Mumbai is many travellers first introduction to India and is perhaps single handedly responsible for the vast majority of culture shock that most backpackers have to deal with. It is vibrantly dilapidated, unapologetically fast paced, chaotically crowded and irrepressibly insane, and it can be hard to get a handle on it at first. This handy three day itinerary will help you maximize your time in this eclectic city and see the best that Mumbai has to offer.
I won’t lie, Mumbai is not one of my favourite cities in India, it gets straight in your face like no other city in the world and after a couple of visits there I was ready to get out and not come back. The fact that Mumbai is home to some of Asia’s largest slums and the disconnect between poverty and wealth is so stark takes the edge of the colonial charm that certain parts of the city exudes, and the crowds and the overpopulation makes walking passed one of the many grassy maidans and watching an impromptu cricket game seem relatively surreal. But Mumbai does have one primary redeeming feature.
Mumbai is a good place to acclimatise yourself to India as a whole, and given that it is a really good idea to spend at least the first few days of your Indian adventure doing just that then the city has just enough to keep you occupied for that time. So get yourself a nice private room or upgrade to one of the nicer hotels in Mumbai for your first few days and ease yourself into the art of travelling through India.
Note, I still highly recommend doing nothing at all for at least your first day in India, so when you arrive just head to your hotel or guesthouse, get a good meal and sleep off your flight for a night or two. This will really help you fight off the culture shock that will hit you. So in reality, read day one as day two at the least.
The Gateway of India.
The best place to start your Mumbai adventure is literally the gateway to the entire country. In name at least. This huge colonial arch was the place where the last British regiment departed India with a lot of pomp and circumstance and is an iconic Mumbai sight.
A lot of locals and travellers alike congregate here to simply relax and hang out, and it is a good place to spend a lazy morning getting your bearings and easing yourself into shooing away the inevitable beggars and touts. There are also plenty of options to try some street food and snacks for breakfast.
While here it is a good idea to walk around the corner to check out the majestic Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, another Mumbai institution and a beautiful photo opportunity.
Launches leave every half hour from the Gateway of India to the stunning temples cut into the rock faces of Gharapuri, best known as Elephenta Island, a UNESCO world heritage site that is well worth an afternoon visit.
Leopold Cafe and Bar.
Remember, you really do want to ease yourself into India, so on returning from Elephenta Island, just a short walk from the gateway itself is Leopold Cafe and Bar, a venerable Mumbai institution this bar has been a popular backpacker hangout for decades. It is not a restaurant exactly, but it is a perfect place to come for a relaxed meal (especially if you want a mixture of Western as well as Indian food to ease your stomach into the culinary adventure of India), and it is not just a bar, but is a perfect place to hang out with a few drinks before heading back to your bed for the night.
Prince of Wales Museum.
Now known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, the iconic (and easier to say) Prince of Wales Museum is a UNESCO world heritage building in its own right, and was built to commemorate King George V’s visit to India when he was still Prince of Wales. It is a great way to escape the crowds of Mumbai and spend a couple of hours exploring the exhibits and getting a sense of Mumbai’s history.
University of Mumbai.
After leaving the museum take a short walk past the University of Mumbai, still commonly known as Bombay University. This 15th Century Building is an attraction in and of itself, and the surrounding maidans and the well known oval maidan are often home to locals setting up impromptu games of cricket. The High Court building is also worth checking out if you like the architecture.
If you want to delve into how quintessentially English parts of Mumbai still are, head to the nearby Cha bar inside the Oxford book store. You can smell the fresh Oolong, Chamomile and Masala teas amongst a wide range of others as you enter the shop, and can buy a good book and settle down while your tea brews!
Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beach.
Enjoy your late afternoon tea until the evening starts to settle in and take a walk down Marine Drive. This is one of the most popular promenades and sunset watching spots in Mumbai and is quite romantically pretty when all the lights start coming on. This promenade should lead you to Chowpatty Beach. Don’t let the name fool you, this is not a beach to be enjoyed when the sun is out, the water will melt your swim shorts right off you. Instead, this popular hangout really comes alive in the evening where anyone and everyone comes down to enjoy the funfair like atmosphere with stalls, street food vendors and a variety of entertainers all plying their trades.
Explore the Bazaars and Markets.
Now that you have acclimatised yourself at least a little bit to the heat and crowds of Mumbai, you should be ready to delve into the great marketplaces that the city is known for and deal with pushing through the seething mass of people and honing your haggling skills. (You’ll really need them!)
Colaba Causeway is great fun and is lined with hawker stalls selling everything from genuine fakes to authentic copies of big name brands, mass produced tat and clothes. Unfortunately the forward march of technology and streaming means that a lot of the pirated DVD stalls have gone but you can still find the odd one or two.
The bazaars tend to have clusters of one type of product, so if you want jewellery, head to Zaveri Bazaar, Mangaldas Market for cloth, silks and clothes, the infamous thieves market of Chor Bazaar for ‘antiques’ and Crawford Market for pretty much everything else. Just avoid the meat market if you are in any way squeamish. All of these can be found in a sprawling area just North of the Fort.
This three day itinerary barely scratches the surface of Mumbai, and there are plenty more sights and activities that haven’t made it onto this list. That is because it is important not to try and squeeze to much into any itinerary in India. But this itinerary will give you a good, broad selection of what to see and do here without burning you out in your first week.
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