Best Kolkata Travel Guide for the first timers

by Jan 10, 2020City Guides, India, Kolkata, West Bengal2 comments

Well, what can we say about Kolkata? It is our hometown, a place that we love dearly. To be honest, only after we became travel bloggers, did we understand the beauty and charm of the “City of Joy”, a sobriquet that is given to Kolkata. Kolkata is rich in heritage and is full of interesting places interspersed in every corner of the city. We have travelled to many places and written about them as well. But somehow, we have not yet written anything about the places to visit in Kolkata. Maybe we were hit by the ‘hometown syndrome’! Nevertheless, we have now written this Kolkata Travel Guide that will tell you about the tourist places in Kolkata, special attractions and all the offbeat places that are known only to the locals! This Kolkata Travel Guide is just perfect for your first time visit to the city.

Kolkata is a chaotic city. Not as big as Mumbai or Delhi, the city thrives on its people, culture and past. Calcutta, as it was known earlier was the first British capital before it was shifted to Delhi. The city is almost 300 years old and is an eclectic mix of the splendid decaying past and the promising new future. The British had built some amazing buildings during their heydays and today Kolkata flaunts the colonial-era architecture with pride.

Biswa Bangla Gate, Kolkata Travel Guide

Kolkata or Calcutta is known as the cultural hub of the country. The vibrant city has produced some of the best writers, poets, performing artists and works of literature. Even today, there is no doubt that Kolkata is the hub of all the cultural activity of the country. Kolkata is also a foodie’s paradise. The Bengalis (people of Bengal) love their food and also love to treat their guests with sumptuous dishes. And those who told you that Kolkata food is only about Maach-Bhaat (fish and rice), then they are absolutely wrong.

We can actually go on and on about the place that is so dear to us. But let me just stop here and write about the places to visit in Kolkata, places to eat and other interesting facts about the city. For foreign nationals visiting Kolkata for the first time, the city can give you quite a shock. Kolkata can be quite overwhelming for the first-timers, for that matter, you can say this for any Indian cities. But Kolkata will gradually grow on you. For no reason, the Kolkata is known as the city with a heart! You need to stay here to believe that.

Fairy of Victoria Memorial Kolkata

Kolkata Travel Guide | How to reach Kolkata?

By Air

Kolkata is located in West Bengal in the eastern part of India. Kolkata has an international airport (Netaji Subhash Chandra International Airport). The distance of Kolkata airport from Esplanade (considered to be almost in the heart of the city) is about 16 km.

Otherwise, Kolkata is well connected with other cities of India by flights all through the day.

By Train

India has an extensive railway network and one can travel anywhere in India by train. Kolkata has 3 important railway stations – Howrah, Sealdah and Kolkata Terminus, Howrah Station being the busiest of all. All the three stations are well connected by trains from almost all the parts of India.

By Bus

I would not suggest travelling by bus, if the distance is more than 200 km. nevertheless, buses are available to Kolkata from the neighbouring towns.

Infographic - Kolkata City Guide

Kolkata Travel Guide | How to get around Kolkata?

Getting around Kolkata is not very difficult. There are plenty of options to move around the city.

Metro: I always suggest Metro as the best mode of transport, but the problem in Kolkata is that the metro line is not yet extensive. It runs only through a particular area, and though it has been extended, it is not enough to cover the entire city. However, new metro lines are being laid. But we are not quite sure when they will be operational. Metros are clean, fast and cheaper mode of transport in Kolkata. Ticket price starts from Rs 10 to Rs.25.

Local Buses: Local buses in Kolkata are a bit of a challenge. Not that you will have a problem communicating, but getting on and off the local buses are a bit tough. However, the government-run AC buses are better in this respect. Local buses are quite a cheap form of transport.

Transportation in Kolkata

Yellow Taxis, Ola & Uber: Kolkata is also known for its iconic yellow Ambassador taxis. Once they used to be the main form of cab services in the city. And it was always a great deal of excitement for us as children to hop on a yellow taxi and drive around the city. But the yellow taxis do have a bad reputation. If the taxi drivers understand that you are not a local, he will try to extort the maximum fare from you. And this especially happens with foreigners. Be aware, that all these taxis have a meter and you have to pay according to the meter reading.

