I spent the first 18 years of my life in Mumbai, India. Growing up there, I fell into a routine between school, tennis lessons, spending time with friends and family, so when I go visit as an adult, I tend to gravitate to old favorites. But not this trip. This time around, Nick and I did something a little different, and decided to take a more touristy route and explore all new spots instead. We took a couple of days to really do Mumbai as tourists, and based on our experiences, I've decided to compile a list of options for you if you're spending 72 hours in Mumbai. Why 72 hours? Because its the perfect amount of time to spend in Mumbai as a tourist before moving on to other parts of India on your trip!
Things you need to know about Mumbai:
1. Everything in Mumbai starts later in the day - stores don't typically open until 11 am, lunch is around 1:30, chai time is around 5 pm, the earliest dinner reservation is at 8 pm. Plan accordingly. I recommend going back to your hotel for a shower and a cocktail (or chai) before you head out to dinner.
2. I highly recommend choosing a 4 or 5 star hotel for your stay. Do not go below 4 stars, or if you do, do so at your own risk. I also recommend staying in South Mumbai since most of the itinerary below is geared to that area.
3. Taxis are readily available, but they are not typically air conditioned, and the drivers are temperamental about where they will or will not go. They will try and fleece a tourist, so insist that they turn the meter on. Uber is very popular in India, but it is much easier to use Uber if you have an Indian SIM card - the reason being is with the density of buildings, it's sometimes hard for your driver to find you, so having a local phone number is incredibly helpful. Also, Uber drivers in Mumbai take cash if that’s how you prefer to pay them.
4. Any products with a marked price is usually fixed, but you can bargain (or try to anyway) on anything that doesn't have a price on it. My bargaining strategy is to convert to dollars, and if it seems reasonable (particularly if its $10 and under), I let it go. I know that I'm overpaying, but people have to make a living, and I'm not going to fault them for it. Prices on gold and silver jewelry are based on the spot price of gold and silver, so you can't really bargain on those. If you want to buy gold and silver jewelry, please go to a reputed store (see recommendations in the post below)
5. Violent crime is not an issue in Mumbai, nor is pickpocketing generally, but be smart and don't leave your belongings unattended.
6. For the itinerary below, I highly recommend getting a tour guide, particularly for day 2. The guides come with an air-conditioned car and driver, and will save you time as you traverse the city, while keeping you comfortable.
7. Traffic in Mumbai is a pain in the ass. Do not visit India in the monsoon (June - September) or your traffic issues will be worse.
8. Go with the flow. Mumbaikars (that's what people who live in Mumbai are called) are friendly and helpful. A lot of people speak English, and will be happy to direct you to where you want to go.
9. People in Mumbai use Mumbai and Bombay interchangeably - they are the same thing. They might also use both the old and new names for the sights listed below .
10. Only drink bottled water, but you're fine brushing your teeth with the tap water in your hotel. If you're at any of the restaurants or bars I've mentioned in this post, or if you're at your 5 -star hotel, you're fine having ice in your drink. Otherwise, use your judgement - if they spot looks a little dodgy, maybe avoid the ice.
Your 72 Hours
Day 1 Agenda: Gateway of India, Elephanta Caves, Shopping on Colaba Causeway. Take a stroll on Marine Drive before dinner.
The Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. It's a pretty cool site, and is also where you need to buy ferry tickets for your trip to the Elephanta Caves, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Elephanta trip is about a 4 hour round trip, so you may want to get on one of the early ferry's to the island, and take a lunchtime ferry back.
Across the street from the Gateway of India is the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel - an incredible 5-star historical hotel in Mumbai. You may choose to stay here, or if you don't, you may want to consider getting lunch at one of its incredible restaurants. If you choose to eat here, you're talking about a cost of about $100 for two people on average. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel also does an incredible high tea service - an unbeatable combination English tradition with Indian hospitality. If you prefer a less expensive, less traditional experience, I recommend Colaba Social - a co-work/restaurant/bar space that is located behind the hotel. The food at Colaba Social is delicious, the cocktails are refreshing, and the space definitely has a very hipster vibe. Very instagrammable.
Walk down Colaba Causeway and do some shopping on the street - you should definitely bargain with the street vendors. They sell all kinds of fun trinkets, my favorite vendors are the ones who sell brass decor items. If you want to shop for silver jewelry, my favorite stores are Aquamarine Jewelry, Curio Cottage, and Amber Arts, which also sells pashminas and other gift items. If you get tired, refresh with a beer at Cafe Modegar or Leopold Cafe.
