Chances are, if you are visiting India, you will most likely land in New Delhi before heading to your destination. For a very long time, New Delhi along with Mumbai and Chennai were the only cities in India where major international airlines flew to regularly. Even today, New Delhi has an impressive number of international flights connecting travellers to the rest of the world and an equally impressive number of domestic flights connecting travellers to incredible places within India. So, if you are landing in New Delhi, might as well allocate 2 to 3 days to explore the city before heading to your next destination.
New Delhi is a very interesting destination. From the historical significance of the city to how it has adapted to the modern lifestyle, it is fascinating to observe as you travel through the city. Everything seems to flow seamlessly. All you need is time to explore… the more you have, the more time you can spend at each spot.
We have visited New Delhi a couple of times and as a visitor, I particularly enjoyed visiting these places.
Red Fort – It was one of the main residences during the Mughal Empire. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan (think Taj Mahal) it gives visitors a glimpse into the grandeur of the Mughal Empire. While not all of the fort ares are is open to the public, there are enough spaces you can visit to enjoy. It is believed that the famous Peacock Throne was once located in the Diwan-i-Khas building within the Red Fort. This is an UNESCO World Heritage site.
Qutub Minar and Iron Pillar– Another UNESCO World Heritage site, it dates back to the Delhi Sultanate (12th Century A.D.). The Iron pillar located within this complex is also very special. The pillar, which is resistant to rusting even today, dates back even further. Although the pillar area is fenced off, just looking at it gives you an idea of the technological advances that were available in India when the pillar was first made – about 4th Century AD.
Humayun’s Tomb – A third UNESCO World Heritage site located in Delhi, this is the tomb of the second Mughal Emperor Humayun. It is a magnificent structure and while exploring the main tomb area, you can catch a glimpse of the city surrounding this monument.
Jama Masjid – This is one of the largest mosques in India and was built by Emperor Shah Jahan (this dude really knew how to envision amazing structures!). Even though we do not follow Islam, we were very grateful that we were allowed to enter the mosque and marvel at the amazing building. It was truly a humbling experience watching tourists and the devoted alike walking within the Masjid, grasping the significance and absorbing the energy of the place as much as they can. Only note: Be aware of the prayer times during which entry for non-muslims is restricted.
Raj Ghat – This is the memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi ji. There are other memorials in the vicinity if you have the time to visit them.
Gandhi Smriti – If you are fascinated about Mahatma Gandhi, then this is a place you should visit. Gandhi Smriti is the home where Gandhi ji spent his last days and you can see the place where he was shot and killed. The home has been converted into a museum. The museum gives a fascinating insight into India’s independence journey.
Rashtrapathi Bhavan – While you cannot go inside, this is the “White House” equivalent in India. This is where the President of India lives and works (However, please note that the duties of the Office of the President are very different compared to the President of the United States of America). Built during the British Raj, it gives you a glimpse of British architectural influence in India. A good photo stop on the way to India Gate.
India Gate – This is a war memorial dedicated to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives fighting for the country. Visitors do have an opportunity to visit the memorial up close.
Palika Bazaar (Connaught Place), Karol Bagh, Chandini Chowk, Khan Market – These are some of the places that allow you to shop till you drop. Different price points, different quality of goods, access to different types of authentic Indian food … take a pick – one or all – it all depends on how much time you have to spare.
National Museum – I will be honest. Some of the best examples of Indian history artefacts are not in India. You will find them in museums outside of India (e.g. London, Windsor, Washington D.C., etc.). However, if you want a glimpse into the different time periods in Indian History (starting from the Indus Valley Civilization) to Modern India; North India to South India, then, do spare some time to visit this gem. You will be able to see some amazing real artefacts (e.g. gorgeous South Indian bronze statues) and some famous replicas (e.g. the Indus Valley Dancing Girl). If you have 2 to 3 hours to spare, then just do it!
Feroz Shah Kotla – This is a not so frequented monument by tourists, but, it is a very interesting fort. It was built during the Delhi Sultanate era and while most of it is in ruins, it does have one of the pillars belonging to Emperor Ashoka (3rd Century B.C.). This pillar, called the Topra Ashokan Pillar is a fine example of architecture from the Mauryan Empire. It is believed that this pillar was moved from its original location of Topra to its current location sometime in the 14th Century. So, if you are a history buff, then do take time to visit this place. It is not as glamorous as the other forts but, from a history point of view, definitely worth visiting.
