Densely populated, polluted and congested - Mumbai is still indisputably cool. Often described as the “city of dreams”, Mumbai is a place of extremes; from majestic art deco buildings to the largest slum in India and the world. With its beautiful coastal location and tangle of jungle, this cosmopolitan city and financial hub of India, is for the creative and hip, it’s the heart of Bollywood, and a melting pot of cultures, religions and food.
Do not be put off by its frustrating public transport and sprawling scale (Mumbai is HUGE), embrace its furious energy, marvel at its colonial architecture and indulge in some of the best and diverse restaurants in the country.
Mumbai’s international airport is Chhatrapati International, about 30 km from the city centre. It was recorded last year as the world’s busiest airport connecting many non-domestic flights to Mumbai. Main airlines are Air India and Jet Airways; they also have offices within the airport.
Long distance buses run from the Mumbai Central bus station, these are run by the government and are cheaper and more frequent than private buses. Private buses are more comfortable, slightly more expensive but far more reliable. Most private buses depart from near the Mumbai central station, any hostel will be able to help or use the website National CTC.
As a traveller there are two main stations in Mumbai; Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) or Bombay Central (BCT).
Mumbai is one of the world’s busiest networks so book in advance to avoid any disappointment. Go to IRCTC to book, for more information about how to tackle the overwhelming train service in India read our general India guide.
Go Travel and Talk Top Tips:
- Book in advance!!!
- Take earplugs, eye mask and a jumper.
- The air conditioning can be bone chilling!
- Take care of your luggage and ensure any values remain on you whilst you are asleep.
- Set an alarm for when you think you’re going to arrive (although be prepared for some Indian delays) since there are no announcements.
Mumbai is India’s largest city, (and you can really feel it) it’s very congested - don’t expect to get anywhere fast! A few days in the city only allows you scrape the surface, so we suggest you focus on some particular areas to explore thoroughly.
Hopping in a black and yellow taxi is the easiest way to get around; they are cheap even for the frugalist of travellers. Usually without prompting the taxi driver will put on the meter reliving you of any hard bargaining. Try to avoid rush hour, you’ll travel no where quickly!
This is a great way to whiz in between the traffic of Mumbai as well as being a great experience. Note that fare prices increase past midnight.
The metro Line 1 has now extended down past CST station, however it is yet to connect Colaba. Line 3 is currently under construction connecting Colaba and Bandra. If this takes you to your desired location, it’s a great way to dodge the congestion and pollution.
Do not try attempt to board a suburban train during rush hour! The trains are best avoided all together, however if necessary buy a ‘tourist ticket’ which permits unlimited travel for 3-5 days. Ladies travelling alone might want to stick to female only carriages and most importantly avoid empty cars, it’s always best to sit near a local family.
Just don’t! The city is too large and busy to get anywhere.
A great way to fully grasp the city is to explore it in the early morning as it starts to awake. Leaving at dawn you can see all the various industries at work preparing for the day ahead, the newspapers, food, flowers, laundry etc. It really summarises your thoughts on India which is that it’s organised chaos yet somehow everything seems to work! There are several people offering tours around the Gateway of India and the hotel Adobe Bombay can organise a fantastic one for you.
As part of 'old Mumbai', the lively area of Colaba is home to the Gateway of India, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and a seaside prmenade lined with cafes, modern restaurants and market sellers.
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is an iconic landmark in Mumbai that was built in 1903. This elegant and grand hotel is stunning inside and out and located by the harbour and the Gateway of India. It’s definitely worth a nose inside to admire the ornate blend of nostalgic elegance and rich history.
The Gateway of India
The Gateway of India is a symbolic monument (pictured). It is a colonial arch that was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and years later the last remaining British regiment walked under it to give India its wanted independence. It’s a great place to people watch and is very popular with locals. This is also the place to get a boat across to Elephanta Island (see below).
