Mumbai (Bombay) - the most populous city in India with over 20 million people. All living in one small place, yet one vast place. The city of dreams, and the city of slums. A place where a Bollywood Star is always somewhere, waiting to flash a smile to passersby. A city that was once, in fact, an archipelago of seven islands. Famous for its Portuguese roots, and for the "Gateway to India", along with being the India headquarters for the English East India Trading Company.
In recent times, you will likely know Mumbai from Gregory David Roberts’ wildly popular book Shantaram in which he writes in beautiful detail about living in the slums of Mumbai (you may not all like the book, but must admit that the writing is vivid and colourful). You will also perhaps know Mumbai from Slumdog Millionaire, or even from the 2008 terrorist attacks. There are so many references to this powerful and amazing city, that one could spend a lifetime learning its history, trying to wind through the thousands of streets, or even beginning to see that Mumbai is a city of a thousand cities - each area with its own unique character.
That being said, as a tourist visiting Bombay (as most locals call it), we received a lot of raised eyebrows when we stated that this was our Christmas destination of choice. A few people said “interesting, have fun”, while others said “I don’t know much about Mumbai, but I’ve heard it’s got so many people and there’s not a lot to do”. For those who are curious, we’d like to show you the side of the city that we experienced, and loved.
Our trip in the city revolved around food. How could it not when you’re in India? We spent a lot of time visiting restaurants and cafes recommended by friends who live there. This is the best way to see a city, especially one as confusing as Mumbai.
Where to Go
The main areas of the city where tourists spend their time are in two major neighbourhoods: (1) Colaba on the Southernmost tip of the city; and (2) Bandra - the ‘hip’ area just north of Colaba. Indeed, everything you could ever want is found in these two areas (yet there are many, many more!) We stayed with a friend in Andheri West, and treated ourselves to a night at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (post coming soon).
Our top tip is to wander around along the waterfront, and to visit some of the famous markets and restaurants. You can also take a walking tour, and make sure to stop and view the wide array of architecture. We spent our weekend popping into shops, watching the madness of the city (there are a lot of tourists), sitting with cold drinks at the harbour (at the Gateway to India), and finding a hip fashion scene just off the main drag. There are museums, hotels, bars, restaurants, and of course a main road where you can buy any sort of souvenir you’d ever need. See our separate posts on the best eating hotspots, and some shopping recommendations (coming soon)!
Bandra is also a shopping mecca. An outdoor market, streets lined with “international chain” stores, and lots of quaint historic streets. Some beautiful old houses still exist in this area, and you can also take a tour to view these and some graffiti which is really amazing. This is also the place to be at night - so many incredible bars and restaurants, all within walking distance of each other. It’s only a short taxi from Colaba (about 30 minutes in traffic), and really worth a visit. See our favourites coming soon.
Here is a short photo tour from our wanderings in Mumbai