Located on the eastern bank of the Hooghly River less than fifty miles from the India-Bangladesh border is the city of Kolkata, India. Because Kolkata is the main cultural, educational, and commercial center of east India, there are countless things to see and do in Kolkata that will strike the fancy of any traveler exploring its streets.
Known as Calcutta until its official name change in 2001, Kolkata is a wonderful blend of fascinating history, beautiful cultural attractions, popular educational institutions, and some of the best food spots in the eastern half of the country. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin, but never fear. In this city guide, we will walk you through the very best of what Kolkata has to offer when it comes to food, history, culture, and more. These are the top 15 things to see and do in Kolkata, India.
Visit the Victoria Memorial
The country of India is littered with remnants of the British Raj, or the British occupation of the country that lasted from 1858 to 1947. One of these remnants is Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial, a large, marble building that was built between 1906 and 1921.
The building, which was constructed in the Indo-Saracenic revivalist architectural style, was built to honor Queen Victoria. When construction began, Kolkata, then called Calcutta, served as the capital of India. However, the capital was moved to Delhi in 1912 before the memorial was complete.
Today, the Victoria Memorial serves as a museum. Inside are twenty-five galleries, including the royal gallery, a sculpture gallery, and the Calcutta gallery. These galleries serve as the home of a collection of rare books such as the illustrated works of William Shakespeare, portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, a visual display of Calcutta’s history, and more.
On the grounds, you will also find sixty-four acres of beautiful gardens. Even if you don’t go inside, visiting these gardens is one of the top things to see and do in Kolkata!
Eat Bengali Food at Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel
When you visit Kolkata, something you have to do is try some authentic Bengali food. One of the best places to sample some is Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel, a local spot that is known for its scrumptious cuisine!
I highly recommend the ilish, a salty fish dish in a mild gravy. It’s also a bony, spiny fish, so be careful while eating it. I’m usually not a fan of fish with a lot of small bones and spines, but I made an exception with this one. I suggest patiently picking it apart and eating it with rice. Trust me, it’s worth the work that goes into eating it!
Another tasty fish dish you can get at Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel is chital peti, or fish stomach. This dish is somewhat gelatinous and also incredibly flavorful. Like the ilish, it’s also filled with small spines and bones, so be extra careful when eating it. Pick it apart as well as you can and chew slowly and carefully so you don’t accidentally swallow any spines.
Other dishes I suggest you try are the mung daal and aloo bhaja, which I recommend mixing with your rice and a squirt of lime. The flavor combination is heavenly. Best of all, there are no bones! You also must try the sweet and salty mango chutney, which is the perfect palate cleanser between dishes.
It’s quite sweet and is served in a sauce that’s good enough to drink. The mango chutney alone makes a meal at Swadhin Bharat Hindu Hotel one of the best things to see and do in Kolkata!
Visit the College Street Book Market
One of Kolkata’s most prominent attractions is the College Street Book Market. This incredible market spans nearly a million square feet along a mile-long road. With hundreds of book shops, including brick-and-mortar establishments and makeshift stalls, lining the road, College Street boasts the largest second-hand book market in the world.
In addition to book shops, visitors can also find India’s largest book publishing houses along the road.
Book lovers will have a field day at the College Street Book Market. It’s famous for selling rare and out-of-print titles, including first editions of iconic titles, for dirt cheap. When you visit the book market, you really want to take the time to browse carefully because you never know what you’ll find.
It’s sometimes said that if you can’t find a certain book in this market, then it probably doesn’t exist. After seeing the extensive market for myself, I’m inclined to believe them!
Try the Deep-Fried, Hard-Boiled Egg at Dilkhusa Cabin
Kolkata’s restaurant scene was heavily shaped by the “cabin restaurants” that began popping up around 150 years ago. A very small number of these restaurants remain today. These iconic eateries are some of the best places in the city to grab a bite to eat. One of these landmarks is Dilkhusa Cabin, a 115-year-old restaurant on College Street that is popular among students and book shop owners.
At Dilkhusa Cabin, you have to try their enormous, deep-fried, hard-boiled egg. The egg contains several layers including potato and beet root. It’s known for being quite spicy. After just one bite of this odd creation and I realized they weren’t kidding!
Even with the mustard sauce and accompanying onions, it was very hot. But it also had tons of contrasting and complementary textures that blew my mind! Digging in to this amazing dish is one of the top things to see and do in Kolkata. Check it out the next time you find yourself on College Street!
