Mumbai is an exciting city, bursting with energy, history, art, and awe-inspiring architecture. Previously known as Bombay, the city is the birthplace of Bollywood and home to the countries financial district. It is also famed for having a relaxed cosmopolitan vibe.
But what is it like to be Gay in Mumbai? Is the attitude towards the LGBT+ community as liberal as Mumbai’s reputation suggests? We travelled to Mumbai to find out. We learnt that following the historic 2018 decision to decriminalise homosexuality in India, the gay scene in Mumbai is in fact on the rise.
Truth be told; this was a surprise. In our experience, India was still very socially conservative. We certainly hadn’t heard of any hint of a gay scene in the likes of Jaipur, Varanasi, or even Goa! But with LGBT organisations such as ‘It Gets Better India‘ and the ‘Keshav Suri Foundation‘ continuously fighting for visibility and acceptance, times ARE changing.
As it turns out, Mumbai is indeed a city full of surprises. Asides from the gay scene, she is a paradoxical city. One that gives with one hand and takes with the other. An extreme divide between rich and poor; A city that makes dreams or breaks them; A fast-paced lifestyle that can exhilarate or exhaust. Mumbai is the epitome of crazy/beautiful India, and we loved every intoxicating minute of it.
In this travel guide, we will outline all the best places to go in Mumbai as an LGBT+ traveller. You’ll find a list of gay-friendly hotels and bars and our top tips as an LGBT couple in Mumbai. We will also touch on LGBT+ rights and social opinions in India, to help you prepare for an incredible, and most importantly, a safe, trip of a lifetime.
Gay in: Mumbai – 2020 LGBT+ Travel Guide
*Don’t leave home without any backpacker essentials with our free printable packing list.
LGBT+ Rights in India
When it comes to LGBT rights in India, the past 20 years have been a long and volatile road. A series of significant wins and disappointing setbacks saw LGBT activists taking one step forward and two steps back again.
Thankfully, September 2018, in a historic decision, saw acts of homosexuality decriminalised in India. With that came an apology to the LGBT+ community, and a ruling that LGBT people are just as entitled to be protected under anti-discrimination laws as everybody else. Gay marriage and same-sex adoption are currently under review by the India law commission. And India even has an openly gay prince!
While the change in the legal situation is a leap in the right direction, there is still a way to go in India. India is still very much a socially conservative country, and tolerance towards the LGBT+ community is going to be a long road. Social pressures to have children and honour family traditions means that many LGBT people live closeted lives.
Is Mumbai safe for Gay Travellers?
Thankfully, Mumbai appears to be one of the faster-progressing cities when it comes to LGBT visibility. The gay ‘scene’, once concealed to the underworld, is slowly being accepted both socially and politically, with regular events popping up around the city.
Regardless of the social norms, there will always be a higher tolerance towards tourists than there is for locals. While we aren’t ones for flaunting our relationship in public, we encountered no issues in India booking double rooms or by simply being ourselves.
In short, Mumbai, & India in general, is very safe for LGBT+ travellers. Nevertheless, we always advise acting discreetly and behaving appropriately to local customs. For example, public displays of affection are discouraged – even among straight couples.
Gay Bars & Events in Mumbai
The legal uncertainties of the past two decades meant that until recently, gay bars & events in Mumbai were kept hidden underground. Only those in the know would ever hear about them. So if you were a tourist, you had very little chance of finding them.
Thankfully, that’s now all changed. While you won’t find a thriving gay scene like London or Bangkok, there are several LGBT centred events in Mumbai. Here are some resources that will help you plan a fun-filled gay night out in the city.
Gay Bombay: A platform created by gay men for gay men. Gay Bombay is a safe space for like-minded people to connect and share experiences. They also organise regular gay-meets and events, including club nights at Invincible Boudoir & Jardin – Aptly anagrammed as Invincible BJ!
Salvation Star: Salvation Star host some of the chicest & classiest LGBT parties in all of Mumbai. All genders, regardless of your sexuality, are welcome to join the fun. Follow them on Facebook for all upcoming events.
Kashish Mumbai Queer Film Festival: June 2019 celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Mumbai queer film festival. Which goes to show how hard LGBT activists have worked to gain visibility and acceptance for the community. The festival was voted among the ‘Top 5 global LGBT film festivals’ and can be seen represented at film festivals all over the world.
Queer Azaadi Mumbai – Mumbai Pride: The event that reigns over all other queer events. The glue that holds the community together. PRIDE! Boy, what we would have done to attend the 2019 Mumbai Pride. It was the first event since homosexuality got decriminalised (again!), and over 15,000 people showed up in support. The next event is in February 2020, so plan your India itinerary wisely. Perhaps we’ll see you there!
