Editor’s Note: CNN Insider Guides are thoroughly checked for accuracy. Given the fluid nature of the travel industry, however, some listings may fall out of date before guides can be updated. The best practice is to confirm current information on official websites before making plans to visit any business or attraction.
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. It also has the country’s biggest slum.
So when we say Mumbai is a city of extremes, it’s not just for dramatic effect. The juxtapositions can be difficult for some travelers, but they also can be inspiring. Visitors to the city are over-stimulated in the best way. Here’s where to find the best of Mumbai:
The Bombay Canteen
Since its launch in February,The Bombay Canteen has swiftly become the city’s favorite drinks and dining spot. Fans love its vintage decor, which recalls old Bombay, and its creative rendering of regional Indian cooking. The food is both familiar and unexpected.
Pulled pork vindaloo thepla (Indian flat bread) tacos, seafood bhel (puffed rice, vegetables, chutneys), kamal kakdi (lotus stem) chips, tandoori pork, masala chai popsicles with caramel sauce and rum-soaked gulab jamun (dumpling dessert made with thickened milk and rose-flavored syrup) – there’s not a bad line on the menu. Even the alcohol isn’t spared from the Indian twist. The sharing bowl of punch – you know punch is a drink that originated in India? – is a bestseller among the restaurant’s mixed-spiced cocktails.
The Bombay Canteen, Unit-1, Process House, Kamala Mills, near Radio Mirchi Office, S.B. Road, Lower Parel; +91 (0)22 4966 6666
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South Mumbai seafood establishment Trishna gets the lion’s share of attention from tourists and expats. However, also a coastal spot, the underrated Gajalee has been serving worthy Malvani food and what’s arguably the city’s best tandoori crabs for years. While it’s a three-outlet chain, its most consistent branch is the old school Vile Parle flagship, where locals flock for fried bombil (Bombay duck) and spiced tisriya (clams) masala in addition to the crabs. Service is prompt, friendly and polite.
Gajalee, Kadamgiri Complex, Hanuman Road, Vile Parle (East); +91 (0)22 2616 6470
Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra
Indian food is given the molecular treatment at this perennially booked fine dining restaurant. What Masala Library lacks in ambiance it makes up for with its inventive plating and flavors. Favorite selections include the silken butter chicken, sweet and pungent pepper and kokum glazed ribs, ghee roast lamb shank, chicken stuffed kulcha (a leavened bread) and the stellar Bhindi Jaipuri (a crispy Rajasthani salad) served on choorma (a wheat flour ball dessert). Meals here are typically rich, but it’s worth saving room for the jalebi (India’s deep-fried pretzel) made as caviar, and the crowd-pleasing paan-flavored cotton candy served as a palate cleanser.
Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, G/F, First International Financial Centre, G Block, Bandra East, opposite Sofitel Hotel, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra (East); +91 (0)22 6642 4142
Located at the ITC Maratha near the international airport, Dum Pukht is 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. 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 that melts in your mouth and dum pukht biryani, also made with lamb.
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 slow-roasted New Zealand lamb shank is a reliably good selection. 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.
Shree Thaker Bhojanalay
You can’t really claim to have eaten in Mumbai unless you’ve tried one of the city’s famed Gujarati thali joints. While each foodie has their favorite, we’ve been longtime regulars at this tiny but terrific restaurant in one of the city’s most bustling markets, Kalbadevi. It’s hard to locate, but once you do you’ll be rewarded with a heaving plate of seasonal vegetables, curries, fried snacks and desserts, made rich and delicious with ghee and a vibrant range of condiments. The soporific meal is an excellent value – you get unlimited top-ups on all of the dishes on your plate.
Shree Thaker Bhojanalay, Building No. 31, Dadiseth Agiyari Lane, Gaiwadi, Kalbadevi; +91 87 9536 5431
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.
Britannia & Co.
Britannia & Co. is where Mumbaikars living abroad come 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.
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 white chairs and a white bar. You’ll pay a cover charge and wait in line on weekends when the bar turns into a dance floor. An 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 5:30-8 p.m. A strict dress code is enforced – no hats or open-toed shoes for men.
While it’s certainly not Mumbai’s first brewpub, it most definitely is its most popular one. Doolally gets its daily supply of craft suds from its microbrewery in the neighboring city of Pune. Its two taprooms in Mumbai draw an eclectic crowd spanning collegians, middle-aged workers and beer-adoring senior citizens. There are usually six to 10 beers on tap – novices will love the crisp and sweet cider, while veterans usually opt for a cloudy and refreshing Hefeweizen or oatmeal stout.
Doolally Taproom, Shop No. 5/6, Geleki, ONGC Colony, Reclamation, Bandra (West); +91 99 6936 0726.
Doolally Taproom, C18-21, Dalia Industrial Estate,Near Fun Republic, Off New Link Road, Andheri (West); +91 99 6710 2143
Nightlife venue blueFrog is almost 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 lineups. It’s a restaurant and stage rolled into one, housed in an old warehouse in Mumbai, transformed with a slick interior design. There’s usually a nominal cover charge for gigs unless it’s a major international artist, in which case tickets tend to be priced higher.
blueFROG, D/2 Mathuradas Mills Compound, N.M. Joshi Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai; +91 (0)22 4033 2300
Dome is the best of Mumbai bars for a sundowner. The bar is located on the rooftop of the InterContinental Hotel and has unparalleled views of Marine Drive, best observed during the warm glow of dusk. Long Island Iced Tea is a favorite at Dome and there’s a good selection of bar snacks. A strict dress code is enforced – no hats or open-toed shoes for men.
