Planning a solo trip to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta)? Here’s everything you need to know for your visit:
- Capital of the Indian state of West Bengal, with a population of about 15.1 million.
- During the times of the Colonial Rule, under the East India Company and later the British Raj, Kolkata served as the capital of India.
- Located on the east bank of river Hooghly, the Port of Kolkata is the oldest operating port of India. It served as a key military port during World War II.
- The nucleus of the 19th and 20th century Bengal Renaissance, Kolkata is now the principal cultural and educational Centre of East India.
- Nicknames: City of Joy.
- Currency: Indian Rupee (INR)
- Spoken languages: Official language is Bengali. Hindi and English are also used extensively.
- Best time to visit: from October to February. (Perhaps the most interesting time is during the five-day long Durgotsava, an annual South Asian Hindu festival).
- Summers should be avoided, as the temperature gets as high as 45°C (113 F).
- Arriving via airport: the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport (CCU) is located in Dum Dum, 16 km northeast of the city. On arrival the best way to get to the city center is to take a pre–paid taxi from the Bengal Taxi Association Centre at the Airport. A taxi to the city center will cost around Rs.300 (fare is calculated by distance).
- Indian Airports commonly have a yellow pre-paid taxi booth at the exit and the rates are fixed by the Government – this way it is slightly cheaper than hailing a random taxi outside the airport.
- WBSTC buses are available to the city center from the domestic terminal. They are air-conditioned and a very convenient and cheap way to get to central Kolkata.
WHERE TO STAY
- The best hostel for solo travelers in Kolkata: City Central Hostel. Friendly staff, big rooms, and comfortable beds. Great location, and basic breakfast included daily (toast, tea, banana). Located right in the old city – for the other attractions, the metro is a short 10 minute walk away.
- Park Street and Sudder Street are the central locations to stay at for exploring the city.
- Underground metro is the fastest and the cheapest mode of transport for getting from the North to the South. Metro tickets cost Rs.4, Rs.6, or Rs.8, depending on the distance. A metro pass can be purchased for Rs.200 (Rs.100 is a refundable deposit).
- The buses are operated by CSTC (Calcutta State Transport Corporation), CTC (Calcutta Tramways Company) and WBSTC (West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation). Recently, air-conditioned buses have been introduced by WBSTC – these are slightly more expensive but much more comfortable. There are several Private/Mini buses covering the vast road network.
- Mega cabs can be booked by calling +91 33 41414141. Orix cabs can be booked by calling +91 33 44222222. Taxi services in Kolkata are not very expensive. The yellow cabs are charged with the equation of Meter Reading*2.4+1. You can also ask for a rate card.
- Drinking age is 18, last call is 11.30 PM.
- Hip/local scene: Most of the bars, cafes and restaurants in Central Kolkata are on and around Park Street. There are quite a few upmarket clubs scattered all over the city. In any case, most of the tourists visiting the city prefer to experience the nightlife on Park Street.
- Trendy scene: Someplace Else ($$$) and Tantra ($$$) at the Park Hotel on Park Street. Underground in Hotel Hindustan International (HHI).
- College crowd: check out Olypub, a small pub on Park Street popular with the university crowd.
- Great bars for solo travelers: The GRID (brewpub), Olterra, and Saz – American Brasserie.
- Looking for a sports bar? Head to The Dugout.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Victoria Memorial – located on 1 Queen’s Way, this magnificent building is a symbol of the city and must-see when in Kolkata. It was built during the Colonial times and houses a museum of memorabilia from the time of Queen Victoria and British Raj. The majestic white marble structure is surrounded by a lush green lawns and a beautiful lake. Sound and light shows can be enjoyed in the evening.
- St. Paul’s Cathedral – built in a Gothic Revival style (with stained glass windows), this Anglican Cathedral is a short walk from the Victoria Memorial.
- The Mother Teresa Mission and House, located on Chowringhee Road, is a frequently visited place in Kolkata. Visitors come to pay their respects at the tomb of Mother Teresa – some stay to volunteer at the Teresa House.
- The Birla Temple – this beautiful temple is located in Ballygunge, and houses the spectacular statues of deities Krishna and Radha.
- The Dakshineshwar Kali Temple – built in 1847 on the banks of River Hooghly. Across the river from the temple stands Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission. Located in Belgharia (the outskirts of Kolkata), these landmarks can be reached by bus or by taxi from the Esplanade.
- Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture – Located in Golpark South Kolkata, the Ramakrishna Mission commemorates the birth centenary of the 19th Century Saint. Cultural exchange and religious discourses are held here. The library is a prime attraction.
- The Kalighat Temple is a famous landmark of the city. Rebuilt in 1809, this is an important shrine of Shakti worship for the Hindus.
- Stroll along the river, around Princep Ghat. The area is surrounded with old colonial buildings – it is truly a walk down memory lane.
- Walk down the sprawling promenade near the Eden Garden.
- If you are visiting the city in September or October, just before the Durgotsava, head to the fascinating district of Kumartuli, where artisans delicately craft the statues of the Goddesses. Don’t miss this chance to see first-hand how the artisans work (and live).
- Head to Howrah Bridge and walk along the river to Howrah Station. At the base of the bridge is the most colorful market of the city – the Flower Market.
- Head to College Street (Metro Stop – MG Road) and walk around the “intellectual street” of Kolkata. This street was the heart of the social reform movement – the Bengal Renaissance. The street is lined with old book stores selling new and used books at very reasonable prices.
- Take a walk around the Dalhousie Square, exploring the European area from the Colonial times. The British used to refer to it as the “White Town.”
- Hindi is the national language of the country. Basic knowledge of Hindi is very useful when traveling around India. English, however, will work just fine in the hotels, resorts, restaurants, and clubs. Knowing some basic Hindi will come in handy when dealing with the locals.
- Great restaurants to try in Kolkata: Zam Zam Restaurant, Sufia Restaurant (Zakaria Street), Mandala The Oriental Kitchen, Little Darjeeling (great burgers and dumplings), Sorano (Italian), Marbella’s ($$$), and Eddy’s (gastropub).
- Where to find good cheap eats: if you can stomach street food, the street vendors selling egg rolls/chicken rolls can be an interesting experience. The Kati Kebab rolls are particularly famous at Nizam’s Restaurant in Central Kolkata. For Mughlai dishes, the Park Circus area is the best choice. Arsalan, Zeeshan and Shiraj at Park Circus 1 Point crossing are particularly famous for Mughlai dishes and are very reasonably priced. Park Street area has several restaurants with Indian and international food in their menu. The shopping malls around the city also have food courts and restaurants.
- Dangerous areas: avoid drug dealers on Sudder Street. Pickpockets on public transport are also quite common. It is best to avoid staying out on the street in the late night hours.
Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days