There are pre-paid taxi counters at Howrah Station, Sealdah Station and Airport from where you can get taxis to anywhere in Kolkata at a prescribed rate. This is a good form of travel, as you do not have to bargain with the taxi driver here.

Finally, there is the Uber and Ola that will take you anywhere in Kolkata.

Rickshaws: For short distances, there are rickshaws that will take you around. Kolkata is the only city that still has hand-pulled rickshaws. But the rickshaw pullers do it voluntarily and it is the sole decision of the rider whether they want to sit on a hand-pulled rickshaw. As a child, I would enjoy these rickshaw rides, but now, hand-pulled rickshaws are a strict no for me.

Hand pulled rickshaw of Kolkata

Local Trains: Kolkata has a local train network that is far more extensive than the metro. They are a cheaper mode of travel and you can travel to almost any part of the city. But a word of caution, the train becomes really crowded during the morning between 9-11 AM and in the evening between 6-9PM. This is the time when mostly office goers commute.

Trams in Kolkata

The Kolkata tram is the oldest operating electric train system in Asia. Once, the trams used to connect every part of the city. But with modern time and faster transport options, trams have almost become redundant. Yet, some tram routes are still working in Kolkata, mainly because it is a part of our heritage. A tram ride in Kolkata is a pleasant experience and you can take a tram ride only to get a feeling of it. I think it is no longer a practical mode of transport.

Kolkata Tram - Kolkata local transport

Kolkata Travel Guide | What is the best time to visit Kolkata?

Kolkata has a tropical climate with warm weather almost all through the year. The city mainly has three types of seasons – summer, monsoon and winter with very small autumn and spring. Summers are quite hot and humid. Monsoons are going to be wet and humid. Winters are cold with clear skies.

The best time to visit Kolkata is between the months of October to March.

October and November: This is the autumn season with clear blue skies and warm weather. Humidity is still there though. This is one of the best time to visit Kolkata as Durga Puja, the largest and craziest festival of the Bengalis are celebrated in October (sometimes it is late September as well).

December to March: December to mid-February is the winter season when the weather remains cold and less humid. This is the best time to visit Kolkata. This is the time when various fairs and festivals are held in Kolkata. Kolkata Book Fair, one of the largest book fairs is held in the month of January.

April to May: These are the summer months and Kolkata is quite hot and humid during this time. Perspiration is the most common difficulty you will face and exploring the city during the day time can be quite taxing.

June to September: Usually the monsoon months, but for the last 2 years, monsoon have been pushed to mid-July. Weather is hot and humid again and rain can play spoilsport in your outdoor plans. But nowadays travellers brave the rain and go out all right. So carry a rainwear or umbrella if you are visiting during this time.

The Great Banyan Tree at Shibpur Botanical Gardens in Kolkata

Kolkata Travel Guide | Top Tourist Places to visit in Kolkata

As I said earlier, Kolkata is a mélange of the old and new. A part of the city is the old and decaying one trying to hold on to its past. Here the roads are congested, houses are old and joined to other and there are numerous alleys and boulevards. This part is definitely the older Calcutta. The other part is the swanky modern one with flyovers and malls and modern offices and apartment – the new Kolkata.

  1. Victoria Memorial

Victoria Memorial - places to visit in Kolkata

One of the most elegant and grand monuments located right in the heart of Kolkata, the Victoria Memorial is a must-visit attraction of Kolkata. The white marble structure is perhaps one of the most opulent structures to be built by the British in Calcutta. Victoria Memorial was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 25 years of rule over India. Spread across an area of 64 acres, the white marble structure is surrounded by well-maintained gardens.

Victoria Memorial is one of the favourite destinations of the Kolkatans as well. Come winter, and you will see hundreds of people on the lawns of Victoria Memorial. There is a museum as well that houses a number of antique items.

Timings: The Garden remains open from 5.30 AM to 6.15 PM everyday. The Victoria Memorial Hall (museum remains open between 10AM to 5 PM. The Museum remains closed on Mondays.

Entry Fee: INR 30 for Indians and INR 200 for foreign visitors.

