24 Hours in Mumbai
Exploring India’s boisterous west.
Mumbai may not look like much on the map — a crooked ledge hanging from India’s western coast into the Arabian Sea — but its history is anything but ordinary. From seven fishing villages in the second century, it grew to flourish as an important British trading post in the 18th century. Today, this pulsating, cosmopolitan city of nearly 21 million is India’s commercial center and home to the Bollywood film industry.
While there’s plenty to explore, visit South Mumbai to experience flavors of local life, colonial nostalgia and contemporary chic.
Start the day at Colaba Causeway with a plate of glistening kheema pav (minced mutton curry with bread) from Leopold Café, one of Mumbai’s dwindling 19th-century Parsi eateries. The café’s spartan interiors harken back to simpler times, and its scrumptious, substantially portioned food will power you through an entire day of activities.
From the café, walk 500 meters to view Mumbai’s most revered icon, the Gateway of India — a magnificent yellow basalt monument erected in 1924 to celebrate the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary. This ceremonial entry point of British governors and viceroys also marked the exit of the last British Force from India in 1948.
Twenty-one years its senior, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel across the road shares the Gateway’s celebrity status. Since no trip to Mumbai is complete without posing with either landmark, prepare to be approached by camera-weilding photographers eager to snap a shot.
Walk through the historic Fort area to witness a timeline of Mumbai’s past, as told through its varied architecture. Start back at the Gateway, featuring a blend of Islamic and Hindu elements called the Indo-Saracenic style (developed in the late 19th century). The streamlined façade of the Regal Cinema across the street reflects 1930s art deco, followed by the University of Mumbai buildings in Gothic revival (its Rajabai Clock Tower, modeled on London’s Big Ben, recently reopened after restoration work).
End your roughly 2.5-kilometer walk in front of Mumbai’s grandest dame, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. This palatial railway station with towers, cupolas, arches and stained-glass windows represents the pinnacle of 19th-century Gothic revival architecture in Mumbai, and it befittingly opened on the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria, the empress of India during British colonial rule. Three million commuters still use it daily, making this UNESCO World Heritage site one of the world’s finest functional railway stations.
Calm your growling belly with a plate of hot, buttery pav bhaji (vegetable curry with a soft bread roll) at Cannon, a food stall opposite the rail station. It’s crowded during lunch but service is fast. Locals wash it down with a chilled lassi (a yogurt-based drink) and finish with gajar ka halwa, a sublime dessert made by slow-cooking grated carrots in milk and ghee (clarified butter).
Retrace your steps or take a taxi toward the Gateway, stopping at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum). Its collection of more than 60,000 artifacts — including rare Indian miniature paintings, ancient terra cotta figurines, sculptures, textiles, coins, weaponry and more — will keep you captivated for hours.
After reveling in Indian arts and history, relax amid the cooling greenery of Kamla Nehru Park — a 20-minute taxi drive from the museum. Pick a shaded bench near the giant yellow shoe house (of the old nursery rhyme) to watch ecstatic children rush into its heel, climb up and wave from the top while parents take pictures dutifully. Next, wander the adjoining 19th-century Hanging Gardens — a lush, terraced green lawn with animal-shaped bushes that was built atop Mumbai’s main water reservoir.
Watch the golden orb sink into the Arabian Sea at nearby Girgaum Chowpatty Beach, and enjoy a refreshing kalakhatta gola (crushed ice doused in blackberry syrup). Cries of hawkers peddling their aromatic wares from countless street food stalls fill the balmy air, joined by orders screamed from hungry customers and blaring Bollywood numbers.
Rinse off the sand and head toMahesh Lunch Home, a 15-minute drive from the beach, to devour authentic Mangalorean cuisine. Order the fragrantly spicedsurmai tawa fry(panfried kingfish), butter pepper garlic prawns and silky pomfret fishgassi(curry). Accent this spicy affair with glasses ofsolkadi, a Konkani beverage made from pink kokum petals and coconut milk.
Before retiring to your seafront room at the InterContinental Hotel, unwind with a drink at Dome, its luxe rooftop skybar. Unparalleled views of the “Queen’s Necklace” — Marine Drive’s C-shaped promenade bejeweled with sparkling streetlights — will ensure your 24-hour Mumbai darshan (sightseeing) ends on a high note.