What to See in Delhi in Two Days
Two days in Delhi? Here's what to see...
Every year I plan a trip over the winter holidays to spend the new year in another country. The past few years I’ve celebrated in Cuba, Vietnam and Thailand! This year, I decided to travel to India with my boyfriend, Daniel.
This is my first India post, and I'm sharing with you what to see in Delhi in two days.
South Asia is the perfect destination to visit during winter because it is still warm but not as extreme as the sweltering heat of summer and the monsoon season is over. Also, I luckily have two weeks of vacation during the last two weeks of the year. Considering it takes 20+ hours to get to India, it made sense to spend these two weeks exploring as much as I could.
So, why did I choose to go to India? It started as my boyfriend’s idea but as soon as I did a bit of research, I was determined to go. I always wanted to see the Taj Mahal, but after reading about such amazing cities and destinations such as Jaipur, the pink city, Jodhpur, the blue city, and the gorgeous beaches of Goa, I couldn't wait to plan our itinerary.
I set out on this India trip to learn about its rich and complex history, see the sights and monuments, and lay on the beach...but while I was there, I soon realized that I fell in love with the country for a reason that wasn't on my to do list. India offers everything an adventurous traveler is looking for, but it is the people and culture that transformed my view of the country. It’s hard to explain in words how this country makes you feel so I strongly recommend visiting yourself, but I'll share this quote from Shantaram that I read while in India.
This is my very first post from my adventure throughout India, starting at the beginning with a two day itinerary on what to see in Delhi. I’ll also share where to stay, Two Blue Passports insider tips, and a map of my favorite spots. I hope this post inspires you to plan your own successful trip!
Itinerary at a glance
We started our India adventure in New Delhi, the capital city located in the North, and spent two full days there. On our third day, we continued to the western state of Rajasthan and then eventually ventured south to Goa and Kerala. If you aren’t sure where these places are, don't worry, I’ll have blog posts linked to the itinerary below very soon. India is a huge country and early on during our planning we had to accept that we couldn’t see everything. We chose a mix of history and culture, beaches and relaxation, all while prioritizing the best Indian food we could find.
Week 1: Delhi & Rajasthan
Week 2: Goa & Kerala
What to See by Day
Day 1: See the sights! I’ll admit this was a long day, but with only 2 days to explore we wanted to see as much as possible. We arranged for a driver who stayed with us during the first half of our trip and I recommend doing the same as driving through the streets of Delhi can be chaotic. Our flight got us into the city at 4am local time so we spent the early morning exploring the Hauz Kauz neighborhood near our Airbnb and asked our driver to pick us up around 10 AM. Here’s the itinerary for Day 1 in Delhi.
+Start your morning with a cup of coffee and breakfast at your Airbnb. Unlike in the states, many of the Airbnb's in India are actually homestays and include a home cooked traditional Indian breakfast. If you’re lucky enough to book our recommendation in Hauz Kauz Village, you can enjoy your free breakfast while watching the sun rise over Hauz Kauz Lake.
+Take a stroll through the Hauz Kauz Complex just at the edge of the main street in Hauz Kauz Village. The complex dates back to the 13th century and was a part of the second medieval city of India, called Siri (not to be confused with your favorite Apple virtual assistant). This was during the time of the Muslim Sultanate that lasted from 1206 - 1526.
The ruins of the Hauz Kauz complex are very unique compared to other monuments I visited later on the trip. They are not as colorful or decorated as they represent a much older time period and are slightly off the beaten path so are less touristy. My favorite area in the complex was the domed tombs that are said to hold Muslim royalty from the 14th-16th centuries. We spent about an hour exploring this area and then met our driver around 10 AM to venture off into Old Delhi.
Fun fact: In 1236, Razia Sultana took the throne as the first and only female ruler of the Delhi Sultanate and is one of only a few female rulers throughout all of Islamic history. #GirlBoss
+Visit Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India. This was one of the structures built by the fifth emperor of the Mughal Empire, Shah Jahan and was completed in 1656. He commissioned the creation of the Taj Mahal in 1632 and after relocating the capital to Delhi, had Jama Masjid and the Red Fort built.
You’ll want to visit Jama Masjid between the hours of 7am to 12pm or 1:30pm to 6:30pm. Unfortunately, we learned this the hard way when we were prevented from entering the mosque around 12:30pm during afternoon prayer. I recommend first visiting Jama Masjid before noon and venturing out from there. You can enter the mosque for free, but there is a 100 rupee fee to climb the south minaret, which is supposed to have a gorgeous view of Delhi.