Nearest Metro Station: Maidan Metro

Kolkata Travel Guide

  1. Kalighat Temple

Kalighat Temple is one of the most revered temples of Kolkata and Goddess Kali is considered to be the guardian deity of the city. It is often said that the name of the city has been derived from Kalighat, but this fact is historically inaccurate. Kalighat Temple is believed to be one of the 52 Shakti Peethas of Hinduism. The right foot of Devi Sati fell here while the Rudra Tandava of Lord Shiva.

The idol inside the temple is made of black stone. An interesting feature of the Goddess Kali of Kalighat temple is the long protruding tongue, made of pure gold.

The Kalighat Temple is always busy with devotees flocking down to offer their prayers and seek blessings from the divine Goddess. Be careful of your belongings while you visit the temple. Buy Puja offerings from the vendors only if you wish to pay offerings inside the temple.

Timings: The temple is open from 5 AM to 2 PM and 5 PM to 10.30 PM

Entry Fee: Nil

Nearest Metro Station: Both Kalighat Metro and Jatin Das Park Metro

  1. Howrah Bridge

Howrah Bridge, Kolkata Travel Guide

The most iconic structure of Kolkata is perhaps the Howrah Bridge. Built across the Hooghly River, it forms the gateway to Kolkata connecting the city to Howrah Station. The Howrah Bridge is said to be the fourth busiest cantilever bridge in the world with thousands of people travelling across the bridge while entering and leaving Kolkata. The bridge is 1528 feet long and 62 feet wide.

If you are coming to Kolkata by train, you might have to cross the Howrah Bridge to enter Kolkata. You can get a great view of the iconic bridge from a boat ride on the Hooghly River.

  1. Dalhousie Square

St Andrews Church Dalhousie Square Kolkata

Kolkata is actually a city of many firsts. It was the first city in India to have a Page 3 newspaper. It was the first city in India to have an authentic Italian restaurant (not your Dominos Pizza and Pizza Huts), the city was the first to have a metro line as well. And many of these firsts bear testimony in the Dalhousie area.

Dalhousie Square area was known as the “White Town” during the British era. After the Battle of Plassey, the British shifted the capital of Bengal to Calcutta and built it with the aim of making it the “Second City of the Empire”. They were successful and it is evident by the presence of a number of colonial architecture in the Dalhousie Square area. Walk by the Raj Bhavan, explore around the GPO, take a peek into the Company stables and rest your feet by the Lal Dighi. You can also visit the St. John’s Church area as well. And while you walk along the area, listen to the interesting tales from the past.

  1. Indian Museum

Indian Museum Kolkata

Indian Museum was founded in 1814 and is the largest and oldest multipurpose museum not only in India but also in the Asia Pacific region. In Kolkata, it is fondly known as “Jadughar”. The Museum contains a collection of contemporary as well as old paintings (Mughal paintings are also present), Buddha relics, Egyptian mummies and ancient sculptures. The museum also has a rare collection of antiques, ornaments, fossils and skeletons and many more. Currently, there are 35 galleries in the museum.

Opening Time: Opened on all days of the week except Monday

Timings: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM (March to November) and 10:00 AM – 4:30 PM (December to February)

Entry Fee: INR 20 (For Indians) INR 500 (For foreign tourists)

Nearest Metro: Park Street Metro

  1. Kumartuli

Kumartuli idol makers working

If you are reading about Kolkata, then you must have heard about the famous Durga Puja of the city. Kumartuli is the place where the Durga idols are made. The place is the residence of the “kumors” or potters who had settled down in the area during the early eighteenth century. Before the Durga Puja (held in October), the lanes and mazes of Kumartuli becomes busy with the idol makers working on their craft. You can visit Kumartuli and see the idol makers working. But be careful as you walk so as not to harm the idols in any way.

Nearest Metro: Sovabazar Metro

  1. Mallick Ghat Flower Market

Vendors selling flowers at Mallick Ghat Flower Market, Kolkata Travel Guide

Just below the Howrah Bridge, the chaotic and loud market of flowers, the Mullick Ghat Flower Market is located. It is the largest flower market of Kolkata and is obviously a photographer’s delight. The market starts at 4 AM in the morning as the flower sellers from the nearby areas pour in with their merchandise – various flowers in this case. The market is overcrowded, dirty and completely chaotic, but this is where you see a colourful and raw Kolkata without any pretensions.

