Formerly made up of seven islands, Mumbai today is a buzzing metropolis that seems to be growing upwards to match the country’s ambitions. It may be the financial capital of India, but Bollywood is its biggest export and greatest draw. It’s a city that is continuously reinventing itself, bit by bit. You will find a resurgent Kala Ghoda today, a new side to Byculla tomorrow, and Bandra—there’s a new restaurant or snack bar opening practically every weekend. How do you pack in everything on a trip? Here’s a guide.
Best time to visit: October to February is the best time to explore Mumbai.
How to reach
By Air: Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is the main airport, located about 30km from north of the city. IndiGo operates more than 100 daily non-stop flights between Mumbai and other key locations in India and abroad.
By Train: The city of dreams is well-connected to rest of the country through a good network of Express trains as well as passenger trains.
By Bus: Mumbai has a vast network of buses connecting it to the all major town and cities of the country.
Getting around: Auto-rickshaws, Black and yellow taxis, app-based cab services like Ola & Uber, local trains (known as the lifeline of the city), now metro (from Versova to Ghatkopar) along with BSR buses are the convenient and most common means of travelling around Mumbai.
Putting a twist on food from around the country, in less than two years, Bombay Canteen has managed to change perceptions of Indian food, without resorting to gimmicks like molecular gastronomy. An ever-evolving menu showcases regional cuisine and inventive fusion fare. Thepla tacos, anyone?
Run by the anglophile Boman Irani, this is where you come for a Parsi meal. Get the berry pulav, salli chicken and mutton dhansak, before rounding out your meal with caramel custard, all under the watchful eyes of a cutout Queen Elizabeth. Elco Pani Puri Centre, Bandra: On busy Hill Road, you’ll find people protecting themselves from the sun, under Elco’s signboard, while eating their way through an array of chaats, Indian snacks and, of course, pani puri. Join them!
A local favourite when it comes to coastal cuisine, the fish koliwada and bombil fry are a must-have at Gajalee. There are two outlets in the city, but the original at Vile Parle is the one you should stop by at for a meal.
For kebabs, pakoras and rolls, Khane Khas is where you should go. The hole-in-the-wall joint with plastic tables and not much else serves up mouthwatering rustic food with a particular focus on North Indian specialities.
Coastal seafood restaurants abound in the city, but the most underrated is Pratap Lunch Home, which serves a mean prawn gassi to be lapped up with airy appams. Wash it all down with a sol kadi and walk out satisfied.
An all-vegetarian, all-you-can-eat Gujarati thali is a must-do when in Mumbai, and no one does it better than Shree Thaker Bhojanalay. Serving wholesome home-style food, you’re guaranteed to waddle out afterwards.
With two city outlets, Swati Snacks is favourite for its homemade chaats, and other vegetarian food. What you have to order though is the banana leaf-wrapped pankhi chutney, a Gujarati favourite.
Lauded as one of the most excellent restaurants in Mumbai, Chef Alex Sanchez’s globe-trotting menu is a firm favourite with locals who want quality food. With some of its production coming from the restaurant’s farm in Alibag, you can remain assured of its freshness.
Colaba Causeway and Linking road: Strolling along Colaba Causeway, you’re bound to find something to take back home. From supple shawls to a range of sunglasses, vintage compasses and, of course, junk jewellery, the hawkers that crowd the footpath have it all. Colourful juttis, wood and soapstone figurines, and basic leather goods, there’s something for everyone. On Bandra’s Linking Road too, you’ll find hawkers of every stripe with an array of options.
Kala Ghoda: For the design-inclined, a visit to Filter, tucked away in Kala Ghoda is a must. Selling everything from chocolates to magazines and notebooks, the store features a well-curated mix of eclectic items that you didn’t know you needed.
Nicobar: Nearby, Nicobar has a range of clothing and housewares that skilfully brings together India’s maximalist tendencies with design blog minimalism.
Kulture Shop: Also, worth visiting is Kulture Shop, in Bandra, which stocks posters, mugs and more from India’s leading graphic artists.
Palladium: When it comes to a one-stop shop, Lower Parel’s Palladium has everything from Zara to Muji for a day of shopping that will please the label-obsessed.
Chor Bazaar: Another place to check out (though save your trip for when it’s not too hot) is Chor Bazaar, where secondhand cameras, records, antiques, furniture and lights are all up for grabs. You’ll also find furniture-making workshops where you can get a replica Raj-era furniture made.
Clubbing is still a big part of the city’s weekend culture, but a host of affordable bars means more people are willing to spend the night drinking with friends.
Social: The number of Social outlets in the city seems to grow every day, but for our money Khar Social, which hosts gigs in its basement is probably the one to make a beeline for.
Bonobo: If you’re looking for live music, Bonobo, in Bandra programs an eclectic cross-section of the country’s indie music scene.
Aer: If you have the means, plan an evening at Aer, the rooftop lounge at the Four Seasons, where mixologist Ashish Sharma puts together a host of inventive cocktails using local ingredients.
Dome: Another rooftop bar, this time on the InterContinental Hotel, looks out over Marine Drive, and a sundowner here is truly spectacular, as you can see the sun set into the Arabian Sea.
Woodside Inn, Doolally Taproom and Café Zoe: If you’re looking to catch up with friends over drinks, or spend an evening with well-made cocktails and that I-never-want-to-leave vibe, Woodside Inn, Doolally Taproom and Lower Parel’s Café Zoe are some of your best bets.
