We’ve compiled the best of the best in Kerala - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Dutch Palace


    Built by the Portuguese in the mid-16th century as a gift for the Rajas of Cochin, this two-story structure reflects elements of traditional design while still looking colonial. It was extended by the Dutch when they took control of the area. The rajas, in turn, added some of India's best mythological murals—the entire story of the Ramayana is told on the walls in a series of bedchambers, which also have inviting window seats. In the ladies' ground-floor chamber, you can see a colorful, mildly erotic depiction of Lord Krishna with his female devotees. The coronation hall near the entrance holds a series of portraits of monarchs (that interestingly show continuous familial resemblance) and some of the rajas' artifacts, including maps, swords, and a fantastic palanquin covered in red wool. The palace has rare, traditional Kerala flooring; it looks like polished black marble, but it is actually a mix of burned coconut shells, charcoal, lime, plant juices, and egg whites.

    Palace Rd., Kochi, Kerala, 682002, India

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Rs. 5, Sat.–Thurs. 9–5, Closed Fri. and Sat.
  • 2. Anchuthengu Beach and Anjengo Fort

    The pristine Anchuthengu beach, 12 km (7½ miles) south of Varkala, is the location of a lighthouse and the ruins of the British Anjengo fort, built in 1695, which at various times was under Dutch and Portuguese attack. Anchuthengu ("Five Coconuts"), was the site of the first trade settlement of the East India Company, and therefore the beginning of British India. It was also the site of the first rebellion against the British, when locals, unhappy with the conduct of the British traders, banded together to oust them. All that remains of the 1695 fort is its four walls and a few tombstones from the adjacent cemetery. Like so many other areas of southern and central Kerala, the sea pleasantly merges with the backwaters here—be sure to bring a camera.

    Anchuthengu, Varkala, Kerala, 695309, India
  • 3. Chinese Fishing Nets

    The precarious-looking bamboo and wood structures hovering like cranes over the waterfront are Kochi's famous Chinese fishing nets. Although they've become identified with the city, they're used throughout central Kerala. Thought to have been introduced by Chinese traders in the 14th century, the nets and their catch can be easily seen from Fort Kochi's Vasco da Gama Square. There's lots going on at the square—cooking, hawking, gaping (by tourists)—and don't miss the artistically decked-out tree in the center with tiger face, clowns, and fish painted on it. You can watch the fishermen haul up the nets around 6 am, 11 am, and 4 pm. They're particularly striking at sunset or at any time when viewed from the deck of a boat.

    Vasco da Gama Sq., Fort Kochi, Kerala, India
  • 4. Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary

    This wildlife sanctuary in the Annamalai Hills, which spreads 90 square km (35 square miles) across Tamil Nadu and Kerala, is considered a better place to spot elephants and wild oxen (gaur) than Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. You also can look out for leopards, spotted deer, the Nilgiri tahr, yellow-throated bulbuls (songbirds), grizzled giant squirrels, crocodiles, sambar deer, langurs, and the bonnet macaque (both kinds of monkeys), and even an occasional tiger or a Manjampatti white (albino) bison. The entry fee is for the trekking program: paths lead along the Pambar and Chinnar rivers and past the mighty Thoovanam waterfalls, which are most impressive during the monsoons. Buses take you into the park, but you also can opt to stay in three-bed tree houses or four-bed log houses by booking in advance with the forest department. Bookings can be made at the wildlife warden's office in Munnar or online with an Indian credit card; it's about 90 minutes and 60 km (38 miles) from Munnar.

    Munnar-Udumalpet Rd., Marayur, Kerala, 685612, India
    486-523–1587-wildlife warden’s office

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Rs. 100, Daily 8:30–4:30
  • 5. Eravikulam National Park


    This well-maintained 97-square-km (24,000-acre) sanctuary, 15 km (9 miles) northwest of Munnar, is home to the endangered Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius), an ibex-like goat that inhabits the highest, wettest reaches of the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It has lost numbers to poaching and shrinking habitat, leaving a population of just 700--800 in the park, roughly half of the world's total number. Here you can get quite close to this endearingly tame creature, pushed to the brink of extinction in part because of its utter lack of suspicion of humans. There are often long lines in season to buy your ticket, so it's a good idea to book in advance, or head early. From the entrance a park bus takes you about 7 km (4½ miles) into the hill, from which you can walk nearly 1½ km (1 mile) farther, to a higher lookout point. No vehicles are allowed in the park, so be prepared to walk along the trails and footpaths. The craggy mountain views and gushing waterfalls in the monsoon add to the allure of this park. The sanctuary is closed for about 90 days during the calving season, roughly from February to April (check ahead of time) and occasionally for a day or so during the monsoons if there have been heavy rains.

