A prominent city in India, Kolkata is a charming destination that has a life of its own with every spot narrating a rattling story. The striking contrasts embedded in the ordinary here attract tourists from near and far. While many places to visit in Kolkata demonstrate its willingness to adapt with the times and strive to be a modern metropolitan, time-worn colonial architecture stand tall as reminders of the past. Kolkata is known as the cultural capital of India and the City of Joy, yet soul-stirring evidence of chaos and decay adds to the quaint charm of the city. Settled on the banks of the River Hooghly, the city seems to be in constant celebration of the Bengali spirit. The alluring places to visit in Kolkata are testaments to the city’s heritage and culture, and will surely add unquantifiable value to your trip to Bengal!
The most popular places to visit in Kolkata remain the ancient architectural wonders that reflect the zeitgeist of yesteryear. The city used to be the capital of the Indian subcontinent where the British established a stronghold. Visiting these edifices that are important elements of the legacy left behind by colonialism will help you to closely interact with the rich history of this city. It is thus recommended to go on a heritage tour. Some of the main places to visit in Kolkata you must add to your itinerary to understand the city include:
An architectural wonder constructed from white marble in the memory of Queen Victoria, the Victoria Memorial now serves as a museum. One of the eminent places to visit in Kolkata, the structure encapsulates a blend of different architectural styles and has become a prominent landmark of the city. Paintings, sculptures, books, weapons and other colonial relics are put on display here. Some of the remarkable exhibits here include ancient illustrated books of Shakespeare, paintings by Thomas and William Daniell of the Indian scenery, and Tipu Sultan’s journal from wars. After looking at the impressive artefacts, you can attend the light and sound show that is organised every evening, describing the country’s colonial history up to its independence. It is surrounded by vast clean and well-maintained gardens that add to the aesthetic quality of the monument, which makes it one of the most popular places to visit in Kolkata.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
An exemplary Gothic building, this classic white cathedral is among the stand-out places to visit in Kolkata. This is the largest cathedral in the city and the first to be constructed in the British Empire outside its mainland. Created to accommodate the growing population of Christian Europeans, the ancient feel of the 1800s still pervades the iconic building which attracts thousands of tourists irrespective of their religious beliefs. Inside, you can learn about the life of St. Paul through paintings and documents. Make sure you make a stop here among other places to visit in Kolkata.
Fort William is a grand colonial structure that has stood the test of time since the 17th century. It is one of the first few examples of British architecture in the country, and is thereby one of the important places to visit in Kolkata. Located on the bank of the Hooghly River, the impressive building stands out for its arched apertures commanding a view of the Maidan, the largest park in the city. Fort William was used as an official space to manage imports and exports by the British. When the Nawab of Bengal took the fort under siege, a dungeon inside was used as a prison which came to be known as the Black Hole of Calcutta. Years after, in the post-independence era, the fort now belongs to the Indian Army and functions as a base for the Eastern Command. Tourists, therefore, do not have free access to explore the interiors of the fort, yet people from all over the world arrive at this significant place to see in Kolkata to revisit the past.
The Marble Palace is a stately mansion from the 19th century and is one of the top places to visit in Kolkata. Built by Raja Rajendra Mullick in 1835 – a wealthy merchant and an art aficionado – it is still a place of residence for his progeny. Barring a few areas, visitors are allowed to marvel at his collection of paintings and sculptures by Western and Indian artists, along with impressive Victorian furniture and relics. Diving deep into this peculiar collection makes for an interesting visit!
One of the most beautiful places to visit in Kolkata, Writers’ Building is a vibrant edifice in the B.B.D Bagh area that makes tourists and locals alike to stop in their tracks in amazement. The building has undergone several renovations. Initially, it was used as an office for clerks, also called writers. Over the years, it turned into an academy for the writers to master Oriental languages. The institution dissipated over time and was handed over to private individuals. It was also used as quarters of residence, godowns and shops for officials of the British Raj. It was also utilised by the East India Railway Company. A need for more space for the company’s administrative work led to the expansion of the building. More recently, after independence, it housed the Secretariat of the West Bengal State Government. It has since been evacuated again to be refurbished, yet it proves to be a marvellous sight to behold amidst other places to visit in Kolkata.
