Getting around Delhi is always an adventure. Traffic is, by and large, horribly congested and many drivers will think nothing of quoting ten times the going price to a tourist. Use the prices below as broad guidelines, agree on prices before setting off. Best way to travel is via metro, where there are separate cabins for women (that prove to be very useful during rush hour). Metro is clean, efficient, and typically ridden by relatively affluent middle-class students or commuters en route to/from work; there is almost nowhere in the city that you cannot get to by metro.
Please note that in each station, you will undergo a security check with a metal detector and a scanning machine.
The fast-growing Delhi Metro network provides a cheap, quick, hassle-free and air-conditioned way of zipping around the city. The following lines are open:
- Red Line: Dilshad Garden – Rithala
- Yellow Line: Jahangirpuri – HUDA City Centre, Gurgaon
- Blue Line: Dwarka Sector 21 – Vaishali/ – Noida City Centre
- Green Line: Inderlok – Mundka
- Violet Line: ITO – Badarpur Border
- Airport Express: New Delhi Railway Station – Airport – Dwarka
Fares range from ₹10-60 (₹100 for the airport express), depending on distance. To use the system, either buy a smart card (₹200, includes ₹150 of credit) and load it with credit or buy a token each time you want to ride the metro. There can be long queues of as much as 30 minutes to buy tokens, so the smart card is usually the better bet, even if it winds up costing a bit more. Tokens can be used only from the station they are bought, so you can’t buy two and use the second to return home. The tokens or the smart card are needed to both enter and exit the system. There is also a “Tourist Card” allowing unlimited use for ₹200 (1 day) or ₹500 (3 days), but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll travel enough to make this pay off.
Yellow line, in particular, is useful for getting to the Old Delhi (Chandni Chowk, Jama Masjid) and New Delhi railway stations, the ISBT bus terminal, the backpacker ghetto of Paharganj, Hauz Khas and Qutub Minar. Line 3 is also handy for visiting Akshardham and accessing the western parts of Paharganj through RK Ashram Marg station.
Metro stations all use the new, official, Indianized names, so Connaught Place is “Rajiv Chowk”, Old Delhi Railway Station is “Chandni Chowk” and ISBT is “Kashmere Gate”.
The first car of all trains is reserved to women, so, is totally safe and comfortable to travel with the metro lines also for a woman by herself.
Please be advised that it’s strictly prohibited to carry alcohol items (even being bought in duty-free in the country of origin) to the Delhi Metro, except airport express line. You can be denied entering the station on security check. Also lighters and matches are confiscated by security staff.
By local train
There are limited commuter services on Delhi’s railways, but the facilities are a far cry from the user-friendly Metro and stations. For the most part, train stations are inconveniently located. There is no passenger service on the Delhi Ring Railroad outside rush hour.
Please note that the Indian Railways website does not accept most foreign credit cards, however American Express cards are accepted. Indian railways tickets can be bought from an agency called Cleartrip using other credit cards.
All parts of Delhi are well connected by buses and with tickets ranging from Rs 5-15 they are very cheap, but they are also quite crowded most of the time. The red coloured buses are air-conditioned and the green coloured are not. As bus stops do not have bus routes written properly, it can be difficult to find your way. Asking other people at the bus stop is often the best way to find out about bus routes to your destination. However, the buses are pretty frequent, running every 15-20 min or so on most routes. There are two kinds of buses in Delhi:
- Government run DTC buses (red-AC busses and green coloured with big windows)
- Privately run cluster buses (orange coloured)
If you have a choice, please go for a DTC bus. They will stop less frequently and will generally be less crowded too. Note that many buses, DTC ones too, will stop pretty much anywhere if there are enough people getting on or off.
Board buses at the back and pay the ticket seller sitting right next to the door. Be sure to hang onto your tickets, as ticket checks are fairly frequent. Some seats on the left side of the bus may be reserved for women and the handicapped. When it’s time to disembark, move to the front of the bus. As you might expect, all these guidelines are regularly ignored when buses are very crowded.
Hop on Hop off
Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus service is operated by Delhi Tourism. A fleet of air conditioned low floored buses follow a pre-defined set of stops around the city and passengers can hop off the bus, see the place at one’s own convenience and hop on the next bus. Each bus is staffed with a knowledgeable English speaking guide. The service does not operate on Mondays. Best to go on Saturdays and Sundays when there is little traffic.
