The cultural heart of India, Kolkata takes great pride in its art, literature and cuisine. The city sprawls along the eastern bank of the Hooghly River, which divides it from Howrah on the west. 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.
Best time to visit: October to March is the ideal time to explore the city of Kolkata.
How to reach
By Air: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport is the nearest airport, located about 17km from the city center. IndiGo operates over 100 daily non-stop flights between Kolkata and other key locations in India.
By Train: Kolkata is well-connected to almost all major stations in India via a good network of railways.
By Bus: Kolkata has a vast network of buses, connecting it to the all significant parts of the country by National Highways.
Getting around: Kolkata is well-equipped with different kinds of modes of transportation, that includes buses, trams, auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, metro and local trains.
Kolkata’s famous biryani joint known for its chicken and mutton biryanis, chicken bharta, mutton seekh kebab, mutton tikka butter masala and firni.
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.
The perfect ‘Calcutta Continental’ joint famous for its chelo kebabs chicken or mutton kebabs served with buttered rice and topped with a fried egg.
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.
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.
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.
Kolkata’s macaron mademoiselle Sneha Singhi, a Cordon Bleu graduate, serves delicious egg-etarian fare of omelettes, sandwiches and pasta. Try the chicken n’ mushroom or creamy spinach n’ corn crêpes and red-velvet pancake with white-chocolate sauce.
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).
Dating back to 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 the road called Hogg Street!
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 a tender coconut), besides nolen gurer ice cream and baked mihidana pearl pudding.
Chowringee: It is the commercial heart of Kolkata with cloth merchants, tailors, electronic shops and for cinema lovers—movie theatres.
Gariahat Market: It is one of the major shopping hubs in South Kolkata, comprising of each and everything starting with jewellery, home décor items, clothes, fashion wears, exquisite Bengali sarees and more. Do remember to bargain before buying.
Dakshinapan market: 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: It 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.
New Market: 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 jewellery, the market is at its colourful best during Diwali selling diyas and lanterns.
College Street: Located in central Kolkata is an excellent place to pick up books at throwaway prices.
Malls: Kolkata also has several malls like South City Mall, Mani Square Mall and Axis Mall.
Kumartuli: For an earthier experience, pick up clay artefacts at the potters’ colony of Kumartuli where Durga Puja idols are made traditionally.
The Park’s discotheque Tantra has been the city’s premier 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 exciting 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 have 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.
The Oberoi Grand, Jawaharlal Nehru Road Dubbed the Grand Dame of Chowringhee, the 1880s British-era building has an excellent 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, Old Court House Street Kolkata 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 excellent 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!
Prinsep ghat: Rich in Gothic and Greek inlays, Prinsep Ghat is one of the oldest recreational spots in Kolkata. The place is usually crowded on weekends with people strolling along the bank or boating on the river while enjoying a stunning view of Vidyasagar Setu.
Jorasanko Thakur Bari: 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.
Eco Park: This 480-acre park is a favourite spot in the city among locals and tourists also. The place is equally entertaining for children and adults as it park comprises of multiple themed areas such as Herb Garden, Wildflower Meadow, Bamboo Forest, Formal Garden, Tropical Rain Forest, Rabi Aranya, Tea Garden, Fruits Garden, and Mask Garden. Besides the par also has separate entertainment space like music fountain, Shishu Kendra, Rose Garden, Baul Gram, and Ayurvedic centre.
Sundarbans Tiger Reserve: If you love wildlife and want to add thrill to your trip then visit Sundarbans is a must. Home to the Royal Bengal Tiger, this large coastal mangrove forest area is spread over 4262 sq km. If you are lucky, then you might see monitor lizards, Ganges River dolphin in their natural habitat, crocodiles and Olive Ridley Turtles that are presently under the conservation program. The winter months are best to visit Sunderbans Tiger reserve so plan your trip accordingly.
Sabarna Sangrahashala: West Bengal was known for its zamindar culture and to know all about it, you need to Sabarna Sangrahashala that preserves the history, culture, and traditions of influential zamindar families dating back to 10th century. Developed by the Sabarna Roy Choudhury Paribar Parishad, it is run entirely by the family without any government aid. The exhibits range from cooking vessels to ivory boxes to documents and stamps.
Shaheed Minar: Built in a mix of Turkish, Syrian and Egyptian style, this monument is an iconic landmark for the city. With a height of 158 feet, it has an Egyptian base, a dome in Turkish Ottoman design and a pillar in Syrian style. There are two balconies at the top of the pillar, but prior permission is required to reach there.
Chinatown: This area was once home to 20,000 traditional Chinese Indian nationals which has now decreased to only 2,000 people. But it still has the impression and charm of Chinese culture in the form of architecture, culture and especially the food. Several restaurants serve authentic Chinese food.
Cultural tours: The city is also an excellent base for excursions–cultural tours to Bolpur and Santiniketan, 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.
Durga Pujo: You must visit Kolkata during Durga Pujo as 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.
There are several unusual 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 who want to explore the city’s culinary delights and even a Ramzan Food Walk. Visit 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.