Today’s post on the must visit historic places in Mumbai is by my new apprentice Shaeista Misarwala.
Mumbai is India’s largest city and the setting of one of my favourite films – Slumdog Milionaire. Plan and visit these 5 famous historic places in Mumbai. See the beautiful architecture of Gateway of India, take a ferry ride to Elephanta Island and marvel at the ancient Caves. Take a walking tour to learn about the history of Chhatrapti Shivaji Terminus. If you need fresh air or want to connect to nature in the hustling city of Mumbai, you can visit the Historic Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
Top 5 Historic Places in Mumbai
1. Gateway of India
If you are in Mumbai, you have to visit the Gateway of India (featured image). The Gateway of India is synonymous with the city of Mumbai and is one of the prime tourist attractions and historic places in Mumbai. It is located on the waterfront facing the Arabian Sea, Taj Mahal Palace and the Tower Hotel are opposite the gateway. The Gateway of India is probably the most well-known of the historic places in India.
The Gateway of India was designed in the Indo-Saracenic style. You can also find some traces of Muslim architecture. There are designs of intricate latticework. The 4 turrets are the most prominent feature.
The monument was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary when they visited India for the first time, they to proclaim as Emperor and Emperess of India at the Delhi Darbar in December 1911. The foundation stone was laid on March 1913.
A cardboard structure was built during the visit of the Emperor and Emperess, as the final gateway was not yet ready. Architect George Wittet’s final design of the gateway was sanctioned in 1914 and the construction was completed in 1924. The monument is made from basalt and indissoluble concrete. It is 85 feet high.
The Gateway of India was used as a ceremonial entrance for important British colonial personnel. It was called a symbol of “Conquest and Colonisation” commemorating British colonial legacy. The last British troops left India from the Gateway of India.
Opposite the gateway is the statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja. He was a Maratha warrior who fought against the Mughal Empire in the 17th century. The statue was unveiled on 26th January 1961 on the occasion of Republic Day. It replaced a bronze statue of King George V.
The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation in 2012 moved the Elephanta Festival of Music and Dance from its original location at Elephanta Caves to the Gateway of India, After 23 years, due to increased capacity offered by the venue. The Gateway of India can host 2,000-2,500 people whereas Elephanta caves can host 700-800 people.
How to get there: The Gateway of India is 2.4 km away from Churchgate station, you can hail a cab or get on a bus from there.
Entry Fees and Timing:
Entry is free. You can visit at any time of the day. The best time month to visit is between November to March. The weather is fairly pleasant post-monsoon.
2. Elephanta Caves
10 kilometers East of The Gateway of India is Elephanta Islands, also known as Gharapuri (city of caves). It’s probably the most famous of all of the historic places in Mumbai.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site straddles two hills, one to the west and the east. The western ridge rises gradually from the sea and expands towards the east across a gorge and peaks at an elevation of about 173 meters.
The landmark cave here is Cave 1 or the Great Cave on the western hill known for its stellar Shaivite depictions and reliefs from Hindu epics and mythology. Adjacent to Cave 1 and in the southeast direction, Cave 2 through cave 5. Cave 6 and 7, however, are on the rim of the eastern hill which is otherwise home to the two Buddhist caves with Stupas and water tanks. There is a walkway connecting the east and the west hill.
The local Marathi folks popularised this island as Gharapuri, but Elephanta became common after the Portuguese took over the land from the Gujarat Sultanate in 1534 and named it so after the massive rock-cut elephant statue that stood sentinel over the sea.
The colonizers identified the structure as a landmark to dock their boats and to also tell it apart from the other smaller islands on the Arabian Sea. The monolithic elephant statue was damaged in an attempt to move it to England.
In 1914, it was reassembled by Cadell and Hewett and placed in the Jijamata Udyaan, a zoo, and garden in Byculla, Mumbai, where it stands today.
How to get there:
You need to take a ferry from the Gateway of India jetty. The ferry charges around INR 150 for a return trip. It is an hour-long journey from Mumbai Harbour to Elephanta Islands.
From here you can either walk the one-kilometer distance from the harbor to the base of the western hill, home to the Grand Cave or take a toy train to the site. The toy train charges INR 10 per passenger. Further, there is a climb of 120 steps to the entrance of Cave 1.