Visit Maghen David Synagogue
There are lots of amazing cultural attractions to see in Kolkata. One that I highly suggest you visit is Maghen David Synagogue, a Jewish house of worship that was built in 1884 by a Baghdadi Jewish property owner named Elias David Ezra. Ezra dedicated the synagogue to his father, David Joseph Ezra. The house of worship is also known as Shield of David.
The synagogue was built in the Italian Renaissance architectural style. As one of Kolkata’s important historical buildings, it and the nearby Neveh Shalome Synagogue are protected under the Archaeological Survey of India. Hebrew inscriptions and the Star of David can be seen in its arched door.
Go inside to marvel at its beautiful stained glass windows, marble floors, and floral pillars. The Ten Commandments and more Hebrew inscriptions can be seen on a plaque above the synagogue’s ark. Visiting Maghen David Synagogue is one of the top things to see and do in Kolkata, especially if you’re a history or culture enthusiast!
Try Bengali Sweets at Putiram Sweets Shop
While I’m not usually a huge fan of sweets, I have to make an exception for the incredible, saccharine treats at Putiram Sweets Shop. It’s a small shop that sells high-quality sweets at a bit of a higher price, but the food is so good, and the conditions are so hygienic, that getting a quick snack there is worth it.
Of all the items on the menu, the one I have to highlight is the dish called rasgulla. This dish consists of a super decadent, spongy, and extremely sweet ball of boiled cottage cheese that is soaked in a sugar syrup that permeates the entire ball. It is unlike any other sweet I’d had in India up to that point and is something you have to try when you visit Kolkata. The syrup alone is so good that I drank the rest out of the tray!
Don’t miss out on these incredible Bengali sweets. There’s a reason why trying the treats at Putiram Sweets is one of the best things to see and do in Kolkata!
Go Shopping at New Market
Travelers who want buy souvenirs and eat amazing food should look no further than New Market, one of my favorite spots in the city! Here, one of the many things you can do is visit embroidery shops that are centuries old. Check out the embroiders doing very beautiful and intricate work!
Also inside the market are hundreds of stalls selling jewelry, souvenirs, food, clothing, and more. It’s a busy place with lots of tight lanes, so move slowly and be courteous.
I love to collect masks from all the places I travel to. In the market, I found a beautiful elephant mask for my wall back home at one of the shops. I also bought five intricately-carved elephant statues at the same shop. My total came to only 9,500 rupees, or roughly $110-$115 U.S.
If you want something to snack on as you shop, I recommend stopping by a Jewish bakery in New Market named Nahoum & Sons, which has been around since 1910. Their decadent chocolate rum ball is dense and extremely sweet and has some hints of coffee. But if you’re looking for something a bit more savory, you should probably head to the New Market area’s legendary Nizam’s Restaurant.
Try the Original Kathi Roll at Nizam’s
Do not, under any circumstances, visit Kolkata without trying the original kathi roll at Nizam’s Restaurant in the New Market area. This restaurant is legendary and so is the food they make, and once you go there and try their kathi rolls for yourself, you’ll understand why.
The Kathi Roll was invented at Nizam’s Restaurant in 1932. The dish came about so patrons could have a portable way to eat their kebabs while on the go, so the owner wrapped the kebabs in a paratha and a culinary marvel was born.
The original kathi roll consists of a paratha fried in ghee with an egg. The paratha is then filled with mutton, onion, chilies, and a squeeze of lime. The mutton is incredibly tender and goes well with the crunchy onions. The chilies add a nice kick of heat.
The paratha is just the right thickness and comes covered in ghee, so it’s not exactly a diet food, but it is to die for! Having the original kathi roll at Nizam’s Restaurant is easily one of the top things to see and do in Kolkata. It’s something you just have to do!
Visit the Home of Mother Teresa
One of the most well-known and influential women in history, Mother Teresa, called India home for most of her life. Mother Teresa was an Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and missionary. She was born in what is now Skopje, Macedonia, in 1910. However, she spent most of her life helping people of Calcutta who lived on the streets and were dying of hunger and sicknesses.
Pilgrims and tourists who want to honor Mother Teresa can do so by visiting The Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity at 54A, A.J.C. Bose Road in Kolkata, where she and her sisters lived from 1953 until her death in 1997. The Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity also serves as her final resting place.
Inside, visitors can view her tomb and the room she lived in every day except Thursdays, Easter Sunday, and the day after Christmas. Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside except for at the tomb. Visiting her tomb is a wonderful way to honor a woman who lived her life in service to others. Visiting the home and tomb of this incredible woman is easily one of the best things to see and do in Kolkata.
