Delhi is India’s capital territory and one of the world’s great megacities with nearly 20 million residents. To say it’s an overwhelming and intense city is an understatement and most tourists plan on spending as little time as possible there. However, Delhi is a great place to delve into India and all its charm, cultures, history, people, annoyances and beauty.
If you know where to go in Delhi, then your visit is more likely to be an eye-opening and fascinating look at the subcontinent rather than an intimidating experience. So here are seven of Delhi’s must visit neighbourhoods to get you exploring the best and most interesting areas of the city.
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Jump to sections of this post
- How to get around Delhi
- Where to stay in Delhi
- Old Delhi
- Connaught Place
- Tibetan Colony
- Lodi Colony
- Hauz Khas
- Lajpat Nagar
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How to get around delhi
The Delhi Metro System is the best, easiest and most cost effective way of getting around the huge metropolis. You can get to most of the major tourist attractions, important neighbourhoods and transport hubs (including the airport) using the metro.
You can search routes, look at the network map and download the app (highly recommended) on the official website here.
Otherwise, auto rickshaws/tuk tuks and ride hailing services like Uber can be used all over the city and are good options if you’re going to share the ride with other people or need to get somewhere away from the metro network.
Travelling around India? I’ve written a comprehensive guide to navigating transport in India and you can read it here.
There are also countless day tours on offer and are a great way to ease yourself into the city by having a knowledgable guide who knows the city well. Hostels often have free walking tours or you can join a group tour below.
Where to stay in Delhi
Accommodation can be found across the entire city and it can be difficult to work out where to base yourself whilst in Delhi. As mentioned below, Paharganj has always been the main backpacker enclave, although that’s starting to change now since people are looking for a less intense experience. If you want to be central to everything and in the middle of all the chaos then I would still recommend Paharganj.
However, other hostels I have stayed at and highly recommend include:
Moustache Delhi – part of the Indian hostel chain and always guaranteed to have good facilities and helpful staff. This hostel is in New Friends Colony, a pretty nice neighbourhood and accessible by a metro station within a 15 minute walk.
The Hosteller – another Indian chain hostel and also in New Friends Colony. Very clean and spacious hostel and one of the best quality you’ll find in the same price range.
Joey’s Hostel – a classic budget backpacker place, with basic rooms and facilities but very friendly staff and great walking tours. It’s not in the best area of the city and the immediate streets outside the door will overwhelm you as soon as you step outside but there’s a metro station just 200m away.
The absolute chaotic centre of the sprawling city is Old Delhi, which is where the original settlement known as Shahjahanabad was founded in the 17th century. It’s the very epitome of intensity and many people cannot stand the traffic, noise, sights and smells of the area. However, if you can survive for just a few hours then this is where you’ll appreciate just how chaotic India can get and then everything will likely feel less intense in comparison for the rest of your trip and for any other country you visit for that matter.
Old Delhi is mostly made up of a maze of winding alleyways that is considered the main bazaar area of the city called Chandni Chowk. The best thing to do for an hour or more is to get lost amongst the streets and take whichever turn looks most interesting. Some of the streets are roughly organised into sections and you’ll find clusters of shops selling the same things all on the same street.
Old Delhi also has a couple of the city’s main attractions: the Red Fort and Jama Masjid. The Red Fort is a 17th century fortified complex that once overlooked the now shrunk Yamuna River. For many tourists, however, it’s a less impressive attraction when compared to the beautiful and plentiful forts in Rajasthan. Jama Masjid, the city’s main mosque, on the other hand, is one of the city’s must sees and is a huge place that can hold up to 25, 000 worshippers. It’s free to enter but you must pay to climb the tower for an incredible view over the complex. The mosque is surrounded by more bazaars and stalls and it’s a lively place to be on a Friday evening around prayer time and especially during Ramadan.
Closest metro stations: Chandni Chowk for Old Delhi bazaar, Jama Masjid for the mosque and La Qila for the Red Fort
Paharganj is a bazaar area that, for a long time, has been considered the main backpacker haven in the city. It’s main street, called Main Bazaar Road, is full of cheap and nasty hostels and souvenir shops selling everything you could possibly need. There’s plenty of decent and not so decent restaurants and local eateries. It’s almost as intense as Old Delhi and many tourists and backpackers find it’s too chaotic to stay there and tend to just go for their last minute souvenir shopping.
At one end of the Main Bazaar Road is the Central Railway station, which is convenient if you arrive or depart from Delhi using the rail network.
Closest metro station: Ramakrishna Ashram Marg
This ringed and colonnaded area of Delhi is the main business and shopping hub with all the big brands, authentic dealers, vintage cinemas, bars and nice restaurants. If you want some proper retail therapy without bargaining and concerns about authenticity and quality of what you’re buying then Connaught Place is the go. From Nike to Starbucks to Tommy Hilfiger as well as all the major banks, a stroll around the ringed streets is where you’ll find many of the middle and upper class of the city doing their shopping.
