Backyard Tourism: Exploring real Mumbai for travelers!

Since my earliest travel days, I’d host travellers in my parents’ humble abode through Couchsurfing and happily show them around my home city Mumbai.

This practice served a dual purpose for me – i made great friends from around the world and at the same time, scoured the nooks and crannies of Mumbai to showcase the best that my home city had to offer the traveller. Unbeknownst to me then, this made me a ‘traveller’ in my own city, learning to appreciate it for it was and see it with a beginner’s mind.

Over the years, I’ve learned to seek out the best of what Mumbai has to offer with the same curiosity as that of being in a foreign land.

Besides keeping my eyes and ears open, Facebook Events, Paytm Insider, LBB, BPB, BookMyShow, Curly Tales, Homegrown & AVID Learning have been excellent allies in this quest!

Whether you’re a visitor in Mumbai or a resident seeking to explore something ‘hatke’, I’m hoping this post serves as an enriching source for you.

Treat this as my ultimate guide to exploring the real Mumbai!
(no, this is not your generic ‘attractions’ guide, but i’m hoping you’ll enjoy this more).

“A wise traveler never despises his own country”

Carlo Goldoni

Heritage Walks

Best areas: Bandra / Colaba / Byculla / Ballard Pier

  • Art Deco Mumbai
    In case you didn’t know, Mumbai’s art deco precinct on the other side of Oval Maidan, starting from Eros theater is a UNESCO World Heritage site for being the 2nd largest cluster of art deco buildings after Miami! A morning walking tour here will be eye opening and you’ll be clicking photos by the dozen!

    Official Website | Guided Tours | Interactive Map
    Personal suggestion: Buy the excellent folding map from the CSMVS or BDL Museum shops.



  • INTACH Mumbai Heritage Walks
    INTACH Mumbai’s mission is to spread awareness about Mumbai’s heritage and sensitize the citizens of Mumbai about our rich cultural and natural heritage. I’ve attended multiple walks with them, and loved each one of them.

    Official Website | Mumbai Events (on Facebook)



  • India Heritage Walks by Sahapedia
    A truly rich resource for ideas, walking tours and research avenues for anyone interested in understanding culture in Mumbai or across India.

    Official Website | Mumbai Walks | India Heritage Walk Festival



  • Curious City Challenge
    Perhaps the most fun way I discovered some interesting facets about Bandra, Curious City Challenge – as the name suggests – implores participants to find clues through a treasure hunt around the city! Though they haven’t done this again in a while, I’m certain that with a little coaxing from you and me – we can make it happen! Just leave a comment below if you’re interested!

    Official Website | Facebook Events



  • The Inheritage Project – Heritage walks with Alisha Sadikot
    Hands down one of the best storytellers and city sleuths i’ve ever met, Alisha infuses her heritage walks with enthusiasm, trivia and knowledge in equal parts! Being a part of one of her walks will make you feel like you’re traversing across different eras, as she nonchalantly weaves stories from the yesteryears into present day, contextual information and baffles you with her subject matter expertise.

    Official Website | Facebook Events

Cultural Festivals

  • Celebrate Bandra
    Bandra decks up in all her glory for 3 major events: The Mt. Mary Fair, Christmas and its annual hyperlocal fiesta – Celebrate Bandra! A melee of arts, culture, workshops, photography walks and heritage tours, food and frolic, this is one of my favorite time to be in Bandra!

    Dates: Usually in March | Official Website



  • Ballard Pier Festival
    If you’re a local, you should know – Ballard Pier is one of the most prettiest parts of Mumbai – entering it from the lane just after the RBI Building almost feels like entering a portal that takes you back in time to the British colonial era and offers a great way to enjoy the good part of their legacy. The hood livens up during the Ballard Pier Festival each year.

    Dates: weekends, between October and May | Official Website



  • Kala Ghoda Arts Festival
    Mumbai may not have an official carnival, but the first week of February almost feels like one – thanks to the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival which takes place in the heart of the Kala Ghoda precinct. Over the years, the festival has turned into such an integral part of the city’s culture, that the Kala Ghoda Foundation has even managed to reinstate the kaalaa ghoda (black horse in Hindi) and although phonetically one should spell it as ‘kaalaa ghoda‘, the artsy vibe kinda makes you want to call it Kala Ghoda, rightfully! (kalaa means art in Hindi).

