The southern state of Kerala has a network of serene backwater canals that extend more than 550 miles (900 km) and offer a glimpse of an India that’s more relaxed than the India you’ll see in big cities. Here are some options for exploring them.
Things to do in Kochi
Welcome to Kochi
Built along Kerala's Malabar Coast, Kochi is one of India's most eclectic cities. Founded as a 14th-century spice-trading port, with strong connections to China, Europe, and the Middle East, Kochi was ruled by three successive foreign empires (Portuguese, Dutch, and British) during the colonial era. Modern Kochi has emerged an economic and commercial hub, and makes a popular starting point for exploring the waterways of Kerala, India's Venice of the East. Packed with colonial bungalows and diverse religious sites, the UNESCO-listed Fort Kochi district showcases the city's mix of influences. Visit Saint Francis Church, one of the oldest European churches in India, and the Gothic Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica. Tour the 700-year-old Paradeshi Jewish synagogue and Mattancherry Palace, a Portuguese colonial relic full of intricate, painted murals illustrating ancient Hindu mythology. Soak up some living culture with a demonstration of the cantilevered Chinese fishing nets that Kochi fishermen have used for centuries, and be sure to catch a Kathakali dance performance, a colorful 17th-century art form that originated in Kerala. A cooking class in a local home is a delightful way to immerse yourself in South Indian culture and cuisine. And don't overlook the mainland: Kerala Folklore Museum in Ernakulam is a wonderful place to learn about regional folk arts. Once you've explored Kochi, you can book a small-group cruise on a classic houseboat through Kerala's rural backwaters. Other options include hiking along Chalakudy River to Athirappilly Falls, or touring the tea plantations and Munnar Hill Station.
Top 10 attractions in Kochi
Fort Cochin’s Chinese Fishing Nets have been a beach installation for centuries, well before the coming of the Portuguese colonizers. It’s thought that the nets were introduced to this coastal area by the legendary Chinese explorer Zheng He, way back in the early 15th century. The nets are permanent horizontal structures, lowered and raised by a network of cantilevered ropes, bamboo poles, and balancing weights and pulleys. Teams of up to six fishermen operate the nets, but the catch is usually quite modest. For the best views, come at dusk with your camera to capture that quintessential shot of Kerala’s fishing nets and calm seas backlit by the setting sun. If you’re feeling hungry, you can buy freshly netted fish and crabs, and have them cooked up for your dinner at a roadside stall....
Mattancherry Palace was built as a gesture of goodwill by the Portuguese in 1555, and presented to the Raja of Kochi to ensure ongoing trading privileges. Later alterations were made by the Dutch in 1663, giving the building its alternative name, the Dutch Palace. A visit to the two-storied whitewashed palace takes you into the royal bedchamber with its traditional floor of burnished coconut shells that gleams like black marble. Try not to blush when you take in the bedroom’s unique mythological murals from the Ramayana, with their erotic portrayals of Hindu deities at play. Other don’t miss highlights of Mattancherry Palace include more lovely murals upstairs, the regal Coronation and Dining halls with their decorated ceilings, various portraits of rajas and Hindu deities, and the central courtyard with its private royal temple. The laneways surrounding the Dutch Palace wind south to Jew Town, lined with fascinating curio shops and spice stores....
St. Francis Church is the oldest church in India, built in 1516 by Portuguese settlers to replace an older wooden church constructed in 1503 on the same site. It was once the burial site of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, who died in Kochi, and though his gravestone is still in place here, his remains have since been moved to Lisbon....
One of the world’s oldest active synagogues, and the oldest in the Commonwealth, can be found in the center of the port’s spice district, Jew Town. The district is a particularly historic reminder of Fort Cochin’s multicultural heritage. The synagogue sits at the center of the district once inhabited by Fort Cochin’s prosperous spice trading community of Malabari Jews, who traveled here from Holland and Spain. Today, apart from the synagogue and faded street signs, reminders of the district’s once-thriving Jewish community are few. There were once seven synagogues in this quarter of Old Cochin, but Paradesi Synagogue (also called Pardesi) is the sole survivor. It sometimes also known as the Mattancherry Synagogue, as it shares a temple wall with the neighboring Mattancherry Palace. The word ‘paradesi’ is an Indian term for foreigner....