There are some grand colonial buildings around Colaba. A great way to explore them is to walk from Colaba to the Fort area, checking out the art deco Regal cinema, National Gallery of Modern Art and the Horniman Circle. Colaba is also home to some great independent art galleries, boutiques and textile shops.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Train Station (CST), formerly known as Victoria Terminus, is UNESCO World Heritage Site and a magnificent feat of colonial architecture. Built in 1888, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Train Station remains one of the most historical landmarks within the Central Business District of Mumbai. The station is a hive of activity and also serves as the headquarters of the Central Railways. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Train Station is a designer’s dream - a blend of gothic and colonial architecture with detailing that’s inspired by a variety of religions.
Fun Fact: Many of the scenes from the film, 'Slumbog Millionaire', were shot here!
Girgaum Chowpatty is Mumbai's public beach which stretches along the Girgaon area of the city. It is served by the Charni Road Railway Station.
Girgaum Chowpatty is best visited at dusk, to people watch and sample some of Mumbai’s best delicacies- just don’t go swimming in the sea!
Here you can watch young couples courting, children playing cricket, experience family meals sprawled on the beach to late night chaat, watching the sunrise after stumbling out of one of Mumbai’s vibrant clubs.
The markets in Mumbai are an assault on all of you senses! It is a world away from Colaba, but allow yourself some time to walk through the working class districts, this is real Mumbai!
It is a maze of streets, selling everything imaginable, you’ll unlikely to want to send any souvenirs home but it’s a great experience. We’d recommend walking from Crawford Market, selling all food produce (maybe just avoid the meat lane!) to Chor Bazaar, selling ‘antiques’ and art.
Bandra Fort, The Bandstand Promenade & Bandra-Worli Sea Link
Bandra is a hip and trendy area with craft-beer bars and quirky restaurants. You will find wall murals and street stalls as old run down buildings rub walls with chic fashion botiques. The restored 17th Century Bandra Fort (Castella De Aguada) hosts music festivals and performances at certain times of the year and offers excellent views of the sunset and the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Not far from here is the Bandstand Promenade. A popular meeting point for tourists and locals alike and is home to best known restaurants and hangout spots in the city.
The Wall Project
The Wall Project is a great initiative by artists to brighten up a suburban streets in the area. The walls have been graffited with themes of India or Mumbai. We recommend spending a few hours exploring the thought evoking colourful walls and bridges.
The Bandra Reclamation is a popular spot with a number of restaurants, bars and pubs. But it is particulary famous for its craft beer breweries.
Bandra's Carter Road is one of Mumabi's best food districts. Located on the northern end of the Bandra Promenade, the Carter Road junction offers popular restaurants, cafes and street food stalls. Don't miss out on their super tasty Shawarma dish!
Elephanta Island is a Unesco Heritage site of rock-cut out temples created between AD 450 and 750. Home to a labyrinth of cave temples dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, Elephanta Island offers some of the most intricate and impressive craftsmanship.
How to get here: From wherever you are in India, you can catch a local train the the CST station. From here you can walk to the Gateway of India along the heritage lane, which will take around 30 minutes. Or catch a black and yellow taxi. Once you are at the Gateway of India, you can catch a 1 hour ferry to Elephanta Island. Try to avoid peak hours when it is especially crowded.
Head to the website for more details including prices and boat timings.
Mumbai embodies India's festival spirit, and once a year in March, the city bursts into colour.
Whilst Mumbai is not that best place in India to experience Holi, there are a number of events that take place in Mumbai for Holi that you can get involved in. Celebrations last for days, usually starting on the night before Holi, with the ceremony of Holika Dahan (the burning of Holika), followed by the main event the next day.
In 2020, Holi will fall on March 10th, with Holika Dahan taking place on March 9th.
The most popular area for backpackers is Colaba. Its coastal location, elegant art deco buildings, lively atmosphere and fantastic eating options make this a far more palatable area than some in Mumbai. Unfortunately, Mumbai has some of the most expensive accommodation in the country so don’t expect much for your rupees! Its best to book ahead, Mumbai is always busy.