Gay-Friendly Hotels in Mumbai
While there are no specific gay hotels in Mumbai, most will happily welcome LGBT+ travellers. These hotels, by reliable resources, are acclaimed to be gay-friendly. Here I list a hostel, budget, mid-range, and luxury option to try to cater to various budgets and interests.
Hostel $ – Backpacker Panda Colaba
We very rarely stayed in hostels during our time in India. Simply because private rooms are often so cheap; However, when we did, we’d look for Happy Panda Hostels as they always live up to their great reputation. Not to mention how we were made to feel comfortable as an LGBT couple. Happy Panda Mumbai is exceptionally well facilitated, including a games room, common area, and on-site cafe. The vibe here is very sociable, so it’s a perfect choice if you’re travelling solo or looking to make friends.
Check rates & availability for Backpacker Panda Colaba here.
Budget $ – Hotel A.K International
During the time we spent in Mumbai, we stayed at A.K International. For under $30, we got a private room with en-suite bathroom, including air-con, wifi, hot water, and all the comforts you’d expect at that price. To be honest, the room rate was a little over our usual budget. However, we had a short time in the city, and the location was perfect for what we wanted to do. All things considered, we agreed it was worth the price and we’d stay there again if we were to return.
Check rates & availability for Hotel A.K. International here.
Mid-Range $$ – Le Sutra Hotel
Le Sutra Hotel is a charming 4* boutique hotel which provides the perfect retreat from the hustle & bustle of the city. The interior of the hotel is chic & stunning, with each room individually themed relating to Indian mythology. If you are looking for a unique hotel experience, Le Sutra is a top choice in Mumbai. Here you can enjoy luxury amenities such as an on-site spa and restaurant.
Check rates & availability for Le Sutra Hotel here.
Luxury $$$ – The Taj Mahal Tower Mumbai
The Taj Hotel in Mumbai is one of the most iconic hotels in all of India. If you plan on treating yourself only once during the trip, there are few better places to do it than here. Built-in 1973, the Taj Tower is an extension to the original Taj Palace, although both parts are equally majestic. The Taj is structured more like a palace rather than a hotel and boasts magnificent views over the Arabian sea. If you can’t afford a room here, you should still check out this hotel when staying in Mumbai. Perhaps over afternoon tea or a cocktail instead.
Check rates & availability for The Taj Mahal Tower Mumbai here.
Things to do in Gay Mumbai
Mumbai is a beautiful and diverse city to explore. Whatever your interests are, you are sure to find something you love about the city. For a more local experience in Mumbai, beyond the obvious tourist hotspots, we recommend checking out some of the guided tours on Get Your Guide & Klook. Some we’ve tried and loved, which I’ve mentioned below. Here are some of our favourite places to visit and things to do in Mumbai:
Have a Peaceful Stroll on Marine Drive
Marine Drive is a famous coastal road in Mumbai which runs for 3.6km alongside the Arabian sea. It’s renowned for its series of Art Deco buildings and palm-fringed walkways. The whole scene was so un-India; we imagined walking along Miami Beach or Ocean Drive.
In stark contrast to the bustling city centre, a stroll along Marine Drive is incredibly peaceful. It is particularly striking at night when the curved coastal road illuminates in bright lights. From above, the lights look like pearls on a necklace, resulting in the streets apt nickname – The Queens Necklace.
This area of Mumbai is especially atmospheric of an evening time. Make your way far North of Marine Drive, and you’ll find Chowpatty Beach. The beach is a great spot to watch the sunset, pick up some street food, and watch local families playing games. Otherwise, you can have a sit-down meal at the various restaurants along the coast.
Allow: 2-3 hours / Entrance: FREE / Street Food: 1$
Marvel the Iconic Gateway of India
The Gateway of India is one of the countries most recognisable landmarks. A colossal archway built upon the Arabian Sea, it was commissioned to commemorate a visit to the city by King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. Upon seeing the gateway for the first time, the architecture reminded us of a medieval castle. I believe the inspiration came from a blend of Hindu and Muslim Influence.
Across the road from the monument lay the iconic Taj Palace & Tower Hotels. Both are fine examples of Indian architecture and provide incredible sightseeing opportunities. I have to admit, the first time we visited, the hoards of tourists ruined the ambience. However, we returned at 7 am the following morning, and were pretty much the only people there. Using the sunrise as a backdrop, we got to snap some great photos, just before the hotspot got busy again.
