I visited India – Goa (4 days), Mumbai (6 days) and Delhi (3 days) – with my wife and two young kids (4 years and 1 years old) in late December 2018 – peak season where the weather is generally best (warm but not too hot) across the country. It was our longest trip as a family of four – including our longest flights at 16-18 hours each way – and our first visit with the kids to Asia. We led the trip off with Goa to get some relaxation before spending the time in cities. We flew direct to Mumbai from NYC on United (18 hours including delay) and then had to switch terminals and planes for a quick 1 hour flight to Goa on SpiceJet. What is not obvious is that while the whole airport is called chhatrapati shivaji airport (BOM), there is a “domestic” airport (terminal 1) and the “international” airport (terminal 2 and 3). Air India and Jet Airways have terminal 2 so transfers are easier. But we flew on United (terminal 3) to SpiceJet (terminal 1) so we had to transfer between airports – while the distance is short, the logistics can be long. Mumbai airport is certainly nicer than in the past, but it is still crowded. Thankfully, if you have an infant (or are in a wheelchair) you can skip much of the security and customs lines. The former saved us from missing our connecting flight. After Goa, we flew Jet Airways to Mumbai (1 hour) which was smooth and post-Mumbai, we flew Air India to Delhi (2.5 hour flight, but with delays was 5.5 hours). The congestion and significant pollution/fog in Delhi led to a significant delay. Finally, we flew back direct from Delhi to NYC on United (16 hours). The economy seats on the United flights are challenging because the airline continues to jam more seats per row in the 777s but the kids did well on the flights and we eventually got everywhere.
Each city was wonderful for its own uniqueness and we got the chance to truly experience and explore. We were able to do a bit of Beach/Leisure in Goa and City/Culture in Mumbai and Delhi. Goa had nice temples, churches and forts to visit while we stayed along the relaxing beach. While Goa is known for its nice beaches, it likely wouldn't replace a visit to the famous beach destinations in Southeast Asia. However, the people/culture/vibe of Goa is wonderfully unique in India and made for an excellent first stop on our journey. Mumbai’s amazing sites like the Gateway to India and Taj Palace complemented the wonderful restaurant and leisure scene – not to mention quality time with family. And while Delhi certainly feels the most congested/polluted, the amazing sites and restaurants (and quality family time) made the 3 days very special. We secured car/drivers in each city but Uber is prevalent/cheap in both Delhi and Mumbai so moving around was very convenient. All in all, family time + sightseeing + shopping + dining + relaxing (with kids sleeping on flights, no one getting sick and hotel stays in each city) made this India trip our best family trip yet.
In Goa, we had the option to stay in either the north, center or south within this city-state. The rest of our family who was on the trip with us were staying in central, so we opted for the wonderful Grand Hyatt Goa - nearest to the bustlingly fun Candolim neighborhood. We loved everything about the hotel – the suites were very spacious, the breakfast every morning was expansive and delicious and the grounds were lovely to walk and explore. The hotel also did a wonderful job of picking us up in the middle of the night (4am) seamlessly and warmly after our tiring day of travel. On a future trip, we would consider the W Goa in the north with its awesome beaches, lively social scene and newly-built beautiful interiors or the Taj Exotica Resort and Spa on the south side which is more relaxing and traditionally luxurious for Goa.
In Mumbai, we generally considered staying in one of three areas – South Mumbai (Colaba / Fort / Nariman Point), Central Mumbai (Worli/Lower Parel) or Northern Mumbai (Bandra). South Mumbai is quieter, cleaner, more historic and has many of the sights – e.g. Gateway to India: it is home to historical and fabulous hotels like The Oberoi Mumbai and the Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai; The Northern Mumbai area is home to the bustling Bandra neighborhood and is home to the Taj Land’s End Bandra. Our pick (and we would do the same again) was central Mumbai and we chose the Four Seasons Mumbai (over the St. Regis Mumbai). Both hotels are wonderful – centrally located, fairly new, very modern, have great dining and service but the Four Seasons was closer to where our family lived so we chose that. The stay was absolutely amazing and we would certainly go back again (the upgrade certainly helped!).
In Delhi, we stayed at The Oberoi New Delhi - the newly-renovated, beautiful landmark hotel in Delhi. We considered the Taj Mahal New Delhi as well but The Oberoi has historically been our favorite and the new upgrades make it our clear favorite now. It is also in a low-key neighborhood nestled into the Delhi Golf Club area so the surroundings are very nice. Everything from the suites to the breakfast to the grounds to the lobby was wonderful. The hotel also did a wonderful job of picking us up from the frenetic Delhi airport and helped us peacefully reach our hotel in a safe, clean-air, relaxing car.
Unquestionably throughout our India hotel stays, the service was wonderful and given we traveled with small kids, the best thing we did for ourselves to help ensure everyone stayed healthy was to stay in hotels everywhere. This allowed for necessary climate control (it is hot in Mumbai/Goa, chili in Delhi), consistent sleep, amazing breakfast and home-like comforts (crib, American-style bathrooms, bottled water etc).