    Munnar, Kerala, 685612, India

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Rs. 260, Daily 8–4:30
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  • 6. Houseboat Cruise


    The Kuttanad, a 74-km-long (46-mile-long) network of beaches, lakes, canals, rivers, inland sea, islands, and brooks, links Alleppey, Marari, Quilon, Kochi, and beyond to Varkala, Kovalam, and Poovar. It's a tropical kingdom of coastal canals, sheltered by trees, that wanders past two houses-and-a-palm hamlets, mosques, temples, whitewashed chapels, flocks of ducks, floating bazaars, paddy farms, and bridges. Your camera will have a hard time keeping pace with the scenes flitting past.Shaded by a woven bamboo canopy and fanned by cool breezes, you can drift past simple but often gorgeously colored, tile-roof houses with canoes moored outside; and people washing themselves, their clothes, their dishes, and their children in the river.A houseboat cruise provides a window into traditional local life. Women in bright pink-and-blue dresses stroll past green paddy fields, their waist-length hair unbound and smelling of coconut oil. Graceful palms are everywhere, as are village walls painted with political slogans, the inevitable portrait of Che Guevara (worshipped in Kerala), and ads for computer-training courses. Backwater trips can be designed to suit any time constraint or budget. Motorized or punted canoes squeeze into narrow canals, taking you to dreamy roadless villages, and big ferries ply the eight-hour Quilon–Alleppey route as if it were a major highway. Romantic houseboats give you the opportunity to stay overnight on the water. Any travel agent, hotel, or the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation, can help you hire a private boat or plan a trip. Most cruises depart from Quilon, Alleppey, or Kumarakom. In addition, the Trident Hilton (Oberoir) in Kochi can book you a stateroom on the MV Vrinda, an eight-bedroom luxury cruise ship.

    , India
  • 7. Janardhana Swamy Temple

    Known as Dakshin Kashi, or the Varanasi of the south, Varkala is a major center for the worship of Vishnu. At the Janardhana Swamy temple, you can see what happens at a popular Hindu pilgrimage destination—the prayers; the morning and evening aarti (devotions), when the gods are feted with oil lamps; and the customs of the devotees. Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the inner sanctum, but you can certainly view the architecture and soak up the atmosphere of this pretty and very busy 2,000-year-old temple. Photographs of the deity are not allowed, and there may be a charge for using a camera outside.

    Temple Rd., Varkala, Kerala, India
    No phone

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Daily 4 am–noon and 5 pm–8 pm, Check with your hotel in case there is a change in temple times.
  • 8. Kashi Art Café

    A favorite hangout for artists and young tourists, Fort Cochin's Kashi Art Café is about as funky as Kerala gets. The front room hosts rotating exhibitions, primarily of South Indian contemporary art, and light Continental fare and Western-style coffee is served in the garden café at the rear. The real treat is to experience this tiny little pocket of Kerala subculture.

    Burgher St., Kochi, Kerala, 682001, India
  • 9. Kuthiramalika (Puthen Maliga) Palace Museum

    The 18th-century Kuthiramalika (Puthen Maliga) Palace Museum, or Horse Palace, built by the king of Travancore, has carved rosewood ceilings and treasures of the royal family, including an ivory throne, weapons, paintings, and gifts from foreign dignitaries. Life-size Kathakali figures stand in the dance room. Carved horses, for which the palace is named, line the eaves of an inner courtyard. Only one-third of the enormous compound is open to visitors; the entrance fee includes a knowledgeable guide. Also note that you must remove your shoes upon entering.

    Next to Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Trivandrum, Kerala, 695023, India

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Palace: Rs. 20, Tues.–Sun. 8:30–1 and 3–5:30, Closed Mon.
  • 10. Napier Museum

    In an 80-acre park at the north end of M.G. Road are the many attractions of the Museum and Art Gallery Complex. Each part of the complex requires a special ticket. At the Natural History Museum, a musty collection of animal skeletons, dioramas, and stuffed birds, head straight to the second floor to see an interesting model of a traditional nalakettu home (the traditional home of the Nairs, a warrior clan), complete with costumed figurines and a full explanation. The art museum's collection of local arts and crafts—including bronze and stone sculptures, ivory ornaments, and musical instruments—is as noteworthy as the building itself, with its almost Cubist pattern of gables, European-style minarets, and a decorative interior. Built in 1874, it was designed by Robert Chisholm, a specialist in Indo-Saracenic design, and was named after Lord Napier, the governor of Madras. Memorabilia donated by the royal family, including a golden chariot used by the Maharaja of Travancore, is displayed in the tiny Sree Chitra Enclave. On the opposite side of the park, the Sree Chitra Art Gallery has an eclectic collection of paintings, including works of the Rajput, Mogul, and Tanjore schools as well as those of India's most famous oil painter, Raja Ravi Varma; copies of the Ajanta and Sigirya frescoes; and works from China, Japan, Tibet, and Bali, along with canvases by modern Indian painters.

