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Family Vacations with Kids: Kolkata – The Fascinating Metro in the East

 
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A family vacation to Kolkata is always woven full of rich experiences, fun and a good times...
| Central Kolkata | North Kolkata | South Kolkata |
| Salt Lake | Reaching there | On the Ganges |
| Short Trips | Eating out |

A city with one foot in its 300 year old heritage and a richly mixed culture, and the other forward to grab the best of today, Kolkata warmly embraces all who come to her. Kolkata tends to be a city that delights – with stunning glimpses into a rich history, with amazing oases of natural beauty in the heart of the city, with laughter in its amusement parks, amazement on young faces in its science museums and planetariums and the tasty delights of its varied food. A family vacation to Kolkata is always woven full of rich experiences, fun and a good times - true to its name ‘the City of Joy’.
On a holiday in Kolkata, sight-seeing in Kolkata is best done by visiting different regions of the city and getting a varied taste that the region has to offer – so it becomes a mix of Amusement, leisure, heritage, education and lets everyone in the family have their share of fun. So lets start at the centre and work outwards in all directions.

Places to see in Kolkata
Sight-seeing in Central Kolkata
Bengali Food
The eats and the treats the ethnic food of Calcutta is not to be missed.
Sweet curd or ‘Mishti doi’ is a must. Among the Sweets the Rasgulla (in jaggery syrup, in winter) and Sandesh is famous. Good sweet shops for traditional sweets would be Mithai (in Park Circus), Putiram (in College Square) and Dwarik Sons and Chittaranjan (in Shyambazar area).
Traditional Bengali food is best at Aaheli the Peerless Inn restaurant and at Oh! Calcutta, though these are expensive.
Street food in Kolkata comprises – ‘Phuchka’ a kind of Golgappa or Panipuri. ‘Jhal Muri’ made of puffed rice - there are a couple of good vendors in the New Market area.
Various kinds of roll (egg/ mutton/ chicken rolls/ mixed), the best at Bedwin in Gariahat and Nizam's, at Esplanade / New Market.
Try the Mughlai Parathas at Aanadi’s at the Esplanade crossing & Mughlai food at Rahmania & R’Salan (Park Circus), or Nizam’s, in the Esplanade area.
Chinese food, though quite good in the Elgin road and Park Street areas, is the best however in the home restaurants at Tangra.
Benfish outlets stock a decent quality of fish cutlets and fries and are a must-try, as are those at Mitra Café on Grey Street
Try breakfast at Flurry’s on Park Street for a breakfast experience to remember.

Essentially the hub of British Kolkata packs a medley of heritage buildings, parks, and shopping and is best covered by foot or short taxi rides.

Strangely let’s begin with a post office...
The General Post Office
Built in 1868, GPO, as it is known to every Calcuttan, check out the Postal Museum inside it is really well maintained, a treat for the kids and a trip down history!

Raj Bhavan
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A magnificent structure from the British era, when Calcutta was the capital of British India, and now home to the Governor of West Bengal - the Raj Bhavan and the sprawling estate surrounding the building, like the Bhavan itself, are well over 200 years old It's a must-see if you're in the Esplanade East area.

St John's Church
This church is over 200 years old, about 175 feet high, and stands proud amid the bustle of BBD Bag. The architecture is mainly Greek. You can drop by at this church after a visit to the nearby Raj Bhavan. Do remember to visit the mausoleum of Job Charnock, the founder of Calcutta, in the cemetery here

Shahid Minar
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Built in 1828 in honor of Sir David Ochterlony who led the British forces to victory in the Nepalese wars, the Shahid Minar - literally meaning Martyrs' Monument - is situated in the northern part of the green belt of Calcutta called the Maidan. The base of the monument is Egyptian, the column Syrian and the crown, a Turkish cupola.

Magen David Synagogue
The Maghen David Synagogue on Jewish Synagogue Street is also among the oldest houses of worship in Kolkata. Built by Elias David Joseph Ezra, as a tribute to his father, the synagogue was opened to the public in 1884. The tower of the synagogue offers a splendid view of the city.