Delhi is well-serviced by smartphone-app based cab-service providers. Popular services are Ola, Uber and Meru. There are other cab service providers as well. The advantage of using the app based services is that you do not have to negotiate with the driver in advance, and your cab ride is tracked, and the receipt emailed to you. All the new cab service companies accept payments from digital wallets, so haggling over the right change is also not a problem. The cabs you will see near tourist spots will be old.
Most Delhi taxis are old but reliable CNG-run Ambassadors or Omnis in distinctive black-and-yellow livery and a green stripe. The hired family car of choice is usually a Toyota Innova or Chevrolet Tavera. While all are equipped with meters and should cost ₹15 for the first km ₹8.50 per km, the meters are often rigged and it’s better to agree on the price in advance. Most trips around the city should be ₹200-500, while a trip to the airport would be higher, depending on starting location. An eight-hour charter should cost around ₹1,500, and a tip is expected if the driver is helpful. The prices would also depends upon the vehicle size too. Note that black and yellow taxis are not air-conditioned. Even if they do have air conditioning, you will be charged extra (and the rates are up to the driver, so bargain hard).
The death knell of the Ambassador was rung in December 2006, when modern radio taxi services were launched. At ₹20/km, they’re more the list price of the competition, but they use modern vehicles with air-conditioning and GPS and can be dialed 24 hr/day. The flag fare is ₹20, and the fare increases by ₹5 for every 250m after the first km. If you need an SUV, you need to inform the company in advance, but the fare remains the same. Night charges (25% extra) apply between 11pm to 5am. Book up to a few hours in advance. Many corporates rely on these cabs for their daily commute and they may be booked during office hours. Tipping is not expected. After booking, you will receive an SMS with the car license plate number, and the driver’s name and mobile number. Usually the driver will call you and inform you that he’s arrived. Most drivers speak English, but at a very basic level, so use short phrases.
You shouldn’t take non-official taxis, sometimes they take you to a wrong hotel, or to a “tourist information centre”, and try to sell you overpriced things.
By auto rickshaws
Auto rickshaws (also called three-wheeled scooters, tuk-tuks or simply autos) are good for shorter trips. Always in a distinctive yellow-and-green livery, auto rickshaws are three-wheeled partially enclosed contraptions (no doors!) that run on CNG and can seat three people in the back. In general, they are much cheaper than taxis and can be hailed from the street. Although by law the rickshaw drivers should charge according to the meter in their vehicle (₹25 for the first two kms, ₹8/km after), this rate is unrealistically low and they will almost always try to haggle for price. Try to negotiate a price before entering the vehicle. As rules of thumb, expect even the shortest journey to cost ₹30-40 regardless of the meter, but you should never need to pay over ₹150 for any trip within the city. If you’re overquoted, don’t be afraid to walk away. It’s usually easy to find another one soon, usually with a driver who won’t rip you off.
If you have any trouble with drivers, go to any of the numerous tourist police stations in the city center and they will give you a complaint slip which will result in a ₹500 fine for the auto driver. There should also be a telephone number written on the vehicle to call in case of any complaint.
There are a number of “Pre-paid” auto stands run by the Police. Tell them where you want to go and pay them upfront. The charge will include ₹5 for the service. You then take the coupon and stand outside where a policeman will direct you to the next available Auto. When your journey is completed you hand the coupon to the auto driver and that’s it. Nothing more to pay (despite what they may say).
By cycle rickshaws
Cycle rickshaws are three-wheeled, pedal-powered rickshaws with seats in the back to seat passengers and a driver in the front. They are good for short distances, or places which are too far to walk but too short for taking a bus/taxi/auto rickshaw. Cycle rickshaws don’t use meters, so establish a price before getting on. ₹20-50 is reasonable for most journeys of a few km.
Cycle rickshaws are best to use in Old Delhi to visit the intricate galis (walkways) and to enjoy the smells and sounds of the city.
Much of Delhi is quite pedestrian-hostile. Distances are long, road signage is poor, and in the more tourist oriented areas, you’ll be constantly accosted by beggars and touts. Crossing roads often involves wading across multiple lanes of heavy traffic. Try your best to move in a predictable straight line, so vehicles can weave around you. (Better yet, latch onto a group of locals and cross in their shadow.) If you really want to walk around, these places would be good:
- Walk from Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s house) to India Gate on the Rajpath (a walk of close to 3-4 km).
- Walk from Jama Masjid to Red Fort in the Chandni Chowk area.
- Far South Delhi go walk about in the forest. Try starting from south of Indian Institute of Technology through Sanjay Van to Qutub Minar. Note however that Sanjay Van is not always safe, and it is advisable to go there in a group, preferably during daylight hours.
