A major port for many centuries, the Kerala city of Kochi has long played an important role in South Indian commerce, with myriad historic sites to match. Most of Kochi’s most interesting attractions are located in and around the historic Fort Cochin neighborhood, making it easy to cover a lot of ground quickly. If you only have a day in the city, here’s how to spend it.
Morning: Mattancherry Palace and the Paradesi Synagogue
Start your Kochi visit with a trip to Mattancherry Palace, a 16th-century structure with a deceptively plain facade and an incredible collection of art and royal artifacts, including numerous murals depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata epics. From here, it’s a short walk to the Paradesi Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth. Known as Jew Town, the area around the synagogue is home to a small population of Kerala Jews whose families have lived in the area for generations.
Afternoon: The Historic Churches of Fort Cochin
At lunchtime, make your way west to the Fort Cochin area, about a 15-minute walk from the synagogue, where there are lots of good dining options. After lunch, pay a visit to the St. Francis Church; built in 1516, it’s the oldest church in the country. Right by the church is the Dutch Cemetery, the final resting place of a number of Dutch settlers and purportedly the oldest graveyard in India. While in the area, don't miss Gothic Santa Cruz Basilica, with intricately frescoed interiors.
Night: Fishing Nets and Kathakali
Just before night begins to fall, make your way to the beach to see one of Kochi’s most famous attractions: the Chinese fishing nets, which are particularly picturesque against the setting sun. These gigantic nets, which are attached to large structures used to raise and lower them, get their name because they were allegedly introduced to Kerala by Chinese explorer Zheng He. As night falls, head out to see a performance of Kathakali dance, a type of classical dance featuring fully costumed (and made-up) performers recounting Hindu tales through complex moves and gestures, followed by dinner.