Brewbot and Independence Brewing Company: We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the craft beer revolution sweeping the city, and the microbreweries that now dot Andheri. Brewbot and Independence Brewing Company both offer a rotating selection of craft beers made in-house (as does the Doolally mentioned above).
Olive: The city’s swish set can be found at Olive in Bandra, virtually all nights of the week, and you should make your way there, to sample The Olive, their signature cocktail.
The Drunken Clam: Or then party with chef Kelvin Cheung, who’s friends with Sonam Kapoor and a range of A-listers, his Bandra bar, The Drunken Clam (before that, line the stomach at Bastian, a floor below, for a meal whipped up by him and Boo Kwang Kim).
Trilogy: For those looking to go clubbing, the most popular spot is Trilogy, at Juhu’s Sea Princess hotel. Spread across two levels, the nightclub has played host to a range of celebrity DJs and offered VIP tables, where you might spot a Bollywood celebrity or two.
Tryst: In town, make your way to Tryst, which is kitted out with a great sound system and plays a healthy mix of popular EDM and Bollywood hits.
Abode Bombay, Colaba A boutique hotel that thoughtfully combines contemporary flourishes with old-world touch, Abode is a refuge from cookie-cutter hotel rooms in a central location.
Hotel Fariyas, Colaba This hotel is popular with those who favour location over all else. Walk to the Gateway of India, the shops that line Colaba Causeway and more from here.
Hotel Residency, Fort Amidst the city’s old business district, rooms at the Hotel Residency are comfortable and with modern amenities. Best of all, it’s within walking distance of a ton of tourist sites.
JW Marriott Mumbai, Juhu A sprawling property that opens out onto the beach, the Marriott is famous as a meeting spot for the film fraternity. Besides the celebrity spotting, make sure to have a meal at Dashanzi, which does excellent Asian fare.
The Oberoi, Mumbai, Marine Drive Ask for a room that overlooks the Arabian Sea for a view that will leave you spellbound. The hotel has a standout Italian restaurant and a Champagne lounge, where the wines are impressive, but the bright red piano steals the show.
The St Regis Mumbai, Lower Parel This luxury hotel is where the city parties on the weekend, but its central location is what makes it popular with guests. Towering above Phoenix Mills, you can visit the mall after a hectic day—to shop, watch a movie or grab a bite.
Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Colaba An enduring property, the heritage wing offer spacious rooms and old-world charm. The new tower has the signature Taj service, and between the two they have a range of eateries that offer a variety of cuisines.
Dhobi Ghat, and Dharavi: These two places are primarily popular with international tourists, and may be worth a detour.
Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum: Culture lovers should visit the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, a museum with spectacular interiors that gives you a peek into the history of Bombay.
Bandra: En route to Bandra, stop off and pay your respects at Siddhivinayak Temple, which is a Mumbai institution. Once at Bandra, don’t forget to take a walk on Carter Road, which overlooks the sea, and explore the urban villages that still dot the area.
Karjat: It is quite famous for adventure activities and trekking. Located on the basin if river Ulhas, Karjat promises, scenic views, beautiful mountains and ancient rock-cut caves along with being one of the best locations near Mumbai to spend a weekend.
Matheran: Settled on the top of the Western Ghats, Matheran is among the oldest hill station in Mumbai. The lush green fields, serene environment and picturesque view, make this place an ideal weekend getaway. Being here, you must experience a ride on the Neral-Matheran toy train.
Lonavala-Khandala: Now this place needs no introduction. Be it a perfect road trip or a short escape for one day from Mumbai or a location amidst hills, this place caters to everything, and that is why hold a special place in the hearts of Mumbaikars.
Alibaug: It’s a popular beach destination near Mumbai with sprints from history, and you can reach here either by ferry or by road. The ferries are available from Gateway of India in South Mumbai.
There’s a Mumbai for every interest so that you can explore the city on your terms. For architecture and design lovers, a walk around the Oval Maidan presents Indo-Saracenic style Bombay High Court and Rajabai Tower on one side, and the low-slung Art Deco buildings on the other. From there walk past the imposing colonial buildings and buy a ticket for Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus’ Railway Museum and stroll into the grand station’s administrative section, where you can marvel at the cavernous dome that echoes with every footstep. All-encompassing heritage tours can get booked from Raconteur Heritage Walks, who guide you through the historic district.
Culture vultures should check local papers and catch a show at the NCPA’s Experimental Theatre, a lively black box that hosts young talent, or at Prithvi Theatre in Juhu, where the intimate performance space demands your full attention. Each has a café on the premises, for those that want to sit around and soak in the atmosphere.
Those on the trail of the Mumbai hipster must go to Mahalaxmi’s Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters, where circular windows allow you to see the action in the roastery. Try their single-origin coffees and pair it with a Magazine Street Kitchen croissant or Le 15 cupcake. Then catch a movie at Matterden at The Deepak, a refurbished single-screen theatre that shows a range of arthouse and foreign language films, in addition to the populist fare. Also worth visiting is The Revolver Club, in Mahim, for vinyl that includes new artistes and pre-owned favourites. If you’re looking to end your night with something unusual, take a night-cycling tour of the city, which is organised by Reality Tours, to see the city when it’s not as crowded. It starts at Kala Ghoda and ends at Worli Fort.