+Visit the Red Fort in Delhi. The Red Fort, which took over 8 years to build, was completed in 1648 by Shah Jahan, who also had the Taj Mahal and Jama Masjid built. The Red Fort was built to be his palace in his capital in Delhi, Shahjahanabad, which is now known as Old Delhi.
As we quickly learned, for every national monument in India, there is a higher entry fee for foreigners than for locals, so don't worry about feeling taken advantage of. A foreigner ticket for the fort is 500 rupees (~8 USD) whereas a local one runs for only 35 rupees (~50 cents). The gate you enter is called the Lahori Gate and leads directly through Chhatta Chowk, translated to “covered bazaar,” which is a market selling souvenirs. I didn’t spend much time here because I quickly became awestruck at some of the gorgeous structures that lay just inside and I wanted to explore as much as possible.
Once we were past the market, I beelined for the Diwan-i-Am, the main inner court of large scalloped archways. This was my favorite part of the Red Fort. From there, we explored clockwise and came to my second favorite, the Hayat Bakhsh Bagh. This stands for “Life-Bestowing Garden” and has a few intricate rectangular buildings such as the red Zafar Mahal and the white Sawan and Bhadon Pavilions. We spent just about an hour at the Red Fort and then decided to stop for lunch.
+It’s time for lunch! Our driver didn't speak much english, so when we asked him to take us to lunch, he instinctually brought us to a very touristy restaurant that I'm sure caters to many of his usual clients, but offered a menu that included American and European dishes we were already familiar with. We quickly declined and translated that we wanted to go to a local spot! He understood and drove us to Hot Chimney Restaurant. We settled at a table in the packed dining room (if you could call it that) filled with locals and checked out the menu. The north of India is known for its mutton (goat) dishes, so we ordered mutton curry, vegetarian rice, garlic naan and aloo (similar to a curry, with potatoes, cauliflower and Indian spices). I have locations for all of the restaurants we ate at in the map posted below :).
+After lunch, visit the final sight of the day, Humayun’s Tomb and plan to spend at least an hour exploring. Foreign tickets cost 500 rupees to enter (~$8 USD).
Humayun was another Mughal Emperor in Delhi and when he died, his wife commissioned the creation of this magnificent tomb. The complex includes other tombs as well, such as Bega Begum and one for the son of Shah Jahan. Humayun’s Tomb was built in the 1500s before the Taj Mahal, Jama Masjid or the Red Fort and is said to be the precedent for the quality and design of Mughal architecture.
Before you walk around the inside and outside of the massive tomb, make sure to spend some time exploring the surrounding tombs and other structures. Specifically, the tomb and mosque of Isa Khan, which is octagonal in shape and still has some of the original blue marble preserved on it's eight domes.
+Head back to the Airbnb and regroup for dinner. Since we were staying right in Hauz Kauz Village, we knew we wouldn’t have to venture far. We decided to try out Yeti for our first dinner in Delhi as it came highly recommended by our host and other people we talked to. Yeti is a Himalayan restaurant serving delicious Nepalese specialties. We ordered aloo momos, a type of dumpling filled with aloo, butter green beans and fried pork.
+Hauz Kauz Village is a newer part of Delhi and unlike most older parts of the city, has many bars and options for nightlife if you are up to it after a long day of site seeing. At this point, our long plane ride and day of exploring caught up to us, so we decided to give into our exhaustion.
Day 2: After a very aggressive day one in Delhi, I decided to spend day two on an Airbnb experience. If you haven’t heard of this yet, Airbnb is now offering private tours that are planned and led by locals. An Airbnb booking is not required to sign up for the tour, so anybody has the opportunity learn about the local culture and get a first hand look at how people live.
+Our Airbnb host for the day, Ketaki, picked us up around 11AM and took us to Old Delhi to explore the markets. We visited Chandni Chowk, the oldest market in Old Delhi and Ketaki took us in stores that we would never have found had we not been with her. She explained a great deal of Delhi’s history as well as introduced us to local merchants to learn their stories. She also guided us through the many street food vendors throughout the markets and taught us what was safe and delicious to try. The markets & merchants experience was perfect for what I wanted to do in Delhi, but there are a lot of other options to choose from.
+After a long day exploring Old Delhi, we headed back to Hauz Kauz Village and went to Coast Cafe for dinner. Coast Cafe serves southern Indian food, which is a bit lighter and had many seafood options. We ordered prawn moilee, a coconut milk based curry with appam, a spongy, naan-shaped bread.
where to stay
We chose to stay in Hauz Kauz Village in southern Delhi. The area is a bit less chaotic than Old Delhi and we found Hauz Kauz to be an oasis from all of the hustle and bustle. Another option is to stay right in Old Delhi at a hotel. I can't speak to the hotel experience myself, but we met some other travelers who said although a bit chaotic, they liked being so close to the sights. I’ll leave it up to you to decide, but here are our recommendations.
