The 11 Best Day Trips From Kolkata

Ramchandra terracotta Temple, Guptipara, West Bengal.

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The lush West Bengal countryside has some surprising destinations that can easily be explored on day trips from Kolkata. Many places of interest lie along the Hooghly River upstream of Kolkata, which was a busy trading route during British colonial rule. Just be aware that the roads out of the city aren't in great condition, adding extra time to the journey.

01 of 11

Serampore to Bandel: Early European Heritage

Along Strand Road in Chandannagar.

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Before members of the British empire started using Kolkata as a capital city in 1690, European traders had already set up outposts along the Hooghly River: the Portuguese in Bandel, the Dutch in Chinsurah, the Danish in Serampore, and the French in Chandannagar. Old churches, colleges, cemeteries, and heritage buildings are remnants of this well-preserved history. The impressive 19th century Hooghly Imambara (assembly hall) is a great example of Bandel's Islamic heritage.

Getting There: The towns are clustered over a 25 kilometer (15.5 mile) stretch beginning an hour north of Kolkata, on the Howrah side. Trains run from Howrah Station to Bandel, and you can hire an auto rickshaw from there to explore the area. Alternatively, take a private tour, or West Bengal Transport Corporation's new European Settlements Boat Ride on weekends.

Travel Tip: If you have time, the two Bengal terracotta temples at nearby Bansberia are worth seeing as well.

02 of 11

Barrackpore: The Oldest British Cantonment in India

Barrackpore, Flagstaff House.

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The British established Barrackpore as an army cantonment in the late 18th century. It later became a riverside summer retreat for British rulers when Kolkata was used as their capital city. Two important Indian uprisings against British rule happened there, in 1824 and 1857. These days, the Indian Army and West Bengal state government occupy most remaining buildings. Flagstaff House serves as a retreat of the Governor of West Bengal. Its grounds house 12 statues from the era of British colonial rule. Other attractions include Lady Canning's grave, Gandhi Ghat memorial, Gandhi Museum, Annapurna temple, and the ruins of British bungalows.

Getting There: Barrackpore is opposite Serampore, on the Kolkata side of the Hooghly River. Take Barrackpore Trunk Road or a train from Sealdah Station in Kolkata. Travel time is 45 minutes to an hour.

Travel Tip: Permission to visit Flagstaff House can be obtained from Raj Bhavan.

03 of 11

Bawali: A 300 year-old Bengali Zamindar's Mansion

Rajbari Bawali, West Bengal.

Rajbari Bawali

The Rajbari Bawali was once the home of the Mondal royal family who developed Bawali into an affluent temple town. It has been carefully restored and turned into a heritage hotel that provides a peek into the lavish lifestyles of the erstwhile Zamindars of Bengal, who were influential landowners during the time of British rule. Antiques and old photos create plenty of old-world charm. Pay the on-site restaurant a visit for lunch or dinner, Bengali food is served and it's superb.

Getting There: Head south of Kolkata on Diamond Harbour Road. Travel time by road is about an hour and a half.

Travel Tip: Evenings are most atmospheric, when the mansion is evocatively illuminated and there's a cultural program featuring live Baul folk musicians. The Durga Puja festival is celebrated with elaborate rituals and food, usually in October.

04 of 11

Dhaniakhali: Sari Weaving

Young Indian woman sitting at a loom weaving fabric for a sari

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The weaver community in Dhaniakhali village makes lightweight and soft traditional cotton Tant saris. Each household has at least one hand-loom and you can watch the weavers at work. In addition, visit a dyeing unit and Dhaniakhali Sari Museum.

Getting There: Dhaniakhali is about two hours northwest of Kolkata via National Highway 19. It's possible to go on a private tour. A local train from Howrah Station is a cheaper option and takes just over an hour.

Travel Tip: Tant saris are available for purchase at Dhaniakhali Sari Museum. Stop by Tarakeshwar to visit the Shiva temple on the way.

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05 of 11

Bishnupur: Ancient Terracotta Temple Art

Five pinnacled Shyam Rai Terracotta Temple of Bishnupur.

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West Bengal's most famous terracotta temples at Bishnupur were built by the ruling Malla dynasty in classic ‘Bengali hut’ style between 16th-19th centuries. They're adorned with exquisite decorative carvings and have been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of particular interest are the Ras Mancha, Jor Bangla, Madan Mohan, and Shyam Rai temples with panels depicting scenes from Hindu epics The Mahabharata and The Ramayana.

Getting There: Bishnupur is well connected to Kolkata by rail, with a travel time of about three hours. Most conveniently, take the early morning air-conditioned 12883/Rupasi Bangla Express from Santragachi Junction Station.

Travel Tip: Baluchari silk saris and terracotta horses are popular purchases in Bishnupur.

06 of 11

Ambika Kalna: Diverse Temple Architecture

Kalna, Nava Kailash temple.

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Ambika Kalna (simply known as Kalna) rivals Bishnupur as a temple town. Although the terracotta temple art is more detailed in Bishnupur, Kalna has more temples and a wider variety of temple structures. These include the Nava Kailash 108 Shiva temple complex, extensive Rajbari temple complex constructed by local kings, 17th-century Siddeshwari Kali temple, Anantabasudev temple, the 25 pinnacle Gopaljiu temple at Gopalbari, and twin temples of Jagannath Bari. Kalna is also a renowned muslin and jamdani sari weaving center.

