Follow this family-tested, 11-day itinerary through Rajasthan plus the cities of Delhi & Mumbai.
India is a vast country where the landscape, language, culture, and customs vary wildly from one region to the next. To fully experience this country, you’d need weeks, maybe even months. But with work commitments and school schedules, few families have that luxury.
This 11-day itinerary is meant to expose families to quintessential India, starting in New Delhi, visiting the must-see Taj Mahal in Agra, working your way through Rajasthan, and ending in the mega city of Mumbai. Yes, it’s challenging, but we’ve kid-tested this trip. We made mistakes along the way that you can learn from. We also made some fantastic discoveries that we’re eager to share. So be bold and discover incredible India!
KidTripster Tip: A trip to India is better described as an experience rather than a vacation. India should not be your family’s first international trip. I’d recommend that kids be well-seasoned travelers before attempting this itinerary. In addition, because of the amount of driving and nature of the sightseeing, I’d recommend it for ages 12 and up.
How to go?
Admittedly, this itinerary includes quite a bit of driving, or more accurately, riding as you won’t be driving in India, but instead you’ll need to hire a car service. Why? Well, it’s less expensive to drive a family from one location to another than to fly. But secondly, if you drive, you'll see more of the real India. Some of our most vivid memories are the scenes that we passed on the road: the man who was riding a motorcycle stacked with more than 20 dozen eggs, the freight trucks decorated like Christmas trees, the colorful and boisterous religious processions. The list goes on and on.
But I’ll warn you: driving in India is pure insanity when viewed through Western eyes. Traffic laws are not observed, lanes are ignored, and sometimes people drive on the wrong side of the street. And the roads themselves are filled with pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, rickshaws, ox-drawn wagons, push carts, cars, trucks, buses, cows, and wild camels. We even passed an elephant! It’s a scene wilder than you can imagine, all set to a symphony of “beep-beep, beep-beep!” But in 11 days, we never saw a single accident, not even a fender-bender, so take some comfort in that!
KidTripster Tip: To keep ourselves occupied in the car, we came prepared with audiobooks, podcasts, and movies already downloaded onto our gadgets.
KidTripster Tip: While this itinerary originates in New Delhi and ends in Mumbai, you could easily reverse the direction.
When to go?
High season in India is October through April with the busiest months typically being December and January when the weather is the most pleasant. However, hotel rates can double during this time period. We traveled during the end of monsoon season in early August. Yes, it was hot, typically 85° to 95° F, and very humid, but rain was not a big issue along this route. By traveling during the off-season, we were able to afford some of the finest luxury hotels in the world, which otherwise would have been out of reach.
Which brings me to an important point: it’s worth paying extra to say in luxury properties in India. You and your kids are going to need a retreat. Plus the hotels that we recommend below are not only luxurious, but many are heritage properties and destinations in themselves. For my sons, the hotels were a highlight of the trip.
Photo courtesy: The Leela Palace New Delhi
From the USA, a flight to India is typically two legs. From the West Coast, you’ll fly about 9-1/2 hours to a major European city. We flew from the USA to Amsterdam and then on to New Delhi, which is an additional 10 hours. Yes, it’s long, so you’ll want to make sure that your children are old enough to handle flights of this length.
You’ll typically arrive into New Delhi at night. By the time we made our way through the painfully-long customs line and took a cab to our hotel, it was 2 a.m. the next day.
Where to stay?
India can be a shock to the system. That’s why I’d recommend an über luxurious stay at The Leela Palace New Delhi. From the moment you walk through the doors, you’re treated like royalty! The staff places garlands made from fragrant jasmine around your neck and red tikkas on your forehead. Even the least expensive rooms here are spacious and exquisitely appointed. The best part for my sons? The infinity-edged, rooftop pool, followed closely by the complimentary all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. Online room rates for low season start at $154/night.
For a full review of The Leela Palace, click here.
KidTripster Tip: Nearly every hotel will require you to get two rooms for a family of four, unless your kids are very young. If you’re traveling with teenagers, that means double the cost. It’s simply unavoidable here.
Photo courtesy: The Leela Palace New Delhi
What to do?
Your average travel writer would recommend easing into India on your first day. Me, not so much. Because our family was leaving for Agra early the next morning, I did, perhaps, the unthinkable. I booked an crack-of-dawn bicycle tour through Old Delhi, only hours after arriving at our hotel. “Suck it up, boys. We’re doing this,” may have been my exact words to my two teenaged sons and one blurry-eyed husband.