This is the Airbnb where we stayed in Hauz Kauz Village. I have the lovely @candida to thank for this recommendation. This Airbnb is a single bedroom and bathroom on a rooftop. It has the most gorgeous view of Hauz Kauz lake and the Hauz Kauz ruins. For other Airbnb options in Hauz Kauz, check out this Airbnb wishlist.
Another great option in Hauz Kauz is the Let's Bunk Poshtel. We stayed here the night before we checked into our Airbnb because we arrived at 4AM and were not scheduled to check in until noon that day. Our Airbnb host recommended we stop by the Let’s Bunk Poshtel to get a few hours of sleep because he had confirmed they had an open room. They were so welcoming, and didn't even charge us for the few hours we slept!
tbp insider tips
>India is one of those places that really challenges you. Go into your trip with the expectation that not everything will go according to your original plan. It’s not necessary to plan out specific day-to-day activities in advance, but I do recommend having your main transportation and accommodations booked before you arrive. This means, book your flights and trains, and ensure you have a hotel or Airbnb to stay at.
>Depending on your country of origin, you may need a visa to travel to India. You can apply for an e-visa online. The cost also varies depending on your nationality.
>It’s also important to contact your doctor to find out if you need any shots or medications for your trip. For example, I was given a Typhoid vaccine as well as malaria pills for my trip to India. I also asked for a prescription for Azithromycin, which quickly treats traveler’s diarrhea. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
>There are 22 official languages in India, so it’s safe to say you most likely won’t be able to communicate verbally with everyone you interact with. In most of the cities we visited, the majority of locals also spoke English. For hello and goodbye, you can say “Namaste.”
>India has a gesture that is very unique to India. It’s a head shake or “wiggle” as I like to call it. It doesn’t mean yes, it doesn’t mean no, and it’s a bit hard to define EXACTLY what it means. What I can say is that it’s a kind gesture and after a while, you may start doing it yourself! You’ll see a lot of service professionals wiggle when they are helping you or after you thank them.
>For this trip, we flew into New Delhi, drove to Agra and Jaipur, and flew domestically to Jodhpur, Goa and Kerala. Trains are a common method of travel in India, but we had so much trouble trying to book them in advance that we opted for a driver and flights. Our final departure was out of Cochin International Airport.
>To get around Delhi & Rajasthan, we booked a driver in advance. His name was Raju, and he picked us up daily and drove us through Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. The total cost of this was just about $250 USD. We were lucky enough to have a contact in India through a coworker but this post from Tripsavvy will help you book a driver during your two days in Delhi, and beyond.
>You'll need a converter for the plugs in India. I recommend this India power adapter, which comes with three inserts. It worked at every Airbnb we stayed in.
>Be aware of your surroundings. I felt very safe in Delhi, but it is a very crowded city so you want to travel smart. When you're out exploring, especially in crowded tourist areas, I recommend wearing a money belt to hold your passport and money.
>If someone on the street comes up to you and asks you to purchase something that you aren't interested in, just say no. They may follow you and be persistent, but continuing to say no in a stern tone always works eventually. You never want to say “maybe later” because the seller may decide to follow you until later happens. I’ve had this happen to me.
>India, especially in the north, is very conservative. As a man, I recommend covering your knees. As a woman, ensure your knees and shoulders are covered. This is especially important if you want to enter a mosque or other religious site. I’ll be writing an entire blog post on how to dress as a woman visiting India, but until then, my #1 recommendation is to bring a scarf with you wherever you go. It should be a light scarf because it’s hot in India, but this will ensure you can cover yourself up any time you need to. I wore a scarf wrapped around my shoulders every day. At one point, I even lent it to my boyfriend to wrap around his waist when he wore shorts to a temple that he was supposed to be wearing pants too. I brought one scarf with me and then bought a few more when I arrived.
>I traveled to India in the winter and while it usually hot during the day, it can get chilly at night in the north. Bring at least one sweater or light jacket with you.
>Don’t drink the water in India. It has bacteria in it that most foreigner’s bodies aren’t used to. This also means avoiding ice and any raw fruits or vegetables that may have been washed or exposed to the local water. One product that may be useful is the Lifestraw. You can use it if you find yourself without access to bottled water.
Indian food is delicious, but it’s also spicy and really your only option in most of India. I recommend bringing some granola or protein bars to eat when you need a break. I brought an entire box of RX Bars with me and they definitely came in handy.