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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
6. Akshardham Temple
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.