A lot of people despise Delhi.
Not me, though! It’s one of my favourite cities on the planet, and I fell for it from the moment I stepped foot on its busy streets.
Delhi is the only place I’ve visited that has left me wanting to write an individual blog post for every single attraction I saw. Seriously! I feel as though I could write 30 blog posts about each individual thing I did in the city, share 20 photos of every activity, but I suspect you guys would tire of all that Delhi devotion after a while.
Instead, I want to roll up all of that love into one big article.
Today’s post is going to be a mash-up of my first impressions of Delhi, an itinerary for how to spend three days in Delhi, a list of the best places to see in Delhi, a photo essay, and a love letter to this frenetic yet wonderful place.
Let’s get started.
How Long Should You Spend in New Delhi?
Plenty of first-time visitors to India’s capital decide to duck in and out of the city as quickly as possible.
It’s an understandable decision.
Delhi is polluted, congested, dirty, smelly, loud, and scams are rampant. The air is toxic to breathe, you receive non-stop hassle when you walk around, and the sheer number of people can leave you feeling overwhelmed. It’s maddening at times.
Am I selling this city to you yet?
Because there’s just as much to love about Delhi. Its fantastic food scene, the lush parks, the breathtaking architecture, the blend of cultures, its long and fascinating history, the fact that it’s unlike anywhere else on earth. And there’s plenty of beauty in amongst the challenges.
I think skipping over Delhi to head elsewhere in India is a mistake, even if it’s your first time in the country and you’re feeling intimidated. It has so much to offer its visitors, and I’d suggest allocating at least three days to exploring.
Why three days?
Well, there are three main areas in the city.
You’ve got crumbling, chaotic Old Delhi, once the magnificent walled city of Shahjahanabad in the 17th century. This area is all about the culture shock, with so many sights and sounds and smells to absorb at once.
There’s New Delhi, which was created by the British when they decided to build a new capital in India — this part is all about the gleaming buildings, government structures, and a sense of a little more order.
And to the south, you’ll find South Delhi — an upmarket residential neighbourhood that’s calmer, quieter, and leafier than the rest of the city. They all have so much to offer up to visitors.
It therefore makes sense to devote at least one day to each of these three distinct areas. I spent my first day in town wandering through Old Delhi, my second day marvelling at New Delhi, and my third day unwinding in South Delhi.
It made for the perfect introduction to the city.
Day One: The Best Time to Explore Old Delhi!
When you picture the commotion and cacophony of Delhi, you’re most likely thinking of Old Delhi.
I recommend spending a full day in this area, allowing your senses to be attacked as you dodge rickshaws and motorbikes and thousands of people, avoiding cows and goats and dogs as you wander down narrow alleyways, smelling incense and street food and, um, things that are a little less pleasant.
There’s nowhere on earth quite like Old Delhi, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Start your day, though, by heading to the Red Fort when it opens. Without the crowds of tourists, it’ll bring about a peaceful start to a day that’s likely to be anything but.
Built from sandstone in the 1600s and originally used as a residence for Mughal emperors, the inner structures have since been plundered and destroyed, yet it’s still worth visiting.
Despite being right in the heart of Delhi, it was surprisingly peaceful to wander through this large area of green space. That was unexpected, and it made for a calming introduction to the city’s architecture.
Jama Masjid is just a 15-minute walk away from the Red Fort, so it’s the next logical stop on a tour of Old Delhi.
This mosque is one of the largest in Delhi, able to hold a whopping 25,000 people at a time, and it was one of the most impressive structures I saw in the city.
My highlight was climbing to the top of one of the minarets for a wonderful view over Old Delhi. It was so worth doing, even though the staircase was cramped, dark, and daunting to walk up/down.
Watch out for scammers here! There’s plenty of people looking to take advantage of tourists in this area. You’ll have to pay to hire robes, no matter how covered up you are, pay for a camera permit, and somebody will undoubtedly take your shoes off you and ask for a tip for keeping them safe when you return.
