Known for its British style palatial monuments, Kolkata or Calcutta is an important tourist destination in eastern India. The city has a mix of European and Muslim influences in its buildings with a local Bengali culture in its arts, music and food. Being one of the original metropolitan cities in the country, Kolkata is cosmopolitan with communities from all over India and even China. When you travel to Kolkata get a glimpse of its local culture that includes its music like Rabindra Sangeet, food like Sandesh, Rossogolla and Indian Chinese fast food, films, fairs and festivals. During your Kolkata tour, you can visit its old heritage buildings, relatively new amusement parks and shopping malls, and ride the metro and trams to get the feel of the city. Know more about the city in the Kolkata Travel Guide.
Best Time to Visit Kolkata: October to March
How to Reach Kolkata
By Air: To travel to Kolkata, you can take a flight to the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, situated at Dum Dum, about 16 km from the city's center. You can avail air conditioned buses, hire cabs and pre-paid taxis to reach your desired place in and around the city.
By Rail: Kolkata has 3 railway stations that connect the city with all important tourist destinations in the country, namely Howrah Railway Station, Sealdah Railway Station and Chitpur Railway Station. Kolkata is connected to Dhaka the capital of Bangladesh by train as well.
By Road: There are 3 national highways that connect Kolkata with other parts of the country - 2, 6 and 34.
Tourist Attractions in Kolkata: Places to Go
Being a major cultural hub in eastern India, Kolkata provides travelers a number of tourist attractions not only inside the city, but also in its outskirts. A spiritual tour to Mayapur, 160 km from Kolkata, is one of the popular attractions among tourists from India and the world. Other sightseeing destinations near Kolkata include Shantiniketan (179 km), Mandarmani (255 km), Shankarpur (200 km) and Tajpur (170 km). In Kolkata, you can see numerous attractions by simply walking down the streets and cobbled lanes. Monuments like Writers' Building, Howrah Bridge, General Post Office, Raj Bhavan, Presidency College and other heritage buildings reiterate the glorious British eraof the city. It is also the only place in India where you can ride in a tram.
Heritage Buildings in Kolkata
Victoria Memorial - Dedicated to Queen Victoria, this Kolkata landmark was established in the year 1921 by Lord Curzon. Built in Indo-Saracenic architectural style with Mughal influences, the 184 ft tall white marble monument surrounded by a beautiful garden is spread across 64 acres land. There is a museum inside the building that has exhibits of paintings, statues, armors, garments, manuscripts and texts that describe the years when Calcutta was the capital of British India.
Town Hall - Built in the Roman-Doric architectural style by Colonel John Garstin, a well known architect, in the year 1811, the monument used to be a place for Europeans to hold events and meetings. Today, although the place is in shambles, you can feel its past grandeurin the life size paintings and statues in the hall's ground floor.
Shahid Minar - This 147 ft tall structure was constructed in the 19th century as a remembrance for the victory of British East India Company in the Gurkha War. Earlier known as Ochterlony Monument after a British Commander in the war who also built the Minar, it was renamed post independence as Shahid or Shaheed Minar in order to dedicate it to the people who gave their life for the country for freedom against the British. The structure represents a combination of Syrian architecture with Turkish influences.
Marble Palace - This 19th century private mansion was built by a wealthy Bengali businessman, Raja Rajendra Mullick, and is noted for being one of the best maintained places in Kolkata. You can visit the palace to see the intricately designed pillars and verandahs inside the mansion, and green lawns, rock garden and a private zoo with peacocks, pelicans and deer.
St. Paul's Cathedral - Established in the year 1847, this Anglican cathedral is built in the Neo-Gothic architectural style. It is noted for its ornate glass work, frescoes and murals.
Museums in Kolkata
Indian Museum - Founded in the year 1814, this is one of the largest in India and amongst the oldest museums in the world. On your travel to Kolkata, this museum is a must visit to get a glimpse of the history of India. See exhibits pertaining to archeology, natural history, geology, pre-historic times and technology.
Birla Science and Technological Museum - Established to promote science education, this is the first science museum in the country, formed in the 1959. There are 11 galleries showcasing various subjects associated with science including metals, electricity, mathematics and biotechnology.
Academy of Fine Arts - This is one of oldest fine arts museum and academy in India. There are several galleries having miniature paintings, textile paintings, carpets, engravings, sculptures and line drawings, done by some of the best artists in the country.
Wildlife and Bird Sanctuaries near Kolkata
Sunderbans National Park - Situated about 112 km from Kolkata, Sunderbans is well known for having the largest delta and the largest mangrove ecosystem in the world. It is a biosphere reserve for the Bengal Tigers and other animals like Fishing Cats, Chital, Flying Fox and Wild Boars. It is also a breeding site for numerous birds like Mangrove Pitta, Spotted Doves, Green Pigeons, Seagulls, Woodpeckers, Spot Billed Pelicans and Whistling Teals. International tourist will need to take prior permission to visit the Sunderban forests.
Fairs and Festivals in Kolkata
Durga Puja - This festival, held in October or November every year to mark the victory of Hindu Goddess Durga over the demon Mahishasura, is celebrated by everyone in Kolkata irrespective of their caste and religion. The city completely changes during this time of the year with Puja Pandals or Tents having the idols of Goddess Durga and her children Ganesha, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati, at every nook and corner of the city. If you are planning to travel to Kolkata during this time, it is better to make your preparations in advance as the city receives large number of tourists during the 5 day festival.
Kolkata Book Fair - Famous for being one of the largest book exhibitions in the world, the fair is held in January every year. It is noted for bringing publishers from not only India but also other countries of the world.
Kolkata International Music Festival - This 10 day long festival in December is attended by over 650 musicians from India and other parts of the world and features folk and tribal music to help revive these old musical styles.
History of Kolkata
Kolkata was earlier 3 separate villages, namely Sutanati, Kalikata and Govindpur that were rented by Job Charnock, a British East India Company agent to build a trading factory for the company. The company built the Fort William for the same and Charnock made the basic planning of the city. After the Battle of Plassey, in which the British defeated the Bengal Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah, Calcutta became the capital of British India. Several buildings like Writers Building, General Post Office and Town Hall are proof to the flourishing British in Calcutta. After the Indian Independence, the capital shifted to Delhi and Calcutta became the newly formed West Bengal state's capital. Its name officially changed to Kolkata in 2001.