Mumbai made me sick. Actually, that’s not true: It was the malaria prophylactic I was taking that turned me inside out—Mumbai’s heat and humidity just exacerbated it.
The city formerly known as Bombay was the first developing world destination I ever visited, way back in 2009. Some part of the intense feelings I still harbor toward it, even after many subsequent trips, no doubt derives from the profundity of this shock.
Indeed, India itself never stops being intense, no matter how many other countries I visit between my returns there. Is Mumbai worth visiting? Maybe, but it’s complicated.
Where to Stay in Mumbai
A key part of whether you end up finding Mumbai worth visiting is staying in the right place. This is important not just because the city’s public transportation is very limited due to its size, but also because getting around Mumbai even in a private car is incredibly stressful. Tolkien wasn’t thinking of Mumbai (or anywhere in India) when he coined the bit about the journey and the destination!
As a general rule, you’ll want to base yourself in South Mumbai, a massive and relatively affluent peninsula that descends down from the Indian mainland into the Arabian Sea. Within this area, there is a wide range of accommodations, although the lower end has risen dramatically in recent years. While the The Taj Mahal Palace can cost as much per night as luxury hotels in Europe and North American, simpler accommodations like Hebbar’s Heritage Home aren’t nearly as cheap as they would’ve been as recently as a decade ago.
What to Do in Mumbai (If You Go)
See the Gateway of India
Not to be confused with the Gate of India up in Delhi, the Gateway of India sits on Mumbai’s bayside waterfront not far from the Taj Mahal hotel. There’s nothing particularly to do here, although it does make for a great Instagram spot since it’s so iconic and recognizable.
Take a day trip to Elephanta Island
Actually, I lied: The pier for boats to Elephanta Island, which is filled with ruins, is not far from the Gateway of India. An excursion here definitely makes Mumbai worth visiting, particularly since the boat journey is relatively relaxing compared to having to go anywhere in the city by car.
(Or to the fake Taj Mahal)
I’ll be honest: Unless you hire a private car for the day and set out early, it’s difficult to see Bibi ka Maqbara, a quasi-replica of the Taj Mahal in India’s Pune state. On the other hand, if you don’t plan to head up to Delhi during your trip to India, this might be a worthwhile excursion to make.
Explore Victoria Station
It might seem strange to list a railway station as one of the reasons Mumbai is worth visiting—well, at least until you see it with your own eyes. Indeed, from the colonial-era facade of the station (which is officially named Chhatrapati Shivaji Railway Terminus these days) to how astonishingly busy it is, it’s definitely extraordinary.
Watch the sunset from Chowpatty Beach
Let’s be clear: I do not, under any circumstances, recommend getting into the water at this or any beach in Mumbai. Still, from its postcard-perfect sunsets to the many food stalls that line it, Chowpatty Beach is one of Mumbai’s most worthwhile afternoon and evening destinations.
How Many Days Do You Need to See Mumbai?
I must approach this question in two ways. First, literally: If you really want to see all of Mumbai’s attractions, the good, bad and the ugly, you probably need 4-5 days at minimum, simply due to all the time it takes to get around. You can add more to this if you’re arriving from far overseas, and expect you’ll be jet lagged upon arriving at the airport (and probably doing so very late at night or early in the morning).
As I hinted earlier, however, I find Mumbai worth visiting more for less labor-intensive trips. As a result, if you’re keen to spend time dining and shopping in South Mumbai, and perhaps only making an excursion (by boat) to Elephanta Island and limiting your time in a taxi to the journey to Chowpatty Beach, 2-3 days in Mumbai can be much more satisfying, even if you don’t see “everything”—and arguably because you don’t.
Other FAQ About Visiting Mumbai
Why do tourists visit Mumbai?
Most tourists visit Mumbai as a matter of utility: Many flights to India, especially from Europe and North America, arrive at its busy international airport. On the other hand, I’d say that the more intentional you can be about your trip (regardless of whether you come for upscale dining or authentic Indian urban culture), the more you’ll enjoy your trip.
Is Mumbai safe for tourists?
Mumbai is safe for (male) tourists in that you’re unlikely to be the victim of violent crime—this isn’t always the case for women. However, rates of petty crime are high in Mumbai, to say nothing of how many accidents occur due to the city’s infamously inhumane traffic.
Is it better to visit Mumbai or Delhi?
Generally speaking, most people regard Mumbai as a more modern, cultural city, while Delhi is a hub of history, particularly if you take a day trip to the Taj Mahal. Do keep in mind, however, that both cities are crowded and chokingly hot and smoggy most of the year. If you’re looking for fresh air, neither Mumbai nor Delhi is a great choice for you.
The Bottom Line
Is Mumbai worth visiting? The key is whether you want to be here—you’re coming to Mumbai because you have an intentional plan for 2-3 days or longer—or whether you need to be here, or think you do. You’ll enjoy the city formerly known as Bombay a lot more if your business there is conscious and conspicuous: This is not a place for people who are “just passing through.” The same can be said for India as a whole. Thankfully, you can make the most of any trip to India when you hire me as your Travel Coach.