When people come to India for the first time, chances are they either spend their vacation laying on the tropical beaches in Goa or visiting all the touristic hot spots of the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan). Which is totally fine and I wouldn’t recommend you to do anything else! Go for it!
But hardly anyone makes it to Kolkata (or Calcutta) on their first visit. And that’s a shame if you ask me.
Kolkata still has a lot of visible elements from the British occupation: tree-lined streets, the British cabs, the architecture… It makes for a whole different vibe than other big Indian cities.
The city is a lot easier to understand than Delhi, in my opinion. Yet, Delhi is where most people start their adventure.
If you make it to the capital city of West Bengal, you’ll be in for a treat! I traveled here in a small group, but also alone. I’ve never felt unsafe, but rather soaked up the vibe of the city. I wouldn’t go out alone at night, though, but then I wouldn’t in any place in India. Hotel staff in Kolkata will even recommend you to return to the hotel by a certain time if they see you’re traveling alone.
I went home with a backpack full of books, too! You’ll find book stores everywhere, books are sold on the street as well. And, well, it’s just a lot more affordable than buying them in Europe :)
Because I want more people to visit this awesome city, I have made a list of 10 Fun Things To Do in Kolkata when you’re going for the first time.
10 Fun Things To Do in Kolkata
1. Visit South Park Cemetery
Visiting a cemetery doesn’t have to be morbid. South Park Cemetery is the biggest Christian cemetery outside of Europe and (almost) looks more like a park than an actual cemetery. This may be because many young couples and groups of “brave” youngsters hang out around the tombs. As you may have guessed by its name, the location of this must-visit is at the popular Park Street. It is definitely worth a visit. Remember to register with the concierge when you enter. You don’t want to get locked up inside a cemetery, do you?
2. Discover the Flower Market
The flower market of Kolkata can be found at the foot of the Howrah bridge and is a colorful, busy, “happening” place. The market is open basically 24/7, but the best time to visit is early in the morning when they deliver the fresh flowers. I haven’t yet been able to visit this place myself because it is a little out of the way, but from what I have heard, read, and seen it is definitely something I’d recommend!
3. Stroll around in the Park Street Area
Park Street is just as lively as the center of London. The fact that Kolkata is full of British cabs and that the roads are lined up with trees instills the feeling even more that Kolkata once used to be occupied by the British. You’ll find many Western restaurants, modern Indian food places, bars and clubs etc. It’s a nice change if you’ve been traveling around India for a while. Basically, if you don’t know what to do, you come here!
4. Go for a Walk by the Howrah River
I, myself, went for a walk on the boulevard by the Howrah River at sundown. As soon as night falls, though, all the mosquitos come out (so come prepared with long sleeves!). Nevertheless, the view of the city lights on the other side of the river and the view on the beautifully lit and iconic bridge of Kolkata make for a very romantic place to stroll with, say, your boyfriend or girlfriend.
5. Chill in the Gardens of Victoria Memorial
The Victoria Memorial itself is quite beautiful and you can visit the museum inside (don’t enter if you think it will be cool inside the building because it’s even hotter inside than outside). The Memorial was finished in 1921, after 15 years of work, and was built in honor of Queen Victoria of Great-Britain. (You may have guessed that already, right?) The gardens around the building are worth a walk as well. I tend to move here later in the day to avoid the hottest hours of the daytime. In addition, the gardens and Memorial turn out to be beautifully lit at night and the lights reflect beautifully in the pond at the back.
6. Take a Look around in Quest Mall
The Quest Mall is worth a visit just for its architecture, inside and out. Most shops are slightly out of my price range, but you’ll also find the likes of Vero Moda as well as an Inox cinema.
7. Have Food at One Step Up and Eat Good Food
A restaurant that was recommended to me by a local is One Step Up in Park Street. We went twice because we missed Western food sooo much and the food was just that good. Another nice looking place I discovered, but didn’t get a chance to eat at myself, is Eat Good Food. It is close to Quest Mall and its menu contains original dishes at a decent price. (Here’s a recent article from the Telegraph India about this place.)
8. Indulge the Book Lover in Yourself
Almost everywhere you go you’ll see books for sale – both on the streets and in stores. On the street you can buy both new and second-hand books at cheap rates. In some stores, like the Oxford Bookstore, you can immediately crawl up in a sofa and start reading the book you just bought with a cup of coffee. Just like in the British Waterstones really! This particular book shop is a landmark in Calcutte. Founded in 1920, but no connection Oxford University Press.
9. Pick the “Boat Ride by Night”
It was actually the second time I went to Kolkata that I did the boat ride on the Howrah river. I was disappointed because it is one of those things my friends really recommended to me. You can take the boat from Princep Gath. Having been on the ride, I have to say it wasn’t worth the money after all. They just take you 100m to the left and 100m to the right. But I guess, if you take some beers with you, it could still be fun.
10. Have a Good Time at Nicco Park
Yes, in India, too, they have amusement parks! Of course, they don’t all look like a Six Flags (although apparently, these kinds are there too). You should imagine Nicco Park specifically to be more like a huge-sized fun fair. The reason we went to Nicco Park was basically that I really wanted to see an Indian theme park. Also, we wanted to leave the overheated city and have some fun.
Budget tip: we chose the day ticket (250 rupees) instead of the all-in pack (500 rupees). The difference is that with the day pass you still have to pay extra for some of the more ‘spectacular’ rides, which is not the case for the all-in pass. We decided that for us the extra rides were not worth the extra pay. There were only three rides we paid a little more for, but this still made the day ticket more economical in the end.
I could live in Kolkata for a while, but not forever. Would I recommend you to add Kolkata on your list of must-visits in India? Definitely! More so than Delhi, Kolkata is a good introduction to India: it is a big city, but not as crowded as Mumbai or Delhi. Only if there is a strike, you can’t count on anyone. (Yes, talking from experience here!)
This list of 10 fun things to do in Kolkata is obviously relatively short. There’s a lot more to discover. I am looking forward to hearing about your adventures in Kolkata as well!