India’s largest city pulses with an intensity like nowhere on earth. She’s a hub, a connection city, a unique destination. And here’s an itinerary for how to spend one day in Mumbai. See also, how to plan a trip to India.
One Day in Mumbai: An Itinerary
Mumbai intoxicates, that’s for sure. As the heart of the multibillion pound Bollywood industry, the brain of India’s financial centre and the unwelcome owner of some of the world’s most famous slums, Mumbai can easily overwhelm visitors.
Yet she can enchant them utterly as well.
Many flights arrive in Mumbai leaving visitors with a day or two to spend here at the start or end of their trip to India. So how do you see such a large city in such a short time? Here’s a one day guide.
One Day in Mumbai at a Glance
Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel
Prince of Wales Museum
Jyotiba Phule Market/Crawford Market
Catch a Bollywood movie at the Regal Cinema
COLABA: THE ESSENTIAL SIGHTS
When it comes to sightseeing, Mumbai doesn’t have a whole load of attractions and must-sees. A visit to Mumbai involves character and atmosphere more than tick boxes and queues for ticketed attractions.
That said, a handful of iconic landmarks line up in Colaba in south Mumbai and they fit in well to a one day itinerary.
The Gateway of India
Both stocky and ornate, the Gateway of India is a 26 metre high triumphal arch that overlooks the water. Commissioned by the British to celebrate the arrival of the first British monarch on Indian soil in 1911, it wasn’t until 1924 that the project was complete.
Although its initial raison d’etre was to celebrate the might of the British Raj, the Gate witnessed the permanent departure of British troops less than a generation later in 1948 as India became independent.
Today, it gathers hawkers and tourists, as well as locals who gaze across the water, across history and into the future.
The Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai
Just across from the Gateway of India lives one of the most famous hotels in India.
Like the gate, it is built in the Saracenic Revival style popular at the start of the 20th century.
During world war one it served as a military hospital and it later became the target for the terrorist atrocities in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Most of the time, however, it functions as a gorgeous five star property, hosting dignitaries, writers, celebrities and everyday travellers.
Stop in for lunch or a coffee if you’re not staying in the hotel.
Optional – Head along Marine Drive to Chowpatty Beach
If you’ve simply had enough of sightseeing and crowds, head along Marine Drive to Chowpatty Beach and indulge in some bhel puri (local street food.) Stretch on the sand, paddle in the water and take in the Mumbai skyline. After dark, drive back along Marine Drive while the lights twinkle, earning it the nickname “the Queen’s Necklace.”
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya – The Prince of Wales Museum
Surrounded by lush lawns and palms, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly the Prince of Wales Museum, adds a calmness to the crowds.
Built, you guessed it, in honour of the Prince of Wales at the start of the 20th century, it was renamed in 1998. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was the founder of the Maratha Empire, just so you can keep up with who’s who.
The building itself is beautiful, a mix of Mughal, Maratha and Jain influences adding on to the Indo-Saracenic style.
Over 50 000 exhibits live inside, demonstrating ancient Indian history as well as including artefacts from around the world.
Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai – Crawford Market
Switch from ancient classics to real life with a visit to the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai market in the fort area. Still often known by its former name, Crawford Market, this is the place for fruit and vegetables, cosmetics, shoes, belts, toiletries, electrical fittings and more.
Again, it’s more about the experience than planning a big shopping trip of your own, but look out for the friezes and stone fountains designed by Lockwood Kipling, father of novelist Rudyard Kipling.
Typical opening hours are 11am to 8pm, closed Tuesdays. Always check in advance, though, just to be sure!
Interesting fact: the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai market was the first building in India to be illuminated by electricity in 1882.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus – Victoria Terminus
If time and energy are on your site, make a detour to see the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus. It’s not only one of the busiest train stations in India but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its Victorian Gothic architecture looks particularly striking as night falls and the lights appear.
Should you visit the Dharavi Slums?
Dharavi jostles for the unenviable position of largest slum in the world. The area covers over 520 acres and is “home” to a population of more than 700 000, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world as well.
It formed the backdrop for the movie hit Slumdog Millionaire and many tour operators run guided tours into the area. Should you go on one? It’s a difficult question. On the one hand, there’s no better way to improve the world than by understanding one another. On the other, there’s a distasteful side of “poverty porn” that involves gawking at people while they try to go about their daily life.
With only one day in Mumbai, it’s probably near impossible to get enough context to be on the right side of this. But if you do go, book through a reputable tour company and, obviously, behave with the utmost respect and dignity.
Regal Cinema – Catch a Bollywood Movie
Just one day in Mumbai can feel a little overwhelming. A good way to stop for a breather while still feeling “cultured” is to embrace one of the city’s most popular pastimes and watch a Bollywood movie.
Take that up a notch by watching one in the Regal Cinema, another historic landmark in Mumbai. This Art Deco cinema in Colaba also claims to have been the first air conditioned cinema in India.
One day in Mumbai: How to Get Around
When it comes to transport in Mumbai, the options are endless. Yet none are perfect.
Depending on where you stay, the Mumbai metro and rail network may help to connect the larger distances. Rickshaws will help with the tiny ones.
Related: the Flower Markets of Bangalore
Taxis are plentiful and easy enough to hail but you may not have the energy to haggle all the time. Uber and Ola can take some of the stress out of this. Alternatively, you can hire your own car for the day as long as you’re very confident behind the wheel (and, yes, that includes parking.)
Easiest by far is to hire a car with a driver and make the most of your one day in Mumbai. Walk between spots that are close together in order to soak up the atmosphere. Let someone else drive you for the longer stretches.
Tips to Make the Most of One Day in Mumbai
- Check the opening hours for everything important to you. Details change!
- Pace yourself. It’s a busy city and you don’t HAVE to try to do it all. The point is to learn and enjoy, after all!
- Have your wits about you. Look out for pickpockets, travel with as few valuables on you as possible and never hand over money in a rush. There’s always time to stop and think: is this a scam?
- Embrace the chaos. You may only have one day in Mumbai but for everyone else, this is how it is!