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Indian Museum
It is the largest museum in the country and one of the largest and oldest museums in Asia. The museum has rare collections of antiques, armour & ornaments, fossils, coins, Mughal paintings, meteors much more - you'll need an entire day to enjoy it all. Don't miss the 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummy here, and the urn said to contain the Buddha's ashes. Timings: 10 am-5 pm, Tuesday-Sunday (Between March and November); 10 am -4.30 pm, Tuesday-Sunday (Between December and February)
St Paul's Cathedral
Stained glass windows, Florentine frescoes, carved wooden pews and chairs - the St Paul's Cathedral is an architectural delight and balm for the soul. The Gothic-style monument provides a foil to the bustling city around it and is the largest cathedral in Kolkata. Timings: 9 am-noon, 3 pm-6 pm, daily

The Birla Planetarium
This is the largest planetarium in India and is close to St. Paul’s and Victoria Memorial. There are regular shows in English and Hindi. This is a must-see with kids as they gaze in wonder at the introduction to the Milky Way and leave with an experience they will never forget. Timings: 11.30 A.M. to 8.30 P. M., closed on Mondays

Sarnath

Victoria Memorial
This majestic marble monument blends the best of British and Mughal architecture. A tour through the Memorial is a great way of reliving the grandeur of imperial-era Britain. The Victoria Memorial is a tourist favorite. Its sprawling grounds, huge lake and shimmering reflection making it a statement of royalty power. Timings: 10 am-3.30 pm, Tuesday-Sunday (Between November and February); 10 am-4.30 pm, Tuesday-Sunday (Between March and October)

The Kolkata Maidan
The lungs of Kolkata, located in the very heart of the city this vast expanse of open green fields is a place to spend early mornings or late evenings. People walking, kids playing, a musical fountain, but most of all the ever present chaat and snack sellers make this great for winding down with the family and watching the city light up for the night.

Esplanade and New Market
If ever there is a shopping destination that every Calcuttan will recommend, this is it. This old promenade of the British showcases an array of heritage facades and fabulous bargains off the street. Road-side eateries, a thriving second-hand market for books and music records at Kyd Street and the heritage ‘New Market’(!) with its amazing bakery treats at the old English shops of Namoum’s and Kathleens, mark out this anachronism.

Sight-seeing in North Kolkata

The zamindari bastion, it was the cultural centre of older times, and boasts palatial homes, and famous temples

Farthest north is the Dakshineshwar Temple: Built by Rani Rashmoni in the 19th century; very revered and dedicated to Goddess Kali. The holy Ramakrishna Paramhansa - the spiritual guru of Swami Vivekananda, worshipped the Goddess here, it is place of pilgrimage for many. The Dakshineshwar Temple complex comprises an imposing Central temple and a group of 12 Shiva temples. Recommended to visit in the very early morning or late afternoon; Timings: 6 am - noon, 3.30 pm - 9 pm, Daily

Shopping

Women's Friendly Society
29 Park Lane, Chowringhee for children’s clothing & art/craft

New market and Esplanade Street vendors - apparel and curios
Dakshinapan Shopping Centre
Gariahat Rd - souvenirs for art/craft
Central Cottage Industries Emporium
Metropolitan Bldg, 7 Chowringhee Rd - art/craft
Gariahat market - for traditional Bengali Sarees
Sarnath

Belur Math
Across the Ganges form the Dakshineshwar Temple, is Belur Math, the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission. Not only is the ride across the Ganges memorable, the reverential ambience and the evening rituals which culminate in a spell-binding Aarti are not to be missed. Timings: 6.30 am-11 am, 3.30 pm-7 pm, Daily
Both Belur Math and Dakshineshwar are a good drive away from Calcutta, and great places to soak in the spiritual heritage of Bengal.
Parasnath Jain Temple
A mélange of mirrors, stones and mosaic greet the traveller who steps into the Parasnath Jain Temple. Set in the busy Shyambazar area, the temple is nearly 150 years old and is dedicated to Sital Nath, the 10th of the 24 Jain Tirthankars or prophets. Timings: 6 am-11.30 am, 3 pm-7 pm, Daily

 

Jorasanko Thakurbari
The rambling Thakurbari was built in the 18th century by Dwarkanath Tagore, the grandfather of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. This is also the place where Rabindranath was born and passed away. The Thakurbari has mostly been converted into a museum now. The Rabindra Bharati University is also situated inside this complex.

