Visiting Shimla with kids
The Himalayan foothills in India are a great way to cool down in the summer months. Shimla was known as the summer capital of British India and was where the army would retreat to when things got to hot! The town, built on the hillside, had expanded greatly over the years and has a number of British style buildings. It’s not your typical Indian village life here.
The area is more about the beautiful mountain views rather than activity based so there is little to do here, especially for kids. However, that being said there are some lovely walks to keep you entertained for a few days. The Ridge area is also great for kids to let loose and run around.
Getting to/from Shimla
As mentioned in my previous post in our North Indian Itinerary, we took a taxi up to Shimla but the most enjoyable and picturesque is to get the toy train from Kalka. Make sure you book early to get tickets – as we learnt the hard way! It may be required that you ignore your persistent husband and arrange these through a travel agent to ensure availability! ha ha
Arriving in Shimla
This is still a mystery to even me! Even in a taxi we were dropped off literally at the side of the road. From here you have the option to either get a porter to help bring your bags up to your hotel or you can take the mall road lift. The lift is at the other end of the town and as such we just decided to walk up.
Oh my life!! with backpacks on it was tough!! My calves were burning and we needed to take a few rests. I wouldn’t recommend this if you are not fit (And I’m not fit!). Instead, locate the Mall Lift and take that up to take you to the centre. Or at least arrange with your hotel for a pick-up. Cars can access areas around the town but just aren’t allowed in the town centre (Ridge and Mall areas).
Again research carefully on this! We didn’t, but I’ll tell you about that in a minute. Even in low season Shimla is busy with higher than average prices for such basic and small accommodation.
Due to the terrain, google maps is very deceiving and unclear. Shimla is a hill station and as such everything is built on a mountainside. As well as being steep it also means that some areas don’t see the sunshine all day; which can be your only source of warmth for your room – especially in the colder weather! I would highly recommend that you avoid accommodation which faces North, around the Meena Bazar & Lakar Bazar Market areas (near the ridge). Check out our Shimla video showing what I mean!
We had pre-booked accommodation through booking.com at a homestay apartment. However, it appeared that it didn’t exist! Possibly another scam… who knows. But we contacted Booking.com and Revolut and no transactions were taken so we weren’t duped – this time! But still very bizarre. We only discovered this as friends of ours arrived just before us and had to find alternate accommodation at short notice.
However, this meant we had a problem and arrived with no accommodation. Luckily being in such a touristy (and almost British) place it was easy to find a tourism office. We gave our budget price and a phone call was made. After 10 minutes we were greeted by a man who took us up yet more hills (thank god for my wheelie bag!) to the Dreamland Hotel! It looked o.k. We were shown to a few basic rooms and decided on one big enough for the 4 of us and had extra mattresses for the boys.
The only problem with this is that it was situated in the shade… all day! This wouldn’t be a problem if there was heating, but there wasn’t and as such we were absolutely freezing!! To the point that we ended up buying a travel kettle and filling our drinking bottles to act as a hot water bottle! ha ha.
The hotel do provide plenty of warm thick blankets so our sleep was never disturbed but it took a little while to warm up in bed!! brrrrr…. I’d hate to think what it was like in winter!!!! Not one of our finest choices and not somewhere I would recommend!
Friends of ours had stayed at the Hotel Diplomat and did not have good things to say about it. The rooms were in poor condition and not suitable. They only stayed 1 night before then moving to the YMCA which was on the south side and was much better suited to their needs. The steps leading up to the accommodation were very steep indeed but the place itself was situated in a good location with a good common room, good views and generally very nice.
Getting around Shimla
In short, you’ll be walking – a lot! There is no traffic (apart from ambulances) in the main area of Shimla, hence why we were dropped at the side of the road much lower down the mountain! Everywhere you go you will end up walking up or down a hill. Some areas are less steep than others but overall it’s good for your calves! Plus keeps you warm in the colder air!
This area was great open area great for people watching, enjoying the spectacular mountain views and taking in the sun’s rays & beautiful sunsets in the evening!
There was always lots of activity and a nice hub. They offer short horse rides around the square and the ridge links over to the Meena Bazar which has some fantastic street food stalls! There are steep steps connecting to the Mall or at either end there are steep slopes in case you need wheeled access.
Slightly further down from the Ridge, on the South side of the mountain is The Mall. A shopping street filled with cafes, restaurants and lots of shops. It’s always busy here.
Where to eat in Shimla
You have plenty of choices for eating in Shimla and as there wasn’t much else to do and our room was freezing we found ourselves testing these out! We did however, enjoy a number of Lakkar Bazaar area. It was very popular and cheap! We had a couple of lunch stops here to test the samosas, Chole Bhatur as well as other street food. All delicious too!