Getting There: Head north of Kolkata on State Highway 6 or National Highway 19 (goes past Dhaniakhali). Travel time is under three hours. Regular local trains run from Sealdah and Howrah stations to Ambika Kalna but can be crowded and uncomfortable.

Travel Tip: Kalna has too many temples to be covered in a day, so start early and focus on the prominent ones mentioned above. Nearby Guptipara and Baidyapur offer more temples and Bengali heritage.

07 of 11

Shantiniketan: Rabindranath Tagore's University Town

Santiniketan Griha (house), one of the oldest building inside the Visva-Bharati University campus, at Shantiniketan.

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Shantiniketan is a popular destination for travelers interested in Bengali arts, music, and literature. Nobel Laureate and poet Rabindranath Tagore founded the town and Visva Bharati University in 1901 at the site of his father's ashram. You can explore the university campus, centered around the Uttarayan Complex where Tagore lived and wrote much of his poetry. It has an excellent museum dedicated to him. Nearby, Srijini Shilpagram art village celebrates the tribal heritage of India.

Getting There: Take a train northwest from Howrah Station to Bolpur. Travel time is about three hours, and it's quicker than by road.

Travel Tip: Read Tagore's Nobel Prize-winning collection of poetry "Gitanjali" before you visit. The museum is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Baul folk musicians perform at Sonajhuri tribal market on Saturdays. The Poush Mela fair, in late December, attracts many Bauls too.

08 of 11

Pingla and Sabang: Handicraft Villages

Handicrafts are being prepared for sale Pingla, West Bengal.

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More than 200 artisans who specialize in Bengal Patachitra painting live in Naya village in Pingla and each house is this village is filled with colorful art. Artisans living in Sharta village in Sabang weave delicate Madur floor mats. The West Bengal state government and social enterprise Bangla Natak have established both places as rural crafts hubs. You can see the artisans at work and buy directly from them.

Getting There: Pingla is about three hours east of Kolkata via National Highway 16. The closest railway station is Balichak, 30 minutes away. Sabang is a further 40 minutes from Pingla. Hence, it's best to travel by car from Kolkata. Contact TourEast, Bangla Natak's tourism initiative, for more information.

Travel Tip: The villages can be visited all year round but Pingla is most vibrant during the annual POT Maya festival, usually in November. Drop into the Folk Art Center in each place to learn about the handicrafts. Workshops are also held there.

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09 of 11

Sundarbans National Park: The World's Largest Mangrove Forest

Sundarbans, West Bengal.

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A remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sundarbans National Park is spread over 3,861 square miles (10,000 square kilometers) on the Bay of Bengal between India and Bangladesh. There are 102 islands in the Indian part, and about half of them are inhabited. Notably, the Sundarbans is the only mangrove forest in the world to have tigers. However, the real appeal of the Sundarbans is its natural beauty and enchanting villages. Do try the locally-collected mangrove honey.

Getting There: The Sundarbans can only be accessed by boat. State Highway 3 goes up to Godkhali, the gateway to the Sundarbans, about three hours southeast of Kolkata. Independent travel is quite laborious, so it's best to go on a tour. The tour company will arrange the necessary permits for foreigners as well.

Travel Tip: It's possible to visit the Sundarbans on a long day trip from Kolkata but ideally stay there at least one night to experience village life and explore the narrow waterways.

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Bakkhali: Pristine Beaches and Fresh Seafood

 Bakkhali, West Bengal.

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Bakkhali is an offbeat option for a quick beach break on the deltaic islands bordering the Sundarbans. Its long and wide stretch of sand is quite undeveloped, and you can walk along it to Fraserganj Beach where there are windmills and ruins of an old port building. Only 10 minutes away, serene Henry Island is a must-visit for its views and resident red crabs. Bishhalakshmi temple and a crocodile breeding center are other attractions.

Getting There: Head south on National Highway 117/12 from Kolkata to reach Bakkhali in about three and a half hours.

Travel Tip: Go during winter to avoid the extreme heat and humidity.

11 of 11

Mayapur: Spiritual Capital of International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Mayapur, West Bengal.

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The International Society for Krishna Conciousness (ISKCON), better known as the Hare Krishna movement, has its headquarters in holy Mayapur next to the Ganges River. Hindus believe that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a special incarnation of Lord Krishna, was born there in the 15th century. The ISKCON temple complex is magnificent, and it's an outstanding place to learn about Vedic culture and philosophy. The town is dotted with many more beautiful temples dedicated to Krishna too. A boat ride on the river is enjoyable.

Getting There: Mayapur is about four hours drive north of Kolkata along National Highway 12. ISKCON Kolkata conducts day trips by bus. There's also a direct public bus from the Esplanade bus stand. If going by train, you'll need to disembark at Nabadwip or Krishnanagar.

Travel Tip: Experience the energetic and uplifting evening Sandhya aarti (worship ritual) at the temple. It starts around 6:30 p.m.