Insider Guide: Best of Mumbai
The best of Mumbai is heart-wrenching and energizing at the same time.
Mumbai is India's richest and most populous city. It's home to Bollywood and the nation's financial institutions.
Yet many Mumbaikars live in slums. So when we say Mumbai is a city of extremes, it's not just for dramatic effect.
The juxtapositions are terrible, but they can be inspiring.
People from all walks of life all congregate in Mumbai, referring to it as the maximum city of India, hoping to reinvent their lives in this place of opportunity.
Everywhere you turn there's a new business or new slick restaurant. Or another tout with a better sell.
Visitors to the city are over-stimulated in the best way.
Here's where to find the best of Mumbai.
The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai
The iconic Taj Mahal Palace has been an integral part of Mumbai’s history since 1903.
The city’s glitterati frequent its many restaurants, especially Wasabi by Morimoto (Bollywood star Saif Ali Khan recently got into a brawl here) and Golden Dragon.
Located on the top floors, Taj Club rooms have sweeping views of the harbor and Gateway of India and come with airport pick-up, 24-hour butler service and access to the Taj Club lounge.
The hotel's concierges are renowned for making wishes come true, from scoring exclusive event tickets to arranging private jet charters.
The Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai, Apollo Bunder, Mumbai; +91 22 6665 3366; www.tajhotels.com; Doubles from RS 11,000 (US$205)
Trident, Nariman Point
The lobby of the Trident, Nariman Point is full of old-style charm, complete with live piano music.
The building is located on the southern tip of Mumbai’s most beautiful boulevard, Marine Drive. Its rooms have the best views of the Arabian Sea.
This best of Mumbai hotel is the kind of place you loll around the not-made-for-lap-swimming pool and eat at the pan-Asian restaurant with the funny name (India Jones) hoping to get seated next to a Bollywood actor or cricketer.
Trident, Nariman Point, Marine Drive, Nariman Point Mumbai; +91 22 6632 4343; www.tridenthotels.com; Doubles from Rs 8,000
Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai
The Four Seasons is centrally located between South and North Mumbai. Guests and their pets are spoiled with complimentary yoga classes and travel in the hotel’s fleet of BMW 7-series limousines.
All 202 rooms have panoramic views of the Mumbai skyline.
The hotel has two restaurants, but most veteran guests skip café PRATO and head to San-Qi for excellent Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisine.
The hotel has a spa and Rossano Ferretti, Mumbai’s most exclusive hair salon, where a cut by head stylist Alessandro will cost you as much as your room.
The Four Seasons is close to Palladium, Mumbai’s premier shopping mall.
Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, 114 Dr. E Moses Road, Worli, Mumbai; +91 22 2481 8000; www.fourseasons.com; Doubles from Rs 11,500
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Indian philosophy and art is the theme at Le Sutra.
A boutique hotel located in the trendy neighborhood of Union Park, Le Sutra has some borderline cheesy rooms, but it works for visitors who want a dose of Indian spirituality in their decor.
Each of the three floors represents a level of spirituality; level one is Tamas (inertia), level two is Rajas (activity) and level three is Sattva Guna (goodness).
Le Sutra, 14 Union Park, Khar West, Mumbai; +91 22 2649 2995; www.lesutra.in; Doubles from Rs 6,500
Gordon House is a quaint, clean and affordable.
In the heart of Colaba, close to the Gateway of India, the hotel is within walking distance of popular restaurants such as The Table, Indigo Deli and Le Pain Quotidien, as well as the street shopping haven of Colaba Causeway.
Recently renovated rooms are simple but tastefully decorated.
Other perks include free Wi-Fi and a modest breakfast buffet.
Gordon House, 5 Battery St., Colaba, Mumbai; +91 22 2289 4400; www.ghhotel.com; Doubles from Rs 6,400
Located in one of the side streets of Colaba Causeway, Garden Hotel is a two-star property good for budget travelers.
Rooms are comfortable -- ask for garden views for the best of Mumbai experience.
Sister property Godwin Hotel is next door. It has a wonderful rooftop bar, Cloud 9, which is great for an evening drink with kebabs.
