When it comes to Delhi as a travel destination, the opinion seems to be less positive. India’s capital is one of the least desirable places to visit in the country and common opinion is that there is no culture of Delhi. Most people travel to Delhi for two or three nights taking advantage of the cheap flights in and out from here. They will see some of the must-visit places of Delhi and head to Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer or Hills stations near Delhi or do some souvenir shopping in Delhi.
I agree Delhi is not an easy place because you may get scammed or touts surround you when they notice you are new in the city. The pollution of Delhi is another disturbing thing. Despite all these Delhi is mini India because people from all over India come to work and live here. This makes Delhi melting point of various cultures and due to this everything is available here from different states of India. It can be clothes, handicrafts or food.
Delhi requires some patience and you have to be attentive to decode the culture of Delhi. I have spent 2/3 of my life studying and working in Delhi but it still baffles me at times. Despite all the issues related to Delhi, it can offer a different experience to a traveler, which no other city of India can offer. Sometimes the news I read about Delhi on internet sound so insane that I wonder what was that person thinking before writing that news story.
After “Dealing” with Delhi for so many years and traveling across the city alone at different times of the day, I have some Delhi travel tips for a person (especially a female) traveling here for the first time. I have compiled this list from my experience and of the friends who came to Delhi for work from other places & living alone here. I have come up with this Delhi travel guide and tips about Delhi which can make or break your experience.
Here are some of my practical tips and travel guide for Delhi.
Travel from the airport to the hotel
Most flights arrive late at night at the international airport. Always book an accommodation in advance and ask the hotel to arrange for pick up. Avoid taking a cab from a prepaid taxi stand if you are traveling alone. If there is an issue and your hotel cab doesn’t pick you up from the airport then stay inside the airport till morning.
You can also take the Airport metro, which starts at 4.45 AM in the morning and operate till 11.30 PM. Delhi Metro is one of the finest public transport in the country or rather all over the world.
Stay away from Paharganj
Most of the western tourist’s stay in cheap and shabby guest houses or hotels in Paharganj. To be honest, we as an Indian never ever recommend this area to anyone. I don’t want to say it loud and clear but it is “ghetto” of travelers and for me, it’s the worst place to stay. It is sad but local generally people don’t see you in good light if you say you are staying in Paharganj. There are many modern & nice budget friendly hotels as well as hostels in the south and central Delhi. Check the popular websites like MakeMyTrip, Goibibo, booking.com and OYO rooms for options.
As I mentioned above book a couple of nights in advance. If by any chance you take a taxi from the airport to the hotel and drive tell you that there is a curfew or fire broke in your hotel or any other thing, DO NOT TRUST HIM!!! There have been some incidents in the past when the taxi driver told the traveler not to enter Delhi and sold them a package for other parts in India at an exorbitant price.
Best time to visit Delhi
Ideally, winter months from November to February are considered the best time to visit Delhi. I slightly differ from this popular opinion. According to me the month of mid-September to mid-October and February to March is the best time to visit Delhi.
After the onset of winters from October onwards, Delhi’s air quality deteriorates and pollution level goes higher in winters.
Mid-December to Mid January is the coldest time of the year. Other than low temperature, visibility drops due to fog or smog and it makes traveling and sightseeing experience unpleasant.
Transport in Delhi
I refuse to understand why anyone would use an autorickshaw in Delhi. It is hot in Delhi and there is so much dust & pollution on roads. So why take an autorickshaw? If you are not aware of the distances and rates then you are bound to end up paying extra. Moreover why breath and waste time in dust, heat, and smoke without air condition.
Delhi Metro is the convenient and fast mode of transport in Delhi’s traffic. Get a metro pass for one to 7 days depending upon the requirement. It cost cheaper and you can also avoid the queues for buying a token. Simply swap your card and travel. There are female only compartments for women travelers.
If you want the personal ride then hire a cab from Uber or Ola for hourly rental or from point to point. These cabs use GPRS navigation system for taking direction. It’s easier to track them through the app. Mobile data on Indian sim cards is one of the cheapest in the world.
