The Mom's Guide to Delhi
If you're traveling to India's capital city with kids, you've made a fantastic decision and are in for a trip the whole family will never forget. Delhi is one of the more child-friendly cities in India, and it has a kaleidoscopic personality with plenty of fashion, music, theater and food — all tied together by a vibrant history.
And while there is much to love about Delhi, knowing where to go and planning your day around the little ones can be tough. So as a local, I'm happy to share my comprehensive list of must-see spots in the city — along with the best stops to get your little ones (and your culture-vulture self) a bite to eat along the way.
But first, some general tips for traveling India with kids:
Carry your own water and stay hydrated, particularly if you’re visiting in the summer. (While bottled water is sold everywhere in the city, purchase points aren’t very well organized, so you may want to carry a couple of your own just to be on the safe side.)
Child convenience rooms aren’t freely available, and most baby-changing stations only allow women inside (ugh, we know). So, If you’re traveling with small children, you may want to carry a pack of wipes, a couple of extra diapers and some sanitizer. A toilet seat spray or wipes would come in handy too.
Wear sturdy, supportive shoes, preferably slide-ons if you plan to visit a place of worship; you may be instructed to leave your footwear at the entrance.
Call ahead of your visit. Many of the locations below shut over holidays and during summer for maintenance. Also, as a foreigner, you are likely to be charged a different rate than the locals, so be prepared. Your hotel concierge will be more than happy to help you with this information.
Now without further ado, let’s get to it.
If you’ve just landed and are wondering which of the many hotspots to hit up first without getting too crazy, this is just the place to go. Visit in the evening for a vibrant multistate cultural experience. Dilli Haat means "Delhi Bazaar," and it is a colorful showcase of noteworthy crafts from various states around the country. Though not always 100 percent authentic, the replicas are an easy fix if you don’t plan to visit the region the item comes from.
If you’re not in it for the shopping, there are plenty of food stalls that offer mouthwatering delicacies from all over India. The bazaar hosts several cultural showcases throughout the year, with dancers, craftspeople and musicians flaunting their talents — so be sure to check what’s on during your visit and schedule accordingly.
The National Rail Museum
There are few things as pertinent to social development in India as the evolution and growth of its transport industry. We know you’re probably thinking, "If I've seen one train, I’ve seen them all," right? But the variety of models here is sure to surprise you; those looking for the complete experience can even ride in a historic working model toy train.
Deer Park & Hauz Khas Village
One of my personal favorite spots to take the kids is Deer Park. Get up close (well, close enough) with a small, sequestered community of deer, peacocks, rabbits, hamsters and ducks (yeah, odd bunch, I know, but the cutest). The park, built around the historic Hauz Khas monument, is comprised of a bunch of picturesque picnic spots and is popular with joggers and photographers alike. Deer Park and the connected District Park make up one of the largest green areas in New Delhi, sometime called "the lungs of Delhi." The Hauz Khas Lake makes for one of the prettiest views if you’re lucky to get a window seat at one of the many hip restaurants located around the village.
Once you’re done with a good walkabout, head on to Hauz Khas Village for a quick bite and some shopping. Along its quaint winding paths, you’ll find many upmarket indie fashion labels (Lovebirds and Aikeyah for the grownups and Popsicle for the kids), vintage artifact and poster shops and a multitude of eateries.
Be sure to check out Ogaan; it's a multi-designer store showcasing India’s finest and most popular fashion labels, and the store also has its own restaurant, Coast. For typical Indian mountain fare, head to Yeti; its mutton sausages, crispy spinach and chicken momos ("dumplings") are the bomb — and a hit with the kids, although they should steer clear of the fiery chili chutney. And definitely finish it off with a coffee and almond croissant at the very French L’Opéra bakery. Keep your eyes peeled for the vibrant four-story graffiti walls in and around the area — very Instagram-worthy stuff.
Lodhi Gardens & Khan Market
Lodhi Gardens is a city park situated in New Delhi’s elite Lodhi colony. The 82-year-old garden, spread over 90 acres, contains architectural works of the 15th century bythe Lodhis (an Afghan dynasty) who ruled parts of northern India and Punjab and also some parts of modern Pakistan. The site is now protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The gardens — situated between Khan Market, Lodhi Road and Amrita Shergil Marg — are the perfect destination for morning walks and picnics. Take the kids to the popular pond to feed the ducks; the best times to visit are early morning and early evening.
The nearby Khan Market, established in 1951, originally had 154 shops and 74 flats on the first floor for shopkeepers. Many of these shops were allocated as seed land to immigrants from the North-West Frontier Province after the partition of India. Khan Market was named in honor of Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan — noted Pakistani politician and freedom fighter — by the first traders who set up shops in the market in appreciation of his efforts to help them migrate to India safely during the partition.
Today, the market has grown to become one of the most expensive commercial real estate locations in the city. It's popular with the expat community of Delhi for its steady stock of imported food items, silver jewelry stores (don’t miss Amrapali), delicatessens, bookstores, beauty salons, pet stores, electronics, kitchenware and clothing stores (Good Earth, Fabindia, Anokhi), plus new and popular restaurants such as Town Hall, Mamagoto, Perch and the Good Earth Cafe.
While the above suggestions are all great, my vote goes to the amazing Smoke House Deli for its extensive and varied menu and child-friendly setup. A rarity in this part of the world, this place lets kids craft their own meal from the delicious and healthy choices on the special kids menu. A trademark of the restaurant is its interior; the walls are covered in hand-drawn Sharpie art that depicts the history of the neighborhood. But if the graffiti gives your tot ideas, don't worry: The restaurant hands out art supplies and a neat little takeaway activity book for all those little scrawlers.
