I traveled to Kochi twice, the first time I traveled with my parents and the second time I traveled solo in January this year. I had very pleasant memories from both trips. During my second trip, I visited offbeat places and did fun things in Kochi. I think these offbeat places should be the places to visit in Kochi for any first-time travelers. Kochi is the perfect place to start the Kerala trip, infect it’s the best place to start the India trip for a first-time traveler to India.
Kochi has a traditional yet modern feel to it. It is not like Goa yet Kochi has an openness for all type of travelers. There are some interesting places to visit in Fort Kochi area. I personally like the laidback feel of Fort Kochi instead of the busy city life of Ernakulum.
Places to Visit in Fort Kochi
Mattancherry Palace or Dutch Palace
This Dutch palace due to its location is also known as Mattancherry Palace. The palace was built by Dutch and presented to the queen of Kochi as a gift.
It is not a grand palace but there are some interesting things to see here. The best is the beautiful murals based on Hindu mythological character on the first floor of the palace. These warm color murals are the main attraction of the Dutch palace and if you like to understand more about the stories & design of them then hire a guide.
There are portraits of rulers of Kochi are other interesting things on display.
The palace looks a bit depleted from outside.
There is a temple of the ancestral deity of Kochi’s royal family in the compound of Dutch palace.
Also read about the Temple town of Guruvayur
St. Francis Church
This church is one of the first churches made by Portuguese in India. It was built in 1503 and housed the body of Vasco De Gama for 14 years before it was shifted to Lisbon.
The design of the church is very simple from outside through alter inside the church is better designed. There is nothing great about the design of the church except for its historical importance in the history of India and Portuguese rule & trade in India.
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica Fort Kochi
It is a beautifully designed basilica. The church was initially made between 1505 to 1509 and got the status of the basilica from Pope in 1558.
The basilica was converted as an arms storage house by Dutch when they defeated the Portuguese. The basilica was destroyed by British rulers when they defeated the Dutch in 1795.
In 1886 a missionary and Bishop of Cochin has again started the construction of the church, which I visited. In 1984 Pope again gave it the status of basilica.
The new building is very well maintained from inside and outside. The alter and inside of the basilica is very brightly designed with colorful motifs.
Bishop’s House and Museum
The facade of the Bishop’s House is inspired by Gothic design and have large arches. There is a circular garden path winding up to the main entrance. The present-day Bishop resides here and that’s why residence is closed for public.
The main attraction of the Bishop house is an Indo-Portuguese Museum in the compound adjacent to the house. The museum has precious artifacts collected from various churches under the Cochin diocese. An interesting place to visit.
Jewish Synagogue or Paradesi Synagogue
The Jewish Synagogue is in the old town of Fort Kochi. The clean cobbled road leads to the synagogue. Most of the Jews left for Isreal and now there are only 9 Jews left in the town. The shops in this lane were earlier operated by Jews are not owned my Kashmiri traders.
These shops are brightly designed and selling fashion & funky souvenir items.
The Jewish Synagogue is at the end of the street. They don’t allow camera and phones inside.
The main hall has blue willow-patterned Chinese floor tiles and has dozens of glass chandeliers. There are several crowns and other precious items on display in this hall.
At the gate, they have a small counter, where they sell some literature and a guidebook about Jews of Kochi.
It remains open from 10:00 AM to 12:30 PM and again opens from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.
Synagogue remains closed on Friday, Saturday and Jewish holidays.
There is a nominal entry ticket of 5 INR.
This is the best beach in Kochi. Cherai beach is on Vypin or Vypeen island and can be reached by ferry from Fort Cochin or Ernakulam. The beach is clean and water is good for swimming.
The famous Chinese Fishing Nets of Fort Kochi can be seen from the Cherai beach.
There are some resorts and hotel on the beach. Cherai is the best place in Kochi if you are looking for some beach time.
Shacks on the beach offer fresh seafood. If you are lucky then you can also spot Dolphins in the sea from the beach.
