With this guide, you will go back to the time when Kolkata had villages that were loyal to the kings, and then back to when it became an important port city.
This comprehensive guide to the “City of Joy” has area wise attractions, tips, recommendations of restaurants, and things to do in Kolkata.
Kolkata as a city started with the building of Fort William on the banks of River Hooghly. Until then there were fishing villages that was once part of the Maurya empire. Kolkata was Britain’s Indian capital until 1912 when the foundation stone was laid at Lutyen’s Delhi.
For most of its history, Kolkata was under the control of the East India Company and then the British empire. Among the contributions of the empire to the city along with the Howrah station and other crucial infrastructure projects were the Bengal famine and the Pakistan movement violence.
Kolkata is the center of a bustling metropolis where 14 million people live and work.
Getting into Kolkata
The megacity of Kolkata has many entry points and here are the ways you can come to Kolkata:
It is the gateway to Kolkata, the hills of Darjeeling, Bangladesh, and the rest of Bengal. Formerly known as the Dum Dum airport, it was named after Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, founder of the Indian National army.
Flights to Southeast Asia, Bhutan, China, Northeast India are available here. However, most of the passengers are domestic travellers. Domestic and international travellers embark and disembark at terminal 2.
Make sure to look up at the roof. You will see writings of Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet who won the Nobel prize for literature and gave India its national anthem.
Transport from the airport:
If you are planning on taking a train to outside Kolkata, there is a railway reservation office at the airport.
Buses: West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation (WBSTC) operates AC buses from the airport to anywhere in and around Kolkata.
Taxis: The iconic black and yellow taxi waits for passenger outside the terminal. The Bengal Taxi Association operates taxis to anywhere in Kolkata and to places outside Kolkata.
It might cost you anywhere from ₹300 to ₹2000 to travel from the airport. Uber and Ola too are available.
2. Train stations of Kolkata
Kolkata has an extensive rail network and there are many train stations serving the city. Suburban train network is good too. You can use some stations to interchange between inter-city and suburban trains.
Howrah junction (code: HWH): Howrah junction it an iconic red building that serves the city of Kolkata and Howrah. There are 23 platforms and it sees more than 650 trains daily. That’s a lot of traffic.
Four different lines end at Howrah. They are Howrah-Delhi, Howrah-Mumbai, Howrah-Chennai and Howrah-Guwahati routes.
Terminal 1 has platforms 1 to 15 for long distance and suburban trains. The new terminal 2 has platforms 16 to 23 and long distance trains stop there. Transport options from the station are:
Buses: Buses are available at the Howrah bus depot outside the station. Government buses to places outside Kolkata are also available along with buses to within Kolkata and Howrah.
Taxis: The iconic black and yellow taxi waits for passenger outside the terminals. You can book Uber and Ola too but it is not so frequent near the Howrah station. However, black and yellow taxis are available at the prepaid taxi station outside the terminal which is a better option.
This ride will give you a nice view of the Howrah bridge. There are other jetties you can get off depending on where you accommodation is. Dakshineswar jetty in North Kolkata is an important stop.
Sealdah train station (code: SDAH): This station is in service since 1869. It is a badass of a train station, so big that there are two terminals. Sealdah North and Sealdah Main.
It is an important train terminus for the suburban network and fast trains like the Rajdhani. Another terminal, Sealdah South is a terminus for local trains. Transport from this station are:
Trains: Sealdah station operates local trains to South 24 Parganas from the South section. From the Sealdah main, trains are available to Howrah junction, airport and to Kolkata North and its Northern suburbs by direct or connecting trains.
Buses: The buses to different parts of Kolkata are available at bus stops around the three terminals of the station. If you hate walking.
Taxis: Taxis are available at the taxi stand. Ola and Uber are active in this part of the city.
Tram: Trams are not as extensive as the commuter rail network, but it interconnects you to some important suburban train stations.
Kolkata train station (code: KOAA): It is a new station built in 2006 to lessen the burden at Sealdah. It is used by both long distance and suburban trains. Maitree and bandhan expresses, the two trains to Dhaka and Khulna respectively in Bangladesh. Transport options are:
Trains: Kolkata station’s platform number 1 and 2 are for suburban trains. There are trains to almost everywhere in Kolkata from Tala and Kolkata station.
Buses: The buses to different parts of Kolkata are available at bus stops on the R.G. Kar Road.
Metro: Kolkata metro trains are available at the Belgachia station outside the Kolkata train station.
Taxis: Taxis are available at the taxi stand. Ola and Uber are active in this part of the city.
Tram: Trams are available at the Belgachia tram depot.
Kolkata’s twin city of Howrah has the Santragachi train station, which is an important junction in Howrah. It is also on Kolkata’s suburban train network.
3. Bus stations of Kolkata
There are bus services to Kolkata from the nearby places and neighboring states. Calcutta State Transport Corporation (CSTC), Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC), and West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation (WBSTC) are the transport companies operating buses.
Esplanade bus station: Esplanade is a busy area and a traffic hub. There are CSTC, CTC, and WBSTC buses operating from here. You can get buses to North Bengal, South Bengal and Bhutan. The transport interchange stations are the Esplanade metro station, and Esplanade tram depot
Babughat bus terminus: It is by the River Hoogly near Babu ghat and Eden gardens. Buses to Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, and other places in Bengal like Siliguri are available here.
Another bus station where outstation buses are available is at the Howrah train station.
Getting Around Kolkata
Kolkata has an extensive train network and road network. Here are ways you can travel in Kolkata.
1. Kolkata suburban railway
Suburban trains operate to the far corners of Kolkata and beyond. Operations began in 1984 and today the Kolkata suburban railway carries about 3 million people everyday. Its younger cousin, the Kolkata circular rail circles Kolkata and has some important stops.
