Are you wondering what things you can do in Kolkata? If you’re up for experiencing affordable activities and beautiful structures around the capital of culture-rich West Bengal on a laidback pace, then this short but sweet list is for you!
I started my 3-week India trip in Kolkata. Formerly known as Calcutta and capital of British India, the third most populous city in India boasts an interesting amalgamation of its British colonial past and present Indian vibrancy.
Table of Contents
- See the Victoria Memorial Hall
- Feel nostalgic at the Esplanade
- Get hip at Park Street
- Admire the Dakshineswar Temple
- Enjoy the peace at Belur Math
- Fancy a meal at The Corner Courtyard
- Commute, walk around, and enjoy the ordinary
To be honest, my whole itinerary was centered heavily in Southern and Northern India. Kolkata was obviously out of the way, but I used to have a friend there, so I thought, why not check it out. I’m glad I did. If you choose to land here first, I’m sure you’ll love it too!
Why? The people were so warm, welcoming, and helpful. It was a nice introduction to the country. I think the locals thought I was from Assam, so I didn’t feel like I was being stared at a lot, compared to the other states I went to. 🙂
If you are thinking about what to do in Kolkata for a day or two, here are seven (7) ideas to try. I’m a relatively spontaneous traveler and usually decide on a particular place, food, or activity while out and about (not before heading out 😂). So, these things were the results of decisions made while taking a break from walking or enjoying a nice cup of coffee in a café.
See the Victoria Memorial Hall
Beautifully preserved monument made from white marble, Victoria Memorial Hall is “an attempt to combine classical Western influence with Mughal architecture.” Built for 15 years from 1906 to 1921 to commemorate Queen Victoria (1819-1901), the memorial is a striking reminder of India’s colonial past.
Besides the pristine look and atmosphere, inside the Victoria Memorial Hall are 25 galleries featuring paintings, photographs, manuscripts, and objects depicting the British royalty during the time and eventual development of Kolkata.
I enjoyed my time at the memorial. I got there late in the afternoon, so the heat wasn’t too harsh. There were also few people, so the ambiance was on the quiet side.
Hours, fees, and some tips
- See here if you want to visit the Victoria Memorial Hall official website.
- The Gardens are open every day from 5:30 to 18:00, while the Gallery is open every day except Mondays, from 10:00 to 18:00 (20:00 on Saturday and Sunday).
- Entry tickets to the museum range from Rs. 30 (Indians) to Rs. 500 (foreigners), while Rs. 20 is the fee to enter the Gardens.
- The address is Victoria Memorial Hall, 1, Queen’s Way, Kolkata 700071, India (you can easily search on Google Maps for the most convenient way to go there wherever you are in the city).
- Try to go in the early morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the sun. Also bring water because you’re going to walk a lot!
Feel nostalgic at the Esplanade
Continue your journey into the past with a walk around the Esplanade. Kolkata was once named the City of Palaces because of the numerous mansions built from 1700 to 1912 during the colonial era. The beautiful structures were of mixed European (Gothic, Baroque, Roman) and Asian (Oriental, Islamic) designs.
Situated at what is now the central business district, the palaces are sadly in various stages of decay. Some are in great condition, some are not, but I did have a great time just appreciating the magnificence and ingenuity from the past. Heritage buildings stuck in time amidst the bustling streets of the Esplanade.
Include the Esplanade as one of your things to do in Kolkata if history and architecture are your thing!
Get hip at Park Street
Next to our list is a visit to Park Street. Known as the go-to hangout spot for locals since the past centuries or so, Park Street boasts not only hotels and accommodations but also pubs, malls, and cafes. For your night life party adventure, the Mother Teresa Sarani (which is another name for it) is the place to be.
If you’re going to be in Kolkata on Diwali, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Eve, visit Park Street and see the lovely decorated lights. When I was there, it was late in the afternoon and I was super tired. I think I walked close to 20,000 steps that time, so I just had a fruit shake at one of the cafes before going to my next destination. It was definitely lively, and I bet Park Street at night would’ve been so much fun!
Admire the Dakshineswar Temple
A bit out of the city, the Dakshineswar Temple is easy to notice due to its nine-spired design. It was built in 1855 by a devotee of Kali, Rani Rashmoni, as a result of a dream she had before her pilgrimage to Varanasi.
