Your family will be treated like royalty at this calming oasis in chaotic Delhi.
A bit blurry-eyed from two, 10-hour flights from the USA to Delhi, my family and I were bathed in Indian hospitality from the moment that we stepped into The Leela Palace New Delhi - garlands of fragrant jasmine draped around our necks and a ruby red tikkas placed on our foreheads as a welcoming gesture. Even though it was 2 o’clock in the morning, we were waited on by no less than two gate attendants, two doormen, and two front desk clerks, all chanting a chorus of “namaste.” It’s an example of the unsurpassed level of service and attention to detail that you’ll experience at The Leela.
Named after the beloved wife of founder Capt. CP Krishnan Noir, The Leela has been recognized as one of the best luxury hotels in the world. When you arrive at the entrance, you’re greeted by two giant and stately elephants carved from white sandstone. In the lobby, your eyes dart between the two Murano glass chandeliers hanging from the two-story ceiling to the specially-commissioned chairs adorned with in-laid, mother-of-pearl to the yellow roses, hundreds of them, clustered in giant vases.
Fun fact: Every morning, the flowers that grace every corner of The Leela - 14,000 of them - are replaced by five onsite florists. The discarded flowers are donated to a NGO that then uses them to turn a profit. The flowers are dried and made into a colored powder that’s central to the Holi Festival in March.
If you’re sightseeing in Delhi, you’ll find that The Leela is well-located near the Diplomatic Enclave, the Prime Minister’s residence, historic monuments, and a 15-minute drive (depending on traffic) from even more interesting Old Delhi. If Delhi is the start of your Indian itinerary, the luxuries here will ease you into what can be a sensory overload. Or if Delhi is your last stop in India, your family can spend your final days soaking in the legendary service that the country and its people are known for.
Photo courtesy: The Leela Palace New Delhi
Where to stay?
Majestic, luxurious, immaculate - take your pick of adjectives; all accurately describe the rooms at The Leela Palace. The hotel features four main room categories: Grande Deluxe, Premiere, Grand Premiere, and Royal Premiere. The remaining Royal Club Rooms and Suites come with dedicated butlers and access to the Royal Club Lounge and other amenities.
Honestly, you don’t have to pay extra to feel pampered here. We stayed in a Grande Deluxe room. While they’re the smallest rooms at the hotel, they’re incredibly spacious and among the largest in Delhi. The oversized bathrooms are just as lavish with marble floors, a glass-paneled shower, and a giant soaking tub with a built-in television screen, which my son made full use of. Fresh fruit and cookies are delivered to your room every day. You’ll also find an endless supply of complimentary bottled water to help you keep hydrated in Delhi’s heat. Online room rates for low season start at $154/night; complimentary breakfast and WiFi included.
KidTripster Tip: Place your jasmine garland on your bedside table and let its heavenly scent fill your dreams.
KidTripster Tip: Request a room overlooking the immaculately-kept garden.
While The Leela is welcoming to families, it only accommodates one child (8 and under) in a single room. For my family, that meant my husband and I were in one room, while our two teenaged sons occupied an adjoining room; yes, we were forced to pay for two rooms. Unfortunately, it’s simply the way that it is here. If you’re traveling with more than one young child, talk to the front desk manager to see if special arrangements can be made for a single room.
KidTripster Tip: When planning a trip to India, be mindful of the taxes. Hotel taxes are 28%; food taxes are 18%. It can really add up.
Photo courtesy: The Leela Palace New Delhi
What to do at the hotel?
If your kids are like mine, they judge any hotel by its pool. The Leela Palace has a spectacular, rooftop, infinity-edged winner. With temperatures in the 90s, this oasis is where we camped out in the afternoon. And once again living up to their reputation for service, the staff provided refreshing provisions: towels, ice water, lemonade, and fruit. If you’d like to work up a sweat, you can head to the well-equipped fitness center, but c’mon… why would you?!
While the kids are content poolside, you may want to opt for a signature treatment at the onsite spa, ESPA. The popular Kizhiswedana Synchronized Ritual is performed by two therapists, working in perfect unison to achieve the ultimate in relaxation.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re interested in a spa treatment, inquire prior to your arrival. Appointments book quickly.
Photo courtesy: The Leela Palace New Delhi
What to do outside of the hotel?
Here’s the thing: I know that my sons have what I’ve termed a “culture limit.” They’re only going to visit so many forts, palaces, and temples - regardless of whether they’re UNESCO World Heritage Sites or not - before the complaining begins. So when I put together our India itinerary, I was very intentional about what we’d see and where - only the best of the best to ensure my sons’ maximum attention. To be honest, Delhi’s major sites didn’t rise to a level of great interest for my family.
However, I still was eager to immerse my kids in Delhi’s vibrant city life. So I did what any responsible mother would do and booked an Old Delhi bicycle tour through some of the most chaotic streets in all the world, just seven hours after landing! The activity is not for the faint-hearted!
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. I appreciated the fact that the group was accompanied by two guides, one leading and one following from the rear as an extra safety measure. 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.
KidTripster Tip: Don’t book a full-day tour but instead a half-day tour. The longer tour is just too much for kids.
It’s worth noting that Reality has an even bigger social mission. The company, which also runs day tours in Mumbai, returns 80% of its after-tax profits back to the community through educational programs run by its sister organization, Reality Gives. We were happy to pay the fee of $26/person for a morning well spent!
KidTripster Tip: If you’re not going to Mumbai, consider doing the slum tour here in Delhi. Otherwise, I recommend the one at Dharavi Slum in Mumbai.
Where to eat?
The Qube, a glass-walled restaurant overlooking The Leela Palace's lush garden, serves a complimentary buffet breakfast that my hungry teenagers found to be one of the best in India. You’ll find made-to-order omelettes and waffles, hot breakfast selections (try the hash browns), fruits and juices, breads and pastries, plus other spreads more geared to Indian and Asian tastes. The freshly-made donuts are a must; the berry-flavored custard ones were devoured… repeatedly.
KidTripster Tip: Departing early? The hotel will pack a complimentary breakfast for you. Just ask!
Jamavar is the signature fine dining restaurant at The Leela. Exquisitely-designed, a meal here is one to remember. Master Chef Vinod Saini has created an extensive menu where dishes can be customized to your individual spice level, though the chef correctly notes that Indian food does require “a little kick.” We ordered dishes to be shared family-style, allowing us to sample as many flavors as possible. While everything was truly delicious, the butter chicken was the unanimous standout; also make sure to order the garlic naan. Our dinner was enthusiastically served by maître d' Mr. Singh and his über attentive staff. It’s a restaurant not to be missed.
Unfortunately, The Leela Palace doesn’t offer complimentary car service from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. However, you can arrange a transfer in advance with the hotel for around $86. Or do what we did and simply grab a cab. The 30-minute ride costs around $12. Uber also operates in Delhi.
KidTripster Tip: The customs line for foreigners, especially those who have e-visas, can be painfully long, taking well over an hour. Be prepared to wait.
Headed to the Taj Mahal in Agra? You can hire a car or take a train. For more on where to stay in Agra, click here.
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 a discounted stay and tour for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.