City Guide to Delhi

Delhi - Culture, Cuisine and Contradiction

15. Apr 2022
by Punita Malhotra

An intriguing history dating back two millennia, impressive architectural monuments, sprawling heritage gardens, a buzzing cultural scene and some of the best cuisine in the country, India's capital is a kaleidoscope of possibilities.

WIth an estimated population of 32 million souls, Delhi is sizeable - at just under 1,500 square kilometres. Called Shahjahanabad by Emperor Shah Jahan (he of the Taj Mahal in Agra), the magnificent walled city was renamed Old Delhi by the British in 1911 when a "new" modern Delhi was constructed by the British. This coincided with the declaration by King George V that the capital of "British" India would be moved from Kolkata (Calcutta) to Delhi. Inauguarted in 1931, New Delhi is filled with stunning colonial buildings and memorials - designed by the likes of Lutyens - that now form part of India's political and judicial life. The roads and layout of New Delhi are wide, ordered and formal - "Old" Delhi however, is a polar opposite - but so much more the India that visitors expect. 

Lady with Tiffin

As a honeypot for mighty dynasties, brutal conquerors and ambitious rulers over five millennia, Delhi has a multi-chequered, multi-layered legacy at par with some of the most ancient cities in the world. Today, the political powerhouse of the world's biggest democracy, and the most populous city of India, is a melting pot of cultures, a mecca for fine cuisine and a maze of cosmopolitan contradictions. Here traffic-choked roads snake beside sprawling green patches, battered tombs stand next to glitzy malls, and boho-chic cafes thrive alongside spicy street-food stalls. The pace is frenetic, and the distractions are a dime a dozen. There's a lot to assimilate, so dive in with gusto.

Shopping in Delhi can be a hot and dusty affair

An apt start is the emblematic UNESCO World Heritage site of Qutb Minar Complex, located at the 8th-century Lal Kot, the first recorded city of Delhi. The entire ensemble of ruins dating to the beginning of Islamic rule in the country is haunting, especially at sunrise. But its claim to fame is the 13th-century brick minaret, the tallest in the world, exquisitely adorned with Koranic verses.

Qutb Minar

Peep into Delhi's first mosque, the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, an example of fine Indo-Muslim art. Then slip into the neighbouring Mehrauli Archeological Park, 100-acres of green land is scattered with remnants from every era of Delhi's history, from the pre-Islamic to the late Mughal and the colonial period, including ancient step-wells, mosques and tombs.

Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque

Plan a quiet morning to explore Humayun's Tomb, the marble-sandstone shrine of the second Mughal Emperor of India, a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage site with a Charbagh (quadrilateral garden), water channels and tinkling fountains. Considered the inspiration for many monuments, including the Taj Mahal, the tomb boasts a super-sized double dome and a superlative blend of Indo-Persian artistic features.

Humayun's Tomb

Soak it all in, then continue next door to the urban oasis of Sunder Nursery, a 90-acre heritage park dotted with restored tombs like Sunder Burj, Lakkarwala Burj, and Sunderwala Mahal. Meditative moments take centre stage at the nearby shrine of venerated Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. His spiritual heritage continues through poetry and Qawwali (Muslim devotional music) performances.

Sunder Nursery

The pursuit of the past reaches its zenith at the old walled city, Shahjahanabad, built by Emperor Shahjahan in the 17th-century. Relive the glory of the Mughal royal era as you explore the two architectural icons of the area, the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid. Then disappear into the warren of narrow streets that make up Chandni Chowk (Moonlight Square). Find flashes of romance in exotic trade bazaars, traditional food stalls and crumbling mansions. Imagine the glory and glitter of the bygone era, when it was a centre of commerce and culture back then, attracting the ambitious and the learned with bustling markets, poetry-reading sessions, communal bathhouses and pigeon-flying competitions.

Jama Masjid

Finally, venture into the generous green spaces and broad avenues of central Delhi, built by the British in the early 20th-century as an imperial enclave. All the modern symbols of democratic India, like the President's House, Parliament House and India Gate (the ceremonial gate dedicated to war martyrs), are situated in this district. End the day with a round-up of Connaught Place, a commercial centre with collonaded Georgian-style buildings housing shops, vintage cinemas, restaurants and offices.

