Whatever your interests, you'll find plenty to see and do in Delhi. Food? There's no better place in India to sample cuisine from all around the country, from street food stands to fine dining establishments. Shopping? Get lost in bazaars that have hardly changed in centuries, or drop big bucks in upmarket shopping centers. Green space? Retreat to geometric Mughal gardens or city parks dotted with ancient ruins. Religious architecture? Delhi has Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist temples, as well as Islamic mosques, Sikh gurudwaras, Christian churches, and more.
Delhi is eclectic, diverse, and undeniably interesting. After learning a bit about the city's history and reviewing some practical tips for the day, read on for suggestions of how to spend your time. You have 24 hours: ready, set, go!
Layers of History in One of the World's Oldest Cities
Delhi is one of the oldest still-inhabited cities in the world, with evidence of settlement from around 400 BCE. The layers of history and culture evident everywhere in the city are one of its most defining and attractive features. You don't even need to be a history buff to be amazed by the juxtaposition of ancient archaeological sites, medieval gardens, 16th-century mausoleums, Mughal-era mosques, British colonial architecture and city planning, and post-Independence development. It's all particularly impressive in contrast to the city's modern metro system, the Delhi Metro, considered among the most efficient in the world.
Once you start to scratch the surface of Delhi, you're likely to want to spend much more than a day here. But if that's all you've got, here's a perfect way to spend it.
Practical Tips for a Perfect Day in Delhi
With a population of 11 million, Delhi is an enormous city. It would take weeks to cover just the highlights. There's no way to do it all in a short time, but with a few practical ideas of how to structure your day, you can make the most of your visit.
Delhi is divided into distinct neighborhoods, with attractions scattered throughout the city — many of the key tourist sites are located in Old Delhi. Inexpensive hotels and easy transport connections are in Paharganj and Karol Bagh. But these aren't the city's most beautiful areas. For that, you'll want to head to South Delhi, where some of the city's wealthiest citizens live in so-called "colonies" such as Hauz Khas, Greater Kailash, Defence Colony, and Lajpat Nagar. These are not traditional tourist districts, but they are where you can find some of the nicest and best-value boutique guesthouses, homestays, and Airbnb accommodations. South Delhi also has some of the best dining and shopping options. The one-day itinerary that follows assumes that you're staying in Hauz Khas Village, one of the loveliest and trendiest of South Delhi's neighborhoods.
If you'd rather skip conventional hotel rooms and book a stay in one of the country's most unique accommodations, check out this article for ideas.
In terms of getting around: the Delhi Metro was built to coincide with the Commonwealth Games held in the city in 2010, and it has been a game-changer for urban transportation. It's cheap, clean, frequent, air-conditioned, and covers many points of interest for visitors. Where once it would have been inconceivable to go sightseeing in Old Delhi in the morning and have lunch at Khan Market (as this itinerary suggests) due to terrible traffic, it's absolutely possible these days. Not every destination is well-connected to Metro stations. But with a combination of the Metro and short auto-rickshaw rides, getting around Delhi has never been easier.
Note that while Delhi's reputation for safety isn't the best — especially for women — the regular precautions for traveling in a large city apply. Avoid walking alone after dark, or in quiet and deserted spots, like back alleys or wooded areas, at any time of the day. Use the Delhi Metro as much as possible (especially the designated women's carriages, if you're female). When in doubt, just walk confidently and act like you know where you're going.
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8 am - Morning of Mosques and Temples
Assuming that you are staying in Hauz Khas Village, start with breakfast at your hotel or guesthouse. Then make your way to the nearest Metro station and zip up to Chandni Chowk station.
Chandni Chowk is the thoroughfare that runs through Old Delhi, with the Red Fort across the road at the eastern end and the Fatehpuri Masjid mosque at the western end. Chandni Chowk doesn't really come to life until later in the day, but that's the point of going early on this one-day Delhi itinerary. When it gets crowded, it gets very crowded, and first-time visitors to Delhi might feel a bit overwhelmed during rush hour. Earlier in the morning, there will be room to move and to observe your surroundings. Chandni Chowk is more than three centuries old; its name means "moonlit square," and in Mughal times, it was flanked by beautiful canals that reflected the light of the moon.
To get a sense of the religious life of Delhi, spend time visiting some important sites: the gold-domed Sikh Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahab (almost opposite the Chandni Chowk Metro exit), the Sri Digambar Jain temple with its ornate interior and bird hospital (at the Red Fort end of Chandni Chowk), and the astonishing Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, capable of housing 25,000 worshippers. It would be best to get an auto- or cycle-rickshaw to Jama Masjid (easily hailed anywhere on Chandni Chowk. It's not too far, but the lanes are windy, and there's a possibility of losing your way. Once at Jama Masjid, you can climb to the roof for a sweeping view across Old Delhi. Note that during prayer times, you may be asked to leave, or you might be prohibited from entering the mosque. In that case, just wait until the prayers are over.
Delhi is the gateway to the vast landscapes of India. Read this article for more on the country's main regions and when to visit them.
12:30 pm - Classic Old Delhi Cuisine for Lunch
Meat-lovers can't miss Karim's, an Old Delhi institution. Located near the Jama Masjid, this restaurant first opened in 1913, and now there are branches all over the city. But this branch is the original, and loyal customers say it's still the best. The place doesn't look fancy, but its kebabs, pulao (pilaf), naan (bread), and meat curries are famous. There are vegetarian options available, too.
If you're after something a bit more elegant (or less meat-heavy), pop over to the Jama Masjid Metro station and head to Khan Market station. At this high-end shopping area, there are a number of delicious and interesting places to eat. One to try is Soderbottleopenerwala, which serves Bombay Irani cuisine.
3 pm - Afternoon Rickshaw Ride to Humayun's Tomb
If you lunched at Karim's, hop back on the metro and head south again, to Khan Market Metro station. (If you had lunch there, of course, you're already in the vicinity.) From the station, take an auto-rickshaw to Humayun's Tomb, a short drive away through the leafy, spacious streets of New Delhi.
Humayun's Tomb was built in 1570 to house the body of the Mughal Emperor. It has undergone extensive restoration work in the last couple of decades, and now the building and spacious gardens are one of Delhi's most amazing sights. You can easily spend a couple of hours here, wandering in the peaceful gardens and exploring the surrounding ruins. Although sometimes overlooked on one-day itineraries of Delhi in favor of the Red Fort, Humayun's Tomb simply shouldn't be skipped.
7 pm - Dining and Drinking by the "Royal Pond"
Once you've finished at Humayun's Tomb, grab a taxi or call an Uber to drive you back to Hauz Khas Village. It's a bit of a drive, but the trip is worth it.
Hauz Khas Village is one of the most fashionable shopping, dining, and nightlife areas of Delhi, and it's also really pretty. The name means "royal pond," and the little lake here is surrounded by woodland. The ruins of tombs and medieval Islamic seminaries sit amid beautifully landscaped gardens that double as popular hangout spots for students and peacocks alike.
In the surrounding streets are some of the best boutiques and restaurants in Delhi. It's not a large area, but it's rich with interesting finds. Plan to spend some time here browsing the shops, followed by dinner at a local classic like Naivedyam. The restaurant serves a full range of South Indian vegetarian specialties, and the ornate interior is decorated like a temple in Karnataka.
If you still have some energy to spare, end the day with drinks at one of Hauz Khas Village's many bars. Just follow the sound of music.
Traveling onward? Check out these suggestions for how to spend two weeks in India.