- South Delhi-Green Park-Hauz Khas Village, then to the Hauz Khas ruined madrasa, offers a newer shopping area, an up-market arts village, old ruins, and some quality gardens.
Hiring a car is not a good option for most foreigners as most road users in Delhi have no sense of road safety and tend to ignore the rules. It is much easier to hire a car and a driver to get around. Yet if you are feeling adventurous, you may hire a car and drive yourself; but be very careful and do so at your own risk, as Indian roads are amongst the most dangerous in the world.
There are various private “tourist information” offices around Connaught Place openly claiming to be the official government tourist office. They’re actually just travel agents that have nothing to do with The Government of India, and since they prey on tourists, anything you buy from them will be grossly overpriced compared to doing it yourself.
The Red Fort (Lal Qila), is one of Delhi’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A brilliant red sandstone fort built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (who also built Agra’s Taj Mahal) as his ruling palace. Completed in 1648, the years since have not treated the buildings kindly: the rooms have long since been stripped of all objects, the marble inlays are long gone and quite a few buildings are off limits. Still, the scale remains imposing and the gardens are kept lush and green even in midwinter. Major buildings within include:
- Chatta Chowk, (Covered Bazaar). True to the name, this is a covered bazaar between the gate and the fort itself, now filled with souvenir hawkers.
- Diwan-i-Am, (Hall of Public Audience). This building separates the outer court from the inner court, and has a marble platform for the emperor’s throne.
- Hayat Baksh Bagh, (Life-Bestowing Gardens). Once a grand garden of full of fountains and streams, now sadly all dry — only dry channels and acres of green grass remain.
- Diwan-i-Khas, (Hall of Private Audience). Built completely of marble, this is where the emperor received special visitors.
- Khas Mahal, (Private Palace), The Emperor’s main residence. The octagonal Mussaman Burj tower looks out toward the Yamuna River, and is where the Emperor used to appear before the public for each morning.
- Rang Mahal, (Colour Palace). The residence of the Sultan’s main wife.
- Mumtaz Mahal, (Jewel Palace). Contained six apartments for the Sultan’s harem. Now used as a museum of court textiles, carpets, weapons, etc (free).
- Daawat Khana, A minor palace at the northmost end of the Fort, this was originally the residence of a prince, but it was converted into a tea house by the British, a function it continues today. Basic meals go for around 60 rupees, drinks 10-20 rupees, and it also has the cleanest toilets around.
- Swatantra Sangrama Sangrahalaya, (Museum of the Independence Movement). To the left after the Chatta Chowk, this is a reasonably well-presented museum on the history of independence activism in India, starting from the Mutiny of 1857 all the way to Gandhi.
The only open entrance is Lahore Gate, on the west side. Security in and around the Fort is very heavy, as it was the scene of a terrorist attack in 2000 that killed three people. Bags are allowed, but they’ll be X-rayed and you’ll be patted down. Tickets cost Rs 10/250 rupees for Indians/foreigners, photography free, video cameras Rs 25 extra. Open sunrise to sunset daily except Monday. Allow for 3-4 hr in your schedule in case of long weekends and national holidays as lot of tourists flock around then. The most scenic way of reaching the fort is to take the Metro to Chawri Bazaar and then a cycle-rickshaw through the incredibly packed bazaar to the Fort (price negotiable, aim for Rs 20).
The fort has a light and sound show (Rs 50) in the evenings from 7:30PM-9PM, depending on the season.
Be careful buying tickets at the booth, as the ticket sellers will attempt to shortchange you. Try to have a small bill. Due to enhanced security the parking can be a bit tricky as the walk from the now distanced away parking at nearby alternative slots is quite a bit. The congested traffic makes crossing the road even trickier.
Humayun’s Tomb in south Delhi, near Hazrat Nizamuddin station, is one of Delhi’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Open daily from sunrise to sunset, entry is Rs 30/500, Indians/foreigners.
The tomb is in large, immaculately maintained gardens in the Persian Char Bagh (four corners) style that were thoroughly renovated in 2003 with the Aga Khan’s help and are consequently probably the best in Delhi. As you enter the complex, the first major structure on your right is the bulbous, octagonal tomb of Iza Khan, a court noble who built it in his own lifetime, some 20 years before Humayun’s tomb. As you pass through the first gate, you will glimpse the dome of the tomb and enter a floral path leading to the second (West) gate, which now acts as the entrance to the giant central garden.
