Delhi is both a union territory within India, as well as a city, and features two very different worlds: New Delhi and Old Delhi. The former, inaugurated by the British in 1931 to serve as the imperial capital, is the nation’s modern capital and seat of government, while Old Delhi is considered by many as the symbolic heart of the greater metropolitan area.
One of the most populous regions in the world, Delhi is a heady mix of tradition and modernity, important as both a religious center and India’s busiest international gateway. Its history is as old as the ancient Yamuna River, one of the most sacred rivers in Hinduism and a natural dividing line between New Delhi to the west and Old Delhi to the east.
Things to see and do in Delhi and New Delhi are plentiful and include experiencing its diverse arts and crafts industry; its many magnificent monuments; countless performing arts venues; and its excellent cuisine, including delicacies from every corner of India. Delhi is also a shopper’s paradise with numerous bazaars and markets, including Chandni Chowk, the country’s most famous commercial area.
To make the most of your time in this bustling, vibrant city, be sure to review our list of the top tourist attractions in Delhi.
See also: Where to Stay in New Delhi
1. The Red Fort
The beautiful Red Fort was built by Shah Jahan in 1648 and served as the seat of Mughal power until 1857. This stunning structure, with its tall, red sandstone walls covers an area of more than two square kilometers, the entirety of which is crescent shaped and surrounded by a moat. The impressive main entrance, the Lahore Gate, is so named as it faces towards Lahore in Pakistan, while the even grander Delhi Gate was used by the emperor for ceremonial processions.
Entering through the Lahore Gate, visitors reach Chhatta Chowk, a 17th-century covered bazaar where items such as silks, jewelry, gems, and silverware can be purchased, along with souvenirs and food items. The Naubat Khana within the Red Fort once housed the musicians who played for the emperor, and its fine galleries still contain many interesting musical instruments such as kettledrums, gongs, and cymbals. Diwan-i-Am, the Hall of Public Audiences, where the emperor would receive his subjects, is also worth seeing for its stunning white marble.
A great way to see the Red Fort and other top-rated attractions is by booking a private full-day tour of Old and New Delhi. Highlights of this nine-hour urban adventure include a personal professional guide and driver who’ll take you to such points of interest as Humayun’s Tomb, Qutub Minar, as well as Jama Masjid, India Gate, and the famous Lotus Temple. Included with your tour are hotel pickup and a ride in a rickshaw.
Address: Netaji Subhash Marg, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, Delhi 110006
2. Qutub Minar
Completed in the 12th century, the beautiful Qutub Minar-India’s tallest minaret and now a UNESCO Word Heritage Site-attracts many international visitors eager to climb to the top for its breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
This ornate five-story tower rises more than 70 meters and is covered with intricate carvings featuring the history of Qutub along with inscriptions from the Koran. It’s also notable for being constructed of a number of different types of stone (the first three stories are made of red sandstone, while the fourth and fifth stories were built with marble and sandstone).
The complex also includes the Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid, a mosque at the base of the tower; a gateway built in 1310; the tombs of Altamish, Alauddin Khalji, and Imam Zamin; and a 2,000-year-old Iron Pillar, the Alai Minar.
A variety of other important tombs can be seen in Lodi Gardens, a New Delhi city park that covers some 90 acres of land. This former Lodi site (the Lodi’s ruled parts of northern India prior to the 1600s) is a particularly popular spot for residents to stroll, making it an exceptional destination for tourists.
Address: Mehrauli, New Delhi, Delhi 110030
19 Best Places to Visit in the USA in 2020 | PlanetWare.com
3. Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
Delhi’s most important Sikh place of worship, the 18th-century Gurdwara Bangla Sahib is near Connaught Place and is well worth a visit. Highlights include its magnificent pool, the Sarovar, at the heart of this large complex, as well as its famous gold dome and flagpole.
Also of note is the large temple building itself, along with its art gallery and a small museum dedicated to the history of the Sikh religion. Visitors are always welcome here, and an excellent meal is available at no cost in the large Gurdwara Kitchen-all that is asked in return is your hair be covered and shoes removed (free headscarves and shoe storage are provided).
Address: Ashoka Road, Hanuman Road Area, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110001
Official site: www.dsgmc.in
4. The Lotus Temple
The magnificent Bahá’í House of Worship, also known as the Lotus Temple due to its nine sides and stunning central dome, is an architectural masterpiece. Constructed of white concrete and marble, the entire structure looks as delicate as the flower it resembles. Rising from the surrounding nine pools of water, it almost appears as if it might burst into bloom at any moment. Built in 1986, the temple has since attracted more than 70 million visitors, making it one of the world’s most visited attractions (interestingly, this remarkable place of worship has no idols, religious pictures, or outward symbols of religion).
Another modern day temple worthy of a visit is the ISKCON Temple, one of the country’s biggest Krishna temple complexes.
Address: Lotus Temple Road, Shambhu Dayal Bagh, Bahapur, New Delhi, Delhi 110019
Official site: www.bahaihouseofworship.in
5. India Gate
Looking a little like the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the equally impressive India Gate is a magnificent stone arch built as a memorial to Indian soldiers killed in WWI. An eternal flame burns beneath the massive structure, and its walls are inscribed with the names of more than 90,000 soldiers who died in the conflict.