Both these networks have some interchange points with other mode of transport. They are:
2. Kolkata tram service
Calcutta Tramways Company runs the oldest tram network in Asia and it is in service since 1902. Most of the original routes are not in operation due to other demands like flyovers or metro network.
Some routes are abandoned and closed. But this iconic transport network is still operating and there are plans to extend its network. Some of the interchange stations are:
3. Buses in Kolkata
Buses that ply within Kolkata between different neighborhoods are run by private players. There are long buses and mini buses that run on Kolkata roads.
You can identify government buses by the abbreviation of company names like CTC for Calcutta Tramways Company. Yes CTC operates buses and trams. However, expect buses to overcrowd during peak hours.
4. Kolkata metro
It was the first metro network in India, but the people of Kolkata were in wait for a long time before boarding the metro, 23 years to be exact. Nonetheless, it will connect to more places in the future. Some of the interchange stations are:
5. Taxis & auto rickshaws
The yellow taxi of Kolkata charges you ₹25 for the first two kilometers and ₹12 for every kilometer after that. There may be 10% extra for heavy baggage. The auto rickshaws charge ₹20 for the first two kilometers and ₹11 for every kilometer after that.
App based operate in Delhi. Uber and Ola cabs are available on call at 3355 3355. Book using the app and use code “24ZFBJ” to get started (website). For Uber, use “kishorv263ue” to use the app (website).
There are human powered rickshaws too. However, they are losing business because of auto rickshaws and other modes of transport. They can barely make more than ₹250 per day.
6. Ferry service
It is common knowledge that getting through the narrow streets of Burrabazar area to the Howrah station is time consuming because of the traffic. It has been so many years but the streets have not been upgraded for heavy traffic.
However, not many know that you can take the ferry to the other side to Howrah and to the train station to board your train on time.
Ferry companies serve the people on Hoogly river getting to and from the cities of Howrah and Hooghly to Kolkata. They serve between 8 AM to 8 PM and the ticket prices are between ₹5 to ₹10.
Central Kolkata is the best neighborhood to walk in and there are lots of places to see there. Besides there are walking tours conducted by many companies we will discuss later. Walking by yourself is free but there is a free to use the walking tour.
Life in Kolkata
People take life easy in Kolkata. Kolkata is hot and humid, and the road traffic is slow. Talk to anyone how life is there and the answers you get are “people of Kolkata are not in a hurry, we only like to sit and chat with friends about everything under the sun. Politics is at the top”, which is true.
Cost of living is inexpensive and you can get by with little money. The native Bengali people go to school, get a good education, and they work in the public or private sector service. Not many people choose to be entrepreneurs and there is no vibrant startup culture.
Although things are changing off late. Other than education and service, people like to involve themselves in sports and the arts. They enjoy painting, singing, attending musicals, become painters or musicians. Football and cricket are popular sports here.
They are fans of European football clubs, and they follow the Messis, the Ronaldos, and the Neymars. However, their greatest joy comes when their team Mohun Bagan football club defeats the East Bengal football club.
When not talking of politics, their conversations will turn to food. South Indian, European and Bengali dishes are favored. Festivals are one of the few reasons when social gathering happens throughout the day.
Durga Pooja is the favorite festival of Kolkatans. During this festival, you get a feel of the rich culture of the city and their clothing style. Women wear the red and white sarees, and men wear dhoti and kurta.
The city has Bengalis, Anglo-Indians, Northeast Indians, North Indians, South Indians, Chinese, Europeans all coexist.
Food in Kolkata
Kolkata is often known as the Cultural Capital of India, but culture and the arts are not the only things Kolkata is known for. The food is delicious and is mostly mild with their spices, mouth watering altogether. Here is what you need to look out for on the streets and in the homes.
Street food in Kolkata is popular and well documented in almost every travel channel on YouTube and mainstream media. Lets go through the list, shall we?
Cha – People of Kolkata need their tea and they are available in every street corner and they come in many flavors. Black cha, masala cha, lemon cha or plain old sweet tea. (Recipe)
Jhalmuri – It is puffed rice mixed with spices, peanuts, and coriander. It is available every in Kolkata, and even on trains to and from Kolkata. (Recipe)
Puchka – Puchka or paani puri is a street food that is available at cities all over India. It is called gol gappas in Delhi.
Ghugni chaat – It is an iconic North Indian dish made of chickpeas with chole masala, chillies, chopped onions and dal. (Recipe)
Kathi rolls – You will find better rolls than anywhere in India. It is roti stuffed with fried chicken or vegetables. (Recipe)
Bataata puri – Little crispy puris are stuffed with potato mixture, coriander, chutney, and mint. (Recipe)
Mughlai paratha – The Indian paratha bread is a popular street snack. The bread is stuffed with eggs, mince meat of chicken or mutton, folded, cut into little squares, and served. (Recipe)
Kochuri – Aloo Torkari – Bengali household prepare Hinger Kochuri during the durga pooja time. The dough is flattened and deep fired. Then there is the stuffing of puri or the luchi with vegetables. This kochuri is eaten with potato curry which is the favorite of most Bengalis. (Recipe)
Momos – Momo dumpling is popular in Kolkata because of the Tibetan and Chinese population that live in Kolkata. Momos can be made with chicken or vegetables. (Recipe)
Chicken kabiraji – This is nothing but chicken cutlet. Chicken is coated with breadcrumbs, spices, and eggs, it is then deep fried. (Recipe)
Spicy, but milder than other cities, and delicious. They involve meticulous preparation. Some of the big preparations are:
Kolkata Biryani – Unlike the biryani you get in other cities in the country, Kolkata biryani is mild and has potatoes. They are nonetheless rich with spices and meat. (Recipe). Lamb biryani in Awadhi or Lucknow styles are also prepared.