    Museum Rd., Trivandrum, Kerala, 695033, India

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: From Rs. 20, Tues. and Thurs.–Sun. 10–4:45, Wed. 1–5, Closed Mon.
  • 11. Nehru Trophy Boat Race

    On the second Saturday in August throngs of supporters line the shore to watch the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race, which starts with a water procession and concludes dramatically as the boats (propelled by as many as 100 rowers) vie for the trophy. The best way to see the race is from a houseboat that you have booked far in advance. Several other snake-boat races take place in the area from mid-July to mid-September.

    Punnamada Lake, Alleppey, Kerala, India
  • 12. Odayam and Thiruvambady Beaches

    Sparkling Odayam, the next beach north of Varkala, is considered part of the town but is about 2 km (1 mile) away. It's quieter and even prettier—well worth visiting for an afternoon of sun or to watch a spectacular sunset. Thiruvambady Beach, still more tranquil, is a black-sand beach a climb down from the Cliff. Amenities: food and drink. Best for: solitude; sunset; swimming; walking.

    Varkala, Kerala, India
  • 13. Padmanabhapuram Fort and Palace

    Believed to be the largest wooden palace in Asia, this magnificent, 17th-century, carved-teak palace, set on nearly 7 acres, and with fantastic murals and carved and painted ceilings, is across the border in neighboring Tamil Nadu, about a 1½-hour (73 km [45 miles]) drive south of Kovalam on National Highway 47 in a very serene location at the foot of the Velli Hills. Padmanabhapuram was once the capital of the Travancore rajas (Travancore was the southernmost state, which was combined with Cochin and Malabar to form Kerala). This palace, their home, gives a taste of the grandeur of those times. Don't miss the brass lanterns that apparently have been lit since the 1700s, or the palace tank (reservoir) that was used for bathing. This huge complex is one of the best-preserved examples of old wooden architecture in India and worth the excursion, especially if you are a royalty or history buff.

    Thuckalay, Kanniyakumari, Tamil Nadu, 629175, India

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Tues.–Sun. 9–4:30, Closed Mon.
  • 14. Padmanabhaswamy Temple

    The handsome Padmanabhaswamy Temple, dedicated to Vishnu, has a seven-story gopuram (entrance tower) that's as wide as it is tall to accommodate an unusual reclining statue of a very dark-skinned Vishnu (Padmanabha), lying in eternal slumber on a five-headed serpent. The date of its original construction has been placed at 3000 BC; legend has it that it was built by 4,000 masons, 6,000 laborers, and 100 elephants over the course of six months. In the main courtyard there's an intricate granite sculpture, supplemented by more stonework on the nearly 400 pillars supporting the temple corridors. Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple or inner sanctum but are welcome to view the impressive structure from the outside. The hours of opening reflect the eccentric uniqueness of this magnificent-looking and much revered house of worship: 3:30 am–4:45 am, 6:30 am–7 am, 8:30 am–10 am, 10:30 am–11:10 am, 11:45 am–noon, 5 pm–6:15 pm, 6:45 pm–7:20 pm, and a viewing of Vishnu can be booked online. You'll have to take off your shoes, photography is prohibited, and women should wear appropriate clothing (i.e., no shorts or sleeveless or revealing tops). Nearby there are little shops selling handicrafts.

    Next to Kuthiramalika Palace Museum, Trivandrum, Kerala, 695023, India

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 3:30–4:45 am, 6:30–7 am, 8:30–10 am, 10:30–11:10 am, 11:45 am–noon, 5–6:15 pm, 6:45–7:20 pm
  • 15. Pardesi Synagogue


    The first migration of Jews to Kerala is thought to have taken place in the 6th century BC, followed by a much larger wave in the 1st century AD, when Jews fleeing Roman persecution in Jerusalem settled at Cranganore (on the coast about 26 km [16 miles] north of Kochi). In the 4th century, the local king promised the Jews perpetual protection, and the colony flourished, serving as a haven for Jews from the Middle East and, in later centuries, Europe. When the Portuguese leader Afonso de Albuquerque discovered the Jews near Cochin in the 16th century, however, he destroyed their community, having received permission from his king to "exterminate them one by one." Muslim anti-Semitism flared up as well. The Jews rebuilt in Mattancherry but were able to live without fear only after the less-belligerent Dutch took control in 1663. The rather small synagogue, built in 1568, houses four scrolls of the Torah kept in cases of silver and gold and is topped by an attractive clock tower that was added in 1760. Admire the collection of antique colonial Indian lights hanging from the center and the blue-and-white Chinese tiles on the floor (a gift from a Jewish businessman in the 18th century); no two tiles are alike. Also on view are the 4th-century copperplates that detail, in Malayalam, the king's decree that allowed the Jewish community to live in his kingdom. Before you enter the main synagogue there is a collection of paintings on the left highlighting the Jewish story in India. Photography and videography are not allowed in the synagogue.