    Dates: First week of February | Official Website



  • MAMI & Prithvi Festival
    Mumbai’s favorite celebrations of cinema and theater are an annual extravaganza that you shouldn’t miss, if you’re in town towards the end of October / first week of November. Both are fabulously curated and offer a truly world class experience to the avid film and theater connoisseur.

    Dates: October – November | Official Website (MAMI) | Official Website (Prithvi)



  • Mahalaxmi SARAS
    This is one unique festival + expo that i look forward to every year! A government initiative to promote primarily rural ‘mahila gat‘ (women co-operatives), this brings together a rich culinary, cultural and shopping extravaganza from all across India under one roof. Besides supporting and uplifting the livelihood of rural entrepreneurs, it is by far the best showcase of India’s richness and diversity gastronomically as well as culturally. Do not miss this one!

    Dates: 3rd week of January | Official Website | Detailed post about Mahalaxmi SARAS on my blog

Besides these, there are lots of other cultural festivals like the Kabir Festival, Mahindra Blues Festival etc. If you know of any more that i missed, please share it in the comments below!

Visual Thematic Exploration: Maps & Guides

Confession: Since i’m an 80s kid, I’m part-millennial but perhaps equally old school. So i love picking up paper maps and guides of places, and i used to wonder why Mumbai didn’t have its fair share of beautifully designed maps. Until i dropped by the museum shop at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (erstwhile Prince of Wales Museum). These maps truly made me fall back in love with my own city all over again…

  • Story City + Kahani Design Works
    Hands down the BEST, most beautifully designed maps of the city. They have a Museums map, green spaces map, heritage map of Mumbai and each one is meticulously and thoughtfully designed. You can pick these up from the shops of either the BDL Museum in Byculla or the CSMVS Museum in Colaba or buy online from Paper Planes.

    Bonus: Story City is also offering a free downloadable and printable ‘Quick Guide to Museums in Mumbai‘.

  • Totally Mumbai – Fun Guidebook
    Although the authors of this lovely guidebook to Mumbai have supposedly designed it to be meant for kids, I’d like to certify that it is meant for ages 5 and above – and even if you’re 39 like me – it’s going to be a sheer delight to browse, learn and get entertained with! In fact this is the kind of guidebook I’ve always wanted to create for Goa and Mumbai. Someone else did it, so kudos! Get it online from TotallyMumbai.com

  • Art Deco Mumbai Map
    I already mentioned about this earlier in this post, but besides the fantastic walks and the resource rich website, i’d also encourage you to pick up a copy of the newly launched ‘Victrorian Gothic & Art Deco Ensembles‘ folding map & guide that will make you realize that Mumbaikars have been oblivious to a rich architectural gift the British left behind. Available at both the museum shops in Colaba and Byculla.

  • Locus City Guides
    These pick-me-up, pocket sized hood maps are perhaps the quickest and most convenient way to explore a particular hood / precinct of Mumbai in the shortest time. You should be able to get your hands on these cute maps at the reception of any major hotel. Check out the entire network of hotels they cover on their website.

Keep an open mind: Mumbai is full of surprises!

I’m going to try and add more of my favorite spots in the city that even old timers would not know about – primarily because cities are always in flux – there may be places i don’t know about, there may be places my parents have never heard about but i’ve been to… and there may be places that sprung up new (like the Coastal & Marine Biodiversity Centre – the best place for flamingo spotting in the city!)

Heck, until 2017 even i didn’t know there was a beautiful Persian mosque in my home city (did you?!)

All i’m trying to say is, if you keep an open and curious mind – even a megapolis like Mumbai may surprise you with her wondrous offerings for the traveller and the local alike.

Further Reading

If you enjoyed reading this article and want to check out other fellow bloggers’ writings – i’d recommend these folks who are as enthusuastic about discovering Mumbai as they are about discovering a foreign city!

Quirky Wanderer | Tiny Taster | Deliciously Directionless

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Exotic Gringo (Kaushal Karkhanis)

Leading an experimental life as a digital nomad, I started traveling in 2007 while choosing to shuttle between Goa and Mumbai as 'home'. An epic life-changing trip to South America an year later gave birth to this blog, Exotic Gringo.

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