The 4-hour bike tour with Reality Tours and Travel starts early to avoid the heat of the day and some of the morning traffic. At 6:30 a.m., we found our way to Rajiv Chowk Metro Station, where we met our guides, Sager and Sager, both personable, young college students. Everyone was assigned a bike (no helmets), and then the madness began. We dodged our way around pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, rickshaws, cars, trucks, buses, pull carts, ox-drawn wagons, and the occasional cow. My 14-year-old son likened it to playing a video game. Even though my sons enjoyed the challenge, we had too many heart-stopping, near-miss moments for me as a mom to recommend this tour to families; it has nothing to do with our guides and everything to do with the traffic insanity in Delhi.
However, I would highly recommend Reality’s walking tour of Old Delhi. You’ll see the same sites - Ajmeri Gate, Jama Masjid, and Red Fort - plus the colorful chili and spice markets. Cost: about $23 per person. Reality returns 80% of its after-tax profits back to the community through educational programs run by its sister organization, Reality Gives.
After the tour, return to The Leela Palace and fight off your jet lag poolside.
Where to eat?
Many foreign travelers do suffer from the “Delhi Belly” in India. But with some restraint, it’s possible to travel here and not get sick. Given our tight itinerary, we needed to keep everyone healthy and moving, so we made a conscious decision to avoid all street food. Yes, some food stalls in India are perfectly sanitary and delicious, but we chose not to take the risk. We ate all of our meals at our selected hotels.
We enjoyed a delightfully delectable Indian dinner at Jamavar, the signature restaurant at The Leela. Master Chef Vinod Saini makes a butter chicken that my son declared, “Best in India.” In addition to the cuisine, the service at this restaurant is top-notch; you couldn’t ask for a more attentive wait staff.
KidTripster Tip: Order family-style and share to sample a good variety of dishes.
You can reach Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, by either train or car. The hotel can assist you in hiring a car service. Or you can work with a travel agent to hire a driver for your entire trip, so that you don’t have to negotiate this detail every time that you move on to a new city. The drive from Delhi to Agra is about four hours.
KidTripster Tip: Leave Delhi as early as possible to avoid the crush of traffic. I’d recommend no later than 8 a.m.
KidTripster Tip: If you hire a driver for your entire trip, try to get one who understands and speaks English. Ours didn’t, and it added unnecessary stress and anxiety to our trip. Also, have your hotel print out directions to your next destination in English for you to follow. A mapping app uses too much data.
Where to stay?
I’ll admit upfront that the stay at The Oberoi Amarvilas was a pricey splurge, especially since we required two rooms for our family of four. But the property is like no other with uninterrupted views of the Taj Mahal from each and every room, plus butler service to boot. The rooms are comfortable and inviting - more country cottage than palatial palace. For kids, the hotel monograms small travel pillows with each child’s name. It’s these small touches, plus, of course, the unparalleled location next to the Taj that makes paying the rate a little easier to take. Online rates during low season for a premier room start at around $376/night. During high season, that same room is priced at $623/night.
For a full review of The Oberoi Amarvilas, click here.
What to do?
Since you’re paying a small fortune to stay here, I’d suggest spending the afternoon soaking up as much luxury as possible. Of course, our first stop was the indigo-tiled pool with its covered grotto. Plan on having a light lunch, saving most of your appetite for dinner.
The Oberoi Amarvilas also offers two complimentary Oberoi experiences for kids: a cooking class and a bartending class. While my teenaged sons did work with the hotel’s mixologists concocting non-alcoholic cocktails, they’d recommend this activity for kids ages 6 to 12; same goes for the cooking session.
KidTripster Tip: For an extra treat, try timing your visit for one of the five nights of the month that the Taj is open during the evening. If you end up getting tickets, you could visit the Taj on this night and then visit again the following morning, if you choose. For details, click here.
Where to eat?
We had dinner at Esphahan, the hotel’s Indian fine dining restaurant. Children must be at least 9 years old; men must wear pants, no shorts. The food here is delicious and authentic, the service is extremely attentive, and the live music is a nice added touch. I ordered the chocolate cinnamon ice cream for dessert, knowing that chocolate desserts are not very common in India, and I needed a fix!
Photo courtesy: The Oberoi Amarvilas
What to do?
I’d recommend an early start today as you head to one of the Wonders of the World: the unrivaled Taj Mahal. If you’d like to get photos with as few people as possible, buy your tickets at the hotel in the morning and be in line around 5:15 a.m. at the East Gate; the gate opens at 6 a.m. If you’re staying at The Oberoi Amarvilas, you can take a chauffeured golf cart to the gate. Ticket cost: Youth (15 & under) Free; Adult around $17.
