8 Cultural Things to Do in Pondicherry

Sea-side Pondicherry, with its pervasive French heritage, is a place that's best leisurely experienced. Stroll through the streets of the French Quarter and along the Promenade, sit in the cafes, browse through the boutiques, and soak up the ambiance. While taking in the sights, don't overlook these cultural things to do in Pondicherry. There are many thriving local industries to discover!

  • 01 of 08

    Explore by Bicycle

    Pondicherry French Quarter
    Pondicherry French Quarter. Akki Photography/Getty Images

    The best way to get acquainted with Pondicherry is to get up early and take The Wake Up Pondy bicycle tour, offered by Sita Cultural Center in partnership with My Vintage Bicyclette (a company that transforms old bicycles into groovy, retro-style masterpieces). One of the top bicycle tours in India, it covers various areas including the colorful houses of the Muslim quarter, Goubert Market, Kuruchikuppam (fishermen's village), and Beach Road. You'll get to hear insightful stories about the town that you won't find in travel guides!

    The tour is quite relaxed, with plenty of stops on the way. It departs from the Sita office at 6.45 a.m. and concludes at 9 a.m. with breakfast. Book online with Viator.

  • 02 of 08

    Dine at a French Restaurant

    Restaurant in Pondicherry.
    Niels van Gijn/Getty Images.

    Pondicherry has some great gourmet restaurants that are housed in heritage properties. They're really atmospheric. One of the best is Carte Blanche at Hotel de L’Orient on Rue Romain Rolland. It specializes in Creole cuisine, with recipes passed on by old Pondicherrian families, and has a lovely courtyard garden setting in an 18th century mansion. Villa Shanti on Rue Suffren is perhaps the most popular place to eat in Pondicherry. It's really pretty at night when its courtyard is lit up by candles. Both northern Indian and European fare is served. For delicious lobster, head to the restaurant at Le Dupleix hotel on Rue Dela Caserne. There's live music, such as jazz, some nights.

  • 03 of 08

    Take a Cooking Class

    Indian spices.
    twomeows/Getty Images

    If you're not content with just eating and want to learn how to make the dishes too, Sita Cultural Center holds both French and Indian cooking classes. Various options are available, including vegetarian. You'll be able to learn a fully French menu, from starters to dessert, with ingredients available in the Indian market. Alternatively, the Indian cooking classes encompass Tamil, Bengali and north Indian cuisine. These classes start with a market tour to enable participants to become familiar with the spices used.

    The French cooking classes are held on demand for more than two students, while the Indian cooking classes take place on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as well as on demand.

  • 04 of 08

    Learn How to Make a Kolam

    Making rangoli for Pongal.
    Lonely Planet/Getty Images

    Kolam making is another interesting activity offered at Sita Cultural Center. This eye-catching form of decoration is drawn on doorsteps and entrances to homes, and is particularly prevalent during festivals (such as Pongal) in south India. It looks amazing but a certain technique is required to do it. The classes run for 90 minutes, and take place daily at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Check Out Cluny Embroidery Center

    Demonstration of embroidery.
    Demonstration of embroidery. anand purohit/Getty Images

    The serene grounds and old-world mansion of the Cluny Embroidery Center are an attraction themselves. However, the delicate, high-quality embroidery done by the women at the Center is quite irresistible. This renowned institution is run by Roman Catholic nuns to provide employment and income for under-privileged women. Items available for purchase include cushion covers, bed linen, handkerchiefs, tablecloths, napkins, and tea towels.

    Cluny Embroidery Center is located on Rue Romain Rolland, opposite Hotel de L’Orient. It's open from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., daily except for Sundays and Mondays (closed). 

  • 06 of 08
    Handmade paper.
    Handmade paper. Jacqui Hurst/Getty Images.

    You'll get eco-friendly stationery with a difference, as well as gorgeous notebooks, wrapping paper, craft paper, gift bags, and even paper lanterns at Sri Aurobindo's Handmade Paper Factory. Silk screen printing adds to the intricacy. The prices are extremely reasonable too! This fascinating factory, situated on S.V. Patel Salai, was set up in 1959 as a unit of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. It's spread over several leafy acres, and it's possible to take a tour of it.

    The factory is open Monday to Saturday from 9.30 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.  The showroom is open from 9.00 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., Monday to Saturday. On Sunday, it's open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

  • 07 of 08
    French cheese.
    Franck Bichon/Getty Images.

    Like cheese? The French are famous for it and you can learn how it's made at La Ferme Cheese Factory in Auroville. This small and simple factory, headed by a Dutch gentleman, was set up in 1988 to produce cheese for the Auroville community. Now, the daily output has increased to about 100 kilograms of more than 10 types of cheese. Specialties include gorgonzola, parmesan and French-style goat cheese. The cheeses are preservative free and made in an eco-friendly manner. Tours of the factory and production process are offered during opening hours from 8 a.m. until 5.30 p.m. Unfortunately, it's not possible to buy cheese at the factory though. However, it is available from outlets in Auroville and Pondicherry (including most supermarkets). 

    Mango Hill resort also makes 11 types of their own cheese on the hotel premises.

  • 08 of 08

    Spend Some Time in Notre Dame des Anges Church

    Church of our lady of angels, Pondicherry.
    Dinodia Photo/Getty Images.

    Built in 1855 by the Holy Spirit Fathers from France, the Church of Our Lady of Angels is one of the oldest in Pondicherry. Its uncomplicated yet elegant architecture features two bell towers and dome, and superb detailing on the ceiling inside. Outside, people playing petanque (a form of boules) add to the French feel. The church is the only one in Pondicherry where Sunday Mass is conducted in French, English and Tamil. A choir often sings at the church as well. You'll find it situated on Rue Dumas, close to the Promenade and just behind the tourist office. If you're not attending a service, it's a peaceful place to spend some time in solitude.