My Ultimate Kolkata Travel Guide | Best Things to Do, See and Eat in Kolkata

Last Updated on

ultimate kolkata travel guide, kolkata travel guide

ultimate kolkata travel guide |All Photos & Videos Copyright ©GRRRLTRAVELER

 

Despite Kolkata (aka Calcutta) was once the capital city of India, the thought of visiting Kolkata always intimidated me.  From other travelers and Indians I’d talked to,  I got the impression it must’ve been the armpit of India~ poverty and disease ridden, old, crumbling… Hence, it took my third trip to muster the courage to make it to India’s former capital.

The moment my airport taxi hit the road, I immediately sensed I’d like… no, love this charming, historical and utterly unique city. Delhi or Mumbai… in my eyes, Kolkata beat them with its charm, friendliness and an old colonial character, completely reframing my experience of an Indian city.  I experienced Kolkata culture shock but it was not what I expected. If you ask me of all the cities I’ve visited, Kolkata is one of my top Indian gems and a city worthwhile spending time in!

This Kolkata Travel Guide includes:

Things to Do in Kolkata
What to Eat in Kolkata
Useful Information for Travelers
Travel Tips for Solo Travelers
Getting Around in Kolkata
Where to Stay in Kolkata

 

Kolkata Travel Guide

Things to Do in Kolkata

Kolkata is the capital of India’s West Bengal state. and formerly the capital of India when it was under the British Raj in 1773.  Today it’s a city with a traditional soul, colonial architecture, cultural festivals, lots of car honking and street food. So come along. I’m going to show you my favorite highlights of this unique city.

1. Esplanade

The Esplanade district is a buzzing district which is very Raj-esque in architecture and history. Colonial architecture is present as well as a bit of an every man’s shopping area. It’s also the crossroads where you can find a lot of transportation from long distance buses to trolleys. Nearby hotspots: BBD Bagh, Indian Museum.

2. Mullick Ghat Flower Market

Mullick Ghat Flower Market is Kolkata’s biggest and busiest flower market. Flowers are an essential part of life in the city and are sold for temple prayers, wedding decorations and festivals. Arrive 8am in the morning to see the flower sellers haggle, negotiate and transport their bundles. Unlike what you see in photos, there are very few female vendors.   The majority of transactions occur between men.

Getting there: It’s next to Howrah Bridge on the opposite side of Howrah Station.

mullick ghat flower market, kolkata flower market, top attractions of kolkata, things to do in kolkata, kolkata city highlights

Copyright ©GRRRLTRAVELER

Kolkata.Flower Market, Mullick Ghat.Flower Market, Kolkata Culture, Indian Culture, Letter Writers in India, Things to do in kolkata, kolkota, calcutta, Top Attractions of Kolkata, travel kolkata

Kolkata.Flower Market  | 16 Things to Do in Kolkata |Photo Copyright ©GRRRLTRAVELER

3. Howrah Bridge

Spanning the width of the Hoogly River, you have Howrah Bridge, a steel and iron landmark bridge connecting central Kolkata (and the Mullick Ghat Flower Market) to Howrah Station. Early in the morning you can see people going to their daily worship, taking a bath in the river. A great place for people watching, you’ll see daily commuters, travelers and work porters transport goods and big bundles of goods at all times of day.

When you come to India, you will see a lot because India is truly amazing.  Getting There: sandwiched between the Mullick Ghat Flower Market and Howrah Train Station. You can take one of the many buses enroute to Howrah Station and have them drop you near the flower market.

howrah bridge, top attractions of kolkata, things to do in kolkata, kolkata city highlights

16 Things to Do in Kolkata: People watching on Howrah bridge.

4. Howrah Station

Howrah Station is Kolkata’s second railway station and one of India’s largest! It’s said that an estimated two million people arrive and depart by Howrah station each day.

Note: Getting from the airport to Howrah Station should take at the least 45 minutes, but expect it to take over an hour if you’re traveling during peak traffic hours or during a festival. It’s further than Sealdah Station and you have to cross the river.

Read Ultimate Guide to Indian Trains

5. Kumortuli

Kumortuli  or the potter’s colony of Kolkata  was by far one of the most fascinating highlights of the city for me. The colony is reknown for their production of  clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses. I visited before the big Kali festival, so many sculptors were busy at work sculpting Kali goddess statues.

There are hundreds of potter shops and their work supplies Kolkata and is exported throughout India.

It was helpful to be accompanied by a guide I had for a half day tour with Viator. While much of Kumortoli seems self-explanatory, wandering the shops alone might have felt a little awkward for me.  Having a guide helped me to get closer with my camera.

