Culture

An Insider’s Guide To The Best Of Mumbai

Bursting with colour, chaotic sounds, and interesting smells… Mumbai is an experience like no other.

It’s a city of intense contrasts: Bollywood megastars and business tycoons live alongside the city’s poor, glitzy mansions stand next door to ramshackle slum dwellings, streets buzz with auto rickshaws, and the best new European cars bustle alongside rusty bicycles.

Bombay, as it’s still called by locals, is a place where anything can happen. So we got the best local tips to help you make your trip an amazing one.

Make the Gateway of India your first stop

Mumbai

Image: Gateway of India via GPS / Flickr

Ask any Bombay local where to go and the first place they’ll send you is the Gateway of India. This giant stone gateway on the water’s edge was the official entrance point for British royalty, viceroys and governors, and is one of the city’s most popular landmarks. Watch families in glittering saris and slick suits vie for the perfect holiday selfie.

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Image: Mumbai CTS via GPS / Flickr

However, the true gateway to Mumbai might actually be UNESCO World Heritage-listed Mumbai CST, the central train station. The station looks more like a palace than a commuter hub and at night the façade lights up in rainbow colours making it look like something out of an ancient fairytale.

Embrace the chaos and crowds

Mumbai is crowded. With an estimated population of 22 million, sometimes it can feel like the whole town has turned out.

Commerce is everywhere in Mumbai. The slick financial district BKC is just a short walk from the chaotic Kurla shopping district, where you’ll see everything you can imagine being bought and sold.

Bargain-filled stalls line the streets around Café Mondegar; the locals say it’s the best place to grab some cheap earrings, cute shoes or a (possibly genuine?) antique. Just a few steps away, the ultra-lux Taj Hotel is home to big-name international boutiques. Hot tip: the hotel may let you in if you act like you belong.

Head to leafy Bandra for another side of the city. Spot Bollywood celebs in hipster cafés like the Village Shop or the Taj Mahal Tea House, or walk the promenade along Carter Road and people-watch at any hour of the day.

Mumbai is a waterfront city, and its beachfront walks are bustling. Swimming in the polluted water isn’t advisable, but it’s a wonderful place to take in the cityscape.

Where to eat in Mumbai

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Image: Cafe Mondegar via Elroy Serrao / Flickr

If there’s one thing that truly unites Mumbai, it’s food.

The city offers up food to suit any palate and every budget, from tiny street vendors to luxurious multi-course meals and thalis (set meals with a wide range of dishes).

We checked with the locals, and got a few tips for the very best Indian fare around the city.

Papa Pancho: Great for its brightly coloured interior and authentic dishes at reasonable prices.

Trupti: Epic flavours with a side of people watching.

Café Leopold and Café Mondegar: These are two of the oldest eateries in the city, and each have a casual vibe as well as some tragic history, evidence of which you can see on the walls. Make sure you ask a local about the story behind it.

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Image: Bademiya / Facebook

Bademiya: You haven’t really been to Mumbai until you’ve eaten at Bademiya according to our sources. This institution is the city’s best-known seekh kebab brand and fills a street in downtown Mumbai. Locals use their parked cars as tables, with waiter delivering food directly to the car boot or bonnet. You can also stand, or enter one of the dining rooms (mainly for families).

Gokul: You’ll need something to wash all the delicious food down with. Try a beer at student dive bar Gokul or head to one of Mumbai’s cool bars like Elbo Room or Copa.

Hotel Four Seasons: After a tipple with a view? The rooftop bar at the Four Seasons has spectacular views over the city and comes highly recommended.

Escape The City On A Day Trip

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Image: Lonavala via Arjun Singh Kulkarni / Flickr

For hundreds of years, Mumbai locals have escaped the heat of the city into the nearby hills. Follow in their footsteps and head to a luxury resort near Lonavala, or trek to an ancient fort or cave. In monsoon season, these hills are verdant green. In the dry season, dust coats the landscape.

Closer to town, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park offers lush greenery. At the centre, the Kanheri Caves give a fascinating insight into ancient Buddhist culture.

There’s a lot to take in in Mumbai and the city is known for capturing the hearts of locals and travellers alike. It’s a place like nowhere else.

How to get to Mumbai

  • Fly Qantas to Singapore
  • Catch a connecting Oneworld flight to Mumbai


(Lead image: Celebrating Bombay via Nico Crisafulli / Flickr)