Top Mumbai Attractions & Things to do
What are the top tourist places in Mumbai? What shouldn’t you miss if you are visiting the city? We visited Mumbai as part of our tour of India and it’s well worth adding it to your itinerary as it’s so different from the other places we visited. There are so many positives about Mumbai. It’s a thriving modern city. Certainly, there are more high rise buildings than I saw elsewhere in India. You can see evidence of modern businesses everywhere. Mumbai is also cleaner than many of the places we visited in the north of India.
Mumbai has a feel of a city that is going places. Of course, that’s not to say that Mumbai doesn’t have its poverty or grotty areas. I think any modern city does. However, there’s something about Mumbai that definitely makes it worth visiting. Convinced? Where should you go once you get there? So, what Mumbai attractions should you see? I’ve put together a list based on our tours and travels in Mumbai. These are the things I think you should put on your Mumbai city tour when you plan your trip.
A list of tourist places in Mumbai
- Gateway of India
- Archaeological & History Museum
- World’s Largest Outdoor Laundry
- Dharavi Slum Tour
- Streetfood Tour
- Ride on the local trains and buses
- Flower Market
- Marine Drive
- Elephanta Caves
- Have lunch delivered the dabbawala
- Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
- Bandra Worli Sea Link
- Thieves Market
Gateway of India
The Gateway of India really needs no introduction. It’s one of those iconic Mumbai attractions that everyone will want to see. Obviously, it was the first place we visited when we arrived in the city and I bet that’s true for many other tourists too. Almost every time I see Mumbai on the tv or in magazines, there’s always a photo of the Gateway. It’s pretty cool close up too.
One thing that surprised me though was that it’s not as old as I thought it was. It was built in 1911, so a 20th-century structure! The Gateway was constructed to commemorate King George V’s visit to India. Of course, it’s called the Gateway of India not just because of its shape but because it really was the arrival place for visitors, including the King. Moreover, it’s a really spectacular tourist attraction which you can see for free.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum
This superb museum is located within walking distance of the Gateway of India so we headed there afterwards. Inside you’ll find extensive collections of India art, historical items and archaeological artefacts but also more global exhibits. Before you head in though please take a moment to admire the beautiful building from the outside. Constructed from slate and local stone the museum building is also topped with an impressive dome and makes a most attractive addition to the Mumbai landscape.
You will see the ticket kiosk as you enter the grounds. The museum is open every day from 10.15 am to 6.00 pm and the ticket office closes at 5.45pm. Entry costs 650 rupees (about £7.50) for foreigners and this includes entry to the children’s museum. There is also a film shown at various times of the day which costs an extra 50 rupees. It is shown in English but times vary and we didn’t get to see it as there was nothing scheduled during our visit.
You also get a free audio guide included with your admission fee. Just take your ticket to the information desk inside the museum foyer. You can see this in the photo above. They’ll give you the audio guide. You need to leave something such as a driving licence which you get back when you return the device. Paul left his licence but they didn’t ask for two.
If you want to take photos then there is an extra charge for photography which varies depending on what you are using to take photos. For both mobile and tablet, the charge is 50 rupees, for a camera, it is 100 rupees. If you want to use a tripod then there is a more expensive charge of 5000 rupees. Also, note that selfie sticks are banned in the museum.
Basically, the main museum collections are displayed on several floors radiating out from the central atrium. On each floor, you can walk around the balcony overlooking the entrance foyer and it’s worth having a good look at this marvellous building as well as the exhibits. I especially love a museum where the building is as fascinating as the collections and this is definitely one of those.
Furthermore, the displays are quite diverse ranging from Indian art to military exhibits. The museum also has exhibits from China and Japan and some European paintings. While we were visiting they had a special exhibition which featured an Egyptian mummy.
Finally, before you leave take a stroll around the gardens. The museum is in quite a busy location in Southern Mumbai but you’d never know it. Following your visit to the museum, relax among the palm trees or admire the manicured lawns. You’ll love the peace and tranquillity here.
Undoubtedly, an open-air laundry might seem a strange place to add to the list of Mumbai attractions. However, trust me, this is one of the iconic sights of the city and it’s worth passing by to see for yourself. We observed the laundry from a bridge overlooking the area. While there you get a good view right across the site. What strikes you most is the line after line of freshly washed clothes which hang up to dry. Indeed, t seems to stretch for miles.
