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Mumbai - What to Know Before You Go

By CarolUpdated Apr. 22, 2021

Mumbai is India's largest financial center and the city of hopes and dreams. To learn more about Mumbai before you visit, we've put together this travel guide that includes everything you need to know about the city from its history and culture to its location in Maharashtra on the Arabian Sea.

In this article, we will also explore what makes Mumbai special, Mumbai vs Bombay, safety, and travel costs.

To get more information, keep reading or reach out to one of our professional travel advisors.

Mumbai market place woman buying vegetables Market in Mumbai

Quick Facts

  • Mumbai is located in Maharashtra and is an island city on the west coast of India.
  • Mumbai is most famous for being one of India's largest and most crowded cities as well as being the home of Bollywood.
  • Top attractions in Mumbai include the Gateway of India, Crawford Market, Kala Ghoda, Marine Drive, the Elephanta Caves, and Banganga Tank.
  • To see all the top attractions in Mumbai, plan on spending around 2 days in the city.
  • Mumbai is a safe and affordable destination to travel to.

Where is Mumbai

Mumbai is located in the state of Maharashtra which is on the west coast of India bordering the Arabian Sea. Mumbai is around 1400 kilometers and a 25-hour drive from Delhi.

The city is made from seven separate islands that were joined together over time.

Mumbai is located near the Western Ghats which is a large mountain range that runs down the west coast of India. Most of the city is at sea level and the highest point is in Sanjay Gandhi National Park at a height of 450 meters.

Due to its location in west-central India, Mumbai experiences a tropical climate with humid and hot weather for most of the year.

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Mumbai vs Bombay

The city of Mumbai was called Bombay until 1995. Today, the names Bombay and Mumbai are often used interchangeably even by those who live there.

Even though Bombay is still used, the name Bombay does have a negative connotation as this was what the city was called under British colonial rule. The city is believed to have been called Bombay because that was the British pronunciation of the original Portuguese name Bom Baia, meaning beautiful bay.

Even after British rule had ended, Mumbai kept the name Bombay until 1995 when the local Shiv Sena party took power. They viewed the name as a symbol of continued British influence and changed it to Mumbai to reflect the local Marathi culture.

The name Mumbai was chosen to honor Mumbadevi who is the patron goddess of the city. Some people also believe that Mumbai was actually the city's original name before it was colonized.

Changing the names of cities in India from their British colonial names back to their original Indian names is not unique to Mumbai. In fact, cities all over India have changed their names such as Calcutta to Kolkata and Cochin to Kochi.

What Makes Mumbai Special?

Mumbai is unique for many reasons. One major reason is that it is the largest city in India with a population of 21 million people and contains some of the country's wealthiest and poorest neighborhoods. It is also one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

Mumbai is also the home of Bollywood, India's largest film industry that produces most of the country's world-famous movies such as Dangal and 3 Idiots. This is the city where artists and performers come looking for work and fame.

Although Mumbai doesn't have as many monuments as some other Indian cities, it does contain three UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the Elephanta Caves, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Train Station, and a collection of Victorian and Art Deco Buildings.

Mumbai History

Mumbai has a long history like many other places in India. The city was just a cluster of islands that were home to several fishing villages until the Portuguese colonized the area in 1498 as part of their bid to trade with Asia.

The Portuguese called the area Beautiful Bay (Bom Baia) and built many forts, towns, and churches to populate their trading post. In 1661, the Portuguese gave Mumbai to England as part of Catherine de Braganza's wedding dowry when she married Charles II.

Charles wasn't too interested in the Islands, however, and he loaned them to the British East India Trading Company for almost no cost beginning in 1668. It was the East India Company that really started building Mumbai and putting the city on the map.

The East India Company built docks, trading posts, and a fort that would eventually form the downtown Mumbai area. They also started the process of filling in the gaps between the seven islands with earth to join them into one large peninsula.

