The city of maach bhaat, of laidback charm, of culture and of joy – Kolkata is a beauty to discover. As is typical with all holidays, we tend to concentrate on known places because, well, let’s admit it, they’re easier to find on Google! One traveller understands the woes of another, and so I decided to list down my favourite offbeat things to do in Kolkata. Do make sure you have your hotel in Kolkata booking taken care of, so lodging is not on your mind, and you can indulge in a fruitful time. Also, from one traveller to another, choose a place which is in the midst of the town, even if you like staying in quieter places; it’ll save you a ton of travel time AND money.
The best way to get around Kolkata is by the iconic yellow taxi, metro and bus, and their public transport is smoother than one would expect. So, here these are, some less popular, but incredibly rewarding activities in Kolkata:
1. Breakfast in Chinatown
We’ve all heard of Chinatowns across the world…this is India’s Chinatown, and it’s a cacophony of sounds and colours you won’t find anywhere else. Locally known as Tiretti Bazaar, it’s best not to head here if you are a vegetarian. Since Kolkata is primarily a fishing community, seafood here is the staple. You will be able to see fishermen prepping their fish and meat cutters getting ready to get their products out in the market. Tiretti Bazaar offers a glimpse of life in Kolkata, the daily humdrums of hundreds of immigrant Chinese workers, generation after generation. Make sure to have breakfast here for a truly out-worldly experience.
From fried momos and steamed momos to egg bhurjee in a bun, food lovers will find happiness here in various forms. On the other side, for vegetarians, the popular Nashtha Bazaar in Kankurgachi is a good option.
- Must-visit Restaurants: Beijing, Kim Ling, Golden Joy, Big Boss, Fung Fa and Kafulok
- Must-try Dishes: Peking duck, Schezwan fried rice, Shanghai fish, shrimp chili ball, Funga Fa soup, vegetable chow, Beijing special rice noodles
2. History Tour at Swami Vivekananda’s Ancestral House
It’s said that you can tell a lot about a person if you re-visit their childhood, and Swami Vivekananda’s ancestral house offers one such opportunity. If you are looking for a quiet and relaxed afternoon going back in time, you are in the right place. Keep aside at least a couple of hours for this, since you can easily lose track of time in the serenity.
Ensure that you have a guide to take you through the house. Though, generally, guides tend to be intrusive, those in Kolkata know how to keep their distance and let you enjoy the place in peace. Also, no photography is allowed inside the house, and while that is quite a bummer, it allows you to absorb the energy and positive vibes of the house on your exploratory tour.
- Location: Vivekananda Road
- Timings: 10:00 am to 12:30 pm; 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm (closed on Monday)
- Entry Fee: ₹ 5
3. Visiting Old Churches
If history and art are your vacation favourites, Armenian Church and St John Church will keep you busy for a few hours. Among the oldest surviving churches in Kolkata, these hold stories of a time long gone by.
The former, managed by a small Armenian community, survived a massive fire. The church was reopened in 1724 after restoration and stands tall today to offer history enthusiasts a glimpse into the Armenian belief system.
St. John’s Church is an architect’s dream, built with a rare combination of stones and bricks. Standing on a burial ground, it was one of the first construction projects approved by the East India Company.
- Location: Armenian Street
- Timings: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
St. John’s Church
- Location: Council House Street
- Timings: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
4. Boating at Babu Ghat
I was repeatedly asked to visit Millennium Park and Princep Ghat for a glimpse of Kolkata, and I made sure that these two places were NOT part of my itinerary! Instead, I spent my time exploring the lesser-known Babu Ghat and I’m so glad. The bonus here is that there is no line for a boat ride, and the ride itself is leisurely and the views overwhelming. Ask the person to take you where you can capture the best views of the setting sun and be pleasantly surprised!
- Timings: 10:00 am to 12:00 pm
- Ticket Price: ₹ 650 (approx.)
- Duration: 2 hours (approx.)