India Gate


Central Cottage Industries Emporium: This government-owned enterprise at Janpath, Central Delhi, is a one-stop-shop for authentic, aesthetic and fine quality handloom and handicraft products from craft clusters all across India. Sculpture, paintings, metalware, woodcraft, pottery, stoneware, marble ware, carpets, furniture, home accessories and textiles, you can find endless products reflecting the diverse cultural tapestry of the entire country.

Central Cottage Industries Emporium

: The vibrant flamboyance of Indian fashion has always influenced global trends. India's designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Tarun Tahiliani, Ritu Kumar and Anamika Khanna compete with the best international labels in world-renowned fashion festivals with their rich embroideries and sumptuous fabrics. Splurge on traditional Indian outfits or experiment with contemporary silhouettes at the exclusive boutiques housed in charming mansions of Mehrauli in South Delhi.

Sabyasachi Mukherjee - can be found in Mehrauli

Santushti Complex
: Head to this posh shopping complex run by the Air Force Wives Association, located in the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri. If you wish to escape the hustle-bustle of crowded bazaars. Browse for treasured pieces of home decor, silver jewellery, leather accessories, premium tea and even Cuban cigars in the 30-odd boutiques dotting the manicured lawns.

Santushti Complex

DLF Emporio
: Delhi's most premium retail address in South Delhi is your destination for most coveted global labels including Burberry, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Salvatore Ferragamo. The mall is also home to the best of signature Indian designer wear, including  Abu & Sandeep Jani, Manish Malhotra, Raghavendra Rathore, Ashima Leena and Namrata Joshipura.

DLF Emporio

Museums & the Arts:

National Museum: One of India's prime museums has a staggering collection of 200,000 artworks spanning over five thousand years of cultural heritage. The exhibits vary from pre-historic archaeology to jewellery, paintings, decorative arts, manuscripts, Central Asian antiquities and Armoury.

National Museum 

National Gallery of Modern Art
: Understand the evolution of modern and contemporary art in India. Over 17,000 displays cover a journey from the 1850s to the present day in this wonderfully curated museum, from ancient miniature paintings to masterpieces by masters like Rabindranath Tagore, Amrita Sher-gill, Raja Ravi Varma, M.F.Hussain.

National Gallery of Modern Art

National Rail Museum
: The unique heritage of the Indian Railways (Asia's most extensive and world's second-largest rail network) is showcased in this one of a kind museum. Noteworthy exhibits include the oldest monorail concept, the oldest working steam locomotive, and carriages that transported royalty.

National Rail Museum

Rashtrapati Bhawan Museum
: India's first underground museum complex is your window into the presidential residence of the world's largest democracy. Take a fascinating capsule course in the story of India's freedom struggle with state-of-the-art interactive displays in 11,000 square meters of space.

Rashtrapati Bhawan Museum

Museo Camera, Centre for Photographic Arts
: Located in Gurugram, a commercial suburb of the city, India's first centre for photographic art is the brainchild and private collection of an eminent Indian Photographer and visual historian, Aditya Arya. The 3,000 objects on display include rare cameras, equipment and photographic accessories from more than a hundred countries.

Museo Camera, Centre for Photographic Arts


Polo: In India, polo is an indigenous game that has been played in the north-eastern state of Manipur for centuries. Delhi boasts some of the most famous polo clubs in the country, including Army Polo & Riding Club and Aspen Riding and Polo Academy.


: The city has some beautifully manicured golf courses you can learn the rules of the game or sharpen your teeing skills. The Delhi Golf Club (originally Lodhi Club) is one of Asia’s oldest golf courses, founded in the 1920s. Alternatively, try night golfing at the 18-hole, par 72 DLF Golf And Country Club with enviable views of the Aravalli hills.

The DLF Golf And Country Club 

: Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range, renovated during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, is considered to be one of the best shooting ranges by top shooters from around the world, with state-of-the-art facilities. There are various shooting ranges suitable for shooters, amateurs and professionals. Give it your best shot.

Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range

Restaurants & Bars:

Bukhara: This restaurant located in ITC Maurya Hotel is an evergreen favourite of epicureans for delectable, hearty northwest frontier cuisine and kebab platters. Make yourself comfortable at a log table within rustic stone walls beside the open kitchen. Dishes to order include Murg Tandoori (whole chicken marinated in yoghurt and spices), Dal Bukhari (rich, creamy, slow-cooked black lentils cooked overnight) and Bhavan Kulcha (baked bread stuffed with cottage cheese). The cutlery-free experience is worth writing home about.


Indian Accent
: For a modern take on Indian cuisine, reserve a gourmet-themed evening at this poolside restaurant at The Lodhi Hotel. The tasting menu is your ticket to sink into a delicious daze is one of India's most awarded and best restaurants. Some unexpected dishes are Scottish Salmon with Masala Miso and Tandoori Pygmy Pineapple with country liquor reduction.

Indian Accent

Spice Route
: Ornamented interiors provide a perfect backdrop to a broad spectrum of Pan Asian cuisines at this iconic restaurant at the Imperial Hotel. Travel from the Malabar coast to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia with the authentic, flavoursome menu. Chemin Thoren (Kerala style prawns), Kung Nang Phad Khing (stir-fried lobster) and Phad Phak (stir-fried baby spinach with black mushrooms) are divine.

Spice Route

Le Cirque
: The Indian outpost of the iconic New York-based fine dining institution is housed at the Leela Palace Hotel in the diplomatic enclave of Delhi. Fresh seasonal produce and culinary finesse make up an impressive Italian menu. Gourmands will love the signature Lobster Bisque and the Eggplant Parmigiana.

Le Cirque

: Book a table at this elegant restaurant in The Leela Palace Hotel to embark on a delectable journey of Japanese regional cuisines. Traditional red and black colour lacquered walls and embroidered silk kimono fabric add to the ambience. Recommended dishes include the Hamachi Carpaccio, Salmon Tartare and Kanzuri Shrimp.


Exclusive Experience:

Dharampura Haveli, a boutique hotel tucked away deep in the labyrinth of historic Old Delhi, has been converted from a 19th-century mansion and is tagged with the UNESCO Asia - Pacific Award for Cultural and Heritage Conservation. Cross the threshold of its solid brass gates to be transported back into the splendour of the Mughal era. The Riad-like three-storied structure with a central courtyard has a tinkling fountain and is dressed with intricate Arabesque tile-work, sandstone and marble inlay work and carved bannisters. The flawlessly prepared local favourites in the Lahori restaurant are unmissable. But the highlight is the live performances of Sufi music and classical Kathak dance on the weekend.

Dharampura Haveli

Must-buy Souvenir:

Good Earth is a sustainable luxury Indian brand that has turned artisanal legacy into a contemporary lifestyle. Drawing from symbols and motifs of nature, history and heritage, their iconic stores are more like thoughtfully curated art galleries, with enticing aromas, lush velvets and exotic embroideries. Come back loaded with bags full of incense, crockery, spa products, décor, dinnerware, bed linen, porcelain and painted glassware, cushions, garments and shawls.

A piece from Good Earth is a must

Side trip:

Embark on a two-hour road trip to Agra, the city of the timeless Taj Mahal, a flawless marble mausoleum built by Emperor Shahjahan for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Carry on to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Agra Fort, which served as the headquarters of the Mughal Empire. Stop at Itmad-ud-Daulah (mausoleum of Shahjahan's father-in-law), a lesser-known monument with exquisite and detailed marble inlay workmanship.

Agra and the magnificent Taj Mahal

Hidden gem:

Give Delhi's quirky artistry a chance at Lodhi Colony Art District. Wander down the streets searching for psychedelic canvases painted by Indian and international artists. Themes vary from folk and pop culture to more topical issues. Street art tours are available, should you need a guide.


For such an immense city, there is surprisingly not a huge choice of luxury hotels. The ones the city does have are quite special. The city of Agra – home to the Taj Mahal – is a day or two-trip away.
The guide to the best hotels in New Delhi and Agra

Oberoi Amarvillas

Getting around:

Indira Gandhi International Airport is located 14-kilometres southwest of the city centre. The most convenient way to reach your destination is by booking a ride from the prepaid taxi booth or arranging a hotel pickup. Taxis are readily available to move around within the city, and driving is best avoided.

India's train system is immense searches hundreds of travel sites at once to help you find the best premium travel offers for both flights and accommodation in New Delhi. 

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