Marble Palace
The Marble Palace houses a magnificent collection of Oriental and Western artifacts. It is famous for marble wall & floors, antiques, paintings of Ruben, Curios, Marble statues, floor to ceiling mirrors and collection of rare birds. Built in 1835 by Raja Rajendra Mullick Bahadur, legend goes that the upto 4, 0000 people were fed here everyday! It is a great place to get the feel of what was a palatial home in old Bengal. Timings: 10 am- 4 pm; Monday/Thursday Closed.

Sight-seeing in Salt Lake Area

The newer Kolkata - and the one address for a host of Amusement parks to delight every age

Favourite by far is the Science City – a blend of entertainment, adventure, playful education and a delight for kids of all ages.  This 21st Century marvel of science, communication and environment is the first and only institution of its kind in India and offers a stunning Space Theatre and an experience that’s incredible. Timings:  9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Entry fee: Rs.10, Time Machine: 10/-, Astrovision Show: 30/-, Planetarium Show: 30/-

Nicco Park
Sarnath
It is the Calcutta's first amusement Park opened in 1991. Boasting the evergreen toy train that takes passengers all around the park and a cable car gives a birds eye view, there are a host of exciting and have fun that leave everyone wanting more. Timings- 11 am to 9pm in Summer & till 8pm in Winter. Tickets - Rs. 50/- with 8 free rides included & an additional Rs. 150/- composite for all rides

Aquatica
Kolkata's only water theme park - Aquatica is just 15 minutes from Nicco Park. Aquatica is an ocean of undiluted excitement. Apart from a host of exciting rides and water activity areas an artificial river also meanders through the park and visitors are allowed to swim and wade in it. The river water is recycled every hour, keeping it crystal clear and welcoming.  It is a super and fun way to beat the heat & kids love it. Everything you need for a swim is available on hire.

Nalban boating Complex
This huge and sparkling lake along with its lush surroundings is a great place to spend idyllic afternoon and have a surprise picnic. With Paddle boats, Shikaras and the newly installed Hovercraft, you can easy pace your water babies.

Sight-seeing in South Kolkata

A mix of old, new and the newer Kolkata

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The Zoological Gardens
One of the largest and finest zoos in India with a rich, if at times ill-kept, number of animals and birds. It remains a favourite of children and also houses a children zoo and has a separate aquarium across the street. Visiting hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry Fees-Rs. 3

Kalighat Kali Temple
Bright marigold and hibiscus set against borders of dark green, bells that tinkle through the day, a perennially drenched courtyard, the pervading fragrance of incense and camphor - this Kali temple at Kalighat is one place where you can drink in the sights, smells and sounds of Shakti worship. Legend has it that this temple was built on the spot where the finger of Parvati, consort of Lord Shiva, fell. Timings: 5 am-3 pm, 5 pm-10 pm, Daily

Sarnath

Birla Temple
In-between the busy Ballygunge – Park Circus area is the stunning the Birla Temple, a relatively new addition to the religious landscape of Calcutta. Built over a long 24 years, it draws inspiration from a multitude of Temple styles from across India. While its newness is obvious, it does exude a devotional air. And at night, when it is lit up, the Birla Temple in Ballygunge is a visual delight.

Horticulture Garden, Alipore
Another fascinating garden in the middle of the city - It has huge collection of plants and promotes gardening & flower shows. A must see if there’s a flower show on.
Nehru Children's Museum - kids love this one. It is a centre for children's activity, collection of puppets depicting the Ramayana & the Mahabharata, toys & dolls and a huge library for children. Timings: 12 noon - 8 p.m., Mondays closed.

Shopping at Gariahat
A favourite destination and the best place to shop for traditional Bengali Sarees and the contemporary designs as well. Apart from this, the vibrant street market with super bargains makes this market a must-visit in Kolkata.

On the Ganges (or the Hoogly)
Leisurely charms and night-time revelery on the Ganges river at Kolkata

Early one morning, head out to The Botanical Gardens in Shibpur on the banks of the River.  The Gardens are over two centuries and the oldest and largest in India being home to over 35,000 fruit trees and flowering plants. A walk through its avenues that connect you back with nature and give the kids a chance to see things first-had, a robust collection of orchids, and famous a 250-year-old banyan tree (nearly the largest of its kind in the world) make this trip very worth-while. One can take a ferry/ bus or taxi to reach - Saturday & Sunday closed.

