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In many ways, Mumbai may seem like the one place in India to avoid if you’re traveling on a budget. It has roots in extravagant British architecture, it lays claim to Bollywood, the world’s largest film industry, and after centuries of international trade, has become the country’s undisputed economic hub. All that said, where there’s a will to travel frugally, there’s a way. If fancy cocktails and rooftop bars don’t quite do it for you, here are the best things to do in Mumbai on a budget.
Elephanta Island and Caves
Start off your time in Mumbai by paying a visit to one of the best (and cheapest) historical sites in the entire city. Elephanta Island, located in Mumbai Harbor just a short ferry ride from the city, is home to a series of cave temples that date back to the second century BCE. Here you can find stone sculptures, drawings, and narrative carvings that are mostly dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. The fee to enter is only 10 rupee (or about 14 cents), and the ferry ride is only roughly 50 cents. Hooray for budget caves!
One of the most fascinating parts of Mumbai is the blending of native and colonial influences — especially when it comes to architecture. For a great example of Victorian Gothic revival architecture, swing by the Victoria Terminus Station, which is also known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Dating back to the late 19th century, the station gained fame for its eccentric design, but also stood as a symbol that declared Mumbai as India’s major international trading port.
Haji Ali Dargah Mosque
For religious tourism, the Haji Ali Dargah Mosque is widely considered one of the most popular and important religious sites in Mumbai. Much like the Taj Mahal, it’s a beautiful domed building that houses the remains of a prominent Muslim saint. It’s estimated that anywhere from 10 to 15 thousand people visit the mosque every day to pay their respects to the revered saints. Because it’s located on a small island off the coast of Worli, another great budget-friendly activity is to watch the sunset over the skyline from the banks of the Haji Ali Mosque.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park
Sometimes the industrial concrete jungle of Mumbai can take quite the toll on your vacation. If you need a little nature rehab, head out to the jungle in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It’s the only protected forest within the limits of a city in India, so doesn’t require a huge commute. There’s a wide range of attractions, but the best reason to visit is for the caves. The cost to enter is 200 rupees for foreigners (just under $3).
Crawford Market and Chor Bazaar
A visit to Mumbai would not be complete without spending some time in one of the hectic street markets. Crawford Market is the city’s most famous and is the go-to location for anyone looking for budget t-shirts, accessories, jewelry, toiletries, toys, and even fruits and vegetables. The Chor Bazaar is another option that is more of a flea market. Visit here for second-hand goods, clothes, electronics, and antiques.
The Marine Drive is a curved strip of coastline that is an absolute must-visit for any kind of travelers, budget or otherwise. We recommend visiting Marine Drive at dawn when the lights begin to pepper the skyline with beautiful city color. The Queen’s Necklace — as it’s also called — is a great area to get some cheap street food. Those with a sweet tooth should head to K’Rustom’s Ice Cream, a local favorite for ice cream sandwiches. For other meat-free options around the city, check out A Vegetarian’s Culinary Tour of India.
The Gateway of India
Often compared to Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, the Gateway of India is a beautiful overhanging structure that serves as a monument welcoming those to the subcontinent. It’s so important (and photographed) that many people call it the ‘Taj Mahal of Mumbai.’ Once you pass through, India comes at you fast — you’re instantly greeted with flower and spice vendors, brass telescopes and antiques thrust in your face, and everywhere you look you see signs of Bollywood and cricket. The best part? Visiting the Gateway of India is completely free.
Speaking of Bollywood, anyone traveling to Mumbai should definitely get up to speed on the world of the Indian film scene. Going to a theater and seeing a Bollywood film is one way to go about this, but we recommend hopping on a Bollywood tour. These tours give visitors the chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at the industry that receives almost twice as much profit as Hollywood.
Chowpatty Beach is a great spot to chill and kick your feet up for a while. It’s best to stay on the sand (the water would not be described as ‘clean’) and is a great place to meet people and spend time relaxing with a drink. And, as the name (kind of?) suggests, it’s a place to chow. The area’s go-to dish is bhelpuri, a savory snack made of puffed rice, vegetables, and tangy tamarind sauce.
Go Cheap Bar-Hopping
Unlike a few other places in India, the nightlife in Mumbai mainly consists of working-class people drinking an affordable pint to wrap up the day. You don’t need to go to fancy bars to get a true taste for the city’s scene. Some great affordable options include Janata Lunch Home, National Restaurant and Bar, Toto’s Garage, and Sunlight Restaurant and Bar.
Take a Local Train
Few things will give you more of an authentic Indian experience than taking a ride on a local train. Every day, millions of people throughout the city hop on a local commuter train, which has become ingrained in Indian society. Take the Harbor Line in Mumbai for the incredible city and scenic countryside views.
Book Your Accommodation Wisely
Mumbai is certainly home to a gamut of posh high-end hotels and fancy Airbnbs, but it also lays claim to lots of traveler’s hostels that won’t break the bank. Be aware that when you stay in a hostel, you’re often sacrificing security for cost savings. Women especially should read about whether India is Safe for a Solo Female Traveler.