A super-quick guide to Delhi
India’s throbbing capital offers Art Deco cinemas, fine dining, top-notch street food and boutique havelis
Delhi is a bustling – and at times – chaotic city. It’s often overlooked by travellers arriving to explore more immediately romantic corners of India, but swerve the tourist hotspots and scratch below the surface, and you’ll be richly rewarded. From ancient monuments and traditional restaurants to sprawling parks and boujie neighbourhoods, Delhi has a lot going for it. Here’s our pick of the city’s essentials.
This UNESCO-awarded ‘heritage haveli’ (a haveli is a traditional townhouse) is nestled in the famous Chandni Chowk area of Old Delhi is bursting with the kind of romantic mysticism that so many people visit India for. The building dates back to the Mughal era, having been constructed in the late 19th century. After years of neglect and almost falling into ruin, it’s been renovated to an exceptional standard, offering glimpses of its decadent past through restored architecture. Nowadays, it’s an elegant boutique hotel presented across 60 rooms, including suites fit for a maharajah and rooms overlooking a central courtyard. There’s even the opportunity to have a go at kite flying from the roof. The restaurant, Lakhori, serves elevated Indian dishes, such as moong (lentil) pancakes and kacche kele di galouti: banana kebabs.
Gali Guliyan, Dharampura, Delhi-6, 2293, India
Home to cool art galleries, boutiques, hip cafes and the expansive Deer Park, Hauz Khas Village shows Delhi at its most fashionable, so expect to see a more bohemian side to the city than in other areas. Being easily reachable from Indira Gandhi International Airport, Hauz Khas is a popular choice for those visitors making only a brief stop in the city, and is also accessible by metro from New or Old Delhi. The streets are packed with small shops selling everything from handicrafts to vintage Indian film posters, and there’s no shortage of places to eat everything from simple street food to more refined cuisine. For a great brew, make a pitstop at Coast Coffee above the OGAAN fashion boutique. And you can still catch up on Indian history in this cosmopolitan enclave by spending a few hours exploring the ruins of Firoz Shah’s Medieval palace (situated on Deer Park Lake), around which the modern-day Hauz Khas neighbourhood sits.
Southwest Delhi, 110016, India
Chaat is the broad term for small, South Asian street food dishes, including pani puri (semolina puffs filled with vegetables and chutneys), aloo tikki (spiced potato cakes) and chana chaat (an elaborate chickpea salad). Practically every street corner in Delhi will have a chaat wala (vendor), some in rickety carts and others in colourful huts, each selling their own specialities for a small number of rupees; you can easily eat well in Delhi (and India generally) for less than one US dollar. Browsing stalls and deciding what to eat is all part of the magic, so just be led by your nose and dive into the crowds that are jostling for the best picks of the day. If you’re near Chandni Chowk market, it’s worth seeking out the famous Hira Lal Chaat Corner in Chawri Bazar, where you can munch down aloo chaat topped with spices and pomegranate seeds.
There aren’t too many Delhi streets you can walk down without being caught up in the buzz of one of the nation’s most beloved sports: cricket. Groups of young and old can often be found scattered on any patch of land that’s long enough to lob a cricket ball across – these are always joyful moments to observe, but if you want to really soak up the atmosphere, head to Arun Jaitley Stadium, home to the Indian Premier League, plus test matches and one-day internationals. The atmosphere is electric, with families, couples and elders all cramming into the stadium to cheer on their team, especially if it’s an international fixture.
Jawaharlal Nehru Marg, Feroze Shah Kotla, Raj Ghat, New Delhi, 110002, India
Translated into English simply as ‘lemon water’, nimbu pani (also commonly known as shikanji) is a traditional Indian lemon drink found at restaurants, cafes and stalls across the country. The best place to sip on this refreshing nectar is at one of many roadside juice stalls. Look out for piles of lemons piled up high on a brightly decorated stall and you’ll know you’re in the right place. The lemons are squeezed and added to water (most stalls will use filtered bottled water but it is always worth checking first), before sugar and spices are added, with each wala tweaking it to their own recipe – some will ask if you’d prefer it sweeter or saltier. Perfect for cooling down on a muggy Indian day.
A stone’s throw away from the hectic Chandni Chowk market you can find refuge at the Jama Masjid, one of India’s largest mosques, created by the same architect behind the Taj Mahal. During the day the area is frenetic, but those in the know arrive as the day fades away, either to gather in the central courtyard or to find a peaceful place perch behind the mosque. Once you’ve found your spot, watch as the sun sinks down and throws out a medley of reds, oranges and pinks over the grand tiles and marble. A word of warning: don’t expect a quiet, romantic setting, as you’ll be enjoying the scene amongst a hubbub of noise and people. Note, tourists are not admitted during prayer hours, including directly after sunset.
Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, 110006, India
When in Hauz Khas Village don’t miss this ultra-hip record store. Stocking everything from Bollywood disco to techno to prog rock to jangle-pop, the shop is curated with expert knowledge from the friendly staff, who are happy to advise customers if needed. When not selling vinyl in the store, the owners dig for yet-more vintage records and cassettes across India, some of which they manage to restore from practically unplayable conditions. Their website has a captivating photo series charting their journey, which can’t fail to inspire potential punters to seek out vintage sounds. The store also stocks posters, books, graphic novels and record players. You won’t leave empty-handed.
5 Hauz Khas Village, Deer Park, New Delhi, 110016, India
PCO, standing for Pass Code Only, is an American-style speakeasy tucked away in South Delhi’s Vasant Vihar neighbourhood. As the name suggests, you will indeed need a passcode to enter (via a phone booth), but this is secured simply by booking in advance or signing up to the mailing list. Once inside, the Prohibition-era decor, smooth jazz and dapper waiting staff will transport you back to another time where you can happily while away a few hours. The bartenders are exceptionally talented and able to mix your favourite cocktail or concoct something bespoke based on your preferred flavours and spirits. Classics with a twist include a refreshing vermouth cobbler or a Scotch-based, tropical-style highball.
D-4, Block Market, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi, 110057, India
PVR Rivoli Cinema is one of two classic colonial cinema buildings in Connaught Square and is one of the oldest cinemas in Delhi. Part of the India-wide PVR chain, the venue has retained its charm and style over the years and still features red flock carpet, Art Deco-style interiors and mesmerising mood lighting. When the cinema opened its doors in the 1940s for Delhi’s elite, it was known for screening then-more eclectic titles such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound. The cinema now shows a range of modern Indian films and classics. Visiting a cinema in India is a must-do, but for the full experience, choose a classic love story or action film and make sure you go in armed with plenty of snacks to see you through the usually lengthy running time.
Regal Building, Baba Kharag Singh Marg, Connaught Place, New Delhi, 110001, India
You’ll never be short of dining options in Delhi, but if you’re after something really special, make a beeline for Kiara Soul Kitchen in South Delhi’s luxurious Greater Kailash neighbourhood in. Kiara is a cute spot for modern Indian fine dining with an international twist, offering a 100 percent ‘pure veg’ (vegetarian) menu and lots of creative takes on Indian favourites. The pok choi patta chaat is an inventive take on the traditional street food dish, using pok choi and kuttu (buckwheat), while the main menu includes well-known dishes like idli, daal makhani and Malabar curry. International choices include zucchini lasagne, multigrain tacos and a Thai massaman curry with green dumplings.
M-30, first floor, Greater Kailash 2, New Delhi, 110048, India