s India’s capital, Delhi serves up a full platter of captivating cultural institutions that pay homage to the city’s rich history, creativity, and sometimes absurdity.
There are history museums, galleries of fine art, museums commemorating famous personalities, and curious collections of paraphernalia – even a museum of toilets. In other words, Delhi has something for everyone. Here are six of the Indian capital's best museums to get you started, along with details of where to eat once you've finished browsing.
Learn your craft at the National Handicrafts & Handloom Museum
Mocked-up to resemble an Indian village, the Crafts Museum (as it’s popularly known) celebrates India’s myriad artisan traditions. Tucked away in a leafy compound at the Purana Qila end of Pragati Maidan, this jumble of interconnected buildings shows off artefacts and textiles from each of India’s states.
On display are rare collections of brocades, weaves, traditional paintings, Mithila wall art, Kashmiri shawls and specimens of lavish Kachchh embroidery. Don’t miss the grounds outside where craftspeople demonstrate traditional arts amidst the terracotta and metal sculptures.
Refresh yourself: Joined at the hip with the Crafts Museum and set close to its entrance, popular Café Lota serves a restorative, healthy menu of regional Indian delicacies with a modern twist. Snack on palak patta chaat (fried battered spinach with yoghurt and chutney), freshly-made carrot soup, or tuck into a bowl of rich prawn mango curry if you’re feeling hungrier.
Three millennia of history at the National Museum
One of the largest museums in the country, this grand repository of human endeavour is a glorious celebration of India’s exceptionally rich past. Exhibits range from prehistoric relics to modern art, early Harappan civilization inventions to exquisite 5th century BC Buddhist art – even a suit of armour for an elephant!
The National Museum’s collection of 200,000 objects includes sculptures, paintings, coins, jewellery, and some interesting Western art alongside Indian works. The handy museum library is well-stocked with reference materials on history as well as art and culture, and audio guides are available.
Refresh yourself: The on-site Kafe@Museum is just what you need after hours of devouring world heritage. Their menu, scrawled across a blackboard, lists omelettes, sandwiches, pastas, parathas, cutlets, and that all-time Delhi favourite chole bhature (curried chickpeas with fried bread).
Go potty at the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets
True to its surprising name, this unconventional toilet museum has a somewhat curious choice of exhibits. Run by the eponymous charity, the museum is a temple to sanitation, from modern chemical loos to ancient sanitary wares from the Indus Valley Civilization and ancient Greece.
One of the highlights is a reconstruction of the lavish commode on which King Louis XIV conducted his morning business, and from which he perhaps conducted state business as well. Quirky and funny, but with a serious message about India’s need to provide universal sanitation, the Museum of Toilets is a delightful treat for kids and adults alike.
Refresh yourself: If your toilet tour hasn't put you off your food, head to Singh Sahib in Dwarka’s Sector 5 for a spot of hearty Punjabi fare. Top sellers are dal makhani (roadhouse-style lentils), paneer tikka (grilled cheese) and tasty butter naan.
Update your art at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art
This privately-owned museum – Delhi’s first – rotates vast collections of contemporary and modern art every three months, with work from both India and the rest of the subcontinent. Much of the work is by up-and-coming creatives, but you’ll chance upon a celebrity artist every now and then.
In addition to temporary shows, there’s a permanent exhibition of 20th-century Indian artists, mostly post-Independence when India flexed its creative muscles as a free nation. An initiative to encourage art appreciation, the KNMA is completely free, and there are some interesting publications and museum merchandise available for purchase.
Refresh yourself: KNMA is located in close proximity to two of Delhi’s busiest malls – Select Citywalk and DLF Place – meaning visiting art-lovers are only a short walk away from every manner of food court, café, and restaurant imaginable. Take your pick!