Kumortoli, sculptors colony in kolkata, Things to do in kolkata, kolay market, burrabazaar kolkota, calcutta

Kumortoli Kolkata craftsmen  | 16 Things to Do in Kolkata |All Photos & Videos Copyright ©GRRRLTRAVELER

 

6. Khalighat Temple

Khalighat temple is a main pilgrimage temple for devotees of Kali. Being a main site, it’s very busy.   There’s street vendors and touts trying to usher you in and sell you places to park your shoes and it’s a little too nutty for me now.  If you come at night, there are a lot of festivities where you’ll see a lot of people here and there are a lot of shops to go to.

7. Street Food

Of Indian cities, Kolkata is a foodie capital best known for its street food. You’ll find food hawkers line the sidewalk with samosas to chai, chinese noodles, chat and … a stroll down the streets is like a walk down a buffet line. For a few rupees (costing anywhere from 5 to 45 cents USD), you can have a mouthwatering feast.  See some of the favorite foods to try . When in Kolkata, eating street food is a must.

8.  Kolkata Food Walk

If you feel timid about trying new foods, highly recommended is the Kolkata Food Walk. It’s a tour run by voluntarily by local foodies, where you get to taste the best and most mouthwatering street food in Kolkata at scandalously inexpensive prices.   You’ll pay for the foods you try and you’ll get to try a lot! Come with an empty stomach.  This is an exceptional food tour run strictly by volunteer, so a donation is suggested.

For more food tour options, check out this 15 Taster Private Food Tour and Evening Food Walk Tour

 

9.  Colonial Architecture & City Tours

Kolkata was once ruled by a British Raj, so colonial architecture is a feature of the city.  The most well-preserved architecture are in the BBD Bagh area, which houses government institutions and it’s best to hire a guide or take a city tour in order to understand what to see.

I took  a half day city tour with Viator to learn about Kolkata’s history, see its colonial architecture in the impressive BBD Bagh district, visit the sculptor colony of Kumortoli and witness the madness of Burrabazaar /Kolay Market. The tour also took me into the more local pockets of the city.   I got my own personal driver and having an English speaking guide to share insights into the landmarks was invaluable!  Although I don’t think we were able to cover everything that was mentioned on the website’s itinerary, we covered a helluva lot in a matter of a short time and it was a solid city tour.

Alternatively, the West Bengal Tourism Department (www.wbtdc.gov.in) offers a Kolkata day tour for 450 rupees.  The itinerary doesn’t mention the obvious places mentioned in your guidebook, but depending on your focus or budget, it’s still a viable option. I was unable to take this tour–the office was not easy to find –and it was best to book in person.  But it provides additional sightseeing to your stay.

high court building kolkata, colonial architecture kolkata, top attractions of kolkata, things to do in kolkata, kolkata city highlights

Things to Do in Kolkata, High Court Building | Colonial Architecture

10. College Street (aka Book Market)

College Street is also known as  Boi Para (aka Book Market), Asia’s largest book market,  a shining testament of the reading culture of the people of Kolkata.

11. Sealdah Station

There’s two main train stations in Kolkata  (Howrah Station & Sealdah Station). Sealdah Station is one of the busiest railway stations of India. It’s located centrally in the city, while Howrah is a bit further crossing the river, past Howrah Bridge.

Getting There from the airport: The station is not accessible via metro. You will need to take either, a city bus or airport taxi to Sealdah Station.

sealdah station kolkata, getting around in kolkata, top attractions of kolkata, things to do in kolkata, kolkata city highlights

Sealdah Station: Getting Around

12. Kolay Market  | Burabazzar

Opposite Sealdah Train Station, Kolay Market sells vegetables in wholesale bundles. Produce comes in from all parts of India and then gets auctioned off and goes back out. Some parcels of produce can weigh up to 400 Kg and four to five persons carry this from the main road off the truck and into the market.

Things to do in kolkata, kolay market

Things to Do in Kolkata: Kolay Market

Things to do in kolkata, kolay market, burrabazaar kolkota, calcutta

Red Potatoes: Kolay Market, Burrabazaar Market, Kolkata . |All Photos & Videos Copyright ©GRRRLTRAVELER

 

13.  Kolay Market laborers

So if the sheer quantity of produce in Kolay Market doesn’t impress you maybe this will. .. The Kolay Market laborers that unload and transport those heaping bundles work in long shifts and sleep nearby so they can be the first to unload trucks that arrive. Some bundles might take one man, while others may require 4 or 5. They earn about 500 Rupees  a day. How’s that for a day’s hard work?

kolay market laborers, burrabazaar, Things to do in kolkata, kolay market

kolay market laborers: Some parcels of produce take up to 5 men  |All Photos & Videos Copyright ©GRRRLTRAVELER

14. Indian Museum

Indian Museum (aka the Magic House.) founded in 1814, it is the oldest museum in India and the most impressive one I’ve seen yet. It’s a spacious museum of artifacts, anthropology and interesting zoology exhibitions. Highly worth the 50Rs to enter. Admission: 150 ruppees for foreigners. 50 rupees if you want to take a camera inside. Website:

Getting there: Between Park and Esplanade metro stations.

