Best things to do in Kochi

Best Things To Do In Kochi | Queen Of The Arabian Sea

Discover the best things to see and do in Kochi, India, known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea. This laid-back, multicultural port city was once one of the most important cities for trading spices between Europe and Asia.

Black pepper, one of its most popular spices, was in such demand it was used as currency. At one point it was even called ‘black gold’, as it was worth more than its weight in gold. Crazy, right? But Cochin (as Kochi was known at the time) has many other important exotic spices; including cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, saffron, turmeric, and more.

Merchants from the Middle East dominated trade here until the famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama discovered a shipping route here and changed everything. In fact, da Gama was reportedly the first European to set foot in India.

Kochi Spices

He negotiated a treaty with the Kingdom of Cochin, and the Portuguese came and built forts, schools, churches, and hospitals, changing it forever. After the Portuguese, it was the Dutch, and then the British. Each here for their own reasons and adding their own unique influences.

Today, Kochi may look a little weary, but it showcases its rich heritage through its many interesting sites and unique culture. This includes its old-world colonial architecture, famous Chinese fishing nets, and long ruined forts, as well as its high degree of religious tolerance and the diversity of its people.

If you’re visiting Kerala to see some of its many beautiful sites, chances are you are arriving in Kochi via plane or train. If so, staying here for a day or two to see its sites and learn about its history is definitely worth it. This post covers the best things in Kochi.

Best Things To Do In Kochi

Explore The Area Around Old Fort Kochi

The northern area of Fort Kochi, which gets its name from 16th century Fort Emmanuel, the Portuguese fort that once protected the coast here, is one of the top tourist destinations in Kochi. The area is the perfect place to take a walk in the early evening to explore its sites, get a taste of local culture, and people watch.

The streets are lined with charming Portuguese and Dutch colonial architecture. and impressive old shade trees, laden with thick, wavy branches. The kind that make perfect cover during a sudden rain burst (I know as it started to pour when I was taking photos of the fishing nets here!).

Vasco de Gama Square is here. Although I’m not sure why it’s called a Square, as it’s a promenade along the beach near the fishing nets. There are many vendor carts selling souvenirs and food, and the walkway will be full of locals and tourists taking an evening stroll.

This is also where where you’ll find the very popular Chinese fishing nets, as well as the local fishermen at the fresh fish stalls behind them.

See The Chinese Fishing Nets

Visiting the Chinese fishing nets, that stand elegantly along the coast, is definitely one of the top things to do in Kochi. Especially before dusk so you can watch the sun set behind them.

This is the most photographed spot in Kochi (which is why you see so many photos of them). Wear solid shoes as you may find yourself weaving around the wooden boats crammed on beach (and, sadly, trash), and up and around the docks.

The Chinese fishing nets are one of the best things to do in Kochi
Chinese Fishing Nets

The nets, known as Cheenavala locally, are believed to have been introduced by Chinese traders from the court of Kublai Khan in the 14th century.

Their graceful, cantilevered poles are made of teak and bamboo. Fishermen use a series of ropes and weights to lower them under the water, then raise them to scoop up the fish.

I did not get a chance to actually see them in use, but have read that the fishermen sometimes offer for you to help. Although this would be fun, they also reportedly ask for a generous tip for the opportunity…so don’t be surprised. Depending on what you negotiate, I think it would be worth it.

This makes for a fun evening as there will be others on the beach, and you’ll also see local fishermen with their own nets, casting them into the sea. It’s fun to watch them twirl their rounds nets and see what they catch.

Visit Fresh Fish Stalls By Fort Kochi

Just behind the Chinese fishing nets, fishermen are lined up along the edge of the beach with their catch, ready for you to make your choice for dinner.

There’s a variety of fish, as well as shrimp, crabs, and more to choose from. You can even have it cooked while you wait.

Stroll Down Princess Street

Princess Street, one of the oldest streets in Kochi, is in the heart of Old Town. The European colonial architecture here has been charmingly converted into a variety of venues. There are clothing and jewelry stores, souvenir shops, art galleries, spas, coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants, as well as hotels and home stays.

