceful and quiet. And just like in the area of Fort also in Kala Goda there a lot of colonial buildings to see. Take for instance the Elphinstone College and the Maharashtra Police Headquarters. This last building is not a police station anymore, but the seat of the Bombay Legislative Council. Kala Goda was a true surprise to me. If I had more time, I would have loved to see more of this area.
10. Watch cricket at Oval Maidan
Of course this has to be on the list for a India trip: watching cricket. The most popular sport in India that is mostly watched in barber shops at a tiny television. In Mumbai we walked across the Oval Maidan (a recreational area) and the field was full with young cricket players. Hundreds of young boys were practicing their skills. The field was open for everyone, so we walked along the field to see the game up close. I still don’t get how it works, but it was impressive to see them practicing.
Would you like to visit Mumbai?