20 Best Things To Do in Mumbai

1 - Taj Mahal Palace

Mumbai’s most famous landmark, this stunning hotel is a fairy-tale blend of Islamic and Renaissance styles, and India’s second-most-photographed monument. It was built in 1903 by the Parsi industrialist JN Tata, supposedly after he was refused entry to nearby European hotels on account of being ‘a native’. Dozens were killed inside the hotel when it was targeted during the 2008 terrorist attacks, and images of its burning facade were beamed worldwide. The fully restored hotel reopened on Independence Day 2010.

2 - Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus

Imposing, exuberant and overflowing with people, this monumental train station is the city’s most extravagant Gothic building and an aphorism of colonial-era India. It’s a meringue of Victorian, Hindu and Islamic styles whipped into an imposing Dalí-esque structure of buttresses, domes, turrets, spires and stained glass. It's also known as CSMT.

3 - Elephanta Island

Northeast of the Gateway of India in Mumbai Harbour, the rock-cut temples on Gharapuri, better known as Elephanta Island, are a Unesco World Heritage Site. Created between AD 450 and 750, the labyrinth of cave temples represent some of India’s most impressive temple carving.

4 - Royal Opera House

India's only surviving opera house reopened to suitably dramatic fanfare with a 2016 performance by Mumbai-born British soprano Patricia Rozario, after a meticulous six-year restoration project that saw the regal address returned to full British-rule glory. Architect Abha Narain Lambah combed through old photographs of gilded ceilings, stained-glass windows and a baroque Indo-European foyer to restore the three-level auditorium.

5 - Sassoon Docks

No sense is left unaffected at Mumbai's incredibly atmospheric fishing docks, dating to 1875, the oldest and largest wholesale fish market in Mumbai. A scene of intense and pungent activity begins around 5am, when colourfully clad Koli fisherfolk sort the catch unloaded from fishing trawlers at the quay, and carries on throughout the morning.

6 - Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya

Mumbai’s biggest and best museum displays a mix of India-wide exhibits. The domed behemoth, an intriguing hodgepodge of Islamic, Hindu and British architecture, is a flamboyant Indo-Saracenic design by George Wittet (who also designed the Gateway of India). Its vast collection includes impressive Hindu and Buddhist sculpture, terracotta figurines from the Indus Valley, Indian miniature paintings and some particularly vicious-looking weaponry.

7 - Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

This gorgeous museum, built in Renaissance revival style in 1872 as the Victoria & Albert Museum, contains 3500-plus objects centring on Mumbai’s history – photography, maps, textiles, books, manuscripts, bidriware (Bidar's metalwork), lacquerware, weaponry and exquisite pottery. The landmark building was renovated in 2008, with its Minton-tile floors, gilded ceiling mouldings, ornate columns, chandeliers and staircases all gloriously restored.

8 - Iskcon Temple

Iskcon Juhu plays a key part in the Hare Krishna story, as founder AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada spent extended periods here (you can visit his modest living quarters-cum-museum in the adjacent building; 10.30am to 12.30pm and 5.30pm to 8.30pm). The temple compound comes alive during prayer time as the faithful whip themselves into a devotional frenzy of joy, with kirtan dancing accompanied by crashing hand symbols and drumbeats.

9 - Khotachiwadi

This storied wadi (hamlet), a heritage village nearly 180 years old, is clinging onto Mumbai life as it was before high-rises. A Christian enclave of elegant two-storey Portuguese-style wooden mansions (of which only 23 out of 65 have survived), it’s 500m northeast of Girgaum Chowpatty, lying amid Mumbai’s predominantly Hindu and Muslim neighbourhoods. The winding lanes allow a wonderful glimpse into a quiet(ish) life away from noisier Mumbai.

10 - Gateway of India

This bold basalt arch of colonial triumph faces out to Mumbai Harbour from the tip of Apollo Bunder. Incorporating Islamic styles of 16th-century Gujarat, it was built to commemorate the 1911 royal visit of King George V, but wasn’t completed until 1924. Ironically, the British builders of the gateway used it just 24 years later to parade the last British regiment as India marched towards independence.

11 - High Court

12 - Global Vipassana Pagoda

Rising up like a mirage from polluted Gorai Creek is this breathtaking, golden 96m-high stupa modelled on Myanmar’s Shwedagon Pagoda. Its dome, which houses relics of Buddha, was built entirely without supports using an ancient technique of interlocking stones, and the meditation hall beneath it seats 8000.

13 - Haji Ali Dargah

Floating like a sacred mirage off the coast, this Indo-Islamic shrine located on an offshore inlet is a striking sight. Built in the 19th century, it contains the tomb of the Muslim saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. Legend has it that Haji Ali died while on a pilgrimage to Mecca and his casket miraculously floated back to this spot.

14 - Marine Dr

Built on reclaimed land in 1920 and a part of Mumbai's recently crowned Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles Unesco World Heritage Site, Marine Dr arcs along the shore of the Arabian Sea from Nariman Point past Girgaum Chowpatty and continues to the foot of Malabar Hill. Lined with flaking art deco apartments, it’s one of Mumbai’s most popular promenades and sunset-watching spots. Its twinkling night-time lights have earned it the nickname ‘the Queen’s Necklace’.

15 - Kanheri Caves

The 109 Kanheri Caves lining the side of a rocky ravine 6km from the northern entrance of Sanjay Gandhi National Park are a big draw. The caves comprise vihara (monasteries), chaitya (halls) and dwellings, and were used by Buddhist monks between the 1st century BC and 10th century AD as part of a monastic university complex.

16 - Sanjay Gandhi National Park

It’s hard to believe that within 1½ hours of the teeming metropolis you can be surrounded by this 104-sq-km protected tropical forest. Here, bright flora, birds, butterflies and elusive wild leopards replace pollution and concrete, all surrounded by forested hills on the city’s northern edge. Urban development has muscled in on the fringes of the park, but its heart is very peaceful.

17 - Karnala Bird Sanctuary

One of the few nature sanctuaries within day-trip reach of Mumbai's city limits, this small (12 sq km) but important forest-birding destination sits 63km east of Colaba off the Mumbai–Pune national highway to Goa. The sanctuary was recently declared an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) by BirdLife International and is a great spot for spotting endemic birds of the Western Ghats.

18 - Gilbert Hill

Smack dab among the residential apartment blocks of Andheri (W) sits this 61m-tall black basalt mountain that resembles a chocolate molten cake (unsurprisingly, as it was formed as result of Mesozoic era molten lava squeeze – it's 66 million years old. Climb the steep rock-carved staircase for panoramic views and the two Hindu temples set around a garden.

19 - University of Mumbai

Looking like a 15th-century French-Gothic mansion plopped incongruously among Mumbai’s palm trees, this structure was designed by Gilbert Scott of London’s St Pancras station fame. There’s an exquisite University Library and Convocation Hall, as well as the 84m-high Rajabai Clock Tower, decorated with detailed carvings. Since the 2008 terror attacks there has been no public access to the grounds, though pressure is beginning to be put on the vice chancellor to open the campus (check ahead).

20 - National Centre for the Performing Arts

This vast cultural centre is the hub of Mumbai’s highbrow music, theatre and dance scene. In any given week, it might host experimental plays, poetry readings, photography exhibitions, a jazz band from Chicago or Indian classical music. Many performances are free. The box office is at the end of NCPA Marg.