Words: Rhonda Bannister
If you’re planning a trip to Fort Kochi in Kerala, India, you’re in for a treat. This picturesque port city offers a tranquil and captivating experience for travellers. With its rich history, diverse cultures, and stunning landscapes, Fort Kochi is a destination that will capture your heart. From its emerald-green surroundings filled with waterways, lakes, and lagoons to the majestic mountains, lush hills, and tea plantations, there is no shortage of natural beauty to explore. And, of course, the coastline is a sight to behold, with its pristine white-sand beaches and coconut plantations. Whether you’re interested in immersing yourself in the local culture, indulging in delicious cuisine, or simply relaxing by the beach, Fort Kochi has something for everyone. This curated guide will help you make the most of your visit, highlighting the area’s top attractions, activities, and accommodations.
Where to start
Everyone should start their Kerala journey in Fort Kochi. From its colonial-era architecture to its maritime heritage, traditional art forms, and diverse cultural influences, the town offers a captivating journey through time. Walking through the town’s lovely tree lined streets you’ll discover a delightful mix of cultures, with buildings that range from Portuguese bungalows to Dutch palaces and British colonial structures, giving it a unique charm that’s hard to find elsewhere.
The famed Chinese fishing nets that line the shoreline add a touch of enchantment to the town’s atmosphere. Introduced by Chinese traders in the 14th century, these cantilevered fishing nets have become an iconic symbol of Fort Kochi’s maritime heritage, and watching fishermen operate them at sunrise or sunset is a unique cultural experience.
Kochi is a shoppers paradise
You could literally spend days popping in and out of the myriad stores and markets offering everything from clothing to handicrafts, spices, oils and perfumes, fabrics and shawls. Wandering the streets of Jew Town (yes it’s an area’s name!) looking through antique and second hand shops, drinking in the fascinating old-world charm of its narrow alleyways and brightly painted shophouses is a day well spent. Tuk-tuks are plentiful and cheap so we found them the best way to get around in the heat of the day.
What to do & see in Fort Kochi:
Cruise the Backwaters
Leaving Fort Kochi and heading south affords the opportunity to take part in one of Kerala’s most romantic and enduring experiences: a houseboat cruise along the state’s backwaters. Alleppey, the hub of this region, is home to an enormous network of waterways and more than a thousand traditional kettuvallams (houseboats). You can do a day trip but for your honeymoon or holiday we recommend an overnight cruise.
Related: Be sure to explore Kerala’s backwaters with a houseboat – this article shows you how.
Immerse in history
Fort Kochi’s colonial buildings, with their European-style facades and traditional Kerala architectural elements, create an atmosphere reminiscent of a bygone era. Key architectural landmarks include the St. Francis Church, the oldest European-built church in India, and the Dutch Palace, which houses an impressive collection of murals depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. The centuries-old Santa Cruz Basilica, with its stunning stained glass windows and ornate interiors, is another architectural gem.
Enjoy Traditional Kathakali Performances
Immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of Kerala by attending a traditional Kathakali performance. This classical dance form, characterised by its colourful costumes and intricate makeup, is a feast for the eyes. Watch as the performers bring to life ancient myths and legends through their expressive dance and music. The Cochin Cultural Centre offers shows on most days of the week.
Visit the Chinese Fishing Nets
If you only have one-day trip to Kochi, make sure to visit the famous Chinese Fishing Nets. These nets were first erected in the 15th century by early visitors to the Malabar Coast and are still in use today, especially during the monsoon season. Although they may have been rebuilt over the years, the technique remains the same as the one used by the first traders. For the best view of the nets in action, head to Vasco da Gama Square, a narrow promenade along Fort Kochi beach. The nets are particularly picturesque during sunset, making it a perfect time to capture some stunning photographs.
Mattancherry Palace (Dutch Palace)
The Mattancherry Palace, also known as the Dutch Palace, was originally constructed by the Portuguese in the 16th century. It was later gifted to the Raja of Kochi and underwent renovations by the Dutch 100 years later. Today, the palace is home to a remarkable collection of Maharaja portraits, stunning mythological murals, antique Dutch maps, royal palanquins, and period furniture. The palace is open every day from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, except for Fridays when it is closed. Visitors can enter the palace by paying an entry fee of 2 Rupees.
See Jew Town and the Paradesi Synagogue
Jew Town, situated between Mattancherry Palace and the Paradesi Synagogue in Kochi, was once a vibrant hub for the Jewish community. Today, the area still retains its rich heritage, with shops adorned with Hebrew words, Stars of David, and other Jewish symbols. Although the Jewish population in Paradesi has declined over time, Jew Town remains a popular destination for antique shopping in India. Visitors can explore a variety of items, including spices, garments like kurtas and scarves, and a wide range of souvenirs. After browsing the shops, visit the Paradesi Synagogue, which is over 400 years old and the oldest Synagogue in the Commonwealth. The synagogue, with its hand-painted floor tiles and Belgian chandeliers, offers a glimpse into the town’s Jewish heritage and is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, except for Fridays, Saturdays, and Jewish Holidays.
Where to Stay:
Homestays, backpacker hostels and boutique hotels to suit every budget are to be found here. Honeymooners should stay at the romantic riverfront hotel, Brunton Boatyard which has been designed in the style of Fort Kochi’s early architecture and is very much a part of the area’s history. All rooms face the water, so guests have a view of the busy harbour filled with cruise boats, navy ships and ferries. cghearth.com/brunton-boatyard.
Need to Know
● Best Time to Visit: The ideal time to visit Fort Kochi for a honeymoon is during the cooler months between October and February. The weather is pleasant, and you can enjoy outdoor activities without the humidity of the summer months.
● Cultural Norms and Etiquettes: As you explore Fort Kochi, be mindful of the local culture and customs. Dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites. When in doubt, observe the behavior of the locals and follow their lead.
● Transport: Fort Kochi is a small town, and most attractions are within walking distance. For longer distances, you can hire a rickshaw or use the local buses
● International and domestic flights arrive and leave from Cochin Airport which is around 27kms from the capital Ernakulam.
● Easiest way from the airport to Fort Kochi is by taxi or town car( 45 minute drive) although budget travellers can also catch the bus for a few dollars (1.35 hour trip).