Mumbai – The City of Dreams
Once famed only as the heart of India’s financial industry and the destination of dark-suited businessmen, the affectionately named “City of Dreams” has transformed itself into a chic and fashionable destination. Marrying the best of old-world charm and new-age dynamism, it has embraced its metamorphosis into the home of Bollywood glamor and the playground of India’s best and brightest, with high-end international cuisine, hip bistros and nightlife to match.
A city built on seven fishing islands reclaimed from the glittering Arabian Sea, Mumbai was first seized by the Portuguese and then gifted to the British Empire in the 17th century. It is a city of contrasts, as some of the country’s most expensive real estate and Bollywood homes are interspersed by a sprawling urban mass housing over 22 million inhabitants. Its high-rise buildings, jewel-encrusted palaces, and glitzy shopping malls merge seamlessly with British architecture and Victorian history.
The European influences provide a stunning juxtaposition to the South Asian aesthetic and vibrancy of this Indian powerhouse. Restaurants and hotels are becoming ever more hip and slick, with a growing international trend evidenced by the recent opening of establishments such as Asia’s first Soho House hotel and Hakkasan.
The iconic 1903 Taj Mahal Palace hotel is in Colaba, home to the mix of colonial sites and local design stores that define modern Mumbai. This majestic hotel has become as much a landmark as the Gateway of India arch that sits on the harbor opposite. Most of the 550 silk-clad rooms have views of the sea or the palm-fringed pool, and the opulent suites have housed countless Bollywood and Hollywood stars. Even if you are staying somewhere else, the swanky Sea Lounge bar, with its street food menu and extensive tea list, are inducement enough to stop by. Not to mention the superb contemporary Wasabi by Morimoto restaurant, which was recognized by San Pellegrino as one of Asia’s best restaurants in 2018 and flies its ingredients in directly from Japan.
For those who prefer a more modern vibe, the airy and contemporary Oberoi is the best of its kind. Located in Mumbai’s business district and known for its spectacular Arabian Sea views, it is also famed for its unparalleled service which includes personalized butler service. Its beauty lies as much within as without, with mother-of-pearl cabinetry, hardwood floors, light-filled rooms, and clean, contemporary design. Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia commands Ziya, the Indian specialty restaurant.
If you have a head for heights and really want to enjoy the views of the city, head to the St. Regis Mumbai. Situated in Lower Parel, the hotel is set in the city’s tallest skyscraper. On the 10th floor lies possibly the sexiest swimming pool in the country. Fringed by palm trees, it really is the spot to sit and take in the expanse of the city. Just one floor down you will find the Great Hall, a luxuriously appointed room with amazing chandeliers, beautiful pianos and sweeping staircases.
Eat, Drink and Dance
Enter a culinary paradise. The past decade has seen an influx of international chefs with street cred and flair descending on Mumbai, opening inventive restaurants with radically tasty dishes to supplement the traditionally savored Mumbai street food. Designed by Gilles & Boissier and located in the fashionable Bandra district, Hakkasan’s modern Cantonese cuisine and world-class mixology has made it one of Mumbai’s most popular dining destinations.
Chef Floyd Cardoz’s Bombay Canteen in Lower Parel still tops every foodie’s list, with its seasonal new “Taste of the Wild” menu featuring wild vegetables from Maharashtra. AER on the 34th floor of the Four Seasons hotel has become known for its prune-infused Blue Label whiskey “Professor” cocktail, gourmet Asian teasers, and mouthwatering tapas with a stunning view of the Sea Link bridge. Things liven up on Sunday afternoons when DJs host Sunset Sunday sundowners. For pure understated elegance, The Table in Colaba is second to none, bringing its food in from its own farm in Alibag and taking inspiration for its sharing dishes from all over the world. For more relaxed dining, Oh! Calcutta in Tardeo serves beautiful Bengali food and has a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, and Trishna in Fort is known for its amazing seafood and signature butter garlic crab (December only) in a simple setting.
Described as Mumbai’s hippest hotel, the new members’ club, Soho House, is nestled in the hills high above Juhu beach. It has become a magnet for India’s Who’s Who: Bollywood heavyweights, It girls, DJs and fashion designers all converge around the pool in the serene rooftop terrace’s striped cabanas to watch the sun sink into the sea while enjoying Soho House’s famous Manita cocktail. This is the most coveted spot in Mumbai and no wonder, as you feel as if you are on a colonial Indian veranda with leafy plants, bamboo lampshades and pastel banquettes.
The Olive Bar & Kitchen in Pali Hill is a long, cold drink on a hot day kind of place with clean, whitewashed walls. It is definitely one of Mumbai’s most popular restaurants, especially for Sunday brunch in its sunlit courtyard. But it is on Thursday nights this place really comes to life, serving the most beautiful people the most stylish cocktails for miles around.
Do and Discover
There is so much to see and do in Mumbai, from marveling at iconic structures such as the Gateway of India monument to exploring its museums, temples, mosques and churches. Admire the city’s skyline with a stroll along coastal Marine Drive in the early evening and then experience a white-knuckle rickshaw ride through the Bollywood hills. Or take a helicopter ride to view Mumbai’s beautiful landmarks and the romantic string of lights known as the “Queen’s necklace” along the Colaba shoreline from the skies with a chaat-laden picnic. Old world glamor is back at India’s only Royal Opera House, which reopened three years ago after a full-scale restoration and is once again the cultural jewel of Mumbai.
If it’s retail therapy you are seeking then Palladium Mall is home to some of the fanciest designer clothing shops in South Mumbai. It is where you’ll find the particularly vibrant maze of streets known as Kala Ghoda, the perfect place to hunt for exquisite handmade clothes, artisan homeware and modern paintings. Crawford Market and Chor Bazaar are also colorful, bustling and exciting places to soak up the local atmosphere.
The ancient Elephanta Caves, an hour’s boat ride away from the Gateway to India, is a collection of shrines, courtyards, grand halls and porticos arranged in the splendid symmetry of Indian rock-cut architecture. If you need to escape the hustle and bustle, Sanjay Gandhi National Park is a 40-square-miles oasis of green on the northern fringes of the city, home to numerous species of birds, butterflies and plants.
With so much to discover, India’s most populous city has a great pulse at any time. Its beautiful buildings, hip new nightlife, amazing restaurants and enormous amounts of art and culture make it the most cosmopolitan city on the subcontinent – one not to be missed.