Rude, brash, unforgiving yet undeniably irresistible: this is Delhi; India's second largest city and home to more than 14 million people. At first glance the city overwhelms visitors stepping off their Delhi flights, leaving them with a sense of sheer dubiety. But after a couple of hours its hard exterior gives way to an intriguing, slightly vulnerable place begging to be discovered over and over again.
Delhi’s history, like most of India’s, is a fascinating and mysterious one. Featured in the famous Sanskrit epic Mahabharata as the fabled city of Indraprastha Delhi had seen the rise and fall of empires before the British declared it India’s capital. And the remnants of its past provide a wonderful backdrop – one that juxtaposes old and new to create a city so visually unbelievable and booking a flight to Delhi is only the beginning of the adventure.
A typical day in Delhi would begin early before the streets are so crowded that even if you’re getting around by foot you’ll encounter traffic. The city is packed with more than a thousand historic monuments and hidden street bazaars that will have you meandering through its backroads for hours.
Search and compare: cheap flights to Delhi
Delhi's climate is monsoon tropical. October through the end of February is cooler, with daytime temperatures ranging from the low-20s through the mid-20s (Celsius). By the end of April it is hot, and the temperatures in May and June can go above 43C. It then gets a bit cooler but with high humidity, and the monsoon rains start in June and go until September.
When to fly to Delhi
The peak tourist season for flights to Delhi is mid-September through March, and October to February are considered the best months to visit.
The Delhi summer can be blisteringly hot; temperatures can hit 47 degrees. Monsoon rains start in July and continue until August.
Search and compare: cheap flights to Delhi
Getting around Delhi
Stick to a car in Delhi if you want to avoid getting run over. Traffic is hectic, drivers have little patience with pedestrians and the few pavements that exist are poorly maintained and crowded. Avoid travelling in rush hour like the plague. Old Delhi has winding, narrow streets that could be considered walkable, but beware of handcarts and people with heavy loads. They stop for no one.
Your best bet for getting around is by taxi or by hiring a car and driver. If you’re hailing a cab, always negotiate your fare before you board. You can ask to see the fare chart that drivers carry with them. It’s also a good idea to carry some change, since most drivers don’t carry any with them. If you’d rather hire a car and driver, check with a travel agency.
Delhi insider information
- Humayun’s Tomb, built in the mid-16th century by a Mughal emperor’s wife, is the first important example of Mughal architecture in India and is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. Humayun’s Tomb is believed to have inspired the Taj Mahal in Agra.
- The Crafts Museum contains a collection of traditional Indian crafts in textiles, metal, wood, and ceramics. The museum is part of a village-life complex where you can visit rural India and see skilled artisans at work.
- Entertainment is easy to come by in Delhi. There are frequent performances by well-known dancers and musicians and lots of Indian and Western films. To find out what’s going on, check with your hotel and any of the daily or weekly newspapers.
- The Delhi Golf Club is a 220-acre golf course on the 15th-century estate of the Lodi dynasty. The estate has more than 200 types of trees and is a bird sanctuary. Where else can you golf with monuments and mausoleums next to the greens and watch peacocks performing the rain dance? Temporary memberships are available.
- Indians love to eat out and Delhi has a wonderful range of restaurants and cuisines, with something for every budget from snacks at roadside stalls to celebrated restaurants.
- Indian people dressconservatively. Women are expected to cover their legs and shoulders. Trousers are acceptable, but shorts and short skirts are not. Men should always wear a shirt in public and wear shorts only at the beach. These rules are mandatory in temples and mosques. When entering a Sufi shrine or Sikh gurudwara, cover your head with a cap or cloth, women are required to cover their limbs, and men are expected to also cover their legs. Religious institutions usually have caps available, often for free, and sometimes cloth wraps are available for covering your arms and legs. You may also be required to remove your shoes when entering a religious institution or private home. It is illegal to give money to a beggar at a traffic light. If you do decide to give alms, do it somewhere other than at a traffic light.