There are two city buses, 111 and 112 that depart from Mumbai CST and Ahilyabai Holkar Chowk respectively and drop you at the Gateway of India. To get to the Elephanta Island, further board the ferry from the Gateway of India jetty.
Entry Fees and Timings:
Visiting hours are 9:30 am- 5:30 pm. Entry fees is INR 40 for Indian Tourists and 600 for Foreign Tourists.
Best time to Visit:
While Elephanta Caves is a year-round destination, it is best to avoid the monsoon between June and August because torrential rains can derail boat schedules, besides choppy waters, may not be the most ideal to venture into.
The best time to visit is between November to March. Moreover, February is the month for the two-day Elephanta festival which experiences an explosion of cultural activities from classical dance performances, musical recitals, theatre renditions, and not to mention, performances by folks from the local Koli fishing community.
The Trimurti sculpture in the backdrop, the ambiance in the pillared portico of the Great Cave and the venue for the festival is amazing.
3. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) formerly known as Victoria Terminus was built in 1888. It was designed by the British architect F.W. Stevens. It is a very popular station and is a spitting image of the Victorian Gothic style of architecture. There are some remnants of the Mughal styled architecture as well. Mumbai was labeled as ‘Gothic City’ due to the magnificent architecture of Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
In 2004, UNESCO declared CST as a ‘World Heritage Site’. This monument is a reminder of the British Rule pre-independence. CST is one of the most historical landmarks within the Central Business District (CBD) of Mumbai. The structure represents the heart of the mercantile facet of Mumbai and also symbolizes the British Commonwealth.
CST is well connected to other stations in the country. In the past, ‘Bori Bunder’ station located along the eastern parts of Mumbai was the place for commercial exchanges and trading activities. In the 1850’s, the Great Indian Peninsular Railway operated in this area and gave it the name ‘Bori Bandar’, starting its first rail service, covering a total distance of 34 km to Thane.
The station was named after Queen Victoria. The construction of the station took 10 years to complete and was inaugurated on the Golden Jubilee of the Queen in 1887. It was the most expensive building in Mumbai costing 260,000 Sterling Pounds. The station was built to handle rail traffic. In 1929, a new station and administrative headquarters were built by the Central Railway. In 1996, the Minister of Railways, Suresh Kalmadi, changed the name of the station to Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
Complete with turrets, and pointed arches the CST was a novel achievement. To date, the building retains most of the architectural designs with an addition of two or more headquarters. The CST was built in accordance with a C-shaped plan, symmetrical on both, the east and the west axis. It is crowned by a high dome, which is the focal point of the structure. The CST building is adjoined with well-proportioned rows of arched structures, rows, and windows, closely resembling Indian palace architectures.
The entrance of the Chhatrapati Shivaji terminus is flanked by figures of a lion and a tiger representing the two countries- Britain and India. The main structure is made of sandstone and limestone, and the interiors of the station are lined with high-quality Italian marble. Apart from the 18 railway lines, the CST also houses the main headquarters, the Star Chamber, grotesques and the North Wing.
The Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus is one of the most treasured historical landmarks in Mumbai. If you are visiting Mumbai, make sure CST is on your list.
How to get there:
It is easy to reach the CST by rail, as it is very likely that your train might just disembark at this station! However, if you are coming from other central or suburban railway stations, then you can reach CST through local transport. You can even hail a cab or take a bus.
4. Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya
Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) was formerly known as The Prince of Wales Museum. It is in a very popular and old area of Mumbai, known as Fort. This Historical site in Mumbai was established in the early 20th century. It is one of the most significant museums in India and hence a must-visit.
The museum showcases several collections of ancient artworks, sculptures, and artifacts. After the renovation in 2008, many new galleries were opened in the museum. The artwork of Hindu God Krishna, textiles and Indian traditional costumes were added to the new galleries.
The Prince of Wales Museum was built to honor and commemorate the visit of King George V to India. This museum was designed by George Wittet and it was ready in 1915. The idea for the museum was initiated in 1904 and the foundation stone was laid by the Prince of Wales in 1905. In 1907, the Mumbai Presidency granted the museum committee a strip of land called the ‘Crescent Site’. Initially, the building was used as a military hospital and a ‘Children’s Welfare Centre’. The museum was inaugurated in 1992.
Inside the Museum:
Different forms of art and artifacts from India, Tibet, Nepal, and other far eastern countries are preserved in this museum. The museum also has a collection of 2000 rare miniature paintings from several art schools in India. Ancient Indian art and sculptures are exhibited in the museum’s sculpture gallery. You can also find decorative artworks made from wood, metal, jade, and ivory in the museum collections.