This suburban nightspot is a favorite of the city’s creative minds – from media to advertising gurus to artists. The vibe is laid back with no dress code. The bar frequently hosts alternative music acts, hip hop nights and ’90s music nights, all of which draw large crowds. The jungle-themed decor is somewhat cheesy and the bar grub isn’t memorable, but regulars pay no heed to these. That Bonobo’s cocktails and craft beers on tap are a big part of its immense appeal.
Bonobo, Second Floor, Kenilworth Mall, Phase 2, Off Linking Road, Behind KFC, Bandra (West); +91 (0)22 2605 5050
Woodside Inn is the best gastropub in Mumbai. Beer and single malt Scotch are the highlights of the drinks menu. Pizza 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 come for a pint or a glass of wine with colleagues.
Café Zoe is a bar and restaurant that attracts 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.
A visit to Kulture Shop is like reading a primer on the Indian graphic design scene. The Bandra-based design store retails T-shirts, art prints, stationery and other accessories that serve as a canvas for artists’ works. Owners Arjun Charanjiva, Jas Charanjiva and Kunal Anand are artists themselves and employ as many as 30 artists across India at any point. Each artist works on various monthly themes – whether they’re doodles or more elaborate drawings. The decidedly non-kitschy products make for fine Indian souvenirs.
Kulture Shop, Hill View 2, 2/F, No. 201, 241 Hill Road, Opposite Mehboob Studio, Above DCB Bank, Bandra (West); +91 (0)22 2655 0982
Busloads of tourist flock to Fabindia – a nationwide chain of fashion and lifestyle stores that puts the spotlight on traditional Indian handicrafts and organic produce. However, the fashion-inclined traveler should also schedule a visit to Ahilaya, a chain of Indian boutiques that exclusively highlights Lucknowi chikan embroidery. The on-trend salwar suits, kaftans, dresses and kurtas for women are generously embellished with rich, delicate and intricate stitchwork executed by in Lucknow. The ensembles are regal and pricey.
See Ahilaya’s website for locations
The Museum Shop
Housed within the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum, this gift shop offers plenty of Mumbai memorabilia in addition to home decor items and handicrafts acquired from across India. Particularly delightful is the selection of traditional Indian games, toys and coffee table books about the country.
The Museum Shop, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, 159-161 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Fort; +91 (0)22 2284 4484
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
The New York Times says Bombay Electric is Mumbai’s answer to Barney’s. Elizabeth Hurley launched her beach-wear line here. But the shop does in fact place an emphasis on Indian design. Bombay Electric sets Indian fashion side by side with international haute couture. The shop showcases old Indian posters and antique tribal jewelry. Mumbaikar designers Manish Arora and James Ferreira share rack space with Comme des Garçons. 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
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. Leopold Cafe & Bar, a landmark celebrated in Gregory Roberts’ bestseller “Shantaram” is worth a visit if for no other reason than saying you were there.
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 in 1948.
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.
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 locally known as “VT.”
Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum
Formerly the Victoria and Albert Museum, Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum is the city’s oldest museum and also one of the finest examples of restoration in Mumbai. Tall ceilings patterned with Star of David and Minton tiles define its spacious halls filled with 19th-century fine and decorative arts. The Mumbai gallery, which houses dioramas, old Bombay maps and figurines dressed in 19th- and 20th-century garb, is a highlight. The museum hosts contemporary art shows, art and city-related film screenings and workshops for kids and adults.
Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, 91 A, Rani Baug, Veer Mata Jijbai Bhonsle Udyan, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Marg, Byculla East; +91 (0)22 2373 1234
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, Wankhede Stadium witnessed India’s monumental six-wicket win over Sri Lanka – the first time the tournament has been won on home turf. The best of the 33,482 seats are located among the masses – these offer an authentic, best of Mumbai cricket experience.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park
You can escape the Mumbai bustle in a sprawling forest also known as Borivali National Park. It’s good for cycling, reflective walks and spotting leopards – yep, some of the big cats are here. In Mumbai, a city with a scarcity of green spaces, this park within the city limits is a point of great local pride.
In July 2014, Deepak Talkies, one of Mumbai’s long-shuttered, single-screen theaters, was revamped and rebranded as the Matterden at The Deepak. The idea here has been to promote indie and art house cinema. There’s a sense of occasion when watching cult classics, contemporary foreign films or indie flicks in this 85-year-old venue. You can catch classic French film screenings here for free every Tuesday.
Matterden CFC (Deepak Cinema), 38 N M Joshi Marg, The Deepak, Lower Parel; +91 (0)22 4015 0621
This sacred water tank built within the Walkeshwar temple complex in South Mumbai is one of the city’s best kept secrets. The rectangular-shaped pool surrounded by steps on all sides serves as an oasis of calm in the otherwise frenetic Mumbai. The tank dates to 1127 A.D., but was rebuilt using a private donation by a Mumbai philanthropist in 1715 after it was destroyed by the Portuguese. It’s a nice spot to bring a book.
Walkeshwar Road, Malabar Hill
The best way to experience the full range of life in Mumbai is to take a walk through the neighborhoods of extremes. These places embody the contradictory nature of Mumbai.
Laborers: Dhobi Ghat
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.
Hipsters: Kala Ghoda
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.
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 shops 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. An easy mood is found at bars such as Big Nasty and The Elbo Room.
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Pri Shewakramani is a Mumbai-based writer. She was formerly an editorial consultant for Conde Nast Traveller India.
Purva Mehra is the co-founder and editor at thedailypao.com, a Mumbai-based website that offers insights into the city’s culture, food and shopping.