Allow: 1 hour / Entrance: FREE
Catch a Train from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus
If you are at all interested in Indian Architecture, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, or CSMT for short, is a spot of real historical importance in Mumbai. The UNESCO world heritage site was built in the late 1880s to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of England’s Queen Victoria. Today, it is the cities main railway station facilitating 18 platforms for suburban and long-distance trains.
A stunning blend of Gothic, Italianate, and Victorian influence, the structure is one of the most photographed buildings in India. We, for one, were mesmerised by the intricate details and symmetrical design. Later in our trip, we stumbled upon the building at night, and it was equally, if not more impressive. So I recommend checking it out in both night and day if you have the time.
Allow: 30 minutes / Entrance: FREE
Dispel Slum Life Stereotypes at Dharavi Slum
Dharavi Slum is one of the biggest slums in Asia. It is also said to be one of the most densely populated slums in all of the world. If you are familiar with the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, you may recall some scenes that were indeed filmed here in Dharavi. Many of you I’m sure would have found these scenes disturbing. You’re probably wondering why the hell a visit here is on this list.
First of all, I want to clarify that we in no way support poverty tourism. However, as we found out, slum life isn’t as horrific as one might expect. Dharavi is actually a fascinating place. Despite the challenging living conditions, the community work together to create a safe and clean space for its residents. Families make the most of what they have. Children play happily in the streets. Everybody has their role in keeping the organisational cogs of the slum turning.
What’s more, Dharavi has a thriving economy. Said to generate up to $1 billion in annual revenue. Recycling projects, leather manufacturing, and jewellery making are just a few of the trades that take place in Dharavi. Although we explored Dharavi without a guide, we recommend this guided tour of Dharavi as you will learn all about life in the slum from a resident. It was the most interesting thing we did in Mumbai and dispelled any shitty stereotypes attached to slum living.
Allow: Half a Day / Check Tour Rates and Availability: HERE
Go on a Bollywood Tour
Bollywood is the name for India’s vibrant, all singing, all dancing movie industry. If you haven’t seen a Bollywood movie, that’s another thing to add to your list of things to do. Bollywood films are mesmerising and so much fun. The music, the dancing, the costumes – we just love it!
If we’d have had more time in Mumbai, we’d have loved to of taken part in a Bollywood Tour. After all, Mumbai is where the industry all began. There are various tours available; however, this one here by ‘Get Your Guide’ sounds fabulous! It’s also the best-rated tour I could find. The tour involves going behind the scenes on the making of a film, visiting some famous filming locations, and a Bollywood dance show!
Allow: Half a Day / Check Tour Rates and Availability: HERE
Meander the Various Art Galleries and Museums
Art and history lovers will doubtlessly be in their element here in Mumbai. There are countless interesting art galleries, and museums dotted all over the city. Most can be found in the South of Mumbai, particularly around the Colaba area, and make for a fun walking tour.
Besides the famous attractions such as the Prince of Wales Museum and National Gallery of India, there are several others worth visiting. At the same time, you’ll get to appreciate the diversity in stunning architecture. We found ourselves constantly in awe by the various gothic and art deco styled buildings that adorn the streets of Colaba.
For those on a budget, we found the free app ‘GPS My City‘ super handy when exploring Mumbai on foot. There are various self-guided tours that you can choose from that will lead you through all the hotspots around the city. The best part is, they are all completely free.
Allow: Half a Day / Download GPS My City FREE HERE.
Visit the Ancient Elephanta Caves
The Elephanta Caves are a collection of cave temples located upon an island in Mumbai Harbour. We agreed they are one of the most fascinating architectural wonders we witnessed during all our time in India. The UNESCO listed cave-temples are thought to date back as early as the 7th century and mostly dedicated to the Hindu Deity Shiva.
Inside the main temples, a series of ornate statues and carvings, depict the tales of Hindu mythology. The smaller temples feature Buddhist depictions, and it takes a few hours to get around the entire complex. To reach the island, you can take a guided tour or travel on your own via ferry from Colaba Jetty. The journey is approximately 1hr each way and costs around 150 rupees.
Allow: Half a Day / Check Tour Rates and Availability: HERE
Sunset & Street Food on Chowpatty Beach
Our favourite night in Mumbai started at Chowpatty Beach. After a long day of sightseeing in intense heat, we made our way to the beach to relax and watch the sun go down. In all honesty, we didn’t expect much from the beach itself, but it was cleaner than expected and provided scenic views. Local families gathered together along the beach for picnics & sports, and they are happy to let you join in if you’re up to it. We watched from the sidelines and grazed on some mysterious street food. I have no idea what we were eating, but it tasted good and left our lips and mouths tingling.
