Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in West Bengal
The Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata is a symbol of both the city and of the entire British Raj. A tribute to Queen Victoria by the viceroy of India, the giant, white-marble building was erected over a 15-year period, starting in 1906. Today it houses a museum covering the history of the Raj and is surrounded by English-style gardens.
More than 2 million people cross the Howrah Bridge each day, earning it the title of the busiest cantilever bridge in the world. The 2,313 foot (705 meter) expanse of steel girders hanging over the water connect Howrah and Kolkata with eight lanes of chaotic auto rickshaws, scooters, bikes, cars, animals and pedestrian traffic.
Gangtok, the largest town and capital of the Indian state of Sikkim, got its start as a Buddhist pilgrimage site in the mid-nineteenth century, but today, it’s better known as a jumping off point for treks in the surrounding Himalayan mountains.
Much like Darjeeling, Gangtok descends in steep tiers down a mountain ridge, with views of towering Khangchendzonga to the West. At first glance, there isn’t much to the city as far as attractions go, but visitors often find themselves lingering, entranced by the laid-back vibe and local culture of the very clean and very well laid out town.
Most of Gangtok’s notable sites are of the religious variety, including the Enchey Monastery, the Rumtek Monastery (one of Buddhism’s most sacred), the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and the Thakurbari Temple, a Hindu temple dedicated to Ganpati and Hanuman.
Built in 1809 and dedicated to the goddess Kali, Kolkata’s famous Kalighat Kali Temple is easily the city’s most important Hindu site. It’s a major point of pilgrimage for Hindu devotees from around the country, with upwards of 20,000 people sometimes visiting in a single day. The name of the city is said to have been derived from the temple’s name.
Rising from the banks of Kolkata’s River Hooghly, the Dakshineswar Kali Temple is held sacred by millions of Hindu faithful. Built in 1855, the 9-spired temple is dedicated to the goddess Kali and offers an insight into the city’s religious life and culture.
Located in the heart of Kolkata, the MP Birla Planetarium is the largest planetarium in Asia and second-largest in the world. The single-story dome houses a working observatory equipped with a Celestron C-14 telescope. The outer ring of the structure is home to an astronomy gallery with a large collection of paintings and models from some of the world’s most renowned astronomers.
Founded in 1814, Kolkata’s Indian Museum is India’s oldest and largest museum, and hosts a vast collection of historical artifacts and natural history specimens. Located near the Maidan park, the colonnaded museum is a must-see for visitors interested in India’s past.
Dating back to the end of the 18th century, St. John's Church was the first Anglican cathedral in India. It was one of the earliest buildings set up by the East India Company, its construction funded largely by public lottery. The church served as the seat of the Anglican Church until the 1847 construction of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Constructed in the early 19th century by British architect Duncan Macleod, Hazarduari Palace is a gargantuan palace museum that showcases a variety of historic relics and art. It’s worth visiting for the grand architecture alone, though the interiors reveal a fine collection of royal treasures, from old weaponry to European oil paintings.
If you're looking for a place to escape the heat of Kolkata, Aquatica Water Park will deliver. This giant park and conference center features a variety of waterslides for visitors of all ages, including a lazy river and a family pool with gentle waves and water features, plus a smattering of fast-paced slides for daring visitors.
More Things to Do in West Bengal
Named after the gardens that lay beyond it, Eden Gardens is a cricket ground in Kolkata that’s home to the Bengal cricket team and the Kolkata Knight Riders. It’s also the venue for international cricket matches and is the largest cricket stadium in India in terms of seating capacity.
Established in 1864, Eden Gardens has since become one of the most iconic cricket stadiums in the world. Following renovations for the Cricket World Cup in 2011, the stadium seats over 90,000 spectators (a capacity actually lower than before the upgrade).
Within the grounds, the gardens themselves feature a picturesque lake with a tiny Burmese pagoda at its center. It’s a peaceful spot that’s well worth a stroll around on a visit to the stadium.
Ganga Sagar (Sagar Island), the largest village on Sagar Island 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Kolkata, has long been in important pilgrimage site for Hindus. Each January on Makar Sankranti, pilgrims from around the country gather in the town to take a ceremonial bath in the waters where the holy River Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal, one of the largest gatherings of people in the world.
Kapil Muni Temple, one of the most important religious sites on the island, is dedicated to the mythological sage Kapil Muni, believed to be an incarnation of the god Vishnu. Throughout the year, but especially during festival time, people from around India and the world come to the temple to offer puja.