The centerpiece is the eponymous tomb of Humayun, the second Mughal emperor. Built starting in 1562, it was the first major Mughal structure in the city and has been described as a predecessor or prototype of Agra’s Taj Mahal. The structures are, indeed, stylistically similar, although Humayun’s Tomb is built from red sandstone, not white marble, and was built by a wife grieving for her husband, not the other way around. You can climb up to the second level (the stairs on the west side are very steep, those on the south side less so), and on the south side you will find the entrance into the main crypt where Humayun is buried.
Before you leave, be sure to visit the South Gate, the original royal entrance, from where you can get picture-postcard views without too many tourists in the way. In the southeast corner is the Barber’s Tomb, also built in the same style. Historians do not know who is buried in this picturesque tomb made of red and grey sandstone.
This complex in Mehrauli, houses structures dating from the Slave Dynasty (1206-1290), is one of Delhi’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The gardens are kept in excellent shape, making this a popular relaxation and picnic spot. Open daily from sunrise to sunset, entry is 15/500 rupees Indians/foreigners. Light-and-sound show held most nights after sunset. Now easily accessible via Qutub Minar station on the Metro Yellow Line, followed by a short auto ride.
- Qutub Minar, The most famous structure on grounds, this 72.5 m minaret was the tallest “skyscraper” in the world when built (1193-1368) – it was constructed on the orders of Qutb-ud-din Aybak. Delicately carved, it has been astonishingly well-preserved and is still an awe-inspiring sight today. It’s often visible from air when flying into IGI airport! (Sticklers for archaeological truth will, however, note that the top of the tower has twice been rebuilt after an earthquake, and the base has been restored more recently.) While entry into the tower itself is no longer permitted, for Rs 10 per 5 min you can view the scenery via a little webcam on top.
- Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, Delhi’s first and grandest mosque, now mostly in ruins, but many parts of the complex are still standing and the sandstone decorations are still impressive. Check out the extraordinarily ornate carvings near the tomb of Iltutmish on the west side of the complex.
- Iron Pillar, in the centre of the mosque. True to its name, this is a 7 m iron pillar erected in 400 AD by Chandragupta II Vikramaditya, also known as “he, by the breezes of whose prowess the southern ocean is even still perfumed” according to the inscription carved on the base. Alas, Chandragupta II’s perfume has long since faded, but to the amazement of metallurgists everywhere, his pillar is still going strong, after 1,600 years.
- Ala-i-Minar, Ala-ud-din-Khilji set out to build a tower twice as high as the Qutub Minar, but died after a mere 24.5 m was complete. The first story stands to this day.
- Ala-i-Darwaza, This square, domed building once acted as the entrance to the mosque, but is now tucked away behind the minar. Inlaid marble decorations and latticed stone screens.
- Tomb of Imam Zamin, Outside the main complex, next to the Ala-i-Darzawa, this octagonal tomb commemorates a Turkestani iman who was based in the mosque during the reign of Sikandar Lodi.
- Gandhi Smriti, 5, Tees January Marg. This estate is the site of Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom. Includes a museum celebrating his life and the room he lived in during his final days.
- India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Rd. This center though not a museum in the strictest sense of the word, is most noted for its ever-changing art exhibits, plays and films, as well as an international selection of food items in its food court.Only members can avail of the dining facilities at its following two restaurants-Dilli-O-Dilli & the Oriental octopus-whereas he eatopia and the American Diner are accessible to all.
- Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, 145 DLF South Court Mall, Saket. Established at the initiative of avid art collector Kiran Nadar, KNMA opened in January 2010, as the first private museum of Art, exhibiting Modern and Contemporary works from India and the subcontinent. The core corpus of KNMA highlights the most extraordinary works from F.N. Souza, M.F. Hussain, S.H. Raza, V.S. Gaitonde, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar, A. Ramachandran, Rameshwar Broota and several others. Located in the popular tourist destination of Saket. Entry is free. The nearest Metro Station is Malviya Nagar.
- National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum, Pragati Maidan, Gate #5, Bhairon Road. Also sells handicrafts. Foreign Visitors: Rs. 150, Indian Visitors: Rs. 10.
- National Gallery of Modern Art, Shershah Road Near India Gate. Housed in the former Jaipur House (1936), the museum was significantly expanded with a new wing in 2009. The collection is primarily noteworthy for paintings but also includes sculpture and photography. Works cover the timespan from the British Colonial Period to the present. Allow three to four hours. Entry Rs 500 for foreigners, Rs 20 Indians, free for Indian students and children.