Macher jhol – Macher jhol is made with Rohu fish, a freshwater fish. The fish is made with garlic, onions, potatoes, ginger, cumin powder, green chillies. They make its gravy with mustard paste, chilli, and turmeric. It is every Bengali household’s staple. (Recipe)
Hilsa is another fish from the Ganga river that is expensive and sought out when it is available in the market. Hilsa in mustard curry/sauce, steamed or cooked with cumin. They try it all with Hilsa.
Chingri Malaikari – Chingri means prawns/shrimp and malaikari means something cooked with coconut milk. It is easy to make and nice to eat. (Recipe) They cook the prawns with mustard paste too.
Kosha Mangsho – Kosha Mangsho is a bigger recipe than Macher jhol. The curry is made with mutton pieces, potato, and spices. You can eat it with puris, parathas, or rice. (Recipe)
Mishti Pulao – A dish they serve at weddings, it is sweet pulao that is fragrant with spices and a generous amount of saffron. Mishti pulao goes well with kosha mangsho. (Recipe)
Chow mein – Chow mein is stir fried noodles that is available everywhere in Kolkata. It is fried with spring onions, spices and sauces. (Recipe)
Chelo Kabab – Chelo Kabab is a Persian dish that they brought to the Bengal region with their conquests. The Peter Cat on Park street is popular for this dish. They serve the kabab with rice, eggs, and some raw veggies. (Recipe)
Full meals – A traditional Bengali meal comprises of plain rice, dhal, fried potato, a bitter gourd preparation, vegetable stew, macher jhol, mutton curry, mishti doi, rosogolla, and papad. If you are in Kolkata or anywhere in Bengal, request your host to cook a traditional Bengali meal.
Bengalis take immense pride in the range of sweets available. Some of the unique sweet dishes are Mishti Doi, Roshogolla, Sondesh, and Thandai. Mango lassi is popular drink in Kolkata ans available at every street corners. Check out this post for other sweet items.
Staying in Kolkata
The best part about Kolkata is about meeting the locals and the food. Some people are willing to share space on Airbnb. Sign up using the link to save ₹1,200 on your first booking.
Hostels/accommodation for budget backpackers/travellers
Guide to the Neighborhoods of Kolkata
Districts of Kolkata, South and North 24 parganas, Hooghly, Howrah, and Nadia are part of the metropolitan area of Kolkata where Kolkata is the nerve center.
This city is where you will hang out the most if not Darjeeling. Travel cautiously, respect local culture and keep necessary documents and phone numbers handy.
Central Kolkata (কেন্দ্রীয় কলকাতা)
Kolkata’s beginning from Kalikata to Culcutta to Kolkata happened here when small towns and villages were replaced with a fort. Only the military and administrative officers stayed inside, while Indian and European civilians lived outside the fort in black town and white town respectively.
Today the Indian army is using Fort William while the buildings outside the fort is housing various government organizations. Most of you will start your Kolkata tour here. There is a mix of European and Indian in this part of Kolkata.
BBD Bagh (বিনয়-বাদল-দীনেশ বাগ)
Benoy, Badal, and Dinesh, three freedom movement leaders gave this neighborhood around the Lal Dighi tank the present name. Before this, Dalhousie square was the name of the neighborhood.
In 1756, Siraj ud Daulah attacked the East India company’s trading post, defeated the forces there, took some prisoners, and kept them at the garrison. The prisoners were treated so bad that most of them died. They call the garrison ‘the black hole of Calcutta’.
BBD Bagh was significant for politics and business before and after independence. The government of West Bengal administers the state from here. This area sees influx of people from around the metropolitan area because of the presence of private and public offices.
British East India company had their headquarters in this building since 1777. Since then the building has undergone several extensions. This red building was the office of the government of West Bengal until 2013 as it was closed for renovations.
Raj Bhavan is the official residence of the Governor of West Bengal. Its location is near the Writers’ building. From 1858 until 1911, it was the official residence of the Viceroy of India.
It was Lord Wellesley that took initiative of the building of the residence in 1799. It was completed in 1803. Ever since then, there have been number of additions. It hosts suites, halls, banquets, etc.
The exhibits inside the building presents to you with the history of Indian banking system. The mode of presentation are paintings, models, and other materials. There are paper notes issued by the Bank of Hindustan.
You can see the passbooks of Rabindranath Tagore, JRD Tata, Annie Besant, account application of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, and the wooden box with ashes of Mahatma Gandhi.
Borrowing was not easy back then because interest was applicable depending on which cast you belong to. Brahmins paid 24% interest, Kshatriyas paid 36%, Vaishyas paid 48%, and Shudras paid 60%.
St. John’s church was completed in 1787 with bricks and stones. There are beautiful wood carvings, marble relief work, and windows are color stained. All this exudes an old world charm. The pipe organ is a unique feature of the church.
Memorials at the church are Job Charnock’s tomb, the founder of Kolkata, a memorial of Lady Canning, wife of Viceroy of India Charles Canning, the black hole monument, a monument built in memory of the sepoys of the company that perished when imprisoned by Siraj ud Daulah at Fort William, Francis Johnson’s tomb, and the Rohilla war memorial, built after the defeat of the Rohillas at the hands of the Nawab of Oudh Shuja ud Daula and the British.
It is a private park that gives you a nice view of the Howrah bridge and the Hooghly river. The area is wheelchair accessible and it is a nice place to spend an evening when other attractions in the city are not open.
Crowded, noisy, and dirty, this 130 year old flower market is the biggest in Eastern India and it sells a lot of flowers. When you are there you will be hit with fragrance.
Most flower sellers live by the river in makeshift tents. People often come in the morning to buy flowers for their home when it is fresh. A good time for photographers to come by for photography.
It is the second oldest ghat in Kolkata, and some of the credit goes to Lord William Bentinck. The landing berth is a colonial building with tall pillars.
People use the ghats to bathe and vendors sell their wares and priests perform poojas. Durga and Saraswati poojas happen here and the idols are immersed in these waters.