For tips on how to photograph the Taj Mahal, click here.
KidTripster Tip: To get the most out of your visit, I’d recommend hiring a local guide, which you can do at the hotel or at the gate. Guide cost: around $27.
KidTripster Tip: Make sure your Taj visit doesn’t fall on a Friday, as the monument is closed to visitors.
Plan on about 2 to 3 hours for your visit. Don’t rush; take a few moments to just sit and admire the details. When you return to the hotel, head to breakfast at Bellevue before checking out.
You can now make your way to Jaipur, known as the Pink City; in preparation for the visit of Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales in 1876, the city was painted pink. The drive from Agra to Jaipur is about 4 hours.
KidTripster Tip: You may be tempted to stop at the Keoladeo National Park, also known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, along the way. Skip it.
Where to stay?
A stay at The Oberoi Rajvilas is worth the trip to Jaipur alone. Of all the 5-star properties that my family has ever stayed at, the staff here gets the award for most attentive - from the general manager to the waiters to the gardeners. The lush 32-acre resort is a little slice of Rajasthani paradise with beautifully-appointed villas, an inviting blue-checkered pool, and roaming peacocks everywhere. In fact, the property was once the summer retreat of Jaipur’s royal family! Online rates during low season start around $343/night.
For a full review of The Oberoi Rajvilas, click here.
Where to eat?
The Oberoi Rajvilas has two on-site restaurants. Surya Mahal is open throughout the year and offers world cuisine, but I’d strongly recommend ordering off the Indian menu here. The wait staff is extremely friendly, even opening the restaurant early for us after finding out we’d missed lunch while on the road.
Raj Mahal is another Indian fine dining choice, but it’s al fresco and only open during the cooler months from October to April, so we weren’t able to dine here.
KidTripster Tip: Before or after dinner, you can arrange for a family blessing ceremony with a Hindu priest at the temple at the center of the property. It’s a short 5-minute ceremony.
What to do?
If you’re finding a need to separate the kids (and the adults), today’s a good day to do it. During our stay, my 14-year-old son and my husband remained at Rajvilas to enjoy the resort’s amenities, while my 17-year-old son and I went sightseeing in Jaipur.
The major attraction is Amer Fort (also known as Amber Fort or Amber Palace), located in the village of Amer about 7 miles outside of Jaipur. If you’re only going to see one fort in India, I’d choose this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The hotel can arrange for a knowledgable guide. Four-hour guide cost: $25, though it’s really only about a 1-1/2 to 2-hour visit. Admission cost: Student about $2; Adult about $8; audio guides are available if you’re not touring with a guide.
KidTripster Tip: Skip the elephant ride at the fort. It’s a tourist trap.
KidTripster Tip: Skip going to the other tourist sites of Hawa Mahal and City Palace.
Back at the hotel, my husband and son made full use of the pool, putting green, tennis courts, and badminton court but skipped the morning yoga class.
The Oberoi Rajvillas has a large selection of complimentary experiences - many specially designed for kids. My sons spent part of the afternoon in the Young Hotelier’s Programme. The staff gave them a behind-the-scenes tour of the inner workings of the resort. Their favorite part? No surprise here, the kitchen!
Other complimentary activities include an astrology reading, Rajasthan history lesson, and demonstrations of in-lay wood technique, miniature painting, and bangle making. Little ones will enjoy the kite decorating and flying, pottery making, and a treasure hunt around the property. Other offerings are fee-based: kids’ cooking class, puppet show, magic show, and Indian wine tasting.
Photo courtesy: The Oberoi Rajvilas
As difficult as it is to tear yourself away from The Oberoi Rajvillas, it’s time to hit the road again for your 6-hour drive to Jodhpur. One of the most picturesque cities in the state of Rajasthan, Jodhpur is known as the Blue City because of the countless doors, roofs, and homes painted a distinct azure. Best to get an early start on this drive.
Where to stay?
RAAS Jodhpur is a hard-to-find haven in the center of the old city. Formerly a haveli (manison), the property is a perfect blend of old Rajput architecture and modern design, set in a leafy green courtyard with a seductive pool. But it’s the stunning view of Mehrangarh Fort that looms on the hill above the city that’s the real star. Rooms start at $149/night online with a 60-day advance reservation.
KidTripster Tip: For a view of the fort from your bed, request of Luxury Room on an upper floor.