  1. St. Paul’s Cathedral

St Pauls Cathedral Kolkata Travel Guide

Just near the Victoria Memorial stands the elegant and beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is considered to be the first Episcopal Church of the eastern region. The church built in all-white looks majestic and has a beautiful architecture. You can enter the church and sit there quietly for some time. photography is not allowed inside the church.

Nearest Metro: Rabindra Sadan Metro.

Timings: 10 AM to 6 PM

  1. John’s Church

St. John’s Church is one of the oldest churches to be built in Kolkata. It is not only a religious site, but also has immense historical importance. The church is a repository of old historic documents related to Kolkata. The land on which the church was built was initially a burial ground. The garden around the church still has a number of graveyards, the most significant of them being the tomb of Job Charnock, who is believed to be the founder of Kolkata.

Timings: 8AM to 5PM

Entry Fee: Nil

Location: 2/2, Council House Street. The church is located near Raj Bhavan

  1. Princep Ghat

Princep Ghat and Vidyasagar Setu are two most famous tourist attractions in Kolkata

Princep Ghat or Prinsep Ghat is one of the most beautiful places in Kolkata where you can simply sit and enjoy. Located beside the banks of the Hooghly River, the pristine white structure with the second Hooghly Bridge at the background looks just majestic. The Princep Ghat is one of the best examples of the colonial architecture and one of the grandest monument built to access the riverfront.

You can visit Princep Ghat and sit around the huge lawn surrounding the structure. You can also take a boat ride on the Hooghly River. There is a railway station by the same name, which is a stop for the circular railway in Kolkata.

Entry Fee: Nil

How to reach: There is no metro station nearby. If you are coming from Howrah, take a ferry ride across the river to reach Princep Ghat. Otherwise, Uber, Ola and the yellow taxi of Kolkata will bring you here from anywhere in Kolkata.

  1. Dakshineswar Temple

Dakshineshwar Temple places to visit in Kolkata

Another famous and revered temple of Kolkata, Dakshineswar Kali Temple is one of the oldest in Kolkata. It was founded by Rani Rashmoni in 1855, Ramkrishna Deb, the highly revered religious ascetic used to be the main pandit of Dakshineswar Temple.

Dakshineswar Temple is located about 20 km from central Kolkata at the banks of the Hooghly River. On the opposite bank of the temple is the famous Belur Math. Dakshineswar Temple receives a lot of visitors almost every day. You can visit the Temple and Belur Math together. Ferry services are available from Dakshineswar Ferry Ghat to Belur Math Ghat.

Entry Fee: Nil

  1. Belur Math

Belur Math places to visit in Kolkata

Belur Math is the headquarters of Ramkrishna Math and Mission and represents the idea of Universal faith. The mind behind Belur math was Swami Vivekananda, the famous disciple of Sri Ramkrishna, who had taken the message of Hinduism to the western world. Belur Math is also located on the banks of the Hooghly River and is regarded as “Symphony in architecture” as it combines Hindu, Islamic, Christian and Buddhist architectural elements to symbolize the unity of religion.

Belur Math is quite a serene place where you can spend some time sitting and meditating. The peace in the Belur Math campus would be quite a pleasant experience.

Entry Fee: Nil

  1. Mother House

Tomb of Mother Teresa at Mother House Kolkata

Source: Wikimedia

The Mother House is the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity that was founded by Mother Teresa. The house served as the Mother’s residence since1953 till her death in 1997. Her body was laid to rest in a tomb inside the house. You can visit the tomb and a small museum displaying her personal belongings.

Location: Ripon Street

Entry Fee: Free.

  1. Botanical Gardens, Shibpur

The Great Banyan Tree at Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens or Acharya Jagadish ChandraBose Indian Botanic Garden is located on the west bank of River Hooghly at Shibpur. The garden covering a huge area of 273 acres was established in 1787. The garden contains about 12000 perennial plants. The main attraction of Botanical Gardens is the colossal banyan tree known as the Great Banyan Tree. This tree forms the second largest canopy in the world. Botanical Garden is like a breath of fresh air near Kolkata. There is a lot of walking to be done here, so wear comfortable shoes.

