5 Amazing things to do in Kolkata
Many of our journeys to India start or finish in this city and there is no need to rush off. With so many wonderful things to do in Kolkata, it won’t be hard to write this post. I aim to help my readers get the most out of their time. I will be talking about my 5 absolute favourite experiences to have here. I will also be talking about where to stay and how to get around this hectic yet charming corner of the universe.
Of all of the major cities tourists are likely to enter from, this one is my favourite. As the state capital of West Bengal, Kolkata is the gateway to many of the countries top tourist draws. With an enormous international airport, it is easy to access.
Kolkata is often associated with the story of Mother Teresa and her work helping those living in extreme poverty. If you are unfamiliar with that story, then check out the link provided as it makes for a compelling true tale. However, many local people are not thrilled at the portrayal of their home town. I have to say I see their point. While there are masses of poverty, Kolkata is widely regarded as the country’s intellectual capital and its seen as a good thing to send your children to university here. It is both affluent and cosmopolitan in modern Indian culture, so this image offends some of its inhabitants.
For the intrepid traveller, Kolkata positively overflows with things to keep your attention. From grand architecture and manicured parks to some of the best food on the subcontinent. This city has it all and with only a fraction of the hassles that come with cities like Dehli. I know many of you will want to rush off to your chosen destination, but I implore you to give it the chance it deserves. Even though it is hectic and overcrowded, it is sure to be one of the most memorable city breaks you will make in India. So without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the best things Kolkata has to offer.
Malik Ghat flower market.
When it comes to sightseeing in Kolkata, this has to be one with the most lasting impression. Situated on the murky banks of the Hooghly river, this market is of epic proportions. It is one of the largest in Asia, and quite frankly, I find it hard to imagine one bigger. For the past 130 years, flowers of every description have been traded here primarily as offerings. For the casual visitor, it is incredibly photogenic. If you are looking for a photo of the city to put on Instagram, then this is your jam.
The seventeenth-century architecture along Jagannath Ghat is incredibly striking and still in use. Probably in much the same way it was at the time of its construction. The sights and smells are intoxicating, and it is best experienced at dawn and dusk. To get here is a breeze. Simply get any Howrah bound bus and get off at the opposite side to the station. Trust me. You won’t be able to miss it. If you are in Kolkata, then it would almost be a crime not to visit here.
This bustling district in the south of town is home to the legendary temple with its namesake. Although what you see today was constructed in 1809 the site itself is much more ancient. Its a surprise to no one the temple is dedicated to the tantric goddess Kali. The maze of alleyways leading up to Kalighat seems to become narrow, culminating in the tiled temple itself.
Despite the architect being Indian, there is definitely a distinct air of a British raj to it. Hordes of devotes ply the atmospheric alleyways as pushy priests try to extract donations. The overzealous sadhus are a small price to pay for such an enthralling experience. Goats are routinely sacrificed to appease the lady goddess. You can reach here by plenty of busses from the city, but it is overwhelmingly easier to reach here by metro. This makes for one of the best day trips in Kolkata and one you will never forget.
In case you were wondering that’s the impressive monument in the header picture above. No matter where you come from in the world, you can’t help but be bowled over by the sheer beauty and grandeur of this masterpiece. Built to commemorate the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. Some say the perfectly proportioned marble dome is reminiscent of the Taj, but for me, it bears a stark resemblance to St Pauls Cathedral in London. Ironically, another church close by is called St Pauls that have no resemblance what so ever to its namesake.
The impeccably well-manicured grounds make for a fine stroll. There is also a beautiful park right across the road that is popular with young lovers having the perfect place for you to finish your tour of the area. It is also a great place to have a picnic under the shade of one of the many trees and escape the midday sun.
The elegant memorial houses an impressive museum and gallery that is well worth the spend. Entrance tickets are 30 rupees for Indian nationals and 100 rupees for citizens of SAARC countries. Now for the bad news. It is a whopping 500 rupees for foriners but still worth it when you put it all into perspective.
Shopping on Sudder Street.
This is the main area where many tourists will stay, and the whole area is one big market. You can find anything and everything on these streets. However, for those looking for something a little more upmarket head around the corner to the gleaming shopping malls of Park street. The people of this town are very industrious and drive a hard bargain but its all part of the game. Bring your best poker face and your good spirits. Get ready to shop till you drop guys.