5. Capturing the Sunset at Belur Math
Yes, a place of worship, but trust me the temple at Belur Math is unlike others and it doesn’t see a barrage of visitors. The best way to reach Belur Math is by taking a boat from Dakshineshwar Kali Temple. Devoted to Sri Ramakrishna, the monastery is an architectural marvel.
As the sun gradually sets, prep your camera and get ready for a sight to behold. I spent over an hour here admiring the setting sun, and I truly do wish I had a few more moments.
- Evening Timings:
4:00 pm to 8:30 pm (April to September)
4:00 pm to 8:00 pm (October to March)
- Entry Fee: None
6. Flower Shopping at Mullick Ghat
From the first rays of the sun to midnight, this market is abuzz with so much activity, the energy is almost palatable. Even if flowers are not part of your shopping list, you’ll be taking home bundles only because they are irresistible! As with all places close to the ghat, it can get quite muddy, so make sure you wear your sturdiest walking shoes. The views of the ghat from here are stunning, and it’s best to reach early morning to capture the rising sun.
7. Meditating at Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Monastery
Myohoji Monastery is so breath taking, you’d wonder why more people don’t know about it. Built in an effort to spread the teachings of Buddhism in India, the monastery houses stunning artefacts that take you closer to the faith. If you are looking to attend the prayers, make sure you reach between 5:00 am and 6:30 am in the morning and 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm in the evening. It is advisable to maintain the sanctity of the monastery by following their practises when inside.
- Location: Hemanta Mukherjee Sarani, Lake Marke
- Timings: 5:00 am to 8:00 pm
8. Exploring the Town of Serampore
Art, architecture and serenity – all wrapped together make Serampore sound like a town out of the books. The ghat in Serampore is quiet, offers views of the entire town, and if you are lucky, you might also catch a glimpse (and sound) of a lone musician strumming his/her instrument. There is almost something poetic about Serampore, and not many people know but the great guru, Shri Yukteswar Ji resided here in a humble house for many, many years.
You can visit his house with prior permission from the ashram and spend some time understanding the simplicity and beauty of his life. About 40 km from Kolkata, Serampore is a small, picturesque town waiting to weave a million stories. For all you Instagram lovers out there, this one is going to give you many stories to capture.
9. Discovering the Sculptures of Kumortuli
An artist’s paradise, Kumortuli is an alley of beauty, colour and art that can’t be expressed through words. There are many tours that take place in Kolkata, taking you through this vibrant neighbourhood, but trust me, if you want to truly discover the bazaar; you need to explore it on your own.
The street is home to hundreds of artists, and a visit here can almost be compared to a visit to someone’s home. The intimacy these streets provide is incomparable to any other experience. It is always buzzing with activity; however, if you happen to go before Durga Puja, you’ll be in for a real treat.
10. Paying Respect at Amitabh Bachchan Temple
India’s perhaps the only place where temples are dedicated to celebrities! Amitabh Bachchan Temple is as unusual as it gets. The temple altar has a throne from his movie, Aks and a pair of shoes from Agneepath. Whether or not you are a movie buff, this experience is going to make you one! Built by a fan, the temple sees quite a few visitors for its sheer uniqueness.
- Location: Shri Dhar Roy Road, Kustia
- Timings: Morning to Evening
- Entry Fee: None
11. Satisfying the Bookworm in you at College Street
If you are a bookworm, this has to be part of your bucket list. A walk through College Street gives you the freedom to unabashedly geek out and look for your favourites. The word in the book world is that most first editions are available here at reasonable prices, and you just can’t ask for more!
- Location: Bowbazar
I hope the above list was helpful; though if one were to describe Kolkata, it is a melting pot of cultures, music, art and stories. Discovering it is similar to unravelling a great fiction, and if you are someone who travels without a planned itinerary, the city won’t disappoint. The best way to discover it is on a whim, and not miss a single thing that seems interesting. Trust me, the number of art galleries I visited, only because the art outside was so intriguing, surpassed the number of planned spots!