    Synagogue La., Kochi, Kerala, 682002, India

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Rs. 5, Sun.–Thurs. 10–1 and 3–5 (closed on Jewish holidays), Closed Fri., Sat., and Jewish holidays
  • 16. Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

    In the vicinity of Thekkady, the Periyar National Park is one of India's best animal parks for spotting elephants, bison, wild boar, oxen, deer, black-faced Nilgiri langurs, and lion-tailed macaques (two kinds of monkeys), as well as many species of birds. The best viewing period is March and April, when other watering holes have dried up and wildlife, including leopards and tigers, is forced to approach the lake to drink. Still, you have a good chance of seeing animals resident October through May.Lake Periyar, its many fingers winding around low-lying hills, is the heart of the nearly 303-square-km (117-square-mile) sanctuary. Forget exhausting treks or long safaris. At this sanctuary, unlike any other in India, you lounge in a motor launch as it drifts around bends and comes upon animals drinking at the shores. Be prepared: Indian children (and adults) love to scream and shout at wildlife sightings. On a quiet trip, elephants hardly notice the intrusion, although younger pachyderms will peer at you out of curiosity and then run squealing back to their elders when your boat comes too close. If you're brave-hearted, you can spend a night doing a night trek (Rs. 2,000 per person), staying overnight in a jungle lodge. If you do go out in the forest, be prepared for leeches on the ground, especially during the monsoon. For information about treks in the park, contact the District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC) in Idukki.

    Thekkady, Kerala, India
    486-922--4571-forest department

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: From Rs. 300, Boat safaris: daily at 7, 9:30, 11:30, 2, and 4. Book one day in advance with KTDC or at the boat landing point in Thekkady
  • 17. Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica

    This Gothic-looking basilica, set in spacious grounds, has an interior that's colorfully painted with scenes and decorations that some find gaudy and others find gorgeous. The king of Cochin granted the Portuguese permission to build a fort and later a church in 1505 for their assistance in defeating the Zamorins of Calicut. For a while that structure was used as a Dutch armory. It was razed by the British in 1795, and in 1904 the current structure was completed, with a pillar of the original church within. Pope Paul IV elevated the church to a cathedral in 1558, and Pope John Paul II made it a basilica in 1984.

    Parade and K.B. Jacob Rd., Fort Kochi, Kerala, 682001, India

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Daily 9–1 and 3–5
  • 18. Sree Muthappan Temple

    This unusual temple, one of the largest shrines of its type, sits on the bank of the Valapattanam River at Parassinikkadavu, 18 km (11 miles) from Kannur. It's devoted not to a Vedic god, but to Sree Muthappan, a folk deity of the Thiya community. One school of Hindu thought claims that he is a combined manifestation of both Shiva and Vishnu, another believes he is simply another avatar of Shiva in the form of a tribal hunter. Several colorful legends about him exist. Worship does not take the form of paying homage to an idol but to enactment of the lord's life: the temple hosts such Theyyam performances almost every day of the year. Though it's not as colorful as traditional outdoor festivals, you can at least get a taste of this mystical local form of dance. Because Sree Muthappan is usually pictured with a hunting dog, there is a statue in honor of dogs on the premises; friendly mutts roam the sanctuary, and offerings at the shrine take the form of bronze dog figurines. The temple is also unusual for the fact that toddy (fermented palm sap) and fish are both offered to Sree Muthappan. Non-Hindus are allowed to enter the temple but must dress modestly---shoulders and knees should be covered and no footwear is allowed inside.

    Off NH–17, Parassinikkadavu, Kerala, 670563, India

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Theyyams usually daily 5:30 am–8:30 am and 6:30 pm–8:30 pm
  • 19. St. Andrew’s Basilica

    At Arthunkal, 20 km (12 miles) north of Alleppey on the way from Kochi, stands the ancient St. Andrew's Basilica. The church makes for an interesting break. Made out of wood and coconut fronds, it was built in 1581 by Portuguese missionaries, in honor of Jesus's disciple Andrew. A few years later the church was rebuilt in stone. When it was erected, St. Andrew's Basilica was considered holy by Hindus as well the missionaries; even the area's Hindu king visited the shrine. It's one of the oldest and more impressive churches in a state where you can spot a startling-looking church every few miles.

    Arthunkal P.O., Cherthala, Kerala, 688 530, India
    No phone

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Closed Sun.
  • 20. St. Angelo Fort

    In 1505 the Portuguese built St. Angelo Fort, with the consent of the ruling Kolathiri Raja, in order to protect their interests in the area. After passing into Dutch and then British hands, it's now maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. There are still a few British cannons intact, and lovely views of the fishing activity in Moppillah Bay.

    Off NH–17,, Kannur, Kerala, India

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free

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