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Kolkata

The complete travel guide to Kolkata

The complete travel guide to Kolkata

The culture heart of India, Kolkata takes great pride in its art, literature and cuisine. There’s scarcely a city so passionate about everything—from politics to sports to films—nothing is complete without a spirited, often unending conversation, fondly known as adda. As India’s third most populous metro, there is an air of urban decay to the city, but it still manages to charm every visitor. Here’s a guide to Kolkata

What to see and do in Kolkata

What to see and do in Kolkata

The city sprawls along the eastern bank of the Hooghly River, which divides it from Howrah on the west. Most travellers head south of the iconic Howrah Bridge (the busiest in the world, so no stopping for photos) to Chowringhee and BBD Bagh, formerly Dalhousie Square. The colonial precinct is surrounded by historic structures like Raj Bhawan, St John's Church (the oldest in Kolkata), Black Hole Monument and Jewish synagogues. South of BBD Bagh is the vast, open parkland called Maidan, fringed by the legendary cricketing venue Eden Gardens, Fort William, Nehru Children's Museum, Birla Planetarium, St Paul’s Cathedral and the splendid white marble Victoria Memorial. Don’t miss the Sound & Light Show and the museum documenting the city's history. Indian Museum, housed in the 18th Century Asiatic Society building, is one of the oldest museums in the world. Just beyond the race course is Vidyasagar Setu, India's longest cable stayed bridge.

Walk along the riverside, stroll down Prinsep Ghat, take a boat cruise at Outram Ghat and go on heritage walks with Calcutta Walks. Visit the ancient Kalighat temple, where goat sacrifices are still conducted to appease Kolkata’s patron goddess; the Armenian Ghat, with bathers in the Hooghly and open-air akharas for wrestlers and the chaotic yet colourful Howrah flower market. Make it a point to visit the old baris (Zamindar residences), like the prominent Mullick family’s Marble Palace, which also hosts shows and concerts. Tagore lovers can visit the poet’s family home Jorasanko Thakur Bari (Rabindra Bharati University campus) for plays and other cultural events. Kolkata has a busy calendar with jazz shows at the Dalhousie Institute and concerts at Max Mueller Bhavan and The Seagull Foundation of the Arts for literature, art exhibitions and other events. The city is also a great base for excursions–cultural tours to Bolpur and Santiniketan, wildlife trips to Sunderbans and historical trails to Barrackpore where Mangal Pandey ignited the first spark of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. While there, pop by at Dada Boudi biryani opposite the railway station for a quick bite.

The best time to visit Kolkata is winter. During Durga Puja in October, the city wears a festive look with locals and tourists alike thronging street-side food stalls and decorated puja pandals, which vie to outdo the other in concept and design. Book lovers can visit in January-February when the Kolkata Book Fair, the largest in Asia, is held. The Kenduli Baul Mela on the banks of the Ajoy river, held over three days, is a wonderful opportunity to catch night-long music sessions with Bengal’s wandering minstrels.

The best restaurants in Kolkata

The best restaurants in Kolkata

Chinese, Mughlai, Bengali; Calcutta biryani, kati rolls, Bengali sweets—Kolkata is simply foodie heaven. It’s tough to pack all the best food experiences in one trip, so here’s our pick of the best:

  • Arsalan, Ripon Street, Park Circus

    Kolkata’s famous biryani joint known for its chicken and mutton biryanis, chicken bharta, mutton seekh kebab, mutton tikka butter masala and firni.
  • Shiraz Golden Restaurant, Mullick Bazaar

    Another biryani legend, this one is known more for its accompaniments—the mutton kassa and Murgh mussalam. If you happen to visit during the holy month of Ramazaan, don’t miss the haleem.
  • Peter Cat, Park Street

    The perfect ‘Calcutta Continental’ joint famous for its chelo kebabs chicken or mutton kebabs served with buttered rice and topped with a fried egg.
  • Flury’s, Park Street

    An iconic bakery, confectionery and café since 1927, it is known for snacks and desserts, sandwiches, chicken patties, cream cakes, rum balls, chocolate boats, strawberry cubes and Darjeeling tea.
  • Golden Joy, Tangra

    A spacious three-storey restaurant in Tangra or Chinatown. Try classics like stuffed tofu, prawn fuyong, Korean fish stick, kung pao chicken, threaded chicken, dragon’s eye (deep fried breaded shrimp) and dragon chicken. It’s packed on weekends, but well worth the wait. The slow-cooked suckling pig must be ordered a day in advance.
  • Kewpie’s Kitchen, Elgin Lane

    Owner Rakhi Purnima Dasgupta’s mother Minakshie Dasgupta (fondly called Kewpie) wrote the culinary bible The Bengal Cookbook and the home-turned-restaurant is a tribute to her. Dine within lithograph-covered walls, with home-cooked dishes like doi potol (spicy pointed gourd masala), dhokar dalna (lentil preparation), chorchori (mixed vegetable curry) and jackfruit or ilish paturi, wrapped in leaves.
  • Paris Café, Ballygunge and Salt Lake

    Kolkata’s macaron mademoiselle Sneha Singhi, a Cordon Bleu graduate serves delicious egg-etarian fare of omelettes, sandwiches and pastas. Try the chicken n’ mushroom or creamy spinach n’ corn crêpes and red-velvet pancake with white-chocolate sauce.
  • Bhojohori Mana, Salt Lake

    Named after Manna Dey’s famous 70s Bangla song about a mythical cook, the famous Bengali cuisine chain has expanded to Puri, Bengaluru and Mumbai and a dozen locations across Kolkata. Try the thala (meal), various chops, bhetki kabiraji cutlet (fish cutlet in flaky egg), mutton dakbangla and murshidabadi raan (which serves three).
  • Nizam’s, New Market

    Dating back to the 1923, this is the home of the Kolkata kathi roll. Besides a decent biryani, there’s chicken and mutton rolls and the aloo-anda roll; the potato is fished out of biryani after being slow-cooked in ghee. No coincidence it’s on a road called Hogg Street!
  • 6, Ballygunge Place, Ballygunge and Salt Lake

    You’ll find great Bengali cuisine with an all-day buffet on the ground floor, à la carte on the first and a range of mocktails named after city roads. Try prawn cutlet, bhapa ilish (steamed hilsa), gondhoraj chicken and daab chingri (creamy prawns served in tender coconut), besides nolen gurer ice cream and baked mihidana pearl pudding.

