Kolkata is widely celebrated for its culture, particularly its intellectual and artistic contributions, so it's not surprising that many of India's most popular museums are located in the city. In addition, several iconic heritage buildings were recently refurbished and turned into dynamic theme-based museums, such as Tram World, a museum dedicated to the city's historic trams and streetcars. Here's our pick of museums in Kolkata.
India's largest and oldest museum was founded in 1814 by the Asiatic Society of Bengal under the guidance of Danish botanist Dr. Nathanial Wallich. The museum is housed in a Neoclassical-style heritage building and has 35 galleries spread over three floors. Its diverse exhibits are divided into sections on archeology, anthropology, geology, zoology, economic botany, and art. Highlights include sculptures from Gandhara School of Art, the remains of Bharhut Stupa in Madhya Pradesh, Mughal-era miniature paintings, 50,000 ancient coins, meteorite fragments, fossils, and an Egyptian mummy.
Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Mondays and national holidays. Tickets cost 50 rupees for Indians and 500 rupees for foreigners. Take a virtual tour of the museum online here.
The grandest building in Kolkata, Victoria Memorial will transport you back to the time of the British Raj. Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of British India, conceived the imposing monument as a tribute to deceased Queen Victoria and the history of British rule in India. It was built over 15 years, from 1906 and 1921. Its recently revamped galleries contain paintings, coins, rare photographs and books, manuscripts, weapons, armory, textiles, and a piano used by the Queen. The Calcutta Gallery explains how the British developed the city as their capital up until 1911, when they founded a new capital in Delhi. Take some time out to relax in the vast garden surrounding the museum—it's an attraction in itself.
The museum is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, except national holidays. Tickets include entrance to the garden, and are 30 rupees for Indians and 500 rupees for foreigners. Separate garden entry tickets, costing 20 rupees, are also available. Take a virtual tour of the museum online here.
Science City is the biggest science museum in India. Not only is it educational, it's a whole lot of fun, with many interactive exhibits and extensive use of technology that bring science to life. 3D shows and a time machine with motion simulation provide immersive space-related experiences, while a 360-degree digital panorama and trolley ride past life-like robotic dinosaurs emphasize facets of evolution. There's also a maritime center, butterfly nursery, aquarium, and outdoor activities such as a maze and toy train.
Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Entry tickets cost 60 rupees per person. Extra charges are applicable for some attractions.
Notable for being India's first science museum, the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum was established in 1959 and occupies what was the palatial residence of industrialist GD Birla. The museum will be of most interest to young children and students, as it has been specifically designed to enhance learning. Its 13 galleries cover topics such as biotechnology, metals, motive power, electricity, mathematics, physics, and transport. A mock coal mine and gallery for visually-challenged visitors are special features, along with free and paid science demonstrations. The 30-minute show on static electricity is particularly interesting.
The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except on Holi and Diwali. Tickets cost 50 rupees per person. Extra charges are applicable for some attractions.
Ami Kolkata (I Am Kolkata) Museum
Opened in 2019 inside Metcalfe Hall, a restored 19th-century heritage building alongside the Hooghly River, Ami Kolkata is one of the city's new generation of museums. It's filled with a quirky and nostalgic collection of items that reflect the soul of Kolkata. Many of the items here have been cleverly repurposed, including a boat with a touchscreen panel that showcases the city's stories, as well as a tea seller's kettle that's been turned into a comment box. Large sections of the museum are dedicated to Bengali cinema and prominent personalities like Satyajit Ray. Old movie posters, photos, book covers, and vintage advertisements decorate the walls. Distinctive city sounds are also replayed in the museum's audio visual section.
Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Mondays. The entry fee is 20 rupees.
Kolkata's graceful Old Currency Building narrowly escaped demolition and now houses a museum with an epic exhibition of Bengali art spanning the 18th to 20th centuries. Curated by the Delhi Art Gallery in collaboration with the National Gallery of Modern Art, you won't find a better collection under one roof. The 600-odd works are a mix of paintings, photos, sculptures, and wooden block-printing equipment. They trace the development of art in Bengal through early Indigenous art, realism and academic art, modernist art with special emphasis on the Shantiniketan style, and filmmaking. Art aficionados should also check out the Artsacre Museum of Bengal Modern Art in Kolkata.
Tram World Kolkata
Tram World is one of several projects aimed at saving Kolkata's historic trams/streetcars from extinction. The museum was launched in December 2020 to mark the 140th anniversary of the Calcutta Tramways Company. It features a collection of tram carriages (some dating back to 1938) with old photos, groovy wall art, and vintage cars curated by the Classic Drivers Club at the transformed Gariahat tram depot. A cultural center with a food court, shops, music, and exhibition space is also being added. Buy a Tram Pass for entry (and unlimited rides on all city trams for a day), and arrive there on the special Paat Rani tram.
The Reserve Bank of India's new currency museum opened in 2019 and is an entertaining place to find out all about the history of money and banking, as well as the role of gold in India. The museum employs storytelling and technology to convey its message through interactive displays, art installations, audio and video, games, and quizzes. Visitors can even get a unique souvenir—their name printed on a certificate by an iron press-printing machine used in the early 20th century to print government bonds.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily except Mondays and national holidays. Entry is free.
Another of Kolkata's new themed museums, this one is dedicated to the history of theatre and performing arts in India. Its three galleries contain various exhibits related to Sanskrit, folk, and modern theatre. There are rare books, manuscripts, memorabilia, clippings, photos, masks, musical instruments, costumes, make-up kits, and models of film production sets. The large collection of Chhau folk masks is captivating.
Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily except Sundays. Entry costs 10 rupees.
Fans of acclaimed Bengali poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore can get insight into his former life at the ancestral home of his family, Jorasanko Thakur Bari (Tagore House). Situated on the campus of Rabindra Bharati University, it displays many personal effects—including letters, books, paintings, and photos—as well as a fine collection of art. Kumartuli, where artisans handcraft statues of Hindu gods and goddesses for festivals like Durga Puja, is nearby.
Opening hours are 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily except Mondays. Tickets cost 20 rupees for Indians and 150 rupees for foreigners.
Delve deeper into the arts and crafts of undivided Bengal at this museum, which holds more than 3,000 items personally collected by eminent Indian Civil Services officer Gurusaday Dutt over the course of his career from 1929 to 1939. Unfortunately, the museum doesn't get the attention it deserves. Its outstanding collection dates as far back as the 16th century and consists of artwork, puppets, terracotta objects, textiles, tribal masks, manuscripts, dolls, and stone sculptures. The 200 Kantha-stitched quilts, and original Kalighat and Patachitra paintings are often praised.
Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily except Mondays. Tickets cost 10 rupees for Indians and 50 rupees for foreigners.
Revolutionary spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda is renowned for founding the Ramakrishna Mission and introducing Hindu philosophy to the West. Much of his work was focused on serving and uplifting society. The immaculately restored house where he was born and grew up has an exhibition on his life and teachings, library, shrine, and meditation halls. Visitors can see the rooms where he and his family resided too. It's an inspiring place!
Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 12.30 p.m., and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., daily except Mondays.