Mumbai should be on everyone’s India itinerary, and is a good place to start a trip. The city gives you the opportunity to choose whether to dive full-on into the Indian culture, food and chaos, or to pay (much) more to eat western food and go to western shops in (somewhat) more quiet areas.
Even though accommodation is a bit more expensive than in other Indian cities, it makes up for it with the non-stop buzz of the Mumbai streets, which is endlessly entertaining and totally for free.
Make sure to tick of these activities on your next trip to Mumbai:
Watch the sunset and make friends on Chowpatty Beach
Chowpatty beach is crowded with young Indians keen to take selfies and speak to foreigners, especially on weekends or holidays. It is a perfect place to get in touch with locals who are keen to learn about western culture and teach you about India. Except for what might become a crowd of people wanting to take selfies with you, it is also a very chill place to escape the traffic noise and breathe in the salty air. Would definitely not swim there though. Chowpatty Beach is also a good spot to catch the sunset with locals and travellers, with shops selling drinks and food on the sand.
Walk down Marine Drive
Continue from Chowpatty Beach to walk down Marine Drive, which follows the shore right above the beach. Showing affection in public or being an unmarried couple can be frowned upon in Indian culture, especially in traditional households. The youth on Marine Drive is really pushing this strict culture away, as it is crowded with couples in the evenings and on holidays. And almost everyone is making out – all the time. At least they hold each other so close that you can be very sure that guy is not just a male relative. The strip is also referred to as the Queen’s necklace, as when the street lights are on in the evening, the rounded shape of the drive makes it looks like the pearls on a necklace.
Shop Indian-style in the bazaars
The bazaars in Mumbai are great for shopping local products and Indian clothing. It is an amazing experience to walk down, through the different parts of the bazaars selling different things. You will have everything from jewellery to underwear, saris, car-parts and woodwork. Start in Chor Bazaar and walk down through Bhuleshwar Market, towards Mangaldas market and end up in Crawford Market. Alongside this route is also the Muhamad Ali Road, which has great local shopping.
Shop Western style on Fashion street
Head to Fashion Street – which sounds incredibly fancy with huge Gucci and Chanel shops with glass walls. It is not. Fashion street is ad-hoc stalls set up on a sidewalk, where possibly hundreds of shops are crammed up next to each other. It’s a great place for men’s shopping, with shirts, pants and shorts at low costs (after bargaining off 70% the asking price). Less women’s clothes, but still a great place to visit for a good bargain!
Watch an informal game at the Cricket Ground on the Oval Maiden
This is a good place to enjoy the sun and friendly faces hanging out on a weekday. On weekends there are sometimes more or less formal games played on this ground. It is also a good place to get an introduction into cricket, if you (like us) know little about the game before coming to India.
Join the crowd at the Gateway of India and go for a boat ride
From the cricket ground you can easily walk down to the Gateway of India, which is always crowded with people. You would think the Gateway is the main attraction, but most of the Indians would want to take a selfie with you instead. It still has a beautiful view and is full of friendly faces. From there you can jump on a ferryboat for a 30 minute swing around on the water, or go all the way out to the Elephanta Caves.
Take the local train
Mumbai is super well connected by train, and you can hang on the outside of the door while watching the city pass by. You should definitely use this method of travelling when visiting the friends you made on Chowpatty beach out in the districts. Even travelling in peak time is a great experience, but do not bring a backpack or any other luggage with you on a train in peak time, it is so freakin’ packed that it simply wont fit on the carriage.
Visit the Dhobi Ghat and catch a horse race at the Mahalaxmi Race course
Dhobi Ghat is an open-air laundromat where around half a million pieces of clothes are washed manually every day. If you have sent your laundry to be washed at your hotel, you might as well spot it hanging to dry at the Dhobi Ghat. Make sure to go during day-time, as there are much less action happening after 4pm. After this you can head to the Racecourse across the road, and catch a horse race, or simply escape the pollution and crowds for a walk on the course when it is open for the public in the evening time.
Experience the atmosphere at the Haji Ali
Stroll out to the Haji Ali along with the massive crowd who is going there to pray. It has a special atmosphere in the evening as you walk along a long pier/heightened road towards the mosque. Try to go during high tide, so it looks even more beautiful with the water surrounding the pier.
Walk around and try local restaurants
Mumbai is a great place to just stroll around endlessly and watch the life buzzling around you on every street corner. Colaba is the main tourist area, and we experienced that people often were trying to sell us stuff or had some intention or other. While by Mumbai Central, Chowpatty beach and the bazaars it is a bit more “local” and people are not intending to use you as a human ATM. Another thing is that there is a bunch of super local restaurants who are eager to show you the Indian foods. We had great experiences eating local foods, super cheap, but quite spicy! Make sure you have access to endless amounts of purified water to calm your tongue. Be aware of the pollution, have good walking shoes and ENJOY!