The city of Kochi, set on the southwest coast of India, is an enchanting town that's had an eclectic influence. Known as the "Gateway to Kerala," Kochi's culture and architecture showcase the international impact from when the British, Dutch, Chinese, and Portuguese made the city home. The architecture and historical sites in Fort Kochi are the biggest draws for most visitors.
For travelers that prefer to explore a city without needing to hop on a bus or take a taxi, Fort Kochi makes an ideal place as most places are reachable on foot or bicycle. The area is very accommodating for tourists, with cuisines of all types, tons of activities, and an array of accommodations across all budgets.
Toss a Chinese Fishing Net
The iconic Chinese Fishing Nets, undoubtedly Kochi's most recognizable sight, have been there since the 14th century and are remarkably still in use today. Take a turn at the net, as the local fisherman will show you how they're operated in return for a small fee.
For a meal of some of the freshest fish you've ever eaten, head to the waterfront where the nets line the short in the late afternoon. There you can buy fresh seafood from one of the fishmongers, get it cooked at a nearby shack, and enjoy eating it as the sun sets.
AddressMattancherry, Kochi, Kerala, India
Mattancherry is an atmospheric old neighborhood in Fort Kochi that's full of colonial buildings. The main attraction there is the Mattancherry Dutch Palace, built by the Portuguese and presented to the Raja of Kochi in 1555, then renovated by the Dutch in 1663. It lacks the grandeur that you'd expect of a palace, but the understated appearance is part of its charm. Inside is a small museum and some rare art inside, including paintings of previous kings and some beautiful murals from the Hindu epics.
AddressJew Town, Anavathil, Kappalandimukku, Mattancherry, Kochi, Kerala 682002, India
In the heart of Mattancherry, between Mattancherry Dutch Palace and the Pardesi Jewish Synagogue, is a quaint area known as Jew Town by the locals. It's the center of the spice trade in Kochi, and the air is filled with the heady waft of masala. Spend some time wandering through the streets and lanes, and exploring the antique stores. It's a fabulous neighborhood for photography.
These days, you won't find many Jewish people here: The local Jewish population has been outnumbered by an influx of Kashmiri shopkeepers who hawk their wares to tourists. However, the Synagogue remains in use. Its interior is resplendent with chandeliers, gold pulpit, and imported floor tiles.
People Watch on Princess Street
AddressPrincess St, Fort Kochi, Kochi, Kerala 682001, India
Fort Kochi's main tourist strip, Princess Street is one of the oldest streets in the city. This is the place to go for people watching, cafes, restaurants, bookstores, tea shops, art galleries, and souvenirs. You'll also find grocery stores there, so you can to restock on any essential items. It's a lively destination for an evening walk as street vendors and hawkers line the road.
This landmark church, located close to Princess Street, is believed to be the oldest European-built church in India. However, it's most famous for the fact that it was once the burial site of explorer Vasco de Gama, who died in Kochi in 1524 before his remains were taken back to Portugal. The church was originally built by the Portuguese in 1503 and was subsequently claimed by the Dutch and British, before passing into Indian hands.
To learn about Kerala's culture, it's worth making the journey to this privately owned museum, located on the outskirts of Ernakulam. Opened in 2009, the Museum's three floors are packed full of artifacts that showcase the state's heritage. Its architecture is magnificent, and take a special look at the entryway which is made from the remnants of a temple and wooden carvings. Kerala art and dance forms are a focus, with stage performances taking place at 6.30 p.m. daily.
Watch a Dance Performance
Kathakali is a very unusual and ancient form of dance-drama that's traditional to Kerala. The movements of the dance are subtle, yet they tell a meaningful mythological story, while the look of the performers, with red bloodshot eyes, borders on horrific. The performers are required to undergo intense training, including hours of eye exercises, when learning the art of Kathakali. Try the Cochin Cultural Center, Kerala Kathakali Center, or Greenix Village to catch a show.
Take a Cooking Lesson
Kerala is renowned for its cuisine, featuring delicious seafood and coconut flavors. The hosts at many of Kochi's popular homestays will be more than happy to give you a cooking lesson. If you're serious about learning cooking, take a look at Nimmy Paul's cooking school. She gives a variety of traditional Kerala Syrian Christian cooking classes in her home. Maria's south Indian cooking classes are also recommended.
Enjoy a Ayurveda Spa Treatment
Kerala is also known for its natural Ayurvedic medicine and there are a number of options for getting an Ayurvedic treatment in Kochi. The Fort Ayurveda spa, at the Fort House hotel in Fort Kochi, receives great reviews and offers reasonably priced traditional Ayurvedic therapies, as does Ayurville. Check out Agastya Ayurveda Massage and Wellness Center on Princess Street, or on Vypeen Island, AyurDara specializes in longer-term Ayurvedic treatments (one to three weeks) and provides accommodations.
Relax at the Beach on Vypeen Island
AddressCherai Beach, Vypin, Kerala
If you feel like going for a boat ride, take the ferry from Fort Kochi out to Vypeen Island, just off the coast. There are accommodations, restaurants, and shops, but the main attraction there is Cherai beach, on the northern tip. The island is quiet, non-touristy place to escape the crowds.
If you'd prefer to go on a tour rather than travel by yourself, Cochin Magic offers groups excursions, including a houseboat cruise.