After a quick dip in the pool, head to the kitchen of the hotel’s signature restaurant Darikhana for a family cooking demonstration with Chef Vishal Gautum. He’ll show you how to make a number of local Rajasthani dishes that will be served for dinner later that night. Go hungry, like skip-lunch hungry, as there’s much sampling. And make your dinner reservation for late in the evening, so you’ll have room for more! Cooking class and dinner cost: $55 per person.
Be sure to dine al fresco at Darikhana. In the evening, it’s truly a magical setting with the candlelit courtyard below and the illuminated fort above.
Photo courtesy: RAAS Jodhpur
What to do?
Instead of touring a 15th-century fort on foot with your kids, why not zip through it? Ok, technically you’re ziplining around the outside of Mehrangarh Fort, but my teenaged sons still much preferred the 1-1/2-hour course with Flying Fox to a traditional tour. Cost: Youth about $16; Adult about $21; there’s no minimum age, but participants need to be at least 4-feet, 7-inches tall and not more than 254 pounds. Kids under 16 must be supervised by an adult on the tour.
KidTripster Tip: Book one of the first two tours of the day; they're discounted.
For more on the Flying Fox Jodhpur zipline tour, click here.
Where to eat?
Before leaving Jodhpur, grab lunch at Step Well Cafe, overlooking the city’s actual stepwell, Toorji Ka Jhalra. Ask at the hotel desk for the location of the secret door that leads to the cafe without entering the street.
KidTripster Tip: Don’t order a to-go lunch from the hotel restaurant Baradari. Few options travel well, and the cheese sandwiches that did weren’t good.
Make the 4-1/2-hour drive from Jodhpur to the village of Delwara about 45 minutes outside of Udaipur.
KidTripster Tip: On our trip, we made the long 5-hour journey from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer and then the even longer, 9-hour journey from Jaisalmer to Delwara. I was captivated with the idea of staying inside the walled city, but now I would say not to do it. While I enjoyed our stay at Hotel Garh Jaisal Haveli, the kids really missed having a pool, and the fort city itself wasn’t all that interesting. Plus our desert safari on camels was a bust. We wish that we’d have done what I’m suggesting to you: skip Jaisalmer and spend that extra day at RAAS Devigarh.
Where to stay?
Here’s your chance to stay at a heritage property - the beautifully-restored RAAS Devigarh in the hillside village of Delwara. This 18th-century palace is a destination in it’s own right. Each Palace Suite here is unique and stunning - and larger than most New York City apartments. The family-friendly amenities and attentive service is just what your family needs after a long road trip through Rajasthan (or if you’ve done the itinerary in reverse, it’s a reprieve from the chaos of Mumbai.). Online rates in low season start at $173/night.
No palace would be complete for my kids without a palatial pool, and RAAS Devigarh delivers. My sons also made full use of the billiards room, ping pong table, and various game tables around the property that also boast killer views. During the evening, you can watch your choice of movies in the lounge, complete with popcorn. While at the hotel, make sure to take a historical tour of the palace with your kids. It'll provide some context to your stay. Simply ask for a guided tour at the concierge desk.
Get a glimpse of Indian village life by exploring Delwara either on bikes, borrowed from the hotel, or on foot. Or you can take a tour of Delwara that’s guided by specially-trained boys from the village. You’ll see the stepwell that the hotel now maintains, Hindu and Jain temples, the hunting tower, and Sadnha workshop, an NGO that employees local women. Tour cost: about $5; all proceeds go to the guides and a local youth center.
Or you can arrange a day of sightseeing in popular Udaipur through the hotel, including sites like the City Palace, Jagadish Temple, Sahelion-ki-Bari Gardens, and Lakes Nichola and Fateh Sagar. To be honest, these sites didn’t really interest by teenaged sons, so we stayed in Delwara during our stay.
Where to eat?
Whatever you choose to do with your day, make sure to have dinner at RAAS Devigarh, the site of our most memorable meal in India. We enjoyed a private Thali dinner, which featured a selection of various small dishes served on a platter with naan. But it’s the setting that was absolutely stunning! We dined in the restored Sheesh Mahal, or mirror room, where Devigarh’s kings entertained their queens and special guests, surrounded by candlelight and flowers. It was simply magical. We were all wowed, including my not-easily-impressed teenaged sons. Cost: about $55 per person.
KidTripster Tip: Make a dinner reservation for the Sheesh Mahal when you make your lodging reservation, as it’s a very popular venue.
Photo courtesy: RAAS Devigarh
Today, you’ll say goodbye to road travel and fly from Udaipur to Mumbai. RAAS Devigarh provides complimentary car service to the airport. There’s multiple flights to Mumbai daily. We flew budget carrier IndiGo for about $46 per person. The flight is about an hour.