There are also rare archeological artifacts that date back to the ‘Indus Valley’ civilization in the 2000 B.C. Remnants from the ‘Maurya’ as well as ‘Gupta’ periods are displayed in the museum. The ‘Natural History’ section of the museum includes a collection of reptiles, mammals, amphibians, birds, and fishes.
There is a section that displays Indian arms and armor. It is an array of weapons, swords, shields in addition to other projectiles. The museum also displays European oil paintings.
There is a new Children’s Museum alongside the Main Museum. There are many different activities and programs organized for children.
How to get there:
You can hail an auto-rickshaw or get on a bus as well to reach the museum. It is 13 mins walk from the Gate of India.
Entry Fees and Timing:
Entry Fees is INR 30, and timings are 10:15 am to 6 pm.
5. Sanjay Gandhi National Park
Last but not least of the historic places in Mumbai is the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which was formerly known as Borivali National Park. In 1996, the park was renamed to Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the son of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It is one of the major National Parks in the State of Maharashtra. The 2400-year-old Kanheri caves sculpted out of rocky cliffs also lie in this park.
The Sanjay Gandhi National Park dates back to the 4th century. In ancient India, Sopara and Kalyan were two ports in the city that traded with civilizations such as Greece and Mesopotamia. The 45 km land route between these two ports was through this forest. The Kanheri Caves in the center of the park was an important Buddhist Learning Center and Pilgrimage site. It was sculpted by Buddhist monks. They were made engraved out of a massive basaltic rock.
The park occupies most of the Northern Suburbs of Mumbai. To the West lies Goregaon, Malad, Kandivali, Borivali, and Dahisar. To the East lies Bhandup and Mulund. Aarey Milk Colony and the University Campus of IIt Bombay is to the south of the National Park. These are all part of Mumbai.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park is the only park that is a protected forest within the city.
The park is hilly. It has two lakes, Vihar Lake and Tulsi Lake, which meet a part of the city’s water requirements. The park is said to be the lungs of the city as it purifies much of the air pollution of the city.
What will you see:
There are a lot of things you can see in the historical Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The park is home to a number of endangered species of flora and fauna. The forest area of the park houses over 1,300+ plant species, 274 species of migratory, land and water birds, 50,000 species of insects and 35 species of mammals. In addition, the park also provides shelter to 38 species of reptiles, 9 species of amphibians, 170 species of butterflies and a large variety of fish.
There is a toy train ride which lasts for 15 min. It rides along the foothills of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial at the Pavilion Hill. The train crosses across bridges and tunnels and also passes through the Deer Park.
2 and 4 seater pedaling boats to sail in the small lake are also available in the park. There is a view bridge from where visitors can see people pedaling the boats.
The Lion and Tiger Safaris are one of the main attractions of the National Park. The Lion Safari in one of the park’s green buses is a 20 mins ride through fenced forest. The park is home to an estimated 25 Lions and Lionesses, of which only 2 can be safely seen at close range from the caged buses. The remaining have been relocated to fenced areas far away from the roads. During visiting hours, some Lions are let out into the enclosure and can be seen from the bus.
There are four tigers which are also in a fenced area, you can see them from the safety of the green buses.
How to get there:
It is 0.9km from Borivali East station. You can hail an auto rickshaw or get on a bus from the station. You can also book a cab from any part of the city to get to the National Park.
Timings and Entry Fees:
7:30 am -6:30 pm. Private cars are allowed inside the historical National park till the Kanheri Caves. All park amenities are closed on Monday.
If you enjoyed this article on the historic places of Mumbai and want to know more about solo travel in India click here.
What to pack for visiting historic places in Mumbai
Consider packing conservative clothing and a shawl or headscarf for women if you would like to visit religious places. Some comfortable sandals work well in India as it can be hot so they will let your feet breathe. It can get extremely hot in some parts of India and so sun cream is essential.
It’s a good idea to pack conservative clothing for India. Avoid short skirts and low cut tops or spaghetti straps. Comfortable trousers and linen tops are great. Long skirts and Maxi dresses also work really well and are comfortable with the heat. Comfortable loose cotton or linen trousers are perfect. Don’t forget your sunglasses, and pack your prescription sunnies if you have those!