48 Hours in Delhi: The Best Things to Do in Delhi on a Two-Day Layover
Changing flights in Delhi? Treat yourself to a two-day layover, and use our list of things to do in Delhi as your guide to the best India’s intoxicating capital has to offer.
Splurge on Horizon Club at Shangri-La’s Eros Hotel
How can you upgrade a stay in a hotel that’s already got five stars? By offering a splurge-worthy club-class, of course. The perks of booking the Horizon Club package at Shangri-La’s Eros Hotel start with car pickup from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Airport, and continue through the rest of your stay. Stunning rooms aside (the entire hotel was recently treated to a multi-million rupee makeover), you’ll also have access to the ultra-luxe Horizon Club Lounge. Here, on the hotel’s 19th floor, you can leave behind the frenetic traffic (and honking horns) of the Delhi streetscape, while enjoying a bird’s-eye-view of the sprawling city’s historic (and perhaps surprisingly leafy) government district. As a Horizon Club guest, you’ll also have access to the hotel’s expert travel planners, who can not only advise on an itinerary of things to do in Delhi, but can help hook you up with a reputable car hire—easily the most efficient way to get around when you’re on a mission to squeeze as many sights as possible into a mere 48 hours.
Pay Tribute to the Fallen at India Gate
A mere five minute drive from Shangri-La’s Eros Hotel, India Gate is a great way to kick-off your first day in Delhi. If the soaring arch looks somewhat familiar, it’s with good reason: British colonial architect Sir Edwin Lutyens is said to have drawn inspiration from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris for its design. Like that monument, India Gate is a memorial to India’s war dead, paying tribute to those who lost their lives in in World War I and the Third Anglo-Afghan War. Although the massive sandstone blocks appear smooth at a glance, take a closer look: Etched on each side of the four supporting columns are the names of 90,000 soldiers who fell in battle.
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Explore Humayun’s Tomb
450 years ago, Delhi was the capital of the Mughal Empire, and the breathtaking structures of that period remain the city’s most popular tourist attractions. If you’ve only got room in your itinerary for one Mughal monument, however, make it Humayun’s Tomb. Regarded as an architectural ancestor of Agra’s legendary Taj Mahal, this 16th century mausoleum bears many similarities to its more famous kin. Although it’s in striking red sandstone as opposed to white marble, both tombs reflect the Mughal passion for flawless symmetry, ornate fretwork, flowing fountains and lush gardens. Within the grounds, you’ll also find the Isa Khan tomb, which, although much smaller, is no less impressive. Decorating in brilliant blue glazed tiles, the octagonal structure actually pre-dates Humayun’s Tomb by a few decades, and is the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s hidden gem.
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Ponder the Passage of Time at Qutub Minar
A 20 minute car ride from Humayun’s Tomb will get you to Qutub Minar, a striking sandstone monolith that towers 238 feet over South Delhi. Although visitors are no longer allowed to climb the 379 winding steps to the minaret’s summit, the view from the ground still generates a sense of awe. The base dates as far back as 1192 AD, with various tiers added—rather like a wedding cake—in the decades that followed. Thanks to meticulous restoration work, the scars of the centuries—resulting from a 14th-century lightning strike, and massive earthquakes in 1505 and 1803—have been all but erased. Nevertheless, it’s one of those places that simply radiates history, and remains a must-see on any trip to Delhi. Here are 10 more architectural wonders that are worthy of your bucket list.
Binge on Poori at the Potbelly Rooftop Café
Between finding the nondescript entrance off the street, and navigating the seemingly endless series of steep, winding stairs that follow, you may question if the Potbelly Rooftop Café is worth the effort. Rest assured, it’s the best place in Delhi to indulge in traditional Bihari cuisine. Set amidst the treetops in a bright and airy indoor/outdoor space, you’ll choose from an extensive menu of northeast Indian classics including daal bhaat (lentil soup with rice) and litti chokha (whole wheat dough balls filled with spices and served with eggplant). If you only order one dish from Potbelly, though, make it the poori basket. The unleavened, deep-fried (and highly addictive) bread pockets are served with aaloo bhaaji—Indian-style chunky mashed potatoes. Pair this lunch with a refreshing cold coffee (again, one of the best in the city), and you’ll be ready to tackle not only those stairs, but an entire afternoon of sightseeing.
