10 Must do things in Kolkata
Kolkata in east India is a great place to start a private tour of India. A gateway to this incredible country, Kolkata was once the centrepiece of the British Raj in India and today, touches of the British Empire still linger in the city in its impressive monuments such as the Victoria Memorial. For international travellers to India, Kolkata is often a starting point as many international flights land here. Kolkata is also a great starting point for exploring east and northeast India – it’s from here you can head into the state of Assam and explore the incredible national park of Kaziranga, known for its one-horned rhinoceros; discover the tea plantations of Darjeeling and ride the Darjeeling Toy Train; and cruise the country’s eastern waterways with a river cruise on the Sundarbans. Those a just a few of the places you can visit and the things you can see starting from Kolkata!
Within the city itself, what is there to see in Kolkata? Having recently revisited this fascinating city ourselves, here are some of our suggestions on how to spend your time in Kolkata. To give you an idea of how much time you can spend in Kolkata, these are the things we did during a two day, 3 night stay, taking into account our flight from Australia arrived very late at night in Kolkata. We’ve also listed a few other sightseeing suggestions for Kolkata.
What to see and do in Kolkata.
#1 Howrah Bridge
Begin your sightseeing in Kolkata with a drive over the city’s iconic Howrah Bridge. This will give you a sense of the city’s geography and a glimpse of the hustle and bustle of traffic over the bridge, as well as a view of the mighty Hooghly River.
#2 Queen Victoria Memorial
One of the best-known attractions in Kolkata is the Queen Victoria Memorial. This Raj era icon is certainly beautiful and a drawcard for most visitors to the city. However, in all honesty, we thought the museum inside was small, overpriced and skippable. We suggest visiting the Memorial and taking it in from the outside. You can take a walk through the gardens and explore the exterior of the building and its architecture, taking photos along the way while your local guide explains the history of the memorial. However, we think you can skip the museum inside.
#3 Eden Gardens
Cricket fans will know Kolkata’s stadium Eden Gardens. If you are visiting when a test match or India’s T20 is on, consider including a visit to the cricket in India into your itinerary. We can help arrange tickets and pick you up and drop you off at the stadium. Alternatively, if there’s no cricket on, you can visit Eden Gardens every day (except Sunday) between the hours of 1pm-4pm.
#4 Afternoon Tea at Glenburn The Penthouse
Not all travel experiences need to be about sightseeing and museums. As you know, when we travel we do like to indulge a little and explore best local restaurants, bars, coffee shops and high tea spots. In Kolkata, if you are staying at the boutique hotel Glenburn The Penthouse, be sure to make time in the afternoon to enjoy the hotel’s afternoon tea which is served each day. Indulge in finger sandwiches, mini quiches and cakes with a cup of their inhouse tea. If you aren’t staying at Glenburn, book ahead and visit for afternoon tea. For more information about what it’s like to stay at Glenburn, we have included a review here below from our recent stay at this gorgeous new hotel in Kolkata.
#5 Kolkata walking tour
One of the best ways to discover Kolkata is on foot with an expert local guide. There are a number of fascinating walking tours we can include in this city, led by Kolkata locals that are passionate about the heritage and history of their city. These tours will reveal to you the history, the people and the stories of some of the individual neighbourhoods in Kolkata. These walking tours often start first thing in the morning, are gently paced and don’t cover a lot of distance, but include some of Kolkata’s key neighbourhoods such as Park St, and will reveal more than just big attractions. They’ll take in small churches and temples, significant houses and often include a stop for chai and a local breakfast along the way.
#6 Eat like a local – some great places to eat in Kolkata
India is a big, diverse country and as you explore the different states and regions of India, you will also discover the distinct cuisines of each place. In Kolkata, make some time to savour as much Bengali fare as you can. We had a delicious, simple but fresh, local meal at Russel St Dhaba during a recent stay – a rich dal, fresh breads and a perfect chai. For a more glamourous and indulgent meal, splurge on the multi-course set menu at Glenburn The Penthouse. If you aren’t staying at the hotel, book ahead for an elegant, fine dining experience. You can start with a g&t in the lounge ahead of your dinner. We loved the steamed fish parcels Bengali style, a slow cooked rich lamb dish and of course, a local Bengali sweet sweet to finish on. This could arguably one of our favourite meals to have in India! Alternatively, if you are looking for a more casual, lively affair – head to Broadway Hotel for drinks, snacks and a casual meal and see where locals comes to unwind – this restaurants is rich in charm and history and you can easily enjoy some time here in the low, leather seats, seeing how the locals enjoy themselves. Another popular eatery is Oh! Caluctta.
