What are the best things to do in Mumbai?

Evan Morrisey

Mumbai is a whirlwind of experiences but there are a few sights you must see. Here, Forbes Travel Guide’s list of the five best things to see and do in Mumbai:

1. Visit Gateway of India. There’s no better place to begin your Mumbai adventure than with a visit to the symbolic door of India to the world. Built in 1924 to commemorate the visit of England’s King George V, the imposing monument draws tourists from around the globe. Be sure to slip into the grand Taj Mahal Palace hotel next door. The hotel has been fully restored after the 2008 terrorist attacks. Have a bite to eat and sip a cup of tea or a glass of bubbly at the Sea Lounge overlooking the Gateway of India.

2. Tour Dharavi Slum. No visit to Mumbai is complete without seeing how untold millions of the city’s residents live and work side-by-side and stacked in unbelievably small dwellings. Reality Tours and Travel provides an excellent glimpse of one of Asia’s largest slums that is respectful to its residents and showcases the prominent small scale industries that have sprouted up there, from producing pottery and poppadoms (flatbreads) to making soap and leather tanning. Proceeds from the tours are returned to the community through the company’s NGO organization, which runs educational projects and supports other NGOs within the Dharavi community.

3. Explore Chor Bazaar. This area of small, family-run shops sells everything from antique cameras and gear shafts to teak furniture and vintage Bollywood movie posters. Although Chor Bazaar means “Thieves Market,” a little hard bargaining will ensure you are the only one getting a steal. Treasures large and small abound but be ready to dig for them.

4. Witness Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Formerly known as Victoria Terminus, this UNESCO World Heritage Site train station is a jubilant remnant of colonial architecture. Come during rush hour and watch how millions of Mumbaikars commute every day.

5. See Dhobi Ghat. This outdoor laundry is the perfect example of the organized chaos that is Mumbai. Serviced primarily by illiterate workers, they manage to keep orders straight and deliver cleaned and pressed clothing on time to their customers throughout the city. A marvel of organizational management.

  • On July 6, 2013
    Rakhee Ghelani answered the question: Rakhee Ghelani

    What are the best places for opera in Mumbai?

    Opera is not an art form that is generally very popular in Mumbai, therefore there aren’t too many places that you can see it here. Generally the only venue that hosts opera in Mumbai is the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) located in Nariman Point in South Mumbai.

    The NCPA is a large cultural complex that has five theatres and hosts over 500 cultural and arts events a year. The Jamshed Bhabha Theatre here hosts the opera, and has a music pit that can fit a full orchestra. Productions such as Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci have been performed here. 

    As opera is relatively new here in India, you may find some differences in the audience, particularly as the etiquette of what to do at the opera is still being “taught” here in India.  So for example, where it is unusual to find people clapping during an opera elsewhere, don’t be surprised if you hear it in Mumbai. 

    Whilst it no longer hosts Opera, it would be remiss not to mention the Royal Opera House of Bombay located in Charni Road in South Mumba.  This building is the only surviving opera house from the time of the British Raj, and is currently undergoing restoration. This beautiful building hasn’t actually seen an opera in decades, it operated as a film cinema for many years and even held fashion show, but shut its doors in 1993.

    Bult in baroque design, the Royal Opera House will no doubt take many years to restore to its former glory, but no one has forgotten the glory days gone past, with the region still known lovingly as Opera.
  • On July 6, 2013
    Rakhee Ghelani answered the question: Rakhee Ghelani

    What are the best places to see a play in Mumbai?

    Mumbai has a plethora of small theatres where you can see a play, and given that the city is a melting pot of cultures, it is not surprising to find live theatre in a wide range of languages.  For English language plays, there are two venues that host the best theatre in Mumbai.

    The Prithvi Theatre

    The Prithvi Theatre is a small theatre that is now a hub for theatre goers, and also a favoured hangout for the arts scene.  It aims to promote professional theatre, not only by showing plays but also by hosting workshops and providing resources to the community.