Lotus Baha’i Temple – This is a beautiful House of Worship that is open to all. If you have the time, definitely visit the temple and spend some quiet time sitting inside. The energy within the structure is simply fantastic! It is also a gorgeous building to look at.
Jantar Mantar – The Jantar Mantar was constructed in the 18th century and is an open air observatory. The structures within the complex served as instruments and helped astronomers study heavenly bodies nearly 300 years ago. A fascinating complex to visit.
So, that’s the list of my favourite places in New Delhi. Of course, there are many more gems within the city but, if you are short on time, then the above places give you a really good glimpse into the history of India.
For a history buff, this would be the sequence chronologically (ancient history to modern):
National Museum – Qutub Minar – Feroz Shah Kotla – Humayun’s Tomb – Red Fort – Jama Masjid – Jantar Mantar – Rashtrapathi Bhavan – India Gate – Gandhi Smriti – Raj Ghat – Lotus Baha’i Temple
Below are itineraries that you can follow to see some of these best places when you visit New Delhi.
IF you have only ONE day in Delhi
During one of our visits, we had only one day (literally 8 hours) before our next flight. We had first time visitors to Delhi who wanted to soak in as many of the sights as possible. To accomplish this, we rented a car at the airport to take us around. This is what we were able to see:
Drive By Rashtrapathi Bhavan and India Gate. Can stop at India Gate for a few minutes if you have time to spare… we did not.
Red Fort – Spent about 1 hour exploring the fort.
Humayun’s Tomb – Spent about 1 hour exploring the monument
Lunch Break at a small local restaurant recommended by the driver. We wanted to minimise the time spent, so we went for a small restaurant. Use discretion depending on your dietary needs. Spent about 45 minutes.
Baha’i Temple (Lotus Temple) – Spent about 45 minutes
Qutub Minar – Spent about 45 minutes
Back to the Airport to catch the next flight.
This was a tight schedule but we made it. Three UNESCO World Heritage sites in one day! Monitor the traffic conditions and keep vigil on the time so that you don’t miss your next flight!
Note 1: Raj Ghat is close to the Red Fort. If you would like to see Gandhi ji’s memorial, add approximately 1 hour to your schedule and substitute with other monuments if needed.
Note 2: Google maps is your friend! Map your itinerary ahead of time so that you can understand and optimise the route.
IF you have Two Days to spare in Delhi
Day 1 – The Monuments (mostly outdoor – so monitor the weather and dress appropriately)
Start your day at Qutub Minar and explore the monument.
Head to the Lotus Temple (optional of course!)
Next, spend some time at Humayun’s Tomb
Head to Raj Ghat and pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi
Head to Red Fort next and spend some time exploring the fort
Visit Jama Masjid if you are inclined to do so. Check with the local folks about timings for tourists.
Visit Feroz Shah Kotla before calling it a day. Note: There is no place within the Kotla to take refuge from the sun… please ensure you are properly protected and have enough water.
Day 2 – Slow and Easy (mix of outdoor and indoor)
Start your day at Rashtrapathi Bhavan and then drive to India Gate. Spend some time exploring the monument area and paying homage to the brave soldiers.
Spend time at Gandhi Smriti learning about the life of Mahatma Gandhi
Head to Jantar Mantar and learn about how Indians studied the heavenly bodies with the instruments built in this complex.
Connaught Place – Grab lunch and do some shopping.
National Museum – Spend the afternoon at the Museum exploring the gorgeous artefacts in a nice indoor environment before calling it a day! Note: please check the museum timings and plan accordingly.
Day 3 – Travel to your next destination
IF you have more than 2 days, then definitely check out some of the other notable places in New Delhi including Purana Qila, Teen Murti Bhavan (former residence of the first Prime Minister of India – Jawaharlal Nehru), Indra Gandhi Memorial House, hang out in Hauz Khas, shop in Karol Bagh, visit some of the many beautiful Hindu temples and ride the metro!
New Delhi is a very interesting city. For many years I viewed it merely as a transit city. But, the few times we did take the time out and visit the sites within the city, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The traffic can be hard to handle at times, but this is where a good taxi driver can save you time and keep your sanity intact while you soak in the incredible history of India.
So, definitely spend some time exploring the capital on India!