The labyrinth of teeming narrow streets and alleys that forms Old Delhi contrasts with the imperial city of New Delhi, created under the British Raj (the period of colonial rule) where broad tree-lined roads and large areas of trees, gardens and fountains frame government buildings.
Why go now?
Holi, the spring festival, takes place in March. It is always a spectacular affair, during which people throw coloured powder and water at one another, accompanied by traditional music, bonfires and celebratory meals. On April 8, Rama Navami celebrates the birth of Rama with costumed parades around Connaught Place.
Get your bearings
The labyrinth of teeming narrow streets and alleys that forms Old Delhi contrasts with the imperial city of New Delhi, created under the British Raj (the period of colonial rule) where broad tree-lined roads and large areas of trees, gardens and fountains frame government buildings. The Delhi seen by most visitors lies on the west bank of the River Yamuna in the old part of the city, though it is no Seine or Thames in enhancing the city. If such a vast city has a centre, it is the concentric circles of Connaught Place, the central business and shopping district built in 1929–33. The main tourist office is at 88 Janpath (delhitourism.gov.in). Open Monday-Friday 9am-6pm, 9am-2pm Saturday. For visitors wanting further help in exploring Delhi, Greaves Travel in the UK (greavesindia.co.uk) can design guided itineraries.
Take a view
The top of the minaret of the Jama Masjid, reached after 120 steps up a spiral staircase, offers an unrivalled view over Old Delhi, home to four million people in India's most densely populated area. Begun in 1650 by Shah Jahan, the red sandstone mosque took 5,000 workers six years to build and cost one million rupees. The walled Red Fort, built largely by Shah Jahan, occupies a large oblong site and contains palaces, audience chambers, gardens, hammams and shops. While it remains largely closed for restoration, Jama Masjid has inherited the mantle of Delhi's most important tourist site.
Take a hike
Delhi is not a good city for walking: its anarchic traffic, vehicle pollution and fractured pavements diminish both pleasure and safety. One area where it is still a joy to walk is beside the avenues of trees, canals and fountains that run the length of Rajpath. Start at India Gate, designed by Lutyens to commemorate Indian soldiers killed in the World War I, and British and Indian soldiers killed in the Third Anglo-Afghan War of 1919. The 340-room palace was built by Lutyens for the Viceroy. By approaching, from the east, one can appreciate why Lutyens was angered by its diminished impact through the slope of the ground. Today the Rashtrapati Bhavan is the Indian president's residence. The long, colonnaded front is dominated by the vast copper dome, and the decoration marries Western and Eastern styles, acanthus leaves with bells, capitals with chhatris.
Lunch on the run
The well-sheltered Café Lota at Pragati Maidan, within the The National Crafts Museum compound (nationalcraftsmuseum.nic.in) has become a popular venue with locals. It's good value, with smaller vegetarian plates at Rs160 (£1.60) and larger non-vegetarian plates such as Konkan fish curry at Rs375 (£3.75). Try palak patta chaat — crispy spinach leaves, potato and chickpeas topped with spiced yoghurt and chutneys — for Rs160 (£1.60).
Once you've filled up at Café Lota you can explore the museum's displays of historic crafts and reconstructed houses. For the shopper, it is the courtyard of crafts that is of most interest, with Kashmiri shawls, wood carving and jewellery on offer. Expect to haggle (open daily 10am-6pm, except Monday). Alternatively, try Cottage Industries (cieworld.com) at the DCM Building, 16 Barakhamba Road. This co-operative draws on the work of 1,800 Kashmiri families, principally making silk carpets and beautifully soft pashminas of goat hair. Jewellery, carvings and silverware are also on sale (open daily 9.30am-8pm).
Dining with the locals
Kashmiri dishes are the speciality of Chor Bizarre at 4/15A Asaf Ali Road in Hotel Broadway (hotelbroadwaydelhi.com). Try a vegetable tarami — potatoes, aubergine in a sauce of tamarind and Kashmiri spices, lentils in spiced yoghurt, spinach leaves and red beans from Kashmir (Rs525/£5.25), or mutton rogan josh (Rs450/£4.50).
Go to church
St James's Church by Kashmere Gate was built in 1836 and paid for by the colourful Colonel James Skinner (1778-1841), best known for his 14 wives and the irregular regiment of Skinner's Horse. Its walls and graves in the grounds record the deaths of eminent servants of the East India Company and the Raj. Skinner himself is buried in the chancel (open daily 8.30am to 12.30pm and 4-7.30pm).
Out to brunch
Brunch, though not as we know it, is beginning to catch on and one of the first to serve it is in Lodi — The Garden Restaurant near Gate No 1 on Lodi Road (sewara.com) — a courtyard surrounded by tented eating places and lush greenery, with European, Mediterranean and Lebanese cuisine for around Rs2,200 (£22) for two.
A walk in the park
Opposite is Lodi Gardens, created from 1936 by Lady Willingdon around three tombs and a ruined mosque. Within the wooded 90 acres are a herb garden, rose garden and bonsai park. The most important tomb is that of Mohammed Shah Sayyid from a dynasty that reigned for only 37 years. His octagonal tomb on the roof is a rare example of their architecture. The Bara Gumbad Mosque of 1494 illustrates the combination of Islamic script around the door with elements of Hindu decoration. The gardens can get crowded at weekends (daily 5am-8pm April-September, 6am-8pm October-March; free).
The National Museum at Janpath (nationalmuseumindia.gov.in) has greatly expanded since opening in 1949. It has exceptional items from the Indus Valley civilisations (2,700-1500BC). There are galleries on three floors encompassing crafts, coins, musical instruments and paintings. Among the subjects depicted are the first Mughal Emperor, Babur, inspecting Gwalior fort in the early 16th century and the wedding procession of Shah Jahan's son Dara, who was later defeated, humiliated and killed by his brutal younger brother (daily, except Monday, 10am -5pm; Rs300/£3).
Icing on the cake
Seldom visited is the Mutiny Memorial on Kamla Nehru Ridge on Rani Jhansi Marg. The high Gothic spire commemorates the officers and soldiers of the Delhi Field Force killed in the Sepoy uprising between May and September 1857.