India has a large number of the Armenian Christian community and among all, Kolkata has the most of their population. This is one of the three Armenian churches in Kolkata and it is called Armenian church of the Holy Nazareth.
There are lots of things to admire. English artist E. Harris painted the ‘Holy Trinity’, ‘Last Supper’, and ‘The Enshrouding of Our Lord’, on the altar. The interiors of the church is made of black and white marble.
This cathedral was established in 1799 by Portuguese settlers in Kolkata. The cathedral has beautifully designed towers and the building is colored blue and white. It belongs to the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Calcutta.
You cannot miss the tall red tower of this synagogue when you approach the junction of Biplabi rash behari street and Brabourne road. As the jews in Calcutta grew in number, a synagogue was built in 1884 by Elias David Ezra in his father’s memory David Ezra.
The synagogue was built in Italian renaissance style. The altar, roof, windows have Belgian glass imported from Brussels. You wear a skull cap before entering through the arch doorway. Despite being a heritage structure under ASI, the actual caretakers are a generation of Muslim family.
Not far away from the synagogue on the Armenian street is the Kurta museum which shows you the history of Kurta.
Jorasanko means two bamboo bridges that was at one point across a small stream. This was home to traditional families like the Thakurs (Tagore) family, Ghosh, Pal, etc. It is an old neighborhood and some attractions are hidden because of the small streets.
The Thakurbari is the ancestral home of the Tagore family and was once home to Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel prize winner for literature. It currently has a Tagore museum that shows the family’s way of life.
It is home to Rabindra Bharati university that offers undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Performance and Visual arts, the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
Another traditional family home near the Thakurbari is the Pathuriaghata Ghosh bari which people use to host events like the Durga puja.
It is a palatial mansion built by Raja Rajendra Mullick of the wealthy Mullick family in 1835. Only a part of the palace is open to the public while the descendants of the Raja are using the other half.
It is a huge marble building made of 96 types of colorful Italian marble built with Neoclassical style of architecture. The Bengali style garden surrounds the structure and there are benches on the lawns of the garden.
The passages and halls have statues of Greek mythological characters, paintings, and other works of art that shows Indians, Roman, and Biblical characters. Seems like the family are fond of art and treasures.
There is a private zoo that has porcupines, deer, hornbills, macau (not the Chinese casino haven), and among others.
Permission to visit: West Bengal Tourist Information Centre
Another building of interest is the old silver mint which is built to look like a Greek temple in Athens. It was once a mint of the East India Company.
Popular among locals and tourists, there are many attractions here of cultural and historical importance. Because this neighborhood has many parks and stadiums, it is known as the lungs of Kolkata. The streets are lined with roadside food and juice stalls.
Eden gardens is the largest stadiums in India in terms of audience seating capacity. Cricketers and cricket fans look forward to showdowns at this stadium. It has hosted a 60 over world cup final in 1987 and a 20 over championship final in 2016.
Football matches too happen at this stadium. Brazil football legend Pelé played for New York Cosmos against Mohun Bagan in 1977.
Netaji indoor stadium is an indoor sports arena with a seating capacity of 12,000. It hosts sporting and cultural programmes, trade fairs, and musical events. The election commission uses the venue to count votes during elections.
Mohun Bagan Athletic Club is one of the oldest football clubs in India and this ground at Maidan belongs to them and they use it to practice. Salt Lake stadium at Bidhannagar and Sarasat stadium also hosts Mohun Bagan and other local Kolkata team matches.
Though this is 150 years old, not many people visit this place of peace and spirituality. The base of the temple has intricate wood carvings and the tower is of gold color. The structure is made of Burmese teak at Prome in Burma in 1852.
It was dismantled there after the British victory over the Burmese in 1884, brought to Kolkata via the Hooghly river and put here. However, it shows signs of neglect and there is renovation work under progress.
The green space of Eden gardens surround both these stadiums, and the Buddhist pagoda.
Fort William was built by the British after the war with the Mughals. They understood that maintaining a trading post at Howrah with Mughal threat was not worth it.
After Siraj ud Daulah took the fort and then lost to the English, they constructed a new fort in its present location which was easier to defend against the French and the Mughals.
It is now the HQ of Eastern Command of the Indian army and restricts the movement of civilians. The old fort is now the Customs House in BBD Bagh.
The fort is octagonal in shape. George gate is the main gate of the fort while there are five other gates which are the Water gate, Chowringhee gate, Plassey gate, Calcutta gate, and the treasury gate.
Victoria memorial is a large marble building built under the proposal of Lord Curzon. Built between 1906 to 1921 it was dedicated to Queen Victoria after her death in 1901. After raising funds they built it with white marble from Rajasthan.
The edifice if surrounded by a garden inside 64 acres of land. The Central chamber is huge and there are about 25 galleries. Royal gallery, sculpture gallery, and the Calcutta gallery are the highlights.
Paintings, cloth materials, artefacts, coins, stamps, and weapons are on display. Various exhibits shows the growth of Kolkata. At the top of the dome is the angel of victory holding a bugle. It is fixed on its pedestal with ball bearings and winds strong enough will rotate the statue.
Queen Victoria’s statue sitting on her throne is in front of the building. Other statues include Robert Clive, Wellesley, Cornwallis, Dalhousie, William Bentinck, etc.
Known for its architectural beauty, this is the largest cathedral in Kolkata, but was damaged by two earthquakes. After the damage in the 1934 earthquake, it was redesigned in an Indo-Gothic fashion.
The main structure has high ceiling, stained glass windows, murals, paintings on the wall, and other artefacts. The atmosphere is tranquil and it is a nice place to find peace.
9 AM to 12 PM & 3 PM to 6 PM
It was built in 1962 and the shows are in English, Hindi, and Bengali. It has a seating capacity of 688 and it shows places on Earth, constellations, zodiacal patterns, and other celestial objects.
