There are numerous places to visit in Kolkata and it is recommended to spend a few days to get a “feel” for the city and its charms.
Kolkata’s charms straddle the decaying grandeur of the imperial capital and the smart restaurants and boutiques of Park Street. These coexist with the traditional Bengali world of Rabindranath Tagore’s mansion at Jorasanko, the Kalighat temple and the potter’s village of Kumartuli, and with the lively politics of the Coffee House and the Maidan, dominated by the Victoria Memorial, a spectacular symbol of imperial high noon. There are numerous places to visit in Kolkata and it is recommended to spend a few days to get a “feel” for the city and its charms.
The city is crowded and dirty in places, but is nevertheless full of character. The teeming life of the waterfront along the Strand, the noisy jumble of bazaars and pavement stalls, the residential streets with their once gracious mansions, all make for an electric, cosmopolitan atmosphere, rarely found in other Indian cities.
Kolkata tourist places are best visited in sections as the attractions are spread out over a large area.
Most of the attractions are situated in north-central Kolkata with Howrah Bridge being the main landmark of the city. Nearby Kolkata flower market makes for a great photo op early in the morning. One of the best things to do in Kolkata is to take a self-guided walking tour around BBD Bagh and Barabazar areas as they epitomise Old Kolkata as it used to be hundreds of years ago. Old Chinatown is a great place for some Chinese delicacies, although today it is superseded by Tangra for the best Chinese restaurants in the city. Resplendent yet slightly run down Marble Palace should be on everyone’s list of places to visit in Kolkata as it has a fantastic collection of Classical European artwork. Kumartuli is also worth visiting as it gives one a unique glimpse into the creation of clay idols for Kolkata’s puja festivals.
Further north, you can take a ferry ride to Dakshineswar to see the Kali Temple there, and visit the Ramakrishna Mandir at Belur Math to learn about Ramakrishna’s life and travels.
In southern Kolkata, the only place worth visiting is the Kalighat Temple, Kolkata’s holiest spot for Hindu worship.
Heading back into the centre of Kolkata, the Victoria Memorial stands out as an example of the city’s colonial heritage, while St Paul’s Cathedral nearby would look quite at home in Cambridgeshire. One of the popular things to do in Kolkata is to go shopping at New Market, also known as Hogg Market, for its atmospheric shops and to test your bargaining skills. The nearby Indian Museum is India’s oldest museum and the best museum in Kolkata. No visit to Kolkata is complete without a visit to the Missionaries of Charity ‘Motherhouse’ to pay homage at Mother Teresa’s tomb and visit the ‘Mother’s room’ where she once worked and slept. If you’re staying for a while, you can volunteer at the nearby Sishu Bhavan which will be an experience you will never forget. In the same area is the South Park Street Cemetery, a strange yet calming place to reflect on the mossy Raj-era graves set in a jungle-style atmosphere.
Below is a list of the top places to visit in Kolkata.
Conceived of by Lord Curzon in 1901 as a monument to Queen Victoria four years after her death, the domed Victoria Memorial is Kolkata’s most recognizable landmark. Now a museum, its 25 galleries are spread over the ground and first floors. The collection, which covers a fascinating selection of Raj memorabilia, includes the Kolkata Gallery, with oil paintings and watercolours of the city’s history.
Located a short distance from Victoria Memorial, St Paul’s Cathedral is the original metropolitan church of British India. An Anglican cathedral, it is one of the most important churches in Kolkata. Inside the cathedral, the stained-glass West window is particularly noteworthy.
Over the years, the Howrah Bridge has become an iconic landmark and symbol of Kolkata. Commissioned in 1943 during WWII, it was the third-longest cantilever bridge at the time of its construction; today, it is the sixth-longest bridge of its type in the world.
Near the southeast end of Howrah Bridge, the Kolkata flower market is fascinatingly colourful virtually 24 hours a day. Apart from being a photographer’s paradise, the flower market is also a perfect spot to view the nearby Howrah Bridge. Wrestlers practice their art at 7am on a small caged area of sand just back from the river.
Located on busy Jawaharlal Nehru Road in central Kolkata, the Indian Museum is the oldest and largest museum in India. Possibly the oldest institution of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region, the museum holds the country’s largest repository of artifacts (over 100,000 exhibits).
Located in northern Kolkata, Marble Palace is an opulent mansion with an Italianate courtyard, classical columns and Egyptian sphinxes built in 1835 by Raja Rajendra Mullick, a wealthy zamindar (landowner). Resplendent yet slightly run down, the galleries in this grand mansion are astonishingly overstuffed with statues, porcelain, clocks, mirrors, chandeliers and English (Reynolds), Dutch (Reubens) and Italian paintings.
In 1952, the Order of the Missionaries of Charity was started in Kalighat by Mother Teresa to serve the destitute and dying 19 years after she arrived in India. The headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity and where the tomb of Mother Teresa lies is Motherhouse located on AJC Bose Road in central Kolkata. Nearby Shishu Bhavan, a home for the 250 or so orphans is also a special place to visit in Kolkata.
The ancient Kalighat Temple is Kolkata’s holiest spot for Hindus and possibly the source of the city’s name. This is the temple to Kali, the patron goddess of Kolkata. The present Kalighat Temple dates to the early 19th century, but this has been a sacred spot for much longer. Today’s version, a 1809 rebuild, has floral- and peacock-motif tiles that look more Victorian than Indian.
A self-guided walking tour of Old Kolkata is one of the best ways to see the sights and sounds in Kolkata. The streets around BBD Bagh is the “heart” of Kolkata and was the site of the original Kolikata, one of the villages from which the city grew. The BBD Bagh square is ringed by British colonial buildings, dating to the 18th and 19th centuries. These were once the centres of British administrative and commercial control and are worth inspecting on a self-guided walking tour of Old Kolkata.
South of the Dakshineshwar temple, off Chitpur Road is Kumartuli, a maze of alleys, where images of various Hindu gods and goddesses are made. Many of the giant god effigies that are immersed in the holy Hooghly during Kolkata’s colourful pujas have been made by the kumar (sculptors) of this enthralling district. Visit Kumartuli in August and September for a memorable experience.
South Park Street Cemetery was used to accommodate the large number of British who died ‘serving’ their country. Opened in 1767 on what was previously a marshy area, the cemetery was in use until about 1830 and is now a heritage site. There are about 1,600 tombs in total, most of them in derelict condition.
About 16 km north of Kolkata city, on the west bank of the Hooghly river, is Belur Math, the international headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission. It was founded in 1886 by Swami Vivekananda, a disciple of the 19th-century Hindu saint Ramakrishna who preached the unity of all religions. To symbolize this, the Math (‘monastery’) synthesizes Hindu, Christian and Islamic architectural styles in a peaceful and meditative atmosphere.
On the opposite side of the river from Belur Math is the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, one of Bengal’s most popular pilgrimage spots. At the heart of this vibrant riverside complex is a cream-and-red Kali Temple shaped like an Indian Sacré-Coeur. The temple is crowded with colourfully clad devotees, particularly on Sundays when there are lengthy queues, and the temple is open to all faiths.