15. New Market

New Market, otherwise known as the Hogg Market, is a covered shopping area with over 2000 shops selling anything from clothing to sweets and spices. It’s interesting to see what stocks Kolkata’s kitchens and you’ll definitely get to see some of it.

Being vegetarian it’s definitely hard for me to see all these chickens (and butchers right next door, de-feathering and chopping them up). But put in this context it makes me realize that everyone has to survive in their own way.  While a majority of India is vegetarian due to religious and dietary reasons, there’s still a meat loving society as well.

Getting there: You can reach it either through Park or Esplanade metro stations, slightly closer to Esplanade. From Chowringhee Road, take a left onto Chowringhee Place, then right onto Betram Street.

16. Day Trip to Sundarbans

Looking for a day trip tour to Sundarbans? Sundarbans is a UNESCO World Heritage because it’s the largest mangrove site in the world, where you can spot deer, many bird species, various fauna and if you’re lucky you might spot a Bengal Tiger!

Photo credit: Klook site

Bengal Tiger. Photo credit: Klook site

Top Attractions of Kolkata (Experiential Video)

All Photos & Videos Copyright ©GRRRLTRAVELER | It is illegal to download and use without permission. Music is Licensed from Audio Network.

What to Eat in Kolkata

As a West Bengal state, Kolkata is a foodie capital of India. Yup, I said it- what Bangkok is to Thailand, Kolkata is to India for me personally.  While Indian foods range by the region and it might be unfair to other cities like Mumbai or Delhi, you’ll find street food galore walking down certain blocks. What Kolkata food is known for its Bengali influence in its street food, snack and treats. But it also cultivates some of its popular dishes from other regions. Read more on Top Foods in Kolkata .

I took a took a food tour from Kolkata Food Walk to give me insight into the foodie culture and to give me courage as a solo traveler exploring street foods. I highly recommend them! A standard food tour can cost anywhere up to $100 per 4 hours, so this is a huge savings. Don’t be a cheapskate and tip well!  For more Kolkata food tour options, check this 15 taster tour and this evening walk tour.

I found a spot Mohan Bhandahar where I had kachori sabzi (apparently Amitabh Bachchan visited there too!)

I also found a lot of street food stalls lining the sidewalks near by my hotel (Broadway Hotel) across from Chandni Chowk metro stationl

Read: Street Food Safety Tips

Useful Information for Travelers

Fairlie Place

(Railway Booking Center for Foreign Tourist Quota Tickets)

If you’re booking onward travel via railway and your hotel or travel agency can’t book it for you (aka the trains you want are full), you’ll be directed to Fairlie Place. Fairlie Place is the official railway booking center and the place where you can check on and reserve foreign quota train tickets (generally, a few train seats on each train is reserved for foreign tourist travel and if your train is booked full, there’s a chance there may be a seat open  if you’re a foreign traveler.  Doors open around 8A or 9A.   Location: Strand Rd, Fairley Place, B B D Bagh, Kolkata. Is a 15 minute walk from the Muliick Ghat flower market.

You can see schedules and book trains and VIP/long distance buses/flights on your own online, but trains aren’t easy. You’ll need to register with the IRTC and then register at Make My Trip and link the two accounts together. I can’t remember what type of credit card is accepted; just that a Visa (what I don’t have) is okay.

|All Photos & Videos Copyright ©GRRRLTRAVELER

Communication: Internet and Indian SIM Cards

A data plan with internet is essential for me as a travel blogger. Many budget guesthouses in Kolkata do not have WiFi and internet cafes are not common. My first day, I went shopping for a place to buy SIM cards. While my hotel was keen to offer advice about getting a SIM from the shop around the corner, it was actually not easy to find. So I went to the official Vodaphone store on Esplanade street. It’s a few blocks from the subway and near a tech mart on the corner.

Read more about Getting an Indian SIM and mobile hotspots, USB internet sticks, etc.

Kolkata Culture, Indian Culture, Letter Writers in India, Things to do in kolkata, kolkota, calcutta

|All Photos & Videos Copyright ©GRRRLTRAVELER

Is Kolkata Safe for Solo Travelers?

