If Mumbai is your introduction to India, prepare yourself. The city isn’t a threatening place but its furious energy, limited (but improving) public transport and punishing pollution make it challenging for visitors. The heart of the city contains some of the grandest colonial-era architecture on the planet, but explore a little more and you’ll uncover unique bazaars, hidden temples, hipster enclaves and India’s premier restaurants and nightlife.
Mumbai (Mumbai) Tourist attraction places
Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus
Imposing, exuberant and overflowing with people, this monumental train station is the city’s most extravagant Gothic building and an aphorism of colonial-era India. It’s a meringue of Victorian, Hindu and Islamic styles whipped into an imposing Dalí-esque structure of buttresses, domes, turrets, spires and stained glass. It’s also known as CSMT.
Northeast of the Gateway of India in Mumbai Harbour, the rock-cut temples on Gharapuri, better known as Elephanta Island, are a Unesco World Heritage Site. Created between AD 450 and 750, the labyrinth of cave temples represent some of India’s most impressive temple carving.
The main Shiva-dedicated temple is an intriguing latticework of courtyards, halls, pillars and shrines; its magnum opus is a 6m-tall statue of Sadhashiva, depicting a three-faced Shiva as the destroyer, creator and preserver of the universe, his eyes closed in eternal contemplation.
Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum
This gorgeous museum, built in Renaissance revival style in 1872 as the Victoria & Albert Museum, contains 3500-plus objects centring on Mumbai’s history – photography, maps, textiles, books, manuscripts, bidriware (Bidar’s metalwork), lacquerware, weaponry and exquisite pottery. The landmark building was renovated in 2008, with its Minton-tile floors, gilded ceiling mouldings, ornate columns, chandeliers and staircases all gloriously restored.
Contemporary music, dance and drama feature in the Plaza area, where there’s a cafe and shop. A planned, architecturally stunning 11,000-sq-metre wing was currently caught up in a bureaucratic quagmire. The museum, which also hosts a bevy of temporary exhibitions, is located in the lush gardens of Jijamata Udyan; skip the zoo.
Iskcon Juhu plays a key part in the Hare Krishna story, as founder AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada spent extended periods here (you can visit his modest living quarters-cum-museum in the adjacent building; 10.30am to 12.30pm and 5.30pm to 8.30pm). The temple compound comes alive during prayer time as the faithful whip themselves into a devotional frenzy of joy, with kirtan dancing accompanied by crashing hand symbols and drumbeats.
Murals around the compound detail the Hare Krishna narrative. The Iskcon hotel here is also recommended, as is the thali-only restaurant (buffet meals ₹300 to ₹600). It’s a compelling place to visit for intense, celebratory worship in the sedate suburbs.
Gateway of India
This bold basalt arch of colonial triumph faces out to Mumbai Harbour from the tip of Apollo Bunder. Incorporating Islamic styles of 16th-century Gujarat, it was built to commemorate the 1911 royal visit of King George V, but wasn’t completed until 1924. Ironically, the British builders of the gateway used it just 24 years later to parade the last British regiment as India marched towards independence.
These days, the gateway is a favourite gathering spot for locals and a top place for people watching. Giant-balloon sellers, photographers, vendors making bhelpuri, locals begging for selfies with foreigners and touts all rub shoulders, creating all the hubbub of a bazaar. In February/March they are joined by classical dancers and musicians who perform during the Elephanta Festival. Boats depart from the gateway’s wharves for Elephanta Island.
Global Vipassana Pagoda
Rising up like a mirage from polluted Gorai Creek is this breathtaking, golden 96m-high stupa modelled on Myanmar’s Shwedagon Pagoda. Its dome, which houses relics of Buddha, was built entirely without supports using an ancient technique of interlocking stones, and the meditation hall beneath it seats 8000.
There’s an art gallery dedicated to the life of the Buddha and his teaching. Twenty-minute meditation classes are held daily; an on-site meditation centre also offers 10-day courses.
To get here, take a train from Churchgate to Borivali (exit the station at the ‘West’ side), then take bus 294 (₹10), an autorickshaw (₹60 to ₹65) or an Uber (₹420 or so) to the ferry landing, where Esselworld ferries (return ₹50) depart every 30 minutes. The last ferry to the pagoda is at 5.30pm.
Haji Ali Dargah
Floating like a sacred mirage off the coast, this Indo-Islamic shrine located on an offshore inlet is a striking sight. Built in the 19th century, it contains the tomb of the Muslim saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. Legend has it that Haji Ali died while on a pilgrimage to Mecca and his casket miraculously floated back to this spot.
It’s only possible to visit the shrine at low tide, via a long causeway (check tide times locally). Thousands of pilgrims, especially on Thursday and Friday (when there may be qawwali; devotional singing), cross it daily, many donating to beggars who line the way. Sadly, parts of the shrine are in a poor state, damaged by storms and the saline air, though a renovation plan exists. It’s visited by people of all faiths.
Built on reclaimed land in 1920 and a part of Mumbai’s recently crowned Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles Unesco World Heritage Site, Marine Dr arcs along the shore of the Arabian Sea from Nariman Point past Girgaum Chowpatty and continues to the foot of Malabar Hill. Lined with flaking art deco apartments, it’s one of Mumbai’s most popular promenades and sunset-watching spots. Its twinkling night-time lights have earned it the nickname ‘the Queen’s Necklace’.
Hundreds gather on the promenade around Nariman Point in the early evening to snack and chat, when it’s a good place to meet Mumbaikars.
Mumbai’s most exclusive neighbourhood, Malabar Hill, at the northern end of Back Bay, surprisingly hides Mumbai’s most sacred oasis. Concealed between apartment blocks is Banganga Tank, a serene village enclave of holy temples, bathing pilgrims, meandering, traffic-free streets and picturesque old dharamsala (pilgrims’ rest houses). According to Hindu legend, Lord Ram created this tank by piercing the earth with his arrow.
For some of the best views of Chowpatty, about 600m east, and the graceful arc of Marine Dr, visit Kamala Nehru Park.
This city beach is a favourite evening spot for courting couples, families, political rallies and anyone out to enjoy what passes for fresh air. Evening bhelpuri (puffed rice tossed with fried rounds of dough, lentils, onions, herbs and chutneys) at the throng of stalls at the beach’s southern end is an essential part of the Mumbai experience. Forget about taking a dip: the water’s toxic.
On the 10th day of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival millions flock here to submerge huge Ganesh statues: it’s joyful mayhem.