Are you planning a trip to Mumbai? For me, it’s the busiest and craziest city in the world. Mumbai is home to India’s biggest film industry, Bollywood. But it is more than that. It’s also the cultural, fashion and financial capital of India.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit several times both for work and as a tourist with my husband and the kids.
I've come up with a list of 11 things you should know before you visit Mumbai. So if you are planning a visit, hopefully you will find my tips helpful.
There is traffic at all times of the day. It is busy with a capital B. There is no such thing as a rush hour in Mumbai because every hour is rush hour. It can take up to an hour, if not more, to even get to the nearest town. The city has a population of nearly 25 million so it's bound to impact on the city's roads. There's been a growth in the number of people who now own vehicles too.
Imagine all of these cars, scooters, buses and auto-rickshaws on the streets. I know the traffic situation can become really frustrating, whether you're a tourist or reside in Mumbai and there has been much debate on how to control the problem. However, every time I visit I embrace the situation. I am prepared for the fact that I can't reach anywhere within half an hour and as long as I plan my journey and timings, I am able to enjoy my trip. Be prepared in the same way. Always allow at least an hour to get from A to B.
This brings me nicely on to rickshaws, which are the three-wheeler black-and-yellow vehicles, also known as autos. This is the main way to travel in Mumbai because it's easy to find a rickshaw and flag it down and it's a cheap mode of transport because it runs on a meter. Trains might be better for longer distance travel in the city but they get really overcrowded. Personally I've never been on a local train in Mumbai and I prefer to travel by rickshaw. Buses aren't very comfortable and I find they're not as safe.
I know people question the safety of rickshaws with their lack of doors and the way they zip through the crazy traffic but that's always a risk I am willing to take because as a woman travelling in Mumbai, I feel safe when I'm in the back of a rickshaw, which I am not sharing with others. I know my personal valuables are safe and that I will get from A to B without worrying about other passengers. One extra tip here is to ensure the drivers put the meter down. The majority are very friendly and trustworthy but just be ready to tell the driver if they try to pull a fast one.
The city of Mumbai experiences three seasons in general; summer, winter and the monsoon. Monsoon season falls between June and September and you should avoid visiting during this time if you can. The temperature might be bearable but it is terribly humid, with thunderstorms and windy conditions.
If there is persistent heavy rain, the roads can become waterlogged resulting in travel delays across the city. Tourists to visit all-year round but in my experience, it's best to visit between November and February. It is still hot - with temperatures reaching the high 20s and early 30s - but I think it's manageable heat.
The people of Mumbai are known as Mumbaikars. They are a beautiful blend of different religions and communities. I find the people as endearing as the city itself. They are friendly and will do their best to help you with directions.
Even if they don't know the answer to something, they will go out of their way to ask others on your behalf. What I like most about them is that they are hard-working. It doesn't matter what job they do, whether they're hotel staff or a flower seller on the street, they are not afraid to graft.
I think Mumbai is one of the safest places in India for women. It's quite common for a woman to finish work late and to travel home alone. It's also quite normal for a female tourist to travel around the city by herself. Just as with any other place in the world, keep your wits about you and prioritise your safety at night time especially.
I would advise to stay away from really cheap hotels and stay in busy areas. I stayed in the city alone last year at the end of a work trip and I made sure I was careful about where I went and at what time but I didn't once feel unsafe or scared.
Haggling just means bargaining or bartering. Personally I think this is one of the most fun things about visiting India. It can be quite daunting at first if you're used to paying a fixed price for everything, but sellers in Mumbai expect you to talk down the price. In fact they look forward to it as they know locals are aware of the prices of things and won't indulge them in this to and fro as much as a tourist will. After a while you will get used to it and can estimate what something is worth and what you're prepared to pay.
When they offer you a price, immediately ask them for a discount. Then you can present a counter offer which is significantly lower than what you're prepared to pay. Usually they then reduce their price and so on. But as long as they're not charging a ridiculous price, I usually just hand over the price, if I find it reasonable. I don't ever haggle over small amounts. After all, it's worth so much more to them than to me.
Always drink bottled mineral water. Tap water can make you ill. Sometimes restaurants will offer you filtered or treated water. It's still the better option to go for a bottle. I also advise you to avoid ice in drinks. I know that's hard if you fancy a nice cold drink but I'd rather have something out of the fridge than add ice to it. You should also check the seal of any bottles or cans you drink out of.
When in restaurants, ask the waiter to open the seal in front of you. Make sure you're always carrying a bottle of water with you when you're out and about. It can get very hot in Mumbai, so you want to keep yourself hydrated.
Street food is everywhere in Mumbai. You can get anything and everything from full-on meals to snacks. I've always tried street food in Mumbai but only from select restaurants which have stands outside. I always avoid items with a water base like chutneys and meats are a no-no. You have no idea how long it's been sitting out for. A good way of telling whether a place is hygienic and safe to eat at is if there is a long line of locals/Mumbaikars.
If you opt for fruit, make sure you wash it with clean, bottled water first. When you ask for a fresh juice, make sure it's prepared in front of you. It's important to be aware of these safety measures but street food in India is delicious. Don't be afraid to try it. You will love the delicious flavours better street-side than in any restaurant.
Whatever you fancy buying, Mumbai has it all. From designer stores to markets, from household goods to beautiful Indian outfits, from souvenirs to art. You will find huge malls with designer wear and international western brands in South Mumbai. There are also amazing boutiques where you can buy the latest lehengas and sarees. Bandra market has the best souvenirs and nik-naks.
You can also buy any sort of food imaginable. There are western fast food chains everywhere - KFC, McDonalds, Subway, Starbucks. Just be aware that a lot of restaurants do not serve beef and pork, as Mumbai has a large population of Hindus and Muslims. Lamb and chicken are the main meats you can get and be adventurous, try the Indian specialities in the fast food joints.
After a spate of deaths in Mumbai, 'no-selfie zones' were imposed. Everyone wants a good picture for their Instagram feed or travel memories, but there are 16 zones in the city where it's too risky to click a photo. Before you decide to frame your shot and click away, be sure that it's safe to do so. Look out for signage and if you see there's a ban in place, don't ignore it. It's there for a reason.
When you think of Mumbai, you think of Bollywood. It's India's biggest and most glamorous film industry. But be aware that it's not a single place you go and find celebrity upon celebrity. So many tourists have been left disappointed because they expected to visit one part of town where there was a bustle of activity. Stars live across the city - both in North and South Mumbai.
You can easily find the homes of superstars Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan in Bandra, as there will always be crowds outside. But a lot of the younger, newer stars live in apartment blocks. Film studios are also dotted around the city and you can't get in without permission. However, all is not lost. If you really want to spot a celebrity, pop in to one of the bigger hotel lobbies like the Taj in Bandra or The Marriott in Juhu. You may just spot a celebrity or two if you're lucky. Some film studios now do tours but it's worth checking what you get before you buy.
So there you have it - 11 things you should know before you visit Mumbai. I hope you found these tips handy and informative. If you have any questions or comments, please drop them below or feel free to contact me on my socials.
Experience the beauty of modernity and antiquity in this immersive travel program. Visits will be made to various historical and cultural sites of India including Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, and Qutub Minar, the tallest brick tower in the world & with amazing workshops.