This children’s museum was built in 1972 on Pandit Nehru’s birthday by the National Cultural Association. It is a four-storey museum with galleries for dolls from 88 countries. There are clay models of Ramayana and Mahabharata stories.
Wednesday to Sunday from 10 AM to 7 PM; Below 16: 10 & Above 16: 20
Places of Cultural importance
Places of cultural importance include Academy of fine arts, which has a gallery with art displays. It is a center for performing and literary arts. The reception at the entrance has information regarding events. They conduct art classes, conferences along with events.
Tuesday to Sunday from 3 PM to 9 PM
Next to fine arts academy is the Nandan film center is a West Bengal government sponsored film and cultural center. You can watch Bangla movies here for ₹30 to ₹110.
Rabindra Sadan is a cultural center next to the Nandan film center that was constructed in 1967. It is one of the largest cultural center in Kolkata. There are exhibition halls, spacious backstage, and space for events. There is an event that showcases Bengali culture.
7 AM to 11 PM
At the same complex, there is the statue of Rabindranath Tagore. Nice park to hang out a while and take pictures.
Maidan has many parks around the attractions here. There is a golf course, babughat park, victoria park, Elliot park, and others.
Princep ghat & Vidyasagar setu
Princep ghat was built in memory of James Prinsep, an Anglo-Indian researcher and scholar in the fields of meteorology, numismatics, minerals, chemistry, etc. He deciphered Ashoka’s Brahmi script writings on rocks and elsewhere in India.
The monument built in his honor in the year 1841 is of Indo-Greek architecture, a Palladian porch with colums holding a white roof. The Man-O-War jetty next to it is used by the Indian Navy today, it had an important role during World War 2.
The ghat gives a nice view of the Vidyasagar setu, a cantilever bridge that gives you a fast passage from Central Kolkata to Shibpur area in Howrah. It was named after education reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
Taltala was one of the neighborhoods that people came to after receiving compensation from the East India company to move away from the Maidan area for the construction of Fort William. The neighborhood got its name from the tal (palmyra) trees that were abundant in the area. At the beginning of Taltala, Muslims were predominant here. The headquarters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is in this area.
Indian Museum is the largest and oldest museum in India in existence since 1814. Danish botanist Nathaniel Wallich was the founder curator of the museum. The exhibits range from anthropology, archeology, geology, zoology, botany, and art.
Paintings, artefacts, art from various civilizations are here including the Indus Valley civilization. There are rare coins, ivory craft, and artefacts that belonged to various Hindu and Buddhist sages are here.
Another highlight of the museum is the 4000 year old Egyptian mummy on display in an air condition room. The security guard does not allow people to stay here for long.
It could take you more than two hours to see everything. There is an open space where people can sit and calm down for a while before heading out. It would have been nice if they sold some nice food here.
When Saint Mother Teresa was alive she lived here. They now call it Mother House. It was here when she received her calling to serve sick people.
There is museum that displays the belongings, souvenirs of Mother Teresa. They allow you to see her room too. You can also volunteer here at the Nirmal Hriday (Compassionate Heart).
Tipu Sultan mosque was built by Tipu Sultan’s youngest son Ghulam Muhammad in 1832. The British along with the Nizam and the Marathas defeated and killed Tipu Sultan, the king of Mysore at Srirangapatna in 1799.
After the end of the Muslim rule in the Mysore state, the British drove Tipu’s descendants away from Mysore. Some came to Kolkata where people believe his descendants still live. The mosque has 16 domes and 4 minarets, it is built in Indo-Mughal architecture.
Kolkata’s Esplanade area is the only esplanade that is not by a water body, but away from it. The first football game in India was played by two football clubs here.
There is a saying around here. If there is anything available in India, it is available in bulk at the new market. It opened to public in 1874 and this maze of a building has more than 2000 shops. It is crowded, chaotic, and there are touts who will sell you things.
They will follow you, but let them not intimidate you. Learn the routes while you are escaping from them. There are variety of goods that are available on the cheap. Be careful of pick-pocketings.
Bowbazar was a settlement around Fort William. Europeans, Indians, Anglo-Indians, Portuguese, and Armenians came to settle here when Kolkata was becoming the capital of British India. Even the Chinese people too came here but the majority of them later moved to Tangra.
Three of the most famous residents of Bhowanipore were Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Chittaranjan Das, and Satyajit Ray. The incumbent Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee lives here now. It was among the first localities of Kolkata of the rich. Europeans would settle in this area back in the days.
This building was where Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose lived for some time. When he was under house arrest in this house, he got away from here, and then to Berlin where he sought to meet Adolf Hitler.
It is maintained by Netaji Research Bureau run by Netaji’s grand nephew Sugata Bose. In the museum you will see old letters written by Bose, and his collection of books.
It is a lung space in this part of town. During the independence struggle, independence leaders would gather here to discuss and address mass gatherings.
Harish park is another green space in Kolkata where people come often. It is busiest during the Durga puja festival.
Howrah is a twin city of Kolkata, just across the Hooghly river, a boat ride away from Kolkata. It is more than 500 years old and it is one of the places the East India company camped before building the Fort Williams across in Kolkata.
This is the second biggest city in West Bengal after Kolkata and has many industries. It is the dwelling place of people working in industries there and is a major transport hub.
It is one of the busiest stations in India where almost 670 trains start, end, or pass through this station. The first Rajdhani (trains that connect state capitals with Delhi) left from here. It is also the headquarters of the Eastern and Southeastern zones of the Indian Railway.
The station was connected to Kolkata by tram service which ran over the Howrah bridge, but it was discontinued. The Kolkata metro line connecting Howrah junction to Kolkata will open in 2019.
The Railway museum is near to the Howrah station that displays artifacts of the railways in India.
10 AM to 5 PM; 10 (for the museum)
Hooghly river is the life giver of this region and is the tributary of River Ganga. It splits from the Ganga at Farakka Barrage and travels 260 kilometers and drains into the Bay of Bengal near the Haldia. Some people call this the Ganga too.
