Almost exactly two years ago, I found some of the best places to visit in Kolkata with a colleague. I enjoyed taking in the sights and sounds while sipping my tasty cup of street chai. There’s so much to do in the Cultural Capital of India!
A Bit About Kolkata
Before we dive into places to visit in Kolkata, let’s learn a bit about the City of Joy.
First things first: Is it “Calcutta” or “Kolkata”? No matter where I’m going, I always try to learn about local context and culture. That’s an important part of travel, right?
The city’s name officially changed from Calcutta to Kolkata in 2001 to reflect the Bengali pronunciation (“Kolikata”). This distinction may seem small to you or I, but it’s an important recognition of independence and self determination for India.
Did you know that India has the world’s second-highest population at over 1.3 billion and is about one-third the size of Canada? Kolkata has a population of 4.5 million—a tad higher than the entire province of Alberta (It’s true!).
Kolkata is the capital of the state of West Bengal and is the former capital is British India from 1772 to 1911. Now that we know a little more about India, let’s find some of the best places to visit in Kolkata.
Visiting the Victoria Memorial
History was never my favourite subject in school, but now I relish opportunities to learn different parts of the past in different places. You know the saying: we can’t know where we’re going until we understand where we’ve been. The remnants of history are everywhere, and it’s much more interesting to see with your own eyes (for me, at least!).
The Victoria Memorial is a must-see for anyone wanting to learn more about the British colonial involvement in India. The construction of this architecturally impressive structure started in 1906 and finished in 1921 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 25-year reign in India.
The Victoria Memorial is a major tourist attraction and is a fascinating place to learn more about one part of Kolkata’s history. Can you see the resemblance to the Taj Mahal? They’re both made from Makrana marble.
Mullick Ghat Flower Market—One of Asia’s Largest
The Mullick Ghat Flower Market is one of the largest in all of Asia. It’s also one of the oldest running flower markets in India beginning in 1855.
This flower market is a bustling place with many vendors and different types of stunning local flowers. I’m glad that my colleague brought me on this early morning tour. It’s right next to the Howrah Bridge stretching over the Hooghly River. It’s best to show up early to catch the action.
Howrah Bridge: An Impressive Bridge (Even For Me)
The Howrah Bridge is an impressive structure. After walking through the flower market, we made out way down toward the river for a better view. I’m not enthralled by bridges on a regular basis… but the Howrah is quite the sight.
This bridge carries more than 100,000 vehicles and 150,000 pedestrians each day! It’s currently the sixth largest cantilever bridge in the world.
The Mother House
Born in Albania, Mother Teresa’s out-of-this-world compassion has made her name one of the most famous in the world.
My home-base was very close to The Mother House so one afternoon I walked over for a visit. This place has been home to Mother Teresa and her sisters since 1953, and remains an inspiration for locals and visitors alike.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up knowing much about Mother Teresa (other than her saintly status). The inside of The Mother House was still and quiet, with one or two sisters walking about. As I looked at the display of Mother Teresa’s personal belongings and walked upstairs to find her humble dwellings, I gained a deeper admiration for her example of pure humility.
The Order of the Missionaries of Charity cares for the sick and vulnerable, founded in 1948 by Mother Teresa to support the poorest areas of the city.
Hooghly River Sunset Cruise
Kolkata is about 154 kilometres upstream from the Bay of Bengal. This was a strategic spot for British India to establish the then capital city. This location was selected for trade and defence advantages. The Ganga River (known as the Ganges in British India) is one of the most revered waterways in the world—and the Hooghly flows out of it.
One evening, we booked a cruise on the Hooghly. Vivida Cruises took us up the river to watch the sunset and explore some nearby attractions. I appreciate any opportunity to get out on the water. This was a great experience!
My One and Only Jazz Festival
It took flying across the world for me to see a live jazz concert.
Kolkata has a vibrant music scene. I was able to experience the best of Kolkata jazz at Jazzfest. These super talented musicians gave us a truly memorable evening. I don’t usually “jazz it up”, but I’m glad I did in India!
Rickshaw Ride—A Very Unique Experience
Kolkata is one of the only cities in the world that still provides hand-pulled rickshaw rides.
I didn’t do the hand-pulled ride, but I’ve used the cycle-rickshaws to get around in the city. This is just one of those things that you gotta do in Kolkata!
There are many ways to get around the city. You can flashback to the 1950’s in a yellow Ambassador taxis, or stick to modern times in an Uber. If you opt for a cab, just make sure the metre is running or negotiate a price beforehand. Uber has become one of the best transportation options in the city… affordable and user-friendly. There are even marked Uber pick-ups at the airport!
Taking the train in India is an absolute must. My colleagues and I journeyed over 575 kilometres from Kolkata north to Siliguri. The overnight train was a totally new experience, with seats that converted into three-tiered bunk beds. In case you didn’t know, India has one of the world’s longest rail networks covering an incredible 67,368 kilometres. Hop on… at least once!
Well, there you have it. These are some worthwhile stops in Kolkata, and there are certainly many more. Travel is some of the best education. I love reflecting on these experiences from time to time. That’s especially true these days while travel restrictions are in place during the pandemic.
Have you travelled to the Cultural Capital of India? What are some of your favourite places to visit in Kolkata? Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.
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