- National Gandhi Museum, Opp Raj Ghat, Jawaharlal Nehru Marg. Contains exhibits covering Mahatma Gandhi’s life, Kastur Ba and Indian Freedom Struggle. Collections include books, journals, documents, photographs, audio-visual materials, and artwork. Allow one to two hours. Free to all.
- National Museum, Janpath. The layout here is a labyrinthine and the presentation won’t win any awards, but the collection is unparalleled and contains some true masterpieces. The section on the Indus Valley Culture and the one on Buddhist Heritage is most informative. The museum also showcases the arts and handicrafts from different regions of India. Keep an eye out for the 4,600 year old Harappan temple dancer, the Gandhara-era standing Buddha with Greek hair and a Roman toga, the stunning miniature painting gallery, and the giant temple chariot parked outside. Two impressive exhibits which do a fair job of tracing India’s history and geography are those on stonecarving and coins. An informative place for all interested in knowing more about Indian culture and history. Entry Rs 300 for foreigners (includes useful audioguide), Rs 10 Indians (optional audioguide Rs 150 extra), 1 rupees for Indian Students, plus Rs 300 if you want to use a camera. Decent restaurant on the second floor. A cloak room is free for customers.
- National Philatelic Museum, Dak Bhavan, Sardar Patel Chowk, Sansad Marg. Contains exhibits of postage stamps and related items. Free to all.
- National Science Centre, Gate No. 1, Pragati Maidan. Although the name is too grand, the museum is definitely a must see for science enthusiasts, especially those who are young. A good place to refresh your basics, particularly in Physics. Has a recently built section on DNA Science and also a section on Dinosaurs. A section on ancient Indian Science and Technology, including Vedic Mathematics & Ayurveda. The “Energy Ball” display near the entrance is interesting and perhaps the most captivating of all. A section on Electronic Technologies sponsored by Samsung is also a must see.
- National Railway Museum, Chanakyapuri. Closed Mondays and national holidays. Houses a collection of Indian trains from the past to the present – a worthwhile look into India’s proud railway heritage. The collection includes carriages belonging to Indian potentates and British viceroys. Children can ride the small train that circumnavigates the museum. There is a small cafe on the premises.
- Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, Teen Murti Bhavan, Teen Murti Marg. Former residence of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, now a museum of his life. Was used by the Commander-in-chief of the Indian Army before Indian Independence. Includes a Planetarium.Its entry fee is Rs.50 For adults an 25 for children. Here they show a small movie on Astro and Universe.
- Shankar’s International Dolls Museum, Nehru House, 4 Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. A museum of dolls from all over the country. You get to see the costumes and art from all over India, as well as some nice crafts. Rs 10.
- Azaad Hind Gram, (Tikri Kalan on NH-10), ☎ +91 11 2835 3102. 10AM-6PM. A tourist complex dedicated to Netaji (respected leader) Subhash Chandra Bose, a leader in the Indian independence movement.
- India Gate, This monument has been built as a memorial for the Indian soldiers who died in World War I. There is also a fire (“eternal flame”) burning for all fallen Indian soldiers.
- Gyrah Murti (11 Statues)/Dandi March Statue. Open 24 hours. Statue commemorating the Salt March of 1930, featuring Gandhi and his followers in peaceful protest.
- Jantar Mantar. 9AM-6PM. One of five astronomical observatories commissioned by Sawai Jai Singh II of Jaipur during the 18th century. The odd structures inside are actually enormous scientific instruments for measuring the movement of celestial bodies.
- Purana Qila (Old Fort), (next to the Delhi Zoo), ☎ +91 11 2435 5387. 10AM-5PM. Ruins of the 16th century city of Shergarh, this complex sits on top of what is believed to be the site of Indraprastha, the capital of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata epic.
- Raj Ghat. Open Apr-Sep 5.00AM-7.30PM, Oct-March 5.30AM-7.00PM. Memorial to Mahatma Gandhi at the site of his cremation. Check for closure dates/security checks around national holidays/gandhiji’s death anniversary.
- Rajpath, This is a main parade route that leads from Rashtrapati Bhavan (the President’s residence) to India Gate, with many grassy lawns along the way. Especially nice in the evenings and at night when the buildings are lit and the vendors come out to supply the many picnicking families.
- Tughlaqabad Fort Massive fortress built by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq in the 14th century and was the third city of Delhi. The monstrous ruins of this complex are now overrun by hordes of Langur monkeys.