With a rich Bengali tradition embracing poetry, music, theater, film, and art, Kolkata is known as the cultural and intellectual capital of India. You can visit galleries, explore heritage buildings, and enjoy films or musical performances. Consider timing a visit to coincide with Durga Puja, West Bengal's biggest religious celebration, or the annual international film festival held in November.
Kolkata's restaurant scene would be the envy of most world cities and is certainly the dining out capital of India. Kolkata's restaurants are famously diverse and though some of them are 200 years old they tend toward décor that is simple, 1930s Art Deco rather than ornately moldy.
No city in India can compete with the Southeast Asian cities of Bangkok and Singapore when it comes to shopping, but Kolkata more than holds its own as a place to spend money. There are a growing number of shopping malls and department stores, particularly in South Kolkata and the plethora of souvenirs left over by the Raj keep outdoor markets very well stocked.
Kolkata may boast a dozen major universities but anyone expecting a swinging student bar scene here will be disappointed. Students here take their studies seriously and time away from the books is invariably spent earning some much needed part time cash, and budget beer busts are not the norm.
The intractable poverty of Kolkata—which reverted to the Bengali spelling of its name in 2001—may be the stuff of legend but the former Indian capital's heritage as a center of arts and literature is under-reported.
Kolkata is a cosmopolitan city and its sheer size may intimidate the first time visitor. It is a very safe city though with the only recurring crime-related problem are the drug dealers of Sudder Street, who tend to keep to themselves anyway. Public transportation around the city is excellent but visitors on a tight schedule may want to narrow their Kolkata trip down to just one or two key districts.
There are hundreds of grand buildings built by the British Raj in Kolkata. Since it was the capital of India during the British years and everything from a semi-replica of St Paul's Cathedral was built here to celebrate and emulate the style and power of London. The so-called ‘City of Joy' is a bounty of grand colonial architecture and the Ministry of Tourism provides a comprehensive Kolkata guide.
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