Head back to the hotel for a shower, and then take a little walk on Marine Drive and capture the sunset (sunset in Mumbai is early - 6:30 - 7 pm) or head to the NCPA for dinner and a show. If you're taking the Marine Drive route, you can either head back to Colaba for dinner at Bombay Vintage, or take an uber to the Gallops, or to one of the many restaurants at Kamala Mills.
Day 2: This is the day I strongly recommend you get a tour guide with an air conditioned car and driver. There are a number of tour companies in Mumbai - do your research before you commit. Most offer variations on the same tour so you're not really going to go wrong with any of them.
Must see on this tour: Dhobi Ghaat, the traditional outdoor laundry. You can't go down in it, but it's cool to see from the bridge - very unique to Mumbai. Also, I don't know how they get their whites so white while hand washing laundry, but I really need to know their secrets.
Then stop by the Hanging Gardens and Kamla Nehru Park, which offer great views amid stretches of green. The tour guide will also point out the Tower of Silence and explain its cultural significance.
The tour should also include a stop of Mani Bhavan, Gandhi's residence while in India, and if you choose, you can also visit a temple. You will likely visit a Jain or Hare Krishna temple (the people in orange robes that you sometimes see at the airport) since a number of other temples don't permit non-Hindus into the temple without permission of the head priest. The Hare Krishna temples don't have such strict rules, although you will have to take off your shoes while you're in the temple. Don't worry, there's a shoe-check for you.
Other stops on this tour include Mumbai's historic architecture with the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus), University of Mumbai (formerly University of Bombay), and the Mumbai High Court. These are all working buildings with offices, so you may not be able to go inside, but your driver will pull over so you can hop out and get pictures. Another popular stop is the spice and produce market - Crawford Market. Sometimes the tour may also include a stop at Chowpatty Beach - it is safe to eat from the food stalls there, but stick to vegetarian food to be safe, and drink only bottled water. Other tours may also include a stop at Haji Ali Mosque, and a stop at the Haji Ali Juice Stand - it is fine to drink the juice here, make sure you ask them for "no ice" .
This day is pretty exhausting, so you may want to enjoy one of the restaurants in your 5-star hotel, or you can go to any of the other restaurants mentioned in this post.
Day 3: This is a more low key day, and you could take it in a few different directions. After breakfast, head out to the National Gallery of Modern Art to check out some really interesting exhibits.
You can then stop across the street to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja Vastu Sanghralaya (formerly Prince of Wales Museum) for more perspectives on Indian history and artifacts. Note- there is an extra fee (it’s pretty nominal) that allows you to take pictures in the Museum - make sure you get this or they're pretty strict about not letting you take pictures inside.
Continue walking down the street and stop and look at the artists lining the streets outside the famous Jehangir Art Gallery. You are welcome to then stop in the Jehangir Art Gallery, at which point you will find yourself at the arts district of Kala Ghoda. Art is big business in India, so walk around this area and stop in at some of the galleries and stores to see what Indian artists are creating. This is also a good area to grab some lunch - some of my favorites in this area are Trishna (amazing sea food), The Pantry (a mix of Indian/American/European fusion), and Kala Ghoda cafe. You may want to also consider these spots for dinner.
Shopping spots (these stores have marked prices, so no bargaining) include FabIndia , Chumbak (which is right next to FabIndia) , Nicobar (above Kala Ghoda cafe), and The Bombay Store. Incidentally, if you want to visit my favorite store in India, India's answer to Anthropologie, take a trip to Good Earth's Mumbai flagship store - this is an Uber ride, but worth it.
If the museums and shopping don't sound appealing, you could go a completely different path and take a No Footprints Tour of another market or Bollywood, or any of the other unique tours offered by this company.
Your flight departure (if you're flying back to the U.S. or Europe it's usually a late night flight) will determine your dinner plans, but if you happen to have time for another dinner, feel free to pick any spot in this post that you haven't visited yet!
I hope you've enjoyed this travel guide to Mumbai - if you plan to visit, or know someone planning a trip, I hope you will share this post with them. It is by no means a comprehensive look at Mumbai, but offers some essentials and some options based on your interest.
I hope you enjoy visiting my home city!