Arguably no other city in the world offers such dramatic contrasts than Delhi – comprised as it is of two worlds, the old and the new, each representing vastly different histories, influences and ways of life. New Delhi, with its pristine wide streets was built as the imperial capital of India by the British; centuries old, chaotic Old Delhi on the other hand, was the capital of Islamic India.
If you have 24 hours to spare in India’s second most populous city you’ll have time to scratch the surface of both old and new worlds. From majestic historic monuments and the crowded street bazaars of Old Delhi to the flourishing designer enclaves of New Delhi where locals and expats sip lattes and sauv blancs at swanky bars and cafes.
Here are our picks for how to spend a day in Delhi:
Humayun’s Tomb, New Delhi
Visit Humayun's Tomb and its immaculate garden surrounds at sunrise or in the soft light of early morning. Humayun was India's second Mughal emperor and his tomb built in 1565 AD built in striking red sandstone with white and black marble detail is crowned by a 42.5 m high colossal double dome and is one of the eminent examples of Mughal architecture that reached perfection in the Taj Mahal.
Next head further north up Mathura Road (take a taxi) to India Gate, a war memorial arch built in honour of 90,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives in World War I. Walk west along traffic-free Rajpath (Kingsway), a grand ceremonial avenue fringed by trees, huge lawns, pools and majestic Raj-era government buildings. Buy postcards and ice-cream from hawkers and people-watch along the promenade as familys and groups of friends picnic and play cricket on the lawns.
Just south of India Gate is the gourmet and designer enclave of Khan Market. Khan Market spills over with up-market fashion boutiques, designer homewares, swanky bars, cafes and gourmet grocers.
Take breakfast or morning tea on the cotton tree fringed terrace at relaxed Khan Market hang-out, Cafe Turtle (Shop no. 23, first floor, Middle Lane). It’s a cosy, cultural oasis free from the hustle bustle of Khan Market. Enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee over a good book selected from one of the cafe’s book-lined shelves – and have a browse in the excellent Full Circle book store downstairs while you're there.
From the quintessentially New Delhi Khan Market to the heart of Old Delhi. Head north to the century’s old Chandi Chowk district. Chandi Chowk is the ‘real Delhi’ with its twisting alleys and tiny shops heaving with crowds and hagglers. The best way to explore this area is on a cycle-rickshaw or on foot.
Start with Jama Masjid, one of the largest and arguably most beautiful mosques in India, a white-marble masterpiece of Islamic architecture. Then head to the Digambar Jain Temple and the bird hospital within.
No trip to Chandi Chowk is complete without sampling some of its world-famous street food – try the delicious jalebis and samosas at the Old and Famous Jalebiwala - 1795, Dariba Corner, followed by a mouth-watering, creamy rabri falooda (Indian chilled dessert/drink) from Gianiji ka Falooda to take the edge off the sweltering Delhi heat.
The Red Fort
Just opposite Chandi Chowk is the imposing, world heritage listed Mughal era Red Fort (Lal Quila). The massive red sandstone walls, and impressive Lahore Gate built in 1638, were designed to keep out invaders, now they mainly offer a reprieve from the noise and confusion of the city.
The vaulted arcade of Chatta Chowk, a souvenir bazaar where royals once bought fineries, leads into the huge fort compound. Inside is a treasure trove of buildings, including the Drum House, the Hall of Public Audiences, the Pearl Mosque, Royal Baths and Palace of Colour.
An evening sound and light show in Hindi and English (from 6pm) re-creates events from India's history connected with the fort.
Khari Baoli Spice Market, Connaught Place
On your way back south to New Delhi, take a stroll through the famous Khari Baoli Spice Market at Connaught Place, Asia’s largest wholesale spice market selling all kinds of spices, nuts ,herbs and food products like rice and tea. Be prepared for a sensory overload of aroma and colour!
Hauz Khas Village
Hauz Khas Village’s tranquil, laid-back atmosphere offers a welcome change of pace from the bustle and chaos of Old Delhi. This arty enclave is over-flowing with designer Indian clothing boutiques, art galleries and furniture shops. Shop for antiques, silver jewellery, contemporary Indian art, old Bollywood posters and boutique clothing. The village overlooks a large lake and deer park and is surrounded by ancient ruins. Evening floodlights illuminate an ancient mosque, madrasa (college) and pavilions.
Treat yourself to dinner at Park Balluchi (one of Delhi's best Indian restaurants) overlooking the deer park on the edge of Hauz Khas Village and if your day in Delhi hasn’t exhausted you yet, take in an after-dinner Bollywood movie session at one of Delhi’s many Bollywood cinemas.