One of the world’s great mega-cities, Mumbai (also known as Bombay) is India’s largest, with an estimated total population of 21 million and counting, and the nation’s commercial capital.
A city of superlatives and contrasts, home to Bollywood and the largest slum population of India, this port and beach city has been a stimulating and rewarding destination for many generations of travellers.
Known as the gay capital of India, Mumbai has a long history of gay activism and has the most developed gay scene of anywhere in the sub-continent. India’s rapid economic development aside though, Indian culture remains very conservative, and while there is a Mumbai scene, it is small and not truly reflective as yet of this vast, dynamic and most creative of Indian cities.
The Mumbai scene is focused around a few established gay-friendly venues, the best known being Voodoo in the South Mumbai district of Colaba, known for its gay themed Saturday night party, although the police closed down the venue (temporarily) last year.
Mumbai gay groups arrange regular parties and social events, and these are promoted locally.
The Mumbai International Queer Film Festival is becoming well-established as an annual highlight event for the LGBT community after its launch in 2010.
Mumbai is a major global hub city, with many international direct flights from both national and budget airlines from all around the world. Terminal 1 is for domestic flights and Terminal 2 for international.
Be prepared for long lines for security checks, even when you are in transit. The airport facilities are good now and getting better, with a new International terminal.
Taxis are the standard transport option to get you from airport to city centre – buy a prepaid coupon (around Rs 450-600) from one of the taxi offices located near the exit of the terminal. Be sure to match the right taxi to the coupon which will have the taxi registration number on it.
Mumbai has an extensive public transport system of trains and buses which cover the wider metropolitan area of the city, which is well used by the vast numbers of commuting city workers.
Tourists usually stick to auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks) for local trips in the suburbs, and taxis for longer rides across town. Taxis can be old, though are very much part of the Mumbai experience. More modern private taxis can be booked through your hotel concierge if needed.
Allow plenty of time if you are travelling north to south – the long and narrow island location of the city centre and the sheer volume of traffic makes for horrendous congestion at times.
Construction of the new Mumbai Metro system is under way. 11km of Line 1 is now open.
Mumbai has a wide selection of hotels to suit all budgets. For our list of some of best hotels in Mumbai, visit the Mumbai Hotels page.
Colaba – southernmost district of downtown Mumbai, with the main concentration of colonial architecture. Check out Colaba Causeway for a feast of art, culture and local market stalls.
The Gateway of India – this large stone monument built by the British is Mumbai’s most famous landmark.
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel – an enormous hotel on the bay and next to the Gateway of India.
Marine Drive – a 3-km promenade along the bay and the city’s most expensive real estate, ending at Nariman Point – for great city views.
Chowpatty Beach -best visited at sunset, especially on weekends when the locals descend for strolling and eating at the many vendor stalls.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus) – a crazy fusion of Victorian gothic and local architecture and, together with Churchgate, the major working rail terminals of the city (pictured below)
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum – India’s premier art and history museum housed in an impressive listed building. The museum has a large permanent collection and hosts international touring exhibitions.
Jehangir Art Gallery – for an appreciation of Indian art.
Chor Bazaar – a famous outdoor market to people watch and browse for second-hand treasures
Bollywood – Catch the latest releases at the classic Eros cinema (adjacent to Churchgate railway station). Take a studio tour for a real flavor of the world’s largest film industry, at Film City in Goregaon, in the Western suburbs.
Hedavde Mahalaxmi Temple – one of the most popular of the city’s many temples to visit. Try to make it at opening time (7am) for a more serene experience.
Iskcon Temple – this beautiful temple dedicated to Lord Krishna is located in Juhu and serves delicious vegetarian food in its restaurant.
Haji Ali Dargah – famous Mumbai mosque built on an islet near the heart of the city in 1431; accessible only during low tide.
Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat – This massive open-air laundry is a world-famous Mumbai institution and a sight to behold of the hundreds of dhobi (washermen) hand-washing seemingly the entire city’s dirty laundry.
Bandra-Worli sea link – impressive cable-stay bridge linking the Southern suburbs to South Mumbai which makes for a great drive.
Juhu (the district close to the airport) is home to many Bollywood stars and worth a visit for a stroll on the beach, and to experience authentic live performance at the tiny Prithvi Theatre, which also has a highly-rated café.
Elephanta Caves – Take the regular ferry connections from The Gateway of India monument to visit this UNESCO World Heritage protected site, located on a small island in the harbour of ancient and sacred Hindu and Buddhist caves and stone carvings (see picture below).
An annual gay Pride event first started in Mumbai in 2008 and has been held every year since, in February. It remains a controversial event however and is more of a political statement than a mass celebration.
An alternative time to visit Mumbai is late August/early September for the Hindu Festival of Ganesh – the elephant-headed deity most identified with by gay Indians.
Tourist visas are required for all visitors and usually issued for six months – starting from the date of issue, not the date of entry. Note that the six-month visa allows a maximum stay of 90 days per visit. Check for details with your local Indian Embassy or consulate as visa rules vary according to your nationality.
The rupee is the Indian currency. ATM’s are widely available throughout the city. Debit and credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, major restaurants and stores.