Try Rajasthani Food in Little Rajasthan
Kolkata is a spectacular food city and one of the best areas for any foodie looking for quality eats is Little Rajasthan. I was constantly tempted by the tantalizing aromas wafting through the air. It’s a bustling place with lots of crowded lanes and by-lanes. It’s also an amazing place to get a real feel for Kolkata.
One of the many dishes I recommend trying there is hing kachori. This aromatic dish consists of round, flattened wheat flour balls stuffed with Urad Dal, potatoes, and spices. The crispy kachoris and minty gravy and soft, spicy potatoes was an unbelievable combination. It had me craving more!
If you want a food that isn’t overly spicy but still has a nice kick to it, try a singhara at Krishna Bhandar. A singhara is a stuffed, deep-fried dish that is basically an East Indian version of a samosa. It’s a very nice, crunchy veg dish. I loved the yummy potato, carrot, and vegetable filling!
On the sweet side of things is a cottage cheese-based sweet called chumchum. This sweet is almost identical in flavor to rasgulla, but is super dense and hard on the outside. Another sweeter dish is the kadhi kachori. It comes with a yogurt-based curry with lentils, turmeric, red chili powder, garam masala, and more. It was very similar to samosa chaat and was very filling and delicious!
Don’t miss the jalebi, a spiral-shaped, deep-fried dough that is dripping in a saccharine syrup. For a more refreshing sweet treat, get a banana milkshake that’s made with khus syrup. The syrup adds a nice sweetness to the banana, and the shake itself is like an overload of pure banana flavor!
Try the chena toast, an incredible buttery toasted sandwich that contains cottage cheese, onions, tomatoes, and chilies. It reminded me of a grilled cheese sandwich that contained cottage cheese. It was like heaven in my mouth and I could not get enough of it!
Eating street food in Little Rajasthan is one of the top things to see and do in Kolkata! Don’t miss out on it!
Visit Prinsep Ghat
One of Kolkata’s oldest and most prominent recreational spots is Prinsep Ghat, a series of stairs that were built along the banks of the Hooghly River in 1841 during the British Raj. The ghat was named after an Anglo-Indian scholar, orientalist, and antiquary named James Princep.
Prinsep Ghat is known for its Palladian porch and its 36 pillars and a Palladian porch. The architecture has a very British feel to it. The ghat is a popular location during the evenings and after nightfall. Locals like to go boating on the Hooghly River one weekend evenings. The area, which is also home to street food vendors, is also a popular spot for nighttime strolls.
Prinsep Ghat is also the perfect place to get amazing views of the awe-inspiring Vidyasagar Setu. This 2,700-foot-long cable-stayed bridge links Kolkata with the town of Howrah across the river. Stop by the ghat to relax and enjoy the beauty of the river and enjoy some street food! It’s definitely one of the top things to see and do in Kolkata and makes for a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle in the city!
Eat Street Food in Shyambazar and Shobhabazar
Foodies looking for some of the best street food Kolkata has to offer should explore Shyambazar and Shobabazar, two neighborhoods in the northern part of the city. The foods in both localities are outstanding in every way. Trying them is most definitely among the top things to see and do in Kolkata.
In Shyambazar, you must try the slow-cooked mutton with paratha and onion. The meat is so tender and buttery, it practically falls apart in your mouth. While it’s only slightly peppery and not full-on spicy, it’s still bursting with flavor. You can tell the flavors have been cooking into it for hours. The slow-cooking process made this one of my favorite mutton dishes of all-time.
Make your way to Bhojohori Manna Restaurant to try their outrageous Bengali seafood. Their massive, buttery prawn, light fish in mustard gravy, and wonderful coconut curry are must-haves.
When you make your way to Shobhabazar, I highly recommend getting some puchka from a street vendor. This dish is essentially the same as the pani puri you’ll find in Maharashtra and other parts of India. This version contains a mouthwatering soup-like sauce and a potato mash. I love the way they explode all over your palate when you eat them in one bite!
The last place you must visit in Shobhabazar is Allen Kitchen, an outstanding spot that has been open for 125 years! There, you must sample their fried prawns with ghee and mustard. The combination of the three is absolutely divine. The prawns were crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, and even though they were deep fried, they weren’t greasy at all!
Eat Street Food in Decker Lane
Some of the most amazing street food I tried during my second trip to India in November of 2018 was in Kolkata, and one of my favorite places to eat in the city was Decker Lane.
Decker Lane is an amazing area to go to for breakfast. I recommend starting your day with some nice and frothy chai from a street vendor. From there, look for a stall selling luchi ghugni, a dish made up of a puri and a moderately spicy curry.
