Most tourists will fly into New Delhi and stay at least a few days in the country’s capital. Like India, New Delhi is massive and highly diverse. You can easily spend multiple days exploring the highlights of the city that include Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tumb, the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Akshardam and the Lotus Temple. A quick stop at India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan, India’s Presidential Palace, are also a must.
With my wife and parents at Humayun’s Tomb.
Things do and see in New Delhi
Let’s start with my personal New Delhi favorite: Humayun’s Tomb. This tomb is situated in the middle of New Delhi and is the tomb of the Mugal Emperor Humayun. The tomb, which is said to be the inspiration of Taj Mahal, was built around 1547 and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The tomb is surrounded by a beautiful garden and the complex also hosts another tomb worth visiting. For most tourists, Humayun’s Tomb is probably one of the first things they see in India, which is actually not a bad thing. The majestic structure will immediately set the tone for your entire journey in India.
Not far away from Humayun’s Tomb lies Qutub Minar, also a UNESCO world heritage site. Minar means minarette and Qutub Minar is the tallest all brick minaret in the world. Although the highlight of the site is the 72.5 meters high minaret that was built in 1199, it is worth spending a few hours to explore the entire complex.
The Red Fort
Although I have been to New Delhi twice, the Red Fort has been closed on each of those visits due to local festivities. That doesn’t mean the fort is usually closed for the general public. Most of the year you can enter the fort’s grounds. It’s just that I have planned my trip to Delhi around exactly the same national holiday. My two visits were poorly timed as they both were around India’s National Independence Day on August 15. During Independence Day, the Prime Minister of India delivers a speech in front of the historic fort as the flag of India is ceremoniously raised. The fort is closed to the general public in the days leading up to that event.
The fort itself is a major historic site in the middle of the city. It was constructed around 1638 and served as the main residence of the Mughal Emperors and was built by the same architect that designed the Taj Mahal in Agra. The fort hosts multiple buildings that are worth a visit and is a quick introduction into India’s rich history.
Best time to visit India
Officially known as Masjid-I Jehan Numa, Jama Masjid is a major mosque in the heart of Old Delhi. Like the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal, the construction of the mosque was commissioned by Mugal Emperor Shah Jahan and was completed in 1656. The beautiful mosque is built from red sandstone and white marble. The mosque is open to tourists who are asked to wear appropriate clothing.
India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan
Near The Red Fort and Jama Masjid, are a few sites that every Indian knows: India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan. India Gate is a war memorial built for the 80,000 Indian soldiers who died during the first world war and resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. As a tourist you can walk around the area which is usually very busy with domestic tourists.
From India Gate you can see Rashgrapati Bhavan, India’s presidential palace, which lies on a hill top not far from the gate. You can also walk around the area around the palace but large parts are understandably restricted to the general public. The architecture and the importance of the sight is most definitely worth a quick visit.
Akshardam is a must when you visit India! The complex is not old but the scale and devotion that go into it is unlike anything western visitors are used to. Officially the site is known as Swaminarayan Akshardham and is a Hindu temple, spiritual campus and water show lake. The complex was opened in 2005 and is devoted to the work and life of Swaminarayan. Swaminarayan is believed by followers to be a manifestation of god which explains a lot of the culture, popularity and scale of the Akshardam.
At Akshardam strict rules are in place, you are basically not allowed to bring anything: no phones, bags or food. Strict security similar to airport security will ensure you cannot bring any banned items. You can either leave your personal belonging behind in your car or use one of the lockers. It can get busy at the sight so get ready for large crowds.
The Lotus Temple
The Lotus Temple is another sight that is especially popular amongst India’s growing domestic tourism. The beautifully designed Baháʼí House of Worship looks like a Lotus flower made out of white marble. The temple is open to all, regardless of religion, and has become one of the world’s most visited religious buildings in the world.
This list of must visit sights in New Delhi doesn’t do honor to the diversity of the city. There are many more places in Delhi that are worth a visit including the Sikh House of worship, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, and several of the city’s markets.