West Bengali food.
The people of this state are incredible chefs, and there is plenty to feast on. At first, this city does not sound like a foodie hotspot, but it really is. Calcutta is the home of the sumptuous Kathi roll. It is an utterly fantastic idea. Albeit so very very bad for you. Thin paratha is fried, stuffed and rolled with mutton, chicken or paneer. One is never enough! I found Hot Khati Rolls on Park street to serve some of the best.
With West Bengal having the Hooghly river running through it and into the Sunderbans making up the bottom portion of the whole state, its a small wonder Fish make up a good portion of the local people’s diet. The state produces some genuinely delectable food, such as Daab Changri. A delicate Prawn curry served in a coconut sauce. Or Doi Maach, a fish curry served with a yoghurt based sauce that is truly amazing and not at all spicy.
Meat eaters will not be disappointed either. West Bengal is home of the world-famous Bhuna. This is a cooking process where meat is added to the spices and cooked slowly, giving it a vibrant taste and little sauce. It is quite different from what we know in the west and for me is much better than anything I have tasted back home. Complex in flavour this dish cannot fail to impress your palette. For more information on where to get the country’s best food, please feel free to check out my in-depth post on Indian Cuisine.
Getting a nights rest.
As I have stated before, most people choose to sleep around the Sudder Street area. There are stacks of hotels here and feel free to shop around. Some are very reasonably priced. However, this area has a chronic problem with bedbugs. I would advise you to spend out a little on AC as they can get out of hand fast. On more than one occasion, I have found myself totally unable to sleep because I have been bitten too often and in more than one Hotel.
I have found two good quality places, and I would book ahead using booking.com as they become full quickly. One recommendation is the Hotel Aafreen. Its tucked down a small alleyway just off the main road. This place is getting more and more upmarket. I would still consider it if you dont want to get bitten. I also found the Golden Apple Hotel to be comfortable although lacking any soul. Let me know if you have any more suggestions of what you found to be good.
Getting there and away.
There is a useful tourist office where you can book train tickets for onward travel to destinations all over the country. They have access to the tourist quota, so they have the magic ability to find you seats where there otherwise isn’t any. The tourist office in Kolkata is busier than most due to the number of Bangladeshis who use that service. For more information on getting around India, check out my in-depth post on the subject for all my best tricks and tips.
Howrah train station is the busiest train station on earth with more than a million people getting one of it’s 600 daily trains. It is the size of a small town so it can be confusing. This is the main train station for the city so arrive early for your train to work it all out.
The city uses some classic white cars that look like they belong in a movie as taxis. Instead of struggling with trying to get the drivers to turn on their meter, use the Ola or Uber apps and save your self the headache. There are plenty of rickshaws, but you will have an uphill fight to get a fair price. Even if you do get them to turn the meter on there is a good chance they will take you on the scenic route anyway. There are a time and a place for technology. Booking taxis is just such a place.
If you would like to visit the Sundarbans, there are many outfits to take all-inclusive tours. Given the headache involved in visiting this area independently, I would advise you to take one. Tours vary in quality and cost so check the reviews online before committing to anything. Outfits are concentrated around the Sudder street, especially those geared towards budget travel.
In summary of my post on things to do in Kolkata.
Kolkata is a place where you are likely to visit if you are heading to North India so you may as well make the most of it. There is certainly a lot of activities to keep your attention. From good food to epic architecture, this city has it all. What’s more, it only takes a couple of days to get a little slice of it.
All road in West Bengal starts and ends here. For those who take the time to experience things in this great city will be met with oodles of charm and splendour. Tourism in this city is not nearly as prolific as it deserves to be as everyone is in a rush to get to the more famous destinations. Please give it a couple of days and discover Kolkata’s charms for yourself.
So here ends my post on this incredible city, and I know it was a long read, but I hope you find it to be of value. I think I have covered certain aspects you will find it hard to learn about elsewhere. Let me know if you would like any further information and if I can help you further with your travels. So with that said it’s over for now folks. Until the next time, my fellow intrepid traveller’s happy trails.
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