There’s many things which give Kolkata its charm and character. It’s by far one of my favorite cities, but as I mentioned I was initially intimidated visiting here.

Firstly, while Kolkata has its history with Mother Theresa’s work, you won’t find sick people all around the streets (and no more than you would see in India; India, I’ve noticed can have human anomalies I’ve never seen before like a three legged calf ). Kolkata is no more or less dirty than any other city in India. It’s well-maintained and I found it more charming than Mumbai (which actually felt dirty to me) or Delhi. But like any city, sanitize your hands before you eat.

I found Kolkata to be one of the more friendly cities with more gentlemen and less staring. It could be because I’m Pacific Asian and can pass as Tibetan, Sikkimese or Nepalese, but I still think I come across as a tourist. Touts and scams are not high here. In fact, Kolkata was one of the most laid back urban Indian cities I’ve traveled.

With most Indian cities, I’d say for women, to be back to their hotels by around 10pm (although I have stayed out later for filming).  Indian society as a whole, is conservative. There is an idea that gauges a woman’s decency or impropriety, by how late she is out at night.  An Indian woman out on the streets past 11pm might be considered morally loose, which can be a problem for women returning from work late at night.  For tourists, it’s hit or miss ,but generally, Indian men may consider foreign female travelers as more morally loose than their own women.  Keep street smarts about you everywhere you go in general.

Getting Around Kolkata

From the airport

It’s best to take the prepaid taxis and book it from the taxi counter inside.  They will give you a ticket which you’ll give the driver.

Note: There is only one ATM inside the airport in arrivals, but there is also a money changer.  If the ATM is down, you might be directed to one outside the airport. Keep in mind, once you leave the airport, you cannot come back in.

Types of Transportation in Kolkata

Getting around Kolkata isn’t so difficult. Aside from the standard Ambassador taxis, you can get around using the city bus, tram or metro.

The metro is the easiest and an inexpensive way to get around most sightseeing parts of the city. There are places the metro can’t reach which the city bus can, such as Muliick Ghat Flower Market and Howrah Bridge.   If you’re using the bus, ask locals or an officer to help you find one and hail it… sometimes you have to flag it down) or an auto rickshaw (maybe even a shared one! For intrepid travelers on a budget, keep your eyes peeled for shared autorickshaws. Used by locals, the shared rickshaw drops passengers along a certain route. Often you’ll notice them waiting around gathering passengers and you can ask if they’re going to your location. The driver won’t leave until he has a full vehicle and locals are typically charged a fraction of the normal cost. Travelers still might pay a tourist price but it’s worth the  experience, being squished between Indian passengers as you witness how many can pile into your car.

You’ll see old blue cable car trams and these are often headed to the BBD Bagh area, which is known as the government area, where you’ll also see much colonial architecture.

As I mentioned in this list, there are two main train stationsSealdah Train Station and Howrah Station. Read more on taking Indian trains and getting a foreign tourist quota.

Book bus and train tickets in advance

Book your Kolkata trip tickets in advance. I used 12GoAsia to book transportation for my Thailand trip.

Powered by 12Go Asia system

Where to stay in Kolkata

At the time of research on Agoda and countless websites and blogs, many decent budget hotels in Kolkata went around the price range of $14-30. The less central you are, the cheaper it can get. However, one thing to note is accessibility to transportation and city highlights. Hostels aren’t a term  in India, but recently, a hip and boutique hostel chain opened up for modern travelers (wifi available).

 The Grand Oberoi

For those looking for pampering, The Grand Oberoi is located in the heart of the Esplanade area next to the Indian Museum. If you want to know where celebrities go, you’ve found it. It has it’s own gated driveway with uniformed valet and bellhops to give you a colonial hospitality.

Broadway Hotel

I stayed at Broadway Hotel and it was in an ideal location for me, across the street from Chandni Chowk metro station. An old Ambassador styled hotel with a lift, the rooms feel spacious, clean and comfortable. You also get the daily Kolkata newspaper delivered to your door. There’s a Art Deco styled restaurant which tends to be popular with guests and locals.  Front desk receptionists are helpful.  I loved it and I’d easily stay there again. Watch my video (below) and read my review.

  • Service Tax On Room Tariff in Kolkata @ 8.4% for Hotels

For more hotels in Kolkata, you can search here.

Note: This post has affiliate links which help me maintain my site. This is at no extra cost to you and I only recommend services I would use. My half-day city of tour of Kolkata was sponsored by Viator as an effort to help make some of my Kolkata  filming possible. As always, my opinions are my own

India Travel Series: India for Solo Travelers (WATCH THIS BEFORE YOUR TRIP!)