The best places to party in Kolkata

The Park’s discotheque Tantra has been the city’s premiere party spot since ages, besides Someplace Else for its original music and Roxy, both at The Park, as well. The Basement and Princeton Club support the local indie music scene and Sante at Novotel Kolkata Hotel and Residences in the heart of Kolkata’s IT hub, is a great place to unwind with interesting cocktails such as Sunderban Delight—white rum, cointreau, lime juice and tangy tomato chutney! Lounge bars like Vault at Priya Cinema and Privy Ultra Lounge at Elgin has a small dance floor with live DJs playing EDM, hip hop and Bollywood. Nocturne on Theatre Road, is another option, and comes into its element on weekends.

Where to stay in Kolkata

Where to stay in Kolkata

  • The Oberoi Grand, Jawaharlal Nehru Road

    Dubbed the Grand Dame of Chowringhee, the 1880s British-era building has a great Spa and Thai restaurant. Take the hotel’s guided European Walk to sights like Dead Letter Office, St. Andrew’s Church, Writer’s Building, Tank Square and Job Charnock's Mausoleum.
  • The Lalit Great Eastern Kolkata, Old Court House Street

    When it opened as The Great Eastern Hotel in 1840, it was Asia’s first luxury hotel. Today, the beautifully refurbished property at Dalhousie Square is a throwback to colonial times. If you’re feeling peckish, the Bakery does great pies.
  • The Corner Courtyard, Sarat Bose Road

    An elegant and arty boutique hotel with décor that includes a bread machine, rusty irons and objects from the 1830s. Stay here for an experience that’s not cookie-cutter.
  • Bodhi Tree, Swiss Park

    A beautiful boutique guesthouse and serviced apartment with thematic rooms and classy suites in a quiet corner of South Kolkata near Rabindra Sarovar Metro station. The quiet meditative ambience is heightened with its art gallery-cum-café Monastery of Art and garden and patio library.
  • Redbrick Residency, Sarat Bose Road

    A century-old heritage guest house with four rooms, period furniture and a dedicated caretaker (who can source Kolkata’s famous biryani). The central location is a big plus!

Where to shop in Kolkata

Chowringee is the commercial heart of Kolkata with cloth merchants, tailors, electronic shops and for cinema lovers—movie theaters. For local shopping, the city’s Dakshinapan market on Gariahat Road is the perfect place to go. Various state emporiums and shops sell everything from Santiniketan leather bags and purses, Balucheri saris, handicrafts and furniture. Byloom collaborates with local artisans to produce Indian weaves, with an exquisite collection of saris – cotton block prints, khadi to traditional silks. The eco-boutique Living Free is a mélange of designer apparel, ceramics, accessories, organic food, wellness products and recycled stationery. No shopping experience is complete without a trip to New Market, a Victorian era shopping arcade in a Gothic building. Divided into specialised sections like spices, electronics, textiles, home decor, toys, cosmetics and artificial jewelry, the market is at its colourful best during Diwali selling diyas and lanterns. College Street in central Kolkata is a good place to pick up books at throwaway prices. Kolkata also has several malls like South City Mall, Mani Square Mall and Axis Mall. For an earthier experience, pick up clay artefacts at the potters’ colony of Kumartuli where Durga Puja idols are traditionally made.

6E & Cheeky

There are several offbeat things to do in Kolkata. A taxi cab ride in the signature yellow Ambassador car is mandatory, as is a trip in a hand-pulled rickshaw, ‘Victoria’ or horse carriage ride at Victoria Terminal and a boat ride on the Hooghly are the unique ways to get around the city. Calcutta Walks runs several thematic tours–a Black Town Walk of Sovabazar, a Bicycle Tour of the old city, a Melting Pot Walk from Bow Barracks to Burrabazaar, a Royal Enfield Tour riding through Howrah Bridge, sailing on the Hooghly on a Sunset Cruise to Belur Math, Bengali Cooking Experience for those that want to explore the city’s culinary delights and even a Ramzan Food Walk!

The city’s street food is legendary, especially Bengali sweet shops like Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick Sweets in Bhawanipur (try their baked rosogulla) and Nalin Chandra Das & Sons in Hatibagan (their chocolate sandesh is a must)! In winter, look out for seasonal delights like nolen gur’er sandesh and rosogulla, made out of palm jaggery. Continue on the culinary trail to the rustic Bengali restaurant Bhoomi at Vedic Village Spa Resort for some mishti pulao. For a tombstone trail and a sampling of eclectic styles of grave architecture, visit South Park Street Cemetery, one of the earliest independent cemeteries and largest Christian cemeteries outside Europe and America in the 19th century. For a forest walk experience head to the Great Banyan Tree, tagged the widest tree in the world at Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanical Garden and stroll around this arboreal wonder spanning 3.5 acres of land (14,500 square metres) that has survived two deadly cyclones, despite losing its main trunk to a fungal attack!

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