You need at least 2 full days to cover Kolkata. Spend the first day exploring central and south Kolkata, and the second visiting sites in the north, for which you should hire a car and driver.
Day 1 (Central & South Kolkata)
Start by catching a taxi south to the city's most famous temple, Kalighat Kali. After this, visit Mother Teresa's Nirmal Hriday home for the destitute and dying, right next door. Or, if you're a bookworm, check out the National Library in the 300-year-old former summer residence of Prince Azim-us-Shan, the grandson of Emperor Aurangzeb. The library has a catalog of over 2 million books. Our recommendation is to enjoy the relaxing, tranquil atmosphere of South Park Street Cemetery before you head into the chaos of central Kolkata. If you're hungry, nearby Suruchi (89 Elliot Rd., near Mallik Bazaar; tel. 033/2229-1763; no credit cards; open Mon-Sat 10am-5:45pm, Sun 10am-2:45pm) is an authentic Bengali restaurant, with a no-frills, homegrown atmosphere.
You can save time by using a vehicle to move on to central Kolkata, or enjoy the walk along Park Street to Chowringhee Road, taking in the upmarket shops and boutiques and perhaps stopping at Flury's (tel. 033/2229-7664; credit cards accepted; daily 7:30am-10pm) for tea and a sandwich. Now officially known as "Jawaharlal Nehru Road," Chowringhee is Kolkata's main drag, with less human excrement along its sidewalks than almost anywhere else in the city. It is lined with colonial Victoriana -- including the monumental Indian Museum and that pinnacle of Calcutta's society life, The Oberoi Grand. Continue north along Chowringhee into the heart of the city, where you can explore the roads around B.B.D. Bagh .
When you've had your fill of life on the sidewalks, make your way south again, along Government Place East. You'll soon find yourself in the green expanse that is the Maidan -- one of the largest city-center parks in the world -- where the Ochterlony Monument, or Shahid Minar (Martyr's Tower), is worth noting. Walking west through the Maidan will bring you to Eden Gardens, India's most famous cricket stadium, while much farther south is the imperious Victoria Memorial . Buy a ticket and venture in if you are keen to broaden your knowledge of the city's history. But don't feel guilty if you just want to lie on the lawn and watch Bengalis socializing. Otherwise, brave the traffic and catch a cab to Howrah to explore the 18th-century Indian Botanical Gardens (Shibpur; tel. 033/2668-0554; Rs 50; closes 1 hr. before sunset), said to house the largest banyan tree on earth. Scientists, when they are available (usually after 11:30am), will act as guides at no charge.
Day 2 (North Kolkata)
Early in the morning, head toward Howrah Bridge, where you can witness people bathing at the ghats (steps leading down to the Hooghly River) or the pandemonium at the colorful flower market (you need to arrive before 7am). There you can sip chai and watch the stall holders deftly thread marigold garlands for the gods and bridal headgear from tuberoses and dahlias. Crossing over Howrah Bridge, head toward the Belur Math Shrine . From here you can either incorporate a short stop at popular Dakshineshwar Temple (across Vivekananda Bridge; tel. 033/2564-5222; daily 6:45am-12:30pm and 3:30-8:30pm), or take a look at the potters' village at Kumartuli (N. Chitpur Rd.), a warren of alleys where clay deities and images of Mother Teresa are produced by the thousands. If you prefer to slow the pace, however, skip these and head south to beautiful Paresnath Temple -- not as famous as the Kali temple, but certainly Kolkata's prettiest, and north Kolkata's star attraction. From here, you can head east to shop and eat at Swabhumi Heritage Plaza, a mall with 2.4 hectares (6 acres) of shopping, dining, and entertainment diversions; or head south to Rabindra Bharati University Museum (tel. 033/2269-5241; Rs 50; Tues-Sun 10:30am-4:30pm; no photography) to visit the Rabindranath Tagore House Museum. Born to a wealthy entrepreneurial family in 1861, Tagore remains Bengal's best-loved artist and intellectual, and his home is filled with artworks and collectibles (closed Sun, and open only until 1:30pm on Sat). Move on to the nearby Marble Palace.
By now, you may be in serious need of sustenance, which you'll find in the vicinity of the enormous Nakhoda, Calcutta's largest mosque (Rabindra Sarani and M.G. Rd.). The mosque is closed to non-Muslims during prayers, but is set within a busy bazaar area where Muslim trades people sell all sorts of goods, as well as a range of breads, sweetmeats, and snacks. Alternatively, enjoy a cheap, substantial Kolkata-Mughlai meal at the century-old Royal Indian Hotel (147 Rabindra Sarani; tel. 033/2268-1073; daily 9am-11:30pm). Browse through the thousands of bookstalls along College Street, and finish with coffee at the Indian Coffee House.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.