    It is a non-profit venue, hosting performances from Tuesday to Sunday every week, over 500 shows a year are held at the Prithvi Theatre. Performances held at Prithvi are generally either in English, Hindi, Gujarati or Marathi with actors from across India seek to perform at this prestigious venue.

    It is also a great place to just relax and take in the atmosphere, with a small cafe where you can people watch or have a bite to eat before the show. Located in the Northern suburb of Juhu, Prithvi Theatre is a must see for anyone who loves the theatre.

    National Centre for Performing Arts

    The NCPA is Mumbai’s largest and most well-known centre for arts and culture.  It is a multi-venue centre, and hosts a wide range of cultural events, from the Mumbai International Film Festival to Comedy Festivals.  Over 500 events a year across all art forms are shown at NCPA.

    With five theatres, live theatre is one of the major art forms shown here, and there is usually a large variety of performances to choose from. Like Prithvi, plays can be in multiple languages, so it is always worth checking before booking your tickets. The theatres are large, and it is usually not difficult to get a ticket for the show you want to see.
  • On July 6, 2013
    Rakhee Ghelani answered the question: Rakhee Ghelani

    What are the best free museums in Mumbai?

    There are not too many free museums in Mumbai unfortunately, but thankfully many of the paying museums are actually relatively inexpensive by Western standards.  If you would prefer to go to one of the free museums there are two to choose from.

    FD Alpaiwalla Museum
    Located in Kemps Corner in South Mumbai,  the FD Alpaiwalla Mumbai is best reached either by taxi or train.  It was established in 1952, celebrating the colourful Parsi Community of Mumbai. This museum is home to a diverse collection of artefacts and relics, collected both locally and from around the world. The Parsi community originates in Iran, so this museum documents some of their passage across the Middle East into India. Here you can learn about this interesting community that has left such a mark in Mumbai.

    The FD Alpaiwalla Museum is open daily.

    BEST Transport Museum

    Hidden in the suburb of Wadala is one of Mumbai’s most unusual museums. The BEST Transport Museum contains a collection of buses and historic trams. Named after the iconic red buses that transport millions of Mumbaikars each year, the BEST Transport Museum features various models of buses, documents the history of bus tickets in the city and has a range of other transport memorabilia.

    So if you have an interest in local transport, then this is definitely the museum for you, and for the record BEST stands for Bombay Electric Supply and Transport.

    The museum is open daily and admission is free.
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  • On July 6, 2013
    Rakhee Ghelani answered the question: Rakhee Ghelani

    What are the best museums in Mumbai?

    Mumbai has several museums that are well worth a visit, depending upon whether you favour natural history, astronomy or political history, you might choose to visit one or all of this selection of the best museums in Mumbai.

    The oldest museum in Mumbai is the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, previously known as the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Built in 1872, here you will find some rare and interesting archaeological findings, photographs and maps of Mumbai from ancient times. The artifacts housed in this museum are renowned across India.  You can find the Victoria and Albert Museum in the South Mumbai suburb of Byculla.

    Further south in Kala Ghoda is the world renowned Prince of Wales Museum, also known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya.  Founded in the early 1900’s this museum is considered by many to be the best in Mumbai, built in Western Indian style the building has Maratha and Jain columns and a dome that is tiled in white and blue with lotus  petals.

    The museum has about 50,000 artefacts encompassing art, archaeology and natural history. Aside from its permanent collection, it also hosts a variety of national and international shows throughout the year.

    For an insight into the political history of India, visit Mani Bhavan, near Girgaum in South Mumbai. This museum is dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, considered the father of India.  It was here that he conducted most of his politicial activities for nearly twenty years. The Museum is now a memorial to his work, and includes a library and collection of photographs documenting his life.

    Other museums worth seeing in Mumbai include the Nehru Planetarium in Worli, that is an astrological museum, the FD Alpaiwalla Museum that documents the world of the Parsi Community and the BEST Transport Museum.
  • On July 6, 2013
    Rakhee Ghelani answered the question: Rakhee Ghelani

    What is the Jehangir Art Gallery like in Mumbai?

