12 top Delhi attractions

CNN  — 

Delhi seems like a colorful, cosmic swirl. India’s capital and second-largest city is in constant motion – whether it’s with people and cultures or religions and history.

And that makes it an ideal destination for the traveler who enjoys complexity and multicultural trips. Whether you’re enjoying the historic and sometimes chaotic vibe of Old Delhi or the emerging dynamic modernism of the government district in New Delhi, you’ll never be bored. (Though you may be surprised at the number of green spaces around the city where you can find some tranquility).

This list of a dozen attractions only skims the surface of the best the city has to offer, but it’s a good place to start when you travel here. While this lineup is heavy on historical and religious sites, we thrown in a few other ideas as well:

Red Fort

The Red Fort is seen through the greenery of an early fall day in Delhi.

The Mughal Empire, which arose in 1526 and had a distant genealogical link to the Mongol Empire, was the dominant force on the Indian subcontinent for more than two centuries. The Red Fort, also known as Lal Qila, is often thought to represent the height of Mughal creativity and power.

It derives its name from its walls of red sandstone. At 33 meters (108 feet tall) and built starting in 1638 and finished 10 years later, the Red Fort’s walls leave a memorable impression on you.

The structure is a fascinating blend of influences: Islamic, Persian, Timurid and Hindu traditions are all there. See the Red Fort and witness grand sweep of Delhi history.

Red Fort, Netaji Subhash Marg, Lal Qila, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, Delhi 110006, India; +91 11 2327 7705

Jama Masjid

Remember this name: Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. You’ll see his name come up on a lot on a history-oriented trips of Delhi and India. He started construction on the Jama Masjid mosque in 1644 and finished in 1656. (He’s also the leader who built the Red Fort above and a mausoleum you just might know – the Taj Mahal).

The courtyard of Jama Masjid can hold up to 25,000 people, and this great mosque is the largest in India.

The mosque has three great gates, four towers and two minarets. Visitors can rent robes for a tour at the northern gate. Tourists aren’t allowed during prayer hours, but entry is free during non-prayer times.

Jama Masjid, Meena Bazaar, Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, Delhi 110006, India

Swaminarayan Akshardham

Swaminarayan Akshardham built from intricately carved sandstone and marble

While you can visit any number of Hindu temples going deep into time and history, one of the more fascinating might be Swaminarayan Akshardham, a relative baby on the scene having opened in November 2005.

Visitors will find an intricately made sandstone and marble mandir (or house of worship) with elephant carvings at the base. At this “spiritual and cultural campus dedicated to devotion, learning and harmony,” you’ll also find open gardens and water features.

This mandir was built in tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830), a leading religious leader of his time who focused on service to the poor, nonviolence and emancipation for women.

Swaminarayan Akshardham, Noida Mor, Pandav Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110092, India; +91 11 4344 2344

Bahá’í House of Worship (Lotus Temple)

Another “newcomer” to the scene in relative historical terms is the Bahá’í House of Worship (Lotus Temple), which opened in December 1986. One look at the building will let you know the natural inspiration for the building’s fascinating design – the lotus flower holds a special place in Indian culture across all its many religions.

The temple says about 8,000 to 10,000 people visit it each day. It’s set in lovely grounds of palms and other greenery. Its wide-open, spacious interior is a wonder to behold.

Prayer services are at 10 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., and you can hear prayers from different religions, which are chanted or read out loud.

Bahá’í House of Worship, Lotus Temple Road, Bahapur, Shambhu Dayal Bagh, Kalkaji, New Delhi, Delhi 110019, India; +91 11 2644 4029

Qutb Minar

The Qutb Minar is renowned as one of the finest monuments not only in Delhi, but in all of India. And perhaps the world.

It soars to 73 meters high (that’s 240 feet). What makes it all the more amazing is its age – its construction start dates back to 1193. It was built as a victory tower by Qutab-ud-din Aibak to mark his defeat of Delhi’s last Hindu kingdom.

Carefully examine its five distinct stories. The materials and architectural styles change the higher you go as work continued on and off for centuries to come.

Qutb Minar, Mehrauli, New Delhi, Delhi 110030, India

Humayun’s Tomb

This is one of the first monuments of the Mughal Empire and considered one of the most outstanding examples of Mughal architectural style, which was heavily influenced by Persia.

It was built in 1565 at the instructions of the senior widow of Humayan. He was the son of the conqueror Babur and second leader of the empire that stretched into parts of modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as northern India.

Noteworthy features include garden squares and water channels. Historical notes: Other Mughal rulers are also buried here, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Humayun’s Tomb, Mathura Road, Opposite Dargah Nizamuddin, New Delhi, Delhi 110013, India; +91 11 2464 7005

National Rail Museum

Railroads have played an indisputable role in the making of modern India, and you can learn all about it at the National Rail Museum.

Displays of signaling equipment, antique furniture and elegant old coaches are sure to please.

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