Hyderabad has all the glitz and spectacle of Mumbai: a star-studded film scene known as Tollywood (another name for the regional Telegu movie industry); iconic architecture like the 1591-built, four-tower Charminar mosque; a lush, seafront promenade called Necklace Road, where visitors can take a leisurely stroll and boat ride across the Hussain Sagar Lake. Thanks to an early-aughts tech boom, the old-world city has been injected with a distinctive modern edge: The scorpion-shaped, 1884-designed Falaknuma Palace reopened in 2010 as a Taj hotel, where guests are led in a horse-drawn carriage to the opulent hilltop entrance (from $473; tajhotels.com). Catering to those in town for meetings at Hyderabad’s Google and Facebook HQs, the new Park Hyatt (from $175; hyderabad.park.hyatt.com)—the city’s first residential-style business hotel—is just a few minutes from swank restaurants and a towering City Center in the Banjara Hills. Nearby, the impeccable four-star Golkonda Hotel is a great value, with rooms from $75 a night (thegolkondahotel.com). As for the shopping, nothing in Mumbai can compare with the Numaish bazaar at the Exhibition Grounds (January 1 through February 15), descended upon every year by 2.5 million people and showcasing embroidered coats from Kashmir, ornate bidriware dishes from outside Hyderabad, and a range of other goods made by artisans across India. Some would argue that Hyderabadis eat better than Mumbaikars, too: The biryani—a rich, signature rice dish layered with mutton, gravy, and garam masala spice mix—can be found in a range of new and traditional iterations, everywhere from 50-year-old joints like Shah Ghouse to the popular Bawarchi chain.
Population: 7 million
Distance from Mumbai: One-hour-and-fifteen minute flight.
Hyderabadi actress Zara Shah—whose film Bhai is out this month—offers a peek inside Tollywood’s top celebrity hangouts.
“I personally don’t indulge in alcohol, but when I hang out with friends, I go to the lively bar at the Novotel (6682-4422; novotelhyderabad.com). It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which makes it very convenient for actors who have unpredictable schedules. They make amazing mocktails—my personal favorite would be Cinderella (orange, pineapple, and lemon juices with grenadine and ginger ale).”
“What are known as ‘salsa socials’ have become big here in the past five years. The best salsa dancers in town will take over the floor early, at around 8 p.m., at a lounge like Spoil (Plot 70, Rd. No. 1, Jubilee Hills; 6451-3333), which has views overlooking the Jubilee Hills neighborhood, or Cuba Libre (GVK One Mall, Rd. No. 1, Banjara Hills; 6776-7114). Anyone can join in, and the partying continues into the night, when the regular club scene gets going.”
“One of my favorite boutiques is Kimaya (Shangrila Plaza, Rd. No. 2, Banjara Hills; 4012-3160). They carry most of the top designers of India: Manish Malhotra’s and Neeta Lulla’s sequined saris and lehengas (long skirts) are ideal for weddings and red-carpet events.”
“On the weekends, celebrities chill out at two popular restaurants in a posh area called Jubilee Hills: N Grill (Rd. 36, Jubilee Hills; ngrill.com), a Mediterranean-inspired eatery designed with raw materials like polished concrete, unpainted wood, and stone floors (it’s owned by Tollywood star Nagarjuna Akkineni) and Over the Moon (Hotel Daspalla, Rd. No. 37, Jubilee Hills; 6654-5678), which has a modern look with glass bars, tables, and stairs with dim lights and an amazing view from the eighth floor—hence the name.”