West Bengal travel guide

West Bengal doesn’t feature on as many Indian tours as it perhaps should. It’s regularly eclipsed by the Golden Triangle, Rajasthan and Kerala, yet this eastern state is a richly woven tapestry of landscapes, faiths and history. From the Ganges Delta where tigers roam, and unforgettable Kolkata, where colonial past and contemporary culture co-exist, to the foothills of the Himalayas, made green by tea plantations and towered over by mighty Kanchenjunga, West Bengal offers a fascinating mix of experiences and sights, all in a state roughly the size of Portugal.
Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries, Himalayan foothills and the Ganges Delta, tea, tigers and cultural Kolkata – West Bengal rewards visitors with an array of riches.
Culture, hustle and Hinduism characterise Kolkata and the densely populated southern lowlands of West Bengal, bordered by Bangladesh, while up north the state is cooler and quieter, with tea plantations and the colonial era hill station of Darjeeling tucked below the Himalayas and bordering remote Sikkim. If India is strongly associated with spice, then West Bengal serves up sacksful of the tastiest spice of all – variety. Find out more in our West Bengal travel guide.

West Bengal is…

a bit of an unsung hero, where you can enjoy everything from tea to tigers, with Kolkata its cultural and historic hub.

West Bengal isn’t…

huge, but it stretches from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south, so the landscapes and climate are diverse.

West Bengal map & highlights

Tailor made tours to West Bengal include a private driver, so you can travel in comfort, and many also include an internal flight so you can reach the north of the state without hours on the road. Flying from Kolkata to Bagdogra Airport, three hours’ drive from Darjeeling, is a treat. The airport is surrounded by lush green tea gardens and on a clear day you can see the great Himalaya range as you fly in. Rail tours that start in Kolkata and take in Darjeeling before travelling to Varanasi and Delhi are another way to explore West Bengal, or join a cruise on the Hooghly River.

1. Darjeeling

At over 2,000m, this pretty hill station has a pleasant climate, fantastic Himalayan views and plantations growing its eponymous tea. There’s a relaxed feel, making a stroll along the Mall a pleasure. Highlights include the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre, where you can pick up handicrafts, the Mahakal Temple and St Andrew’s Church, built in 1843 and frequented by Scottish soldiers stationed here before Independence.

2. DHR

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, nicknamed the ‘Toy Train’, is a single track route with UNESCO World Heritage status. Finished in 1881, it was designed to serve the region’s tea plantations. It runs 88km in total, from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, but tourist services take a scenic, circular route pulled by a steam engine, taking in the picturesque Batasia Loop and Ghoom, with its monastery and museum.

3. Kolkata

Humming with life, history, colonial buildings, markets and memorials, Kolkata is not a whistle-stop destination. Spend a few days here, finding your feet and discovering its highlights, from the Victoria Memorial (now a museum) to the shady lanes of the potter’s district, Kumortuli; the flower market at Howrah to the colonial buildings of Dalhousie Square. A sunset cruise on the Ganges brings another perspective.
River Hooghly

4. River Hooghly

A small ship cruise along this tributary of the Lower Ganges, starting in Kolkata, is a relaxing way to see West Bengali highlights often missed on land-based tours. Visit Chandannagar, a city run by the French until 1950 and the brass working village of Matiari. In Hooghly, discover West Bengal’s Muslim culture at the Imambaba mosque and in Kalna, see some of Bengal’s most beautiful terracotta temples.
Sundarbans National Park

5. Sundarbans National Park

The Sundarbans region is a vast wetland of estuarine forests, mangroves and rivers around the Ganges Delta, spanning West Bengal and Bangladesh. It’s home to a rich array of wildlife and birds, including crocodiles, dolphins, turtles, wild pigs, monkeys and spotted deer. The latter is prey for around 100 Bengal tigers, which also hold a fearsome reputation as man-killers. River cruises ensure you spot wildlife safely.
Tiger Hill

6. Tiger Hill

If you can cope with an early start – and we’re talking 4am-ish early – travel from Darjeeling to Tiger Hill in the Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary for superb sunrise views of the Himalaya range. It’s a 45 minute drive and pretty chilly up there, but on clear mornings you can see a magical display of colours as the sun hits the flanks of Kanchenjunga and the surrounding peaks.

Our top West Bengal Holiday

Bengal and Sikkim tour in India

Bengal and Sikkim tour in India

A Cultural Holiday to Bengal and Sikkim including Darjeeling

From £1485 to £1799 10 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about West Bengal or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Martin Jernberg] [Is/Isn't: Mark Behrens] [Darjeeling: Mopop] [DHR: Srikumar74] [Kolkata: shantanukashyap] [River Hooghly: Kinjal bose 78] [Sundarbans National Park: Soumyajit Nandy] [Tiger Hill: AwanGaz]