Kochi, or Cochin, is located on the Western coast of India, on the Arabian Sea. This historic port city is the most densely populated area of Kerala, and offers visitors a unique view of India and its colonial past. For over half a century, explorers have landed on the shores of Kochi- and their influences are easily seen today through the diverse architecture, foods, and religions. Nowhere else in India can you get lost amongst a neighborhood of Dutch colonial homes, visit a Portuguese palace, attend a service in India’s oldest European church, and end the day with a fish curry stewed in spices grown down the road.
Most of the attractions in Kochi are located in the historic areas of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry, as such most hotels and tourists are centered there. It is worth ‘crossing the bridge’ over to the mainland of Kochi, if only to visit the incredible Kerala Folklore Museum mentioned below. Kochi is easily one of the most incredible cities I have ever visited; the history and charm, the food and the people, made me feel as if I had went back in time to the days of Vasco da Gama, while still maintaining the luxury of wifi.
I have put together a list of twenty things to do in Kochi that I most enjoyed during my time there. As with any destination, I’d recommend making some time to get a little lost. (Using common sense of course.) Take a morning walk and you will see the local butchers cutting their meat for the day out on the porch, the egg shop tending to their hens, and old men outside reading the paper just as the sun begins to rise.
20 Things to Do in Kochi, India
1. Cast a Chinese Fishing Net
The Chinese fishing nets in Fort Kochi are one of the most popular attractions in the city. In use for at least the last 500 years,their origin is something the fisherman love to talk about. While some believe that the nets came from traders of Kubla Khan, others say that Chinese explorer Zhang He introduced the nets to Kochi’s shores. Historians give the Portuguese credit, claiming that they brought over the nets during the same period in which Macau was a Portuguese colony. Whatever their origin, the Chinese fishing nets make for a fun adventure as the fisherman will let you help raise and lower the 10m nets into the sea. Note: Tips are expected if you participate. (Visiting Info: Vasco da Gama Square, Go early before the crowds arrive.)
2. Take a Ride on the Ferry
Spend an afternoon crammed into a car ferry with locals, and get off at one of Kochi’s many islands. From Fort Kochi you can head to Willingdon or Vypeen Islands for around 3 Rupees. Willingdon is the largest man-made island in India but doesn’t have much in terms of attractions. Vypeen has a number of clean beaches, with great views of Fort Kochi. Note: There are two lines, one for men and one for women- choose accordingly. (Visiting Info: See Kochi ferry services map.)
3. Eat a Kathi Roll at Dal Roti
Omg. The kathi rolls at Dal Roti are the reason #foodporn became a necessary hashtag to describe those moments when your tastebuds are so excited, only a slightly sexual reference can get close to capturing the emotions in your mouth. Veggie or meat options are stuffed into a flaky paratha wrap and then fried to deliciousness. They were so amazing, I went back for one last taste before I flew back home. The owner of Dal Roti is always hanging around, and loves to hear the praises of the restaurant’s famous fare. Prices are higher than many other local establishments, but at only a couple bucks they are well worth the ‘splurge’. Visiting Info: 1/293 Lilly Street, Napier Street, Monday-Sunday 9am to 10pm.) (Thank me later!)
4. Visit St. Francis Church
St. Francis Church in Fort Kochi is the oldest European church in India, and worth visiting for that accolade alone. The church was also the first burial place of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama when he died in Kochi in 1524. Although his remains were moved to Portugal 14 years later, the original gravestone still exists inside. St. Francis Church is a great stop for history buffs and church lovers alike. ( Visiting Info: St. Francis Church Road, 1000-1700 hrs. Closed on Sundays.)
5. Drink a Glass of Masala Tea
Indians have created the perfect cup of tea with their spice filled Masala chai. Black tea leaves are brewed with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and black pepper to create a slightly spicy, creamy concoction that warms the insides. Masala tea in Kerala is a definite must as many of the spices are grown locally- good luck finding a fresher cup of Masala chai anywhere else in the world.
6. Stop in for Fish Curry at a Local ‘Hole in the Wall’
You don’t like fish? I don’t care. You still need to try Kochi’s famous fish curry. Local fish caught that morning are cooked to perfection in a blend of aromatic herbs and spices- most grown locally! Keralan cuisine is on the spicy side, but the flavors compliment each other so perfectly that even those who can’t do heat won’t be able to stop eating. Also try the chicken, vegetable, beef, pork, and any other curries on the menu 😉 For the best fish curry, stop in at one of the many restaurants catered towards the people who actually live there. You may be the only customer from out-of-town, but you can expect exceptional service, unbeatable food, and a culinary experience you will always treasure. Extra points for ordering a paratha (the croissant of India) and using it to eat instead of a fork. Keralans eat with their hands, and it is actually rather enjoyable!
7. Peruse the Kerala Folklore Museum
Kochi’s Folklore Musuem was an incredible surprise. The museum’s extensive collection was put together by one man, George J Thaliath, who had a passion for Indian art and culture and made it his life passion to create a beautiful museum that would showcase the treasures he collected. The museum itself is a work of art, constructed over a period of seven years by over sixty carpenters, wood sculptors and muralists to represent architecture from the 17th-20th centuries. This unique museum has over 4,000 artifacts on display, with a special section of antiques you can even purchase to take home. Prince Charles and Camilla even stopped by this amazing place on their four-day tour of the state back in 2013. You can take an awesome virtual tour of the Folklore Museum on their website, check it out and then visit in person! Note: You must pay a small fee to take pictures or videos inside the museum. I regret not paying up. (Visiting Info: Folklore Junction, Thevara, Admission- 200 rupees, £2, $3, 9.30am-7pm)
8. Watch a Kathakali Performance
Kathakali is a traditional Indian dance drama that originated in Kerala. It is well known for the elaborate makeup and costumes used by performers, as well as the detailed gestures and body movements that they use to tell the stories. I thoroughly enjoyed attending a Kathakali performance, and it was very interesting to see the process and dedication required for the art. Makeup takes hours every performance, and actors are entirely transformed into the characters they portray. Kochi’s Kerala Kathakali Centre runs a Kathakali performance every day of the year, with the chance to watch the actors apply their make-up as well. If you have time, I’d highly recommend it! (Visiting Info: K.B. Jacob Road,[email protected], Kathakali Tickets- 300 rupees, £3, $5)
9. Shop till you Drop in Jew Town
The Jews of Kochi are the oldest group of Jews in India, settling in the area around the 12th century. It is an unusual thing to see a synagogue next to a Catholic church next to a mosque, next to a Hindu temple anywhere, let alone India, but this is practically normal in the state of Kerala where the faiths live side-by-side with little conflict. Jew Town came to be in 1524 when the King of Kochi gave the Jewish population shelter in the area near his palace of Mattancherry. The remnant of this period is found on Jew Town Road, where old colonial buildings line the narrow street filled with antique shops and handicrafts, as well as the historic Paradesi Synagogue. (Visiting Info: Jew-Town Road)
10. Go Dutch at Mattancherry Palace
Mattancherry Palace, also known as the Dutch Palace, was actually built by the Portuguese as a gift for the Raja of Kochi in 1555. The Dutch came in around one hundred years later, making renovations and extending the property. The Palace now houses an extensive collection art, royal regalia, and exhibits; but the original murals are what makes a visit to the property worthwhile. These murals cover walls all throughout Mattancherry Palace, depicting scenes from Hindu scripture, the oldest dating back to the 16th century. I was really in love with the entrance gate, shown below. (Visiting Info: Bazaar Road, Saturday-Thursday, 10-5)