Slicked with murals and radiating with the sound of DJ sets, the city’s film and media district is a great mix of old school heritage and cutting edge innovations, says Joanna Lobo
Our microguides series is inspired by the slow travel movement, encouraging travellers to relax their pace and take a deep dive into one particular neighbourhood in a well-loved city. Rather than a whirlwind itinerary which aims to hit up every must-see attraction, these compact, close-up guides encourage you to zone in, take your time and truly explore like a local.
Everyone in Mumbai has a Bandra story. Some of the more predictable involve bumping into a Bollywood celebrity or drunken shenanigans at one of its bars. Some are fond memories of a past where a street singer called Cotton Mary would regale the residents. Others are of finding love at a karaoke night, or stolen moments of peace along the seafront in India’s vibrant financial capital.
Bandra is known as the queen of Mumbai’s suburbs and it wears this badge with pride. Packed with a diverse range of restaurants, swinging bars and lounges, boutique stores and street vendors, this northern district is hitched to the more touristy southern part of the city via the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, a bridge that now features in prominent images of the city. The “West” part of the suburb is where you’d go to enjoy the city’s culture; with the “East” half being more residential and subdued.
This coastal area was a tiny fishing village when Portuguese rule brought Christianity to the city. It still bears remnants of its Catholic past: plague crosses and majestic churches including the Mount Mary church, which sees visitors from far and wide, and different religious identities come to seek blessings. The launch of Mehboob Studios here in the 1950s soon saw the place turn into a hub of the Hindi film industry.
In the 20th century, Bandra became a fashionable address, driving up property rates and leading to rampant construction. Today, it is hipster central. It’s where the city brings in the weekend: eating, drinking, partying and attending concerts or events.
Sit by the sea
Bandra has two main seafronts: Bandstand and Carter Road. The former is a lovely promenade ending at a ruined fort, which looks out onto the Sea Link bridge. On the way, stop and join the fans gawking at the houses of two of Bollywood’s superstars, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan (at the start of Byramji Jeejeebhoy Road and at the junction of Hk Bhabha and Byramji Road respectively). Take a detour up the slope to visit the pretty Basilica of our Lady of the Mount, or head to Carter Road for its street-food stalls and small restaurants. Once along the promenade, there’s a small park and amphitheatre that sometimes hosts art shows or events.
Explore the villages
In the small surviving fishing villages (there were once 24 around here) you’ll find quaint old cottages with sloping roofs, wooden porches and external staircases, with graffiti livening up old walls, crosses and shrines. The best villages to head for include Chuim, flanking Carter Road; Ranwar, which is home to street art; the fishing village of Chimbai; and the once farming-focused Pali, now home to swanky places. All around these areas, the aromas of freshly baked bread beckon from old bakeries. Guide yourself around, or book a walking tour.
Get your culture fix at Bombay Art Society
The century-old arts society has a new, architecturally interesting home in Bandra West. It contains gallery space, a library, an art shop, and amphitheatre – look at its website calendar to spot arts classes on everything from painting to filmmaking.
A street food masterclass
You can get a taste of Mumbai’s famous street food at different locations in the suburb. Look out for corners and street stalls selling the “Bombay sandwich” vada pav (a bread roll with spiced veggie patty and chutney), sev puri (fried flour discs topped with veggies and sauces) and more. Elco Arcade is the best spot. Located in the middle of the shopping hub of Hill Road, this where people go to eat all the classics: chaat, pani puri, sev puri, and ragda pattice.
J Hearsch & Co
This iconic bakery was started by a German baker around 100 years ago, and is still run out of an old bungalow. Go here for steady quality, good pricing and filling snacks like their croissants, chicken mayo sandwiches, and biscuits. People usually take their snacks to outdoor spots such as the beach, but you can also eat outside under the trees for a bit of shade.
The Bagel Shop
A cosy, easy-going space serving homemade bagels and creative coffees and teas – as well as chai, that fuel of Mumbai’s workers, you can peruse a long list of lattes, frappes, mochas and green teas. It doubles up as a pet-friendly coworking space and their notice board lists events in Bandra.
Olive Bar & Kitchen
This pretty Mediterranean restaurant has been a legend in Bandra for two decades, and is known for being the starting point for many of the city’s best chefs. Ideal for date nights and intimate meals, go here for comfort food – think Karaage-style fried chicken, or baked brie with truffle, as well as mezze platters.
Janata Bar & Restaurant
A regular haunt of media folk, this bar is where you’ll find conversation ranging from politics to sports to the inflation rate, via some subtle government bashing. It’s small, loud and crowded but the cheap beers, wines and spirits (no fussy cocktails here) and bar snacks like chicken lollipops make it a local-vibes, down-to-earth choice.
This laidback bar serves up coastal flavours – try the smashing “Sungta Maria” (prawns on toast) – as well as affordable drinks, and a swinging Monday karaoke night. It’s also an unofficial meet-up spot for single people.
The Daily All Day
This slick monochrome restaurant-bar, decorated with tropical hanging foliage, has indoor and outdoor seating, good cocktails, and music nights. Under framed newspaper clippings of local articles, you’ll sip on molecular cocktails and eat Mediterranean food. Indoors is for quiet meals, while the patio is where the cool kids hang out, drinking and enjoying live music till past midnight. The tempo and vibe go up a notch as the night goes on.
This buzzing bar is a go-to for dance music fans. The open-air rooftop space, strung with filament lightbulbs, gives you a bird’s eye view of the suburb of Bandra, while an air-conditioned indoor section hosts live music gigs. Known for an electro-music line-up, the venue also hosts pop ups related to food, art and drinks. It’s quirky and pet-friendly, so you may see the odd punter’s cat wander by, too.
This small, unassuming shop on Hill Road lies tucked behind a series of street hawkers. Inside this compact space, you will find printed cotton spun into tote bags, flowery dresses with pockets, bright kurtas (the traditional collarless shirt or tunic) with matching pyjamas, funky elephants, puppets and other trinkets that would make for good souvenirs. It also sells organic honey, spices, and scented soaps.
Hill Road and Linking Road stalls
Upgrade your wardrobe with comfortable clothes, funky jewellery and comfortable shoes and chappals (traditional leather sandals) picked up from the friendly vendors on the streets of the bustling Hill Road. End your expedition at Cheap Jack, which is home to every kind of household item and quirky gift. Nearby, on Linking Road, you can find designer shoes and funky accessories. Be sure to haggle for the best price.
This bookstore has an entertainment section, and even a small café so you can browse, shop and quench your thirst all in one place. Expect to find latest titles, and look up their calendar for launches and events.
Taj Lands End
Located at one end of Bandra and overlooking the sea, this legendary hotel has five dining options, a health club, spa and a lush poolside. Go here for indulgence and stunning views. Double rooms from £125, room only. tajhotels.com
Located on the quaint Chapel Road, this unpretentious hostel offers bunk beds, a rooftop area for chilling, complimentary breakfast spread and wi-fi. Besides a great location, they regularly host events and activities. A single bed in a dorm room for six costs from £9, bed only. cohostels.com
Trying to fly less?
Due to suspended services following the pandemic, it’s tricky to book a cargo ship all the way to India (though AAL has operated ships from Hamburg in the past).
Fine with flying?
British Airways, Air India and Vistara are among the airlines with direct flights to India from the UK, though connecting in the Middle East can be cheaper.