I am a huge proponent of spending as much time as possible in exploring a city or a place to get a good sense of the pulse and vibe of the people, community, and lifestyle. But sometimes you don’t have that luxury. I recently found myself with just under 48 hours (a weekend) to explore Delhi, a city that I had last visited almost 25 years ago with my college gang of friends. A lot changes in 25 years, and I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity to explore India’s capital city for the weekend pass me by.
Getting To Delhi
Delhi is very centrally located in India. Being that it is the capital of the country, most international flights pass through the city, so it is not unusual to find yourself having a layover in Delhi, especially if you are passing through or connecting to other local destinations in India. Delhi is a huge metropolis that has, over the years, spread out many miles across each direction. Suburbs have sprung up all around the old city and there is a whole lot to see and do.
Of course, given that the city has expanded so much, traffic is really bad in Delhi, so when you are deciding where to stay and what to see for the weekend, definitely keep that in mind.
Staying In Delhi
Because I only had 48 hours in the city and had an early morning flight to catch back home to Chicago, I decided to stay close to the airport. The area around the airport is called Aerocity Delhi and has many hotel choices. From JW Marriott to Holiday Inn, there is something for everyone in almost every price range.
One good thing about Delhi is that there are many transportation options for getting around the city. Between the Delhi Metro, Uber, taxis, and private cars, you can choose what works for you. Because of my time constraints, I asked the hotel to arrange for a car and driver for me. That way I did not have to worry about navigating my way around the city, worry about safety since I was traveling alone, or figure my way around the Delhi Metro system.
Things To See In Delhi
Since I knew I had a limited amount of time, I wanted to explore some of the most well-known monuments in Delhi. Here are some options to explore Delhi if you are on a limited schedule.
I absolutely love exploring cities’ green spaces. And the fact that a city like Delhi actually has a large outdoor green space like Lodhi Garden is absolutely amazing. This is a great place to take a break, hang out, and people watch. Apparently a lot of Delhi’s local population also thinks so. At any given place in the garden, you will find many locals enjoying the outdoors, walking around, or even just sitting on benches listening to the birds chirping. Give yourself at least a couple of hours to explore the gardens and, if you are lucky, watch a local community group play a game of cricket.
Humanyun’s Tomb is the tomb of the Mugal emperor Humanyun, built in the late 1500s by his wife. It was the first garden tomb in the Indian subcontinent and beautiful red sandstone was used for most of the construction. Take your time to explore the gardens and the tomb structure. It is worth spending a few hours wandering around just admiring all the wonderful architectural details. Avoid going in the afternoon as it does tend to get quite hot and crowded, especially on the weekends.
Sunder Nursery Monument
Right next to Humayun’s tomb is Sunder Nursery. It is a 16th-century heritage park complex that spans over 90 acres. It houses around 15 heritage monuments of which 6 are UNESCO World Heritage sites. During the British rule of India, the nursery was used to grow many experimental plants. The nursery was recently restored and it is an absolute delight to visit.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, most visitors and locals alike don’t even know this nursery exists. The wide-open space with multiple fountains is a great place to take a break. I packed some food from one of the local restaurants and treated myself to a little picnic in the nursery gardens. I would recommend doing this first and then heading to the neighboring Humayun’s tomb.
The good thing about tackling all these monuments is that they are close by in the Old Delhi area and can easily be visited in one day.
Red Fort Monument
Also known as Lal Qila, Red Fort was built in the 17th century and is one of the most famous monuments in Delhi. I remember walking around the fort on my first visit 25 years ago, but I did not have time to really explore the area, so I knew I wanted to go back. When I asked the hotel for a recommendation on how to get there, the concierge very kindly suggested hiring a car and driver not only to take me to Red Fort but also Delhi’s famous Chandni Chowk area -- a must-see for any tourist -- which is close to Red Fort.
I decided to leave really early the next morning because I wanted to eliminate getting caught in rush-hour traffic. I only had 24 hours left and wanted to see many more places in Delhi. I am so glad I did because getting to Red Fort just as the gates opened meant I was one of the first people in and got the place all to myself. The architecture was beyond stunning. Among the famous structures inside the complex are the Hall of Public Audience (Diwan-i-Am), and the Hall of Private Audience (Diwan-i-Khas), which is a smaller pavilion of white marble.
At one time, Red Fort used to house an entire city inside its gates. Today, many of the old buildings inside the fort have been restored and converted into small museums that are worth visiting.
Shopping In Delhi
Just like any big city, Delhi has its fair share of shopping malls as well as streetside shopping areas. Depending on the time you have and where you are staying, you have a lot of unique options for shopping in Delhi.
From Red Fort, only a short distance away is the famous Chandni Chowk area. Chandni Chowk is one of the oldest and busiest markets in Old Delhi. With extremely narrow streets and bylanes, this is where most of Delhi comes to shop because of the variety of wares, from fruits and vegetables to flowers and spices and everything in between. There are also many wholesale shops selling silks, lace, buttons, and other such things, so it is very popular with both local and international designers. The best way to cover ground here is to hire a local hand rickshaw that can maneuver the streets with ease. But if you have more time to explore, you can walk around and check out all the shops. You will definitely need GPS to get around Chandni Chowk.
Dilli Haat Shopping Area
Since I had such a short stay in Delhi, I did not have a lot of time to visit many different shops to buy gifts for my family back home. This is where a trip to Dilli Haat shopping area came in handy. Originally setup by Delhi Tourism along with the Ministry of Tourism and Textiles, Dilli Haat is an open-air market where vendors from all over the country come to sell their goods. It is a must-visit for anyone who wants to shop for Indian handicrafts and handlooms but is short on time. This market area has representation of art and crafts from almost every state in the country. Prices are reasonable and have the Government of India’s stamp of approval. Definitely give yourself plenty of time to wander the stalls. Additionally, there are food stalls representing different states so you can get a sample of local delicacies from all over India.
Eating In Delhi
Delhi is a foodie’s delight. Like most of India, Delhi has its fair share of amazing restaurants that cater to both domestic and international pallettes. When I travel, I always look for places to eat that will give me a sense of having an authentic local experience. I don't want to have pizza or pasta unless I am in Italy, right?
There are also many street food stalls and shops that serve some of the most authentic local dishes like parathas (Indian stuffed flatbread) and lassi (sweetened buttermilk) anywhere you look. Definitely come with an appetite because you cannot leave Delhi without trying these dishes. Places like Chandni Chowk and Dilli Haat combine shopping and eating. Don’t leave without sampling some authentic Indian dishes. When in doubt about which restaurant to try, ask the locals.
By the time I got done with Dilli Haat, it was time for me to get back to the hotel, pack, and get ready for my flight.
I was so glad I got to spend time exploring Delhi. While I know there is plenty more to see and do in Delhi, this short visit gave me a glimpse of the historic and vibrant city that is India’s capital.
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