Mumbai was an important part of the Indian fight for independence. After the country achieved independence in 1947, Mumbai saw a rush of immigration from people looking for work and money. Still today, Mumbai is the place to go if you want to make it big as a movie star, artist, or businessman.

Top 7 Attractions in Mumbai

The best way to experience Mumbai is to explore the old and the new parts of the city. Below we have listed some of the top things to do in Mumbai.

1. Gateway of India

The Gateway of India is Mumbai's most recognized monument and was designed to be the first thing that visitors see when they arrive in Mumbai by boat. The gateway was built in 1947 to mark the end of British colonialism and the beginning of independent India.

The gateway overlooks the Arabian Sea and is a good place to catch the sunset.

2. Crawford Market

Crawford Market is one of Mumbai's older and most famous wet markets. This market is located in a colonial heritage building and is full of an array of food from tropical fruits and homemade chocolate to fresh vegetables and meat.

3. Kala Ghoda

Kala Ghoda is Mumbai's vibrant art district and a hub of history, artwork, and great dining. This area has some of the best art galleries most modern restaurants in the city.

Here travelers can see dance performances, live music, theater shows, and films.

4. Juhu Beach and Marine Drive

Juhu Beach is one of Mumbai's best beaches and is located in one of the wealthiest areas in the city. This beach is a popular hangout spot for locals and a great place to watch the sunset or try some street food.

Juhu Beach is bordered by Marine Drive which is Mumbai's major coastal road. Marine Drive is sometimes called the 'Queen's Necklace' because of its curved shape and string of brilliant street lights.

5. Versova Beach

Versova Beach was once infamous for being dirty and covered in trash. In 2015, a Mumbai local named Afroz Shah began what would later be called the "world's largest beach cleanup". Over a period of 3 years, Shah along with many other locals removed around 20 million kilograms of trash from the beach and waters.

Because of their hard work, Versova Beach has seen the return of nesting turtles and is now another great place to relax and watch the sunset.

6. Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves are located on the nearby Elephanta Island and are a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site. These island caves are home to ancient drawings as well as a temple that is devoted to the Hindu god Lord Shiva.

The temples and artwork on the island date back to medieval times and were carved from the surrounding stone.

7. Banganga Tank

Banganga Tank is a large temple and pool that contains water from the Ganges River which is considered to be holy in Hinduism. This water tank dates back to the 12th century and is a large structure surrounded by cascading steps on all sides.

Here, travelers can watch as worshipers climb the steps to bathe in the holy waters before entering the temple. The waters in the Banganga Tank are believed to have special healing powers.

Take a 2-Day Guided Tour of Mumbai

When visiting Mumbai, most travelers will only need 2 days to see the city's main attractions. Taking a guided tour of the city is a great way to see all the best spots at the best times.

Guided tours also offer visitors private transportation so that you won't have to worry about catching a taxi or taking an inner-city train.

On your guided tour, we recommend starting your day by heading to Colaba Causeway which is one of Mumbai's famous shopping districts and most important roads. Here you can get lunch at a modern and upscale restaurant.

After Colaba Causeway, head to Marine Drive and Kala Ghoda to get great views of the Arabian Sea, check out the Gateway of India, and see some of the city's local art. Afterward, head back to your hotel to rest.

Wake up the next morning and journey to Kala Ghoda for breakfast. Afterward, go to Mumbai's largest museum, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, to learn more about local history through beautiful exhibits.

After eating lunch, head to Banganga Tank to observe the locals taking part in religious practices and then go to Chor Bazaar for some shopping.

If you have extra time, take a half-day trip out to Elephanta Island or spend a morning at Crawford Market.

Mumbai Culture

Mumbai is one of the top places for Indians from other states and villages to go to when looking for work and opportunities. Mumbai has a local culture that stems from its regional location, but it is also a large melting pot of almost all Indian cultures.

Because Mumbai is located in the state of Maharashtra, Marathi is the official language of the city that is used by natives and government officials. Many immigrants speak other languages and the city has developed a dialect of Hindi that is to help with communication between the immigrant Hindi speakers and locals.