    Considered by many to be the heart of the Mumbai arts scene, the Jehangir Art Gallery is a centre for Contemporary Indian Art.  Its primary focus is visual arts, with both an Auditorium and Exhibition Gallery to showcase a range of different art forms. Holding an exhibition here is a mark of distinction for any artist.

    The gallery hosts over 300 exhibitions a year, showcasing new and established artists of distinction. The gallery also aims to make art accessible to everyone, and encourages people from all walks of life to enter its doors and appreciate modern Indian art.  The Gallery has been hugely successful, and now finding itself short on space, is currently looking at ways to expand and modernize its space.

    In 2012, the Jehangir Art Gallery celebrated its 60th anniversary where it demonstrated its diversity, with exhibitions ranging from the music to fashion, all forms of visual arts were brought to life within the walls of this Gallery. Artists from all fields sought to be part of this celebration, with Jehangir Art Gallery considered to be one of the country’s most prestigious art venues.

    For those seeking to learn more about the arts, the Jehangir Art Gallery also organises courses in Art Appreciation, Art History and Art Critcism. You can also take away a small piece of art from some of India’s greatest artists from the Gallery Art Shop that has an extensive range of collectibles.
    Located in the arts precinct of Kala Ghoda, the Jehangir Art Gallery is also located next door to the Prince of Wales Museum, and across the road from the National Gallery of Modern Art.
  • On July 6, 2013
    Rakhee Ghelani answered the question: Rakhee Ghelani

    What is the National Gallery of Modern Art like in Mumbai?

    Located in Kala Ghoda, the arts precinct of South Mumbai, is the National Gallery of Modern Art.  This gallery sits behind the imposing facade of what was once a public auditorium, with beautiful curved lines and a domed roof, this stunning building now houses semicircular galleries.

    This international art gallery is an arm of the National Gallery of Modern Art, also located in New Delhi and Bengaluru. With five curved exhibition galleries set over different levels, the gallery has an open and spacious atmosphere. The objective of the gallery is to showcase and nurture modern art in India, with exhibitions ranging from sculptures to plastic arts, you can see a interesting selection of art forms. The Gallery has a permanent exhibition that highlights some of the best Indian artists of the modern generation.  It also hosts regular exhibitions, most recently The Last Harvest, which celebrated Rabindranath Tagore, one of India’s most celebrated poets and artists.

    Well worth a visit, particularly if you are only familiar with the beauty of ancient Indian art, the National Gallery of Modern Art provides a good insight into how Indian culture has evolved in the past 150 years and how it copes in contemporary times.

    Just across the road from the National Gallery of Modern Art are the Jehangir Art Gallery and the Prince of Wales Museum, both well worth a visit as well.
  • On July 6, 2013
    Rakhee Ghelani answered the question: Rakhee Ghelani

    What is the Mumbai International Film Festival like?

    Mumbai International Film Festival is now in its 15th year and highlights that there is more to the film industry in India than Bollywood. With a wide selection of films from across India and around the world, there is something from almost every genre in this international film festival.

    The main sections for the competition include World Cinema, Indian Frame (which is aimed at showcasing local talent), Retrospectives (that brings some shows some nostalgic treasures) and New Faces in Indian Cinema (which is a non-competitive section aimed at showcasing first and second directors).

    The festival also focuses on encouraging new talent with categories such as Dimensions Mumbai, which is a forum for the creative youth of Mumbai to create a film about the city. This competition is only open to students and media professionals under 25 years of age.

    The festival focuses on its international flavour, and seeks to bring some of the best and most innovative films of the year to India. Last year’s selection included Palme d’or Winner Amour and the critically acclaimed Rust and Bone.  Film-makers and industry heavyweights descend upon the city and it really is abuzz during this feature packed week.

    Films are shown in several locations across Mumbai, from the National Centre for Performing Arts in Nariman Point to Juhu, making the festival accessible no matter where in the city you are staying.  The 15th Mumbai International Film Festival will be held from 17-24th October 2013.
  • On July 6, 2013
    Rakhee Ghelani answered the question: Rakhee Ghelani

    What are the best adventure outings in Mumbai?

