A Tourists Guide to Delhi

So you’ve booked a trip to India! Congratulations! You’re going to have a great time. I’ve spent a good amount of time in the area and have some tips to share to make your trip even better ⭐️.

Hotels

If you’re with a tour group, they’ve probably made all the hotel decisions for you. But don’t be afraid to extend your stay a few days! One thing India does superbly at is hospitality. My favorite hotel experiences have all been in India.

My favorite hotel brands are by far The Leela and The Lalit. The Park Hotels deserves a notable mention as well. But even local hotels can provide excellent service. Just be sure to look at travel aggregator and review sites for the actual hotel star rating - hotels will inflate these in their own marketing. A good gauge of a hotel is how serious their security setup is - a good hotel will have multiple guards at each entrance (car gate and main entrance), a pretty intense car search on entry, and metal detector / bag X-ray at the entrance. And a good gauge a hotel is probably not going to be super comfortable is the shape of the building - I’d avoid any hotel that has the blocky concrete shape of every other building in India.

One challenge you’ll experience is that getting laundry done in India as a foreigner is not a very straightforward experience. Hotels charge pretty outrageous prices for a bag of laundry and you probably don’t speak enough Hindi to communicate well at the local dry cleaners. Packing some laundry detergent and washing laundry in the tub solves that issue well enough.

Shopping

Here’s my probably unexpected hot take: India isn’t the shopping paradise your tour guide makes it out to be. India is the textile capital of the world but finding a well-designed product that meets your quality expectations can prove to be difficult. Other products to keep an eye on are home decorations, copperware, loose-leaf tea/chai sets, and spices

I’ve been around to quite a few local markets and find the environment not enjoyable for finding something special. The way local market stores run has a pretty Indian twist. You sit down on benches and salespeople pull down a variety of items in bags, and try to show you them quickly while going on and on about how amazing the product is and how they’ll offer you a special price. You won’t be allowed to browse the shelves yourself to find a design you like, and the people running the shop are putting a lot of pressure on you to buy. Once you start asking prices, they’ll ask for an outrageous number and you can haggle down a little. Then an old man will appear out of nowhere and tell you please stop haggling, prices are reasonable. A tourist shouldn’t expect to receive an Indian price on anything. Even in Jaipur, the block-printing capital, you’ll need to be careful in local market because many items have printing issues or stitching issues. Sizing is generally inconsistent in local stores (hold up clothes in front of yourself for sizing).

If your time in India is limited, I recommend steering clear of malls. Malls tend to be a mix of somewhat random western brands with very high prices and a few mixed-quality Indian brands. India is a protectionist economy so selection of western products is limited. There are far more interesting places for you to spend time, and if you’re flying to India via Dubai (very common), you should just opt for an extended layover and enjoy the malls there instead. If you would really like to see some malls in Delhi, Select Citywalk in South Delhi is pretty comfortable and Ambiance Mall in north Guragon has a decent selection of brands.

With all the tips about where not to shop out of the way, here are a few outstanding places to shop where you can find something nice to get for a fixed price, and not have to worry about checking an entire item for quality issues.

Fabindia

If you want clothing, blankets, or decorations from India, you must go to Fabindia. Fabindia is the greatest tribute to Indian handicraft and my favorite store. The shopping expereince will feel more western, the prices are fixed, quality control is good (you don’t have to check items for color/stitching issues as closely), and the selection is extensive. If you have a while to spend in India, Fabindia releases new designs quite often!

I recommend taking a look and picking up some blankets, a chai set, some cosmetics, and a kurta. They’ll even pack it up nicely for you to take back home. Fabindia has locations nearly everywhere in the city, but the Greater Kailash and CP stores are the highlights.

Nappa Dori

Nappa Dori has really well made bags, accessories, leather wallets, and trunks. If you want a souvenir that will last and provide everyday value, check out one of their stores. You can find them in Hauz Khaz.

Bombay Shirt Company

Getting a custom-made shirt in India is a suprisingly easy and common thing to do. You can walk into a tailors shop, get measured in 3 minutes, and get your shirt in 2 days. But finding the right shop and best fabrics is still a challenge. Bombay Shirt Company solves it nicely. They have a few phyiscal stores around India where you can go get fitted, look at a selection of fabric samples, talk to an expert tailor, and get the perfect shirt designed.

Bombay Shirt Company won’t give you the shirt on the spot - they’re made in Mumbai but they ship internationally (and I recieved my shirt in USA after I ordered my first one). Prices are excellent given the quality and fabrics selected. Their Delhi store is located in Khan Market.

Chumbak

Chumbak specializes in cute, lower-cost accessories. Great gifts for teenagers or the teenager at heart. I love their take on Indian copperwares. Chumbak has a good location in Hauz Khaz.

Needledust

A common type of Indian flat shoe is called Jutis. Needledust makes them for women and the designs are fantastic. Sadly, no mens line to mention. It is located in the Shahpur Jat market.

