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Delhi vs Kolkata: a Complete City Comparison

By CarolUpdated Apr. 15, 2021

Even though Delhi and Kolkata are both in India, they are very different cities that offer different experiences. Delhi, the country's capital, is located in northern India while Kolkata, which is regarded as the country's cultural capital, is located on the far eastern side of India near the border with Bangladesh.

The two cities have different cultures, languages, foods, and history. However, they both offer an interesting experience for travelers. Here is a comparison to help you decide which one will be your next destination.

Delhi vs Kolkata

Delhi vs Kolkata: City Comparison Overview

  Delhi Kolkata
History Delhi was ruled by Muslim empires up until the 19th century and then was taken over by the British Kolkata was the British East India Company's major trading port starting in the late 17th century.
Things to do and see Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk Market, Qutub Minar, Humayun's Tomb, Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate, National Museum, National Gallery of Modern Art, Connaught Place, Khan Market, Lodi Gardens, The Ridge Victoria Memorial, St Paul Cathedral, Mullik Ghat Flower Market, Mother House, Hooghly River
Food Melting-pot of food from many different Indian cultures. A great place to try Modern Indian cuisine is at the Indian Accent Restaurant. Kolkata offers a multi-cultural food scene and predominantly serves Bengali food such as fish curries.
Streetlife Great markets to explore are the Connaught Place and Khan market. Exercise caution on the streets especially in Old Delhi. The New Market is a great market to explore. The streets are generally safe, but basic caution is still needed.
Accommodation Heritage Hotels & Deluxe hotel chains Hotels on Park Street
Convenience of Travel Traffic is bad, but using the metro may be a convenient and comfortable option. The best option is to rent a car with a chauffeur. Various modes of transportation including train, tram, taxis, rickshaw, and autos are available. The best option is to rent a car with a chauffeur.

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1.History: Muslim Dynasties vs British Trading Port

Both Delhi and Kolkata have a rich historical heritage dating back to the colonial period and before. This is evident in the two cities' old colonial buildings and ancient mosques and temples. Many colonial buildings are not only used for tourist attractions but are used by the people as markets, hotels, parliament buildings, or train stations.

Delhi's History: Muslim Empires & the British Raj

Delhi has a long history of colonization and invasion that can be traced back up to the 6th century BC. Before British colonization, the city was ruled by Muslim empires most notably the Delhi Sultanate (ruled from the 13th to 16th centuries) and the Mughal dynasty (ruled from 16th to 19th centuries). Many tourist sites in Delhi such as the Red Fort and Humayun's Tomb date back to this period.

In 1858, after a bloody fight called the Siege of Delhi, the British government took control of the city ending the rule of the Mughals. The colonial rule was referred to as the "British Raj", 'raj' literally meaning rule. While Old Delhi was founded during the Mughal Empire, New Delhi was formed by the British Government and was designed by British architects.

One of the best places to see Victorian-style colonial buildings of New Delhi is in "Victory Square", also known as Vijay Chowk. Other popular colonial-era tourist attractions include the India Gate, National Museum, and Connaught Place.

Kolkata's History: British Trading Port

Kolkata, which was known as Calcutta before 2001, has a history very different from Delhi. The British East India Company arrived in Kolkata in the late 17th century. From then on, they developed the city to be their key trading port. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, Kolkata was the center of the opium trade. It was an important city and was the capital of British-held territories in India until 1911.

However, attacks by the Japanese during World War II and the Bengal Famine in 1943 were both major setbacks for Kolkata as many people died of violence and starvation. Furthermore, in the following decades, the city became known as a place of civil unrest, causing an economic decline.

Once one of India's most thriving cities, by the 1980s it was often called the "dying city". In the 1990s, the economy started to gradually improve after changes to economic policy. Now Kolkata is no longer called the "dying city", instead it is called the "city of joy" reflecting its vibrant life and street markets.

2.Things to Do and See: the Red Fort vs the Victoria Memorial

Delhi and Kolkata offer different exciting experiences for travelers. Here are some examples of sites you can visit during your tour around the two cities:

Example of a Delhi Itinerary

Start your exploration from Old Delhi, the area that was once the walled Mughal capital. In Old Delhi, you can visit the Mughal Dynasty's Red Fort which was built by the same emperor who built the Taj Mahal. Then take a rickshaw ride through Chandni Chowk Market where you can taste authentic local food and take in the city's vibrant chaos. Lastly, stop at the Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque that was also built during the Mughal-era.

Afterward, make your way to New Delhi where you can see Qutub Minar, a tower from the Delhi Sultanate-era, and Humayun's Tomb, a garden tomb of a Mughal emperor. New Delhi is also where you can see colonial buildings like the India Gate, a monument to commemorating WW1 casualties, and the Presidential palace, also known as Rashtrapati Bhavan.