Walking Princess Street is one of the best things to do in Kochi
Fort Kochi Hotel, Princess Street

Locals call this area Loafer’s Corner, after the men that once came to stare at the women in a female hostel here. People started calling them loafers.

There’s a popular cafe here with the name, Loafers Corner Cafe. It’s up on the second floor, overlooking Princess Street below. A perfect place to soak up some nostalgia…and maybe learn more about this unique street.

Stop by Saint Francis Church

Also located in Old Town Kochi, just east of Princess Street, is Saint Francis Church, thought to be the first European church built in India. It was built by the Franciscan Friars that accompanied Vasco de Gama’s expedition.

It’s a popular place to visit for its unique status as the first church in India, but also because Vasco Da Gama, himself, was once buried here.

He died of malaria on Christmas Eve in 1524. His body was moved to Lisbon 14 years later, but the spot he was buried in here is still marked.

You can’t miss its large white facade as you’re walking around. Entrance if free.

Admire Santa Cruz Cathedral Bascilica

The Bascilica of Santa Cruz, also built by the Portuguese, is one of the grandest in India. It serves as the cathedral church of the Diocese of Cochin.

The Bascilica was spared by the Dutch, but destroyed by the British. The Basilica that stands here today was rebuilt in the 19th century.

See Parade Ground

There’s really nothing here, as this is now a football field, but as you walk towards Princess Street and Old Kochi, you’ll come across this unassuming grassy area. In fact, I passed right through it, rather than walking around on the street to get to Vasco da Gama Square.

It has a lot of history through. This is where the Portuguese, Dutch, and British conducted their military drills and parades. It was also for sports and festivals, which is what it’s used for today.

I didn’t take a photo of it, as it just looks like a large football field, but the very impressive street art of the eyes under Bienalle below, was on the wall to one side of it.

Visit Mattancherry Palace

Mattancherry Palace, also built by the Portuguese, was gifted to the Maharaja of Cochin in the 16th century. Ironically, it’s referred to as the Dutch Palace, as the Dutch extensively renovated it in the 17th century.

The Palace, which is now a museum, is built with separate wings that open to a central courtyard. It’s known for its murals of Hindu Mythology, its coronation room, and dresses. It also has many artifacts belonging to the rajas.

Visiting Mattancherry is one of the best things to do in Kochi


Pazhayannoor Bhagavathi Temple, home of the deity of the royal family, also sits on the grounds of the temple. Entry to the temple is only open to Hindus.

Mattancherry is about 1.2 miles (2 km) southeast of Fort Kochi. It’s best to take a rickshaw, especially if it’s hot, but you can also walk through the town to get here like I did.

The Palace is open daily 10 AM to 5 PM, except Fridays and select holidays.

Explore Jew Town

Jew Town, located just south of Mattancherry Palace, is another part of Kochi’s rich cultural history. Although there was once a vibrant community of Jews in Kochi, there are now very, very few. Some say only a handful. Yet this cultural neighborhood offers interesting street art, some art galleries, gift shops, and cafes to explore.

Paradesi Synagogue is one of the highlights here. One of the oldest Synagogues in India, it was noted Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Moor’s Last Sigh”. It contains four scrolls of the Torah.

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale Art Festival

Biennale is a three to four-month-long contemporary art festival. It’s the largest art exhibition in India and largest contemporary art festival in Asia.

Art ranges from painting to sculpture, film, performance and more with talks, lectures, and workshops.

Visiting Bienalle is one of the best things to do in Kochi
Fort Kochi Artwork


It was just over when I was here, but there were many impressive works of street art here, celebrating the event.

The festival starts mid- to late-December, held in several venues around Kochi.

In 2023 there were around 90 artists from 25 different countries. The theme was, “In Our Veins Flow Ink and Fire”.

See A Kathakali Dance Performance

For some local culture, visit the Kerala Kathakali Center. It hosts Kathakali dance performances daily. This is one of the nine classical dances of India. It represents epics from Hindu Mythology, using very colorful costumes.

They also offer a variety of other options including yoga, meditation, and martial arts, as well as other dance and music performances.

