Most UK holidaymakers visiting India either head directly to the sun-kissed beaches of Goa or to Delhi and the Golden Triangle. Few think to stop in Mumbai and check out the home of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and the heady heights of Bollywood royalty.
Who can blame them? First impressions are not good. It is noisy, smelly, smoggy and rampant with begging children. The traffic is mental, the driving insane and the 32km from the airport in a cab stifling, but give this city a chance, and you may be pleasantly surprised.
Be Seduced by Mumbai in Just 48 Hours
Allow 48 hours to visit Mumbai, and it may just seduce you with its heady mix of nightlife, shopping, culture and sightseeing.
Stuti, of Me And My Suitcase, a resident Mumbaiker, has provided us with her top picks for things to do. I have to confess, we didn’t run with her complete itinerary (sorry Stuti, we just couldn’t face hours in a car to get to Kanheri, but it is on the list for next time!) but we incorporated many of her suggestions for which I’m incredibly grateful.
So without further ado, if you are arriving in the evening, head to the Intercontinental Marine Drive, and the Dome Skybar on the 8th floor.
The Dome SkyBar
At night, this is heaving with wealthy Mumbaikers, and pulses with chill out Cafe Del Mumbai sounds. The music and cocktails are hypnotic, but be warned the drinks are extortionate by Indian standards (a beer usually costs between 70 and 100 RPs but here you will pay 450RPs + taxes and service.)
Don’t let that put you off though. This place is worth the splurge, with fabulous views over Marine Drive, the shrill of car horns far below and a balmy breeze wafting over the terrace. Dazzling white sofas dot the wooden decking, the softest of black and white pillows invite you to sink into them (so soft, I want to stroke them!) and ambient, cathedral candles bathe the deck in golden hues.
It’s one cool cookie indeed!
Breakfast at the Intercontinental Long & Short Gastro
The following morning, stick with the Intercontinental theme, and head to the Long & Short bar for a truly sublime buffet, including a la carte options of eggs benedict, omelettes and Asian specialities. This is one funky restaurant with cool photos and artefacts decorating the wall. Miniature iron bicycles rest on wooden shelves, and the bar looks like it should be in Raffles.
Tuck in to a spread of fruits, eggs on demand, pastries and a wide selection of teas or coffees, after all you need to get your strength up for the day ahead.
After eating, head to the outdoor terrace to marvel at sweeping views of the bay, and the incessant honking down below. Every other car seems to be a black and yellow cab, and boy do they like to make their presence known.
No matter what time of day, there will also be plenty of activity on the causeway to keep you amused while you enjoy your morning coffee.
Morning – Elephanta Caves
Suitably satiated, leave the hotel and stroll over to The Gateway of India for the ferry to the Elephanta Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s about a fifteen minute walk, and the ticket will cost you 160RPs (be sure to check your change, as we were short-changed, but thankfully spotted it in time!).
You will be able to snap some great views during the 45 minute journey, and enjoy a break from the Colaba noise (and heat!).
Once you arrive at the island, a postbox red toy train joyfully greets you and whisks you down the quayside. From there, you embark on the long, sweaty climb to the caves, accosted by what seems like hundreds of storekeepers during the climb. I’m not sure which is more tiring; the thigh busting climb or fending off the merchants.
Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with magnificent carvings of Parvati, Ravana, and Lord Shiva hued from the basalt rock, although the original elephant statue, which gives the island its name, has now been removed to Bhau Daji Lad museum in Mumbai.
The island carvings remain shrouded in mystery with their exact date and original unknown, but estimated to be between the 5th and 8th century.
Noon – Gateway of India
Upon your return from the Elephanta Caves, spend some time at the Gateway of India. Imagine yourself transported to a different era, where King George and Queen Mary disembark their tender directly beneath the archway.
We don’t have to imagine too hard, as that is exactly what happens when we return, a truly fabulous way to view the archway. Inside, it is a mixture of Hindu and Muslim architecture (the arch is Islamic, whilst the decorations are Hindu) with a cavernous hall big enough to house 2,000 to 2,500. Tourists are not allowed inside the archway so you will have to settle for a tantalising glimpse.
Alternatively, you may wish to time your visit to Elephanta Caves to enjoy fabulous views of the Gateway and Taj Palace beyond at sunset. If so, take the 2pm ferry and be sure to get the 5pm return which should be perfect timing!
Take a Long Stroll
After lunch, take a stroll to Chowpatty/Girgaon beach. BE WARNED: this is not for the faint hearted! It is a good two to three miles in sweltering heat, but along the way you will pass a myriad of neighbourhoods, and will often feel like you are on the South Beach version of Mumbai, such is the eclectic mix of Art Deco buildings, reminiscent of Miami.
In my opinion, Chowpatty is even more over-rated than Bondi (and at least that beach has a great view!) however you have to come here if you are coming to Mumbai. Failure to do so, would be like failing to visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Big Ben in London.
Crowds of locals swarm to the beach, dipping their toes, or sharing makeshift picnics underneath the watchful eye of downtown skyscrapers. Treat yourself to a charcoal corn on the cob from hawkers on the beach, for a bargain 30 RPs! Smothered in lime and salt, they taste delicious, and I’m adding them to my list of healthy snacks.
