The Best Area to Stay in Delhi
For thousands of years, this major city and regional capital was invaded, razed, and rebuilt by Afghans, Mongols, and Mughals (among other empires). British colonialists moved their capital in 1911 to Delhi from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to be distant from the rebellious Bengalis, but it was not completed until 1931 – and 16 years later, India became independent. (The section called Old Delhi was renamed to differentiate it from New Delhi, site of the colonial capital, but the city as a whole is called Delhi.)
Unlike most other Indian cities, this mesmerizing metropolis is packed with beautifully restored pre-colonial temples, forts, and tombs, and abundant reminders of colonial rule, particularly the shady boulevards and expansive city gardens. Part of the ‘Golden Triangle’ which is very popular with tourists and includes nearby cities of Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur (the ‘Pink City’), Delhi is also the major transport hub of northern India.
With an extended population of over 20 million, Delhi is, incredibly, not even India’s largest city, but exploration is definitely enhanced by the reliable and expansive metro system. The pollution (especially during the cool winter, November to February) is sometimes unpleasant. To minimize this and other expected downsides of staying in any Indian megapolis, find a suitable base and, if possible, book a decent hotel.
The appeal of staying in New Delhi is its shady sidewalks, proximity to major sights, and accessibility by metro, but the traffic is unrelenting. Old Delhi is close to the major bus and train stations and several prime pre-colonial attractions, but is always noisy and polluted, and hence, really, only for those on a strict budget and looking for a genuine experience of Indian cities. Part of New Delhi is the city center, Connaught Place, packed with tourist facilities, and a major tourist attraction in its own right. Heading south from this circular hub, the broad boulevard simply called Janpath is lined with first-class hotels.
Mid-range hotels and charming guesthouses can be found in the inner-city and middle-class residential areas of Sundar Nagar and Nizamuddin. The latter is handy to the incredible Humayun’s Tomb and a major train station for connections to Agra. Further east, suburbs, including the satellite city of Noida, offer better value for top-end hotels, while the inner southern suburbs offer proximity to the airport. Alongside the airport, the modern and purpose-built suburb of Aerocity offers numerous hotels, malls, and eateries, and is linked to the city center by an express metro line.
The Best Places to Stay in Delhi
- Best Luxury Hotels in Delhi
Oberoi • Imperial • LaLiT • Leela Palace
- Best Boutique/Midrange Hotels in Delhi
Ambassador • B Nineteen • Radisson Blu Marina Connaught Place
- Best Cheap Hotels in Delhi
Colonel’s Retreat • Pride Plaza Aerocity
Best Area in Delhi for…
- Best Area in Delhi for Sightseeing: New Delhi
Delhi offers more inner-city attractions than anywhere else in India and also has the largest metro network in the country. Some sights, such as India Gate and the Rashtrapati Bhavan presidential palace, may even be within walking distance of a hotel in the colonial-built area of New Delhi. Adding to the appeal are parks like the excellent Lodhi Gardens which feature several ancient tombs, and proximity to all the places to eat, drink, and shop at Connaught Place and Khan Market.
- Best Area in Delhi for Shopping: Khan Market (New Delhi)
With India’s highest average rents, the premier shopping district of Khan Market is renowned across the country for its vast choice of old-fashioned bookstores, exclusive jewelers, fashionable tailors, as well as undersized stalls selling saris, woodcarvings, and trinkets made and sold by the city’s innumerable migrants from places like Tibet, Kashmir, and Rajasthan. Once a traditional bazaar but no longer a market in the true sense of the word, the maze of lanes is also chock-full of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
- Best Area in Delhi for Families: Aerocity
To escape the traffic and crowds expected in the capital and to minimize the effects of the pollution, heat, and humidity, stay at this compact and specially-built suburb. Packed with top-notch hotels, western-style malls, and classy places to eat and drink, Aerocity also offers things rarely found anywhere in the city: wide streets, shady sidewalks, and remarkably little traffic. Only 3km by shuttle bus from both airport terminals, the area is also conveniently linked to the city center by a special express service devoid of urban crowds on the metro line.
- Best Area in Delhi for Food & Restaurants: Connaught Place & Janpath
Because of its ancient history and colonial legacies, the city is a hotchpotch of mouth-watering cuisines from Punjabi biryanis (rice-based dishes) to Mughlai curries and spicy chole bhature (giant fried breads with chickpea curry). The circular roads within Connaught Place are crowded with bistros as stylish as any in Asia, as well as internationally-known fast food outlets and tiny eateries dishing up authentic Indian food at local prices. Heading south from the chaotic outer ring road of CP (as it’s often known), the Janpath boulevard is lined with first-class restaurants – none more inviting than those at The Imperial, the quintessential colonial-era hotel.