It’s not just a tourist attraction. Dhobi Ghat has been featured in films. There’s even one titled “Dhobi Ghat”. Actually, dhobi ghat is used to describe laundry washers all over India so it’s not unique to Mumbai. What is special about Mumbai’s Dhobi Ghat is that it is also included in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the “most people hand-washing clothes at a single location”.
The washers live and work here so it is as much a community as a laundry. In the photos, you can see the large stone sinks where the clothes are washed using water and washing stones. The washers here have a great reputation for their washing and drying services and although more modern alternatives are now available they prefer to stick to traditional methods.
Dharavi Slum Tour
You’ll find Dharavi slum in the northern part of Mumbai. Dharavi slum in Mumbai was made famous by the hit movie Slumdog Millionaire. Since then, tourists have flocked to see it for themselves. You might think visiting a slum is a rather strange thing to do on your holiday. At the same time, like me, you might worry that this kind of travel voyeurism isn’t very ethical. Is it really right to go and look at people who are less fortunate than yourself?
Finally, what convinced me was the great charity work that Reality Tours are doing in the slums and their reasons for taking tourists there. Reality styles its tour as an educational walking tour and this aspect of it is very important. Above all, this isn’t about staring at poor people it is about gaining knowledge and understanding and contributing something to the community.
If you want to do a slum tour while you’re in Mumbai then I’d advise that you are careful who you go with. Reality Tours are an ethical company with close links to the local community. Indeed, our guide on the local transport tour actually lived at Dharavi. I’m not saying they are the only ones but having done some research online I think they stand out as one of the good ones. By the way, this isn’t an affiliate link or advertising blurb for Reality Tours. I don’t get anything if you book with them but I’d love for more people to support their work.
If you’ve followed our travels in India then you’ll know that we did a lot of street food tours. It’s a great way to taste the local foods without worrying about getting sick by eating the wrong thing. The biggest bonus for us was that it’s really easy to get vegetarian food in India.
Again, we booked with Reality Tours to do the street food tour. You sign up to do a group tour but they still run the tour even if it’s just the two of you. I love this concept and I’m always happy to meet new travellers and find out about their experiences. The tour starts in Chowpatty Beach where as well as delicious savoury dishes you can taste hand-made Indian ice-cream. Lovely when it’s so hot.
Mumbai Trains & Buses
Ever since I watched a BBC documentary on Mumbai trains, I’ve been keen to try one of those open-doored local trains you see. So often, these are the images you see of Indian trains although most of the trains we travelled on weren’t like that at all. Long-distance trains do have doors and fortunately, they do close them when the train is moving.
The local trains really don’t have closing doors though. Our guide told us it’s because they think it’s quicker for people to get in and out at stations. I think they’re probably wrong there to be honest as I’ve been on the Tokyo and Shanghai metro which are just as busy and they have closing doors and safety barriers there. Everyone seems to get on and off quickly enough and you can’t tell the Japanese anything about efficiency and punctuality.
Safety on Indian Railways
However, I digress. Another thing you often see on TV programs about Indian trains is people riding on the roof. We didn’t see this either and there are signs up telling people not to. We did see lots of people wandering about on the train lines though so there is plenty left to do to improve safety on Indian railways.
Having said all this though, it’s actually a really cool thing to do. Ride on a local train. Not just for the sake of it of course. We did use the trains to do some local sightseeing and it was great fun.
As you can see in the above photo, the train we took was quite empty. Also, remarkably clean. That’s because we weren’t travelling during the rush hour and also because we were heading north and most other people were heading south at that time.
We took a local transport tour with Reality Tours and this also included using the buses and the non-air con taxis. Above you can see the bus we took. You have to leap on as they slow down but don’t really stop. It’s fine once you get used to it but the first time was a bit daunting. We actually missed two buses while I got the hang of it! Still, at least that meant everyone else got on the first two so we had a seat.
Dadar Flower Market in Mumbai is a sight to see. Stall after stall with baskets, crates, piles of flower heads. Just the heads, no stalks. No complete plants or flowers. Just mile after mile, or so it seems, of flower heads. I found this really intriguing as you’d expect to see at least some complete flowers with stems. It’s because these flowers are sold for making garlands and only the heads are required.