Garden Hotel, 42 Garden Road, Colaba, Mumbai; +91 22 2284 1476; www.hotelgarden.co.in; Doubles from Rs 4,500
The Table is Mumbai's top swank restaurant, the place to get the best of Mumbai's fine dining.
The menu mixes cuisines and styles, with a focus on fresh ingredients.
Small plates are the stars, from boneless chicken wings to spicy grilled calamari. The large plates are hit and miss, though the slow-roasted New Zealand lamb shank is a reliably good.
For dessert, the fig and almond tart with cinnamon ice cream is worth busting your daily calorie quota for.
The Table is also a popular weekend brunch spot. It serves a killer warm cinnamon bun and blueberry pancakes.
The Table, Kalapesi Trust Building, CS Maharishi Marg, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, Mumbai; +91 22 2282 5000; expensive; www.thetable.in
Located at the ITC Maratha near the international airport, Dum Pukht is quite a trek for those staying in the heart of the city.
However, the food at this award-winning, best of Mumbai restaurant distinguishes it from all other Indian restaurants around.
Inspired by the cuisine of the Nawab of Awad, dishes are as intricate as they are heavy and the inevitable food coma means you can forget about a night out after eating here.
House specialties are raan-e-dum pukht, a leg of lamb so succulent it melts in your mouth; and dum pukht biryani, also made with lamb.
Dum Pukht, ITC Maratha, Sahar Road, Andheri, Mumbai; +91 22 2830 3030; expensive; www.itchotels.in
Trishna is a tourist haven with the best crab in the city.
The ambience here is nothing to rave about, but the food is unforgettable.
The specialty butter garlic crab that is so messy you need to wear a bib to keep from ruining your clothes.
If you prefer to keep it clean, the chefs are willing to de-shell it for you, though they don't advertise the fact.
Other dishes worth ordering are the pomfret Hyderabi (fish with a green chili masala) and the yellow daal.
The food is far from healthy and you'll taste the garlic the next day.
Trishna, Sai Baba Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai; +91 22 2270 3213; moderate to expensive
A favorite among Mumbaikars, Copper Chimney serves some of the most delicious bad-for-you North Indian food in the city.
We love the paneer makhanwala made with cottage cheese in a buttery tomato-based sauce; chicken chelo kebab is rice with chicken kebabs.
Copper Chimney also serves a great value buffet lunch for Rs 300.
Copper Chimney, 12/A Dr. Annie Besant Road, Worli, Mumbai; +91 22 2492 5353; moderate
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Swati Snacks serves the best of Mumbai street food in a hygienic setting.
The all-vegetarian menu is extensive -- everything from falafel to Mumbai street classics such as bhel puri.
Classic dishes include panki (steamed rice pancakes in a banana leaf), sev puri (sweet and savory snack) and pav bhaji.
If you want to avoid the crowds, early evening is the best time to visit.
Swati Snacks, 248 Karai Estate, Javji Dadaji Marg, Anand Nagar, Mumbai; +91 22 6580 8405; budget; swatisnacks.com
Britannia & Co.
Britannia & Co. is where Mumbaikars living abroad come to visit for a taste of their childhoods.
They order multiple portions of Britannia's Parsi dishes, then transport the food to their overseas homes to be frozen and enjoyed later.
The menu comes from Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran. Some of it is adapted to suit local tastes in Mumbai.
The chapatis are renowned. The berry pulav has a near-holy reputation. It's like a spicy Indian biryani, made with berries imported from Iran.
The best part is the warm hospitality of the Kohinoor family who started Britannia & Co. in 1923 and still personally greet diners each day.
See a recipe from Britannia here.
Britannia & Co., Wakefield House, 11 Sprott Road, 16 Ballard Estate, Fort, Mumbai; +91 22 2261 5264; budget
A nondescript shopfront belies the richness and depth of Chaitanya's food.
Chef and co-owner Surekha Walke serves Malvani dishes from the Konkan coastal region.
Every dish is an ode to the tropical.
Seafood is the focus of the menu; each type of mollusk and crustacean is dressed up in liberal quantities of coconut in all its forms.
