The Perfect 2-Day Delhi Itinerary

Visiting India for the first-time? Chances are your journey will start in Delhi. This sprawling, crowded capital is often overlooked, but I highly recommend spending at least 2 days here. If you’re short on time, follow this Delhi itinerary to see all of the highlights, both old and new.

Day 1

Red Fort

Your Delhi itinerary starts in the infamous Old Delhi! Before jumping into the crowded markets, take in some history at the Red Fort. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) moved his capital from Agra to Shahjahanabad in 1638. This new city is now known as Old Delhi.

The Red Fort was the emperor’s massive and heavily fortified palace. Its name comes from the beautiful red sandstone of the walls. It served as the seat of the emperor until 1837, when the British took control and made it into an army base.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, it is now most famous as a symbol of India’s independence from British rule. It was here that the Indian flag first flew and India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, addressed the nation in 1947. Every year Independence Day celebrations take place at the fort.

Entry Fees & Hours
  • Cost: 950 rupees for foreigners
  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset, Closed on Mondays
  • Light show: 80 rupees for Indians and foreigners, 30 rupees for children
    • 6 PM onwards in Hindi and English

Old Delhi

With a population of 30 million, Delhi is easily one of the world’s largest cities. This fact is most evident in Old Delhi, one of the city’s oldest and most densely populated districts.⁠

Famous for its packed markets and landmarks including the Red Fort and Jama Masjid, Old Delhi is a must visit. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, coronavirus had been declared a worldwide pandemic, so we weren’t keen to be in the midst of a ton of people. Our tour guide wisely took us through Chandni Chowk on Sunday when most of the markets are closed. I was actually quite glad to be able to visit this notoriously chaotic neighborhood on a calmer day.⁠

Cars are not permitted in much of this area, so we hopped on a rickshaw, one of Delhi’s famous pedicabs. Amazingly enough, our driver was able to cart all three of us on one bike. He only charged 100 rupees, which is a little over $1 USD.⁠

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid is India’s second largest mosque with a capacity of 25,000 people. This grand open air place of worship, with its two 130-foot tall minarets, is quite a sight to behold. However, you’ll need to have some grit to bypass the many scams at the entrance.

Entrance to the mosque is free unless you have a camera, which will cost you 300 rupees to bring in. Despite intentionally leaving my camera in the car, my sister and I were both still charged. Slippers are available for purchase, but you can decline them and enter barefoot.

The last scam we encountered was renting hideous robes. Two men told us we were required to wear them, despite our conservative outfits which covered most of our arms and legs, because we were not Indian. After refusing to pay and demanding a refund for our “entry” tickets, a third man, who I assume worked at the mosque, agreed to let us in without paying for the robes.

On the way out, I learned the key to shutting down scammers is to speak with authority and ignore them. When a man outside the entrance said we had to pay him for “watching” our shoes, I strongly said “No, I don’t” and proceeded to put on my shoes and leave.⁠

Entry Fees & Hours
  • Cost: Free
    • Camera Fee: 300 rupees per person
    • Minaret Climb: 100 rupees for foreigners
  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset, Daily
    • Closed from Noon – 1:30 PM daily for prayer

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib

Like many places in India, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib has quite the history. It was originally a home of Maharaja Jai Singh, ruler of Amer (of Amber Fort fame). Later, in 1664, the eighth Sikh Guru, Guru Har Krishan, briefly resided here during a smallpox and cholera epidemic. Today, its water is known for its healing properties.

Despite its interesting backstory, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib’s popularity with tourists is primarily due to its kitchen. Two free meals are offered daily to anyone in need. Anyone can volunteer to help with the preparation. Due to the pandemic, we were unable to see this portion of the temple; nevertheless, I had a pleasant experience during my first visit to a Sikh temple.

Upon arrival, we headed to an air-conditioned entrance for foreigners. You can leave your shoes here and borrow a scarf (required for men and women) to cover your head. Before entering the temple, everyone washes their feet and hands in water.

They’re serious about respecting the temple’s primary purpose: worship. There are a number of signs prohibiting selfies and talking, particularly near the wading pool outside the main hall. It helped maintained a peaceful, reverent atmosphere, which I appreciated. We briefly sat down to take in to the music and chanting during the service.

Entry Fees & Hours
  • Cost: Free
  • Hours: 5 AM – 10 PM, Daily

Raj Ghat

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Raj Ghat is a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, known as the Father of the Nation due to his successful movement to gain India’s independence from Great Britain. His non-violent resistance tactics inspired civil rights and independence movements around the world.

Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi in 1948. The memorial, located near the Yamuna River, consists of a garden, black marble platform, and flame marking the site where his remains were cremated. Prayers are held every Friday, as well as on the anniversary of his birth and death, to remember him.

There are many opportunities in Delhi to learn more about Gandhi’s life and legacy. The National Gandhi Museum is located near Raj Ghat. Its extensive collection includes paintings and books about his life, along with personal items like clothing and letters. Gandhi Smirti, his former home, has also been turned into a museum.

Entry Fees & Hours
  • Cost: Free
  • Hours: 6 AM – 7 PM, Daily

India Gate

Day one of your Delhi itinerary ends at one of the country’s iconic landmarks, India Gate. This memorial commemorates the soldiers who died in World War I and the 3rd Afghan War. Completed in 1933, over 13,000 names are inscribed inside the arch.⁠

India Gate sits opposite of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the president’s official residence. Separated by a long expanse of grass and a string of government buildings, the set up is similar to Washington, D.C.’s National Mall.