Best Travel Insurance for India

.

Previous Post
10 Top Kolkata Street Foods | Kolkata Food Walk
Next Post
14 Street Food Safety Tips to Avoid Getting Sick Whilst Traveling

Related Posts

17 Comments. Leave new

Avatar
VISHAL DAVID
July 18, 2019 7:02 pm

your blog content is good Mullick Ghat Flower Market

Reply

Thanks a lot for this gem! I came across this when my sister shared your blog. As a native to the City it feels home. And whole home is always the best, I can’t agree more about the slander fellow Indians have for this city and the state of Bengal. Just because we are more welcoming and tolerant to all ..migrants from other states as well as neighbouring countries people think we are morally weak. In this dane age of hyper nationalist and religiously charged atmosphere of the nation, this city has become the last stronghold of the liberals and secularists thought. Sadly it is losing ground as fellow countrymen show the back upon us. The culturally more tempered citizen of the city are more attracted to books, arts, and merit by intellectual conversation than worthless debates on what I eat and whom I pray to..i hate to say it but when you see this India you know it all. And we need more of travellers like you to break that stereotype of this City to break free and take flight from its ashes and become a city to reckon as it was in its past. People say we delve too much in the past. We say we delve more on past as it was a glorious history, and a strong history makes a future bright.

Reply

This is definitely on my bucket list. I have to admit I’m kinda chicken though…

Reply

Christine Kaaloa Southern Indian states are the best destination for any travelers during Sept to March as the climate is not so hot. Even the North East states in India which comprised of the 7 sisters states is absolutely fabulous to travel as well. A small video from YouTube about the culture and dress from North East India.
https://youtu.be/n1A6UKLlP3k

Reply

[…] is a busy little hillside town in northeastern West Bengal and it’s best known for its production of black tea. The majority of the population is part […]

Reply

As soeone who calls Kolkata home, I was very happy to read your travel guide. I think its unfair (mostly Indians from other states) have an age old prejudice against Kolkata being a dirty and impoverished city. The truth is things have improved a lot, even from the date of your article to now. And it is a shopper’s paradise and well as that of a foodies if you know exactly where to hit.

Reply

    Sinjana: I agree with you. The prejudice was even more apparent on my YouTube video- I couldn’t understand such Indian hatred over such a beautiful city. I loved the preservation of colonial architecture and some of the other designs.So much slander over immigration in the population and dirtiness. From a western perspective, Kolkata is a charming city with a lot of character and mellow/friendly people. If anything I was more shocked about the dirtiness and poverty I saw in sections of Mumbai and Delhi (not to mention scams).

    I can STILL smell some streets of Paharganj all the way through my laptop! THAT’s dirty.

    Kolkata never even came close. And I loved it.

    Reply

    The rest of India is jealous of Kolkata because Kolkatans are culturally more advanced than the rest of the country and their food is also better.

    Reply

      @Raditz You know there was something I did find culturally refined about Kolkata as a whole, kinda gentlemanly and almost bookish?

      It definitely was my one of my favorite foodie cities in India.

      Reply

Kolkata is a capital city with growing business opportunities. There are many hotels and resorts in Kolkata to cater to the tourist population or for people visiting for business purposes. These hotels and resorts offer the most luxurious rooms for a comfortable and lavish stay. They are equipped with all modern facilities like 32 inches flat screen TV, electronic safe, a mini fridge, and a complete range of toiletries. These Weekend Holiday Resort in Kolkata also offer special amenities like children’s play area, swimming pool, cricket pitch, football ground, badminton court, indoor games room, restaurants and bars, wellness spas, and more.

Reply

Your guide to Kolkata made a big difference for me on the few days I had in the city – very much appreciated (took me forever to find your web site again, tho!) … so I could say THANKS

Reply

Taking the city bus and visiting College Street would be awesome for me!! 🙂

Reply
Avatar
brian lewis
May 4, 2016 3:58 am

really have been loving your vlogs of india,,,you will be putting weight on all the food your eating..lol

Reply
    Avatar
    Christine Kaaloa
    May 4, 2016 4:29 am

    Thanks for watching Brian! Gee, I hope I didn’t put on that much weight, but I do feel chubbier. ;/

    Reply

Did you travel by yourself and is it safe for a woman?

Reply
    Avatar
    Christine Kaaloa
    May 4, 2016 4:28 am

    @Shenazaw: 97% of the trips I take are solo. This is my third solo trip to India and so far I’ve filmed a handful of videos on Kolkata for the exact question you’re asking on female safety. =D

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Menu