The market sells its flowers wholesale so it’s not somewhere to come for a bunch or two. It’s a great Mumbai tourist attraction though and you’ll appreciate the vibrant colours of the many flower heads throughout the market. Towards the side of the market, you can view men making up the traditional garlands. Wherever you go in India you see these garlands hanging. In buses, trains, cars, shops. Indians love their flower garlands.
We stayed at the Trident Nariman Point which is at the far end of Marine Drive. It’s a lovely part of Mumbai. Very peaceful. The wide boardwalk is perfect for walking at any time of day but there were lots of people taking advantage of the cooler air in the evenings. If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city then this is the place to be. I’d highly recommend staying in this area. It’s close enough to sights like the Gateway of India to walk but a world away in terms of peace and tranquillity.
Elephants caves is a UNESCO world heritage site just off the coast of Mumbai. To get there, take a ferry from the harbour near the Gateway of India. It takes about an hour to reach the caves and the ferry costs just 150 rupees return.
When you arrive on the island you can walk up to the caves or take the little train. It’s not free but at 10 rupees per person (about 10p) it’s not expensive. The complex consists of two groups of caves and you should allow at least a couple of hours for your visit. Inside the first cave, the largest one, you’ll find a temple-like structure. It’s far bigger than I was expecting. Look out for carvings of Shiva and Parvati, including many representations of their wedding.
Elephanta Caves are open from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm every day except Monday. However, the first ferry leaves Mumbai at around 9 am so you’ll not get there before 10 am. Just a note, the last ferry bound for the caves leaves around 2 pm so don’t leave it too late if you want to visit. To return to Mumbai you will catch the ferry back. The first one to return from the island is at 12 pm and the last one at 5.30 pm. Don’t miss that last ferry. Allow plenty of time to walk back down from the caves.
Tickets cost 600 Rupees (£7) for foreigners although all children under 15 are free, even foreign ones. You can book these online in advance if you want to although I rarely do in case our plans change. If you want a guide then you’ll find plenty of enthusiastic offers where the ferry docks.
In the photo above you can see Paul enjoying lunch in the park in Mumbai. Our tasty meal was delivered hot and fresh by dabbawala. This amazing lunchbox delivery system is well known in Mumbai and gets lunch to workers all over the city. The dabbawalas or delivery workers carry tiffins (metal containers) from home or caterers. It’s a huge operation which is fabulous to see in action. A highlight of our time in Mumbai. Ours was arranged by Reality Tours as part of our Mumbai sightseeing by local transport tour. Highly recommended.
In the photo above you can see some of the dabbawalas who transport the tiffins by bike. This area was very busy with lunches arriving at the nearby train station. It’s a fascinating sight to watch. All the tiffins are labelled so you can be sure you’re getting the right one although lots of workers have theirs delivered from home so I’m sure they’d recognise them anyway.
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is one of those landmarks of Mumbai. You’ll find it close to the Gateway of India so it’s worth a close-up look even if you’re not staying there. It was built in 1903 and despite its central location is actually spread over several acres.
For some foodie indulgence try the afternoon tea at the hotel. Served in the stylish Sea Lounge restaurant you can gaze on the Arabian sea while sipping classic Indian teas and enjoying a selection of English and Indian sandwiches and cakes. Be warned though, it’s not a cheap experience. At around £80 per person, it’s more than I was prepared to pay for afternoon tea.
Bandra Worli Sea Link
We drove over this spectacular bridge on our way north to the airport. Drivers in Mumbai love it because it makes getting around much easier even though they have to pay a toll of around £1 to use it. It’s pretty impressive to look at too.
Colaba is the far southern point of Mumbai. It encompasses the area around the Gateway of India and Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and carries on south. It’s a huge tourist area and is great for wandering around and exploring. You’ll also find plenty of restaurants in this area.
Some notable sights in this area. The Rajabhai Clock Tower was designed by the same architect as Big Ben in London. Nearby you can also visit the University Library.
While you’re in the area pay a visit to Sassoon Docks to see the fish market. You might also get a glimpse of some of the cruise ships which visit the port.
Chor Bazaar, also called Thieves Market, is a great place for browsing or if you’re looking for a bargain. Actually, Chor means Thief and the locals say that if you lose anything you’ll find it for sale here. Not sure if they’re joking or not! It’s basically a huge market area, shops as well as stalls, where you can buy just about anything.
We spent some time just wandering around looking at everything from furniture and antiques to motorbike parts and household goods. The market is closed Fridays but otherwise is open from around 11 am to 7 pm.