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 famous places to visit in Kolkata. One of the best ways to discover them is on a Kolkata walking tour.
Possibly Kolkata's most famous street, Park Street (formally renamed as Mother Teresa Sarani) 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.
- Location: Chowringhee Road to Park Circus.
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.
- Location: Lindsay Street, just off Chowringhee Road.
- When to Go: Monday to Friday, 10:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. Saturday, until 7 p.m. Closed on Sunday.
Victoria Memorial is an imposing white building that 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.
- Location: The southern end of the Maidan.
- When to Go: When to Go: Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (closed Monday).
- Cost: Indians, 30 rupees. Foreigners, 100 - 500 rupees.
Mullik (Malik) 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.
- Location: Along Strand Bank Road, starting from below Howrah Bridge on the Kolkata side.
- When to Go: From sunrise until sunset.
- Tours: Calcutta Photo Tours Hooghly's Flower Fest walking tour.
Opened to traffic in 1943, the Howrah Bridge (officially called Rabindra Setu, after renowned Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore) crosses the Hooghly River to link Kolkata with its twin city of Howrah. The bridge has a single span without any pylons connecting it to the river bed, and it's one of the longest bridges of its type in the world. Approximately 150,000 vehicles and one million pedestrians use the bridge each day. To get a feel for why it's said to be the busiest bridge in the world, you really must walk across it!
- Location: Just north of BBD Bagh (formerly known as Dalhousie Square) central business district.
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.
- Location: 54A, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road.
- Open: 8 a.m. until noon and 3 p.m. until 6 p.m., daily except Thursday. Also closed on August 22, Easter Monday, and December 26.
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.
- Location: Rani Rashmoni Road, May Dibas Pally, Dakshineshwar, northern outskirts of Kolkata on the eastern bank of the Hooghly River.
- Open: 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.
From the riverbank of Dakshineswar Kali Temple, take a boat 20 minutes down the river to Belur Math. This peaceful leafy complex, set on 40 acres of land, 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.
- Location: Belur Road, Howrah, on the western bank of the Hooghly River. About an hour north of the city center.
- Open: October to March, daily from 6.30 a.m. until 11.30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. April to September, daily from 6:00 a.m until 11.30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 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.
- Location: Banamali Sarkar Street, North Kolkata. About 40 minutes north of the city center. The nearest Metro railway station is Shobhabazar-Sutanuti.
- When to Go: 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.
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 was regarded as the founder of Kolkata (Calcutta).
- Location: Park Street, at the intersection of Rawdon Street.
- Open: Daily, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
- Cost: Free entrance. There's no cost for phone cameras but you'll need to pay 50 rupees for large digital cameras.
- Tours: Heritage Walk Calcutta's walking tour of the cemetery.
Old Chinatown (Tiretta Bazaar)
Kolkata is the only city in India to have a Chinatown (actually it has two, Old Chinatown 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.
- Location: Terita Bazar, Tangra, Kolkata, corner Bentinck Street and India Exchange Place Road, in the central business district area next to Bow Bazaar. It's near Poddar Court.
- When to Go: 5.30 a.m. until around 8 a.m. (only for early birds)! Most of the action happens on Sunday mornings.
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 is dedicated to the fearsome patron goddess of Kolkata—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.
- Location: South Kolkata. Kalighat Road, Kolkata, West Bengal. There is a Kalighat Metro train station.
- Open: 5:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m.
Indian Coffee House
One of the most historic restaurants in India, the Indian Coffee House 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. The neighborhood is also renowned for having the largest second-hand book market in the world.
- Location: Opposite Presidency College on College Street. About 20 minutes north of the city center. (Sharda Book Stall, No.15 Near, Bankim Chatterjee St, College Square, Kolkata).
- Open: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily.
Black Town (North Kolkata)
Get acquainted with Kolkata's Bengali heritage by exploring what's known as "Black Town"—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.
- Location: About 30 minutes north of the city center.
- Tours: Calcutta Walks Start Still Shines walking tour of Sovabazar.
Grey Town (Bow Bazar and Around)
Sandwiched between Black Town and White Town (the area once occupied by the British around Chowringhee Road) is the part of the city 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.
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.
- Location: Near Gariahat Road. About 20 minutes south of the city center.
Built beside the Hooghly River during the rule of the British Raj in 1843, Princep 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.
- Location: Next to Vidyasagar Setu, on Strand Road between Water Gate and Saint George's Gate of Fort William.
The Hooghly River is best enjoyed by boat at sunset. There are various options but the most authentic and quiet one is a traditional nouko from Prinsep Ghat. Expect to pay up to 400 rupees for four people. West Bengal Tourism also conducts regular evening Hooghly Boat Cruises but you'll be on a boat with up to 60 other people.