Crafts Museum & Lota Café
Photo courtesy of Christine Aranha Gupta
If a Crafter party is what you're looking for, there’s no place quite like the Crafts Museum. A good part of it is outdoors, which makes for a wonderful experience under the shade of giant banyan trees. The walls are covered in interesting murals from different states of India. Take a stroll to the sound of live folk tunes (from Bengali baul music to the lively folk music of Rajasthan) in the rear courtyard while you interact with artisans from across the country as they showcase their wares. If the music doesn’t entertain the kids, they may be lucky enough to find a potter’s wheel to play around on and craft their own earthenware.
Finally, head to the museum’s exclusive and charmingly rustic restaurant, Café Lota. But you must either go early or be sure to put your name on the wait-list when you arrive at the museum. The restaurant is wildly popular with both tourists and locals, so tables disappear fast.
Chandni Chowk & Haveli Dharampura
Old Delhi was once the exalted 17th-century walled city of Shahjahanabad, built and occupied by indomitable Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Nowadays, the area is cluttered and crumbling but still has some of the most astonishing sights in the city — notably the Red Fort. Take the kids on guided walk through the fort, then plop them into a cycle rickshaw for a ride through Kinari Bazaar, a one-stop shop for all things decorative and festive. Or travel down the Dariba for some exquisite and reasonably priced silver jewelry. The Paratha Walla Gully ("The Lane of the Flatbread Maker”) is famous for its mouthwatering selection of stuffed flatbreads, lassi (a yogurt shake) and jalebi (kind of like funnel cakes) or sweet meats. (Disclaimer: not for the faint of bowel.)
When the sun sets, find your way to the Haveli Dharampura (reserve a table before you go). One of the many royal mansions that once adorned the area, it was restored by politician Vijay Goel six years ago. While there, my recommendation is to go with the tasting menu. The evening program includes a mesmerizing performance of Kathak, a classical Indian dance that takes place on one of the landings of the mansion’s upper stories, which encourages visitors to explore the historic and picturesque nooks of this ancient abode while you wait for your meal to be served.
India Gate & Rashtrapati Bhavan
Take a guided tour and witness the splendor that is the Rashtrapati Bhavan — the official home of the president of India. If you visit on a Saturday or Sunday morning, you could even witness the changing of the guards ceremony.
Originally designed by Edward Lutyens for the viceroy of India, the Rashtrapati Bhavan also houses presidential staff and stables within its perimeter walls. Designed in the Edwardian style with touches of Buddhist architecture, it has seen many greats (such as Lord Louis Mountbatten and the first and wildly popular prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru) walk through its opulent halls.
The India Gate or All-India War Memorial in New Delhi is located on Rajpath, the main road leading out of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. It was also designed by Edwin Lutyens, who was not only the main architect of New Delhi, but a leading designer of several other war memorials — 66 to be precise, including the highly regarded Cenotaph in London. After getting a good dose of history, take the kids down to the extensive children’s park adjacent to the India Gate and indulge them in a boat ride over the artificial pond.
The Taj Mahal
Still one of the more revered and romanticized wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to host the tomb of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. While earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed of red sandstone, Shah Jahan sanctioned the use of white marble inlaid with semiprecious stones for the Taj; most of them have since been stolen. Still, the Taj remains one of India’s most breathtaking monuments and a symbol of love. Definitely take a guided tour to avoid missing out on the finer points of the Taj’s history, construction and present-day status. There are several interesting anecdotes and facts that will leave you gobsmacked.
The Taj can be visited on a (long) day trip from Delhi, and it's also possible to add in Agra Fort (it's even more impressive than the Red Fort in Delhi) and the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri for an extra dose of heritage — but I wouldn’t recommend doing it all in a day with kids. Taking the train is an inexpensive, fun way of getting from Delhi to Agra, and the journey can be completed in less than two hours if you catch an express train in the morning. Otherwise, you can also hire a car and driver to take you there, show you the sights and bring you back.
The National Science Museum
Science geeks beware: This is one place you may never want to leave. Walk through the well-curated circuit of rooms, including one on prehistoric Indian civilizations, one with a robotic mini dinosaur park (not the most realistic-looking but a thrill for babies), sections on the human body and more. I would recommend visiting during the first half of a weekday to avoid the crowds.
National Zoological Park
Originally known as the Delhi Zoo, this 16th-century sanctuary is home to nearly 130 species of birds and animals, all right here in the middle of urban Delhi. The zoo can be easily covered in a matter of two hours by battery-operated buggies that stop at regular intervals so you can catch glimpses of all the animals. Kids will love sighting the indigenous species, some of which were even born right at the zoo: black buck, white buck, the royal Bengal tiger, colorful macaws, toucans, white tigers, black bears, peacocks, hippopotamus, macaques, leopards, rhinoceroses, lions, crocodiles and even the world’s oldest chimpanzee — Rita, who turned 58 this year.
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And there you have it. While the above are my very top picks for things to do with little ones in and around Delhi, there are many, many more sights to explore, all packed neatly into our burgeoning metropolis.
- The Colossal Akshardham Temple
- The Jantar Mantar (that houses a giant sundial and scores of astrological data)
- The peaceful and pristine Bahai Lotus Temple
- Nehru Planetarium (the star attraction is an actual soyuz from an Indian mission to space)
- The sound and light show at Purana Qila
- The National Museum
- The Museum of Modern Art
Of course, this list is much too long to cover in just one visit, but hopefully, that will be the very hook that keeps you coming back for more.