The Carlton Hotel is right in the heart of Colaba next to one some of the main sights, the Gateway of India. Some of the rooms have fantastic ornate detailing, such as the high ceilings, original floor tiles and antique furniture. The place itself is a little run down and many rooms have shared bathrooms however, it’s a good price for the location. Its around IR 1564/ $22/ €19 per night.
If you fancy a splurge - our friends suggested Abode Bombay in Colaba as a great option. It’s a fantastic luxury boutique hotel that celebrates Mumbai’s heritage with antique furniture and original artwork. Basic rooms start from INR 4500/ $63/ €55 a night. They also organise fantastic tours.
The Social Space Hostel, Mumbai.
The Social Space Hostels is a great place that attracts backpackers from all over the world - it really is a cut above the rest. The staff are excellent as are the facilities and it is close to the metro station so easy to get to. They have nightly activities that you can get involved in, laundry facilities, a cafe and it is located in a nice friendly / safe neighbourhood in the suburbs of Mumbai, with some great local eateries close by.
Cost: Expect to pay around €10 for a bed in a mixed or female dormitory.
The Drom Factory (best for solo travellers)
The Drom Factory is relatively close to the Bombay Exhibition Centre. It has a rooftop terrace, good WIFI, laundry facilities, 24/7 reception and a super friendly vibe. They are also pet friendly! So expect some furry friends staying with you.
Located in Malad in the north of Mumbai, the area is popular for cyclists and those looking for a more relaxed pace. Plenty of close by eateries, cafes and local restaurants to check out as well!
Cost: €18 for a twin private room.
Mumbai is bursting at the seams with options from dining like a king to eating street food at Chowpatty beach; it has so much to offer for any budget or taste. It is also a great place for international cuisine for the homesick traveller as well as testing some of the rest of the country’s cuisine. In general, Colaba has some cheap tourist friendly spots whereas further north has some of the hippest and be it expensive places.
- A great place to try chaat is Chowpatty beach washed down with a cup of chai.
- Start with Mumbai’s famous Bhelpuri (deep fried flour puris served with onions, potatoes, mango and chutney) follow that with a samosa or vada pav (a deep fried potato inside a roll (pav) smeared with chutney and chilii) …its best eaten immediately when hot, there’s no better way to snack than from street hawkers.
- Start the day with Akuri on toast (parsi chilli and tomato scrambled eggs) or masala kheema (spiced meat and sweet bread) washed down with chai at café Olympia, in Colaba.
- For lunch or a late night snack the chicken tikka rolls from the queue worthy institution Bademiya are incredible.
- Finally you can’t leave Mumbai without eating butter chicken in a packed restaurant of local families. Its delicious and calorific- (chicken, marinated overnight served in a rich sauce made with butter, tomato, spice and cream) it’s best accompanied with a naan or a roti to mop up the sauce. The best place to try it is Baghdadi’s, in fact anything off the menu here is worth trying!
Visiting Dharavi Slum divides travellers, if you do decide you want to visit then make sure it’s through Reality Tours and Travel. 80% of the profit goes directly to Reality Gives which is their sister NGO who runs charitable work within the slum. The guides are enthusiast and provide vital insight into the beating heart of Mumbai.
They also have initiatives like Pack for Purpose where if you have space in your backpack- you can bring over necessary supplies requested by the communities such as toys, medicine and pens and notepads for schooling. You can find the packing lists on line through Reality Tours website. Reality Gives have opportunities to donate or volunteer via their website.
The amount of stray dogs Mumbai is upsetting. The Welfare of Stray Dogs charity offers volunteering to help control the problem of street dogs in a humane way. They operate sterilisation, conduct vaccine programmes, put animals up for adoption and have volunteers to walk the animals. A great charity helping to educate locals on mans (furry!) best friend.