People use this river as waterways, fishing, and to irrigate the crop fields in rural Bengal. While you are in Kolkata, you can take a boat ride on the Hooghly.
The river water is not allowed to go low and the Farakka barrage diverts water from the Ganga to Hooghly for the smooth operations at the Kolkata ports.
Howrah bridge is a suspension bridge constructed in 1942 across the Hooghly river to connect Howrah and Kolkata. There are no nuts, bolts, and no pillars on the bridge. The bridge is intact because of riveting.
There is a footpath on both sides of the motorway. You can see a lot of activity on the banks of the river. The ghats of Hooghly is used to take bath. The bridge and the area around it is shown in many movies.
Swami Vivekananda founded Belur Math in honor of his guru Ramakrishna Paramahamsa on the banks of River Hooghly. It is Ramakrishna Mission’s headquarters which is a non-sectarian, non-political spiritual organization.
The stroll in the gardens is peaceful. The 40 acre campus has temples dedicated to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Maa Sharada, and Swami Vivekananda.
Paramahamsa’s temple building has a mixture of Hindu, Islamic and Christian architecture conceptualized by Vivekananda. Vivekananda’s temple was built on the place of his cremation.
It is a sprawling garden on the banks of the Hooghly river established in 1787. It is a botanical garden that has exotic trees from five continents including orchids, and huge banyan trees called ‘Great banyan tree’.
There are more than 12,000 specimens of trees and it supports some bird population. There is a picturesque lake. It is also an institution for botanical and horticultural research in India. The Darjeeling tea was first researched here before growing on the hills of Darjeeling.
6 AM to 5 PM; 5 and 10 for a camera; Satrangchi
In the small town of Santragachi in Howrah, the monsoon season you will see Munias flocking here. The lake is near the Santragachi station and it welcomes many migratory birds like red crested pochards, knob bill ducks, northern pintail, water moorhens, etc. This lake is a delight for photographers.
South Kolkata (দক্ষিণ কলকাতা)
South Kolkata has some of the nicest neighborhoods where the rich businessmen, and celebrities live. It is the gateway to the Sundarbans down South.
Maheshtala (মহেশতলা) & Khidirpur (Kidderpore)
Maheshtala is a neighborhood in the metropolitan region of Kolkata and is part of the South 24 parganas district. Behala airport in the neighborhood is Kolkata’s second airport. It has no commercial flights but air taxis that operate flights and choppers to taxi people to neighboring districts. The nature park is a large grassy area with picnic spots and a miniature zoo that children and adults unlike will love.
Khidirpur is a sought after neighborhood for those who want to live in Kolkata because of its proximity to Central Kolkata and its attractions. Khidr is the guardian saint of the seas of the fishing community and the name Khidr pur (town of Khidr) stuck.
Kidderpore dock is in existence since 1870 courtesy the British empire. It is among the oldest port in India, a riverine port that is 203 kilometer from the sea. Another attraction near the dock is the swing bridge that was completed in 1890, one of the oldest in India and is still in use.
It was an engineering marvel of that time. The best time to be here is of course when a ship is passing through it. It is when the bridge swings open and gives way to the ships.
Alipore (আলিপুর) & Kalighat (কালীঘাট)
During the mid 18th century the British were pouring out of the Fort William area in search of housing. The administrators built mansions and bungalows for themselves in this area. More and more people came over to live here.
Even after the independence, and now big business families live here. This is where the ultra rich of Kolkata live because of the high real estate prices. There are many attractions here.
Kalighat is among the oldest neighborhoods in Kolkata. It is densely populated today and was so during pre-independence too. Even the Guptas did a stop over at this place leaving behind their gold coins for workers to find later.
Built in 1870, it is among the oldest zoos in India and a nice place for family outing. There are more than 100 species of animals and birds here. You can see lions, zebras, barking deer, the Royal Bengal tiger, jackals, saltwater crocodiles, and nomadic birds.
Adwaita, an immortal tortoise, well almost, lived in this zoo. He was an Aldabra giant tortoise who might have been born in 1750 and died 255 years later in 2006.
The zoo has breeding project of the Manipur brow-antlered deer which is an endangered species in Northeast India and Southeast Asia. The zoo has a reptile house, and an aquarium. You can spend at least a day if you stop at places to admire the animals.
It is the biggest and the oldest library in India. After merging the collections at the Calcutta public library and the Imperial library, this building which was the official residence of the Lt. Governor of Bengal, it became the national library, which is also library of public records today.
This building has about 2.2 million books and has a copy or two of every book that was published in India in every Indian languages. The reading rooms have seating capacity of 500.
What’s spooky about this place is that students and researchers who stay here to research late at night have seen apparition of Lady Metcalfe.
Two buildings of importance is the Hasting house, former residence of Warren Hastings the former Governor General of Bengal, and Government mint of India, an inaccessible building where Indian currency is printed.
Kalighat Kali temple is one of the 51 shakti peethas in India. A shakti peetha is a place where pieces of Goddess Sati fell when Vishnu cut her body with his sudarshana chakra. This temple was supposedly the place where Sati’s toe fell.
The shrine was built on the banks of Adi Ganga, the former course of river Hooghly. The temple built around the sanctum is about 200 years old.
The Kali image has two red protruding eyes and a long tongue made of gold, and four gold hands. One of the hand is carrying the head of King Shumba an asura (a divine being) after defeating him.
Downside: The temple has a poor crowd management and there are people claiming to take you into the sanctum by helping you skip the crowd. It starts outside the walls when shopkeepers force you to buy a pooja kit for ₹200, then despite your protests, they talk you into taking you into the sanctum for ₹500 or more, then the priests do not let you until you give them money. You may shell out anywhere from ₹1000 to ₹5000.
However, if you lose that much money, but want peace of mind, treat all of it as donation to the temple. Only if you can treat it as such. Even the locals express difficulty in escaping from the touts.
