With a population of some 31 million people, the colourfully chaotic Indian capital of New Delhi might not be the most relaxing destination for a family holiday. It is, however, a fascinating one and there are lots of things to do in Delhi for both kids and adults.
Today’s Delhi is divided into ‘New’ Delhi and ‘Old’ Delhi, one a garden city carefully laid out according to the British architect Edward Lutyen’s careful designs and the other a dense medieval tangle of narrow lanes and alleyways.
Hidden beneath both sides of the city are the remains of seven earlier cities upon which the capital has been built. Remnants of these previous incarnations are evident in the dozens of ancient monuments that pepper the capital.
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Things to do in Delhi
We lived in India’s capital for three years with two very young children and so had lots of time to discover fun things to do in Delhi. Make sure you time your visit between October / November – March when temperatures are cooler; the summer heat can be very oppressive.
I’d also highly recommend splurging on a nice hotel to return to at the end of the day. You can see some of my recommendations on where to stay in Delhi with kids at the end of this post.
The following recommendations of things to do in New Delhi are for sights and activities that showcase what I think are the best of the city’s history and culture. I haven’t included, for example, the National Zoological Park, which I don’t believe is a zoo that really puts the welfare of the animals first. Similarly I have not included any of the shopping malls, many of which are home to cinemas, food courts and children’s play areas.
Visit the Red Fort
When the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan moved his capital from Agra to Delhi in 1638 he laid the foundations for this palace, the Lal Qila, the Red Fort. The historic fort is one of the most important things to see in Delhi.
The Red Fort took nearly 10 years to complete and was home to Mughal rulers for nearly 200 years. It was here where the historic speech marking India’s independence from British rule was given and it remains the setting for independence day celebrations each year.
The sprawling fortress is not as impressive inside as it is from the large gates but it’s still worth having a wander around to marvel at the sheer size of it all.
Climb the stairs of the Qutub Minar
This 13th-century obelisk is made of red sandstone and marble and boasts 379 steps (it’s the second highest minar in India). The grounds outside the Qutub Minar are a popular spot for impromptu weekend cricket matches. After visiting the monument, head to nearby Olive Bar & Kitchen for a slap-up brunch (weekends only).
See the stars at Jantar Mantar
This whimsical observatory was constructed in 1725 by Maharajah Jai Singh and is filled with weird and wonderful instruments constructed entirely out of stone. Altogether, the Maharajah built five observatories around the country, the biggest (and, in my opinion, best) being in his hometown of Jaipur.
A visit to Jantar Mantar is one of the best things to do in Delhi. Particularly impressive is the 73-foot-tall sundial, which is the largest ever built.
Take a stroll at Humayun’s Tomb
Humayun’s Tomb remains one of my favourite places to visit in Delhi. This grand 16th-century mausoleum was built for the Mughal emperor Humayun who had the misfortune of tripping on his robe, stumbling down some stairs and knocking his head, putting an end to his life at the age of 47.
The complex took seven years to build and was completed 16 years after Humayun died. In later years, however, the complex fell into disrepair and at one stage, during the 1947 Partition of India, thousands of refugees set up camp here.
In 1993 the complex was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and restoration work was taken on by the Aga Khan Trust. It only reopened to the public in 2013 and is – to me – one of the most beautiful places in Dehli. There is an entrance charge
Spend your Sunday in Lodi Gardens
If you’re wondering what to do in Delhi on a Sunday, join families and friends as they gather in Lodi Gardens. Although, to be honest, this 90-acre park is popular any day of the week. It’s one of the few places in central New Delhi where you can find space and lots of it. The gardens are scattered with 15th century Mughal tombs, fun for kids to explore, and an incredible variety of birds – bring your binoculars!
Drive a Train at the National Rail Museum
The National Rail Museum is a great option for kids, particularly younger ones. Enjoy 10-acres of rail-related exhibitions including numerous real trains that kids can clamber upon.
The indoor displays are a little dusty but kids won’t mind, particularly when they spot the large elephant skull behind glass. This is what happens when you run head first into a train! On certain days a toy train runs loops around the grounds.
Take a walk at India Gate
The 42m-high war memorial, India Gate, was built in memory of the Indian soldiers who fought in World War I. Surrounded by (occasionally) grassy lawns, it’s a popular spot for families, friends and couples who congregate at dusk for picnics.
