A long layover may not be a pleasant experience for most travelers especially if you’ll be stuck at the airport. That is why when I found out that my flight to Dubai would require a layover in Mumbai for less than 24 hours, I decided to venture into the city and explored Mumbai’s attractions in less than a day.

Mumbai is pretty overwhelming especially if it’s your first visit to India and 24 hours is definitely not enough to explore this mega city. However, with a little bit of planning and research, I managed to visit some of the most famous attractions in the city in less than a day and here’s how I did it.

Colaba Causeway

I arrived in Mumbai early in the morning and although there’s an option to take the train to the city, I decided to take the taxi due to my limited time. Uber is also available in Mumbai, but I was not able to connect to the airport’s Wi-Fi so I opted to hire a prepaid taxi.

My destination is the Colaba Causeway, which is where most of the famous attractions in the city are located. It’s more than an hour drive from the airport and the driver dropped me near the entrance of the Gateway of India, a 20th-century majestic arch monument that was built in honor of King George V and Queen Mary’s first visit to India.

After exploring the Gateway of India, I walked towards the opulent Taj Mahal Palace hotel, which is one of Mumbai’s most recognized landmarks. The hotel is right across the Gateway of India and you’ll easily recognize it due to its lavish façade. This hotel plays a significant role in India’s history and was used as a hospital during the World War I. In 1947 when India became independent, the first speech was held here. The hotel was also hit by terror attacks in 2008, which left 31 people dead.

I went inside the hotel to explore its magnificent interiors. The hotel is divided into two wings, the newer tower wing, and the original heritage wing. A big portion of the heritage wing had undergone a major renovation after it got damaged during the 2008 terrorist attack.

From the hotel, I walked back to the Gateway of India. On the way, I came across a small restaurant serving traditional Indian fare, so I decided to drop by and had my breakfast.

Colaba Causeway in Mumbai

Elephanta Caves

After my sumptuous breakfast of Dosa and Masala chai, I went to the pier at the Gateway of India where I took the boat going to Elephanta Caves. Located at the Elephanta Island, the cave is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was built around the 6th Century AD.

I took the ferry at the Appollo Bunder, a pier near the Gateway of India. After about an hour, we arrived at the Elephanta Island. After disembarking, we were then instructed to purchase a train ticket at the entrance of the cave. Others choose to walk, but since I’m in a hurry, I decided to take the train that travels towards the base of the hill where the caves are located. Upon arriving at the cave, some local guides approached me offering their service, but I decided to explore the caves myself. I had so much fun exploring the cave and the statues that were carved on its walls. It reminded me of the carvings of the walls of the Angkor Wat in Cambodia. After exploring the cave for more than an hour, I took the ferry back to the Gateway of India.

Elephanta Caves in Mumbai

Victoria Terminus

From the Gateway of India, I hired an auto rickshaw to take me to the Victoria Terminus, Mumbai’s historic railway station. Now called the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, this station was built in 1887 and is now the busiest station all over India. Built during the British rule, the majestic façade of the railway station features a beautiful Victorian Gothic Revival design.

I was really in awe by the station’s magnificence. The architecture is not like any other I’ve seen in India before, although I can still recognize a few traces of Indian influence. For instance, the pointed turrets and the domed top reminded me a lot of the Taj Mahal. I went inside the station and explored its interiors. Although it’s very busy inside with huge crowd of commuters running around the place, I can still clearly see the beautiful Victorian windows, grand archways, and the gigantic columns.

After exploring the railway station, I head out to search for a nearby restaurant where I can have a late lunch. Luckily, I came across a decent restaurant that serves delicious curries. I had chicken curry, butter naan and, a glass of mango lassi for only $12, which is not bad.

Victoria Terminus in Mumbai

Museums and Art Shops

The Victoria Terminus is located in Mumbai’s historic neighborhood, the Fort area. I’ve done a bit of research on this place before my trip and I found out that this area is also home to several museums. So after my delicious lunch, I head further to the south to explore the Town Hall, which is where two museums are housed, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya and the Asiatic Society museum.

After exploring the museums, I went further south and arrived at a famous art district known as Kala Ghoda. Here, I checked out the Jehangir Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Modern Art.

It was already getting dark when I went out of the National Gallery so I thought of going back to the airport, where I can have a rest before I board my next flight to Dubai at 4 AM. But just before I hailed a cab, I came across a quaint looking café, the Kala Ghoda Café, and decided to drop by for a cup of coffee, before taking a cab back to the airport.

Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai

Important Tips to Keep In Mind

Here are more tips I would like to share especially with those who are having a long layover in Mumbai and would like to explore the city.

  • Visa requirements – visa requirements to India may vary from one country to another so it’s important to do your research ahead. But in general, if your layover time in India is less than 24 hours, then you no longer need a visa. However, since I plan on going out of the airport, then I need to have a visa to present to the immigration even if I’m only in the country for less than a day. Thankfully, India offers e-visa and the process of applying online is very straightforward. For more information about Indian e-visa, check out https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html.
  • Left Luggage facility – if you have a carry-on luggage on your layover in Mumbai and you want to venture out to the city, it would be a good idea to leave your luggage at the airport. It would be very inconvenient to be bringing your luggage with you while you explore Mumbai’s attractions. Mumbai’s airport has excellent facilities and that includes a left luggage facility located near the exit of Terminal 2. I only paid less than $10 for leaving a less than 7 kg of luggage. For more information, check out https://csia.in/passenger/left-luggage.aspx.
  • Consider your layover time – you need to take into consideration your layover time before you decide to explore the city of Mumbai on your layover. I would not recommend it if you’re only having a layover of less than 8 hours because the travel time to the city center could take more than an hour. Also, just like with any major cosmopolitan city, traffic in Mumbai can get worse during peak hours. Moreover, the airport of Mumbai is one of the busiest airports in India so you need to also consider the time it will take for you to clear out of immigration, customs, etc.
  • Find out the weather condition – the weather of Mumbai is a major factor to consider when traveling to the city, especially if you have a limited time. For instance, during the monsoon season (June to September), the city gets flooded on a regular basis and this could greatly affect your travel time to the city. It’s also not a pleasant experience to be exploring the city while getting drenched in the rain. I happen to be there in December and the weather was pleasant so I get to explore the city without the excruciating heat and not getting drenched by the rain.

As you see, exploring some of Mumbai’s most famous attractions is definitely doable in less than a day. The experience might be a bit tiring since you need to explore the city at a fast pace, but it’s much better than spending your time at the airport doing nothing.