Timings: 10 AM to 5 PM everyday except Mondays

Entry Fee: INR 10 (for Indians) and INR 200 (for foreigners)

Flora and fauna at Botanical Gardens Shibpur - Kolkata Travel Guide

  1. Eco Park, New Town

All these long, I had told you mainly about heritage places in the city. If you want to see the modern Kolkata, then a visit to Eco-park in New Town is a must. Eco Park or Eco-tourism Park is an expansive urban park designed to promote ecotourism in the city. The park has been built across a huge area of 480 acres and has a number of interesting gardens and places.

The most interesting attraction of the Ecopark is the Seven Wonders of the World where replicas of the Seven Wonders of the World are built across the park. There are various gardens like the tea garden, butterfly garden, mask garden, fruit garden, rose garden etc inside the park. A huge water body surrounds the park and boating facilities are also available there. Ecopark is a great place to spend time as well as to get some knowledge about Kolkata and Bengal.

Just near the Gate No.3 at Eco Park stands the Mishti Hub, a novel concept wherein most of the famous sweets shops in Bengal are found under one roof. Here you will get some of the best sweets of Kolkata, all under one roof. This is just the place to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Timings: During summer between 2.30 PM to 8.30 PM. For Sundays and Holidays, the park remains open from 12 PM to 8.30 PM. During the winter season (November – February) between 12 PM to 7.30 PM. For Sundays and Holidays, the park remains open from 11 AM to 8.30 PM. The Park remains closed on Mondays.

Entry Fee: Rs.30 per person. Inside the park, individual activities have individual rates.

Things to do in Kolkata

Where to stay in Kolkata?

In Kolkata, you will find hotels of various ranges and types all through the city. A google search on the best places to stay in Kolkata will give you areas near Esplanade and Sudder Street. Infact, Sudder Street is the first choice of most of the foreign tourists visiting in Kolkata.

Sudder Street is one of the best places to stay in Kolkata

If you want to stay in the heart of the city where you can see the city in her full form, then stay near Esplanade, Park Street or Sudder Street.

If you want to stay somewhere near the airport, then try for hotels near New Town and Chinar Park.

Kolkata does not have the hostel culture developed yet, but there are a couple of hostels in the city. You can check out Offbeat CCU.

Kolkata Travel Guide | What to eat in Kolkata?

Kolkata is a foodies’ paradise. The Bengalis love their food, be it vegetarian or non-vegetarian. The street food in Kolkata is one of the best. Kolkata food has Bengali cuisine influence all right in its street food and snacks, but you will get food from other regions here as well. Street food of Kolkata includes lip-smacking rolls, phuchkas, bhelpuri, papri chat etc.

While in Kolkata, you must taste the Bengali cuisine. Bengali food is not only about fish and rice, but much more. But it is definitely about sweets and lots of sweet dishes. Bengalis love their sweet treats and no Bengali meal is ever complete without the quintessential rosogolla.

Some of the best places to have Bengali food are:

  • Kasturi (our personal favourite)
  • 6, Ballygunge Place
  • Bhojohori Manna
  • Aaheli
  • Oh! Calcutta
  • Mitra Café (only for snacks and treats)

Other well-known restaurants of Kolkata that you might try out

Bengali cuisine

For Biriyani & Kebabs:

  • Indian Restaurant at Khidirpore
  • Amber
  • Aminia
  • Arsalan
  • Nizam’s
  • Shiraz Golden restaurant
  • Oudh

For Chinese

  • Mainland China
  • Buddha Bites
  • Any restaurant at Chinatown in Tangra

Just remember, Chinese in Kolkata is mostly Indianized Chinese that has evolved catering to the taste of local population. You might not get authentic Chinese experience here. But even then, this Chinese version is also just too good!

Continental

  • Peter Cat, Park Street (One of my favourites)
  • Moulin Rouge, Park Street (I absolutely love the ambience here. This place still has a piano that is played in the evening)
  • Mocambo, again at Park Street
  • Barbeque Nation

Mishti Doi and sweets of Kolkata

Kolkata Travel Guide | Interesting places to visit near Kolkata 

From Kolkata, you can make a day trip or 2 days trip to a few places like Sunderbans, Shantiniketan and Mandarmani. Each of the places has its own speciality and will be a different experience.

