16 Top Attractions and Things to Do in Kerala

Man performing Kathakali dance, Kochi, Kerala
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The unique attractions and things to do in Kerala ensure that this tropical south Indian state is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. Its distinctive culture and extremely picturesque setting, which contrasts with the fast-paced modern world, make Kerala the perfect destination for relaxing and rejuvenating!

Visiting Kerala during the Onam Festival? Don't miss the top Onam attractions.

01 of 16

Cruise the Backwaters on a Houseboat

South India, Kerala, Backwaters, Kettuvalum (houseboat)
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A trip to Kerala wouldn't be complete without a trip along the Kerala backwaters on a houseboat. The lush green palm-fringed landscape, diverse wildlife, and houses and villages that line the backwaters make a journey along these waterways seem like a journey through another world. It's one of the most tranquil things you can do. The Kerala backwaters are a memorable backdrop for a romantic Kerala getaway. There are hotels and homestays in the area as well.

02 of 16

Experience Traditional Village Life

Village along the Kerala backwaters.
Mark Daffey/Getty Images
Kavanattinkara, Kumarakom, Kerala 686563, India
+91 97442 68480

Kerala's famous backwaters are dotted with small villages where it feels like time has stood still. Visiting them is a very different way of experiencing the backwaters and the life that exists along them. You can even have a meal with a local family there and hear their stories. Kumbalanghi Village Tours offers group tours to Kumbalanghi, surrounded by paddy fields and backwaters on the outskirts of Kochi. It's India's first model fisheries and tourism village, with most inhabitants involved in agriculture and fishing. Or try this Silent Backwater Village Experience from Kochi.

03 of 16

Get an Ayurvedic Treatment

Young woman getting a Kizhi treatment
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Ayurvedic is the medical side of yoga. It's India's traditional natural healing system, which has been practiced for over 5,000 years. Most places that offer Ayurvedic treatment are located in Kerala, due to the climate and abundant supply of medicinal plants and herbs there. Whether it's a simple massage that you're after or a treatment for a medical problem, Kerala is the place to get it.

04 of 16

Get a Cooking Lesson

Kerala cuisine, served on a banana leaf.
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Kerala is renowned for its cuisine, featuring delicious seafood and coconut flavors. If you're not content to simply feast on it and would also like to learn how to cook Kerala style, you'll be pleased to know that there's a wide range of options available. They range from proper residential culinary holidays to casual cooking lessons, such as this cooking with a local family experience.

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05 of 16

Catch a Kathakali Performance

Kathakali performer
Kimberley Coole/Getty Images.
Sangamam Manikath Road, Ravipuram, Perumanoor, Ernakulam, Kerala 682016, India
+91 484 235 6366

Kathakali is a very unusual and ancient form of dance-drama that's traditional to Kerala. You won't get to see performers dressed up like this every day, that's for sure! The look, with its red bloodshot eyes, borders on grotesque. The movements of the dance are subtle, yet they tell a meaningful mythological story. Performers are required to undergo intense training, including hours of eye exercises, when learning the art of Kathakali. Try the Cochin Cultural Center or the Kerala Kathakali Center to see a performance. Classes are also offered in Kathakali and other art forms.

06 of 16

Catch a Theyyam Performance

Theyyam performer
Courtesy of Kerala Tourism
Kannur, Kerala, India

The small town of Kannur, in northern Kerala, is known for its secluded beaches, mysterious masked spirit-possession theyyam rituals, and handloom weaving. The theyyam season runs from October until May and Kerala Tourism has a comprehensive calendar of theyyam events.

07 of 16

Watch Kerala's Ancient Martial Arts

Kerala martial arts display
Courtesy of Kerala Tourism
Thekkady - Kannaki Temple Rd, Thekkady, Kumily, Tamil Nadu 685509, India
+91 99617 40868

Kalaripayattu is an ancient martial art from practiced in Kerala. It features strikes, kicks, grappling, preset forms, weaponry and healing methods. One place to see it is being performed at the Kadathanadan Kalari Center in Thekkady. 

Travspire offers a group tour from Kochi.

08 of 16

Watch a Snake Boat Race

Snake boat race in Kerala
Jagdish Agarwal/Getty Images

For a few months every year during the monsoon season, Kerala comes alive with colorful snake boat races. Typical snake boats are 100 to 120 feet long and hold around 100 rowers. Each of the villages in the region has its own snake boat, which they take great pride in. Every year the villagers get together and race the boats along the lakes and rivers.

