Occasionally referred to as the “jewel in India’s crown,” Mumbai pulses and thumps with more than 18 million people. It’s the most populated city in the country and quickly growing. Given all those people and things to do, it’s easy to be distracted during your vacation in Mumbai.
Today, this city is a hearty stew of religions, customs, cuisine and bustling business. Local lore says there are more millionaires per kilometre in Mumbai than in Manhattan. One of this city’s biggest moneymakers is Bollywood, so don’t be surprised if you stumble across a film shoot with hundreds of beautiful dancers in flowing saris.
While it may be impossible to do everything at your disposal when you stay in Mumbai, here are Top 15 things to do for must-see attractions, great stores and superb restaurants.
1. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum
Previously known as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, the museum has three large sections that celebrate art, architecture and natural history. The art collection offers outstanding representations of India’s major schools of painting, including works created in the Mughal, Rajasthani, Pahari and Deccani styles. In the architecture exhibition, you’ll find numerous terra cotta figures and religious sculptures, as well as ornaments from the Indus Valley Civilisation that date back to 3000 B.C.E. The natural history wing of the museum captures some of India’s most amazing wildlife, such as flamingos, Indian bison and tigers, in dioramas.
2. Chowpatty Beach
This famous beach is sometimes known just as “Chowpatty” — the name derives from “chau-pati,” which refers to four channels of water. Although not particularly known for its sunbathing or swimming, Chowpatty Beach is a great place to people-watch and hang out.
3. Camy Wafers
Home to some of the most well-known snacks and sweets in Mumbai, any diehard crisp fan will want to try their paper-thin variation. You will also want to sample some of their other wafers (and they have a lot, such as kela, jali and raffle), as well as chiwada, sev, gathiya and much more.
4. Gateway of India
Also known as the “Taj Mahal of Mumbai,” the Gateway of India was built as a monument to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. Located at the end of Chhatrapati Shivaji Marg along the water in Mumbai harbour, the basalt arch is approximately 26 metres highand tourists, vendors and street hawkers combine to create a fair-like atmosphere around the majestic building.
5. Elephanta Island
If you travel about an hour by ferry from the Gateway of India, you will reach Elephanta Island, located 10 kilometres (6 miles) east of Mumbai. Once the capital of an ancient local kingdom, this destination is famous for the Elephanta Caves, or cave temples filled with sculptures and figurines.
According to legend, the name Elephanta Island was given by Portuguese explorers who saw a basalt sculpture of an elephant and tried to leave with it. The explorers were overcome by its weight and dropped the carved rock into the sea. The weighty elephant was later pulled out of the water and transported to the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai. There are still plenty of other amazing figures sculpted out of the rock on view on Elephanta Island.
6. Crawford Market
Named after Arthur Crawford, the first municipal commissioner of Mumbai, this humongous market occupies 22,471 square metres. You can find fruit, poultry, vegetables, cosmetics, household items and plenty of gifts in the market. There’s even a pet store at one end of it. If you want a bit of interesting trivia, the fountains inside the building were designed by Lockwood Kipling, father of the writer Rudyard Kipling.
7. Masala Library
Chef Jiggs Kalra has created a menu that combines molecular gastronomy with traditional cooking into something he described to the New York Times as “Indian cuisine version 2.0.” His impressive offerings include a wild-mushroom “chai” served with a tea ceremony in which consommé is drizzled over dehydrated mushrooms and dried truffle oil. Other dishes include a deconstructed take on the Mumbai street food pav bhaji — vegetable curry eaten with a buttered roll. If you want a taste of the future of Indian food, you can nibble on it here.
8. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Station)
The busiest train station in India, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was built in 1887 to celebrate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria. Architect Frederick William Stevens took influence from Victorian Italianate Gothic Revival and Mughal buildings. Throughout the structure, visitors can find palatial details such as brass railings, wood carvings, grand staircases and more. If you want to expand your trip beyond Mumbai, you can catch both local commuter and long-distance trains from here.
9. Dhobi Ghat
This “outdoor laundromat” may not be the most exalted vision you’ll ever see in Mumbai, but it’s definitely an amazing sight. According to the Globe and Mail newspaper, the open-air laundry has over 700 washing stone platforms where 200-plus families of washers clean clothes from the local hotels. You can watch over 8,000 “dhobis” working during the day from a nearby raised platform.
10. Marine Drive
The six-lane Marine Drive curves in a C-shape along the coast and is also known as “The Queen’s Necklace” because the road’s streetlights resemble a string of hanging pearls at night. Parallel to the drive is a promenade lined with palm trees and dotted with street food vendors and restaurants. It’s popular with residents and tourists for an early morning stroll or to watch the sun set over the Arabian Sea.
The view makes Marine Drive a highly-regarded piece of real estate, and several hotels (such as the InterContinental) and office towers (such as Air India) can be found along it. For those who want to take the drive, the road links Nariman Point to Babulnath and Malabar Hill. Every year in February, runners from the Bombay Marathon make their way down Marine Drive as part of the race.
11. St. Thomas Cathedral
Completed in 1718, St. Thomas Cathedral was the first Anglican church built in Mumbai and has continually held services since opening on Christmas Day of that year. Co-founder Gerald Aungier, who was working for the British East India Company at the time, had a hospital, court and other civic amenities constructed based on an English system. While ground was broken for the church on 1676, it took more than 40 years to finish.
This bar offers spectacular views of Marine Drive and the Arabian Sea from the top of the InterContinental Marine-Drive Mumbai. Here you can lounge on the sofas and enjoy some Japanese bar snacks while sipping cocktails. For those who like to smoke, there’s also an impressive cigar list.