This Hindi dialect that is spoken in Mumbai is sometimes called Bombaiya Hindi and is strongly influenced by Bollywood.

Mumbai is truly one of the most diverse cities in the country and has residents that belong to almost every religion. Most people in Mumbai are Hindu but there are also large populations of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs.

In comparison with many other cities in India, Mumbai has very liberal views and is tolerant of other cultures and immigrants. Mumbai is a very modern city with a lively arts district and music scene.

Mumbai also has a few unique and interesting festivals. One of the city's biggest celebrations is Ganesh Chaturthi which is a festival dedicated to the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom, Ganesh and takes place in August or September. Some other great festivals to check out in Mumbai include the Elephanta Festival, Banganga Festival, and Kala Ghoda Festival.

When to Visit Mumbai

Mumbai has a tropical climate and experiences warm temperatures and humid weather all year round. The winter months, from November to February, are typically the most comfortable time to visit the city with average temperatures of around 25-28°C (77-82°F).

It is still possible to visit Mumbai in the spring, from March to May, although the temperatures will be hotter with an average of around 35°C (95°F). 

Mumbai experiences its monsoon season with heavy rains from June to October.

Mumbai Costs

Mumbai is quite an affordable place to visit. Compared to other Indian cities, travelers can expect the prices of accommodation, transportation, and food to all be slightly higher but still affordable when compared to western prices.

One of the more expensive aspects of visiting Mumbai is the price of accommodation and the cost of booking private transportation. If you want to travel more affordably, booking a guided tour of Mumbai is a good idea. Guided tours will include the price of accommodation, food, private transportation, and a private guide all in one upfront cost.

Mumbai Safety

Mumbai is one of the safest cities in India. Here, the chances of getting into a traffic accident are much higher than being the victim of a crime. However, travelers should still take precautions while visiting Mumbai and pickpockets can be a problem in tourist areas.

All tourist areas are frequently patrolled by police in order the keep crime low.

The traffic is pretty hectic in Mumbai and travelers should be especially careful when crossing the road. It is also a good idea to avoid using public transportation during rush hour as the crowds can sometimes be dangerous.

Women visiting Mumbai should try not to travel alone and should be extra careful in the city after dark.

How to Reach Mumbai

Mumbai is India's largest city and is very well connected to international and local transportation. There are three major ways to travel to Mumbai and they include by air, by train, by car, and by boat.

If you are traveling from Delhi to Mumbai, then the best option is by air because it is the quickest and most comfortable method.

By air:

When flying to Mumbai, you will likely land at the Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport. This airport is currently undergoing major renovations and receives direct international flights from major cities all over the world including New York, London, Frankfurt, Dubai, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

You can also fly to Mumbai from most other Indian cities.

By train:

Mumbai is well connected to the Indian train system, and trains arrive in this city from all over the country. The city's main train station is Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

If you are traveling to Mumbai from the Indian states of Gujarat or Rajasthan, then taking a train can be a convenient option.

By boat:

Mumbai can also be reached by private car via highways 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 17. Road conditions near Mumbai are generally better than other areas of the country.

It is possible to drive from Mumbai to the local beach state of Goa, however, certain major cities are probably too far of a drive from Mumbai. A trip by car from Delhi to Mumbai is likely to take around 25 hours.

By car:

There are many travel companies that offer cruises from other major Asian destinations to Mumbai. Certain cruises from Singapore, Malaysia, and Dubai offer trips that stop in this bustling Indian city.

Explore Mumbai with Asia Highlights

Mumbai is a magnetic city that is full of energy, art, and dreams. If you would like to explore Mumbai but don't want to do all the planning, then we can help. At Asia Highlights, we specialize in creating tailor-made trips that meet the specific travel goals of each individual guest. Talk to one of our travel advisors to get professional advice about visiting Mumbai and other cities in India.

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