Ho ho bus for sightseeing
These buses are a good alternative to visit most of the popular tourist places in Delhi. There are one and two days tours and tickets can be booked in advance on their website.
Street Food in Delhi
Most of the foreign travelers and people coming from far away places in India are concerned about food poisoning. DeIly belly is one of the most common terms used for the bad stomach and stomach ache. I have seen most people are very concerned about spices in dishes and quality of street food in Delhi.
Over the years I realized a few things about street food of Delhi.
1.) The street vendors cook openly and it’s visible to everyone. They sell food to locals and everyone in their neighborhood. So these people can’t afford to sell bad food because then they will lose their customers.
2.) The street vendors are small and they don’t have much space to store food in large amounts. Moreover, they don’t have extra money to invest in buying a large number of raw materials.
Considering these things, I can say that the chances of fresh food coming from busy stalls or shops is more. Bigger shops & restaurants have refrigeration facilities to store the food and moreover, all the cooking is done behind the doors.
Still, take precautions and think twice before eating at a new place.
Diversity in food and culture
Delhi is mini India because people from every part of India are living in here. The foods and drinks from the different regions are easily available in Delhi. You may not get the same authentic taste as you get in its state of origin but you can taste every bit of India in Delhi.
Due to this diversity, you can also experience different festivals of India in Delhi.
Festivals in Delhi
The festivals are celebrated on a grand scale in Delhi. Diwali and Holi are main festivals of India. If you are celebrating Holi in Delhi then take some basic precautions and celebrate it with known people. Or just watch other playing Holi from a safe distance. Chances of eve-teasing and molestations are more if a woman tries to celebrate Holi with unknown people in public places.
Diwali is the biggest festival of the year and celebrated with much fanfare. The beautiful lighting on every house and fireworks are the main highlight of this festival. Unfortunately due to firecrackers pollution goes to a dangerous level. Use a good quality of mask if you plan to stay in Delhi.
Watch Republic day celebration
If you happen to be in Delhi in January then book tickets for watching republic day parade. The full dress rehearsal is on 23rd January and the main event is on 26th January between 9.00 AM to 11.30 AM on Rajpath near India gate.
The beating retreat ceremony happens near Rashtrapati Bhavan on Raisina hills on 29th January at 4.00 PM. Check more details here for advance booking.
Attending a wedding
November to February is the wedding season in North of India. Get yourself invited to an Indian wedding for a unique experience. Most of the weddings in Delhi are a grand affair with a lot of ceremonies and fun activities. There are madness, beautiful costumes, and lavish dinners. There is so much money wasted (I feel so) but attending an Indian wedding is an experience of a lifetime.
Home Cooked Food
The food of Delhi is class apart and it has so much to offer other then Malai tikka, butter chicken and paneer tikka. Get yourself invited to an Indian home and learn the basic tips & tricks of Indian food.
North Indian food is simple to cook, it’s not as complex as it’s projected normally. We cook simple food at home, which is easy on the stomach.
If you don’t know any anyone in Delhi to sample the real food of Delhi/North India then opt for a cooking class.
There are many cooking classes who conduct one day program. These cooking classes include a tour to the spice market (Khari Baoli) or a vegetable market or a small food tour along with cooking session at their home. You can learn to cook a few dishes consumed in Indian homes on an everyday basis. Checkout this home cooked food experience in Delhi.
Drinking Water in Delhi
Do not drink water from the tap! Period. Even I being an Indian never drink water from the tap, at home we drink water coming through the purifier. Whenever I travel or outside the home, I drink only bottled water. These days I am planning to switch to water purifying bottles because plastic bottles are not environment-friendly.
There are toilets with commodes (Or as popularly known in India as the Western or English toilet) at most places but finding toilet papers in all toilets can be another issue. Most hotels and hostels provide toilet paper but it’s advisable to carry a roll of toilet paper with you.
Beggars and Kids selling the pen
Don’t give money to beggars!!! Make it thumb rule. While walking in the market or traveling around Delhi don’t give any money to beggars.
Mostly women with baby or kids are into begging because people are sympathetic towards them and easily give money.
