Cochin Chinese Fishing Nets

Things to Do in Fort Kochi – an Introduction to Kerala

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Fort Kochi (or often called Cochin) is often visitor’s first stop when visiting the southern Indian state of Kerala.  While the Taj Mahal beckons in northern India, Kerala offers travelers a slower pace of life in the lush waterways, tea fields and beautiful beaches.  The Kerala Tourism Board has worked hard recently to attract tourists to the region and can be a great resource when planning your trip.

Check out our suggestions for Kerala itineraries.

Before you head out into the countryside to explore, spend a few days in Fort Kochi.  There are so many things to do in Fort Kochi and it is a great introduction to the region.  Fort Kochi was our first introduction to India and it was a gentle welcome, once we arrived at our hotel. The taxi ride from the airport was not so gentle! The historic area of Fort Kochi has drawn explorers and settlers for centuries and you cannot help but be taken with the atmosphere of this exotic old world port.

Looking for other top cultural destinations?  Check out these 8 cultural destinations around the world.

Things to Do in Fort Kochi (Cochin)

    1. Chinese Fishing NetsChinese fishing nets

      This is one of the most popular scenes of Kerala and certainly the most photographed thing in Fort Kochi.  You might question if these are truly used for fishing or merely a tourist draw card, but they are in fact seen throughout the Backwaters.  These huge and elaborate mechanisms require at least four men to operate to raise and lower the nets.  The easiest place to see them is along Mahatma Gandhi Beach.  The locals have learned to capitalize on tourists’ interest and will offer you the chance to help out for a small tip.  This is one of the must-see (and do!) things to do in Fort Kochi.

    2. Rickshaw Tourthings to do in Cochin

      Rickshaws are ubiquitous with traveling in India and is a great thing to do in Fort Kochi to get orientated.  You can hire a rickshaw driver for a few hours to see all the major sites in Fort Kochi and nearby Mattancherry.  We love riding in rickshaws and seeing the sites from this slower mode of transport with the wind blowing our hair.  You can hire a rickshaw for 200 rupees an hour and you won’t have to look very far to find a willing driver.  In fact, from the minute you land in Fort Kochi you will be stalked by rickshaw drivers.  Since we were traveling in the low season, there weren’t very many tourists around and we couldn’t walk anywhere without being approached by a friendly driver wanting to show us the city.  Do take note that a tour will likely involve a stop at his friend’s show for the obligatory walk through.

    3. Fort Kochi Sights

      • Mahatma Gandhi Beachthings to do in Kochi
        • This is not a beach that will want to lounge out on and go for a swim, but it is worth a visit.  Walk along the promenade to see the Chinese fishing nets, fish market and locals out enjoying the snacks and sweets sold.  It is dirty and certainly not polished, but is a great place to people watch.  We also enjoyed watching the tankers coming into the modern port from here.
      • The ChurchesKochi churchThe Portuguese, Dutch and British have all left their mark on Kochi and no one is this more evident in the crumbling churches that remain.  Kerala has a large Christian population and throughout our travels in the state, we were surprised by the amount of churches in every town.  St Francis Church and Santa Cruz Basilica are both worth a look.
      • Dhobi Khana Laundry
        • This is one that isn’t in the Lonely Planet, but is often recommended by travelers.  This laundry was established by the Dutch Army to have their uniforms washed.  They brought a community from Tamil Nadu to Kochi and while there are no longer uniforms to wash, the laundry services the many hotels of the area.  Laundry is still washed here in the traditional way – whacked against the rocks, irons heated by coconut shells and hung out in the sun to dry.  Our rickshaw driver took us around the showed us how they do the different processes, all for a small donation.
      • Museums
        • The Indo-Portuguese Museum and Maritime Museum will teach you more about the history of the region.  We skipped these this time since we were traveling with the kids.
    4. Mattancherry & Jew Town SitesStreets Kochi

      • Dutch Palace (Mattancherry Palace) 
        • Mattancherry is located 3 km from Fort Kochi and is a vibrant and exotic area to explore.  The Dutch Palace was a highlight for us and we would have loved to spend even more time there, but our kids can only handle so long at a museum.  The Portuguese orginally presented this Palace to the Raja and the Dutch renovated it.  You will find lots of interesting artifacts and murals on display and the Palace itself is quite lovely.  170 rupees for our family.
      • Pardesi Synagogue
          • We had no idea that Kochi once hosted a large Jewish population and Pardesi Synagogue, dating from 1568 is an amazing relict of that.  The lamps and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling create a really unique atmosphere and the Jewish community of Mattancherry continue to maintain this beauitful building. Unfortunately no photos are allowed, so you will have to visit on your own to experience it.  160 rupees for our family.  
    5. Kathakali Performance

      Kathakali in Cochin

      Kathakali is one of the cultural things to do in Fort Kochi and is a must for most visitors.  It is a traditional dance and play where costumed and masked characters tell a story via music and hand gestures and facial expressions.  It really is something you should experience when in Kerala and Kochi is the centre of Kathakali.  We booked tickets through our guesthouse and you want to make sure you arrive early to watch the characters have their makeup applied.  The kids didn’t love the loud music and long show and pre-show, but I would still do it again.  They do narrate and explain what is happening in English.  You can also see Kalari martial arts demonstrations, which are highly entertaining for kids and adults.  We did this in Kumily and it was fast paced and impressive.  200 rupees per person.  