When you arrive in Mumbai, take a cab or better yet, Uber from the airport to your hotel. It’s far cheaper than the hotel car service. You’ve now arrived in India’s largest city and home to upwards of 23 million people! (For perspective, New York City has a population of 8.5 million people.)
Where to stay?
The St. Regis Mumbai is a sophisticated, centrally-located big city hotel that typically caters to business travelers. However, you’ll find the staff here - including your own private butler - welcoming to families, as well. Your kids will likely head straight to the infinity-edged, rooftop pool with spectacular views of the city skyline and the Arabian sea. In fact, nearly every room at The St. Regis boasts spectacular views. Prepaid SPG Member rates start at around $193/night; otherwise, it’s $287/night.
KidTripster Tip: With a roll-away bed, we found the Deluxe, Grand Deluxe, and Premiere rooms to be too small for our family of four. If you’re traveling with at least two children, I’d recommend a suite.
KidTripster Tip: The St. Regis is located next to three high-end shopping malls, if you’d like to do some window shopping.
For a full review of The St. Regis Mumbai, click here.
Where to eat?
Seven Kitchens is the most family-friendly of all the restaurants at The St. Regis. It serves a global menu for lunch and dinner; you can either choose off the buffet or order off the menu. If you’re hankering for French fries, you’ll find perfect ones here!
After dinner, catch a movie - maybe even a Bollywood movie - at the nearby cinema.
Photo courtesy: The St. Regis Mumbai
What to do?
If you only do one thing in Mumbai, take Reality Tours and Travel’s tour of Dharavi Slum. Yes, a slum tour. You may have to drag your kids “kicking and screaming,” but take them. I don’t care how many third world countries that you have visited, you’ve never seen anything quite like this. Dharavi is one of the largest slums in Asia. Nearly 1.5 million people live in a space half the size of Central Park. (Let that sink in for a moment.) The slum gained international attention after the release of the award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire; the movie is based on Dharavi. But there’s more to this tour that squalor; it’s a lesson on survival. Both of our guides, Nano and Raj, grew up in the slum. You’ll learn about the micro industries that operate in Dharavi. You’ll tour both the Muslim and Hindu residential areas. At one point in the tour, we turned into an area where the 2-story “houses” (which are the size of an American bedroom) were separated by an alleyway; here only one person could pass at a time. We felt as if there couldn’t possibly be enough oxygen for everyone to breathe. This 2-1/2-hour tour is memorable, difficult, and important. Cost: about $13/person. I’d recommend the tour for kids 12 and up.
KidTripster Tip: Watch the movie Slumdog Millionaire with your kids before you go.
Where to eat?
If you have teenagers or well-behaved young foodies, try one of The St. Regis’ award-winning restaurants - By the Mekong, which specializes in Asian cuisine including Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese or Yuuka, which serves Japanese entrées and fresh sushi rolls. Look around - a Bollywood star may be dining at the next table!
KidTripster Tip: Make reservations well in advance, as both these restaurants book quickly.
After dinner, take a cab or Uber to Marine Drive and walk along the seaside promenade.
What to do?
It’s your last day of sightseeing in India! While Reality has a group sightseeing tour of Mumbai, I’d actually recommend booking a private tour with them for around $100 for a family of four. I think most kids are like mine and lack the interest and stamina to see everything that’s on the regular tour. In about two hours, I’d recommend seeing Dhobi Ghat (the world’s largest outdoor laundry), Gateway of India (mostly as a photo op), Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (formerly Victoria Train Station and site of the last dance scene in Slumdog Millionaire), and Churchgate Station just before lunchtime to learn the story of the amazing dabbawalas. I’d skip the Jain Temple, Banganga Tank, Mani Bhavan (National Gandhi Museum), and Chowpatty Beach, which is not a swimming beach.
KidTripster Tip: Several companies, including Reality, offer Mumbai Street Food tours. My recommendation? Don’t take them, as you really can’t afford to get sick.
International flights nearly always depart late at night or early in morning. Again, to save money, take a cab or Uber to the airport. Arrive with plenty of time before your flight. The line through immigration took us nearly two hours!
KidTripster Tip: Ask for a late checkout at The St. Regis Mumbai. The hotel may even accommodate your request without an extra charge.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah is married to a first-generation Indian-American. This trip was the family’s first opportunity to connect with their Indian heritage.
This writer received some discounted or complimentary stays, activities, meals for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.