These kids can be part of a systematic begging racket & working for someone under inhumane conditions. Some kids are into cheap drugs & use this money for drugs. The women with babies sometimes drug the baby with sleeping pills or opium to make them sleep and keep them quiet. If you want to give them something to eat then give them eatables but open the packet before giving because sometimes they resell sealed packs.
Public display of affection
Delhi is capital of India but still, it’s not a place where you can show PDA (Public display of Affection). It is absolutely no-no in Delhi and it can land you in trouble. It is advisable to don’t show PDA to avoid unnecessary attention and eyeballs which can spoil the experience.
I always keep a mosquito repellent with me and I advise everyone to keep one in the bag. The mosquitos are not only irritating but can also transmit Dengue or malaria. In summers and monsoon season mosquitoes are big trouble. I recommend a repellent all year.
All hotel provide an electric mosquito repellent devise in the room if you don’t find one then ask for it.
Carry cash of different denomination
All the big showrooms and shops accept credit card but for street shopping or eating food at local or small places, it is advisable to carry cash. Try to keep currency of smaller denominations because getting back change can be tedious at times. Moreover, small fashion shops are willing to give a discount for cash payments.
Keep your bag and valuables safe
Always keep your belongings and valuables in inside pockets of your bag. Pickpockets are real threats when you are in crowded or tourist areas, where people come in large numbers to watch monuments. Keep some cash in the outer pocket so that you don’t need to open your bag every time in front of strangers.
Recommendation of the hotel means the commission
If an autorickshaw (Tuk-tuk) or taxi driver is recommending a hotel then don’t trust him because 99% times he is recommending a place because he will get a commission. Do your research online before booking. If you are already in Delhi then visit the hotel or hostel before booking. Check the price online before making a booking because many time I got a better deal online as compared to what hotel’s front desk was offering.
Visit NCR Area
Go beyond the boundaries of Delhi and also explore the NCR (National capital region). The Gurgaon (Gurugram), Noida and Faridabad are an extension of Delhi and well connected by Delhi Metro. There are some good and economical hotels. There are some good restaurant and shopping malls in these areas.
Additional tips about Delhi for female travelers
Keep a Pepper spray
If you are female traveler then keep a bottle of pepper spray with you all the time. Which can be used if in case you get into trouble. Pepper spray is legal in India because there is nowhere mentioned that it is an illegal substance. A few years back Delhi govt/police distributed free pepper spray to girls for self-defense.
Make noise if someone teases you
If are walking on the road or traveling in a bus or any other public place and someone teases you or touch you inappropriately then make noise. Yes, make noise and create a scene. It helps and people gather in support of female, which ultimately is very helpful.
What to wear in Delhi
Delhi is capital of India, so theoretically it should be a modern city. The culture of Delhi is varied from modern to orthodox. If you are in south Delhi, Connaught Place, Hauz Khas like area then as a woman you can wear shorts or short skirts. If you in old Delhi or visiting historical monuments in Delhi then wear clothes which covers your shoulders, wear bottoms which cover the calf and doesn’t show cleavage. It’s better to cover yourself and avoid unnecessary attention.
Going out at night & Nightlife in Delhi
Delhi is not a very safe city for a female if it comes to going out alone at night. I personally avoid traveling alone at night, if you want to go out at night then book a cab which can pick you up from your hotel and drop you back.
Don’t get drunk if you have to travel alone in the cab, be attentive and track the movement of the cab through GPS. Mobile data is very cheap in India so use it for your advantage. Most pubs and bar close by 12.00 Midnight or 1.00 AM.
Don’t Invite people to the hotel room
If you are a female staying alone then don’t call people to your room if you want to discuss a travel plan or any other matter. It may give the wrong signal to some men (Definitely not all). Use the common area or lobby for discussions.
I spent so many years in Delhi and would like everyone to see the city from a different perspective. It may not be the most female-friendly city in many ways but if you take some basic precautions then there is so much to see and experience.
It may not be a chilled metropolis but there is plenty of culture and character to Delhi. I personally not recommend going out for clubbing and pubbing at night to a solo female traveler but there are many things to do during the day. For nightlife go to places like Goa. These are some of the basic travel tips for someone going to Delhi.