Allow: 2-3 hours / Street Food: $1-2
Shop for Bargains on Colaba Causeway
Or any markets in Mumbai for that matter. Even if shopping isn’t your bag, experience the exhilarating atmosphere anyway. Visiting the markets is a great way is to immerse in the local culture, and you’re in the company of some unique characters. We love to be in amongst it all and feel our senses peak as we sample various street food and chai.
If you are looking to pick up some souvenirs, it’s easy to get carried away in the markets. Everything is so beautiful, and most of the time, of excellent quality. Whatever it is you’re looking to buy, you should be prepared to haggle. Naturally, the locals are opportunists when it comes to tourists. However, please be sure to haggle sensibly, and pay what you genuinely think is fair for the item.
Hunt for Wildlife at the National Park
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Mumbai, you may wish to consider heading to the National Park located North of Mumbai. The forested park is home to a variety of endangered flora & fauna. Not to mention, a wide array of wildlife including leopards, tigers, and various species of monkey.
Attractions within the National Park include a safari, a zoo, various nature trails, and the historical Kanheri Caves. If you are a nature lover, you will doubtlessly be in your element.
Gay- Friendly Restaurants in Mumbai
Exploring Mumbai can be exhausting, so you’ll want to fuel your adventures with some great food and refreshments. With a variety of restaurants, catering to all budgets & tastes, you won’t struggle for choice in the city. However, if you need some inspiration, here are some of our favourite restaurants in Mumbai.
Best for Coffee & Cake: Leopalds Cafe $$
Leopalds Cafe is one of the most iconic establishments in all of Mumbai. Located on bustling Colaba Causeway, it has been a favourite among tourists for over 100 years. The famous cafe even made an appearance in the incredible novel Shantaram, which is what initially inclined us to visit. We later found out the cafe was a target during the 2009 terrorist attacks, and bullet holes remain in the walls as a reminder. It’s in the perfect location to grab a bite & a beer at any time of day. We highly recommend the bakery selection and iced coffees!
Best for Breakfast: Cafe Mondegar $$
A few doors down from Leopalds, Cafe Mondegar is another popular tourist hangout in the city. This spot particularly stands out to us because of the fun cartoon murals that adorn the restaurant walls and ceilings. The retro jukebox in the corner is another great touch, resembling that of an American diner! So it makes sense that you can bag yourself a decent coffee and breakfast here.
Best for Small Budgets: Street Food $
Delicious street food can be found all over Mumbai and is by far the cheapest way to dine in the city. If you have concerns about getting sick, those are valid; however, eating street food is a quintessential Indian experience. You’d be missing out by only eating at high-end restaurants, and in our experience doesn’t necessarily exempt you from the dreaded Delhi belly. Read through these tips by Hippie in Heels regarding how to eat street food safely in India.
Best for Big Appetites: Cafe Universal $$
Centrally located in the South of Mumbai, Cafe Universal was our favourite place to fill our boots after a long day of sightseeing. Although the prices are slightly higher than we’d usually budget for dinner, we agreed it was great value for money. The portions were that big we had enough to feed us the next day as well. Highly recommend checking this place out!
Best for Big Spenders: Taj Palace Hotel $$$
To experience the grandeur Taj Palace Hotel, without having to splurge on a room, why not stop by for a bite to eat instead? It certainly won’t be cheap by Indian standards; however, I can guarantee you’ll find the overall experience worth the money. The hotel boasts a wealth of 5* restaurants, including Japanese, Lebanese and Indian. Or for a cheaper option, the infamous High Tea buffet comes highly recommended.
Tips & Advice for Gay Travellers in Mumbai
While Mumbai is relatively safe for gay travellers, naturally there are some things to be aware of when enjoying your time in the city.
Respect Social Etiquette
While the culture in Mumbai may be more relaxed relative to other parts of India, you are still likely to encounter some conservative locals. In this circumstance, it pays to be respectful and be a positive representative for your country. Trip Savvy has some great tips on general social etiquette in India. Although they may not always apply in Mumbai, it’s good to familiarise yourself and exercise them as you see fit. Trip Savvy has some great tips on general social etiquette in India.
Avoid Public Displays of Affection
You could say this falls under the category of respecting social etiquette; however, it’s important to note that this isn’t a rule just for gay travellers in Mumbai. Public displays of affection are discouraged even among straight couples, and best kept to a minimum when travelling throughout India.