    Whilst the locals would tell you that the most adventurous thing you can do in Mumbai is to take the fast local train to Virar, I wouldn’t recommend that experience for the faint hearted. However if you are seeking some thrills whilst in and around Mumbai, you could try one of the following:

    1. Paragliding
    A day trip from Mumbai can see you a million miles away, paragliding with the Western Ghats as your stunning backdrop. If you have never been paragliding before, you can strap yourself to one of their professionals and try tandem paragliding, so with only ten minutes of training you can fly through the air and take in the breathtaking view.  It will take you about 2 hours to get to Kamshet, which still gives you plenty of time to get your thrills in.

    2. Hiking
    A great place to go hiking in Mumbai is the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.  Located in the northern suburb of Borivali, this national park has some great hiking trails and also the ancient Kanheri Caves, which are a lovely example of Buddhist carvings. The park is also home to some leopards, so be on the look out for these graceful but elusive animals.

    3. White Water Rafting
    A day trip from Mumbai, the Kundalika River is about four hours away from Mumbai, and home to some great rapids. Feel your heart skip a beat as you travel down the river at high speed and experience the sensation of floating on foam.  During monsoon is the best time to go, when the river is at its most mighty and the surrounding region has a verdant glow.
  • On July 4, 2013
    Rakhee Ghelani answered the question: Rakhee Ghelani

    What are the best day trips near Mumbai?

    There are some great places to visit in a day trip from Mumbai.  Three of our top picks are:

    1. Elephanta Caves
    If you have never visited these ancient caves about an hour from the coast of Mumbai then you are definitely missing out a spectacular site. The stunning carvings in these caves depict both Hindu and Buddhist deities, and were created between the 5th and 8th centuries. You can reach the caves by taking a ferry from the Gateway of India, the round trip will take you about 4 to 5 hours.

    2. Pune
    The city of Pune is an easy day trip from Mumbai and well worth a visit. It is the second largest city in Maharashtra and is known as the cultural capital of the state. Home to the Osho Ashram, you can visit this world renowned institution, see the Palace Fort of Shaniwarwada or the historical Aga Khan Palace, before heading back down the expressway to Mumbai.

    3. Nashik
    If you enjoy the romanticism of driving through vineyards, then head to Nashik for a day, India’s premier wine region. You can either just enjoy the surrounds, or stop at a few of the local wineries for a tasting. Some wineries worth dropping into include Sula Vineyards, York Winery and Chateau d’Ori. Each will give you a taste of their new world wines in their well appointed tasting rooms, or stop into one of the smaller vineyards that you see and ask them if they will take you for a tour.
  • On July 4, 2013
    Rakhee Ghelani answered the question: Rakhee Ghelani

    What are the best indoor activities in Mumbai?

    Mumbai is definitely an outdoor town, but for several months of the year, during monsoon, the weather can be rather unpredictable and it is always good to have an indoor plan. Some good places to see indoors in Mumbai are:

    1. Crawford Market
    Whilst there are many markets that are located nearby, Crawford Market is housed in a beautiful old building that was built in 1869. You can buy almost anything here, from the freshest fruit and vegetables to pets or baking trays.  It is quite an experience just to wander through its narrow lanes and get lost for a few hours as you take in the scent of the spices and perhaps even pick up a bargain.

    2. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
    One of the most stunning buildings in Mumbai, this UNESCO heritage site should be on your list of things to see in any weather. The building uniquely brings together Victorian, Gothic and Italian architecture alongside Indian deities.  Its elaborate wood carvings, ornamental brass and painted tiles are marvellous.  Whilst it is one of the busiest stations in town, try not to be swept away by the throng of people as you take in this exquisite architectural site.

    3. Mani Bhavan
    This muesum in South Bombay is fascinating for the insight it provides into the life of Gandhi, the father of India. It was here that he focused his political activity for almost 20 years. This museum is now dedicated as a memorial to Gandhi and contains some interesting artefacts, books and photographs that document the struggle India had to achieve independence. It is well worth a visit, and a great place to spend a rainy afternoon.