Fun Things to do in Fort Kochi
Operate Chinese fishing nets
Chinese fishing nets are a must visit place in Kochi as per every tourist guidebook and present on postcards of Kochi. So, why not join the group of fisherman and understand how they operate these.
Local people call these fishing nets as “Cheenvala” as they believe that a Chinese traveler brought these to India. One of the best places to see these Chinese fishing nets is Vasco De Gama Square. Here you will see 6-7 nets in operation.
The Chinese fishing nets are fixed on the seashores and work on cantilever mechanism. Usually, 5 to 6 people operate a net, one person from the group walk on the central bamboo to lower the nets in the water. The net is kept under water for sometime and then the whole group pulls up the net with many ropes tied to it.
The fisherman follows the routine of lowering and pulling the nets out throughout the day. They allow visitors to become the part of the group while they operate the nets. You may catch a few small fishes by these nets but it is a fun thing to do in Fort Kochi.
Don’t forget to pay a small amount of money a gesture of gratitude after you participate in this.
Visit Spice market of Kochi
Kerala is the spice bowl of India and the quality of spices grown here is the best.
Kochi is the main trading center for spices from ancient times. The spice godowns in Kochi are huge and are the best place to see or buy spices in India. Here you will get Pepper, which is also known as the ‘King of Spices’, Cardamom, Clove, Cinnamon, Ginger, Turmeric, Tamarind, and Nutmeg.
Visit the spice market or visit a wholesaler’s godown. The people dealing in spices are friendly and you can easily get a lot of information about spices grown in Kerala. Here you smell and taste the different spices grown in Kerala. These are the best places to buy good quality of spices.
Walking tour of the Old city of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry
Fort Kochi’s streets are clean and well organized. There is a colonial feel in this area.
The Mattancherry, this name came from the word “Mutton” (Lamb meat) and “Cheri” (Street). It is believed there were mutton shops her but later on, these meat shops closed but the area is still known by that name.
These are the oldest part of Kochi and walking here is like going back in time.
There are some interesting houses and restaurants in the area, the building looks Exotic from outside. There is no mad rush and traffic here so walk around and soak up the heritage of Kochi.
Rent a Cycle and Explore Fort Kochi
This is the best way to explore Fort Kochi and its surrounding areas if you are not running short of time. You can easily rent a bicycle from your hotel or hostel if they don’t have one then they will guide you to a place. Cycle around and see the beautiful places in Fort Kochi.
You can also hop on a ferry with your bicycle from Fort Kochi and visit nearby islands like Bolgatty Island, Vypin Island, Willingdon Island and Mulavukad Island. Cherai beach on Vypin Island is one of the longest and best beaches in Kochi.
Stay at a Homestay on Kochi Backwaters
Kerala was the first state in India, which officially started the concept of homestay accommodation for the tourists.
A homestay in Kochi is one of the best places to live with the locals and experience the culture. Find a homestay by the backwater of Kochi and stay there for a couple of days at least. Most of the homestays have big open space and some have even installed small fishing nets for fun.
Relax in the quiet surroundings of a homestay and enjoy the home-cooked Kerala style fresh food.
Kerala Tourism has classified homestays in different categories (Diamond, Gold, and Silver) based on the tariff and facilities.
Stay in a Dutch Palace Hotel
Bolgatty Palace was a Dutch Palace and residence of Dutch governor before the independence of India. It is now converted into a luxury heritage hotel by Kerala Tourism.
The palace is situated on the backwaters across Ernakulam city. The palace hotel is surrounded by beautiful gardens and the best place to enjoy the holiday.
If you don’t want to do anything then enjoy the swim in the pool or sit on the bench next to backwater and watch the boats sailing in the water.
Read my detailed review of Bolgatty Dutch Palace
Eat Fresh Catch
If you like fresh fish then eat in a stall near Vasco De Gama Church and square. Some of the stalls get fresh catch from the sea from time to time or maybe you can catch your own fish in Chinese fishing nets.
