Destination India

How to have a luxurious trip in India's largest city without spending a fortune

Shivani Vora, CNNUpdated 30th January 2019
(CNN) — Travelers have plenty of enticing reasons to visit Mumbai, a city of 21.6 million people, and India's largest.
First, there's the setting along the Arabian Sea combined with the feel of being in a bustling metropolis. Then there's the fantastic shopping, restaurants and culture.
And the numerous historical attractions of Mumbai include three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Elephanta Caves, the railway station Victoria Terminus and its collection of Victorian and art deco buildings.
Luxury seekers should know that Mumbai happens to be India's most expensive destination by far, according to Shahrookh Cambata, who was born and brought up in the city and is the CEO of Greaves India, a company that sells upscale India vacations.
But there is good news: "Compared with other big cities like Hong Kong and London, Mumbai is a bargain," says Cambata. "You can get a lot without overspending."
Mumbai at night is subtly gorgeous. And compared with cities such as Hong Kong and London, it's a relative bargain.
Mumbai at night is subtly gorgeous. And compared with cities such as Hong Kong and London, it's a relative bargain.
AFP/Getty Images
Fiona Caulfield, the founder of the India travel book series Love Travel Guides, also thinks that it's possible to take a high-end trip at a value. "You need to know [the] ins and outs, but it's not hard to pull off," she says.
Following are Camabata's and Caulfield's insider secrets for how to have a luxury trip to Mumbai for less:

Choose the right hotel

Five-star hotels are everywhere in Mumbai, but the ones in prime South Bombay such as The Taj Mahal Palace and The Oberoi are more expensive compared with properties in other neighborhoods. Here are a few of your other options:
-- Bandra neighborhood also has a Taj (this one is the Taj Lands End).
-- Worli is home to Four Seasons and The St. Regis.
-- Juhu has a swanky JW Marriott and a new location of Soho House.
Located in Juhu, a more affordable area than prime South Bombay, is a swanky JW Marriott.
Located in Juhu, a more affordable area than prime South Bombay, is a swanky JW Marriott.
JW Marriott
Staying outside of South Bombay may mean you're not in "what's considered the heart of town, but these other neighborhoods are just as vibrant," says Cambata. "And getting to South Bombay on the new Bandra-Worli Sea Link bridge takes under an hour."
Before the bridge was built, this trip took twice as long.
Worli is another neighborhood in Mumbai worth checking out. The hotel options, such as the St. Regis, are just as luxurious but less pricey.
Worli is another neighborhood in Mumbai worth checking out. The hotel options, such as the St. Regis, are just as luxurious but less pricey.
St Regis
Also, Cambata says that Mumbai's hotels offer attractive extras for no additional cost throughout the year, even during peak season from November through March. Perks include airport transfers, breakfast, local transportation and even city tours.
"It's worth looking at multiple hotels to see who's offering what before you decide where to ultimately book," Cambata says.

Avoid hotel dining

While it's definitely worth staying in one of Mumbai's five-star hotels, you shouldn't blow your budget eating meals in their overpriced restaurants, according to Caulfield. "There are so many good independent eateries that are a fraction of the cost and hotspots at the same time," she says.
When you're on the hunt for Mumbai's ballyhooed street food, head to stalls dishing up fresh, hot food.
When you're on the hunt for Mumbai's ballyhooed street food, head to stalls dishing up fresh, hot food.
AFP/Getty Images
Her favorites include The Bombay Canteen, which serves regional contemporary Indian food; Swati Snacks for street food; and Soam, a vegetarian Gujarati and Rajasthani spot.
Also, the city's historic Parsi cafes are an institution and shouldn't be missed. Caulfield's favorite is Britannia & Co., where the berry pulao is not to be missed. "Time Out Mumbai" is a good resource for locating independent restaurants.

Hit up the local spa

India is famous globally for its therapeutic spa treatments such as Ayurveda, a healing system that's more than 3,000 years old, along with body and head massages. Indulging in one or more services will make your Mumbai getaway feel that much more decadent.
However, the treatments at luxury hotel spas are exorbitant, according to Caulfield, who says that travelers should book services at a local, independent spas instead.
"You can end up paying five times more at a five-star hotel," she said.
She recommends The Palms Spa, Metta Foot Spa (where a 30-minute reflexology session is less than $5) and Rewa Escape, situated along the Arabian Sea.

Hit up luxury hotels for nightlife

Cambata says that Mumbaikars, as locals are called, frequent the bars and nightclubs at five-star hotels, and that travelers should, too, to get a flavor of Indian's robust after-dark scene.
"You don't pay a lot in cover charges, and you can order one or two drinks which isn't going to rack up a big bill," he says. Popular bars and clubs in town include the rooftop bar Aer at Four Seasons, Dome at the InterContinental on Marine Drive and Harbour Bar at The Taj Mahal Palace.
Just because you're not staying at the Taj Mahal Palace doesn't mean you can't wander in for a cocktail or two.
Just because you're not staying at the Taj Mahal Palace doesn't mean you can't wander in for a cocktail or two.
Taj Mahal
Mumbai, and India in general, has a huge markup on foreign liquor. "When you're at a bar or restaurant, you're going to end up paying four times what you would in the US," says Cambata.
Save yourself big bucks and imbibe at the same time by ordering locally made wines and spirits, which Camabata says have improved dramatically over the last few years and are substantially cheaper than imported booze. Local brands include Greater Than Gin for gin, Sula and Grover Zampa for wines and Imperial Blue for whisky.

Consult a personal shopper

Shopping in Mumbai is definitely a great activity, but it can be hard to know where to go and how to find the best shops. A personal shopper can help.
Shopping in Mumbai is definitely a great activity, but it can be hard to know where to go and how to find the best shops. A personal shopper can help.
INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images
Hiring a personal shopper when you're trying to save money on shopping may sound like an oxymoron, but Cambata says that travelers will actually end up getting ahead moneywise.
"Shopping is one of Mumbai's biggest attractions," Cambata says, but it can be hard to find a lot of the stores selling authentic textiles, clothing, jewelry and shoes.
A personal shopper, not as expensive as you might think, can accompany you on your excursion and take you where the locals go. A travel company such as Greaves may be worth the extra expense, but you can also just ask your hotel's concierge for names.

Seek free or cheap culture

Visiting the temple caves on Elephanta Island near Mumbai makes for a fun  and affordable half-day activity.
Visiting the temple caves on Elephanta Island near Mumbai makes for a fun and affordable half-day activity.
PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images
Caulfield says top-quality culture in Mumbai is either free or can be enjoyed at a low cost.
Organizations such as Avid Learning, Asia Society India Centre, Jnanapravaha Mumbai and Godrej India Culture Lab host author readings, art exhibitions, music and dance performances, operas, plays and more.

Get around like a local

Mumbaikars get around by taxis, which are safe and inexpensive, or use Uber, which is affordable.
Also, three-wheeled auto rickshaws are dirt cheap, although they don't operate in South Mumbai.
If you're keen on a car and driver, you'll get the lowest prices by booking one for your entire trip in advance of your visit through your travel agent or a local travel company.

Getting there

Cambata says that, in his experience, many travelers think getting to Mumbai is challenging and expensive. However, that's simply not the case. Air India and United offer nonstop flights from New York to Mumbai, and you can buy a roundtrip ticket for less than $1,000.
In addition, many airlines, including Emirates, British Airways and Lufthansa, sell affordable flights from the United States to Mumbai with connections in Europe or the Middle East. Also, some travel companies, such as Greaves, have airline departments that have access to special fares into the city.