Things to do in New Delhi: top sights to see on your first visit to New Delhi

I think New Delhi is a city that intimidates travelers. It definitely intimidated me! I wasn’t really looking forward to my visit to New Delhi at all, if I’m honest. We would be spending just one day there, but in any case it seemed like a scary, busy, dirty city. And while the last two are certainly true, the first is not. When we were there it was just the highlight of the smog crisis in Delhi. In the morning we could see maybe 300 meters in front of us from our hotel room. But what surprised me is that Delhi has some really beautiful sights. That are definitely worth a visit, in fact: it would be a shame to miss them. Which is why I share the most beautiful sights in New Delhi here, for your first visit to New Delhi! 

Jama Masjid Mosque

This is the largest (and therefore the most important) mosque in India. Islam is the largest religion in India after Hinduism, so you will regularly encounter mosques in the country itself. India was long reigned by the Mughal empire, an Islamic empire that ruled in South Asia from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Many buildings that have been preserved date from this period, so India has quite a lot of Islamic architecture. The Jama Masjid mosque was completed in 1656 and is located in the old part of Delhi.

The mosque looks very impressive from the outside, but there is actually no interior part: just a wall where prayers are done. So it is all about the exterior. Admission is free, but you pay per camera and telephone that you bring in (I had neither with me).

Rickshaw ride through the old center

If you’re at the Jama Masjid Mosque, you might as well take a rickshaw ride through the old part of Delhi. You go through a maze of paths and small streets, where you see the real life of Delhi. The old part is mainly inhabited by the lower educated workers: shop owners, traders, etc. It is SO busy. Also, be prepared for beggars, especially begging children. All our guides in India advised us not to give anything: public school in India is free, and parents refuse to sent their children to school, because begging brings in more money for them. If you give them money, you keep supporting this system. Make sure to keep an eye on your stuff when you ride a rickshaw, though funny enough I was pointed out by several strangers on the street that I should keep my bag on my lap. I like how India positively surprises you like that. 

India Gate

This triumphal arch probably reminds you of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which is not surprising, because that was also the inspiration behind this building. Built in 1921, this monument serves as a war memorial to commemorate the soldiers who died in the First World War for the British Empire. The 42-meter high monument is located in the new part of Delhi, where you will find many government buildings.

Humayun’s Tomb

One of the most impressive buildings in New Delhi is the Humayun’s Tomb. It does remind me a bit of the Taj Mahal, not just in terms of layout, but also because, like the Taj Mahal, it is a burial monument. Though, the red sandstone makes quite the difference. The monument was built between 1562 and 1571 by Emperor Humayun’s wife, in homage to her deceased husband. The Taj Mahal is, of course, the other way around: a man built it for his wife. The building also has a large garden, for a peaceful and quiet stroll. I really think it was worth the visit.

Entrance price: 500 rupees.

Qutb Minar

My favorite attraction in Delhi was the Qutb minaret. The 72.5 meter high tower is the highest stone tower in India. Construction began in 1193 by the first Islamic ruler, who celebrated his freedom from slavery with the construction of the tower. The tower was wasn’t complete until 1368, and new rulers kept on building the tower bit by bit. This is why the tower consists of many different styles. The tower can not be visited, but if you look down when you are up top it supposedly looks like a lotus. The terrain itself is also very large and perhaps even more awesome. It is full of ancient ruins of old Hindu temples. The Hindu art wasn’t discovered until later, because it was covered up by the Islamic rulers, who are not allowed to display images of their religion.

Entrance price: 500 rupees.

Lotus Temple

We could not visit the following two places, because it was Monday, and a number of monuments are closed Mondays. Including the Lotus Temple, which I think is most reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House. This gigantic temple dates back to 1986 and is open to everyone, regardless of which religion or origin you have. It is one of the most important temples in India, and also one of the most visited buildings.

(do you see how foggy it is due to the smog?)

Red Fort

Another thing we could not visit because it was closed: the striking Red Fort. It is impossible to miss this walled palace when you visit Delhi, the red sandstone really catches the eye! The palace was built in the 17th century by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the same man who built the Taj Mahal. This building was therefore the seat of the Mughal emperors until 1857, the end of the Mogul empire. Our guide said that the fort in Agra is bigger and more special, but since we could not visit the Red Fort, I can’t say for sure if that is true.

Entrance price: 500 rupees.

Transport in New Delhi

We had a driver and a guide in New Delhi, and I can highly recommend that. They buy your tickets, can tell you everything about where you walk and what you see, and it makes your entire experience in India so much less stressful (India can be a little overwhelming!). Check this fully customizable 8-hour sightseeing tour in New Delhi, including lunch.

Food in New Delhi

We had lunch at Suribachi, and that was one of the tastiest meals we have had in all of India. I had a paneer curry and my god …. I can still taste it in my dreams. Dinner was at our hotel and I made the mistake of ordering beef in a country that sees cows as sacred. Oops, maybe not the best decision.

Hotel in New Delhi

We stayed at the four-star hotel: Hotel The Hans, which is located in the business center of the city, not far from Connaught Place. The hotel is a bit outdated in the corridor area and stuff, but still very comfortable. We got a free upgrade, and gosh: that room was luxurious and exquisite. We could not have wished for a better start of our through India, and it was perfect to recover from a long and stressful day travelling.

Oh, and a picture of the smog, which caused me to have a cough for two weeks :-):

Are you looking for some other great destinations in India to visit? Check out my article about visiting the Taj Mahal as well as this great post about top things to do in Kumbhalgarh.

What were your favorite sights and tips in New Delhi?

What to see & do in New Delhi on your first visit

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