Flanking the River Hooghly in West Bengal, Kolkata is India’s 2nd-biggest city and pulsates with energy and color against a backdrop of British colonial architecture, teeming streets, and pockets of extreme poverty. Unpeeling all these layers could take weeks, but here’s how to get the most out of this extraordinary city in just one day.
Morning: Explore the Sights
Known as Calcutta during its time as India’s British imperial capital (1773 to 1911), Kolkata has a rich heritage that’s now intertwined with its reputation as the nation’s intellectual and cultural capital. Use the morning to get acquainted with its key colonial landmarks, such as the Governor’s House, Victoria Memorial, and the churches and museums that stand as testament to its period of British rule. Alternatively, widen your lens with a tour that also takes in the city’s contemporary sights, such as the chaotic New Market bazaar, the flower market, and Howrah Station—India’s busiest railway station.
Afternoon: See Kolkata Closer Up
While poverty is a feature of Kolkata, the city is also known as the City of Joy for the indomitable spirit of its residents. This afternoon, look beyond the sights to experience the slums where an estimated third of the population lives. Opt for a guided tour to discover the hardships of its inhabitants and see how they strive to overcome their conditions with small-scale industries and strong communities. Alternatively, touch on the life story of Mother Teresa—the Catholic nun who cared for Kolkata’s destitute—by visiting Mother House, to see the continuing work of her Missionaries of Charity and visit her tomb.
Night: Take in a Cruise and Cuisine
After a busy day, slow the pace with a sunset cruise along the River Hooghly. Float by silhouetted temples, colonial-era buildings, and crowded ghats—stairways descending to the river—and admire the illuminated Howrah Bridge and skyline as you enjoy onboard tea and refreshments. Or spend the evening discovering Kolkata’s culinary repertoire. Sample popular local snacks on a street food tour, or seize the chance to meet and eat with a local by visiting a Kolkatan’s private home to observe them cooking, learn about their lives, and share a classic Bengali dinner.