Venture next to Raj Ghat, a memorial to Gandhi that’s worth visiting, despite looking understated compared to everything you’ll have seen so far. Of course, its simplicity is the point.
Raj Ghat is a 30-minute walk from Jama Masjid, which I happily tackled, but the walk itself wasn’t particularly exciting, so feel free to grab a rickshaw or an Uber to get here.
The memorial comprises a small black marble platform with an eternal flame at one end, marking the exact spot where Gandhi’s body was cremated.
Around the memorial, there’s plenty of manicured green space that’s filled with people picnicking and relaxing, and it’s a calming area for meditating, paying your respects, and taking a break from the chaos.
And believe me, you’re going to want to take that break because your next stop is going to be Chandni Chowk.
I’ve never been anywhere like Chandni Chowk.
This unbelievable district and market is the heart of Old Delhi and it’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before. The chaos! The traffic! The confusion! The smells! The sounds!
I couldn’t get enough of it.
Most of the time, I had no idea where to even walk, and there was zero opportunity to just stand and soak it all in because everybody was swarming around you, moving, moving, moving, sounding their horns to get you moving, too.
There was always something fascinating to see, as the video below illustrates. It’s definitely worth a watch.
I think the reason why I loved this part of Delhi so much was because it reminded me of how travel used to feel.
In the early days of my trip, back in 2011, everything wowed me. Everything felt different, foreign, intimidating, exciting, fascinating, amazing… and then those feelings faded.
I spent so long in Southeast Asia, for example, that it now feels more like home than somewhere I don’t understand, and so I rarely feel anything more than comfort and joy to be back.
That dizzying feeling when you feel as though you don’t belong and you have no idea what’s happening and you wonder if you’ve stepped foot on another planet? I got that feeling when I wandered through the streets of Old Delhi, and it made me feel alive.
Yes, this is somewhere that’s certain to leave you feeling overwhelmed, but it’s somewhere you have to see. It’s somewhere where you’ll want to have your camera to hand, knowing that there’s so much going on but that it’s impossible to capture it in a single frame.
Still, you’ll have fun trying.
One of the highlights from my time in Delhi — although let’s face it, pretty much everything was a highlight for me! — was the street food tour I took with UrbanAdventures.
Diving mouthfirst into a city’s food scene is the best way to get to know a place, and in India, I was clueless.
As I’d wandered the streets of Old Delhi earlier that afternoon, I’d quickly realised I had no idea what any of the dishes were. I didn’t recognise a thing!
That was intimidating.
With fears of Delhi Belly reverberating through my head, I had been too nervous to go anywhere near the street food through worry that I’d get sick.
When you couple that with not even being able to identify the dishes that were for sale, I was mostly skirting past the stalls with a nervous expression on my face.
That was exactly why I decided to jump on this tour.
We were guided by a charismatic university student who had lived in Delhi her entire life, and she was the perfect person to introduce me to the Delhi food scene. Our guide lives for food and she raved over getting to be a street food tour guide and how much she enjoyed eating 10 items a night. Haha.
And we tried so much! I got to sample Indian-style shawarma, golgappas (my favourite!), and bhelpuri. Next, came the pao bhajji and kulfi-falooda, and we rounded off our tour with gulab jamun (another favourite!) and jalebi. I’ll be writing a full review of my food tour next week because I have so much more I want to share!
In short, this is a phenomenal activity for your first day in the city. You’ll get to explore the markets and stalls with a local, build up your confidence when it comes to eating on the streets, and — of course — sample some of the best food of your life. I’d honestly take this exact tour again because I want to re-eat all of the delicious snacks!
Day Two: It’s All About New Delhi
As much as Old Delhi left me feeling enthralled, it was exploring New Delhi that had me falling for this city. My second day in town was absolutely my favourite — I loved everything I saw on this day.
Up first: Agrasen ki Baoli.
