A trip to India is similar to a journey back in time. With thousands of years of history behind it, India is nothing short of stunning with its ancient temples, bustling markets, and cities steeped in tradition and history. India’s seaports are especially noteworthy because they’ve served as trade hubs for centuries. A visit to a port city offers a unique glimpse of how other cultures are integrated into these vibrant communities. If you’re heading to India, consider adding the beautiful port cities ahead to your itinerary.
Located in the southern state of Kerala, Kollam is a picturesque port city with trade significance dating back several centuries. Portuguese, Dutch, and British influences enrich this ancient seaport and even earlier trade remnants from China can be found. Marco Polo visited when Kollam was a prominent port along the Spice Route, and it’s long been considered the Cashew Capital of the World (though they’ve recently surrendered the title to Vietnam).
No trip to Kollam is complete without a visit to its tranquil backwaters. Munroe Island is not to be missed, a cluster of eight small islands with morning and afternoon cruises that cost around 600 rupees. On land, take in the numerous temples around the city, like Oachira Parabrahma, an ancient pilgrim center dedicated to Lord Shiva. Pack a bite and head to Ashramam Picnic Village, followed by a visit to the Thangassery Lighthouse located on the remains of St. Thomas Fort along the Arabian Sea shoreline.
This capital of West Bengal hosts India’s oldest still-operating seaport. The British East India Company created a base in Kolkata in 1690 and in the late 18th century Chinese immigrants arrived to live and work, many of them at the ports. The city is widely considered the cultural capital of India and boasts an expansive ecosystem of art, architecture, and cuisine.
Being the third-largest city in India, a visit to Kolkata can go several different ways depending on your travel goals. To get a taste for the city’s heritage, see Chinatown. It’s the only one in all of India and is an area less-commonly visited in contrast to its British Raj sites. Be sure to hit up the Malik Ghat Flower market as well as the New Market—the city’s oldest market that offers a smattering of just about everything. Kolkata isn’t short on impressive buildings, either—don’t miss Dakshineswar Kali Temple or Belur Math.
This ancient port town has Roman and Greek trade connections that date back to 100 BC. It was a French colony up until 1954, which is why you’ll find myriad traces of its colonial history throughout the town. You can get to Pondicherry directly by train from Mumbai or fly into Chennai, the closest airport.
While in this quaint town, be sure to explore the French Quarter on foot. On the other side of the canal, you’ll find the Tamil Quarter, which is punctuated by its Christian, Hindu, and Muslim architecture and places of worship. Pondicherry is best explored by bike, especially if you’re headed to the sea (Paradise Beach is a popular choice). Shopping and eating are two encouraged activities here. Famous destinations also include Notre Dame des Anges and The Sri Aurobindo Ashram, which offers an open evening meditation.
Known as the "Gateway to South India," Chennai is chock-full of delicious eateries and stunning temples (there are approximately 600 of them). The city was originally a group of villages, but the British developed it into a trading port in the mid-17th century. It's a solid destination for the traveler who seeks out heritage but is less quiet than a traditional seaside village.
Architecture worth seeing includes the Parthasarathy Temple, which dates back to the 8th century. The Shore Temple is another excellent site to behold thanks to its positioning overlooking the Bay of Bengal and the granite blocks it was built with, which are from the 8th century. The Mylapore neighborhood is regarded as the soul of the city and has Chennai's most impressive temple: 17th-century Kapaleeshwarar. If you're in the mood to peruse, visit Koyambedu Wholesale Market Complex and pick up some fresh vegetables or flowers.
Kochi is known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea and the gateway to Kerala thanks to its abundant amalgamation of cultures. It's a vibrant blend of Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, Danish, Arab, and British cultures and, as such, offers visitors a vast amount to see and experience.
While there, wander the spice markets for a taste of the city's past. Enjoy local cuisine (seafood and coconut-flavored foods should be at the top of the list). Stroll along Princess Street to see the bookstores, tea shops, and art galleries that dot this old pathway. And if you're in the mood for historic, head to Saint Francis Church, which is considered the oldest European church in India.
This port city in southern India is more commonly referred to as Vizag. It’s easily reachable through India’s major cities and offers a good mix of historic sites and outdoor destinations, including beaches, caves, and valleys.
Visitors can immerse themselves in nature at Ramakrishna Beach or the Araku Valley. There you’ll find waterfalls, streams, and coffee plantations that add to the uniqueness of this lesser-known region. Pop over to the Borra Caves, which have been estimated to be several million years old. The Simhachalam Temple is also worth a visit, which dates back as far as 1098 AD.
The Andaman Islands are a Union Territory of India located off the east coast of India. They can be reached with direct flights from Chennai or Kolkata, and Port Blair is their capital and entry point. The most popular tourist attraction is the Cellular Jail, which tells the story of India’s fight for independence. There are light and sound shows that shouldn’t be missed on your visit to the prison.
Other activities include a trip to the Zonal Anthropological Museum, a ferry ride over to Ross Island, a day thumbing through The Aberdeen Bazaar, and eating all of the fresh seafood Port Blair has to offer.
Kottayam is a port city located in the state of Kerala situated near the Western Ghats and backwaters. It’s renowned for its spice and rubber trade and is also praised for its literary community (there are several colleges and schools here).
Your time here is best spent visiting natural sites. Pack a picnic to take to Vagamon falls or take in Vembanad lake, where the famous Kerala Snake Boat Races are held. For a slice of heritage, visit St. Mary’s Syrian Knanaya Church or the Mahadeva Temple.
This western coastal fishing town is ideal for the traveler looking to relish in nature. The Naida Caves are an unusual underground attraction, and nearby Jallandhar Beach is perfect for an afternoon wind down.
The Diu Fortress and Diu Museum both offer a lens into the city’s past (Portugal governed until 1961), and the 15th-century Cathedral of St. Mary the Great is worthy of your Instagram grid. Also, the Gir National Park is a two-hour drive from Diu; it’s the only natural habitat of Asiatic Lions and offers exciting safari tours.