An insider’s guide to Mumbai

group of people standing infront of The Gateway of India monument in Mumbai

Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra and one of the largest and most populated cities in India, never sleeps. It is one of the busiest and most restless places you can visit, and it will leave you overwhelmed for days.

It is the modern and metropolitan capital of culture, fashion and entertainment. Located on the west coast of India, it lies on a peninsula and is bordered on one side by the Arabian Sea.

It is difficult to describe Mumbai in just a couple of sentences as it has so many contrasts and cultures. The city represents the whole of India with its good and bad sights. You can see westernised teenagers dressed in on-trend brands, very traditional Muslims and Hindus, as well as everything in between.

I had an amazing opportunity to see it from a local perspective, and I think that changed my trip completely. I was lucky enough to stay with a family I knew well for ten days; they had one of the warmest and kindest households I could ever ask for.

Visiting a friend that was born and raised in Mumbai allowed me to go to places that are not described in every tourist guide and to see how locals spend their free time. Mumbai is a big city, and it is important to plan your trip well.

Starting from the very beginning, the flight I had taken was a Virgin Atlantic nine-hour flight from London Heathrow to Mumbai Airport. The worst part of the travel was the hours-long immigration and customs queues at the airport.

The city is massively overpopulated and it has around 23 million citizens, so the long wait at the airport should not be a surprise but it is good to be prepared.

rooftop of a colonial building in South Bombay

A colonial building in South Bombay [Oliwia Dworakowska]

The flat I was staying in was located in Andheri West, it lies in the suburbs of the city but not far from the centre. The area is very residential, and you have to drive more into the city to find places worth visiting.

The Tanjore Tiffin Room is a restaurant that I would highly recommend trying in that area. It serves very authentic and delicious South Indian food that is known for its richness and spices. The restaurant welcomes customers with small samples of all the curries which is a very useful concept that I found unique and interesting. The place has an enjoyable and inviting atmosphere, and the service is very good and knowledgable.

In Mumbai, public transport is available but it varies for all the citizens. There are buses, but they are filled by workers and are not recommended for tourists. The easiest way to get around in the city is to take Ubers for longer distance or rickshaws for short ones. Both are very inexpensive and accessible.

One of the nicest and worthwhile places to see in Mumbai is the old colonial part of the city, South Bombay. It is connected to the rest of the town by an impressive Golden Gate-like bridge, the Bandra Worli Sea Link.

South Bombay is located at the very end of the city, and it stretches throughout a few neighbourhoods. It is the business and financial centre of Mumbai.

Many banks (including Reserve Bank of India), Bombay Stock Exchange and numerous Indian companies and corporations (Reliance, Tata) have their headquarters here. It also is the most touristy part of the city with a couple of spots worth visiting.

Fort and Colaba (parts of South Bombay) are good areas to walk around and see the beautiful colonial buildings if the weather is tolerable.

Gateway of India

The Gateway of India [Flickr:Chnswam]

The Gateway of India is definitely an important landmark to visit and one of the most famous places in Mumbai. It’s a part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. Built at the beginning of the 20th century to celebrate the visit of King George V, it is today one of the most photographed objects in Mumbai.

Behind the Gateway of India is situated one of the most majestic and iconic buildings in the city, The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. The inside is equally impressive as the outside, and I would recommend stepping in and walking around the hotel. There is a stunning patio where visitors can sit down and have a coffee or chai tea.

The Bombay Kanteen is a very popular Indian café and bar in South Bombay that served delicious snacks, tapas and small plates. Its concept is to renovate traditional Mumbai dishes and create something fresh and exciting. The bar offers classic Indian cocktails in new versions and is a perfect spot for lunch in that part of the town.

The best place for souvenir shopping in Mumbai is Colaba Causeway. It is a colourful, charming and very crowded market located 10 minutes’ walk from The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. It offers jewellery, street food, clothing, artwork and more in any colour one can imagine. The prices are very reasonable, but bargaining is the best way to get the deal.

man standing on the top of the building during sunset in Mumbai

Mumbai’s infrastructure varies from street to street [Oliwia Dworakowska]

Near Colaba Causeway, there is a small but very elegant dessert cafe Le15 Café which was introduced to me as one of the best cake shops in Mumbai.

At the next stop in Fort district, where we can find many British remains in the form of old, chunky buildings that appear a little bit neglected and dirty, is the most magnificent of them all – the Victoria Train Station, also known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

It has a unique form, which is an example of the Victorian neo-Gothic style. It was created by English architects in the 19th century and now is considered a symbol of ancient Mumbai. Victoria Train Station is one of the busiest railways stations in the country that connects Mumbai to all corners of India.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Termius

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly the Victoria train station mixes classic a modern architecture [Flickr:Christian Haugen]

When it comes to dinner, Khyber is one of the oldest and most iconic restaurants in Fort and has been famous for its delicious and very authentic North-West Frontier Province cuisine. It has a very good reputation and has been visited by many significant personalities. The best way to try multiple dishes is to order plates for sharing as the portions are not too big.

My favourite part of South Bombay was definitely Marine Drive. It is a long promenade that goes down the coast of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Road. It has a beautiful view of the sea and the other side of the city; it is a perfect place for pictures, especially during sunset.

