The Guide: India Now

  • Dream Cochin’s rooftop pool.

    Dream Cochin’s rooftop pool.

  • Designer furnishings characterize the Pod’s reception area.

    Designer furnishings characterize the Pod’s reception area.

  • Mumbai’s Blue Frog club occupies a renovated warehouse in the Mills district.

    Mumbai’s Blue Frog club occupies a renovated warehouse in the Mills district.

  • Alfresco dining at ItAlia in Delhi.

    Alfresco dining at ItAlia in Delhi.

  • The light-filled Kala Ghoda Café, a converted barn in Mumbai.

    The light-filled Kala Ghoda Café, a converted barn in Mumbai.

  • Hand-dyed homewares on show at Bungalow 8 in South Mumbai.

    Hand-dyed homewares on show at Bungalow 8 in South Mumbai.

  • Eggplant parmigiana at Delhi’s Cibo restaurant.

    Eggplant parmigiana at Delhi’s Cibo restaurant.

  • Shop interior at Julie Kagti.

    Shop interior at Julie Kagti.

  • Madras Terrace House.

    Madras Terrace House.

  • Designer surrounds in Chennai’s new Kimaya Avenue boutique.

    Designer surrounds in Chennai’s new Kimaya Avenue boutique.

  • Mumbai Museum.

    Mumbai Museum.

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Above: Poolside at Chennai’s hip Pod hotel.

The hottest places to sleep, eat, shop, and party in India’s vibrant cities.

By Fiona Caulfield

The vast deserts, mesmerizing temples and monuments, serene highland retreats, and soaring mountain peaks may be big drawing cards, but India’s inimitable cities offer plenty of other reasons to linger—provided you know where to look, that is. From Delhi to Kochi, the cities of the subcontinent brim with fresh, forward-thinking talent: whether your personal passage to India is for great shopping, fine dining, modern art and culture, or trendsetting parties, you’ll find plenty of inspiration. Still, arriving in a big Indian city—Mumbai and Delhi combined have upwards of 30 million people alone—can be a bit like being whirled around inside a kaleidoscope, and uncovering the gems amid the din and clamor can be a daunting experience. Here, we give you the inside track on where to find the most buzzworthy hotels, restaurants, bars, boutiques, and galleries in India’s pulsating cities.

Located on the edge of Lutyens’ Delhi near the historic Lodi Garden, the Aman New Delhi (Lodhi Rd.; 91-11/4363-3300;; doubles from US$550) is more resort than hotel in spirit, providing the perfect counterbalance to the hyperactivity of the Indian capital. Sixty-seven rooms and suites—most with private plunge pools—are housed in two separate sandstone-clad buildings, which frame a sunken courtyard containing a 50-meter lap pool and tennis courts. The look blends modern minimalism with such classic Mughal accents as the stone jali screens that adorn the hotel’s facades and terraces. The spa is outstanding, and the restaurants—including a Catalan-inspired dining room, a tapas bar, and a kaiseki counter serving French-Japanese fusion fare—are a welcome addition to the city’s dining scene.

For a more intimate stay, check into Thikana (A-7 Gulmohar Park; 91-11/4604-1569;; doubles from US$94), an elegant bed-and-breakfast in South Delhi. The eight spacious guest rooms are newly renovated, and owners Atul and Sheetal Bhalla are as congenial and knowledgeable a pair of hosts as you could hope for.

The debut last year of the Four Seasons Mumbai (114 Dr. E. Moses Rd., Worli; 91-22/2481-8000;; doubles from US$318) has brought a new level of sophistication to the up-and-coming commercial district of Worli. The 202 contemporary rooms and suites are among the largest in the city, offering impressive views of Mumbai’s skyline or the Arabian Sea through floor-to-ceiling windows (note, however, that some overlook slums). The hotel—at 33 stories, India’s tallest—has an enthusiastic sense of place, with a well-informed team of concierges available to take guests on tailor-made tours, from morning bicycle rides to visits to sari workshops. For those who stay put, diversions include a breezy pool deck, a two-story spa, and San-Qi, the hip Super Potato–designed signature restaurant where open kitchens dish up Japanese, Indian, and Chinese specialties.

Style gurus Vikram Phadke and Atul Malhotra have set a new standard for boutique hotels in India with the opening of the Pod (23/13 Khader Nawaz Khan Rd.; 91-44/4295-5555;; doubles from US$202). Situated on the city’s most fashionable street, the 20-room hideaway has a discreet roadside entrance that leads to a glass-encased reception area. Centered on a courtyard where a mosaic-tiled pool is shaded by an ancient rain tree, each of the individually designed rooms features graphic artworks by Delhi-based design firm Illum, which also transformed the elevator into a whimsical delight using Indian illustrations. The Sky Lounge & Bar and the Absolute restaurant (see page 24) have already made their mark with Chennai’s smart set.

Business and leisure travelers alike are gravitating toward Seven Hotel (39/5 Outer Ring Rd., Doddanekundi; 91-80/4262-7777;; doubles from US$129), a French-owned property in the flashy eastern suburb of Whitefield. Bangalore (officially Bengaluru) is India’s Silicon Valley, so it should come as no surprise that the 49 rooms here come with lightning-fast Wi-Fi and a host of other high-tech gizmos. The hotel’s French connection is most evident at the C’est la Vie café, which offers Gallic comfort food—croque-monsieurs, potato Parmentier with duck—in a modern bistro setting. Location-wise, Seven is farther from Bangalore’s new international airport than city-center hotels. But for travelers set on seeing the “new” India, Whitefield, with its technology parks and budding lifestyle scene, makes for an intriguing stopover.

Located on six hectares of manicured lawns and gardens in the heart of Rajasthan’s Pink City, Diggi House (Shivaji Marg, SMS Hospital Rd.; 91-141/237-4265;; doubles from US$166) is the ancestral home of a prominent Rajput family. Its current owners, Gajraj Diggi and his wife Mia, still live on the top floor, but they have transformed the rest of the 170-year-old mansion into a chic boutique hotel (not to be confused with the staid Hotel Diggi Palace on the other side of the estate). There are only five suites, but they are huge: 116 square meters of all-white, modern decor. A fine-dining Rajasthani restaurant will open soon on the upper terrace; in the meantime, guests can eat poolside at the garden café, Flow.

Designed as the flagship of the Taj group’s hip new brand of hotels, Vivanta by Taj (Dr. D.B. Bandodkar Rd., St. Inez Junction; 91-832/663-3636;; doubles from US$81) has injected a dose of youthful energy into the Goan capital. Expect the unexpected here, including airport transfers by speedboat and deep-sea diving excursions. The 170 rooms—dubbed Charm, Delight, Temptation, and so on—are smartly appointed with daybeds, hardwood floors, and the latest mod cons. Topping it off is a rooftop infinity pool and adjoining terrace restaurant, which look out across the city to the rolling waves of the Arabian Sea.

New York–based hotelier Vikram Chatwal’s latest outpost—and first Indian foray—is Dream Cochin (S.A Road, Elamkulam Junction, Kadavanthara; 91-484/412-9999;; doubles from US$177). Like its sister properties in Manhattan and Bangkok, this 151-room property in Kochi (née Cochin) aims for an aesthetic that the owner calls “hautel couture”: a whimsical blend of the avant-garde and the classically opulent, with sleek, white-walled rooms accented by slumber-inducing blue lighting. Chef Srisoonthron Malila oversees a Thai-style seafood menu at the Ayela restaurant, while the rooftop cocktail lounge is undeniably the hottest nightspot in Kerala’s commercial capital—not that there’s much in the way of competition.

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