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica is notable for its Gothic architecture, with a whitewashed façade and beautiful interiors, with intricate pastel frescoes and paintings, and large stained glass windows. While it’s a popular attraction, it’s also a working church and the Sunday mass services here provide a great insight into local Catholic culture....
The Dutch Cemetery in Kochi is believed to be the oldest in the country, dating back to the beginning of the 18th century. It houses the tombs of Dutch soldiers and traders who left their homeland in order to expand their colonial empires – and as a result changed the entire course of history in India. The cemetery is distinctly Dutch in its architecture and is surrounded by concrete walls. The year 1724 is engraved on a pillar towering over the cemetery’s entrance. Many of the tombs are made of granite and the epitaphs on each show the authentic records of those of both Dutch and British origin etched out in old Dutch script. According to T W Venn, who published a book on the subject, the last person laid to rest in the Dutch Cemetery in Kochi was Captain Joseph Ethelbert Winckler in 1913....
Surrounded by the backwaters of the Arabian Sea, Mattancherry is an old port area of Kochi, not far from Ernakulam Town. The area was once the main trade port for spices such as pepper and turmeric, as well as tea. It was a time when many different nationalities and religious communities were welcomed to Mattancherry to trade and make it their home. Slowly the traders moved on to Ernakulam, but Mattancherry remains a bustling and cosmopolitan community that welcomes people from all walks of life. Churches, mosques, and a synagogue happily coexist in Mattancherry, alongside buildings of the colonial era – another nod to the area’s fascinating past. Mattancherry Palace is one of the top attractions here. It was presented by the Portuguese as a gift to the Raja of Kochi in the mid-1500s as a gesture of goodwill (or more likely as a bribe to secure trading privileges). The Dutch then renovated it in the 1600s, hence its alternative name – the Dutch Palace....
The Indo-Portuguese Museum was set up by the late Bishop of Kochi to preserve and showcase the significant influence of the Portuguese Catholic community in Fort Kochi and its surrounding areas. It depicts the art, architecture, and culture of this community and is a popular attraction for visitors to Kochi. The museum is divided into five main sections, each relating to the particular type of artefacts on display. These sections are: Altar, Treasure, Procession, Civil Life and Cathedral. It’s home to some well-known collections of artistic and architectural merit, all of which bear the mark of Portuguese influence. Some of the most famous and interesting pieces include part of a teak-wood church altar from the 16th century, a 19th-century chasuble, a processional cross made from silver and wood, and the notable Coat of Arms of the Franciscans....
The Kerala Folklore Museum opened to the public in 2009 as a space to showcase the cultural and artistic heritage of the southern Indian state. The 4,000-item collection spans three floors, each exhibiting a different architectural style, Malabar, Kochi and Travancore. The various items on display throughout center on art and dance and include masks, costumes, musical instruments, jewelry, sculptures, Stone Age artifacts and ancient astrological manuscripts. In the evenings, a theater on the top floor hosts various cultural performances ranging from traditional dance to Kerala-style martial arts....
The historic district of Fort Cochin (also known as Fort Kochi) is a relaxing blend of Portuguese architecture, rural English ambiance and Dutch heritage in a tropical coastal location. Visitors come here for laidback harbor promenade strolls and island-hopping boat rides through the Kochi Backwaters. Atmospheric laneways wind inland from the boat jetties to the town’s historic European buildings, parade ground and lively spice markets. Kochi’s mixed heritage is most evident in photogenic Fort Cochin, which traces its history back to 1341 when it was established as a port. The royal family moved here in 1405, and the spice trading Portuguese, Dutch and British arrived from the 1500s onward. A stroll around the town reveals the Portuguese wooden church of St Francis, old Dutch houses, English colonial shop fronts, the 16th-century synagogue, several mosques, and the Chinese-style fishing nets lining the harbor....
Top activities in Kochi
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Discover the top things to do in Kochi.
- Kochi Private Tour: Kerala Backwater Houseboat Day Cruise
- Cochin City or Backwater Shore Excursions from Cruise Terminal
- Private Day Trip to Munnar from Kochi (Cochin)
- Private Tuk Tuk Tours in Kochi with Hotel Pickup
- Cochin Shore Excursions from Pier
Discover the top things to do in Kochi.
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Things to do near Kochi
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