South of the central circle you’ll find Janpath Market which is the best place to pick up souvenirs without all the hustle and bustle you find in Paharganj. It also has a small market area near Janpath where you can pick up high quality and on trend clothing for much less than in the shops.
If you want to know about other things to do around Connaught Place I recommend reading this article on Culture Trip here. In the surrounding area you can find temples, archaeological sites and an Insta-worthy step well.
Closest metro station: Rajiv Chowk
Majnu Ka Tilla or now known as Little Tibet, is an area which was allotted to Tibetan refugees by the Indian government in 1960 following their uprising in Tibet in 1959. Since then it has become a space where second generation refugees remain and have carved out a slice of Tibet amongst the sprawl of Delhi.
Its main attraction is a Tibetan Monastery there which is free to wander through. Other than that, the small neighbourhood mostly relies on tourism through guesthouses, market stalls and restaurants, which you can find amongst its small alleyways. There are restaurants cooking momos and thenthuk soup, stalls selling Free Tibet pins and prayer flags flying from the rooftops.
It’s become a bit of an enclave for budget travellers as the accommodation on offer there is friendly and affordable. However, it’s not exactly in the most convenient location if you want to explore more of the city.
Closest metro station: There is not really a convenient station that takes you to the Tibetan Colony so it’s best to get off at Vishwa Vidyalaya (near University of Delhi) or Vidhan Sabha and then take a tuk tuk from there.
Originally a colony formed in the 1940s for government officials, Lodi Colony has become a favourite place for locals and tourists alike for its colourful streets and beautiful garden. The neighbourhood is a much quieter, cleaner and greener area of the city and it can offer a sort of respite if you’ve spent time around Old Delhi and Paharganj.
The white facades of the buildings have recently been turned into canvases for graffiti and street artists, with many elaborate designs painted and pasted around the neighbourhood. It’s considered India’s first open air art gallery and the area also hosts an annual Lodi Art Festival, further cementing itself as one of the creative hubs of the city.
If you’re interested in taking a walk amongst the colourful streets, read this article which provides details on a self guided walking tour of 10 street artworks in Lodi here.
The most popular attraction of this neighbourhood is the Lodi Garden which is a local favourite for a relaxing weekend stroll. It’s a colonial-era garden with ancient tombs of leaders and sultans from the 15th and 16th centuries and a lake. It’s the perfect place for people watching and the tombs are quite impressive structures.
Closest metro stations: Jorbagh for both Lodi Colony and Garden, but Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is also convenient for Lodi Colony.
This part of southern Delhi is an affluent residential area and is often referred to as Delhi’s trendiest neighbourhood. Whereas Lodi has the street art, Hauz Khas has the design agencies and boutique shops which are popular on the weekends when locals come for shopping. It also has plenty of trendy cafes and coffee shops to rest your legs and, some may argue, where you can find the best real Italian coffee in the city .
Taking up almost half of the area is Hauz Khas Complex, once a large reservoir and now a garden with a small lake and ruins of a 14th century madrassa and tomb. Similar to Lodi Garden its an ideal weekend, people watching space and its most popular for local families and young couples. However, it’s not that common for foreign tourists to pay a visit, except for those with extra time or a desire to escape the chaos of the city centre, so you may find that you’re the only foreigner there.
Closest metro stations: Hauz Khas station for exploring the streets and R.K. Puram for the complex and garden.
Lajpat Nagar is another large bazaar neighbourhood, except this one is considered the local favourite, as it’s the most practical and resourceful market in the city. The most common things people come to buy are household items, fabric by the metre, shoes and gold jewellery. You’ll find mostly women coming to bargain hunt from all over the city. It’s definitely not a touristy market and you won’t find any souvenirs here, and so the attraction is really just people watching and seeing what kinds of things are on offer.
The other interesting aspect of Lajpat Nagar and something that is not commonly known by most visitors to Delhi, is that the area is also home to a large Afghan population. The area around the main market was originally allotted to Pakistani refugees after partition, but has since also become a home for Afghan refugees fleeing the conflict in their home country.
Amongst some of the streets you’ll notice Afghan darbars (eateries), signs written in Dari script, travel agencies advertising flights to Kabul and money exchangers offering Afghani to Rupee currency exchange. This small part of the neighbourhood is even referred to now as Little Kabul, and offers another insight into the kaleidoscope of cultures that can be found in India.
If you’re interested in reading more about this Little Kabul part of Delhi, I recommend reading this article here about how the neighbourhood has come to offer an opportunity for Afghan refugees fleeing conflict.
Closest metro station: Lajpat Nagar