Visit at night for the daily light show, which happens between 7 and 9:30 PM. Be prepared for a slew of vendors, peddling everything from bracelets to photography services.

Entry Fees & Hours
  • Cost: Free
  • Hours: Open 24 hrs, Daily

Day 2

Qutub Minar

Start the second day of your Delhi itinerary at one of the tallest and oldest stone towers in the world. Construction on the 240-foot Qutub minaret began in 1193; the last story was completed in 1368. Its origins, however, are unclear. Some believe it was as a victory tower celebrating the fall of the last Hindu kingdom and start of Muslim rule in India. Others say it was used to call Muslims in the area to prayer.

The minaret is a part of the larger Qutb archeological complex, which contains a fascinating array of ruins. You can explore tombs, a mosque, and an Iron Pillar (dating back to the 4th century). Each building has intricately carved stone walls; a closer look reveals flowers, animals, and swirling calligraphy.

Entry Fees & Hours
  • Cost: 600 rupees for foreigners
  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset, Daily

Lotus Temple

Photo courtesy of Beautiful Homes

Another one of Delhi’s iconic buildings is the Bahá’í House of Worship. Completed in 1986, the temple welcomes people of all faiths to worship, regardless of denomination. The marble clad lotus-shaped exterior was chosen due to its significance in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Jainism. It symbolizes peace and prosperity.

If you’ve never heard of the Bahá’í Faith, you’re not alone. Started in 1863, belief in the value of all religions is at the core. There are just seven temples throughout the world. One was located a few minutes from my college campus in the suburbs of Chicago.

Word to the wise, don’t attempt to drive by for an exterior look on a Monday (like I did). The perimeter gates are closed, meaning you’ll have to be satisfied with a glance over the top of the fence.

Entry Fees & Hours
  • Cost: Free
  • Hours: 9 AM to 5:30 PM, Closed Mondays

Swaminarayan Akshardham

Round out your religious experience in Delhi with a visit to the Hindu temple of Swaminarayan Akshardham. Opened in November 2005, it holds the Guinness World Record for Largest Comprehensive Hindu Temple. The complex features a garden and exhibitions outlining 10,000 years of Indian culture, namely religion, art, architecture, and values. The focal point is the mandir, or Hindu house of worship.

Similar to the other two houses of worship we visited, we were required to remove our shoes. The heat on the hot marble steps stung our feet as we approached the intricately carved exterior of the sanctuary; it was designed in the ancient Indian Hindu style. Inside, we were greeted by a huge golden statue of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.

There is an extensive list of items that cannot be brought into the complex, including phones, cameras, and food, so be sure to consult their website before visiting. It can also get quite crowded on Sundays, so try to visit on another day if possible.

My sister and I ended up being appreciative of the no photo rule. We attracted quite a bit of interest as we walked around; some folks looked disappointed they didn’t have a camera to snap a photo of us.

Entry Fees & Hours
  • Cost: Free to enter
    • Exhibition prices start at 170 rupees for adults
  • Hours: 9:30 AM – 6:30 PM, Closed on Mondays

Lodhi Art District

This one’s for all the street art lovers. Started in 2016, Lodhi Art District contains 50+ murals painted by Indian and international artists. Popular with young, hip locals and tourists, the country’s first open air public art district provides plenty of stunning backdrops for photos.⁠

You can check out the murals virtually and plan your visit in advance thanks to Google!

Entry Frees & Hours
  • Cost: Free
  • Hours: 24 hrs, Daily

Humayun’s Tomb

If this building looks familiar, it should. Humayun’s Tomb inspired the design of the Taj Mahal. ⁠

Its story is a bit of a reverse of the Taj’s famous love story, however. Empress Bega Begum commissioned this grand mausoleum in 1570 for her husband, Mughal Emperor Humayun. Completed two years later, it was one of the first buildings to use red sandstone on such a grand scale. The price tag was a hefty 1.5 million rupees, which the Empress paid herself.⁠

The complex surrounding the tomb has plenty to explore, from sprawling gardens to historic structures like the octagonal tomb of Isa Khan, which pre-dates Humayun’s.⁠

Visiting at sunset is a must. The light during golden hour makes for excellent photos. The park seemed to a popular spot for young Delhi residents as well. Many had come out to witness the stunning sunset themselves.

Entry Fees & Hours
  • Cost: 600 rupees for foreigners
  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset, Daily

Hauz Khas Village

View of Deer Park in Hauz Khas Village

Your Delhi itinerary ends in one of the city’s hippest spots: Hauz Khas Village. This South Delhi neighborhood gets its name from the Hauz Khas complex, which contains the ruins of a 13th century village.

The pedestrian area of Hauz Khas Village has grown in popularity in recent years thanks to its artistic vibe. Young people stroll throw the narrow lanes, popping in a variety of shops, restaurants, and bars. Soak up the hipster Brooklyn meets India vibes before departing.

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2 thoughts on “The Perfect 2-Day Delhi Itinerary

  1. Hii Iman. The pictures are great, I’m glad you loved Delhi so much
    The gurudwara picture you shared is Gurudwara Bangla Sahib and the story you are telling is about gurudwara Sisganj sahib.

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