Kolkata, still popular by its former colonial name – Calcutta, is known as the ‘Cultural Capital’ of India. Once the headquarters of the British Indian empire, today, its soulful embodiment of culture, art, history, architecture, literature and the enthusiasm and cheery friendliness of its locals will melt visitor’s hearts for sure. Kolkata, the capital of the state of West Bengal, upholds the perfect blend of old-world charm and modern-day comfort. From richly designed architectural buildings dating back to the Victorian era to the sleepy strands lining the river Hooghly, it is home to a diverse array of artistic communities, myriad of languages, lively festivals and local food markets that will keep you asking for more. If you want a city with a soul, come visit Kolkata.
Must-do activities in Kolkata:
1. Introduced in 1902, the oldest operating electric tramways of Asia have preserved their romantic charm as Kolkata still retains it’s glorious heritage. Hop on a tram and explore the life of Kolkata for a nominal fare.
2. Also referred as the Brigade Parade Ground, the Kolkata Maidan, is the largest urban park of Kolkata and is rich with historic, cultural and socio-political significance. It is home to the world-famous cricketing venue – the Eden Gardens.
3. Dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria, Victoria Memorial, the huge marble edifice lies on the Maidan grounds by the banks of the River Hooghly. Take out time to marvel at the ornate Indo-Gothic style of architecture blended subtly with British, Mughal, Rajput, Persian and Saracenic styles.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
4. Soak in the stunning gothic architectural wonder of St. Paul’s Cathedral that dates back to the 18th century and is the largest cathedral in eastern India. With its intricate architectural details, stained glass windows and turrets, it will take you to the romantic times of the Raj, when this stupendous cathedral was one of the largest outside mainland Britain.
5. Visit New Market or Hogg Market- The largest and oldest shopping district of Kolkata, it is the ultimate shopper’s paradise. From Tibetan trinkets, to clothes and fine jewelleries, you will get everything under the sun at negotiable prices. This place is super crowded, mostly, so if you are visiting for the first time, be alert and know your map well.
6. If you are a foodie, make a point to visit Terreti Bazaar, in central Kolkata. This early morning roadside Chinese food bazaar is famous for its mouth-watering breakfast items and unusual imported sauces and spices
Kolkata Book Fair
7. If you are a book lover, do visit Kolkata at the beginning of February to attend one of the largest book fairs in the world. Its massive footfall equates it to a festival and people usually throng every single day of the week long fair just to smell the pages.
What do you like best about your city:
Kolkata is more than mortar and bricks. It has a heartbeat that is so contagious and spirited that every corner gives you the sense of belonging. As a tourist, you will never get lost in the maze of the streets as every passer-by you knock into. will happily help you out or be your google map. The vibe of the city is addictive and so is its hospitality.
Best Walks in Kolkata
1. Take an early morning walk on one of the most beautiful cantilever bridges in the world, the Howrah Bridge, over the river Hooghly and experience sleepy Kolkata. Continue to the Malik Ghat Flower Market, that sits nestled under the bridge and is one of the biggest flower markets of India. Overflowing with flower sellers, the colours, smell and activities are overwhelming. You need to embrace the noise though, to enjoy the colors of life here.
2. From the flower market, you can take a ferry, cross the river and move on to Kumortuli, the renowned quarters for porters and clay artists. Anytime of the day, you will get to see first hand, the sculpting of high quality clay idols for local festivals as well as for international exports. You can also take a quiet stroll along the strands or ghats lining the river Hooghly.
3. If you are a bibliophile, keep a day aside to visit the famous College Street or boi-para. The smell of old, new and dog-eared books, fresh coffee brewing in the famous Indian Coffee House and the shouts of the roadside books vendors, mingles together and helps you rediscover your love for paper books in this sea of tomes and compendiums. While in College street, do take a break to sip some awesome shakes at the Paramount Cafe.
Best Restaurants in Kolkata
When talking about Kolkata, the conversation stands incomplete if we forget about food – both are an inseparable duo. With a plethora of delectable dishes, Kolkata has an abundant variety of cuisine that can satisfy even a fussy eater.
1. 6, Ballygunge Place and Oh! Calcutta – If you want to taste authentic, traditional Bengali buffet, these fine dining restaurants are the best options. From mutton to fish to desserts, every bite is a gastronomical delight.
2. For fine dining experience, there is Eden Pavilion in ITC Sonar, JW Marriott Kitchen in its hotel complex off EM Bypass, and Mainland China with its many branches around Kolkata that serve the best Chinese fares.
Alternately, if you can give fine-dining a miss, seek out the street food for which Kolkata is world famous – from tucking Kati Rolls in Park Street, to momos at Rashbehari Avenue or the famous Kolkata Biryani at Nizam’s and Aminia’s, there is just so much to try. Or just head off to your nearest sweet shop and indulge in the sweetmeats dripping in sugary syrup as you munch on savoury Samosas and Dal-puris
Best Music / Festival:
Kolkata, being the birthplace of eminent Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, needs no more introduction about its open worship of art and culture. The city has always been the melting pot of music from different genres ranging from classical to folk, rabindrasangeet (the songs of Tagore) to live band performances. Keep a watch for these music events while in Kolkata.
If you plan to visit during October, make sure to come during the most famous Bengali festival. Durga Puja, which is a fortnight long affair and a spectacle to behold. The entire state gets shut down for five days as the streets of Kolkata get decorated Carnival style with mesmerising lightings, food stalls, and world class decorations that celebrate the Goddess Durga as festivities run all night long.
PARK STREET (officially known as Mother Teresa Sarani) is the place to experience the best of Kolkata’s prolific nightlife. Many noted musicians play at various popular night spots such as Trinca’s, Oly Pub, Blue Fox, Mocambo and Moulin Rouge. Often known as “Food Street” of Kolkata, Park Street remains the foremost dining district. It has many restaurants and pubs, 5-star hotels and nightclubs.
Best Day trip out of the city:
If you want to explore an old-world charm along the river Hooghly, make a day trip to Chandernagore, Srirampur and Bandel on the bank opposite to Kolkata. An hour long train ride and you reach these cultural beds of diverse settlements, each an erstwhile colony of the Eurpean powers.
If you are looking for serenity, and also want to feel lucky to catch a glimpse of the Royal Bengal Tiger in the wild, Jharkhali Island, nestled in the lap of Sunderbans along the Ganges river delta, is the place to be. With emerald mangrove forests hugging its borders, this huge expanse of forest is very well connected and perfect for a day trip.
Something that not many travellers would know about Kolkata
Kolkata, being the hub for world renowned artists and laureates, is never short of intellectuals. No doubt the National Library of India is the country’s largest public library in volume and located in the heart of this city (Alipore, Belvedere Estate). Do visit it for its fantastic collection. Also worth a visit is one of the world’s largest preloved book market, College Street. It is believed if you don’t find a book here, it probably never existed.