Situated on the east coast of India, Kolkata has a tropical climate that can make or break your trip. The best time to visit Kolkata is in November or during winter when the weather is cool and dry. Extreme heat and humidity make summer in the city particularly uncomfortable for sightseeing. This is followed by the wet monsoon season, which brings unpredictable heavy rainfall and sometimes cyclonic storms. Read on to find out what you should take into account when planning your travel.
Weather in Kolkata
The great thing about Kolkata's tropical climate is that the city never gets really cold. In winter, temperatures range from around 54 to 79 degrees F (12 to 26 degrees C), with nippy nights but sunny days. However, pollution becomes trapped in the atmosphere, resulting in poor air quality in the city. In fact, Kolkata ranks among the most polluted cities in India during winter and, of concern, pollution levels are increasing. It's especially an issue for people with asthma or other respiratory problems.
In summer, in April and May, daytime temperatures can top 104 degrees F (40 degrees C) and rarely drop below 81 degrees F (27 degrees C) at night. Added humidity of 70-85 percent makes Kolkata stifling and uncomfortable at this time. The weather becomes unsettled in the second half of May, as the southwest monsoon approaches, and thunderstorms are common.
Kolkata receives most of its rainfall from the southwest monsoon, between June and September. July and August are the wettest months. However, the northeast monsoon also produces rain in October and November, albeit sporadically and much less in volume.
Peak Tourist Season in Kolkata
Kolkata isn't a major tourist destination in India. This means it doesn't become overly crowded with visitors like some cities. The hot and wet months keep tourists away, so hotel rates are at their lowest from April through September. You can expect a jump in prices and demand around the Durga Puja festival in September or October each year. This includes demand for flights and trains, as many people return to the city to spend the festival with their families.
Key Festivals in Kolkata
Durga Puja is Kolkata's biggest festival and it takes over the city on an epic scale for about a week. Diwali is a significant festival, although it's predominantly celebrated as Kali Puja in Kolkata. The city also comes alive during Christmas and Chinese New Year. Holi is widely celebrated in Kolkata too.
Winter (December to February)
Winter sets in quickly in December, with a drop in overnight temperatures and deterioration in air quality. Make sure you bring clothes that you can layer, including a warm jacket. The Christmas and New Year period is a busy time in Kolkata. Some hotels hold compulsory gala dinners and charge extra for this. Hotel rates are also higher over winter, as the city receives the largest influx of tourists then. The mild winter weather means you'll find lots happening throughout the season. The West Bengal government organizes cultural fairs across the city and state from December to February.
Events to check out:
- Jazz lovers shouldn't miss the three-day Kolkata Jazz Festival, with performances by international bands, in December.
- Thousands of rural artisans sell their wares at the annual Hasto Shilpo Mela and Saras Mela handicrafts fairs in December.
- A week-long Christmas festival takes place along Park Street with live music and a parade.
- New Year's Day horse racing is a popular fixture at the Royal Calcutta Turf Club.
- The International Kolkata Book Fair draws a huge crowd in January/February.
- Enjoy more than 100 feature, short, and documentary films at the flagship International Kolkata Film Festival in January.
- The Dover Lane Music Conference is Kolkata's main event for classical music in January or February.
- Social enterprise Banglanatak holds its Sur Jahan World Peace Music Festival, featuring workshops and free live music, on the first weekend in February.
- Energetic lion dancing is a highlight of Chinese New Year celebrations in Old Chinatown.
- Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge and arts, is worshipped on Basant Panchami in February. This occasion marks the start of spring.
Summer (March to May)
Temperatures start rising in March but don't become unbearable until April, when the dreaded humidity sets in. Humidity levels are particularly oppressive in May. Being active outdoors will quickly sap your energy and leave you dripping in sweat, so visiting Kolkata in summer should be avoided unless you're intending to spend plenty of time in air-conditioned spaces. If you're keen to save money, look for attractive deals in early March before the weather gets too hot.
Events to check out:
- Have fun throwing colored powder and water at people on Holi.
- The Bengali New Year (Poila Baisak) is celebrated in April with decorations and cultural performances.
- A cultural program takes place on Cathedral Road to honor the birth of literature Nobel Prize laureate and poet Rabindranath Tagore on the occasion of Rabindra Jayanti, which falls on or near May 7 each year.
Monsoon (June to September)
The monsoon gets underway in early June and brings some relief from the sweltering conditions. There's a slight drop in temperature but the weather remains muggy, with high heat and humidity. Kolkata is prone to water-logging and, coupled with difficulties getting transportation when it's wet, sightseeing becomes inconvenient. There may be isolated heavy downpours, or it may rain for days at a stretch confining you to your hotel room. The rain finally eases off a bit in September (which fed-up residents are happy about), so this can be a good time to visit the city later in the month and take advantage of low-season discounts if you're budget-conscious.
Events to check out:
- Bengali restaurants in Kolkata often hold monsoon ilish fish (also known as hilsa) festivals, with a repertoire of special dishes dedicated to the city's favorite river fish.
- The Kolkata ISKCON temple's Rath Yatra festival features a grand chariot procession similar to the Puri Rath Yatra in Odisha but on a smaller scale. It finishes at the Brigade Parade Ground, where a week-long fair happens.
- An Independence Day parade takes place along Red Road on Aug. 15 each year.
Post-Monsoon (October and November)
The weather in October becomes noticeably more pleasant with short spells of rain, lower temperatures, and less humidity. Nighttime temperatures decrease substantially towards the end of the month. By the end of November, it's a balmy 66 degrees F (19 degrees C) overnight and 86 degrees F (30 degrees C) during the day. Rain is unlikely to interfere with your sightseeing plans, making November an appealing month to visit Kolkata. Outside of when festivals are happening, you may find decent deals available on hotels.
Events to check out:
- Beautifully decorated displays of the goddess Durga come up all over the city for the Durga Puja festival in October. The idols are paraded through the city and immersed in the river on the last day.
- Kali Puja, usually in November, is celebrated in a similar way with statues of goddess Kali put on display and worshipped.
- The long-running Centre for International Modern Art Mela exhibits and sells a wide range of affordable Indian art, usually in November.