Delhi monuments with incredible history and architecture,
including three Unesco World Heritage Sites
Travel in India often comes with the unexpected. For me, the historical places in Delhi which I visited were an unexpected delight. I had read that India’s most populous city was crowded and chaotic, and it is, but it also holds stunning historic gems.
Travellers to India may be inclined to land in Delhi and quickly move on, but that’s a missed opportunity. Delhi has an incredible history, and three Unesco World Heritage monuments among its many architectural treasures.
Here are the Six Historical Places in Delhi that I recommend that travellers visit, on their trip to India.
Map of Historical Places to Visit in Delhi
Six Historical Places in Delhi Worth Seeing
Stepping into the tranquil garden at Humayun’s Tomb is a respite from the noise and craziness of Delhi. Humayun’s Tomb is one of three Unesco World Heritage monuments in Delhi. It was built in the 1560’s by Humayun’s son, the Emperor Akbar. Persian and Indian craftsmen worked together to create a tomb that was at the time more elaborate that any built before in the Islamic world. Its Mughal architecture – a combination of Persian, Indian and Turkish – was a predecessor by 80 years of the Taj Mahal, built in a similar style.
It wasn’t overly crowded when I visited in late November and I loved walking around the garden and historic complex. In addition to the tourists, many Indians strolled around, enjoying the lovely day. I was mesmerized by a group of Indian ladies, their saris a rainbow of colour against the green of the garden and brown of the tombs.
In the photo at the top of this story I am sitting at the tomb of Isa Khan Niazi, a noble who lived to 95. The tomb’s octagonal shape is the classic style of the Lodhi era. Other notable Mughal tombs within the complex include Nila Gumbad, and Barber’s Tomb.
Humayun’s tomb is also called the ‘dormitory of the Mughals’; over 150 Mughal family members are buried here and the tombs have been well preserved and are mostly in their original state.
This complex feels a world away from the craziness of Delhi.
Stepping into the Qutb Minar complex feels like stepping back in time, with a combination of stunning preserved structures and crumbling ruins that give you the feeling you’ve happened upon an archeological project. Qutb Minar is also a World Heritage monument.
The magnificent Alai-Darwaza entry gate dates to 1311 and is considered a masterpiece of Indo-Muslim architecture. Once inside the complex, the focal point is the 13th century red sandstone tower of Qutb Minar which is 72.5 m high with a dramatic taper from bottom to top and a beautiful fluted exterior.
It is a fascinating place to explore. The complex includes two mosques – one is the Quwwatu’l-Islam, the oldest in northern India, built of materials reused from some 20 Brahman temples that had previously existed here.
When you picture Delhi, the city’s Red Fort complex or Lal Qila, is one of the iconic images that might comes to mind. It is the setting for the annual independence day celebrations. It is the third Unesco Heritage monument among these historical places in Delhi.
It was built in the early 1600’s by Emperor Shah Jahan after he moved his empire from Agra to Delhi. Shah Jahan was the fifth Mughal emperor and reigned from 1628 to 1658. He is known primarily for his architectural contributions including the Taj Mahal which he commissioned in 1632 as a monument to his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died during the birth of their 14th child (you read that right – 14th)!
The walled citadel was the seat of power for about 200 years and eventually used by the British during colonial rule. The Mughal architecture reflects a combination of Persian and Hindustan influences. One of the notable features is the stunning Diwan-i-‘Am is a large hall with a nine arch facade.
Just down the road from the Red Fort is the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. It was the final architectural endeavor of Emperor Shah Jahan and required 5000 workers who completed it in six years.
It can accommodate 25,000 people in the open courtyard.
The mosque has elaborate decorative features. It has three great gates, four towers and two minarets constructed of sandstone and white marble.
Tourists are free to visit at times other than during Muslim prayer hours.
India Gate is another iconic and historic sight in Delhi and one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. The 42-meter high gate was built over a ten-year period between 1921 and 1931 and evokes the style of triumphal arches such as those found in Rome. It is often compared to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
India Gate is a war memorial that commemorates soldiers who served and died in World War I, as well as British and Indian soldiers killed in the Afghan war of 1919. A flame burns day and night under the arch in remembrance of soldiers who died in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
It is sometimes the site of civic demonstrations by Indians. The gate looks especially beautiful in the evening when it is illuminated, sometimes with the colours of the Indian flag. Note that travellers should be cautious about visiting here alone in the evening; best to go with a guide or in a group at that time.
In beautiful Lodi Park, families play cricket and drink tea, while kids toss frisbees in front of tombs and mosques more than 500 years old. Once inside the sprawling park, you forget you are in a city of almost 20 million people. And at its center is The Lodi Tomb, a striking octagonal monument dating to the 16th century.
The tomb was built for Sikandar Lodi the second ruler of the Lodi dynasty. He ruled the region, including what is now Delhi, from 1451 to 1526.
Entrance to the park is free and it’s an ideal place to see how Delhi residents pass some leisure time. I loved watching the locals play cricket. And photo shoots were plentiful on the warm December day I visited. Women in beautiful saris posed for photos in old archways with striking ornamental Hindu chhatris . And groups of teens posed for selfies in front of the old monuments – a connection between India’s past and present.
I hope your exploration of Delhi is only the beginning of a wonderful adventure in India. For more planning advice and ideas I have written: Plan a trip to India: My Favourite Places & Experiences.
In addition to its fascinating cities, India has stunning natural environments, wildlife and birds. If a safari is on your India wishlist, you might enjoy my story: On Safari in India in Search of the Bengal Tiger.
Touring Historical Delhi - Good to Know
A note on sightseeing safely in Delhi. One of the drawbacks of visiting Delhi is the significant air pollution which is most problematic in late November and December when the colder season and lower winds keep the pollution contained. If you are concerned about the air quality in Delhi, you might consider visiting in January or February instead. Or be prepared with appropriate masks that are designed to filter out particulate matter, such as N95 or N99 masks.
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