Apart from its religious significance, Ganga Sagar also has a beach, a marine park and a lighthouse with excellent sunrise and sunset views over the beach and port.
Bharat Sevashram Sangha, a Hindu charitable organization founded in 1917, operates ashrams throughout the world, but their headquarters are in Kolkata. Visitors to the temple and ashram in Ganga Sagar can learn about the organization’s humanitarian efforts, including disaster relief, healthcare, education, tribal welfare, vocational training programs and spiritual outreach.
While not as religiously significant as Kapil Muni Temple (also in Ganga Sagar), the Bharat Sevashram Sangha Temple is actually larger, comprising three giant towers built in 1979.
Considered one of Kolkata’s most important Jain temples, the Pareshnath Temple is also one of the city’s most extravagant. Composed of four temples located in ornamental gardens, the complex is dedicated to Pareshnath, a Jain tirthankar (spiritual teacher), and attracts thousands of Jain followers and non-Jain visitors each year.
The Marble Palace, one of Kolkata’s more curious landmarks, was constructed in 1835 by a wealthy merchant and art enthusiast named Raja Rajendra Mullick. Made from more than 90 varieties of marble, the palatial mansion draws inspiration from nearly every cultural influence imaginable, with artifacts from across Asia, Africa, and Europe; they even have authentic Rubens and Renoir pieces on the walls.
Belur Math is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, founded in 1898 by Swami Vivekananda. It features architectural elements borrowed from Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism, a nod to the mission’s beliefs in interfaith unity. Depending on your vantage point, Belur Math can resemble a church, mosque, or temple.
Often described as the lungs of Kolkata, the Maidan is the city’s largest urban green space, home to numerous cricket and soccer fields, playgrounds, the flowery Eden Gardens, and several memorials and monuments. The park is an important gathering place in Kolkata, and residents head to the Maidan for entertainment and leisure on the weekends.
Built in 1926, the Nakhoda Mosque is Kolkata’s principal and biggest mosque, capable of holding 10,000 worshippers. Located in the Chitpur area of Kolkata, this enormous red-sandstone edifice echoes India’s Fatehpur Sikri-style of architecture, with its ornate exterior and green-roofed domes, minars (Indian turrets), and minarets.
The seat of the Diocese of Calcutta of the Church of North India, St. Paul's Cathedral was built in 1847, effectively shifting the hub of Anglicanism in the city from St. John's Cathedral. Though its main function is as a house of worship, the imposing cathedral also features a decent library with numerous books on theology and general interest.
Built in 1875, the Tagore House was the ancestral home of India’s greatest modern poet, Rabindranath Tagore—a native of Kolkata. The first non-European to obtain the Nobel Prize for Literature, the poet was born (1861) and died (1941) in this vast house, which is now a museum honoring his life and works.
The Missionaries of Charity (MOC) Mother House in Kolkata is a mission center founded by Mother Teresa in 1950. It was from here that the now canonized Catholic nun began administering to the city’s poor and sick, and it now serves as a residence for the charity’s nuns and as her burial place.
Central Kolkata’s College Street is the heart of intellectualism in a city that prides itself on its esteemed academic traditions. Thousands of second-hand book stalls line the street to either side where you can find nearly any book ever sold in the city, including rare titles at bargain basement prices.
In 1953, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute was founded in Darjeeling to celebrate sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s trip to the summit of Mount Everest alongside Edmund Hillary. The institute opened as a training school for mountaineers, and Tenzing served as the first director.
Today, the institute has become somewhat of a pilgrimage site for climbers, who come from around the globe to train in the boarding school or visit the Mountaineering Museum, which chronicles the history of mountaineering with an interesting collection of artifacts from early Everest expeditions. One of the more interesting displays is a powerful telescope, used to see detail in the Kanchenjunga range, which was a gift from Adolf Hitler to Maharaja Judh Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal and eventually passed down to the institute.
Travelers looking to develop new mountain climbing skills can enroll in one of 16 courses scheduled at the institute each year, including basic and advanced mountaineering (28 days each).
The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, often referred to as simply the Darjeeling Zoo, was founded in 1958 to help conserve the unique fauna of the Himalayan range. The 68-acre (27-hectare) zoo, considered among the best in India, houses animals like clouded leopards, Himalayan bears, Tibetan wolves and red pandas.
As a conservation organization, the zoo specializes in captive breeding programs for Himalayan megafauna. Thanks to the success of the snow leopard breeding center, the Darjeeling Zoo is now home to the largest captive population of the endangered species.
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