After a well-earned rest, head to Havana for Cuban cocktails, and a selection of Indian and Caribbean foods. The cocktails are great, and it is just minutes from our hotel, so no more feet abuse!
After another hearty breakfast at Abode, our chic boutique hotel in Colaba, get your walking shoes on and head to the main train terminus, making sure to pass by the Oval Maiden on your way.
Cricket Contagion at the Oval
Never have I seen such passion for a sport (especially one which frankly can be a bit dull!). It may be a national sport in the UK, but in India cricket fever reaches giddy heights. This innocuous looking park, in the heart of the city, is home to more teams than I care to count playing formal and casual games of cricket.
Fathers play with their sons, bedraggled school kids team up, hassled city workers let off steam, and league teams compete, all with one common aim to play cricket, wherever there is a tiny sliver of available land, throwing endless balls whilst the recipient attempts to whack them into oblivion. So numerous are the teams that the fielding greens all merge into one another.
It’s fascinating to watch, so much so I’m inspired to want to join in. Then I remember my throwing is pathetic (think, pathetic under-arm dribble) and my rounders batting was pitiful at best! They may throw me off the team in disgrace, and I can’t face the shame!
Gaze in Awe at Chhatrapati Shivaji Train Terminus
Instead, we continue on our way to the train station, another UNESCO world heritage site named after the founding king of the Maratha Empire.
My husband doesn’t understand my fascination with trains at all. I think he is secretly worried I will try to hoodwink him into a horrific overnight journey that will fuel stories of torture for years to come.
He has thus tried to deter me from this tourist attraction, but even he admits that this train station is worth a detour. It is a masterpiece in Victorian architecture, more impressive even than St Pancras in London, with its melange of Victorian and Mughal influences.
Built in 1887, the scale is magnificent. Huge lions adorn iron gateways, courtyards lead to official looking offices and giant causeways within throng with hoards of busy commuters. Doors on trains stay open during travel, and crowds of people skip sprightly onto the platform before the train even comes to a standstill.
Shopping on Colaba Causeway
Alas, I’m dragged away to go shopping on the Colaba Causeway. It is not quite Anjuna market or Dilli Haat in Delhi, but it’s fun for a while, and gives our haggling muscles a workout.
It has the added bonus of being near to our lunch stop, the infamous Leopold Café.
The Leopold Cafe offers great value, ample meals and a cabinet of fabulous looking cakes. There’s cool memorabilia on the walls, and it has a nice relaxed vibe with a mix of tourists and locals chatting away over sharing plates.
Should you want a memory of your visit, to get you through those cold winter days, souvenir glasses are a bargain at just 150RPs (less than £2).
With full bellies, and hands full of scarves, t-shirts, candles and incense, we stroll back to the hotel with our packages. Suitably lightened and freshened up, we head to our last calling place of the day, the Taj Palace, the most iconic hotel of Mumbai dating back to 1903. It’s been host to a range of dignitaries including Obama and Brad and Angelina so obviously I’m in great company!
A Posh End to Your Day
It’s in proud position opposite the Gateway, a defining symbol of British colonialism in India, and a truly beautiful architectural wonder.
After more people watching and a thorough exploration, we head to the Sea Lounge for afternoon tea. I’m not talking the full afternoon tea experience (I’m not sure it even exists, as it isn’t showing on their website, or on their menu) instead you pick from an extensive list of teas. We are seated in the window and thus can gaze unhindered at the Gateway, admiring the bobbing boats in the harbour and the general bustle on the quayside.
The fun isn’t over yet though, you have just enough time to squeeze in another outing to a cool Mumbai eaterie.
Head to Social behind the Taj Palace for a busy dining and drinking outing. This place is packed to the rafters with young socialites, couples bickering, tourists and groups of friends. It has big sports screens, equally big beer tubes, some strange Halloween decorations and some of the most gigantesque, chocolate desserts I have ever seen.
Waiters swarm about the bar, ushering new arrivals into nooks and cranny, and promptly serving them with beers and cocktails. This is a place where it is easy to get carried away, and if you do it’s only a short stumble back to your hotel assuming you are staying in the heart of Colaba. The pumping music has even the Cinderellas among us pumped up and ready to party.
We stayed at the Intercontinental Marine Drive for one night (love the bar!) and Abode Bombay for two nights. You can read our full review of Abode here but suffice it to say, it is a gem! You can book direct or go via Hotels.com to benefit from one night free with every ten booked.
We took a taxi to and from the airport at a cost of around 700 RPs but be sure to allow plenty of time for your journey as the traffic is horrific!
So that is how you can enjoy a manic few days in Mumbai. Yes the city is noisy, chaotic and unpredictable, but it is also fascinating, rammed with architectural gems with Art Deco, Hindu, Mughal and Victorian periods.
It has bars and restaurants of a quality to rival anywhere else I’ve been, and whilst it won’t be the cheapest place in India you visit, you can certainly enjoy some luxury experiences here without breaking the bank.
Do you love or loathe Mumbai?
Have you visited Mumbai? Did you love it or loathe it? Perhaps you have some great tips to share. I’d love to know what you thought of the city, so be a love and let us know below.