Staying Safe in Mumbai
With a population of over 20 million people, visiting Mumbai can be a daunting prospect. However, while the city may seem intimidating, it is in fact considered relatively safe for tourists. Meaning that so long as you exercise the necessary precautions, your adventures in the city are likely to run smoothly.
The biggest threat for visitors in Mumbai is the various tourist scams. These are avoidable, so long as you know what to look out for. Read this article by Hippie in Heels for the 20 most common tourist scams in India. Pickpocketing is also fairly common in the city, so you should keep your valuables secure at all times. We use either a small padlock or compartmental bag to keep our valuables safe.
While crimes against tourists are rare, we advise to avoid dodgy areas or walking alone at night. Female travellers, in particular, should be vigilant in bars late at night or when in the company of intoxicated locals. Gay travellers in Mumbai may wish to refrain from public displays of affection to avoid unwanted attention.
Traffic accidents are also pretty common in Mumbai, so we advise not to travel by motorbike unless you are a confident driver. You also want to avoid crossing busy roads unless using a dedicated pedestrian crossing.
We’ve all seen those viral videos of train travel in Mumbai, where people are spilling out the side of open doors. While this is rare, it does happen, and usually during rush hour. It goes without saying, but probably best to avoid travelling by train during this time.
Finally, be aware of natural dangers in Mumbai. Earthquakes, flooding and severe storms are known to happen. If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.
Festivals in Mumbai
Akin to other areas of India, Mumbai is a very festive place, and you’d be unlucky to visit without encountering some kind of celebration. Check out this article for all the best festivals in Mumbai, so you can try to tie one in with your trip.
With that, don’t even think about going to Mumbai without travel insurance. Should you need health care while travelling in Mumbai, you will want the best money can buy. Travel Insurance could be your saving grace.
We always recommend World Nomads for travel insurance, as they are affordable, offer a variety of packages and add ons, and allow you to make amendments to your policy while travelling. Say, for example, you go scuba diving or hiking a mountain, World Nomads will amend your plan accordingly. It’s a super handy feature that we’ve used numerous times including the time we trekked to Annapurna Base Camp.
If you need further convincing, read our article on why you need travel insurance. Or get an on-the-spot quote from World Nomads using the form below.
Best Time to Visit Mumbai
Mumbai, like most of India, experiences extreme weather conditions. During the Summer (Mar-May), the heat is almost unbearable. While Monsoon (May-September) sees heavy rainfall, often derailing any sightseeing plans. With this in mind, the best time to visit Mumbai is during the Indian Winter (October-March) when the weather is perfect vacationing. At this time of year, temperatures are cooler, and there is very rarely any rain.
Getting Around in Mumbai
The most convenient way of getting around in Mumbai is by using the efficient railway system. We loved travelling by train in the city. I’d even go as far as to say that travelling by train is a big part of the Mumbai experience. The trains are inexpensive, and generally, can take you anywhere you want to go. To avoid the hordes of people you may have seen all over social media, travel outside of rush hours.
Public buses are another way of getting around the city; however, we wouldn’t recommend them unless it’s essential. The traffic in Mumbai can be relentless, causing massive scheduling delays, so the trains are always a faster alternative.
Finally, you have local taxis and tuk-tuks. Both are opportunists when it comes to tourists, so you need to be prepared to haggle hard on the price. In our experience, they are always a huge rip-off, so we suggest avoiding them altogether. The most common scam is ‘the metre isn’t working madam’. As if by magic, when you threaten to leave, the metre starts working again!
If you must take a taxi in the city, consider using OLA or Uber instead. Either way, always have an offline map handy (google maps are the best) which will enable you to track your journey.
Meeting Other Gay People in Mumbai
Being an LGBT+ traveller in any new place can be a daunting prospect, so we find it helps to connect with other LGBT+ people in the area. This way, you can share experiences, and perhaps they can answer any questions or concerns you might have.
We suggest using social media to locate other LGBT travellers or locals in Mumbai. You can use Facebook, for example, to find dedicated LGBT+ groups in your area. Similarly, navigating certain hashtags on Instagram such as #lgbteventsindia or #gaymumbai can help you locate all things LGBT near you.
Similarly, dating apps can be a great way of connecting with like-minded people – and not necessarily for a hook-up. If you’re lucky, you could find yourself connecting with a local who can give you a full insider low down of the local area. We always suggest using a secure VPN when using dating apps internationally, click here to sign up!
Well, that concludes Gay in: Mumbai – A 2019 LGBT+ Travel Guide. If you have any questions or feel we have missed anything, please reach out to us in the comment section below. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram here!
Stay adventurous and Happy travels.
Charlotte & Natalie x
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