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09 of 16

Taste Tea

Tea plucking in Kerala.
Alvaro Leiva/Getty Images
Chengalam, Chengalam South, Kerala 686585, India
+91 95626 91066

Tea production is big business in Kerala. The state has two of the top five places to visit tea plantations in India -- Munnar and Wayanad. You can stay in atmospheric accommodations on a tea plantation, see how tea is processed, and of course sample it. If you're feeling energetic, the hills surrounding both these places have great trekking opportunities as well.

10 of 16

Try Some Toddy

Toddy tapping in Kerala
Sharell Cook

Toddy, Kerala's indigenous alcoholic drink, is made from the sap of palm trees. The sap is collected by a tapper, who climbs the tree and drains it into a container. It's sweet when extracted but on fermentation will turn sour and give a kick. Toddy (also called kallu) is served in small thatched shops, usually with wooden benches, all over Kerala. Tasty Kerala cuisine is dished up with the toddy. However, these toddy shops are traditionally the domain of men.

11 of 16

Explore Historic Fort Kochi

Chinese fishing nets in Kochi
Chris Caldicott/Getty Images
Fort Kochi, Kochi, Kerala, India

Known as the "Gateway to Kerala", Kochi is an enchanting city that's had an eclectic influence. Arabs, British, Dutch, Chinese, and Portuguese have all left their mark there. The architecture and historical sites in Fort Kochi draw most of the visitors to the area. Fort Kochi is an excellent place to explore on foot or bicycle. Try this 3-Hour Private Fort Kochi and Mattancherry Walking Tour.

You'll find hotels and homestays for all budgets in Kochi.

12 of 16

Discover the Ancient Port City of Muziris

Cheraman Juma Masjid mosque in Kodungallur, Kerala
Dinodia Photo/Getty Images
SH51, Kottapuram, Kodungallur, Kerala 680664, India

Multi-cultural Muziris, located about an hour north of Kochi, used to be the most important trading port in Kerala. Business thrived there for more than 1,000 years before flood caused severe damage and Kochi took its place. The Muzuris area covers Kodungallur and Paravoor, and it's full of old churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. Notably, the first mosque in India (Cheraman Juma Masjid) was built there. This makes it a fascinating place to visit.

Tours available include a private full-day Muziris Heritage Tour. Cochin Magic also runs a full day Muzuris Heritage Tour.

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13 of 16

Attend a Temple Festival

Thrissur Pooram elephant festival.
Courtesy of Kerala Tourism

Kerala temple festivals are elaborate and exotic, with the highlight being the elephants. The festivals feature large processions of bejeweled elephants, drummers and other musicians, colorful floats carrying gods and goddesses, and fireworks.

14 of 16

Chill at the Beach

Varkala Beach, in Kerala.
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Varkala Beach, Kerala

The attractive thing about the beaches of Kerala is that they're not as crowded or as developed as the beaches or more touristy areas in India, particularly Goa. Varkala beach has a spectacular cliff setting. If you're looking for action, head to Kovalam beach near Trivandrum.

15 of 16

Spot Wildlife and Enjoy Nature

Periyar National Park, Kerala
Christer Fredriksson/Getty Images
Thekkady, Kumily, Kerala 685509, India
+91 4869 224 571

Kerala is home to Periyar National Park, one of the most popular national parks in southern India. Unlike many national parks in India, it stays open during the monsoon season and offers a wide range of eco-tourism activities so you can really explore nature.

16 of 16

Admire Mural Paintings

India, Kerala, Krishnapuram Palace
Aldo Pavan/Getty Images
Malappuram, Kerala 676121, India
+91 483 284 0439

The art of colorful mural paintings, done on the walls of temples, churches and palaces in Kerala, dates back to the 9th century. Its roots lie in the ancient Dravidian art of Kalamezhuthu.

Kerala has the second largest collection of mural sites in India, with the largest being in Rajasthan. The oldest murals in Kerala were discovered in the rock-cut cave temple of Thirunandikkara (now in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu). Only sketchy outlines remain though. The largest mural panel in Kerala is at Krishnapuram Palace near Kayamkulam in Alleppey district. Extensive murals depicting scenes from the Hindu epics are preserved at Mattancherry Palace in Kochi. The murals of the Shiva Temple in Ettumanoor provide insight into the earliest forms of Dravidian mural art. Other famous mural paintings can be found at the Padmanabha temple in Trivandrum and Vadakkumnatha temple in Thrissur.

When's the Best Time to Visit Kerala?

Not sure when to visit Kerala? Kerala has something to offer all year round. The weather does need to be taken into account though, as the climate is a hot tropical one that receives rainfall from two monsoons.

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The Ultimate Top 16 Things to Do in Kerala