Inside, the Hindu temple compound features 12 shrines dedicated to Shiva, a bathing ghat, a Radhakrishna temple, and a temple of Goddess Kali. Ramakrishna, a mystic and saint in 19th century Bengal, spent most of his adult life at Dakshineswar Temple, which eventually made the place of worship more popular.
Honestly, I wasn’t able to go inside because it was too crowded, and the line was too long. I arrived there around 16:00 so it was a mad scramble to get inside. I opted to just explore the surrounding areas, but still had fun admiring the architecture.
Hours, fees, some tips
- See here if you want to visit the Dakshineswar Temple official website.
- The temple is open every day. From October to March, 6:00 to 12:30, 15:00 to 20:30. From April to September, 6:00 to 12:30, 15:30 to 21:00.
- Entrance is free.
- You can easily search on Google Maps for the most convenient way to go there wherever you are in the city. I rode a bus going there, and it was a crazy experience! 🙃
- Try to go at mid-morning or early in the evening to avoid the sun and the crowd. Bring water because you are going to walk a lot. Wear sandals because you have to remove your shoes to enter the complex.
Enjoy the peace at Belur Math
Continue your exploration to Belur Math, which is one boat away from the Dakshineswar Temple. But in my case, I booked an Uber because I didn’t know that I could get there via boat! 😅
Belur Math is located on the west bank of Hooghly River and serves as the heart of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Founded by Swami Vivekananda, the temple blends motifs from Christian, Islamic, Hindi and Buddhist art, symbolizing the unity of all religions. Inside, there are temples dedicated to Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi, and Swami Vivekananda. The Ramakrishna Order monastery is also within the complex.
I definitely appreciated my time here. It was very peaceful inside, and I loved just observing the devotees going about their day. If you need a day off to relax from traveling, Belur Math it is.
Hours, fees, some tips
- See here if you want to visit the Belur Math official website.
- The temple is open every day, from 6:00 to 12:00, 16:00 to 20:30.
- Entrance is free.
- You can easily search on Google Maps for the most convenient way to go there wherever you are in the city. As for me, I rode an Uber because I didn’t want to get squeezed to get out of a bus again. LOL
- It’s pretty chill inside Belur Math so maybe just bring water to stay hydrated.
Fancy a meal at The Corner Courtyard
My friend suggested this one because it was within walking distance of the Airbnb I was staying at. The Corner Courtyard is a boutique hotel that traces its roots to an ancient house built in 1904. Revived to accommodate guests in its seven themed rooms, The Corner Courtyard also has a multi-cuisine restaurant to satisfy hungry and adventurous appetites—like mine!
I came in the evening to have dinner, and I really loved the ambiance! It was quiet and the interiors were charming to look at. If you’re looking for an aesthetic, Instagrammable spot in Kolkata, you better visit this hotel and restaurant, which is open from 8:00 to 0:00.
Commute, walk around, and enjoy the ordinary
I couldn’t have asked for a better first stop for my India trip. Kolkata was amazing. It may not be a popular destination for first time India travelers (overshadowed by the Golden Triangle Tour), but Kolkata did offer a lot.
For the most part, I appreciated the hospitality not only of my Airbnb hosts, but also of the random people I asked for directions. Commuting was fun. I got to ride an auto rickshaw for the first time. I also learned that it’s best to sit in front or near the driver of the bus to easily get out once it gets full. 😁 Walking around was a breeze, and I felt safe the whole time.
- Download Uber. The fare is relatively affordable so you can use it when you get tired from walking.
- Use Ola to book auto rickshaws, as well as various types of car (like Uber). The first time I used Ola, the auto rickshaw driver was asking me for a code. I didn’t know what he meant until he pointed it on my phone. Of course, without the right code, the driver wouldn’t be able to start the ride on the app. Definitely a safety measure for us solo female travelers!
- Learn basic Hindi phrases to help you get around. Most people knew how to speak in English, but I also encountered others who didn’t. As the visitor, we have to adjust. 🙂 I highly recommend watching Karl Rock on Youtube and this video in particular. He’s correct, my most used Hindi phrase throughout my 3-week trip was “Na-he cha-he-yay” which translates to “No, thank you. I don’t want it.” 😝
There you have it! I hope you find something valuable from my experience. Have you been to India or are you traveling there soon? Do share!
Follow my adventure to my next stop: The City of Pearls, Hyderabad.