See Vasco House

This house, which actually operates as a home stay now, may be the house that Vasco da Gamma lived in until he died in 1524. There is not definite proof, yet many believe it to be true. It’s one of the oldest Portuguese houses here, located in the Old Town by Fort Kochi.

Visit The Hill Palace Museum

Hill Palace Museum, the largest archeological museum in Kerala is another attraction in Kochi. Built in the 19th century by the Maharaja of Kochi, it was as an administrative office and residence before becoming a museum.

It’s located about a 40-minute drive southeast of Fort Kochi, so requires a car, rickshaw, or taxi.

It’s open 9 AM to 12:30 PM and 2 PM to 4:30 PM every day except Mondays and select holidays.

Take A Backwater Sunset Cruise

Kochi is part of the Kerala backwaters, that stretch as far south as Kollam. The most visited backwaters here are in Aluppuzha, partway between Kochi and Kollam, but if you only have a short amount of time, you can take a sunset cruise in Kochi.

Best Time To Visit Kochi

The best time to visit Kochi is October through February, when the temperatures are the most comfortable. Temperatures range from 66-91 F (17-33 C).

March to April are also good months to visit, although they are warmer, at 78-91 F (25-33 F).

Monsoon season runs July to September, although June and October can also get quite a bit of rain.

How To Get To Kochi

The airport in Kochi is the Cochin International Airport (COK). It’s about 22 miles (36 km) north east of Fort Kochi.

The largest train station is Ernakulam Junction railway station, which is in Ernakulam. It’s on the mainland, about 8 miles (13 km) from Fort Kochi.

More About Kochi

Literacy

Something that I found very interesting about Kochi is that the literacy rate is an astonishing 98%! And this is an average between adult men and women. For comparison, the average literacy rate for adults in the USA is 79%.

English is the second most spoken language after Malayalam, the local language. And something else that surprised me, is that most all the signs here are in English (along with what I assume is Malayalam). This makes it very easy for tourists to get around in Kochi.

Safety

I want to add a note on safety in Kochi. Of course, things can happen anywhere, and there are probably areas within Kochi that are not safe, but I felt very safe as a solo female traveler here.

I walked across town from Fort Kochi to Mattancherry on my own during the day, and walked around the Fort Kochi area and around my hotel in the early evening and did not feel uncomfortable. Make sure, however, to always be vigilant and follow standard safety protocols.

It’s best to dress conservatively, don’t wear tight or revealing clothing. And don’t wear anything flashy that may make you a target for theft.

Want To See More Of Kerala?

There are many great tourist destinations in India!

I came to India for a wedding in Palakkad, so spent time afterwards visiting other sites in Kerala, which has been labeled, God’s Own Country.

The Kerala backwaters, further south, are a great place to visit. These backwaters are a vast network of lakes, lagoons, and canals lined with palm trees stretching from Kochi, all the way down to Kollam.

Munnar is another top destination in Kerala, with stunning, brilliant green tea plantations on rolling hills leading up to the incredible views at its hill stations and mountain peaks. There are views so beautiful, this area is sometimes called the Kashmir of South India. It’s ideal to spend a few days here.

Palakkad, northeast of Kochi, is full of lush green rice fields, rolling, misty mountains, large reservoirs and dams, and historical monuments, as well as many great day-trip options.

Adiyogi, a giant statue of the God Shiva represented as Adiyogi, which means the first yogi, is in neighboring Tamil Nadu. If you are on a quest for inner well-being, transformation and empowerment, this is an excellent place to visit as a day trip. Adiyogi is about 132 miles (212 km) northeast of Kochi.

And if you wan to see one of the more touristy spots in India, visit Jaipur, part of the Golden Triangle of India. This was definitely one of my favorite cities. Its sumptuous palaces, fascinating forts, and incredible royal history is riveting. It’s a city that you will always remember.

And, of course, Taj Mahal, in Agra, a several hour drive east of Jaipur, is something you just can’t miss. See my Top Tips for Visiting the Taj Mahal and the Top 10 Things to Do In Agra.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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