Grand colonial buildings, dusty trams rambling along limited routes, and evenings spent at elite British era clubs. Steeped in vibrant history, rich culture, and age-old traditions, travelling to Kolkata feels like entering a time warp.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by Kolkata’s cacophony, but also just as easy to fall in love with its eccentric charms.
Need To Know
Summers are hot and humid and winters pleasant. The city receives heavy rainfall between June and September.
Kolkata’s underground metro railway, the oldest in the country remains clean and efficient. Trams are a great way to observe the city at a calmer pace (though not practical for actually getting around). The iconic yellow cabs run by the meter and are the most convenient.
Bengalis have a insatiable love for food that’s deep-fried, and they don’t hold back on spice for the savoury dishes. Most Bengali dishes have one of these three ingredients – fish, potatoes, or rice. Popular sweets include rasgulla, sandesh, mishti doi, and paayesh. Don’t leave without trying at least one!
Things To Do
For Architecture Enthusiasts
A familiar backdrop in Indian films, Howrah Bridge is synonymous with Kolkata. Officially known as Rabindra Setu, the bridge is one of four spanning Hooghly River. It’s also the busiest cantilever bridge in the world!
The grand dome of Victoria Memorial (Tel: 033 2223 1890), another symbolic monument, was built to commemorate Queen Victoria after her death in 1901.This magnificent, white marble edifice now houses galleries with paintings, sculptures, and colonial-era books on display.
The neoclassical Marble Palace incorporates traditional Bengali elements like open courtyards and temples. Built by a wealthy zamindar, Raja Rajendra Mullick, in 1835, the mansion’s array of rooms is decked with fine paintings, glassware, and candle chandeliers.
For Religious Travellers
One of four main Shakti Peethas or Shakti shrines in the country, the Kali Temple at Kalighat draws devotees from across the globe. The 200-year-old, bustling, congested complex includes many smaller temples and a sacred water tank.
Dakshineswar is home to the other, equally famous, Kali temple. This impressive red-and-white building with a giant courtyard where Ramakrishna Paramhansa began his spiritual journey as a priest.
A 20-minute boat ride takes visitors to Belur Math (Tel: 033 2654 1144), headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission. Founded by Swami Vivekananda, this lush riverside complex radiates around the Ramakrishna Temple.
For Leisure Seekers
End an action-packed day in Kolkata by watching the sunset, cruising the Hooghly River. Small boats are available for hire from Princep Ghat. Visitors will also appreciate the tranquillity of Rabindra Sarobar, an artificial lake surrounded by flora and fauna.
For Nature Lovers
The world’s largest mangrove forest and a UNESCO heritage site, the Sundarbans National Park sits 100 km south of Kolkata. Accessible only by boat from Gosaba, this remote mesh of estuaries and river islands attracts wildlife enthusiasts keen to catch a glimpse of the elusive Royal Bengal tiger. Many operators, including Tour De Sundarbans (Tel: 098361 77140) and Sundarban Chalo (Tel: 086978 15535), offer all-inclusive tours from Kolkata.
What To Eat & Where
Days begin with piping hot tea in kulhads (clay cups), fresh hing kachoris and singhadas sold at corner shops that are almost as iconic as the city’s yellow cabs. Macher jhol (fish curry) is a Kolkata staple, and you’ll find the tastiest version at Bojohori Manna outlets across the city.
Puchka, jhaalmudi, telebhaja, ghugni; Kolkata’s lengthy list of delicious street food is only rivalled by the mishti (sweets) on offer. Don’t leave without trying the mishti doi from New Naba Krishna Guin (Tel: 079803 39535) and Balaram Mullick’s (Tel: 033 30990258) speciality – baked rasgullas.
Guests and locals throng to old-time favourites – Flury’s Bakery (Tel: 033 4000 7453), Peter Cat (Tel: 033 2229 8841), and Mocambo (Tel: 033 2265 4300.
What To Buy
New Market is your one-stop shop – clothes, handicrafts, flowers, dry fruits, and electronic appliances: this colonial arcade has it all. One of the lanes leads to Chamba Lama (Tel: 099034 90968), a Tibetan shop known for its silver jewellery and artefacts. Gariahat has a host of shops specialising in tangail and jamdani sarees, including Balaram Saha (Tel: 098301 70676) and Vastra Kuttimm (Tel: 033 2440 4094). College Street is every bibliophile’s dream where you can find first edition copies at dirt-cheap prices.