Sarnath

One of the most magical ways to spend the evening in Kolkata go for a boat ride on the Ganges - the old way, where a majhi  (boatman) actually rowed you across / on the river. Boats are available at Outram Ghat in Central Kolkata. Here, for a sum close to 1000/- the full family can not just enjoy the cool tranquility of the river and the sunset as life flows by, but also relax in the unforgettable rhythm of a rowed boat and sung strains of the boatmen. It remains for everyone, a memory that’s treasured for long.

Now-days there are also cruise-ferries available at Babu Ghat/ Outram Ghat that package an evening river cruise, dinner and local music & entertainment into one evening medley that is a unique experience.

Short trips around Kolkata

These tourist places around Kolkata take you away from the bustle of the city and are each a unique experience in their own right.

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Bishnupur
Undoubtedly the temple town of Bengal, Bishnupur is home to scores of brick temples. The architecture of the temples is devoid of grandeur, and is touching and breathtaking in its simplicity. The terracotta temples attract innumerable tourists. Baluchuri saris, the rare ganijifa, delicately carved shells and bell metal artifacts make excellent souvenirs from Bishnupur. Take a train from Howrah Stn. to get there.

The Bengal beaches
The coastal strip of Bengal, presents some beautiful beaches, most of which can be planned as day visits from Kolkata. Foremost among the beaches near Kolkata are Digha, Shankarpur, Junput, Bakkhali (Frazergunj). All of these offer wide, flat, hard beaches, a gently rolling sea, rows of casuarina forests and a pleasant, warm weather round the year. Having been developed as tourism destinations, it is possible to find good accommodation in these places, if you plan to stay overnight. Taxi services, trains and buses are all available to these beaches.

Shanti Niketan
180 km from Kolkata, Shanti Niketan was the residence of Rabindranath Tagore, is today internationally acclaimed as a cultural gem. The must visit places here are - Uttarayan, the complex where Rabindranath lived, which has a museum and art gallery. Sriniketan (3 km distant), a centre for traditional handicrafts like batik (on leather, cloth and silk), pottery, weaving kantha embroidery and dokra tribal handicrafts. Bakreswar (58km away), famous for its natural hot springs. Bolpur is the nearest Railway station and is connected well by trains to Kolkata. Taxis and bus are also good option.

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Mayapur
home to the ISKON Krishna cult, Mayapur is the birthplace of Lord Chaitanya. Besides, the enchantingly beautiful main temple at Mayapur and the intricate Radha-Krishna idols, Mayapur’s cultural and devotional ambience engenders every visitor with peace and inner calm. Regular trains (Janshtabdi recommended) and buses are available from Calcutta.

Reaching Kolkata & fast facts

The best time to travel in Kolkata is between October and February. Other months are warm, though evening temperatures are always pleasant due to the river nearby. Given the high humidity, Cotton clothes are always best

By Air: There are daily flights from most major cities to Kolkata’s airport at Dum Dum

By Rail: Kolkata’s Howrah and Sealdah stations are well serviced by trains from all over the country

Getting around in Kolkata
  • Kolkata is best travelled through the Metro (underground train) network.
  • Taxis follow meters but are expensive.
Do try out the electric Trams, before they are phased out
  • Wherever possible 3-wheelers can be tried, here they run on fixed routes and charge fixed rates between stops on that route.
  • Buses when not crowded, are OK, but be sure of routes and stops.

About Kolkata: Kolkata Information & Fact File
Altitude 9 meters
Temp
Summer 38 (Max) & 19(Min) Degrees Celsius
Winter 22 (Max) & 9 (Min) Degrees Celsius
Best time to Go October – March
Monsoon June - August
Summer April to June
Clothes Cottons in summer and light woolens in winter
Nearest Airport Kolkata has an International Airport
Nearest Railway Station Howrah Junction in Kolkata is a major hub for the Indian Railways; Sealdah is another major railway station.
Bus Station Kolkata has an Interstate bus terminus
Hospital & Doctor

Kolkata has several well-equipped Govt. and Pvt. Hospitals

Places to see The GPO Building, Raj Bhawan, St. John’s Church, Shahid Minar, Magen David Synagogue, Victoria Memorial, Birla Planetarium, Howrah Bridge…
   
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