Kolkata Town Hall
This is one of the places to visit in Kolkata that has witnessed many historical events. Some of the notable moments are the celebration of Rabindranath Tagore’s birth anniversary, a demonstration by the polymath Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose of his work and lectures by prominent figures such as Amartya Sen. When constructed, its main purpose was to be used as a site for gatherings for Europeans. It went on to house the Calcutta Municipality, the Magistrate’s Office and the West Bengal Public Service Commission. Not many places to visit in Kolkata have a rich history as the town hall. After independence, however, the Roman-Doric building was subject to decline due to abject neglect. With some effort by outspoken citizens, the city was encouraged to revive the structure. It is now used as a centre for locals to congregate at the Kolkata Museum on the ground floor or for cultural and scholarly events held in the hall on the first floor. This is one of the finest places to visit in Kolkata to dive into its thriving culture.
Kolkata High Court and General Post Office
Important government institutions still reside in ancient buildings made during colonialism. The two major examples are the High Court and the General Post Office, important places to visit in Kolkata. The Calcutta High Court is the oldest in the country, established in 1774, and was once the highest court in British India. Similarly, the site the post office is in now was where the first Fort William stood. The current building, recognisable from afar owing to its distinct dome roof, was established in 1868. It also houses a postal museum. You can find a remarkable exhibit of postcards, stamps, photographs and maps among other interesting things, such as a savings book by Rabindranath Tagore. Although these places are functional and not exactly tourist destinations in Kolkata, many travellers are lured to visit owing to their commendable architecture.
Besides the splendid colonial architecture, there are many places to visit in Kolkata that have become integral to its identity. People travel from all over the world to visit these tourist places in Kolkata. A few of these renowned destinations include:
A cantilever bridge that endures the weight of more people than any other in the world, Howrah Bridge is the most iconic of all the places to visit in Kolkata. Linking the city with one of the most famous places to visit near Kolkata, Howrah, since 1943, the huge steel bridge suspends over the Hooghly River. On its Howrah end is the Howrah Railway Station, which is the oldest in the country. Hence, the bridge has been known as the gateway to Kolkata since its inception. Besides being an essential part of the lives of the city’s residents, the bridge carries huge cultural significance. It is one of the prominent places to visit in Kolkata that has been included in a number of films as a symbol of the city. At night, the bridge is the most attractive as it is lit up and offers a dreamy view of the city sitting on the banks of the river. There is a lane specially restricted to pedestrians, hence an evening stroll here is an ideal way to end your day of visiting the places to visit in Kolkata.
Jorasanko Thakur Bari – commonly known as the abode of Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European Nobel laureate – is among the most revered places to visit in Kolkata. He played a significant role in changing the political, philosophical and artistic scenario within Bengal and the country at large. He was born here, spent most of his childhood in and eventually passed away in this house. It has since been turned into a museum dedicated to his life. The house is set up similar to how it was when inhabited by Tagore and his family, and the various exhibits inside offer an insight into their involvement in monumental movements such as the Bengal Renaissance. Many special events are organised here on occasions such as Tagore’s birth and death anniversaries. People who admire Tagore’s contribution to Modern India never skip this on their itinerary of tourist places in Kolkata.
This is the oldest and largest museum in India and the ninth oldest in the world! Its installation in early 19th century signifies the importance of preserving the cultural and history of the country. It has been one of the most significant places to visit in Kolkata for more than a century. The Indian Museum consists of unique collections comprising of paintings, weapons, tools, jewellery, fossils, skeletons and many other antiques under several sections. The museum seeks to maintain interdisciplinarity and is divided into segments relating to art, archaeology, anthropology, economic botany, geology and zoology. It houses intriguing selections from across the world. This is one of the places to visit in Kolkata that gives you a taste of the history and culture from around the globe. Some interesting finds here include an Egyptian mummy, a Buddist stupa, a Pillar of Ashoka and several fossils of extinct animals. Visitors can also spend some time in the library and bookstore within the premises. The Indian Museum makes for one of the most interesting places to visit in Kolkata that should not be skipped.