Spices that dominate are dried red chilies, coriander seeds, cardamom, ginger, kokum, tamarind and tirphal, a mouth-numbing cousin of the Sichuan peppercorn
After mouthfuls of scorching prawn, shark or clams, you can sip a solkadi to cool off. The drink is made of coconut milk, kokum, garlic, ginger and cumin.
Read more about Chaitanya: The real taste of Malvani cooking
Chaitanya, Shop 4, Shivaji Park House, L J Road, Shivaji Park, Mumbai; +91 22 2437 2242, +91 9619 909 014; budget
Aer has the best view of the Mumbai skyline.
On the 33rd floor of the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, Aer is sleek and funky with uncomfortable but sexy-looking white chairs and a white bar.
You'll pay a cover charge and wait in line on the weekends when the bar turns into a dance floor. The in-house DJ entertains the crowd till 3 a.m. on some nights.
If you want to see the view but avoid the crowd, the best time to arrive is around happy hour. There's half-price Champagne from 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m.
Aer is closed during the monsoon months, July to October.
A strict dress code is enforced -- no hats or open-toed shoes for men.
Aer, Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, 114 Dr. E Moses Road, Worli, Mumbai; +91 22 2481 8444; expensive; www.fourseasons.com
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Dome is the best of Mumbai bars for a sundowner.
The bar is on the rooftop of the InterContinental and has unparalleled views of Marine Drive, best observed during the warm glow of dusk.
Long Island Iced Tea is a perennial favorite at Dome and there's a good selection of bar snacks.
A strict dress code is enforced at Dome -- no hats or open-toed shoes for men.
Dome, InterContinental Marine Drive-Mumbai, 135 Marine Drive, Mumbai; +91 22 3987 9999; expensive; www.intercontinental.com
A members-only nightclub, LIV is South Mumbai’s clubbing hot spot, although it shuts down at 1:30 a.m.
LIV has all the features of a typical nightclub: expensive drinks, scary bouncers and ceiling with changing LED lights.
The DJ plays all the latest hits from hip-hop to trance.
Officially, you have to be at least 25 years old to enter LIV or get on the guest list. However, the club is more lenient on the age limit with tourists.
A strict dress code is enforced at LIV -- no hats or open-toed shoes for men.
LIV Night Club, 145 M.G. Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai; +91 22 6634 6247; firstname.lastname@example.org; open to public on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; expensive
Nightlife venue blueFrog is single-handedly responsible for popularizing live music in Mumbai.
The 1,000-square meter space hosts cutting-edge musicians from India and around the world. Jazz, electronic and world music dominate the line-ups.
It's a restaurant and stage rolled into one, housed in an old warehouse in Mumbai, transformed with a slick interior design.
There is usually a Rs 500 entrance fee to gigs unless it’s a major international artist in which case tickets tend to be priced at Rs 2,000 or higher.
blueFROG, D/2 Mathuradas Mills Compound, N.M. Joshi Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai; +91 22 4033 2300; moderate-expensive; www.bluefrog.co.in
Woodside Inn is the best gastropub in Mumbai.
Beer and single malt Scotch are the highlights of the drinks menu, while pizzas and burgers dominate the food list.
Regulars recommend the filet mignon.
The space is extremely small and can get crowded during after-work hours, when the white-collared comes for a pint or a glass of vino with colleagues.
Another plus is complimentary Wi-Fi.
Indian Mercantile Mansion, Wodehouse Road, Opposite Regal Cinema, Mumbai; +91 22 2202 5525; moderate; www.woodsideinn.in
Café Zoe is a bar and restaurant that has begun to attract Mumbai's A-listers.
The intentionally unfinished interiors transport you straight to New York’s Meatpacking District, with red brick walls, simple wood tables and breakfast served until late afternoon.
The food is underwhelming, but you come here to drink and absorb the buzzing cosmopolitan atmosphere.
This is the best of Mumbai nightlife, especially when there's a crackdown on dance clubs and bars.
Mathuradas Mills Compound, 126 N. M. Joshi Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai; +91 22 2490 2065; moderate; www.cafezoe.in
Colaba Causeway is frequented by tourists who want cheap street shopping.
It's a good place to buy best of Mumbai souvenirs: colorful bangles for the ladies, leather slippers for guys, cheesy T-shirts, fabric, saris, knickknacks and handicrafts.