Indian Coffee House – our first experience of the national wide and popular coffee house. It is traditionally run by local people and provides both a cheap and tasty meal. However, contrary to the name it doesn’t serve great coffee! But it does serve fab Masala dosas and Jasper especially enjoyed the butter toast! The price makes you want to go back for more!
Baljees – very disappointing, not a smile in the place! Service was extremely slow and the food was average. Not recommended for families.
Wake and Bake – advertising as a chilled out place. We found it so chilled out the service was practically non-existant. One day we turned up for breakfast (after advertising they were open at 9am) and were greeted with a gentleman who said, half an hour! When you have hungry children it was a little disappointing, so we went next door to Hide out cafe. We did return though as Ethan spotted Hummus on the menu – Food was o.k. but I preferred next door!
Hide out cafe – a small and very compact little cafe, but with lovely ,friendly staff. We had a couple of very tasty coffees and the boys had some pancakes. The menu is a little limited which is a shame but the coffee is really good. I took myself back here without the kids to have an hour to myself. Nice!
Ashiana – great view and situated directly on the Ridge. Decor was a little dated and the room was quite bright but it was good service and plenty of room. We met friends here and all had decent enough food. In fact Ethan still claims it to be the best Chana Masala he’s had in India! We also managed to get a few beers here – always a winner!!
45 The central – this was a little more expensive that what we were used to paying but the food was well worth it. There was a good variety of International and indian food – although we stuck to indian curries. Great service and nice clean seating area. The service was great and the staff were really good with the kids. To top it off the food was delicious, so much that we went back on our last night too!
Honey Hut – was a nice, quaint little coffee shop serving very strong coffee – nice! But best of all they had the most amazing cakes. There’s a couple of seats inside and a few outside, but be careful not to leave food lying around as those pesky monkeys are quick! As well as cakes you can order a few smaller plates.
Cafe Sol – we’ve only been in India for about a week but already the boys are pining for something other than indian food. We’d seen a menu which included nachos and for some reason even I was craving them. It was a little more upmarket than our usual affair, but for what it was and the food was o.k.
The boys had a pizza which was quite cheesy and the pasta sauce was a bit bland. You can also grab a beer here too. But as far as an indian adaptation to international cuisine it wasn’t bad. Definitely a one off for us as budget travellers as the prices were a little high.
As you can tell, there’s not a huge amount to do in Shimla other than to eat! Which we did A LOT!
Activities to do in Shimla
Heritage trail – we found a lovely walk (Which mainly follows the ridge so not much up and down) and leads you to Indian Institute of Advanced Study. The walk takes in the gorgeous views around Shimla and is nice to explore for a few hours. Take your time and enjoy the view.
At the end of the walk you arrive at a large gated entrance. This is the only ‘uphill’ section of the walk and leads to the main building itself (had a look of Hogwarts about it). There is a ticket desk on the left hand side when you arrive. The cost is Rs85 (For foreign visitors) for entrance to the building, but friends had suggested there are only 2 rooms to view so better to just pay for entrance to the garden area, which was only Rs 20. There is a small cafeteria on site as well as toilets.
Unfortunately the signs showing the route have been defaced and are not very visible. Look out for the green post to show you are on the right route or use Osandm offline map to highlight the route. Here is a snapshot of the key points along the route which I found – hopefully it will help you.
As an add on, there is an additional walking route to Chadwick Falls through woodlands. It takes around an hour and a half to reach there from the Ridge.
Jakoo Temple – The walk begins at the Ridge, next to the church. In fact you’ll find a sign giving you timings depending on your age. We beat our time – can you? Alternatively, If you don’t fancy walking up there is a cable car from just above the mall area which takes you to the top.
Also, be warned there are lots of cheeky monkeys on the route. They like shiny things and so make sure sunglasses and mobile phones are tucked away. We never saw anything and the monkeys didn’t come anywhere near us but it’s best to be aware.
When you reach the top there is a small temple on your right. You then walk up the pathway to the huge pink Hanuman statue! You can clearly see it from most of Shimla!
At the top you will find a couple of cafes. We stopped at Cafe under Tree we it was recommended as a nice cafe. We weren’t disappointed and enjoyed a drink and some tasty snacks there. A nice place to come and chill out with nice views in the warmth of the sunshine!
In addition to walking, there are some other hill stations that you can visit around Shimla. You will need a driver for the day, but we felt that the views and walks around Shimla were stunning.
Shimla was a great escape from the heat and also the day to day hassles of ‘normal’ India. Shimla definitely had an air of British about it and was a much more relaxed place. The cleaner air of the mountains was also a delight.
We probably spent more time in Shimla than we needed so a few days to tick off some walks and exploring around the town should be plenty of time before heading off into other areas of the Himalayan Mountain region.
But be sure to either use a travel agent or book well in advance for the Shimla Toy train which is meant to be one of the highlights.