Kolkata, though often associated with poverty, is commonly overlooked by tourists when visiting India. This friendly, intellectual and vibrant city is full of history and culture, with many faded remnants of the British Raj. Kolkata is a city that requires immersion rather than quick sightseeing to really get a feel for, and appreciate, it. Start with these places to visit in Kolkata. One of the best ways to discover them is on a Kolkata walking tour.
Kolkata's famous Park Street (formally renamed as Mother Teresa Sarani) runs from Chowringhee Road to Park Circus and is renowned for its entertainment, restaurants, and prominent historical landmarks including old colonial mansions. This iconic street was home to India's first independent nightclub and has been the center of Kolkata's nightlife since the glory days of the swinging 60s when venues overflowed with jazz, cabaret, and floor shows. Head to Mocambo, Moulin Rouge and Trincas for a rush of nostalgia.
One of the top places to go shopping in Kolkata, New Market is a historic bargain hunter's paradise, built by the British in 1874. This sprawling maze of more than 2,000 stalls, grouped together according to the type of goods sold, offers almost everything imaginable. The entrance is on Lindsay Street, just off Chowringhee Road. Opening hours are Monday to Friday, 10:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. Saturday, until 7 p.m. Closed on Sunday. Those who are after something special, shouldn't pass up the services of one of the many guides (known as coolies) that congregate around the market entrances. They live and breathe the market, and can effortlessly lead you to the best goods for the best price. Alternatively, it's possible to go on a walking tour of New Market such as this one offered by Kolkata Magic.
Mullick Ghat Flower Market
The colorful chaos of Kolkata's flower market presents a fantastic photo opportunity. More than 130 years old, it's east India's largest wholesale flower market with thousands of flower sellers visiting it every day. The market is dominated by sacks overflowing with long garlands of marigolds, popularly used in Hindu devotional rituals. Find it along Strand Bank Road, starting from below Howrah Bridge on the Kolkata side. Take Calcutta Photo Tours' Hooghly's Flower Fest walking tour for a memorable immersive experience.
Built beside the Hooghly River during the rule of the British Raj in 1843, Prinsep Ghat features one of the city's best known columned Colonial monuments dedicated to English scholar James Prinsep. The ghat was made to replace Chandpal Ghat as the principal point of embarkation for important visitors to the city. Now, it's a popular place to relax and go for a stroll by the river bank. It's possible to walk all the way from Prinsep Ghat to Babu Ghat, along a 2 kilometer (1.2 mile) stretch of landscaped riverfront. Prinsep Ghat is located next to Vidyasagar Setu, on Strand Road between Water Gate and Saint George's Gate of Fort William.
Kolkata's massive urban park, known as the Maidan, is where locals go to spend their leisure time playing cricket and other sports, or relaxing with a picnic or snack from one of the food stalls. The Maidan extends south from the Esplanade, and is bordered by Chowringhee Road and the Hooghly River. All up, it covers about 1,000 acres. Fort William, Victoria Memorial, Eden Gardens cricket stadium, and Kolkata Race Course are some of the notable structures inside it. On the northeastern edge, the Glorious Dead Memorial is a monument honoring Indian soldiers who lost their lives in World War I.
Imposing white marble Victoria Memorial at the southern end of the Maidan was completed in 1921 and currently serves as a museum. Constructed in memory of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, it houses a fine art history collection and a gallery from the British Colonial period including many impressive paintings, sculptures, and books. The building's exterior is evocatively illuminated at night, and its surrounded by a vast garden that's an attraction in itself. The museum is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (closed Monday). Tickets cost 30 rupees for Indians and 100-500 rupees for foreigners.
Mother Teresa is highly regarded for founding the Missionaries of Charity and devoting her life to helping ill and outcast people in Kolkata. Visit the Mother House to see her tomb, the bedroom where she lived, and a small museum dedicated to showcasing her life. It displays items such as her handwritten letters, spiritual exhortations, and personal belongings including saris, sandals, and crucifix. The Mother House is a place of silence and contemplation. Many people choose to meditate there while visiting because of its serene, uplifting energy. Opening hours are 8 a.m. until noon and 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. daily except Thursday, August 22, Easter Monday, and December 26.
White Town (Colonial Kolkata)
Many of Kolkata's notable British-era buildings are situated in the BBD Bagh central business district, formerly called Dalhousie Square after Lord Dalhousie who ruled India from 1848 to 1856. These include 19th century St. Andrew’s church, 18th century Writer's Building (previously the administrative office of the British East India Company), General Post Office, Greek-architecture inspired Metcalfe Hall (previously home to the Imperial Library), and the Town Hall. Calcutta Walks' Dalhousie Square Walk provides insight into the district's Colonial heritage.
Black Town (Bengali Kolkata)
Get acquainted with the city's Bengali heritage by exploring what's known as "Black Town" in north Kolkata—the area inhabited by Bengalis during the time of British rule. Many were wealthy landowners and merchants. Sovabazar is a particular atmospheric neighborhood in this part of the city, with a captivating blend of old-world architecture. You can even stay in an immaculately restored 1920s Bengali townhouse. You'll agree that Calcutta Bungalow feels like a home away from home. Walk through the surrounding lanes and you're likely to spot some eye-catching street art. Calcutta Walks' Star Still Shines walking tour of Sovabazar is very informative.