The curry contains yellow peas, chickpeas, and potatoes. Add some sweet tamarind chutney and prepare to be amazed! The heat from the curry and the sweetness from the chutney balance each other perfectly!
Other fantastic dishes you can find in Decker Lane include dhokar dalna, a fried bar of compressed lentils. A flavorful curry with rotis on the side complete the dish. I also recommend the egg toast, which is a piece of toast that is cooked into an omelet. They add green chilies to give it a nice pop of heat!
While exploring Decker Lane, you have to stop by Aaheli Xpress to try their crunchy samosa stuffed with peas, cauliflower and potatoes. It comes with a mustard sauce that is absolutely heavenly and helped make this samosa my favorite of all-time.
Aaheli Xpress also sells a dish called banana flower chop, which reminded me a lot of a crunchy and juicy Cuban croqueta. It contains a wonderful banana flavor and goes well with the spicy ketchup . Their fish fry jumbo cutlet, which is essentially a Bengali take on British fish and chips, is another highlight. The fish is flaky and tasty. Its peppery and crispy breading adds a fantastic texture. It is out of this world!
Dine at Arsalan Restaurant
If you want to take a break from street food in Kolkata, or would just prefer a sit-down restaurant with wonderful food a relaxing atmosphere, I recommend visiting Arsalan Restaurant. Arsalan Restaurant specializes in Mughlai cuisine with Indian influences and has been open since October of 2002.
I cannot recommend Arsalan’s fish kebabs enough. These mouthwatering seafood kebabs are the perfect way to kick off your meal. They’re bursting with spices but weren’t spicy, heat-wise.
There is also a smoky and tender mutton kebab that demands any meat lover’s attention. It’s spicy and buttery and boasts complimentary flavors that made my taste buds go wild! It was easily the best kebab I’ve ever had in my life and I’ve had a fair few during my time in India!
One of Arsalan Restaurant’s signature dishes is their chicken and cheese kebab. The smoky and mouthwatering flavors of coal and various spices permeates the dish and makes it a must-try.
But the dish that makes dining at Arsalan Restaurant one of the top things to see and do in Kolkata is their famous Kolkata biryani. My friend and guide Anirban told me that this biryani would be very different from other types of I’d had. The mutton, potatoes, two different rices, and boiled egg that made up this biryani were the perfect flavor and texture combination. I was in heaven with every single bite.
The biryani was mild, but still intensely flavorful. The tender and juicy goat meat rivaled the best mutton I’d had in Greece and the biryani rivaled some of the best in Hyderabad! My friend Anirban and I both ate our fill and yet, the bill only came to 1445 rupees, or just over $20 U.S. Having dinner at Arsalan Restaurant is a scrumptious and inexpensive way to end a long day of exploring Kolkata!
Eat Indo-Chinese food at Territy Bazaar
There is a sizeable Chinese population in the city of Kolkata, so there are a lot of Chinese influences in some of the food there. Kolkata is actually the birthplace of Indo-Chinese food, and the best place to taste some for yourself is Territy Bazaar. Eating Indo-Chinese food in Territy Bazaar is easily one of the best things to see and do in Kolkata, India.
As soon as you enter the bazaar, you should come across a street food stall selling baos, momos, and fish balls. I recommend trying everything there, starting with their thick and fluffy red meat bao. The filling inside is both juicy and creamy and transported me back to my time in China.
Their chicken momo is also quite amazing and is like a delicious wonton or dumpling. Another momo you must try is their salty fish momo, which is full of fish flavor but is mind-blowingly good! Finish up with their fantastic fried pork spring roll, which is soft and spongy on the outside and contains minced pork, onions, and spices on the inside!
Next, I recommend you dive into some fish ball and pork ball soup. The soup consists of the balls in a fragrant, herbal broth. The fish balls are soft and very flavorful, while the pork balls had a really pleasant, meaty texture. The spices gave the soup a distinct flavor that wasn’t Indian at all. It reminded me more of an authentic version of Americanized wonton soup.
If you want an extra kick of heat, try the pork and fish balls with the hot sauce provided by the vendor. It takes them to the next level!
While Kolkata boasts a rich and fascinating history and is home to some beautiful and fascinating attractions, the food there is truly special. Whether you find yourself craving the local Bengali fare, Rajasthani cuisine, or Indo-Chinese dishes, you can find it all on the streets of Kolkata. It’s truly a foodie town and anyone who loves diverse, tasty, and inexpensive dining options will be in heaven there. Book a trip to Kolkata today and taste it all for yourself!
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