Marvel at Akshardham Temple
Equal parts theme park and spiritual centre, it’s with good reason Akshardham—which translates as “the divine abode of God”—occupies the top spot on Trip Advisor’s list of things to do in Delhi. (Believe it or not, this is the world’s most-booked tourist attraction on TripAdvisor.) Thought to be the largest Hindu temple on Earth, the hand-carved pink sandstone and marble temple structure (the “mandir”) is a miracle of modern engineering that will inspire wonder in even the staunchest atheist. Take your time to soak in the sights (you can’t bring cameras inside the 90-acre grounds), and make a point to stick around until sunset. Each night, the park closes with an impressive live show complete with dancers, laser lights and ingeniously “choreographed” water jets.
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Sip Lassi at Connaught Place
Lost in Delhi? If you can spot an absolutely enormous Indian flag billowing in the breeze, you’re golden. Measuring 90-by-60 feet, the mammoth Tiranga (as the national flag is known) is hard to miss, and serves as a handy landmark for Connaught Place—a bustling neighbourhood at the very heart of Delhi. Set up as a ring road around a vast central park, with streets radiating outward like the spokes of a wheel, Connaught Place is the commercial hub of the capital and truly epitomizes the “new” in New Delhi. By day, it’s a shopper’s paradise, boasting brand-name showrooms and tidy shopfronts. By night, it’s humming with diverse dining options and streetside food vendors—which sadly, should be avoided unless you’re willing to take your chances with Delhi belly. (Yes, it really is a thing.). Round out your evening with a sweet lassi—a refreshing cold beverage made from yogurt, water and spices, served savoury, sweet or salty, depending on your taste.
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Treat Yourself to Real Butter Chicken at a Hole-in-the-Wall
Yes, it’s cliché for westerners to order butter chicken at an Indian restaurant, but considering you’ll never have better, you get a free pass in Delhi. As the unofficial food capital of India, Delhi boasts high-end restaurants in abundance, but you don’t have to make it rain rupees to satisfy your craving. Located near Lodhi Gardens, Hot Chimney is narrow, cramped and doesn’t have a washroom. Having said that, it also delivers some of the best bang-for-buck northern Indian cuisine in the city, with serving sizes that range from generous to utterly overwhelming. If you’re feeling particularly famished, toss in an order of matar paneer (peas and cheese in a tomato sauce) and a basket of paratha (flatbread)—the latter is essential if you’re going to mop up every last drop of butter chicken goodness.
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Barter Your Way Through Chandni Chowk
Imagine a traffic jam that never ceases. Auto-rickshaws, produce carts, scooters and even cows jostling for space in a rabbit’s warren of rambling alleyways that look as though a good sneeze would bring them tumbling down. It’s hard to reconcile Old Delhi with the well-ordered, pristine shopfronts of Connaught Place, but they truly represent the two extremes of this fascinating (and seemingly contradictory) metropolis. At the heart of Old Delhi, you’ll find Chandni Chowk, the most iconic market in the city, and your best bet for sourcing souvenirs worth taking home (everything from incense to kurtas to hand-painted ceramic hardware). Although the sights, sounds and smells (both alluring and appalling) can be overwhelming for a first-time visitor, touring the market on foot is an essential Delhi experience. Although you’d do well to hone your haggling skills before you go, the vendors here are perhaps surprisingly easygoing—particularly compared to, say, the souks of Marrakech. Generally, all it takes is a shake of the head to indicate you’re not interested in their wares, and you’ll be left to browse in peace. Well, as peaceful as you can expect in such an utterly chaotic—and yet thoroughly captivating—place.
Catch Your Breath at the Lotus Temple
A refreshing counterpoint to Delhi’s countless historic attractions, the Lotus Temple is a modern-day architectural marvel. Built in 1986 (by an Iranian-Canadian architect, no less!), the white marble-clad structure has a truly otherworldly feel thanks to its striking minimalist design (a marked contrast to Delhi’s intricate Hindu temples) and breathtaking scale. As a Baha’i house of worship, all faiths are welcome to enter, and even if you’re by no means spiritual, you’ll find the temple’s serene atmosphere (and air conditioning) absolutely divine. The one drawback? Venturing back out into the crowds, which are positively teeming throughout the day. It’s estimated that more than 100-million people have passed through the temple gates since they first opened, making it one of the world’s most-visited attractions.
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