Bangalore isn't necessarily on the map for a lot of backpackers traveling through India, but as our home base for six months we discovered that Bengaluru (as the locals call it) offers a unique blend of the traditional and modern.
With a population above 10 million, Bangalore is the capital of the south Indian state of Karnataka and the third largest city in all of India. While it is now a technology hub, even nicknamed India's Silicon Valley, it has historically been referred to as the 'Garden City' thanks to some beautiful parks dating back to the late 1800s and streets lined with towering rain trees. Sadly, as the city continues to expand, the Garden City moniker is becoming increasingly less accurate. Bangalore now pulses with the exciting, chaotic, and sometimes frustrating heartbeat of India—heavy traffic, vibrant splashes of colour, densely crowded market streets, and bustling eateries. As with many of the places we traveled to in India, most of our favourite days were spent simply meandering through new neighbourhoods, novel sights and interesting faces meeting us around every corner. Yet at times, we needed respite from the constant stimulus and to unwind from the challenges of living in such a dense mega city.
And so, below is a list of tried-and-tested spots to unwind, socialize, and indulge—compiled in collaboration with Mackenzie Dancho, a kindred North American traveler we met in Bangalore and who still resides there.
FOOD & DRINKS
MTR - The Mavali Tiffin Room has been dishing out incredible traditional meals since 1924. It is one of Bangalore's most renowned restaurants, and lives up to its big reputation. Hungry from a stroll through the adjacent Lal Bagh park, we sat in the cool dark back room of MTR's lower floor. Within seconds, silver plates were set down before and food was served the traditional way. A steady stream of servers arrived at the table with a big metal bucket, ladling a healthy portion of its contents onto our plate. The culinary journey involved nearly 20 small 'courses', leaving us full to the brim and with a roadmap of traditional South-Indian cuisine.
CTR - The Central Tiffin Room slangs killer dosas, and is well worth battling the long 'lines' that tend to form. Also give their vada and filter coffee a go!
Food Street - Best experienced with a group to divide and conquer, Food Street is a one-stop shop for signature street food including raj kachori, kulfi, dosas, and masala coke.
Toit - On a mission to make the world a happier and boozier place, this Indian brewpub uses exotic local flavours (from fruit to spice, wheat to rice) and natural ingredients to make some of India's best beer. Toit also offers an upbeat atmosphere, and solace for anyone craving a slice of thin crust (sometimes you just need a some pizza!)
The Reservoire - This casual dining spot in Koramangala serves their deep rolodex of drinks with spicy Indian fusion. We enjoyed a great selection of beer (Geist included), unique cocktails, and beer cocktails in a bright art deco-inspired space.
The Permit Room - Visit the permit room for all that south India has to offer in terms of food. In addition to having a fully stocked bar, they also mix inventive cocktails that play on exotic flavours like rasam, pomegranate, cardamom, and curry leaves (definitely try Paati's Magic Rasam or Ammachi's Kashayam!). It's also next door to a lively brewpub called Arbor.
The Yoghistaan Cafe - Nestled on a cosy street in the hip district of Indiranagar, Yoghistaan is a must visit for healthy food and unique chai offerings served under a cool open-air canopy. The free chai given out every hour (simply ring the bell - twice if 2pm, thrice if 3pm) makes it a good place for long periods of freelance work, and there's also a great little yoga studio next door.
Om Made Cafe - Built around a philosophy of wholesome eating, Om Made is the place to go for a great breakfast and chill vibes! Plus they work towards a greener India with organizations such as Organic India, Ambrosia Organic Farm, Earthworm, Tea Trunk, and Green Goa Works.
Third Wave Coffee Roasters - Brews unbeatable coffee, especially when you've had too many roadside 3-in-1 Nescafes. Their Vietnamese Ice coffee was especially refreshing on a hot day. It's one of the few coffee shops that will provide a wifi code for travellers without a local sim, and has a laptop bar with plug outlets. Third Wave is also a great place to buy ground coffee (although the much cheaper family-operated coffee stall across from the Indiranagar metro station is my first recommendation).
Cricket Game - If you spend any time in the city you'll catch a glimpse of Bangalore Royal Challenger's star Virat Kohli's face plastered on a billboard or store-front ad. Locals take cricket and their hometown team very, very seriously. Whether or not the game of cricket interests you, the atmosphere of a match at Chinaswammy stadium is an experience in itself—especially when a batter hits a six and the crowd takes to Bollywood-inspired dancing! Alcohol is not served in Indian stadiums so plan your pre-game accordingly...
Toddy House - A great spot if you're looking to enjoy a wide variety of live music with food and drinks!
Humming Tree - One of Bangalore's most popular live music venues, the Humming Tree also hosts comedy nights and special screenings.
Cubbon Park - This large expanse of park space nestled in the heart of Bangalore encompasses various historical, heritage, and government buildings such as the old red State Central Library. With its through-roads closed on the weekends, it's become a place where locals and visitors can enjoy a peaceful stroll, run, or picnic beneath the sweeping canopy of trees. The park also hosts regular events and markets.
Bangalore Palace - Built in 1874 in Tudor architectural style by Maharaja Chamarajendra Wadiyar X's British Guardians as a location for his education (in preparation for his reign in 1881). Today, the tall fortified towers and dramatic turrets make Bangalore Palace a stunning and historical tourist stop as well as a coveted wedding venue. The grounds, an expansive 454 acres in the heart of Bangalore, also host exhibitions, tennis, and cricket matches.
Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens - Another city park, Lal Bagh contains India's largest collection of rare tropical plants (commissioner Hyder Ali's wealth was used to import plants from several countries), a wide lake, and its famous glass house (built in 1889) which was modelled after London's Crystal Palace and hosts two annual flower shows.
KR Market - Bangalore's famous flower market is a great place to soak up the colourful chaos of India. The market area was a former battlefield transformed into a public market space after occupation by the British army. The original structure housing the market was built in 1921, and updated to its current three-storey state in 1990. A wide array of goods can be found, with the flower market occupying the core of the ground level, while fruits and vegetables line the perimeter (some snapshots below).
Commercial Street - A bustling district for everything from saris, clothing, shoes, handbags and home goods to local crafts, antiques, and street food. It's also a great place to buy fabric by the yard and have affordable custom tailored clothing made.
Balaji's Antiques & Collectibles - This two storey shop is more like a treasure chest, filled to the brim with charming historical artifacts.
Nico Bar - Modern minimalist clothing and home goods.
Good Earth - Chic decor and clothing with an Indian twist.
Fab India - Clothing, homeware, and textiles with some Indian flavour.
Rain Tree - A collection of India's best clothing and accessories designers set up inside a large bungalow, beneath the sprawling shade of a giant rain tree, and surrounded by a garden. There is also a cafe located in the old building's verandah, creating a small oasis in the midst of the city.