Tip: Ignore everyone who claims to be a Brahmin and only he/she can help you get a good darshan.
Ballygunge (বালিগঞ্জ) & Dhakuria (ঢাকুরিয়া)
Ballygunge and Dhakuria are wealthy neighborhood in South Kolkata where politicians, writers, scientists, movie actors, and industrialists reside. So it has got to be classy and posh.
Birla temple was built by the Birla family. It is a landmark in Kolkata completed in 1996. The architecture has a blend of limestone, marble, and Belgian glass. The deities at the temple are Radha-Krishna, Lord Shiva, and Durga.
5:30 AM to 11 AM & 4:30 PM to 9 PM
One of the finest science and technological museums in the country, the galleries have exhibits on various science topics. There are different shows that children enjoy. School brings their kids here all the time.
10 AM to 10 PM 40
Other attractions here are Maulana abul kalam azad museum, and several parks in the region.
Previously known as Dhakuria lake it is the neighborhood of Dhakuria. People come here in the late afternoons and early mornings for their walk, to get some fresh air. Bird enthusiasts come here to spot migratory birds.
There are rowing club active in the complex and the Rabindra sarobar stadium hosts football matches. The nazrul mancha next to the lake is an auditorium where events are held. It is hosting events since 1980.
Not far from here is a attraction off the beaten path. You can visit the Japanese temple that the Nipponzan Myohoji order maintains. The order maintains a temple at Mumbai too. In the evenings, you can listen to Buddhist chanting.
Behala (বেহালা) & Tollygunge (টালিগঞ্জ)
Behala and Tollygunge are two of the oldest neighborhoods in Kolkata and was inhabited since the 12th century AD. It seems the second oldest Durga puja celebration happens here.
Sabarna Roy Choudhury, one of the richest family in Bengal have been funding the celebration since the 17th century. Rapid urbanization has brought in many people here and today it is one of the busiest neighborhoods.
Behala airport serves the rich and famous of South Kolkata. It is used by private airline companies and flying clubs.
Tollygunge was named after a British officer William Tolly. One of the popular and posh neighborhoods in Kolkata, it is home to the Bengali film industry. Tollygunge gave the name Tollywood to the Bengali film industry.
China town, Aminia, Haji sahib, Panna’s kitchen, Tandoori darbar, Sonamati, The Mango tree, Royal Bengal tiger cafe, Hanglaatherium lake gardens, Chowman, Denzong kitchen, Mainland china, Lokahaar, Hondo’s
Opened in 1962, it showcases artefacts mainly from Bengali kingdoms and stone age artefacts from Bengal. Interesting is the artefacts from Chandraketugarh, an ancient city in ruins near Kolkata. There are wood carvings, textile materials, and writings taken from there and other ancient kingdoms.
Suburbs in South Kolkata are Jadavpur (যাদবপুর), Santoshpur (সন্তোষপুর), and Garia (গড়িয়া). These places saw a lot of people from neighboring Bangladesh and other parts of Bengal coming over to stay. There are many residential areas in these neighborhoods.
South 24 Parganas (দক্ষিণ চব্বিশ পরগণা)
Some of the neighborhoods of the metropolitan area of Kolkata is in the South 24 Parganas district. Outlying areas of this district has lot of urban areas that the suburban railway helps connect.
Agriculture and fishing are dominant industries here. Lot of people travel to Kolkata to work at their offices. The Hooghly river drains into the Bay of Bengal next to the district. There are many beaches and islands near the delta.
Sundarban National park (UNESCO World Heritage site)
India and Bangladesh shares the Sundarban biosphere. Sundarban National Park is on the Indian side includes a tiger reserve. It is the largest mangrove in the world. The park was set up in 1984.
The elusive cat, the Royal Bengal tiger is the top attraction here. There are exotic avian species, flora that is native to the region. There are river streams where only boats can traverse.
Some of the many islands have people living on them and they have definitely seen a tiger, few of them have met one.
East Kolkata (পূর্ব কলকাতা)
East Kolkata is an extension of the Central Kolkata. It was developed after independence to create housing for the increasing population and to create commercial districts that could house the growing IT sector.
Tangra is where Chinese people live in what is called Kolkata’s Chinatown. If you want Indians and Chinese live and work together, you should come here. Chinese people came here and set up tanneries.
Locals took employment with them to make leather goods. With the intermingling came the Chinese restaurants and the food. Hakka noodles made famous by the Hakka Chinese living here became a household name in India.
Chinese kali temple is a temple for Goddess Kali where both Indians and Chinese worship. They call it Chinese kali temple because they offer noodles to appease the deity.
Bidhannagar (বিধাননগর) & New Town (নিউটাউন)
Bidhannagar or Salt Lake city is a planned city, a satellite town of Kolkata. It was built in the 60s to accommodate the growing population in Kolkata. Many IT offices are in the IT parks of Salt lake city.
Bidhannagar is home to a picturesque Salt lake football stadium that was recently host to U17 football world cup matches especially the newer to to forget final match between England and Spain, which England won by 5-2 despite going 0-2 to Spain at the beginning.
The Central park is the biggest park in this neighborhood, a place where there is a lot of greenery and water bodies. Saurav Ganguly, former captain of the Indian cricket team runs a coaching camp from here. Nicco park and Wet O Wild are amusement parks favorites among children.
New Town is the second planned city of Kolkata. It accommodates offices of the IT industry of Wipro. TCS, DLF, among others. Among the many parks of this neighborhood, the eco park is the most popular.
It is well developed and there are lot of attractions like the island with a nice restaurant, replica of the Eiffel tower, bamboo garden, and a you train.