    6. Public Ferry to ErnakalumFort Kochi to Ernakalum ferry

      You can apparently at times see dolphins on the public ferry, making this a worthwhile excursion. We didn’t, but we still enjoyed a trip on the local boats and a quick peek at Ernakalum.  5 rupees per person.

    7. Shopping

      If you opt for a rickshaw tour, you will likely be taken to a few shops but these are probably not where you want to spend your money.  Cinnamon, Fabinda and Tribes India are all in Fort Kochi and sell textiles, handicrafts and jewelry all at fixed prices.  We aren’t big shoppers, but really enjoyed the cute Via Kerala boutique where we picked up cute shirts for the kids.

Hotels in Fort KochiFort Bridge Homestay

Fort Bridge View (Budget)  – We stayed here and found the rooms to be really large with nice heritage accents.  The staff brought in additional mattresses for the kids.  Breakfast was included and was really good – fresh juice, eggs and fruit.  Modern bathroom, good air conditioning and in a good location in the heart of Fort Kochi.   Check latest prices here.

Saj Homestay (Budget) – Consistently receives excellent reviews for its simple, but clean rooms.  You can’t go wrong with the excellent Keralan hospitality here and delicious food.  Check latest prices here.

Tissa’s Inn (Mid-Range) – Well located with a roof top pool in a historic building.  Restaurant has good food and service.  Check latest prices here.

Tea Bungalow (Premium) – Located in an old colonial house with only 10 rooms, Tea Bungalow has clean and quaint room. There is a small swimming pool and friendly staff.  Good location right in the centre.  Check latest prices here.

Kochi Marriott (Premium) – This hotel is not located in Fort Kochi, but on the mainland.  It offers a great place to stay before an early flight or when you first arrive.  Fabulous rooms with excellent amenities and the best staff, make this a great choice.  Read out full review here.  Check latest prices here.

Restaurants in Fort Kochiwhere to eat kochi

It was low season while we were there and a lot of restaurants were closed.  We ate most of our meals at local restaurant near our guest house, Lucky Star (Fosse Rd, Kunnumupuram Junction).  We did enjoy cakes at Teapot (Peter Celli St) in a cute, but not particularly Indian cafe.  Dal Roti (Lily St) is supposed to be really good for North Indian food, although it was closed when we were there.  Beer and alcohol is not widely available and we never saw it on menus here.  We had heard that you can ask discreetly for a beer in many restaurants in Kochi and they will serve it to you clandestinely in a mug.

Travel with Kids TipsIndia with kids

Read our A-Z Guide for visiting India with kids for all our advice about keeping the kids safe and happy.

In Kochi, our kids loved playing on the old school British playground equipment in Fort Kochi (corner of Princess & Tower).  There were fun metal slides, teeter totters and merry go round spinners.  On the day we went to Ernakalum, we went to the Children’s Park (a short walk from the jetty).  You did have to pay an small admission fee to get in and the park was in various stages of disrepair, but our kids loved exploring the playground and ride on cars.

Transportation

You will likely fly into Cochin International Airport, which is impressively the world’s only completely solar powered airport.  If you arrive into the domestic terminal, you will be greeted by a musty, small outdated arrivals hall, in the process of being renovated.  The journey to Fort Kochi can take up to 2 hours at certain times of day.  Indian roads are notorious for a good reason and we found the taxi ride to be quite thrilling, in not the best way.  Our kids felt incredibly motion sick as we zoomed in and out of traffic.  We had arranged an airport pickup through our guesthouse, 1200 rupees.  

Getting around Fort Kochi and area is easy with rickshaws.

From Fort Kochi, our next stop was the beach destination of Varkala.  We took a tourist bus there and it took a lot longer then we expected – over 6 hours.  The bus was comfortable and air conditioned and wasn’t too crowded.  250 rupees/adult, kids half price.

When To VisitFort Cochin

I saw anytime, but the tourist season is October-March.  We visited in September, the end of the rainy season and we didn’t find it too wet.  In fact we quite like traveling in the shoulder season when you don’t have lots of crowds and you don’t need reservations.  India has lots of festivals and religious holidays, so check and see if there is anything on while you are there.  We were lucky enough to be in Kerala for the very important Onam festivities, which definitely added to the experience.

Our Verdict

It always takes time to acclimatize to a new country and Fort Kochi was a good introduction to India.  There are lots of things to do in Fort Kochi and most of them can be done by walking around or hiring a rickshaw.  We didn’t find it to be too busy, chaotic or intense, as people often describe as their first impressions of India.  This probably was because we were traveling in the low season and Kerala is known to be more relaxed then northern India.

Fort Kochi is picturesque and easy to navigate around.  We felt totally safe walking around and didn’t find vendors or rickshaw drivers overly aggressive.  It is quite hot and humid, so you want to get out exploring early in the day.  Come afternoon relax back at your hotel or find a cute cafe for a cold drink.  You can read our post from when we first landed in Fort Kochi here.

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