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Getting around Kolkata (Calcutta)

Public transport

Distances within Kolkata are generally too big to be able to cope here without transport, although many of the major sights are central and within walking distance.

Buses are chaotic and can get terribly crowded. Expect to see passengers hanging out of open doorways. A better choice are the slow, trundling trams which circle the city and include stops at Park Circus, Sealdah Railway Station and Howrah.

The Metro underground system (tel: +91 33 2226 4817; www.mtp.indianrailways.gov.in) has thankfully taken something of the congestion from the streets. The one track runs the length of the city, from Dum Dum train station (north) to Tollygunge (south) with stops including Kalighat, Park Street, Esplanade and Maidan. It is well run although often crowded (mainly during morning and evening rush hours), with segregated seats for men and women. New tracks are in the pipeline.

There are still some hand-pulled rickshaws mainly in market areas and some around Sudder Street, although there is talk of eventually banning them altogether. Cycle-rickshaws operate in a few areas outside the city centre. Auto-rickshaws (motorised three-wheelers) operate short (often fixed) journeys in city areas (not in the centre) and are cheaper than taxis; agree the fare before you zoom away and seek advice from locals as to what you should be paying before you get in.

Taxis

Taxis run 24 hours; Kolkata taxi drivers are among the easiest to deal with in India and will almost always put on the meter (if not, ask). The driver should produce a chart at the end of the trip to convert the showing on older meters to current charges - older meters are four times the amount; newer ones are twice. Simply flag a taxi on the street or ask for one at your hotel.

Driving

Driving in Kolkata is not recommended for visitors – if you need to get around by car, hire one with a driver or take a taxi. Traffic is chaotic, and if you don't know your way around, you have little chance of reaching your destination.

Car hire

Hiring a car with driver can easily be arranged through hotels or travel agents; it is insane to attempt to drive yourself unless you've got solid experience here. As the reliability of car hire companies tends to change in Kolkata, it's best to seek up-to-the-minute advice from your hotel, the tourist office, or a reputable travel agency.

Bicycle hire

Kolkata really isn't suitable for cycling newcomers as the traffic is far too dangerous.

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ITC Sonar

Spreading over 6.5 hectares (16 acres), this deluxe hotel has a gloriously tranquil ambience. Its top-class rooms surround a huge pool and are tastefully minimalist, with contemporary designs and fresh tones. Each room comes with Internet access, personalised vaults and 24-hour butler service. Guests can enjoy the health spa and beauty salon, with a variety of massage treatments, gym and collection of fine restaurants including delicious Dum Pukht.

Lytton Hotel

A comfortable, friendly, hotel in the heart of busy Sudder Street, the Lytton has pleasing rooms, all with air conditioning, fridge, Wi-Fi access, television and writing desk, making it a good value (for Kolkata) hotel for business travellers and tourists alike. It has a business centre, a good restaurant and a cosy bar – and it's just around the corner from the Indian Museum.

The Oberoi Grand

Set back from the chaos of Chowringee, this elegant Victorian structure has long been one of Kolkata's (and the subcontinent's) finest, and indeed most historic, hotels. Its courtyard is filled with columns and plants; the exquisitely restored hotel has beautifully decorated rooms (including sumptuous suites with grand four-poster beds and teak wood floors) in addition to a handful of superb restaurants, a tea lounge, spa, fitness centre and pool.

The Park

A great location in the heart of Park Street, this upmarket property is a member of the Design Hotels of the World. Standard doubles are very comfortable with soothing warm tones and there are also more opulent suites and larger 'Luxury rooms'. It's stylish, well run and home to the trendy Tantra nightclub as well as some commendable restaurants. Other treats include an inviting swimming pool, gym and spa (which offers traditional Ayurvedic treatments and heavenly body scrubs).

Hotel Lindsay

The Lindsay offers a degree of comfort that belies the price. A nice feature is the rooftop restaurant, which affords good views of the teeming city below. It also has Wi-Fi in the rooms, and all the usual 'mod cons' expected from a modern hotel.

Fairlawn Hotel

A living part of the city's history, this small-scale property harks back to the late 18th century and has retained a creaky charm, and the charming, eccentric octogenarian owner is proud to talk about the interesting photos lining the walls. Extensively renovated in 2010, the hotel is crammed with bric-a-brac, old wicker furniture and Raj-era memorabilia. Rooms aren't flash but are comfortable enough, with some bathrooms featuring great old free-standing bath tubs.