Standing on a base of red stone and featuring a shallow domed bowl on top that is occasionally filled with burning oil (usually only on important anniversaries), the structure dominates the parkland around it, an always busy area with crowds of tourists and locals alike enjoying a picnic or simply relaxing. For a real treat, try to see the India Gate at night, considered one of the top free things to do in New Delhi; it’s a spectacular sight when it and nearby fountains are floodlit.
Address: Rajpath, India Gate, New Delhi, Delhi 110001
6. Jama Masjid
The Jama Masjid is one of India’s largest mosques and was the final architectural feat of Shah Jahan. Completed in 1658, this beautiful structure features three gateways, four angled towers, and two 40-meter-high minarets built using red sandstone and white marble and attractively alternated in vertical stripes. Visitors can climb to the top of the southern minaret for spectacular views of Old Delhi, and afterwards visit the large central pool used for washing before prayers (visitors must take off their shoes and be appropriately dressed before entering; non-Muslims aren’t permitted during prayers).
Afterwards, be sure to visit Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi’s massive main thoroughfare and a market area dedicated to shopping and eating. Of particular interest are Naya Bazaar and Gadodial, famous spice markets where you’ll see hundreds of items displayed including aniseed, ginger, pomegranate, saffron, lotus seeds, pickles, and chutneys.
Address: Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, Delhi
7. Humayun’s Tomb
Set in a lovely, large square garden, Humayun’s Tomb is a lofty mausoleum constructed of white marble and red sandstone. It was designed as a prototype of the Taj Mahal in Agra and is an excellent example of Mughal architecture. Built in the mid-16th century by Haji Begum as a memorial to her husband by Humayun’s senior widow, the tomb is surrounded by lush formal gardens and other tombs including Humayun’s barber and the Tomb of Isa Khan (the architect of the Taj Mahal), a fine example of Lodi architecture and octagonal in shape. A fun thing to do is to try and catch a glimpse of this spectacular structure after nightfall when it’s illuminated.
Address: Mathura Road, Nizamuddin, New Delhi, Delhi 110001
Although only recently completed (it opened in 2007), the splendid Hindu Akshardham temple looks like it could be centuries old. Festooned with intricate and elaborate carvings, this magnificent building attracts countless visitors for its majestic beauty.
Highlights include the stunning 43-meter-high main monument with its rich carvings of animals, plants, gods, dancers, and musicians, all made from pink sandstone and marble. Of particular note are the 234 ornate pillars supporting its nine domes, as well as a stunning stone tribute to elephants, the centerpiece of which is a massive 3,000-ton statue of one of these beasts.
Other features of interest include a theater showing a movie tracing the building’s construction, a fun 15-minute boat ride depicting India’s rich history and diverse culture, and the spectacular Yagnapurush Kund, a large musical fountain that is a particular treat when lit up at night.
Address: Noida Mor, New Delhi, Delhi 110092
Official site: http://akshardham.com/
9. Purana Qila (The Old Fort)
Although often overlooked, as most tourists head straight for the more famous Red Fort, Purana Qila (Old Fort) is well-worth squeezing into your Delhi travel itinerary. Boasting a past that stretches back some 2,500 years, much of the current impressive edifice dates back to the 1500s, although evidence of earlier structures dating back to the 3rdcentury have been discovered.
The present structure played an important role in the region’s affairs for centuries and was particularly influenced by the Muslim religion, as evidenced by building’s such as the Qila-i-Kuna Mosque, a single-dome place of worship built in 1541. The site covers an area of two square kilometers, and you’ll enjoy exploring its thick ramparts and three large gates, an especially impressive sight during the nightly illuminations.
The 200-acre Mehrauli Archaeological Park is also worthy of a visit and features numerous important structures, some of which date back more than 1,000 years. Highlights include the old ruins of Lal Kot, along with more recent evidence of occupation by the British during the reign of Queen Victoria.
Address: Mathura Road, New Delhi, Delhi 110003
10. Rajpath and Rashtrapati Bhavan
Rajpath, also known as the King’s Way, is New Delhi’s traditional ceremonial boulevard. Running from Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official presidential residence, past such important city landmarks as Vijay Chowk and India Gate all the way to the National Stadium, this broad avenue is flanked by trees, grass, and ponds and comes alive each January 26th during the Republic Day Parade, when countless thousands gather to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s independence.
At the western end of Rajpath, the President’s Residence-the Rashtrapati Bhavan (once the British Viceroy’s residence)-is undoubtedly one of the most magnificent buildings in Delhi, an eclectic mix of Mughal and European architectural styles that contains some 340 richly decorated rooms.
Of particular interest is the new Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum, which offers a glimpse inside the building, along with interesting displays relating to past presidents. Hot Tip: If visiting in February or March, check out the adjoining Mughal Gardens, a splendid display of plantings surrounding the President’s Residence.
Address: Gates 30 & 35, President’s Estate, New Delhi, Delhi 110004