48 Hours in Delhi
Ancient history and modern luxuries define India’s capital. Hit the ground running with our introduction to some of its oldest (and newest) gems.
Photo By: The Leela Palace New Delhi
Photo By: The Leela Palace New Delhi
Photo By: Anita Mishra via Wikipedia
Photo By: Sly Granny Khan Market
Photo By: Indian Accent
Photo By: Kundansen via Wikipedia
Photo By: Oberoi Hotels & Resorts
The Leela Palace New Delhi
Billed as "the capital’s only modern palace hotel," the Leela Palace New Delhi threw open its doors in 2011 and promptly began amassing accolades from both travel pros and visitors. The hotel’s soaring common spaces boast Venetian chandeliers, Turkish carpets and thousands of fresh flowers, while its spacious rooms (starting at 548 square feet) feature opulent furnishings and linens, massive Travertine marble bathrooms and even pillow menus. A temperature-controlled pool on the roof terrace offers panoramic views of Chanyakapuri, the city’s verdant diplomatic quarter, and the Leela’s eclectic eateries (sushi restaurant Megu and Le Cirque, the first Asian installment of the storied New York restaurant, rub shoulders with Jamavar, a signature pan-Indian space) tempt travelers to spend a whole weekend in its elegant embrace. Rates begin at about $200 USD per night.
The Library Bar (The Leela Palace New Delhi)
Travelers who favor humbler accommodations but hanker for a sip of the Leela’s luxuries can curl up on a Chesterfield among leatherbound first editions (and visiting dignitaries and high-society types) in The Library Bar, a traditional space that spills out to an outdoor courtyard when weather permits. If the wine, spirits and cigar lists seem overwhelming, try an order that combines them: the cigar-smoked honeycomb martini (with vodka, Maker’s Mark, Drambuie and pineapple juice) arrives with a spoonful of raw honey and a tableside mixologist with a hand-held smoking device to add character to your cocktail.
A visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra (which is about two hours from Delhi by direct train and up to four hours away by car, depending on traffic) can gobble up a brief itinerary in no time. By contrast, Humayun’s Tomb stands well within the city limits. This first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent was commissioned in the late 16th century by the Empress Bega Begum after the death of her husband, the Mughal Emperor Humayun and is believed to have inspired the builders of the majestic Taj. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993 and inaugurated in 2013 after six years of painstaking restoration, the stone monuments and gardens are spectacular examples of Mughal architecture — and the city park that surrounds them offers visitors an authentic look at traditional design and craftsmanship. The entrance fee for foreigners is about $7 USD.
Two miles away from Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi’s joggers, yoga practitioners and picnickers — and betrothed couples seeking lush backdrops for engagement and wedding photos — flock to Lodhi Gardens’ 90 sprawling acres of pre-Mughal Islamic architecture, where brilliant kingfishers and parakeets preside over mosques, tombs, bridges, waterways and watchtowers nestled among rolling landscaped areas and palm-lined walks. Called "Asia’s best urban oasis," the gardens are the perfect spot to breathe in centuries of ancient ornamentation — and to revel in a bit of stillness in the bustling city. The gardens are free and open to visitors between sunrise and sunset.
Sly Granny Khan Market
Established in 1951 as a two-story complex of shops and apartments, Khan Market — just north of Lodhi Gardens — is now home to some of the costliest commercial real estate in the city (and vendors catering to well-heeled expats and diplomats price their custom tailoring and wares accordingly). Take a spin through the market’s showrooms, boutiques and jewelers, then head for a staircase beside a bronze plaque that reads ALCOHOL & FAIRYTALES SHALL NOT BE SERVED TO ANYONE BELOW THE AGE OF 25. You’ll ascend to Sly Granny, a whimsical, European-influenced restaurant and bar that offers playful modern bites, stately afternoon tea specials and twists on Prohibition-era cocktails (try the Breakfast Bramble, a gin-and-blackberry-liqueur concoction shaken with apricot and rosemary jam, yogurt and lemon juice).
Indian Accent (Lodhi Hotel)
You’ll want to make a reservation ahead of time for a dinner seating at Indian Accent, a contemporary culinary powerhouse that relocated to Delhi’s hip Lodhi Hotel in 2017. The eatery’s list of accolades is easily longer than its menu: It was the only restaurant in India on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and TripAdvisor has rated it the number one restaurant in India for the last four years. Settle in for the Chef’s Tasting Menu ($50-$55 USD per person), a tour that puts a thoughtful spin on traditional dishes (a gourmet take on puchka, crisp hollow street snacks filled with savory "waters," was a recent standout), and prepare to reconsider what you thought you knew about Indian cuisine.
The Red Fort
Built in the 17th century after Shah Jahan moved the capital of his Mughal empire from Agra to Delhi, what we now know as the Red Fort (so named for its striking, 75-foot red sandstone walls) housed the emperor and his successors for nearly two centuries. In 1857, the fort became a symbol of armed rebellion against British imperialism in central and northern India, and the final shah to call it home — Bahadur Shah Zafar, a symbol of the resistance — was exiled that fall. The fort assumed another layer of historical significance in 1947, when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru hoisted the Indian flag over its ramparts on Independence Day, and it’s been the focus of Independence Day celebrations ever since. The entrance fee for foreigners is about $7 USD.
If the stalls in the covered market behind the Red Fort’s Lahori Gate whet your appetite for shopping, bypass those stalls and make your way south to Dilli Haat, a permanent, six-acre open-air food and handicraft marketplace maintained by the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC). The DTTDC charges foreigners an admission fee of 100 rupees (about $1.40 USD), but the ambience and organization it provides in exchange is well worth the nominal expenditure: registered vendors in the bazaar’s 62 stalls secure their places through an application process established to provide shoppers with an ever-changing array of authentic regional wares, and the market hosts cultural events such as live music and dance performances.
Cirrus9 (The Oberoi, New Delhi)
For a second, spectacular view of Humayun’s Tomb, head to The Oberoi, New Delhi’s rooftop retreat, Cirrus9. Reopened in 2018 after a $100-million renovation, the city’s first luxury hotel (which opened its doors in 1965 and quickly became the place to be seen with heads of state, rock stars and both Hollywood and Bollywood luminaries) is now crowned with lounging areas, fire pits and a central outdoor bar counter. Pair the sunset before you with an Eastern Wind (Grey Goose, shochu, pink grapefruit, passion fruit, cinnamon honey and fresh ginger, served with a green tea salt rim).
The Spice Route (The Imperial New Delhi)
To call The Spice Route a feast for the senses is a massive understatement: Just as Chef Veena Arora crafts her menu to reflect the migration of spices across southeast Asia, designer Rajeev Sethi spent seven years developing a series of distinct dining spaces that represent nine different stages on the journey of life. The kaleidoscopic dining areas feature murals hand-painted by temple artisans from Kerala, and Thai sculptures from Chiang Mai preside over guests. A meal in their company is a fittingly vivid conclusion to a weekend in an unforgettable city.