- Activities: We had so much fun visiting Fort Aguada in the popular Candolim neighborhood; we also stopped by the expansive Shanta Durga Temple to enjoy a nice walk and pay respects and the Basilica of Born Jesus which has the tomb of St Francis-Xavier. No trip to Goa would be complete without a visit to the beaches - namely Miramar Beach in Panjim (the local capital) and Vagator Beach up north.
- Dining: The Goa food scene is eclectic - our favorites included Black Sheep Bistro (International), Tuscany Gardens (Italian) and Copperleaf Restaurant (Indian/Asian). Fisherman’s Wharf (International) comes highly recommended due to its live music, fund outdoor seating and expansive menu. Café Chocolatti (chocolate treats) in Candolim is a gem. Next visit, we will go further North and expand our taste buds to Thalassa (Mediterranean) and Spice Traders at the W Goa (Japanese)
- Activities: Our primary task in Mumbai was shopping for a family wedding and visiting our extensive family who live in the metropolitan area. However, we wanted to ensure we hit some of the main sites so we visited the Gateway to India and Taj Mahal Palace in sounthern Mumbai; on our next visit, we'll aim to do the full-day visit to the Elephanta Caves which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It will also be nicer to visit when the kids are older and may better remember them.
- Dining: Beyond staying in hotels and doing some sightseeing (along with the awesome family time), the best way that we made this Mumbai visit feel like a vacation was exploring the amazing food scene (and we barely scratched the surface). Our favorites were Bombay Canteen (Indian) and South High (South Indian) in Kamala Mills, Masala library (Indian) in the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), The Table (International) in Colaba downtown, San-Qi at the Four Seasons (Pan-Asian) and Quattro (Italian) in Lower Parel. On past visits, we have loved Olive (Italian) at the Mahalaxmi Race Course, Leopold Café (Indian, Chinese), Smoke House Deli (Indian) and Indigo (Indian). On our next visit, we are going back to Kamala Mills to Koko (Asian), back to the race course for Keiba at the Racecourse (Pan-Asian) and Neel – Tote on the Turf (Indian), to the Oberoi for Ziya at the Oberoi (Indian), to the Taj for Wasabi By Morimoto (Japanese), to Bandra for Hakkasan (Asian), to the Fort for Trishna at the Fort (Seafood), and to the Vivanta President for Trattoria at the Taj (Italian) ... make sure to keep in mind that many restaurants dont allow kids - this was a novel concept for us to face - so check in advance so you don't get surprised and keep a broader list of options ready!
- New Delhi
- Activities: Much like in Mumbai, we were excited to both see family but also do some sightseeing with the kids. During our short visit, we reached the India Gate, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Qutb Minar, Humayun's Tomb and the presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan; on a future visit, we will certainly devote more time to visit the UNESCO World heritage Site at Red Fort, the Lotus Temple and Akshardham Temple
- Dining: Like in Mumbai, several of the top restaurants do not allow kids, including the two best - Indian Accent (Indian) and Bukhara at the ITC Maurya (Indian) but these are the best of the best; We also very much enjoyed a visit to the Hyatt Regency to eat at La Piazza (Italian); Next time we will visit its sister restaurant at the Hyatt Regency - The China Kitchen (Asian) and also Varq at the Taj (Indian). Of course, no visit to India (and for us Delhi) is ever complete without a daytime stopover at Haldiram's for some chaat (snacks)! It is hard to believe we only went once =).
We had a wonderful visit to India although traveling so far to less familiar surroundings can be daunting and tiring especially with little kids. The key recommendations we would pass along would be to stay in hotels (for the conveniences and comforts laid out above), avoid any fresh fruits/veggies/chutneys, stick to bottled water, bring organic milk (storable at room temp) if you are able to and travel business class if possible (we flew economy there and were upgraded to business back). The act of taking small kids to India should be the most adventurous part of the trip – it is worth being more cautious with the logistics and food/drink while on the trip. We gave the kids all kinds of wonderful local, cooked food options because they love Indian food. We visited new restaurants every night giving the visit a true vacation feel - especially as the scene in all three destinations was so vibrant! Keep in mind though that many restaurants in Mumbai and Delhi do not allow kids so make sure to check in advance and make alternate plans accordingly.
The hotels we visited were excellent and less expensive than in comparable cities / leisure destinations. It is also wonderful to visit family in India because everyone is so loving and welcoming – yet our philosophy is to spend part of the visit visiting family and part traveling (this time we did Goa) because there is so much of India to visit and we are not able to come often enough. The best case is having family join for the leisure trips so you get the best of both (as we did in Goa). Furthermore, while the poverty in India is still significant, it did not feel as in your face as it had on prior trips. It is clear that while some challenges are always the same (lot of people, cows on the road, poverty, cleanliness issues etc. ), the country is advancing rapidly and people feel optimistic and energetic. We can’t wait for our next visit! Have an amazing trip!