Lanes lined with colonial houses, vintage cafes, street art and galleries – Kerala’s art district is truly a wonderland suited for solo travellers, millennials and backpackers! Just spend a few days here and explore things about the place and about yourself you never will elsewhere. The show-paced Kerala life, amalgamated with Portuguese, Dutch and British influences on culture, food and architecture, makes this place worth a visit! I spent half a week in this wonderful land, staying in a hostel and exploring the town on foot. Here are top things that I’d suggest you do while in Fort Kochi.
#1 Have breakfast at arty cafes
Cafes! Yes, the cafes in Fort Kochi are amazeballs! Burgher Street and Princess Street are lined with those, in addition to the ones scattered in all of Fort Kochi. A lot of the cafes have an art gallery attached to it, making it a very arty affair, especially if you love art or are an artist, or if you just like arty spaces and love being surrounded by art. Even if not, the food and the tea they serve is a reason enough to visit a bunch of these art cafes in Fort Kochi. Some of them would be Kashi Art Café, Oy’s Café and Studio and East India Street Café.
#2 Explore the streets of Fort Kochi on foot or bicycle
Every street, every corner, of Fort Kochi has something interesting that’ll force you to stop by, spend a moment admiring it and taking a photograph. Don’t even think of hopping on an auto-rickshaw. Rent a bicycle at the most, or just walk. The walking distance isn’t much. You could just stop by for a coffee or grab a bite on the go by stopping at one of the cutesy cafes, or spend some time at places that interest you. Time just stops when in Fort Kochi.
#3 Indulge in some local food
Fort Kochi, being a coastal town has plenty of fresh seafood. From local Kerala delicacies to Syrian catholic food to exotic seafood preparations – Fort Kochi has a bit of everything! Enjoy a simple grilled snapper or dig into a delicious Pollichathu (fish grilled in banana leaf) with appam. There are too many places serving great food and you’ll have to spend a few days to experience even a bit of it! I’d recommend Fusion Bay, Oceanos and Seagull for great seafood and beef preparations. P.S. Don't forget to try fried banana with ice cream and thank me later!
#4 Cycle or ride a bike to Mattancherry
The Jew Town, Mattancherry, is a little distance away from Fort Kochi and can be a day trip, if you rent a bike or bicycle or just hop onto an auto rickshaw. The pretty town has a Jewish Synagogue, Jew Town and Dutch Palace, all of which are worth a visit. They also have a bunch of cute cafes like the Mocha Art Café and Jew Town café where you can stop by. You could also try some authentic Kerala style biryani or beef with parothas at Kayees Biryani in Mattancherry. Read more about things to do in Mattancherry here.
#5 Enjoy some great seafood at the beach
The promenade lining the beach is quite busy during the evening. As you sit there, or just take a walk, you spot a lot of fresh seafood being sold. If you’re living in an apartment where you can cook, you could pick up some fish. If not, they can cook it for you at a nominal rate in a preparation style you wish to have. Sample some local seafood prep styles here!
#6 Watch the sunset by Chinese fishing nets
If you walk a little ahead, you spot the fishing nets. And mostly, the space there is quite empty, with only a few fishermen doing their daily chores. This is the best spot to sit, relax and just soak in the vibe of Fort Kochi. The Chinese Fishing nets give Fort Kochi its character. Everything anybody who hasn’t visited know about Fort Kochi is the Chinese fishing nets! You’ve seen photographs of the most spectacular sunsets online? It’s not difficult to experience it in real. You could sip on tea at Marina Rooftop restaurant if yoy do not wish to sit on the benches on the promenade.
#7 Go on a sunset cruise
On the Cochin side, you can take a sunset cruise that takes you around a few islands around Fort Kochi, like the Bolgatty Island where you get a glimpse of the Bolgatty Palace or a few untouched islands which many migratory birds call their seasonal home. Though it’s quite touristy, if you’re there during off-season, there are hardly any people on the boat, and it’s worth a shot for Rs 100 and an hour of your day!
#8 Visit churches, museums and art galleries
Fort Kochi was where the Portuguese settled in the beginning. As a result of which, it has some of the oldest and the best churches in the country. The St Cruz Cathedral Basilica and St Francis CSI Church are two must-visit churches while in Fort Kochi. Originally built in 1503, St Francis CSI Church is the oldest European church in India. The Basilica boasts of a gothic architectural style and is a heritage marvel. Make sure you’re appropriately dressed while there! The Vasco House, Bastion Bungalow, David Hall Art Gallery and Indo-Portuguese museum are just some of the museums and galleries worth a visit!
#9 Ride a ferry to the neighbouring places
The ferries in Fort Kochi are convenient and inexpensive. If you wish to go any of the nearby islands like Fort Vypin, Willingdon Island or even to Cochin, the ferry is a great option, because it takes so much lesser time than commuting by road and is so much cheaper. A round trip will cost you less than Rs 10. And you are guaranteed amazing views and cool breeze along the way.
#10 Take a cooking class
Spending a leisurely day taking a cooking class and immersing in a cultural and culinary experience is just what you need on a holiday. This ensures you interact with the local folks, understand what makes the local food distinct and even get an opportunity to dine with a family. There are a bunch of cooking classes you could take, offered by many guest houses, home stays and home chefs. Maria’s Cooking Class on Burgher Street is something you should check out.
#11 Rejuvenate with an ayurvedic massage
Kerala is known for their Ayurveda and massages, and Fort Kochi has its share of massage centres offering you Ayurveda programmes and spa treatments. They have treatments for a couple of days or even up to a week or month at an affordable price. But, if you aren’t looking for those, you can just get a head or full body massage. Two massage centres I’d recommend are Ayurville and Agastya Ayurveda. They have local women masseurs who use ayurvedic oils to give you a relaxing massage! A full body massage here would cost you Rs 1300/-.
#12 Attend a Kathakali performance
The traditional folkform of Kerala – Kathakali – can be experienced while in Fort Kochi. The Kathakali Centre, very close to the St Cruz Cathedral Basilica has daily shows in Kathakali and several other folk forms and martial arts. Just look up for boards around Fort Kochi, or you should find a brochure at your guest house with event listings. They have Indian classical music shows, folk dances and martial arts performances.
#13 Drink lots of tea
I fell in love with tea while in Fort Kochi. Almost every café and restaurant have a special lemon ginger honey tea – which isn’t really a tea, but a drink that absolutely yummy and refreshing! I had five cups on one of the days I was there, when I was feeling slight symptoms of flu and felt instantly rejuvenated. Also, since Munnar is pretty close, you can shop for Munnar tea while there! Shop for artefacts, handmade soaps and handmade chocolates if you want to take souvenirs back home too! But, don’t forget to drink lots and lots of tea!
#14 Visit a toddy shop
The toddy shops in Kerala are an experience you mustn't miss. The little outlets are far away from the city centre, and located in the hinterlands, mostly, by the river side. Though there aren't any good ones in Fort Kochi, you can cross the ferry to Cochin, and hop onto a rickshaw to Nettoor to find the best toddy and seafood, and chill by the river!
#15 Pet cats
Nothing beats the joy of a leisurely vacation than meeting and greeting cats! And fortunately, there are so many cats in Fort Kochi due to it's pleasant climate, proximity to the sea and availability of tons of fish! They are the cutest and most friendly cats I've ever met!