Next-door is the Children’s Park, a huge playground filled with swings, slides and climbing frames. Don’t expect state-of-the-art play equipment, do expect crowds.
Discover Old Delhi on Two Wheels
The winding, narrow lanes of Old Delhi are a delight to explore, especially on two (or three) wheels. Older kids and teens might enjoy a DelhiByCycle tour, an early morning guided bicycle ride through the streets of the ancient capital of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Destinations include the Spice Market, the Red Fort and tranquil Civil Lines, the former British Colonial area.
Those less keen to navigate Delhi’s busy streets by bike, or younger children, will delight in an auto rickshaw ride through the tightly packed market alleys instead.
Exclusive family tours are available from Delhi By Cycle.
Visit Gandhi’s Old Home
Learn about one of India’s most popular leaders, Mahatma Gandhi, at the excellent Gandhi Smriti museum. This is where Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life before he was assassinated on January 30, 1948.
The exhibits showcase Gandhi’s life and work through photos, memorabilia and lots of text but it’s the digital multimedia museum upstairs that will really appeal to kids. There are lots of hands-on activities such as starting the engine of an electronic train or strumming an electronic harp; the harp plays a different Indian freedom movement song when you strike each string.
Give Back on the Salaam Baalak Trust Walk
Another one for older kids and teens are the Salaam Baalak Trust city tours. Run by the charity of the same name, this organisation does incredible work helping Delhi’s street kids get back on their feet through education, drop-in shelters, health care and more.
Former street children guide visitors on a three-hour walk through Paharganj, near New Delhi’s railway station. It’s a fascinating – and harrowing – insight into what life is like for Delhi’s thousands of street children.
Discover the Lotus Temple
One of the most beautiful buildings in Delhi is the Lotus Temple. Built out of Grecian marble shaped like a lotus flower, this is a Baháʼí House of Worship. This means that it’s a space open to all, regardless of race or religion. The temple is one of eight House of Worship that exist on every continent except Antarctica.
The temple is open daily, except Monday, and is free to visit.
Have a laugh at the Toilet Museum
As Gandhi said, “Sanitation is more important than independence”.
Guaranteed to get kids giggling is the quirky Sulabh International Museum of Toilets that explores the origins of the humble latrine. But it’s not all toilet humour, the museum was established by the Sulabh International, a charity that works to bring sanitation to the poor of Delhi.
Discover lots of toilet-related paraphernalia from simple chamber pots to the a replica of the ‘throne’ that King Louis the XIV was believed to have used while holding court.
See the Animals in Deer Park
Deer Park, next door to hip Hauz Khas village, is a literal breath of fresh air from Dehli’s densely populated city streets. Plus, it has animals! Here you’ll find deer, peacocks, rabbits and even guinea pigs as well as numerous Mughal tombs and an ancient reservoir to explore.
Afterwards, take a wander into Hauz Khas village that has been transformed in recent years into the place to be, home to designer stores, cool restaurants and art galleries.
Get Crafty At the Craft Museum
The Craft Museum in Delhi is a great place for kids. There are lots of interesting arts, crafts, statutes and ornaments from across the different states and communities of India. But even if the kids roll their eyes at the art, they will love the large, open space to run around in.
Craftsmen and women from across the country showcase their skills and their works are available to buy. The Cafe Lota on site serves delicious South Indian food and the menu also offers small bites, which are ideal for kids. We hear the fish and chips and nimbu pane are very good!
Learn about space about in the Nehru Planetarium
Built in memory of the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who’s belief in science where behind India’s space programmes. The Nehru Planetarium is the place to come to learn more about blackholes, parallel universes, supernovas and more. Kids will love the interactive exhibits and everyone will enjoy the Sky Feature, a domed shaped theatre where 3D films take you on a journey to infinity and beyond.
Still time to see more? Then here are some more ideas on must see places in Delhi.
Where to stay in Delhi with kids
One of my favourite hotels in Delhi is The Imperial, a beautiful hotel in Lutyen’s Delhi. Another favourite, and a more wallet-friendly option, is Shanti Home. For more ideas, take a look at these from TripAdvisor and Booking.com.