#7 Visit the Kalighat Kali Temple
If Kolkata is your first stop on your tour, chances are you will wake up early India time as your body switches over from Australian hours. If so, it won’t be too hard to rise early to visit the Kalighat Kali Temple. Even an early morning visit will show you this bustling place of worship, where streets leading to the temple are filled with hawkers of flowers and offerings devotees give at the temple. An authentic visit to a practising place of worship.
#8 Shop for local textiles and crafts
There are a number of local textiles and crafts stores and makers in Kolkata worth visiting, including Maku Textiles (appointments needed) and Byloome Café & Shop where you can buy vibrant textiles, clothes, jewellery and gifts.
#9 Ride Kolkata’s trams
If you are like us, we love to travel like locals and enjoy the down to earth experiences such as taking the local public transport. In Kolkata, you will see the old trams rambling up and down the streets, with traffic and pedestrians navigating their way around them. One afternoon we jumped on a local tram and rode through the city, seeing Kolkata from a different perspective, taking in the sounds of the city from the tram and discovering other parts of Kolkata away from the sights. It was an unexpected, simple pleasure, and very popular with the 8-year-old travelling with us. A great activity for travelling with children in India, but suitable for all ages! We took the tram to College St – which is the next place worth visiting in Kolkata on this list.
#10 Marvel at the book sellers on College St
This lengthy street in Kolkata is named for the colleges and places of study around it. The street is lined with book merchants and stores, selling various books, study books and stationery. It’s certainly different from the large bookstores you see in the west. Visit College St and take a stroll to see all the book sellers, you’ll see all the young locals coming to and from college and be sure to stop at the iconic Indian Coffee House on College St for filter coffee and a snack. It’s an icon of the city.
Some of our other tips for the best things to see in Kolkata. If you have time, it’s also worth considering a visit to the Indian Museum and/or the Kolkata Museum of Modern Art. These are the two galleries we recommend in Kolkata.
Additionally, some of the other activities which we can include in your visit to Kolkata include a local tea auction and a day at the horse races in Calcutta, as well as the activities listed above. If you are a keen golfer, we can also arrange a round of golf at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club or Tollgunge Club – both excellent golfing venues in Kolkata. Our Golf India itinerary may be suitable for you if you love to travel and golf and are looking for a golfing tour of India.
Kolkata features in our suggested itineraries Classic East India, our 14-day West Bengal and Sikkim private tour, as well as the fascinating 22-day North India In Depth tour. You can find all of our suggested itineraries here. We can also create a custom made private tour of India which includes Kolkata for you.
One of the top luxury hotels to stay at in Kolkata is undoubtedly The Oberoi Grand. The hotel is a part of the city and is ideally located near some of the city’s key areas such as Park Street. Our recent visit to Kolkata revealed to fabulous new properties which are arguably among the best places to stay in Kolkata.
The luxury, boutique stay Glenburn The Penthouse is the newest luxury accommodation to open in Kolkata, providing a high-end option in Kolkata for travellers who want a smaller, more personalised stay. Located on the top floor of an almost non-descript building in Kolkata and centrally located near Park St, The Penthouse will impress guests from the moment you step out of the lifts. With just nine elegant suites, this property offers a luxurious and personalised stay in the heart of Kolkata. The rooms are spacious, elegant and feature beautiful interiors and decors. There’s a spacious lounge, dining room and outdoor verandah with stunning views of the city and not to be forgotten, a fabulous rooftop pool overlooking Victoria Memorial. Some of the highlights from our recent stay include afternoon tea on the balcony, sipping a cheeky gin & tonic in the lounge, and feasting on the chef’s fabulous Bengali dinners. If you are starting your India tour in Kolkata, you can easily spend a few nights at Glenburn The Penthouse, settling into Indian time and acclimatising after a long flight and you won’t be disappointed. In fact, you may never want to leave!
There’s also a second new hotel in Kolkata that has recently opened and having stayed there, we can see why it is so popular with travellers and our own clients. The charming Calcutta Bungalow is a heritage hotel that has been lovingly and painstakingly restored by its owners over many years. A restored 1920s townhouse with just six rooms revealing the old world charm of this fascinating city. The rooms are pretty, character-filled with antiques, warm tones and local textiles. Another great reason to visit Kolkata.
To speak to our senior India travel planner based in Melbourne, Australia, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office toll free from anywhere in Australia on 1300 889 513
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