Select a fish from fresh catch or get your own fish. These stalls will clean and prepare the fish in front of you and enjoy it with the cool sea breeze.
Places to visit in Kochi at night and evening
Watch Sunset at Chinese Fishing Nets
If Chinese fishing nets are fun to operate during the day then they look spectacular at the sunset. There is no designated area for watching a sunset. Go there half an before sunset and find a good place to enjoy the sunset.
Capture the beauty of sun setting down in seawater behind the Chinese nets. This is one of the most sought-after places to watch the sunset in Kochi and also a most Instagramable place of Kochi.
Watch Kathakali or Kalaripayattu Performance in Fort Kochi
A Kathakali Dance theater should be on the top of the list of places to visit in Kochi at night. The Kerala Kathakali Centre and Kairali Kathakali center are two most popular places in Fort Cochin to watch a Kathakali or Kalaripayattu performance.
When going for Kathakali dance performance, visit 2 hours before the performance and see how they apply the elaborate makeup. They do the makeup on stage so that viewers know the hard work and preparation goes before a performance. It is fun watching the elaborate process of applying makeup.
Kathakali is a music and dance program in which artist explain the story with “Mudras”. An artist explains the different mudras used in the dance performance before the start of the show. I can watch the Kathakali performance any day, it’s sheer delight for eyes and senses.
Kalaripayattu is a martial art form, in which artist show fighting skill on the stage with local weapons like sword or bamboo stick.
Take an Evening Cruise in Backwaters
A cruise in the boat at the time of sunset is a fun thing to do in Kochi at night. These cruises are done on houseboat style boats and start from Kochi Harbour.
The cruise goes non stop in backwaters with music and they serve snacks on the boat.
During this two-hour evening boat cruise, you can see the spectacular view of Marine Drive, Chinese Fishing Nets, Bolgatty Island, Willington Island and Kochi Harbour.
This evening cruise is the best place to enjoy the sunset while boat gliding through the backwater and Arabian sea.
Visit Fish Market to see the fresh Catch
In case you want to go local and do something totally offbeat, which most tourists don’t do then go to Fish market near Chinese Fishing nets.
The fisherman catches the fishes all day in the Arabian sea near Kochi. They return to shore with a fresh catch around evening.
Here you can see different varieties of fishes and also observe how they haggle with each other while selling the catch. There is nothing fancy about this experience but it can be the most fun thing to do at night and evening. Also, it is the best place to observe local interaction.
If you are staying in a homestay, then maybe you can buy a fish of your choice and ask them to cook for you.
Eat a meal on Banana Leaf
These days most restaurants serve food on plates in Kochi but there are some nice places which serve food on a banana leaf.
Visit a restaurant, which serves traditional Kerala style food on a banana leaf. Eating from the banana leaf is a different experience. According to ancient texts, food tastes better when served hot on a leaf. Most of these foods are vegetarian and I can say a small version of Onam Sadhya meal.
Visit Ernakulam at Night for food
I am not a big fan of Ernakulum and I always prefer Fort Cochin to it. Still, there is one place I like to visit in Ernakulum at night, which is Marine drive. There are some good restaurants here and the view of Kochi harbor is excellent from here.
Marine drive looks beautiful from the ferry and from Marine Drive the backwater looks amazing.
The food in Ernakulum has a lot of Middle East influence as many people who lived there and work in Gulf countries. So to cater to these people, restaurants and food stalls come up similar dishes in Kerala style with grilled, roasted chicken dishes and one dish meals like shawarma.
Lulu Mall is 09.00 Km from Ernakulum ferry jetty and it’s the largest mall in India in terms of area. If you are looking for retail therapy and wanted to buy some modern stuff this is the place to be.
There are many restaurants and food courts in the mall. It is a good place for modern entertainment and to visit a multiplex cinema.
