This post may contain affiliate links. We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. For more info, please read our full Disclosure here.
Kolkata Markets: Where to Go and How To Shop
Kolkata, also known as the “City of Joy,” is a bustling hub full of culture, color, music, shopping, and delicious food at every turn. Here, you’ll find a mixture of modern businesses, tourist attractions, and ancient spiritual customs. Most of which you can see at Kolkata markets
On the city’s busy walkways, trendy contemporary restaurants sit alongside ancient banyan trees, whose gnarled roots span the sidewalks. The city holds stunning colonial architecture—reminiscent of its past as the capital of the British Raj—as well as intricately carved Hindu temples. Festivals pop up fairly often, too, with multicolor light displays, fireworks, and haunting chants.
Well-known by Indian and international tourists alike for its spiritual and artistic contributions to Indian culture, Kolkata is definitely worth a visit. And while you’re out seeing the sights and sampling the local cuisine, you’ll want to fit in some time for shopping.
In this fascinating city, you’ll find luxury boutiques, traditional markets, and everything in between. Here are a few items to consider purchasing while in the city…
What to Buy
Clothing and textiles
When you think of Indian clothing, you probably imagine vibrantly dyed fabrics adorned with complex and beautiful patterns. Or, shimmery silks in a rainbow of colors.
Kolkata fits the bill for these elegant threads. You’ll find clothing items—like sarees, kurtas, dresses, and palazzo pants for women, and woven or long dress shirts for men—in just about every hue under the sun, ranging from simple solid color schemes, to incredibly intricate, sequined embroideries fit for a goddess. Handloomed clothing is also a specialty of the region, and perfect for the hot, humid climate.
Keep an eye out for gorgeous scarves, as well as home textiles like curtains, cushion covers, and pure cotton bed sheets. The city is also a great place to find well-made shoes for a reasonable price.
India is a great place to pick up unique conversation items for your home. Think purses, locally-made jewelry, picture frames, wall hangings, statues, placemats, jewelry boxes, gem-covered pens, and more. Also, be sure to pick up some incense—you’ll have plenty of lovely scents to choose from.
In Kolkata, keep an eye out for terracotta items, made from the local red-hued soil. It will be like bringing a piece of West Bengal—the state in which Kolkata is located—home with you.
Jute is a durable, eco-friendly plant fiber, similar to industrial hemp. Its cultivation is a traditional industry in West Bengal, where the versatile fiber is spun into tough threads and used to make products like rope, beautiful tote bags, baskets, table cloths, jewelry, dolls, or even shoes.
West Bengal is known for the rolling green hills of Darjeeling, where some of the best tea in the world is grown. You can consider making a side trip to Darjeeling if you have time—but, some of Darjeeling’s best, freshest leaves are available for purchase right inside the city of Kolkata.
During the late eighteenth to early twentieth century, Kolkata underwent an intellectual, social, and artistic revolution known as the Bengali Renaissance. During that time, religious and social reformers flourished, and scholars and literary greats made their mark. That includes Asia’s first Nobel Prize in Literature recipient in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore.
To date, there are a number of prestigious colleges in the city, and near the universities, books are a way of life. In fact, near some of the city’s finest universities, you’ll find the world’s largest second-hand book market.
So, you’ll have plenty of interesting gifts to bring home from Kolkata. But, where should you shop?
Here are a few options for finding great items to bring home, while experiencing a bit of Bengali culture and some tasty dishes along the way…
At this beautiful little shop, you’ll find shimmery jewelry, sequined purses and pens, hand-crafted incense burners, home décor items, and much more. And, you’ll be donating to a good cause. This store hires artists and workers who are afflicted with deafness or other disabilities, who may otherwise have difficulty finding employment in the city.
Silence is located in the Dakshinapan Shopping Center.
A Book from College Street
Boi Para (“book smart”), also known as College Street, holds the world’s largest second-hand book market. They say that, if you can’t find the book you want here, it probably never existed in the first place.
Along these rows and rows of bookstalls, with tomes piled up high behind the sellers, you’ll see college students perusing for textbooks, book lovers searching the stacks for rare finds, and piles of current bestsellers in fiction and non-fiction, old classics, and titles from local authors. You might get lucky and snag a rare book for a bargain price.
Whatever you’re searching for, be sure to use your haggling skills. And no matter which book you bring home, you’ll have a good story to tell about how you found it—and sometimes, the story really is the best part of any souvenir or gift.