The promenade is surrounded by exclusive hotels, apartments and restaurants. It’s also a popular hangout place for the locals, where they can grab a drink and spending time with friends.

Religion is a very big part of Indian culture, and its elements are visible in every home and on the streets. Most of the woman wear Sari which is traditional Hindu clothing. Saris have different shapes, forms, material, colours and patterns. It all depends on budget and preference. The most beautiful and unique Saris are made for weddings, these have multiple ornaments and decorations.

When it comes to Hindu Temples, I had an opportunity to visit two in Juhu (a district in the centre of Mumbai): ISKCON Temple, formally known as Sri Sri Radha Rasabihari Ji Temple, and Shree Mukteshwar Devalaya.

ISCKON is a beautiful all-white Hare Krishna temple set upon four acres of prime land, and a stone throw away from Juhu beach. It is best to visit in the morning as it can get very crowded in the afternoon. Locals are very welcoming and allow tourists in temples without any problems.

If you come in a specific time, there will be people chanting, giving out food and flowers. It is beneficial to visit with a local person who can show all the steps that need to be done to complete the prayer.

man taking a picture of the promenade in Mumbai

Lots of people gather on the promenade for sunset [Oliwia Dworakowska]

Hindu Temples are one of my favourite places of worship because of their colourfulness and very friendly atmosphere.

Another temple I visited, Babulnath is located in South Bombay. This one is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, one of the most important gods in the religion. Babulnath is situated on a small hill and it takes a climb to get to the top. It is one of the oldest temples in the area.

Mumbai, as a multicultural city, has citizens of different religions. In the 20th century in Bandra, a unique Roman Catholic Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount (Mount Mary Church) was built. It draws many Catholics from Mumbai and pilgrims every year. It is one of the oldest and most visited churches in the city centre.

Its design is not impressive compering to basilicas or cathedrals in Europe, but it’s interesting to see an element of familiar culture in a foreign city.  Bandra also offers a very spectacular promenade with a band of stones that people can step on and take scenic pictures with a sea view.

Powai is a very residential European-looking district of Mumbai, where the wealth and luxury are visible, it has a very charming french bakery called Suzzete that offers organic and vegan crêpes, sandwiches and salads.

The place is very modern and attracts a host of young people; they serve very aesthetically pleasing and healthy food, a sure hit with Instagrammers. Another place worth seeing in this area is Powai Lake. Even though it’s not available for swimming, it is very pictures and impressive.

One of the greatest things about India and especially Mumbai is the well-known, delicious cuisine. That is why I believe that restaurants are one of the best places you can visit, especially if you are passionate about food. Mumbai is famous for excellent restaurants that serve both traditional coastal food and specialities from other parts of the country.

boat in Mumbai's promenade

Mumbai’s port is a hub for boats [Oliwia Dworakowska]

Masala Library is a fine dining restaurant in Bandra Kurla Complex – a very modern, business district of Mumbai. The restaurant won a Micheline star and is one of the best fine dining restaurants in India. It offers fusion cuisinetraditional Indian food made with modern cooking techniques and different approaches.

Masala Library has created a separate vegetarian and non-vegetarian menu as well as a ten-course tasting menu. The food is delicious and served in very unconventional ways; I would highly recommend booking a table as it is once in a lifetime experience.

Every metropolitan city in the world has a very prominent cafe culture, as does Mumbai. SodaBottleOpenerWala in Bandra East is an Irani Café that offers a mix of Bombay and Parsi food that is not so common anymore.

Persian food and culture have massively influenced India, and SodaBottleOpenerWala is trying to uphold the tradition and create food that connects these two cultures.

For the sweet cravings, Sweetish House Mafia and Naturals are the best places for dessert in the city. The first one is Mumbai’s version of Ben’s cookies, equally tasty and fresh and Naturals offers vegan and organic ice cream of different flavours.

In the previously mentioned district Juhu, the most exciting place to get a drink is Bar Stock Exchange. It is a very fun and unusual bar with an interesting concept.

The idea is that every spirit starts with the retail price and the prices rise in direct proportion to its consumption over a period of time at the bar to make sure that the customers get the best prices. From time to time, there is a big market crash and all the prices go down.

woman crossing the street holding hands with two boys

A mother walks her two children to school [Oliwia Dworakowska]

My favourite going-out place in Mumbai was a club/bar Raasta located in Khar West. Adorned in Jamaican style, it brings back Bob Marley’s spirit and very good music. There are events organised every weekend with DJ’s from different parts of the country.

Unfortunately, a new policy in Maharashtra allows clubs and bars to be open only until 1:00 am, but I would still recommend to go and see how people dance and have fun.

Mumbai is a unique city of sounds, colours and smells – after a few hours of uncertainty, a person soaks in Mumbai, and it remains one of the most interesting places to visit. It’s a good city to start the adventure with India as it impresses with its diversity and unique atmosphere.

The cuisine is absolutely outstanding, from sweets (mango lassi, kulfi, laddu) to biryani, masala to paneer and excellent chutney.

Mumbai reflects the contrasts of the present day. The constant stream of cars, rickshaws and bicycles that flow through the streets day and night is overwhelming, but Mumbai is the kind of city that you fall in love with slowly but deeply. 

 

 

 


Featured image by Oliwia Dworakowska.

Edited by: Emma Jepsen & Kesia Evans.

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