Oudh 1590, Gupta, Chowman, Koshe kosha, Rang de Basanti, Lake light, Barbeque nation, Bhojohori Manna, Mishra’s, Baati chokha, The Steak and Grill, Bhikharam Chandmal, Moghul E Azam, Cafe Ekante, China bowl, Bhoomi
North 24 Parganas (উত্তর চব্বিশ পরগণা)
North 24 parganas is the largest district in India by area and by population. It shares some of its towns and cities with the Kolkata metropolitan area, and it is connected to Kolkata city by the suburban network which people use to come to work in Kolkata. People living there are in the service sector, farming, agriculture, and fishing.
It is a heritage site that was once home to King Chandraketu, an ancient king. It is famous for its terracotta art and relics dating back to 400 BC. The residents of this town were craftsmen back then. People were probably living in this city until 12th century AD. An interesting place where you can spend at least two hours if you like admiring ancient city ruins.
10 AM to 6 PM; Harua road
North Kolkata (উত্তর কলকাতা)
North Kolkata is an old area of Kolkata. People have been coming here to live since old times. There are small but busy and dusty streets here with lots of businesses, shops, and markets operating in old buildings, .
Neighborhoods here include Baranagar (বরানগর), Dakshineswar (দক্ষিনেশ্বর), Kumartuli (কুমারটুলি), Belgachia (বেলগাচিয়া), Barrackpore (ব্যারাকপুর), Barasat (বারাসাত), Jorabagan (জোড়াবাগান), with Dum Dum (দম দম) as the transport hub of North Kolkata because of the airport and the Kolkata train station.
You have seen or heard of the Durga puja. There are people who make the idols of Goddess Durga here at Kumartuli. The kumars (sculptors) are hard at work in little studios here shaping clay into idols of Goddess Durga, Lord Ganesh and others.
They allow people into their studios that are dimly lit and the room without any furnishing. Visitors are given chairs while the sculptors sit on the ground or stand while at work. They allow you to photograph the idols but they may expect you to tip them.
The temple is on the banks of River Hooghly built in 1855 by Rani Rasmani. The main deity of the temple is Goddess Bhavatharini, a reincarnation of Goddess Kali.
You can see the nine spires when you approach the temple and also from boats. They call it the Navaratna in Bengali style of architecture. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa spent much of his time in this temple.
Towering next to the temple is the temple is the Nivedita setu built both for road traffic. Beside this is the older bridge known as Vivekananda setu which has a cycle path, road for light vehicles and for trains.
The neighborhood of Dum Dum is the site of Dum Dum cantonment where the 1857 Indian rebellion took off from here. In a few days it spread to Delhi, Mumbai, and other cantonments of North India. Some of the remnants of the cantonment are still there.
A part of Nadia district is part of the metropolitan region of Kolkata. Nadia shares a border with Bangladesh. It is home to Palashi village where Bengal Nawab Siraj ud Daulah’s forces fought the private army of the East India Company. The East India Company’s grew in significance after the battle.
The large Hooghly district and it got its name from the Hooghly river. Its river side towns were significant since 15th century. The town of Hooghly is important historically.
The Portuguese founded the town but were routed by the Mughals because they stopped paying taxes. The Dutch later settled in the town but later on handed it over to the British.
Bandel church was built by the Portuguese in 1599 when the Mughal king Shah Jahan allowed the priests to build the church here. It could be the oldest church in West Bengal and it became a basilica in 1988.
7 AM to 6 PM; Bandel junction
The imambara is a mosque and a congregation hall completed in 1861. It was built in 1717 by Muhammad Aga Motahar with his money from his salt business. The courtyard has a water tank with a fountain for ritual washing, and there are madrasas on both the sides.
The tower at the entrance has a clock tower. The prayer hall at the end of the courtyard has verses from the Quran on the walls.
Saturday to Thursday from 8 AM to 5:30 PM; There may be parking and entry fee; Hooghly ghat
Baba taraknath mandir is a pilgrim center and the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, built with Bengali architecture and is among the 12 abodes of Lord Shiva and is the most busy during the Shivaratri (February). It is crowded on Mondays as people consider this as Lord Shiva day.
Another temple of importance of Hangseshwari temple which is almost two hundred years old. Places of historical and cultural importance are Tomb of Susanna Anna Maria, Kamarpukur the birthplace of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, and Institut De Chandernagore, a place where you can learn the French language.
1. Go on a walking tour
Calcutta has more than meets the eye. The city has a mix of Armenians, Jews, Bengalis, Europeans, Chinese, coexisting. Some of the neighborhoods live a traditional way of life. A walking tour can teach you all this.
If at all you are tired of walking or of participating in the walking tour, you can ride the hand pulled rickshaw. These people pull rickshaws for livelihood.
2. Eat, eat, eat
There are restaurant recommendations for each neighborhood. But I have left out the delicious and inexpensive street food which is big in this city. People eat street food for lunch and dinner before taking their train to the suburbs.
There are makeshift tents on junctions, and kiosks that make and sell food. After eating all the brilliant street food, finish your meal with mishti doi or the roshogolla at sweetmeat shops.
3. Watch sports
Bengal has such an amazing sports culture, and football is its favorite sport. There are great sports venue where teams love to play. Some of the sports team to cheer for are:
Rugby – Indian national rugby team
4. Watch a performance
Rabindra Sangeet are two words you should know. Rabindranath Tagore has written and composed a lot of songs. Enough for people to pick and favorite, learn the song and perform.
There are many bengali writers who have written plays. They perform dances, songs, music, theater plays throughout Kolkata’s performance centers. The locals will tell you their favorite.
5. Attend the durga puja
Every Bengali waits for the Durga puja which usually takes place during the month of October. It is the month of new clothes, renewal of resolutions, cooking, meeting family and friends, eating, and celebrating.
Organizations set up marquees everywhere in the city. Each of the marquees will have the idol of Goddess Durga and her four children Women come out in traditional red and white, men in kurta. They decorate the stage with flowers, food, and sometimes in different themes (like star trek, and other popular Hollywood and Bollywood movies).
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