For day trips near Kolkata, you can visit Chandannagore (erstwhile French Town), Bandel Church, Hooghly Imambara and others.

What are the best places for shopping in Kolkata?

Kolkata has a lot of interesting shopping places. Kolkata has different markets for different items. The New Market, Esplanade Market and Gariahat market are shopper’s paradise. You will get clothes, shoes, fashion items, jewellery, food and household items in all these markets.

New Market Kolkata

New Market happens to be one of the most favourite places for Kolkata shoppers even in the times of glitzy malls and high-end shops. As a child, we were told that at New Market, you get almost everything. We still believe in that till date. For all things Bengali and traditional, visit the Dakshinapan Market at Gariahat.

College Street is the market place for book and education items. Again, it was said that if you do not get a book in College Street, perhaps that book never existed. You just need to look for it.

And if you are looking for Malls, then there are South City Mall at Prince Anwar Shah Road, City Centre at Salt Lake, City Centre II at New Town, Acropolis near Ruby etc.

Shopping in Kolkata

Kolkata Travel Guide (FAQs answered)

Q. How many days are required?

The number of days depends on what you would like to do in the city. Usually Kolkata serves as a stop for travellers before travelling further to Darjeeling and northeast India. Minimum of 2 days are required to explore Kolkata and cover the important places to visit in Kolkata.

Q. How is the mobile connectivity and Internet?

Kolkata is the capital city of West Bengal and has proper mobile and internet connectivity.

Q. Is Kolkata expensive?

Well, Kolkata can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. Generally, Kolkata is not an expensive city to live. You can probably break the cost of your travel in Kolkata in the following way:

Accommodation: This cost is as per your choice. You will get rooms at hotels at as low as Rs500 while there are expensive 5-star properties as well. In general, the cost of accommodation can be between Rs1500 to Rs3000 for a good budget hotel.

Food: Food can be quite cheap here. Within Rs500 you will get all the three meals and more.

Transport: Public Transport is cheap in Kolkata compared to other Indian metros. If you can travel by public transport, then you can reduce your cost to a considerable amount.

Vivekananda Setu or Bali Bridge

Q. What about the nightlife in Kolkata?

It might not be as happening as in Mumbai, but Kolkata has an active nightlife. There are some amazing bars, pubs, clubs and lounges that are hosts to the thriving party scene of the city. Most of the nightlife in Kolkata is concentrated in the Park Street area. If I had to name a few, then they would be:

  • Someplace Else, Park Street – one of the most famous pubs in the city
  • Roxy, Park Street – upscale cocktail bar
  • Shisha Bar, Camac Street
  • Tantra, Park Street – stylish lounge
  • Nocturne, Theatre Road – Nightclub

And yes, Kolkata is absolutely safe at night. I have travelled after midnight in the city without any problem.

Things to do in Kolkata - Travel Guide

A few things you should be aware of while visiting Kolkata

  • Please be wary of over-friendly taxi drivers on your arrival, be at the airport or railway station. I am not saying that they are bad person, but they will usually try to extort a larger amount for taxi fare, more so if you are a foreign tourist. I would suggest you go to the prepaid counter at the airport or railway station and take a taxi to your hotel or accommodation. At other times, ask the yellow taxi drivers to go by the meter.
  • Be easy about the street food you eat. You might get a stomach problem if you are not careful.
  • Also, watch out for the water you drink. Don’t just drink water from anywhere, especially tap waters.

2nd Hooghly Bridge Kolkata Travel Guide

Maidan grounds Kolkata

Sovabazar Rajbari Kolkata Travel Guide

There are lots more things to do in Kolkata, a lot more places to visit. This Kolkata Travel Guide is designed for first-timers in the city which will help you get acquainted with the city. If you are visiting Kolkata and have any questions, please feel free to ask us in your comments or just send us a mail.

Pin this for a later read!

Kolkata for first time visitors - Travel Guide

Agni & Amrita

Agni & Amrita

Travel Experts

We are Agni and Amrita, the story-telling team behind Tale of 2 Backpackers and partners in crime in travel and (mis)adventures of life. We have been travelling together for more than a decade looking for immersive experiences while enjoying the little beauties of life. We are intrigued by heritage, culture, festivals and people and that is reflected in our travel. And yes, we love the Himalayas too.

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