Consider hiring a guide or going on a walking tour of College Street, to help you find your way around, and to take in more of the history of the local universities and the 19th-century Bengali Renaissance.
While you’re there, be sure to stop in at the famous Indian Coffee House.
Located across from Presidency University, the coffee house was a meeting place for intellectuals and artists during the Bengali Renaissance. Waiters here still don their traditional uniforms. Space is at a premium in the small café and you’re required to order something in order to linger there—so sip your coffee slowly as you take in the historic ambiance.
Kolkata is perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth. Local favorite concoctions include rosgulla, which is softballs of cheese curds and semolina, soaked in syrup. Also try Nolen gur, a winter specialty of date palm sugar that can be made into a variety of sweets, including tasty bites, rice puddings, and ice cream.
Unfortunately, these treats won’t keep well for the journey home—but be sure to enjoy them while you’re in town.
Artisan Shops at Local Cafes
In Kolkata, cafe culture is on the rise. These cozy, trendy nooks are a quiet place to escape the heat, noise, and general frenetic pace of the city.
Some cafes also feature gifts and crafts with local flavor. My favorite was Sienna Cafe in Hindustan Park. There, you can browse handmade notebooks and pottery, incense, jewelry from local artists, hand-loomed clothing and fabrics sourced from weavers in Bengal, and even specialty chocolates and tea.
Get there before the evening rush to claim a seat on their beautiful enclosed patio, where you’ll find enchanting garden lights and a wooden swing that hangs from the ceiling. Enjoy a tasty meal, coffee, or smoothie in the laidback setting, and then pick up some gifts on your way out.
A mall probably isn’t the first thing on your mind when you imagine visiting India—but, they’re an undeniable part of modern Kolkata culture.
Malls are a great place to take a break and relax with air-conditioning and a cold drink after a day of sightseeing in muggy weather. And while you’re there, you can find some high-quality goods.
For beautiful threads in opulent colors, and the latest fashion trends, try the stores Biba or Fabindia. You’ll pay more than you will at local markets and shops, but you’ll take home some truly gorgeous outfits, with the help of trained staff who act as your personal shopper and make recommendations for styles that flatter your figure and skin tone. Also, check out Bata for well-made shoes at reasonable prices.
Malls are fun for checking out local variations on Western brands, too. I enjoyed seeing a goddess idol for a Maybelline display, and eating the delicious paneer chatpata wrap at Starbucks—something you won’t find at any Starbucks at home!
There are several malls to choose from, but I recommend Quest or Acropolis.
Quest Mall features some high-end stores, including luxury ayurvedic beauty products.
Acropolis Mall has a rooftop restaurant called Ozora. Here, you’ll have an extensive menu of entrees, appetizers, drinks, and mocktails. Dine and enjoy your drinks—such as this Bengal Twist, a mocktail variation on a mojito that uses Thai basil instead of mint—while taking in the Kolkata skyline and the restaurant’s multi-color light display that’s timed to music.
Grocery Stores for Spices
If you’re looking for good-quality curry powder, turmeric, cardamom, and more to take home with you, consider buying them from the local grocer. This is where a lot of Bengalis buy their ingredients—so, it doesn’t get more authentic than that.
There are lots of brands and sizes for single-spice packets and mixtures, so check with the store attendee for recommendations. Or, just linger in the aisle and watch what the locals buy. You may even find that the locals volunteer to help you choose what you need.
If you’re looking for an authentic taste of traditional India, then you must visit an old-fashioned market while in Kolkata.
Here, it may be similar to what you imagine in an old bazaar, with folks selling goods like fabrics and clothing, jewelry, footwear, incense, ayurvedic medicines, housewares, cooking ingredients, and more. Shoppers haggle over prices as they wander through maze-like rows of stall after stall, amid the wafting scents of spices and freshly cooked snacks from the local street food vendors.
Traditional markets are also perfect places to score a bargain if your haggling skills are up to par. Here are some of the most popular markets to visit…
Dakshinapan Shopping Center
This two-story shopping complex with a central courtyard is a bit like a “tour of India,” with government-sponsored emporiums that sell artisan goods from different states around the country. At these government shops, haggling isn’t allowed. But, you’ll find high-quality, authentic goods in exchange for a slightly higher price tag.
Locals and tourists alike shop at Dakshinapan. Much of the complex is open-air, but there are some covered sections in case of rain. Highlights include the Biswa Bangla store for authentic Bengali handicrafts or hand-loomed fabrics and sarees, as well as the store Silence that features handicrafts made by deaf or differently-abled workers.