- Best Area in Delhi for Transport: Aerocity
About 15km southwest of the city center, the airport is more convenient than those in other Indian cities – and, even better, the terminals are well-connected by the efficient, cheap, and expansive metro system. The closest metro station to the airport terminals is at Aerocity, a purpose-built suburb of hotels, malls, and eateries, without, remarkably, any housing. The dedicated express metro service to the city center is devoid of urban crowds and runs every 10 minutes from 6 am to midnight. (The metro station at Aerocity is about 3km from both airport terminals and connected by shuttle bus.) Hence, it is quite feasible to stay in Aerocity and make day trips to the city center.
- Best Area in Delhi for Nightlife: Khan Market (New Delhi)
Not a market per se, this is actually a collection of places to eat, drink, and shop that’s easy to reach (including by metro) and get around (because it’s so compact). Along narrow lanes, often poorly-lit after dark, trendy tapas bars vie for limited space with French-influenced bistros and US-style grills. Most bars serve food, a few feature microbreweries, and some offer a DJ or small band, but many of the city’s hippest nightclubs, happening music venues, and karaoke bars are in and around upmarket hotels in the more affluent areas of southern and western Delhi.
- Best Area in Delhi for Vibe & Culture: Old Delhi
For atmosphere – that is, ambience, not quality of air – there is no better place than Old Delhi. Home to the main bus station and two main railway terminals, as well as the extraordinary Chandni Chowk market, the chaos is quite mind-boggling. Implausibly narrow lanes are crammed beyond comprehension with travel agencies and budget-priced guesthouses, many within walking distance of two of the city’s key attractions: the Red Fort and Jama Masjid, India’s oldest mosque. Not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced, Old Delhi is best explored on a walking (or cycling) tour.
- Most Romantic Area in Delhi: New Delhi
Built by the British Raj as the new (and short-lived) capital, this area is home to glorious colonial-era sights such as the India Gate and the monumental presidential palace, Rashtrapati Bhavan, along with historic attractions like Humayun’s Tomb which is illuminated after dark and looks particularly beautiful from a rooftop café. Spend the day strolling around the extensive Lodhi Gardens, with its own ancient tombs, and shopping at boutiques in Khan Market. Later, splurge on afternoon High Tea at The Imperial hotel, which oozes a Raj-era vibe rarely seen elsewhere in India, and then enjoy dinner at a trendy bistro around Connaught Palace.
- Best Area in Delhi for First Timers: Aerocity
The traffic, crowds, and noise expected in the capital can still be overwhelming even for those who have traveled to India before. These issues can be significantly minimized by staying at Aerocity. No one actually lives at this purpose-built suburb; it’s just a compact district packed with top-end hotels, western-style malls, and ample places to eat and drink, including familiar fast food outlets. Aerocity also offers rarities such as wide streets, shady sidewalks, and minimal traffic. Very conveniently close to the airport terminals (3km by shuttle bus), it’s also linked to most sights around the city via a dedicated express metro service which is devoid of the usual hordes of local commuters.
- Safest Area in Delhi: Aerocity
The common risks that exist in every Indian city can be substantially reduced by taking the usual precautions and staying at this purpose-built suburb about 3km from the airport terminals. Aerocity doesn’t have the street-side hawkers, aggressive beggars, or unscrupulous drivers common in downtown, or the slums of Old Delhi and relentless traffic of New Delhi. Aerocity also features well-lit streets and unobstructed sidewalks, and crossing the road is not potentially lethal. But always remember: pedestrians do not have the right of way in India, except (usually) at a red traffic light.
The 7 Best Neighborhoods in Delhi for Tourists
1. New Delhi
Designed by colonialists as the antithesis of the chaotic sprawl of the original city, the newer version offers broad streets (still clogged with traffic) and must-sees like India Gate and the Rashtrapati Bhavan presidential palace. From India Gate and Connaught Place (see later), numerous roads deviate at angles that doubtless looked impressive when being designed, but actually lead to traffic snarls. One of these thoroughfares, simply called Janpath, is unusually straight and lined with superior hotels, including the gorgeous colonial-era Imperial (worth visiting if not staying). Well-linked by the metro, New Delhi is also home to Khan Market (a crowded enclave of shops, bars, and cafés) and numerous parks such as the 90-acre Lodhi Gardens.