Grey Town (Immigrant Kolkata)
Sandwiched between Black Town and White Town, Grey Town is where an eclectic mix of immigrants has settled—Buddhists, Parsis, Muslims, Chinese, Portuguese, Jews, and people from elsewhere in India. It's fascinating to discover the communities that co-exist together there. Attractions include Bow Barracks (apartment blocks that housed military officers during World War I), a Chinese church built in 1905, a Parsi fire temple, and Magen David Synagogue built in 1884. Calcutta Photo Tours' Culture Kaleidoscope walking tour is recommended for exploring the district in depth.
Indian Coffee House
One of the most historic restaurants in India, the Indian Coffee House on College Street harks back to the days of India's struggle for independence from British rule. It was a popular meeting place for intellectuals, freedom fighters, social activists, revolutionaries, and bohemians. These days college students often hang out there to converse and exchange ideas. Opening hours are 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily. College Street is also renowned for having the largest second-hand book market in the world. Go on this Bengal Renaissance Walk conducted by Kolkata Magic if you're interested in the street's history.
This middle-class South Kolkata residential neighborhood has transformed into a trendy locality with its leafy streets now home to buzzing boutiques and cafes. Go there to shop for hip handicrafts, folk art, pottery, and exclusive textiles. Byloom and Sienna Store and Cafe are popular. It's situated near Gariahat Road, about 20 minutes south of the city center.
South Park Cemetery
Visiting a cemetery isn't usually high on the itineraries of tourists. However, this one is worth seeing, especially if you're interested in India's colonial history! Established in 1767, this poignant grand old British cemetery was used up until 1830 and is now a protected heritage site. Overgrown and disheveled, its tombs are an elaborate mix of Gothic and Indo-Saracenic design and contain the bodies of many remarkable men and women from the Raj era. It's intriguing to spend some time wandering around and reading the stories of their lives on the headstones. One of the people buried there is English trader Job Charnock, who is regarded as the founder of Kolkata. The cemetery is located on Park Street, at the intersection of Rawdon Street. It's open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry is free. There's no cost for phone cameras but you'll need to pay 50 rupees for large digital cameras. Contact Immersive Trails for a guided walking tour of the cemetery.
This old and very popular Hindu temple, dedicated to Bhavatarini ("savior of the universe", an aspect of Goddess Kali), was founded in 1855 by Rani Rashmoni. Widowed at a young age, she very successfully took over her wealthy husband's zamindar (land ownership) business. Apparently, the idea to establish the temple came to her in a dream before a pilgrimage to Varanasi. The temple was made famous by spiritual leader Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who was appointed as its chief priest. It's situated alongside the Hooghly River on the northern outskirts of Kolkata, making it best accessed by ferry. Opening hours are October to March, daily from 6:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. until 8.30 p.m. April to September, daily from 6:00 a.m until 12.30 p.m and 3:30 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.
Downriver from Dakshineswar Kali Temple, peaceful Belur Math is set on 40 acres of land and is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, founded by Swami Vivekananda (a chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa). The main shrine, dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna, has unique and distinctive architecture that combines Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Islamic styles. It's worth experiencing the evening aarti ceremony, which beings at sunset. Unfortunately, photography isn't allowed on the premises. Opening hours are October to March, daily from 6.30 a.m. until 11.30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. From April to September, the temple opens at 6 a.m.
Kalighat Kali Temple
Recommended only for those who are ready for surrounding poverty, surging crowds, filth and pandemonium (otherwise visit Dakshineswar Kali Temple as an alternative), the temple at Kalighat in south Kolkata is dedicated to the city's fearsome patron goddess Kali — the dark mother—and is integral to the city. Hidden in a maze of alleyways, the temple is known for its animal (particularly goat) sacrifices, which although outlawed are still performed regularly inside its enclosure to appease the blood-drinking goddess. Prepare to be approached by pushy temple priests who will try and extract as much money as possible from you. The temple can be easily reached from Kalighat Metro train station. It's open daily from 5:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m.
The settlement of Kumartuli, meaning "potter locality" (Kumar = potter. Tuli = locality), is over 300 years old. It was formed by potters who came to the area in search of a better livelihood. Nowadays, around 150 families live there, earning a living by sculpting idols for various festivals. Most of the idol-making happens from June to January, with the biggest occasion being Durga Puja. There's usually a frenzy of activity around 20 days before the Durga Puja festival begins, in order to get all the work finished. Kumartuli can be entered from Banamali Sarkar Street in north Kolkata. The nearest Metro railway station is Shobhabazar-Sutanuti.
Old Chinatown (Tiretti Bazaar)
Kolkata is the only city in India to have a Chinatown (actually it has two, Old Chinatown in Tiretti Bazaar and newly established Tangra). Many migrants came from China in the late 18th century to work at the old Calcutta port. As the sun rises, the stoves are fired up and knives start chopping to produce the legendary Chinese breakfast that Old Chinatown is notorious for. Feast on fresh delicacies such as momos, dumplings, prawn crackers, pork sausages, and fish ball soup. Unfortunately, the authenticity has waned in recent years. You'll need to get there early as it's only on from 5.30 a.m. until around 8 a.m. Most of the action happens on Sunday mornings. Tiretti Bazaar is on the corner of Bentinck Street and India Exchange Place Road, in the central business district area next to Bow Bazaar. It's near Poddar Court.