When you’re ready for a break, try Dolly’s Tea Shop on the ground floor. It features a variety of tea blends handpicked by the owner, served hot or cold. Owner Dolly Roy, who is often in the shop, is the world’s first female tea auctioneer, and India’s first female tea-taster. Ask for her recommendation, and then enjoy your drink under charming paper lanterns.
Gariahat Market—known by locals as the “women’s market” due to the prevalence of fabric goods—is one of the most popular markets in Kolkata. It’s located along the large thoroughfare of Gariahat Road, divided onto each side.
Here, you’ll want to use your haggling skills. The narrow-aisled market gets crowded, so it’s best to avoid carrying large backpacks and bags.
When you’re ready for a break, you can stop at one of the food stalls in the market, or make a short walk (about half a mile) over to some of Kolkata’s popular cafes. I recommend Sienna for great ambiance and a nice gift shop, and Mrs. Magpie for adorable miniature cupcakes.
New Market, also known as Hogg Market, is one of the oldest shopping centers in Kolkata, dating back to 1874. With more than 2,000 stalls, you’ll find just about anything you could possibly need, ranging from traditional wares and handicrafts to modern electronics. The bargains can be amazing, but remember to haggle.
This market gets busy and chaotic, and may not be for you if you don’t like big crowds. Consider hiring a local guide, or signing up for a guided walking tour.
In India, haggling over prices is very common, and a way of life when it comes to some of your shopping.
However, in modern-day Kolkata, there are some exceptions. In general, for modern stores that have price tags (like mall shops, big grocery stores, or government emporiums), typically there is no bartering. The price is set.
On the other hand, in a traditional market setting, you can haggle to your heart’s content! Don’t be afraid to walk away, or to look at other shops to see if you can find the same item for a better price.
Practice standard safety precautions when going out after dark, especially for women. Travel in groups, check with your hotel staff or tour guide for their recommendations and plan your route well.
As with any tourist destination, also practice basic precautions like keeping your valuables locked up, or out of sight and not easily accessible to pickpockets.
What to Bring
Bring water with you when you go out shopping or sightseeing, and if you need a refill to be sure to buy a sealed bottle. Also wear sturdy, slip-resistant shoes. Rain is common and the streets and sidewalks can get muddy.
Consider bringing bathroom supplies: toilet paper, and dry soap or hand sanitizer. Some bathrooms will have all these items and more, while others will be quite scarce—so, it’s better to be prepared.
Planning Your Shopping
In Kolkata, you want to allow a lot of time—much more than you think you may need—for transportation. The city is huge, and the traffic can be horrendous. For example, in the height of rush hour, sometimes it took me 45 minutes of waiting and riding (by Uber or taxi) to go just a few miles. And a drive across town could easily take more than an hour.
To avoid frustration, plan ahead and give yourself a relaxed pace. Try to group nearby attractions, shops, and restaurants together, so you spend more time enjoying them and less time sitting in traffic.
If you do end up getting stuck in traffic, think of it as part of your adventure, and a way to experience a very authentic part of daily life in Kolkata!
When to Go
Kolkata can be visited at any time of year. But in general, try to avoid the monsoon season, especially if you have plans for side trips to Darjeeling or any nature preserves.
For specific shopping stops while in town, check with your hotel staff or tour guide, or call ahead. Sometimes, business hours may vary from what’s posted, depending on festivals or inclement weather.
Unless you’re very familiar with driving rules and patterns in India, don’t try to drive yourself. Instead, hire a driver or guide, or use one of the city’s many transportation options, including taxis, Ubers, tuk-tuks, the metro, or even cycle rickshaws for short distances. Just remember to bring rupees, as many don’t accept credit cards (even Uber requires cash here).
Where to Stay
For the best experience, try to choose accommodations near the attractions and shopping centers that interest you. Or, choose a hotel in the central part of the city as your home base, where you’ll have plenty of restaurants to choose from. Staying on or near Park Street is a good option, as the area is lively, close to some of Kolkata’s biggest attractions, and full of dining options.
Shopping and getting around in a new place can be overwhelming and sometimes scary. Hopefully, this guide to Kolkata markets and the tips I’ve included will help you on your next venture in India.
Kolkata Markets: Where to Go and How to Shop was written by Tammy Powell. She started her career as a veterinarian, working in the US and overseas. Now she writes full-time for the pet, veterinary, and travel industries, and especially enjoys writing novels. You can find her here.