Just walking through the Causeway -- even with no intention to buy -- is a cultural experience. Mumbai's incredible entrepreneurial spirit calls to you in the form of zealous salespeople you encounter at every step.
Stops to tick off around Colaba include the Curio Cottage, just off the main road at Mahakavi Bhushan Marg near the Regal Cinema, where beautiful costume jewelry is sold.
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The only one-stop shopping destination in South Mumbai, the 18,600-square-meter Palladium is a mid-to-high-end mall housing everything from Zara to Gucci.
Come for more chichi retail than you ever thought you could handle. The interior design is inspired by art deco and there's a liveried doorman at the entrance.
Le 15 Pâtisserie does a unique paan macaroon with Paris-meets-Mumbai flavor.
The Palladium also has a movie theater, many restaurants and a foot spa that's popular at the end of a shopping day.
Palladium Mall, High Street Phoenix, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai; +91 22 4333 9994; daily, 11 a.m.-midnight; www.highstreetphoenix.com
Bungalow 8 has gained international and domestic acclaim thanks to owner Maithili Ahluwalia’s eye for eclectic fashion.
Ahluwalia trawls Parisian flea markets and old Indian homes for everything from vintage lamps to sofas. Everything is displayed against raw, unfinished concrete walls -- so stylish it hurts.
The store covers three floors in a crumbling 19th-century building. Levels are dedicated to living and dining wares, bedding and clothing.
For contemporary, wearable Mumbai fashion, the third level has designs by Mathieu Gugumus Leguillon under the label The Bungalow.
Bungalow 8, Grants Building, 17 Arthur Bunder Road, near Radio Club, Colaba, Mumbai; +91 22 2281 9880; www.bungaloweight.com
The New York Times says Bombay Electric is Mumbai's answer to Barney's. And Elizabeth Hurley also launched her beach-wear line here.
But this place does in fact place an emphasis on Indian design.
Bombay Electric sets Indian fashion side by side with international haute couture.
There are also book readings, craft exhibitions and photography shows.
It's a great place for visitors who want to take home a little bit of Mumbai cool.
Bombay Electric, 1 Reay House, Best Marg, Colaba, Mumbai; +91 22 2287 6276; www.bombayelectric.in
Gateway of India
The Gateway of India is the city’s most iconic landmark.
The arch overlooks the harbor on one side and the Taj Mahal Palace on the other. Kids come to play in the harbor, couples come to romance each other, and, of course, tourists flock from all around the country and world.
The monument was built to commemorate the 1911 visit of King George V to India. It's also where the last of the British troops left the country.
Said to have been inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, a closer look at the intricate details also shows Muslim and Hindu influences.
The Gateway is now used as a jetty for private boats and catamarans sailing to the islands of Alibaug and the Elephanta, where there are caves filled with Hindu and Buddhist carvings.
The Gateway of India is at the tip of Apollo Bunder, on Apollo Bunder Road.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus)
The imposing Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is the best example of Gothic architecture in Mumbai and one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.
It's always overflowing with people.
Originally built to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, Chhatrapati Shivaji is now the busiest terminus in India for long-distance and commuter trains.
The railway station took 10 years to build and has intricate carvings inspired by both Indian and British culture. The walls are covered in jungle scenes, with peacocks and monkeys.
The carved lion (symbolizing Britain) and tiger (India's emblem) at the entrance of the building are especially photo-worthy.
At night this best of Mumbai monument is lit up dramatically.
Chhatrapati Shivaji is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Formerly called Victoria Terminus, the station is still known as “VT.”
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is at D.N. Road in Fort.
What's a visit to India without a bit of cricket?
Wankhede Stadium is the place to experience firsthand the passion that Indians feel for cricket.
Renovated in time for the 2011 Cricket World Cup final, Wankhede Stadium witnessed India’s monumental six-wicket win over Sri Lanka -- the first time the tournament has been won on home turf.
If you're lucky enough to be here during a Mumbai match, head to Wankhede Stadium. The best seats of the 33,482 seats are among the masses and offer an authentic, best of Mumbai cricket experience.