Kaylan Jewelers / Malabar Jewelers

If you’re a fan of gold or silver jewelry, try either Kaylan Jewelers or Malabar Jewelers. I’ve shopped at both with my wife and found them honest and reasonable to work with. The designs a I believe Tanishq Jewelers is another good option (but haven’t been myself). Avoid shopping for fine jewelry at local markets. A real jewelry store will ask for your ID when you’re purchasing.

Both stores have locations near Karol Bagh market.

Wishing Chair

Wishing chair has a nice collection of western-style homewares, and a lot of great gifts for future parents. The in-store cafe serves great tea from the Tea Trunk company. Located in Shahpur Jat market.

Bombay Shaving Company (Available at various beauty and grocery stores)

I love a good shave and Bombay Shaving Company makes great shaving cream, aftershave, and kits. They offer soaps as well. Think of them sort of like a fancier Indian Old Spice. They can be found in various chemists, beauty shops, and grocery markets around Delhi.

Jodi (Online Only)

This store isn’t located in Delhi, but deserves a mention since I’ve ordered so many gifts for my wife (and myself) from them. Jodi is a Jaipur-inspired clothing company that makes beautiful dresses and shirts out of block-printed fabrics. The quality of their work has always impressed me and they offer international shipping. I own 3 of their shirts and my wife has 4 of their dresses.

Bombay Purfumery (Online Only)

I wanted a special scent for my wedding and happened to see Bombay Purfumery in the Bombay Shirt Company showroom. Very royal Indian scents that I’d proudly wear back in the USA. I’d love a few of their candles too.

Online only, via Fedex. But if you’re staying in a hotel for more than a week, they might be able to deliver to your room.

Markets worth a peek

Hauz Khaz

Shahpur Jat

Khan Market

Chawri Bazaar

Dining

I’m originally from America and have been around bits and pieces of the world. India’s food scene is easily my favorite. Food has personality here and you should take the time to experience it.

You’ve definitely heard of Delhi Belly but in case you haven’t, remember that not all restaurants in India adhere to western sanitary standards. In general, if a restaurant looks clean and not empty, it’s fine, but roadside stalls are an unwise food choice. You should download an app called Zomato to find good restaurants near you, and view reviews. Google Maps reviews are also valuable.

Bikgani Biryani

Best biryani in the world in my opinion.

Fio

Outstanding restaurant at Garden of Five Senses

Fabcafe

Fabindia’s cafe chain serving organic Indian favorites. Chicken Chettinand is the best.

Moti Mehal

The original Moti Mehal near Old Delhi was where the world-famous dish Butter Chicken was invented. It doesn’t disappoint - it was much more rich and spicy than any Butter Chicken I’ve ever had and it’s a shame the replicas of the recipe lose the spirit of it so blatently.

Parikama, The Revolving Restaurant

A rotating restaurant above CP with a nice view. Serves well-made Indian favorites and great drinks.

Less Common Siteseeing

You’ve probably already put Red Ford, Jama Masjid, Humayun’s Tomb, and Qutab Minar on your itinerary. These are all must-sees. But if you’d like to get off the beaten path a little to see some of Delhi’s other gems, here’s a few to start. You’re not going to be the only foreigner there, but it might provide your trip a more unique expereince!

CP

Jantar Mantar

18th century astrological instruments

Agrasen ki Baoli

14th Century Stepwell

South Delhi

Deer Park/Hauz Khaz Lake

Walk around a lake. Many monkeys are present. Keep an eye on sunglasses and any food in your hands because the monkeys will come and steal them in a flash!

Lodhi Garden

Lodhi Garden is one of my favorite parks in the world. It’s a remarkable mix of nice walking trails and historical stone buildings from the Mughal era. You can explore the old building and take some rest in one of the windows. The park is patrolled pretty well by guards and that makes for a relaxing and safe way to enjoy an afternoon. Entry is free!

Garden of Five Senses

Ahhh… Garden of Five Senses. You’re probably expecting a tranquil place to take a quiet walk. And you’re sort of right! Except Garden of Five Senses ought to come with a parental advisory. Due to India’s norm of arranged marriages, the youth who increasingly want to choose their own partners need a place to spend time. Getting caught with a boyfriend or girlfriend in India is often a pretty serious matter, so couples like to retreat to somewhere private. Lucky for those couples, Garden of Five Senses offers the tranquility they desire. So why should you go? Easy: people watching. It’s an interesting way to see how different the next generation of Indians are living their lives after the Internet has become such a huge part of society.

Don’t expect to see anything outright bad at Garden of Five Senses. India is still a very convservative country. But do expect a lovely walk with a little bit of company around! There’s a small entry fee and an obnoxiously expensive photography fee but both can be avoided if you grab a meal at the incredible Fio restaurant near the enterance.

