With its traffic-clogged streets, rattling car horns and graphic poverty, Delhi in India’s north is a city of impoverished beauty and has long enticed and overwhelmed the quintessential traveller.

But there’s more to this city of over 16 million people than just the colourful complexity of its huddling rickshaws, chaotic old-city quarters and burgeoning bevy of modern façades.

Follow our insider’s guide to discover some of Delhi’s best-kept secrets, from historical, monumental ruins to cutting-edge malls that give any Westfield a run for its money. And once you’ve had your fill of history and retail therapy, seek out some of the city’s hidden cultural gems.

Delhi Must-dos 

If you have only one day in Delhi, here are the places you cannot afford to miss. Firstly, travel back centuries in time with a trip on the Delhi Metro to Chandni Chowk, one of the oldest streets in the walled city of emperor Shah Jahan (also called Old Delhi). As you exit the station, modernity and order dissolve into chaos and grandeur.

The street’s bazaar decorated with mounds of colourful spices sits against the backdrop of crumbling mansions, while labyrinths of bright-hued sari stalls lead you to Jama Masjid  a 17th-century mosque, the largest in India.

If you want to experience the cultural diversity from India’s 28 states in a matter of a few hours, seek out Dilli Haat (Pitampura)  a modern-style bazaar where centuries-rich culture and cuisine from all over India come together. “It’s a great place to walk around  there is everything from the beautifully embroidered handicrafts of Rajasthan and Gujarat to Madhubani paintings of Bihar,” says Neena Haridas, managing editor of Marie Claire India.

Also check out the eateries – from Tamil Nadu’s spicy chicken chettinad to Mizoram’s famed dim sums. Don’t skim the surface but soak up Delhi’s local life, too, with a trip to India Gate (C-Hexagon). Here, throngs of locals gather every evening to delight in a multitude of fast-food stalls, kulfi (Indian ice-cream) vendors and chai wallas (tea makers).

Also, walk along Rajpath Road  the Champs-Élysées of Delhi  to check out India’s Parliament House and the official residence of the president. 

Where to eat

Delhi food critic Maryam Reshi recommends her top three places to eat in Delhi.

“It was exactly 100 years ago when Haji Karimuddin set up Karim’s, a small street-side restaurant next to the Jama Masjid mosque. A century on, the size is the only thing small about it, with its traditional Mughlai food soaring in popularity and Time magazine rating it as one of Asia’s top eateries.

The Indian Accent restaurant reinterprets Indian food for a global audience using ingredients and concepts from around the world and marrying them with Indian spices and flavours.

Think tandoori foie gras. Spice Water Trail is a new restaurant in the middleof a busy market, offering the best of four South Indian states.”  

Cultural Gems

The Red Fort was the seat of the Mughal Empire from 1639 to 1857, with towering red sandstone walls erected to protect locals from invaders. Now, the walls protect visitors from the clamour and chaos of neighbouring Old Delhi. Visit in the evening when the façade turns a spectacular rusty red with the setting sun, then stick around for the dazzling light and sound show retelling the centuries-old history that took place within these walls.

A hidden cultural gem no other travel guide will lead you to, the Nizamuddin Dargah mausoleum (Nizamuddin West) is the site of live qawwali (Islamic song) on Thursday evenings. Just the trip up to the mausoleum  through narrow, crowded, vibrant lanes  is like witnessing an explosion of colour and culture, while the qawwali itself is quite elating.

Spend a day just sightseeing Delhi’s many wonders from Qutub Minar (Delhi-Gurgaon Rd, Mehrauli)  the 73m-high brick minaret built in 1193  and the magnificent Humayun’s Tomb (Lodhi Gardens, Lodhi Road New Delhi) to the Lotus Temple (Nehru Place), with its eye-popping similarities to the Sydney Opera House. 

Where to stay

Stay a while and experience the warmth of Indian hospitality within the ornate city of Delhi, showcasing a wealth of history and legend.

The Imperial  

For an exquisite old-world colonial experience, check into the The Imperial hotel, bathed in white grandeur. Do make a trip to the hotel’s Spice Route restaurant  a sensory overload of sumptuous decor and South-East Asian fare.

The Taj Mahal Hotel

“I love this hotel because it’s a sophisticated combination of Indian hospitality and estern comfort,” says Bollywood actor Aryan Vaid who, although Mumbai-based, travels frequently to Delhi and counts The Taj Mahal Hotel among his favourites. 

Hyatt Regency Delhi

The Hyatt Regency Delhi is a favourite of Delhi author Pavan Choudary because of its excellent suites and the “little bazaar just off the lobby.”

ITC Maurya

With sweeping works from some of India’s best contemporary artists, ITC Maurya is steeped in India’s rich colour and culture. Make sure you pay a visit to its legendary Bukhara restaurant. 

The Manor  

One of Delhi’s very few sophisticated boutique options, The Manor offers warm service, lush lawns, elegantly designed rooms and seriously outstanding restaurants. 

Where to Shop

Delhi is the fashion capital of India, offering a wide spectrum of shopping options, from traditional Indian kitsch to local high streets and international labels  often at bargain prices.

Delhi-born Bollywood actress Udita Goswami gives the lowdown on the best places to shop.

Head to the stalls on Janpath Road. “This is street shopping at its best. Go for gypsy-inspired jewellery, beautifully embroidered kaftans, elegant Indian-style shoes and a world of souvenirs.”

Stop by M-Block Market (Greater Kailash). “Don’t miss out on home-grown and international high- street favourites, such as Fabindia and Esprit, popular with Delhi’s hip, young crowd.”

Browse DLF Emporio mall. Nelson Mandela Marg, “This is where the rich and famous of Delhi hang out, with the top floor exclusively occupied by the most famous Indian designers such as Tarun Tahiliani and Rohit Bal.”  

Top Three Day-trips

While in Delhi, make the most of the city’s proximity to world-renowned, historic attractions.

Taj Mahal

Legend has it that, after the completion of the Taj Mahal (Agra, 204km south of Delhi) in the mid 17th century, emperor Shah Jahan chopped off the hands of the 10,000 Indian and Persian artisans who built it so a monument of such beauty could never be built again. Jump aboard the Bhopal-Shatabdi Express at New Delhi Railway Station for a day-trip to Agra to witness the Taj first-hand and observe how its white-marble façade dramatically changes hues with the changing light.

Neemrana

For a walk down the Maharajah lane, hire a chauffer-driven car and travel to historic town Neemrana (Rajasthan, 122km from Delhi), famed for its 14th-century fort. While there, visit heritage resort Neemrana Fort-Palace.

Gurgaon

Indian author Pavan Choudary says the best way to experience the enormity of India from Delhi is to travel to neighbouring Gurgaon (30km south of Delhi). “Both cities have expanded so much their boundaries have diffused into one another, with the no-man’s-land between them all but vanishing.” Also see the full scope of India’s new money with skyscraping headquarters and colossal malls.