The capital city of India has a rich history which has been thoughtfully preserved and, in some cases, restored. If you’re interested in understanding the city’s roots and culture, we’ve got the only list you’ll need on your trip to Delhi.
Since the 12th century, the city of Delhi has been home to several kingdoms. Each ruling dynasty left behind its own unique legacy, though the Mughals and the British, in particular, were a huge influence on the city’s art, architecture, religion, customs and cuisine. The result is a capital city brimming with different cultures, and there are monuments, museums, eateries and attractions dedicated to them all.
Rightly described as an ‘urban village’, Shahpur Jat has become a favourite among locals in the last few years. It’s a haven for Indian wedding shopping, where shopfront upon shopfront glitters with heavily embellished, jewel-hued saris. Make a pitstop at one of the award-winning restaurants and cafés in the area; The Potbelly Rooftop Cafe serves excellent home-style Bihari food.
This heritage park was built by the Mughals back in the 16th century, and it’s back on the map after extensive renovations in 2017 transformed the space. Spread over a massive 90 acres (36 hectares) and containing more than 15 Mughal monuments, it’s an ideal place to visit on a sunny winter afternoon. On Sundays, pop-up organic market The Earth Collective sets up stalls piled with fresh produce, homemade pickles, artisanal cheese and traditional Indian home remedies.
A majestic garden-tomb built in 1570, Humayun’s Tomb was the first mausoleum to be built in the splendid Mughal style which would become synonymous with the period, setting a precedent for subsequent Mughal architectural innovations, including the Taj Mahal. While it is renowned as the burial place of Emperor Humayun, the second Mughal ruler in India, more than 150 members of the Mughal family have also been laid to rest at this UNESCO World Heritage site.
In 1639, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the Persian architect Ustad Ahmad Lahori, who also designed the Taj Mahal, to construct the Red Fort. An immense complex of canals, geometric gardens, entertainment halls, living quarters and a mosque, the beauty of the fort represents the summit of Mughal-era architecture. Among its most impressive rooms is the Hall of Public Audience where 60 red sandstone pillars support the roof.
With a capacity of 25,000 people, Jama Masjid is one of the largest mosques in India. It is also the last edifice built by Emperor Shah Jahan before his ultimate downfall. When the Mughal ruler first set out to build the Jama Masjid, he had a monumental ambition. Elevated 30 steps above street level, he called it the Masjid-i-Jahan-Numa, which translates as ‘mosque commanding view of the world’.
This Hindu temple’s complex is so vast and the construction so intricate that a good half day is required to properly tour the entire place. Akshardham Temple retells over 10,000 years of Indian history and culture. The main features of the temple are the 11ft(3.4m)-high statue of 18th-century Yogi Swaminarayan, and the 20,000 gods and goddesses that are carved into the temple.
More than 800 years old, Qutub Minar is a legacy bestowed on the city of Delhi by Qutb Ud-Din-Aibak, who was the founding father of the Delhi Sultanate era. The 240ft (73m) tower has five storeys that taper towards the top. As one of the structures that originally signalled the coming of Muslim dynasties in Delhi, it occupies a seminal place in Indian history.
For astronomy enthusiasts, the Jantar Mantar is an absolute must-visit. The first of the five Jantar Mantars to be built by Maharajah Sawaii Jai Singh II (the 18th-century Rajput ruler), the Delhi structure is an architectural marvel erected to study the movements of heavenly bodies.
Following his assassination in 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was cremated at Raj Ghat, located on the banks of the Yamuna river. Next to a simple black marble platform built over the cremation spot is an eternal flame that burns night and day. The simplicity and peacefulness of the park inspires a certain serenity in visitors.
A walk along the lush 90-acre (36-hectare) garden isn’t just rejuvenating but also serves as a quick education in the history of Delhi. Lodi Garden houses beautiful monuments such as the Bara Gumbad, Shish Gumbad and the Tomb of Sikandar Lodi, built during the 15th and 16th centuries.
One of the most recognisable structures in India, the Lotus Temple is built out of Grecian marble shaped like unfolding lotus petals. Its design isn’t the only thing that makes it special – as a Bahá’í House of Worship, it is a space where all religions and humans are equal. This belief, along with its stunning architecture, makes the Lotus Temple the perfect place for meditative introspection.
Agrasen Ki Baoli
One of the city’s lesser known attractions, Agrasen Ki Baoli is a unique construction close to the busy commercial hub of Connaught Place. The builder of this ancient stepwell has never been revealed, and stories about the structure being haunted have existed for centuries. Plunging into the ground, it has 103 steps and being surrounded by its unique architecture gives you the unsettling illusion of descending into a subterranean city.
Dilli Haat is a one-stop shop for stocking up on traditional handicrafts from all 29 Indian states. From embroidered Kashmiri shawls to South India’s Thanjavur paintings and tribal jewellery from Odisha, traditional craftsmanship reigns supreme here. Dilli Haat is also home to plenty of food stalls that serve delicious regional cuisine.
A trip to Delhi isn’t considered complete without a tour of India’s oldest market, Chandni Chowk. When it was initially built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century, a long canal ran through the middle of the bazaar in order to reflect the moonlight. The market offers delicious street food, fabric stores, beautiful silver jewellery, exotic spices, traditional perfumes and much more.
Janpath Market stretches for more than a kilometre and is lined with boutiques selling everything from luxurious pashmina shawls to rugs and antique jewellery. You’ll easily lose hours wandering through the deluge of colours, immersed in the chatter of haggling (don’t be shy, if there is no clearly labelled price you should be haggling, too).
Sarojini Nagar Market
Even with an array of modern shopping malls filling the city, Delhi’s most-loved flea market has neither lost its patrons nor its charm. With some good bargaining skills, trendy outfits, jewellery, accessories and home decor products can be bought at less than half the original price. Don’t be surprised if you find a Zara top at Sarojini Nagar Market at a quarter of its store price!
National Gallery of Modern Art
The National Gallery of Modern Art is a treasure trove of the country’s finest modern and contemporary pieces. The permanent collection houses works by eminent artists including Raja Ravi Verma, Rabindranath Tagore, Amrita Sher-Gil, Nandalal Bose and Jamini Roy; it’s a must-visit for any art enthusiast.
National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum
Locally known as the Crafts Museum, this is one of the most culturally enriching experiences in Delhi. Apart from displaying the abundant textiles of India and other handicrafts, every month the museum allows 50 craftsmen from across the country to come and share their artistry and sell their products. The in-house Café Lota is a great place to people watch.
This large museum houses artefacts dating back as far as the Harappan Civilisation during the Bronze Age. Among the 5,000-year-old relics is the famous figurine of the Dancing Girl and Terracotta statuette of Mother Goddess from Mohenjo-Daro. Other fascinating displays include fragments of Buddhist stupas built in the 4th century BC during the Mauryan empire. The museum is fairly simple – you won’t find interactive exhibitions or fancy digitised displays, but it’s a great way to get to grips with India’s cultural history.
This article is an updated version of a story created by Mridu Rai.
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