After exploring Old and New Delhi, travelers commonly visit the world-famous Taj Mahal in Agra, which is a 2-hour train ride away. >>>The 29 Ultimate Things to Do in Delhi 2024 (for Friends, Families & Couples)

Example of a Kolkata Itinerary

Your exploration of Kolkata should definitely begin with a hearty English breakfast at Flury's on Park Street. Then, visit the Victoria Memorial, which is a beautiful Colonial-era building named after Queen Victoria. Inside you'll find a museum displaying historical artifacts. Then visit the magnificent St Paul Cathedral built in the 19th century or head to the Mullik Ghat Flower Market, which is the largest flower market in Kolkata.

Other famous tourist sites include the Mother House, which is the former home of Mother Theresa, and  the Hooghly River, where you can take a leisurely riverboat ride while admiring the urban scenery of Kolkata.

3.Food: A melting pot of many kinds of cuisines

Delhi is well known for its succulent kebabs and tasty tandoori baked chicken. Some other famous Delhi dishes include chole bhature, aloo puri, rogan josh, dal, and gulab jamun.

As a megacity full of immigrants from different regions of India, Delhi is a melting pot of cultures and food. This is why the city serves all kinds of dishes from North Indian creamy masalas and South Indian vegetarian food to modern Indian cuisine, European food, and fusion food.

A must-try spot for modern Indian food is Indian Accent which is an award-winning and internationally recognized restaurant. Here you can taste a uniquely delicious blend of modern dishes with Indian traditional flavors.

Kolkata is also a city where many cultures converge. Like Delhi, there is also a great variety of cuisines that to be found here. However, in Kolkata the dominant type of food is Bengali.

Bengali cuisine commonly consists of mustard seeds, fish, vegetables, and rice. A classic example of this is macher jhol, a spicy fish curry seasoned with turmeric, garlic, onions, and ginger. Also make sure to try a Kolkata egg roll, one of the most famous street foods in the city.

4.Streetlife: Traditional Markets in Heritage Buildings

In terms of population, Kolkata is a much smaller city with 6 million people compared to Delhi which has 30 million people as of 2020. Nevertheless, Kolkata is also very densely populated.

There are many traditional markets that you can visit both in Delhi and Kolkata. In Delhi, Connaught Place and Khan Market are great places to start. Connaught Place is not only a colonial heritage building that was built in 1931, but it also functions as one of the largest commercial centers in the capital. Khan Market is strategically located close to the heart of the city, near the India Gate.

In Kolkata, you can visit New Market where you can buy anything from fruits and cakes to traditional saris and shoes. Interestingly, the New Market is not new at all but was built in 1874 by the British to cater to the needs of the British residents of Calcutta.

Whether you are in Kolkata or Delhi, you need to exercise basic caution when on the streets such as taking care of your valuables and avoiding traveling at night alone. Extra caution will be necessary when visiting Old Delhi. Women are not recommended to travel alone, especially at night.

5.Accommodation: Heritage vs Convenience

One of the unique features of Delhi is the city's beautiful heritage hotels such as The Claridges, Maidens Hotel, or The Imperial. These hotels offer beautiful colonial-style architecture with luxurious service.

As the capital city of India, Delhi also has an abundance of renowned international and Indian hotel chains such as Marriott, Hilton, Oberoi, ITC Hotels, and the Taj Group.

Kolkata's Park Street is one of the most popular and convenient places for travelers to stay as it is lined with restaurants, shops, and bars. Not only does it offer great shopping, but it is also conveniently located near many tourist sites such as the Victoria Memorial and St Paul Cathedral.

6.Convenience of travel

Both Delhi and Kolkata have international airports and are easily accessible from abroad. Public transport is also easily accessible in both cities. Delhi people are proud of their metro system which is cleaner and more comfortable than the normal train.

Kolkata too has plenty of transportation options available including railways, a metro, buses, taxis, and rickshaws. What sets Kolkata apart from other cities in India is its trams and traditional hand-pulled rickshaws.

The most convenient and safest option to get around both cities is to hire a chauffeur-driven car. Licensed drivers are familiar with Indian roads and traffic rules. This way, you will avoid the headache of figuring out directions and will have more time to enjoy the city.


You may enjoy Delhi more if:

  • You are interested in visiting historical sites dating back to the Islamic empires.
  • You want to try unique and modern Indian food.

You may enjoy Kolkata more if:

  • You are interested in seeing British heritage buildings.
  • You would like to taste Bengali food such as fish curries.
  • You want to experience riding a hand-pulled rickshaw.

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