Mumbai was the start of our India experience and we were left pretty overwhelmed by our time here. We only had a couple of days before transiting on to Jodphur so decided to spend one day in Mumbai walking around, exploring and seeing the main city attractions. Mumbai is a crazy city. I’m still not sure whether I mean that in a good or a bad way to be honest. Everything you hear about India being intense and shocking and different is so true and we experienced far more culture shock than we’d expected to after eleven months of travelling.
It’s the largest and most densely populated city in India – with over 20 million people estimated to live here as of most recent counts. The city has everything from luxury housing and beautiful colonial style architecture to slums and some of the most shocking poverty we’ve ever seen. You can have drinks at a world famous hotel on the bay while just a few streets away people are living on the street surrounded by trash and rats. It really is that extreme.
We were sitting in an uber on our final morning, trying to confirm our destination with a very confused driver (more of which in another post), and I watched a man dressed in rags, covered in wounds and skinny to the point of starvation pull himself along the roadside in search of scraps, while rats scuttled along the piles of rubbish surrounding him. No one batted an eyelid and there were slums and makeshift lean to houses lining the streets as far as you could see. I have to be honest and say even if you know to expect this kind of sight, it’s shocking to be confronted with it.
Despite the chaos, we enjoyed our one day in Mumbai and I’d recommend it as a stop off point in any India itinerary, it’s a great place to start to understand the country and its history.
We only spent one day in Mumbai sightseeing but managed to cram in absolutely loads. Our recommended itinerary is pretty busy and focuses on seeing the city’s highlights and iconic buildings as well as taking a trip to the nearby world heritage site where the Elephanta Caves are located. Sadly if you’re on a budget Mumbai is not necessarily going to be the cheapest place to spend time, but we figured it was worth seeing as much as possible as it’s not necessarily a place we’ll be headed back to!
Finally, it’s a horrible cliche but I recommend reading Shantaram before you go – it’s like reading Memoirs of a Geisha in Japan or The Beach in Thailand (both of which I did), but it’s great to get a flavour of the city before you arrive.
One Day in Mumbai – Essential Sights
Chhatrapati Train Station
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this has got to be one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world – it’s a stunning building that dates back to 1887 and was originally named for Queen Victoria before being renamed in 2016.
Colonial Architecture in Colaba
This area of Southern Mumbai is crammed with astonishing buildings – you’d never guess that you were in India half the time as you wander the streets. As you walk down from the train station towards the Prince of Wales museum there is plenty of architecture to admire.
Prince of Wales Museum
This has recently been renamed to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum which is a bit of a mouthful, but it’s still commonly referred to by both names. It’s one of the best museums we’ve visited and has some amazing collections. Highlights for us included the Japanese art and pottery and the collection of snuff boxes but we happily wandered for hours and would definitely return.
Visiting Leopold’s is a rite of passage for many visiting Mumbai and it’s definitely worth dropping in while you’re here. It’s a little pricy as a tourist destination primarily, but lunches are good and one curry should easily serve two people as portions are large. This was the centre of the action in the book Shantaram, set in Mumbai, and was also a site targeted in the 2008 terror attacks – you can still see the bullet holes in the walls.
Gateway of India
Probably the most famous site you’ll visit on your day in Mumbai, this magnificent archway commemorates the landing of King George V when he visited India in 1911. It’s located right on the waterfront and is always packed with people – so be prepared to queue and to pose for lots of selfies with people.
Elephanta Caves World Heritage Site
This spot is trickier to get to and requires a ferry journey of just under an hour from the courtyard in front of the Gateway of India but it’s worth it to take a trip out of the city and visit another world heritage site. Elephanta is a small island with several interesting caves of Hindu and Buddhist origin, although the exact history of the place is unclear. Some of the exhibits in the Prince of Wales Museum were originally discovered here.
Taj Palace Hotel
A world famous luxury hotel and sadly another place that was badly affected by the 2008 attacks, this is another incredible building as well as being one of the best places in Mumbai to sit and enjoy a drink. I think it was the first licensed bar in Mumbai and is a popular drinking spot for businessmen. Worth dropping in for a quick drink and a look around even if you can’t budget for dinner or to stay the night!
If you have a bit more time, other popular things to do include the markets – Colaba and Crawford markets are supposed to be particularly good. Slum tours are also possible and very interesting given that over 60% of people in Mumbai are estimated to reside in slums or temporary makeshift housing. Our favourite way to spend time in the city on our one day in Mumbai was to admire the amazing architecture and soak up the chaotic but fascinating atmosphere as we wandered around.
Exploring more of Northern India? Check out our tips on train travel between popular tourist cities like Jaipur & Agra