Wankhede Stadium, Churchgate, Mumbai; +91 22 2279 5500; book tickets at in.bookmyshow.com.
Chowpatty is a white stretch of sand in the city and should be the pride of Mumbai.
Unfortunately, part of the beach has been taken over by food stalls and the water has become quite filthy.
The strip of sand is still worth a visit, particularly in the evening, to see Mumbaikars at their most relaxed.
At Café By The Beach you can enjoy the sunset along with a fresh juice (no alcohol is served here).
In August and September, Chowpatty hosts Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival of Ganesh, when statues of the divinity are immersed in the sea in an annual cleansing ritual.
Café By The Beach is near Mafatlal Club, Seashore Beach, Girgaum, Chowpatty; +91 22 6565 0040
The best way to experience the full range of life in Mumbai, the city of contrasts, is to take long walks through the neighborhoods of extremes.
Here are the places that embody the contradicting nature of Mumbai, including slum life, laborers, hipsters and stars.
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The location of "Slumdog Millionaire," Dharavi is a model Mumbai slum.
More accurately, it's a megaslum, which was once Mumbai's largest.
Although it is hard to get exact statistics on population, Dharavi has been estimated to be home to more than 1 million people. It stretches to at least 550 hectares.
Today, other slums in Mumbai outdo Dharavi in size, but it's still the most famous and most accessible.
Tour companies take visitors on guided visits through the slum to see a less fortunate but ever-resourceful side of Mumbai.
The entrepreneurial energy of the people here can be overwhelming. Reality Tours show visitors small-scale businesses in Dharavi, specializing in recycling, leather-tanning and baking.
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Dhobi Ghat is Mumbai's human laundromat.
The world's largest washing machine, the dhobi ghat is made up of rows and rows of washing pens where dhobis (washers) toil daily.
There are 200 or so washers, all pounding and boiling dirty clothes in a laborious method.
While many Mumbaikers have electric washing machines in their homes, the dhobi ghat does the washing for lower-end hotels, restaurants, hospitals and other businesses in the neighborhood.
The work is pure manual labor, including boiling the laundry and beating it to get rid of dirt. Jobs are hereditary in the dhobi ghat -- dhobi is an occupational caste group that practices endogamy.
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Khala Ghoda represents the best of Mumbai gentrification. The neighborhood is undergoing a renaissance.
Kala Ghoda features some of the most beautiful examples of colonial architecture in the city, including Mumbai’s oldest synagogue.
The coolest galleries, cafes and stores in South Mumbai are all found here.
The Jehangir gallery is the place for a dose of art; Kala Ghoda Café serves a mean slice of carrot cake and coffee; Obataimu shows how far Indian contemporary fashion has come.
Kala Ghoda is also home to Fabindia, a store that brings together India’s best products, from organic tea to clothing.
Jehangir Art Gallery, 161 Kala Ghoda; +91 22 2284 3989
Kala Ghoda Café, 10 Ropewalk Lane, Kala Ghoda; +91 22 2263 3866; www.kgcafe.in
Obataimu, 13 Ropewalk Lane, next to Kala Ghoda Café, by appointment, contact email@example.com.
Fabindia flagship, Jeroo Building, 137 M.G. Road, Kala Ghoda; +91 22 2262 6539; www.fabindia.com
Mumbai’s hippest and youngest neighborhood, Bandra is filled with young professionals, college students, rickshaws and Bollywood stars.
A ride in an auto-rickshaw is the best way to maneuver the narrow streets. If you ask, the driver will show you homes of Bollywood stars, such as the one belonging to Shah Rukh Khan.
The ideal place for a coffee break is on Carter Road, a waterfront promenade filled with restaurants, pubs and lovey-dovey couples.
Eclectic shopping joints include The Shop at Pali Naka for handcrafted stoneware, and Play Clan, a design store.
This best of Mumbai neighborhood has a more relaxed vibe than South Mumbai. The easy mood is found at bars such as Big Nasty and The Elbo Room.
Big Nasty, Shatranj Napoli, 12 Union Park, Near Olive Bar & Kitchen, Khar
The Elbow Room, Sant Katir Apartments, Off Linking Road, Khar, +91 22 2648 33169