If you’re planning for an extended trip of India, you’ll likely end up coming across stepwells every now and then. They’re exactly what they sound like — wells with steps leading all the way to the bottom, so that you can collect water no matter how far down it is. These days, most of them go unused, and they make for very Instagrammable scenes. Agrasen ki Baoli is right in the centre of Delhi and is supposedly one of the most haunted spots in the city.
This is a place to grab a few seconds of respite — it’s a spot where locals come to chill out with their friends and chat, and it’s a good destination to spend twenty minutes taking photos and enjoying the ambience.
Next, head on over to India Gate — it’s a 25-minute walk from the stepwell.
Prepare yourself in advance for a huge number of crowds and selfie-requests here, but it’s totally worth the crush to see such a majestic structure with your own eyes.
India Gate is a war memorial, dedicated to the 70,000 soldiers in the British Indian Army who died fighting in the First World War. It’s full of tourists, schoolkids, and families having picnics, as well as tons of street vendors, but it’s an impressive structure nonetheless.
You’re going to want to grab an Uber to take you to the next stop, and you should spend the drive preparing yourself to be wowed.
Humayun’s Tomb will likely be one of your biggest highlights of New Delhi. If you told me you had time to see just one thing in this city, I’d tell you to go here.
The red sandstone tomb was built in 1570 and was actually the inspiration behind the Taj Mahal. It’s such a large complex that you could easily spend several hours there, depending on how keen you are to linger and soak up the atmosphere.
I loved it.
Within walking distance, you’ll find Safdarjung Tomb, a sandstone and marble mausoleum that was constructed in the 1700s. It has a similar vibe to the complex surrounding Humayun’s Tomb, but attracts far fewer people. It’s really worth visiting.
Lodhi Garden is a 10-minute walk away, and I highly recommend visiting.
It blew my mind. For a city park, it was so freaking impressive. I mean, just look at all of those structures! I’ve never seen a park have so many cool buildings dropped right in the middle of it. I could have spent all day exploring.
By the time I reached the Lodhi Garden, the sun was setting, which made the experience all the more magical. You could easily spend a couple of hours walking around the old historic monuments, watching families play cricket, fly kites, and picnic on the grass.
Now, when you think of great street art, Delhi probably isn’t one of the cities that first comes to mind, but there’s plenty of excellent examples if you know where to look.
I suggest rounding off your day in New Delhi with a stroll through nearby Lodhi Colony: an area of the city that’s been turned into a public art district. There are dozens of enormous colourful murals blanketing the buildings around here, and they’re so much fun to hunt down.
I took so many photos! This area isn’t often visited by tourists, but I highly recommend checking it out after a visit to Lodhi Garden.
Day Three: Explore South Delhi
I decided to round off my time in the city with a relaxing day in South Delhi. It had been an action-packed trip to the city so far, and I wanted a much more low-key experience. If that’s what you’re craving, South Delhi is the neighbourhood for you!
This area of Delhi is a chilled-out, green, and peaceful neighbourhood, with little hassle or noise to contend with. It’s a good spot to simply head out for a walk, wander around one of the parks, people-watch on the streets, and check out one of the local cafes.
There’s also some pretty cool attractions to check out.
Kick off your explorations of this neighbourhood with an amble around the Lotus Temple, a Sydney Opera House-esque Baháʼí Place of Worship that’s open to anyone, regardless of their religious beliefs. There are just seven Bahai temples found in the world, and the white marble Lotus Temple is the only one in Asia. It’s a soothing spot, with nine turquoise pools and lush gardens to wander around.
Next, Uber on over to Qutub Minar. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this towering minaret reaches a height of 73 metres and is surrounded by so many cool ruins and structures.
It was one of my favourite spots in Delhi and I spent over an hour taking photos in the grounds.
Don’t skip this attraction! It’s far away from everywhere else in the city, but so worth venturing over to see it.