From Fort Kochi to Ernakulum
There is a ferry every 20 to 30 minute from 06.00 AM till 09.15 PM. It takes 20 minutes and cost only 5 INR. It is very cheap and faster as compared to road travel. If you are planning to return late at night from Ernakulam to Fort Kochi then use a cab service.
Best Time to Visit Kochi
The weather is ok throughout the year except mid-March to end May. Monsoon rains start from May and last till mid-September. Kochi remains humid all year, even in the months of December and January.
My favorite time to visit Kochi is from the end of September to November because it is lush green after the monsoon and not too crowded.
How to Reach Kochi
Kochi has a domestic and an international airport. It is connected by air with all major Indian cities and with some International cities.
The nearest railhead of Ernakulam is 10 Km from Kochi.
Where to Stay in Kochi
When I traveled with my parents I stayed in Bolgatty Palace and booked it through Kerala Tourism’s website. It is a great place to stay in Kochi.
The second time I traveled solo and I stayed in a budget accommodation in Fort Kochi. I stayed in Namasthe Fort Kochi, it is a basic place but very neat and clean. The service and staff are also very good.
Places to Eat in Kochi
* Kayees Rahmathulla Cafe in Mattancherry serves the best biryani in Kochi. It is full of flavor and a delight for stomach & senses. The Paratha and beef are other specialties of this restaurant. The place is simple in decor and you will mostly find local folk enjoying their food. Don’t forget to have tea here.
* Kashi Art Cafe in Fort Kochi is one of the most popular places among tourists. It’s a casual cafe with an art gallery where they display the work of local artists. The cafe is mostly in open area with natural light and beautiful art installations. They serve continental food as well as Kerala food. It’s a good place to visit when in Fort Kochi.
* Farmer’s Cafe in Fort Kochi is another place where I went a couple of times. Their Fisherman’s Thali and other Kerala style dishes are good in taste. They also serve continental dishes and it’s a good breakfast place.
* Teapot in Fort Kochi is a place where you can enjoy snacks and some non-alcoholic drinks. It’s Blueberry cheesecake is most popular. The interior is well designs and they have a big collection of Teapots on display, which goes well with the name.
* Spice Root in Fort Kochi is a lovely place run by a couple. They cook homestyle food. Their dosa, Kerala style curries, and seafood are the must-try item. The prices are very reasonable.
* Fort House in Fort Kochi is another good place and I like it for its location. Situated on the waterfront with open and inside sitting arrangement. Like all other restaurants in the area, they serve Kerala style food and continental dishes. The food here is not too great in comparison to other places but the ambiance and location are fantastic. The location makes Fort House at least a one-time visit place when in Fort Cochin. It is best for dinner.
Shopping and Markets in Kochi
There are many places to do shopping in Kochi, from small shops in local markets to big malls in Ernakulam.
Saree shopping in Kochi
You can buy a good variety of sarees in Kochi. The best saree shops are in Ernakulam. Most of the saree shops are on MG Road and if you want many options under one roof than go to Lulu Mall.
Princess Street Kochi
My favorite place for shopping is the Princess street market in Fort Kochi. Here you will get funky jewelry, antique decorative items, handicrafts, souvenirs, masks, and fashion textiles. This market is the perfect amalgamation of old with new. Earlier this street was the hub of all the foreign colonial rulers from Europe, that’s why it gives the feeling of a colonial era. When you get tired then eat and enjoy a drink at one of the happening cafes in the Princess street market.
Where to buy Spices in Kochi
Many people say it is better to buy spices from Thekkady where Kerala has the biggest spice farms. During my first trip I bought my spices from there but during the last trip, I decided to buy from Kochi. I must confess that spice I bought here are nowhere inferior to the one I bought from Thekkady. Infect here I got more options in terms of quality of a spice, as they have different grades of spices. For eg, Cardamom has three different variants at different prices.
Also read about the Spice Gardens of Goa
These are some of the things I recommend everyone visiting Kochi or as it is also known as Cochin. If I missed something then please let me know.