Getting around the City

There are rickshaws everywhere in the city. They are called “autos” (a name I still don’t totally understand). They’re good for rides between 1-5km, as many parts of Delhi aren’t walkable. Autos are safe, the only issues is that drivers ask obscene prices from foreigners (haggle them down, there’s another auto waiting for you 3 feet behind) and that drivers don’t always know the place you’re trying to go (and sometimes pretend they do). Cabs (Uber/Ola - more below) are cheaper than autos after 5-10km and much faster.

The Delhi Metro is remarkable - it covers nearly the entire city and can be comfortable depending on the time of day. They use nice Bombardier carriages with very strong air conditioning. There’s a women’s only carriage in the front of the train. Announcemnts are in English and Hindi. Don’t expect a seat on every ride - or for somebody to offer you one. Just be sure to get a metro card as the tokens are slightly more expensive.

The Airport Express line can sometimes be a quicker way from CP to South Delhi (connect to Pink Line at Duala Kaun) if you’re near the New Delhi or Shivangi Statium station.

Getting out of the City

Delhi is situated in a collection of cities called the New Capitial Region. This includes some satellite cities like Guragon, Faridabad, and Noida. There isn’t really a reason for a short term tourist to head out to any of these cities except for two exceptions:

  • Akshardham, Noida - A really neat temple complex that I haven’t yet gone to (due to distance)
  • Surajkund Mela, Faridabad - An annual handicrafts fair (Febuary) with hundreds of booths and a good selection of higher than average products with reasonable pricing (likely due to the shortage of tourists who attend)

A little further out of Delhi lies the real gems of the region: Jaipur, Agra, and Chandigarh. Each city has a lot to offer tourists and are genernerally included in the tour you’ve already booked. If you’re planning your own tour, consider a first class train or a short flight between the cities.

Which brings me to my favorite India topic: the roads. India’s driving style ranges from crazy (in traffic) to insane (when the roads are clear). India’s road safety record isn’t the worst in the world (that distinction seems to belong to the entire contident of Africa) but it is about 10 times more dangerous than roads in the USA. India is not a road-trip country and even 3-4 hours on the road will wear you out enough to need a good nap-even with a good driver (which I would define as somebody who doesn’t go above 80kmph and doesn’t try to pass often). The longest a road stretch goes before a construction diversion (turning into gravel) or a village with a total slowdown is about 20 minutes. Expect to see cows in the road every 10 minutes outside the cities. Inside cities, traffic is more reasonable (no trucks drive in Delhi in the daytime for example).

Uber is the best way to get a taxi. I recommend their “Premiere” service which doesn’t offer nicer cars but gives you a driver who is more experienced and less reckless. Book “UberGo” at your own risk - I’ve had a colorful set of experiences with those. Ola is another app option for cabs, but it’s my understanding many of Ola’s drivers somehow didn’t quality for Uber as they are somehow worse than UberGo. It’s much more tough to find one who speaks English too. But if you want a ride in an Audi or BMW, sometimes Ola’s “Lux” option will deliver (other times, you get a Toyota Corolla).

You probably haven’t heard anything about aviation in India for one reason - it’s very safe. Vistara and IndiGo are both my favorite airlines and they have fleets of new planes, near perfect safety records, and great prices. Indian airports in big cities are world-class. Vistara and IndiGo are the best in my opinion. Jet Airways is OK, but sort of bland. I avoid SpiceJet, AirAsia and Air India however.

Keeping Safe

I’ve spent a lot of time in India and haven’t had so much as a rupee taken out of my pocket, nor have I been in a situation where I felt like I was in danger. India isn’t the west however and many of the government policies that keep the west safe don’t exist. If you don’t allow yourself to get too comfortable, pay attention to your surroundings, and don’t trust any strangers who seem too friendly your trip should go without issue. Here’s a few things to be aware of:

Haphazard Construction

This isn’t an issue in every building but if you’re in a dense area be aware that construction is not up to the standards you expect. Things stick out of the ceilings, walls, and floors. The roads/paths likely aren’t flat, so watch your feet. There’s often puddles everywhere and you should avoid getting your feet wet if you choose to wear sandals.

Don’t flash valubles

When you go to the ATM, be discreet. Don’t leave your smartphone hanging halfway out your pocket. Leave your passport in your hotel (take photos of passport/visa on your phone). Wear your backpack in the front on the metro. People who claim to have been pickpocketed were often being complacent about their things. You’re more likely to leave something behind in an Auto or cab because you were rushing out.

Staying in after dark

You should head back to your hotel or dinner after the sun sets. India is not a nightlife country. Don’t be fooled by the large number of bars open late.

Avoiding over-friendly strangers

Small talk isn’t a huge part of Indian culture so if somebody approaches you with in an over-friendly way, be supicious. If you’re standing and there happens to be somebody next to you who begins to chat, that’s generally fine. And don’t be afraid to say Namaste to Indians! It’s fun for them.

In case of Emergency

In Delhi, Max Healthcare operates western-grade hospitals and there’s likely one near you. They have a private ambulance service you’d need to book via their site. Otherwise, avoid local hospitals or clinics.