In the afternoon, if you’re not yet exhausted, you could head to the PVR Directors Cut cinema to watch a Bollywood movie. This is a luxury cinema in South Delhi, with comfortable chairs that recline, blankets, pillows, air purifiers, and waiters to bring meals to your seat.
Where to Stay in Delhi
Delhi is a sprawling city and there are so many options for where to stay.
I highly recommend opting for accommodation in South Delhi. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times already, it’s the calmer, cleaner area of the city, and you’ll be staying in a leafy suburb with less noise and a safer vibe.
I stayed in this incredible guesthouse, which absolutely made my stay in Delhi so much better. The welcoming owner did so much for us, from showing us around the local night market to driving us to tourist attractions, introducing us to his favourite breakfast spot, and even making a dozen phone calls when my SIM card wouldn’t activate. It’s so worth staying here!
How to Get Around Delhi
It’s so easy and so inexpensive.
You’ll likely arrive in the city just before sunrise, as that’s when most international flights seem to land, so you might be put off by tackling the public transport system. Don’t be!
I took the metro from Delhi Airport to our guesthouse in South Delhi and it couldn’t have been easier. In the early morning, it was clean, quiet, calm, and uncrowded. There’s even a women’s-only carriage on all of the trains for all of my solo women out there.
For getting around the city, I recommend using a mix of Uber and rickshaws. Both are so easy to use and everywhere, so you’ll never have to wait long. I recommend always checking the price on Uber first, so that you have a maximum price for your journey with which to negotiate with the rickshaw drivers. It’s super-inexpensive! I paid just $7 for an hour-long Uber ride across Delhi. When it’s that affordable, there’s no reason not to use it.
When’s the Best Time to Visit Delhi?
For the majority of my India posts, you’re going to notice that I recommend visiting in winter, but for Delhi, I think early-or-late-winter would be the best time to visit.
At this time of year, you’re going to avoid the dense fog that rolls in every morning, there won’t be as much smog and pollution in the air, and the temperatures will still be manageable. I’d aim for October/November or February/March. Definitely avoid visiting immediately after Diwali, when the air pollution is always horrendous.
I’d also recommend double-checking when all of the attractions are open. The Lotus Temple is closed, for example, every Monday.
What About Delhi Belly, Tho?
Delhi Belly: my biggest fear. I was absolutely convinced I would get food poisoning in India, because doesn’t it happen to everyone?
And yet, it didn’t. Despite eating pretty much anywhere that was serving up delicious-looking food, neither I nor my boyfriend suffered from food poisoning. I believe three things helped keep us safe:
Going vegetarian! Most of the locals in India are vegetarian — the country has the lowest amount of meat consumption in the world — so we switched over to a meat-free lifestyle, too. Note that I didn’t say plant-based, because you’re also going to want to avoid most fruits and vegetables while you’re in the country, too — especially if they’re uncooked or peeled.
Hand sanitiser! Much of what gets written off as food poisoning in India is general contamination from touching surfaces with bacteria on it, and then not washing your hands and touching your mouth. I used hand sanitiser on an hourly basis and took extra care not to touch my face. I also used the hand sanitiser to sterilise any utensils at restaurants, as they could have been washed with dirty tap water.
Pudin Hara! I’m a total convert to Pudin Hara — peppermint oil capsules from India — and take them every time my stomach feels a little unsettled. You can buy them from any pharmacy when you get to India, but you can also pick them up from Amazon. I took like, a hundred tablets with me, as I took a capsule with every single meal. I fully plan on keeping a large supply of these with me whenever I travel, as they were so life-changingly great at settling my stomach. An added bonus was the deliciously minty burps that overpowered the scent of curry that was emanating from my body.
And that was Delhi!
I hope my passion for this city came across in this article because I was simply spellbound by Delhi.
I arrived full of apprehension, expecting to hate it, but left naming it one of my favourite cities in the world.
I highly recommend giving it a chance.