Located beside Hooghly River, Belur Math is one of the most popular pilgrimage places to visit in Kolkata. It is the nerve centre of the Ramakrishna movement, founded by the esteemed Indian monk Swami Vivekananda. The architecture of this temple is unique as it is an amalgam of Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and Muslim elements to represent its ideals of unity. The complex offers a comfortable and serene environment to visitors, hence people come here regardless of the religion they follow. Exploring the campus that includes temples dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Sarada Devi and Swami Brahmananda along with an affiliated museum can easily take up to three hours.
The city’s everyday life is best experienced out on the streets. Some of the most admired places to visit in Kolkata are the street markets where you can soak in the experiences of the locals. You get to enjoy the street food, talk to the city’s residents, get your hands on traditional handicrafts and participate in activities that you cannot anywhere else. Some of the popular places to visit in Kolkata include:
Terreti Bazaar (Old Chinatown)
For a notable period as Kolkata continued to prosper, it experienced the emergence of a community of Chinese merchants. Although their activity has diminished over the years, the area they resided in, now referred to as the Old Chinatown, is one of the unique places to visit in Kolkata. The Chinese immigrant population has reduced to an significantly small number, replaced by a thriving Muslim population. Yet while exploring the area, you can find traces of Chinese influences. There are six Chinese temples here, some even dating back to the 18th century. The main market in the region, Terreti Bazaar, continues to be bustling with people ordering Chinese dishes. It is a great place to try local Bengali street food too. Besides soaking up energy from the lively fresh produce markets set up by locals, you can include the oldest shops in Chinatown in your list of places to visit in Kolkata: Hap Hing and Pao Chong.
Kumartuli is a potter settlement in northern Kolkata and is over 300 years old. What makes it an interesting addition to popular places to visit in Kolkata is seeing thousands of local artisans hard at work, sculpting impressive idols and statues during the festive season. Huge, vibrant idols crafted here out of environmentally friendly materials such as bamboo and clay are ornately put up all over the city. The effigies made here are exported to other cities as well. It is a humbling place to experience the local culture at the grass-roots level. Idols are made throughout the year for different occasions, but the best time to go to one of the most artistic places to visit in Kolkata is around Durga Puja. You could plan a trip yourself or opt for guided tours.
New Market, constituted of thousands of stalls set up every day, is a shopper’s dream come true. From clothes, jewellery, shoes, home decor items to quirky souvenirs, you can buy anything here. This is one of the oldest market places to visit in Kolkata. It was set up in the 19th century to meet the shopping needs of the British upper class. Years later, it has turned into a regular street market catering to both locals and tourists. Shopkeepers here are experienced sellers, hence it is recommended you hone your bargaining skills before coming here. This is one of the cheapest places to visit in Kolkata for shopping, but you can only save up if you haggle hard. The market shuts down at eight o’clock in the evening, but the streets are still full of tea and snacks stalls.
This is the most popular out of all the places to visit in Kolkata for locals to spend their evenings. Home to India’s first nightclub, this street has been populated by a plethora of fancy pubs and restaurants. It has been acknowledged as the perfect place for entertainment since the British period of rule and continues to retain its reputation. Some well-known places to visit in Kolkata are also located here, such as St. Xavier’s College, Asiatic Society and South Park Street Cemetery. Park Street is especially teeming with crowds during celebrations of New Year, Christmas and Diwali. The whole area is lavishly lit up with a fiery zest prevailing in the neighbourhood. To experience the best nightlife in the city, Park Street should be one of your top contenders among other places to visit in Kolkata.
Although the places to visit in Kolkata mentioned above will plunge you into a classic Bengali experience on your first trip, they only mark the beginning of a lifelong tryst you are sure to have with the City of Joy!
Written by Shruti Mishra, an in-house Tripoto writer.
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