Home to 14 million people and the capital of West Bengal state, Kolkata—formerly known as Calcutta—marries a rich array of British colonial-era monuments with the teeming cultural milieu of old and modern India. From its hectic markets and Raj mansions to ventures farther afield, here’s how to get the best out of three days in Kolkata.
Day 1: Colonial and Modern
Your first day in Kolkata is ideal for viewing the city’s major sights, from its Victorian architecture—remnants of its time as capital of the British Raj—to its contemporary landmarks.
Trace the city’s colonial past on a half-day walk around imperial-era buildings including the Victoria Memorial, Governor’s House, and Writer’s Building—all constructed during British rule. Many of these colonial-themed tours include lunch at a local restaurant, letting you sample the city’s rich Bengali cuisine during a breather from sightseeing.
Alternatively, choose a more comprehensive, full-day tour covering both colonial and modern Kolkata. Unpick the city’s faiths at the Parshwanath Jain Temple and Magen David Synagogue, and visit Mother Teresa’s Mother House. Once home to the 20th-century Catholic nun who devoted her life to Kolkata’s poor—work that still continues today—it also houses her tomb.
Day 2: Temples, Tigers, and the Taj
Use today to take a wider look at India’s West Bengal province. Perhaps ride a ferry to the temples of Ganga Sagar, an important Hindu pilgrimage and humanitarian center on Sagar Island in the Ganges river delta. Or head for Mayapur, a sacred Ganges city and headquarters of the Hare Krishna movement.
History buffs, meanwhile, might fancy exploring Bishnupur’s 17th-century terracotta temples and sculptures. If you’re keen to see wildlife, though, take a day trip to Sundarban National Park, west of Kolkata. This coastal mangrove reserve has an educational center on the mangrove ecosystem, as well as watchtowers for spotting its elusive Bengal tigers together with water monitors, crocodiles, wild boar, and other species.
Alternatively, if you’ve never seen Agra’s Taj Mahal, use Kolkata as a base for visiting this glorious mausoleum. Private day trips to Agra include round-trip Kolkata-Delhi flights, round-trip Delhi-Agra transport, and a guided Taj tour.
Day 3: Deeper Dive into Kolkata
Kolkata’s urban poor are known for their friendliness—hence the nickname City of Joy. Get a sense of this spirit on a guided slum walk, exploring areas not usually visited by tourists, to see firsthand the challenges faced by its inhabitants.
Another option today is to tour Kolkata’s morning markets—experiencing the incredible commotion of the flower market, Burra Bazaar (Burrabazar), and more. Other ideas include neighborhood tours that showcase Kolkata’s multicultural and arts heritage. Explore Black Town, whose mansions are associated with wealthy Bengali residents, or stroll College Street—aka Book Street—whose literary stalls draw the city’s intellectuals.
Finish your time in Kolkata with a Hooghly River cruise or evening food tour, sampling popular street snacks and dishes to truly feel like a local. Or end your day by dining in a Kolkata home, enjoying a traditional Bengali dinner prepared by your host and chatting about city life.