2. Old Delhi
In contrast to the broad and shady boulevards of New Delhi, Old Delhi, just north of the former Raj capital, is home to the unfeasibly overcrowded Chandni Chowk market and pre-colonial marvels like Jama Masjid (India’s largest mosque) and the amazing Mughal-built Red Fort. Clustered around the major bus station and two of the city’s main railway terminals are hundreds of guesthouses, ideal for the very budget-conscious, but anything better is a little further out. This frenetic, dirty, and noisy area – often called Paharganj – is a genuine slice of Delhi life, but really only for those with some experience in Indian inner-cities.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Maidens Hotel • Haveli Dharampura
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotel: Tara Palace Daryaganj
The indisputable center of the entire city is Connaught Place. More of a business district during colonial times, the series of circular roads are now crammed with boutique hotels, refined eateries, and trendy bars, as well as useful moneychangers and airline offices. Don’t be put off by the heavy traffic and noise along the outer ring road. Instead, stroll among the endless shops within the inner-circle streets and relax at Central Park in the middle. Heading south from CP (as it’s often called), Janpath is one of Delhi’s premier boulevards. It is lined with outstanding hotels, including The Imperial, one of India’s finest, and many classy places to eat, although some beggars and touts may impact on the overall appeal.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Imperial • LaLiT • Shangri-La
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels: Radisson Blu Marina Connaught Place • Palace Heights
4. Sundar Nagar & Nizamuddin
Sundar Nagar is an upmarket residential area within the inner southeast and distant from the chaos of nearby Old Delhi. It features parks, interesting shops, and eclectic eateries, but nothing much is near the handful of inviting guesthouses. Also, Sundar Nagar is handy to the zoo, golf course, and a few low-key museums. A few kilometers south, Nizamuddin (especially the eastern section) is another residential area, but with more of a village vibe. The few appealing guesthouses are within walking distance of the remarkable Humayun’s Tomb and train station for most services to/from Agra.
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotel: B Nineteen
5. Noida & East Delhi
On the other side of the Yamuna River along which Delhi was founded, is the satellite city of Noida, part of an endless sprawl of suburbia that is more prosperous and spacious than most areas. With western-style malls and middle-class housing, eastern Delhi provides a genuine look at Indian city life, distant from the slums of Old Delhi and the affluence of New Delhi. Often used for conferences and weddings, hotels there can offer better views, more space throughout, and gardens rarely possible in the city center. Although distant from major attractions and the airport, it’s still reasonably well-connected by metro.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Leela Ambience Convention Hotel • ITC Maurya • Radisson Blu MBD Noida
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotel: FabExpress IVY Inn Sector 35
Just beyond the invisible border of New Delhi, the inner southern suburbs are home to the sort of affluent residences and swanky hotels that couldn’t be built in New Delhi or want to be located in Old Delhi. Conveniently about halfway between the airport and city center, Chanakyapuri (also known as the Diplomatic Enclave), provides wide streets (still, with plenty of traffic), but few tourist facilities nearby. Most hotels are within a walk or quick auto-rickshaw trip of the excellent metro system for connections to the airport and downtown, and are close to a major attraction: Qutub Minar, the prime showcase of Delhi’s Islamic heritage.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Hyatt Regency • Leela Palace
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels: The Manor • Colonel’s Retreat
This suburb was built to service the airport terminals, only 3km away. With no housing – just top-end hotels, vast malls, and numerous restaurants – it does lack charm, but is also devoid of the traffic, crowds, pollution, and poverty rampant across Old and New Delhi. With uncommonly wide streets, shady footpaths, and minimal traffic, Aerocity is ideal for families and those visiting India or Delhi for the first time. As well as convenience to the major air transport hub for northern India, most sights in the city center are easily accessible via a dedicated express metro service.
All Delhi Hotel Reviews
- Andaz Aerocity
- B Nineteen
- Holiday Inn International Airport
- Hyatt Regency
- Ibis Aerocity
- The Imperial
- La Sagrita
- The LaLiT
- Le Méridien
- Leela Ambience Convention Hotel
- Leela Palace
- Lemon Tree Premier, Airport
- The Lodhi
- The Oberoi
- Pride Plaza Aerocity
- Radisson Blu Marina Connaught Place
- Shangri-La Eros
- Taj Mahal
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