Delhi is definitely a shock to the senses. Even adults, let alone children, can be overwhelmed at first, but the visual feast of colour, rickshaws, cows on the road and amazing temples and ceremonies is sure to win over any skeptic. As India’s capital, it is a sensory overload of heat, smells, noise and busy-ness, but that’s exactly what makes it so exciting. Don't be scared. Delhi and, actually, all of India with kids may just be one of the best family holiday destinations for those willing to travel with a mind open to new and very different experiences.
The Indian capital New Delhi is the second most populous metropolis in India after Mumbai and the largest city in terms of area. That means it is crowded, vibrant and, once you get over the inevitable initial shock, thrilling. Yes, it can also be dirty and you have to watch your kids like a hawke, but it’s all worth it for the cultural experience.
While there are plenty of tourist attractions to visit, Delhi can be overwhelming so take the time to do as the locals do and tap into some of the more authentic daily experiences.
The aptly named Red Fort is a fascinating place to visit as an introduction to the forts of India. It is large enough that children can run around while parents admire the architectural structures.
The Bahá’í House of Worship or Lotus Temple is one of the most visited tourist attractions. It’s a bit of a drive from central Delhi and looks like the Sydney Opera House which can be intriguing. There are large gardens for the kids run around in if they don’t find the temple itself too impressive.
To see a part of Delhi you could never discover on your own as a tourist, take The Salaam Baalak Trust City Walk. It tells the story of the children on the streets of Delhi. Go on a journey through the enchanting streets of the inner city of Paharganj and the area around New Delhi railway station, led by a child who was once living and working on the streets.
[For more ideas on teaching kids about poverty, read the story of one suitcases&strollers mum here.]
Exploring some of the markets is a fun way to spend a day. Kinari Bazaar (behind the Gurdwara Sis Ganj, off Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India) is an alleyway that goes forever and ever. It sells laces, beads, trims, trinkets, tinsel, bells and any form of ornament or button you could ever want. If your kids are into arts and crafts, it’s a must.
The smell of the Spice Market (western end of Khari Baoli Rd., off Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India) is intoxicating. The huge bags of herbs and spices are a fantastical sight for both adults and kids.
On a Sunday afternoon India Gate is Delhi’s answer to Sydney’s Botanical Gardens. A lot of Delhiites and families go there and there are paddleboats for hire. You may also see balloon-wallahs, chai-wallahs, popcorn-wallahs and people with carts selling trinkets.
There are, believe it or not, some quiet parts of Delhi. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle (and the harassment you can experience on the streets), Lodi Gardens (Lodi Rd, Lodi Estate, New Delhi, India) is a lovely place to relax and let the kids run around.
If you see a busy dhaba (roadside restaurants serving local cuisine) then chances are its safe to eat at. Most tourist restaurants and many hotels serve Western food such as spaghetti so the kids will never go hungry.
But local food in India can be difficult if kids don’t like chilli and spices. You can always get boiled rice and chapatti or roti (local breads) but plain vegetables can be hard to find. (Even if you order plain steamed veg they are usually served with a sauce or spice on them!) Pack vitamin pills and soft pack puree vegetables for the kids to compensate for the lack of veggies.
[For more tips on introducing kids to foreign foods, see the suitcases&strollers interview with celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant here.]
Water hygiene is a very serious concern in India, so do not consume any uncooked vegetables or fruit unless you have washed it in bottled water yourself. (Fruit that you can peel, such as bananas or pomegranates, is probably fine.)
Ultimately Delhi is a very busy city. There are beggars at the more popular tourist sites and you will need to be generous with your sense of personal space. It is not the place to be pushing ungainly strollers or trying to hold on to toddlers who want to escape all the time. Even with older children it is essential that you keep a close eye on where they are at all times.
Hygiene is a problem when travelling to India with kids but can be managed if you remain aware and vigilant. Take a small bottle of antibacterial hand wash with you. It can be easily purchased in Delhi too.
[For more tips on how to travel in a developing country with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
India is a malaria zone. If taking anti-malarial medication start before you leave home to test for any side effects. Wear long or three quarter trousers and tops especially at dawn and dusk and pack mosquito nets and coils. Note that some anti-malarial medication is not safe for very young children and pregnant women.
[For more about anti-malarial medications and kids and other travel medical FAQs, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
It is not safe to drink the water from the tap in India. Only use bottled water for drinking and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath. It’s a good idea for kids to practice brushing their teeth with a bottle for a few weeks before the trip so they don’t use the taps by mistake.
Travelling on motorised rickshaws through Delhi is the quickest and cheapest mode of transport and its awesome fun for the kids. Do keep in mind this is India though, so traffic conditions are not always the safest. Taxis and private cars are readily available but the traffic jams can be breath-takingly bad. The Metro is clean and cool and there are designated carriages for women and kids which can be less intrusive.
There is plenty of accommodation in Delhi although it is pricier than one would expect for a developing country. Prices are generally cheaper if you walk in off the street versus booking in advance. The Imperial New Delhi is one of the more salubrious, but if you can afford the price tag its worthwhile. It’s stately colonial setting is impressive for adults and it’s large grounds are a welcome relaxation point for kids to play and run and parents to chill and escape the city chaos.
By Samantha Docherty; Images: Minas Aroney