Applauded for its tourism initiatives, Kerala offers big surprises despite its small size (as compared to most other Indian states). Tucked away in the southern portion of India, Kerala is most notably called ‘God’s Own Country’. There are several reasons for this moniker. However, what seems most evident is how beautifully the natural landscapes of this state have made this an earthly paradise.
The diversity of relief features that Kerala offers can be matched by few other states in the country. One can explore various islands or entire clusters thereof, hike up numerous hills, camp in tropical forests, sight elusive wild animals at national parks, go birdwatching at dawn or dusk, enjoy classical music, dance and martial arts performances, or relish the spicy cuisine.
Here is an exhaustive list of tourist places in Kerala. While it brings to life touristy options such as the backwaters, hill stations or forest reserves, it doesn’t leave behind the offbeat charms of quaint villages and little known islands.
Take your time to immerse yourself into the sights, sounds and flavours of Kerala as we introduce over 40 destinations for you to plan your next long trip to this southern gem.
It is virtually impossible to imagine Kerala without its backwaters. And at the very mention of the tranquil backwaters, Alleppey comes to mind. Also known as Alappuzha, the city enjoys unrivalled access to the Laccadive Sea and its backwaters. A slow houseboat-ride along the narrow waterways is unmissable, whether you opt for a few hours of sightseeing or a multi-day cruise. Many of these traditional houseboats are equipped with suites with multiple bedrooms, a fully functional kitchen and bathroom for the convenience of their guests.
Alleppey is sometimes called ‘The Venice of the East’ since topographically, the city is mostly covered by water, and the locals commute via boats. Both speedboats and traditional boats that require rowing can be seen in the backdrop as you travel through Alappuzha.
While the backwaters are deep at certain points, the level sometimes reduces to a shallow depth at narrow openings through mangroves. Steering the houseboat can sometimes be a challenge under such conditions. This is why the oarsmen of Alleppey use a long bamboo rod to push against the bottom of the backwater, which can be severely marshy at certain stretches.
The water-world of Alleppey provide ample opportunities to gaze upon distant islands, watch the fishermen and their wives wait for their catch, look at locals trading upon boats, and even see how the husk of coconut shells are used to produce ropes (which are then utilized to tie up the various parts of houseboats together).
Houseboat tours along the coastline of Alappuzha usually stop at a village for the live viewing of rope-making and also to look at the spice farms of the village, before breaking for a traditional meal served on banana leaf.
Alleppey also boasts of some pretty beaches such as Alappuzha Beach where one can indulge in some beachside fun activities or just relax with a view of the sunset. There is a lighthouse close to this beach which adds to the lure of the place.
Often called Ernakulam, after the district in which Cochin lies, this city is a metropolis, and the most densely populated one in Kerala. Over the years, the influx of foreign traders have given Cochin its vibrant multicultural character. Alternatively known as Kochi, the city’s strategic location has played a part in making it a key port for trading. Kochi was a hub of spice trade since the 14th century, when the Arabs maintained good business relations with the local traders.
Fondly called ‘The Queen of the Arabian Sea’, Cochin became the first European colony after the Portuguese colonized it in the early 16th century. Soon after, the Dutch annexed this place, leaving its own cultural footprints in the sands of this part of Kerala. When finally the British Rule came into play, Cochin became a princely state of India.
Trade with China left Cochin with the famous Chinese fishing nets which have a unique mechanism wherein the bamboo rods (which hold the net) are lowered into the sea to catch a large number of fishes. These nets are not seen anywhere else in the country, and make great props for photographers who capture sunrises and sunsets.
The vibrant coastline of Cochin is strewn with rows of tall buildings. After nightfall, when these edifices are fully lit, they form a sparkling chain. This is the Marine Drive, a beachside boardwalk which is also open to vehicles. There are a number of shopping avenues for the fashion conscious.
If any place can be called ‘The Kashmir of South India’, it is Munnar. This hill station is located at an altitude of 5,200 feet above the sea level. Not many are aware of the topographical fact that Munnar is the location where three rivers converge. These are Nallathanni, Mudhirapuzha and Kundaly. This is the reason behind the name, as “Moonar” means “three rivers” in Malayalam.
Famous for its tea plantations, Munnar used to have a lot of dense forests before the British urged the locals to convert most of these chocolate hills into tea gardens. Tea happens to be a cash crop, and the farmers aggressively began planting tea plants to be able to pay the high taxes in the British Raj era. There are a variety of teas cultivated upon the hills, most of which are export quality.
The highest point in Munnar, Top Station, is unsurprisingly very popular with tourists, who yearn for the views at an altitude of 1,700 metres. Top Station is located within the touristy part of Echo Point in Munnar. For those who are into flowers, don’t miss the sighting of the neelakurinji flowers which bloom only once in 12 years!
If you plan on staying longer, head to the Kundala Tea Plantations, maintained by Tata Tea. Apart from the lovely views of the tea crops, you can enjoy a round of golf on their sprawling golf course. You will also find the Kundala Lake nearby, and another one – the eponymous artificial dam.
Boasting of gorgeous relief features, Thekkady is a town with diverse beauties that can be enjoyed. While it is mostly known for the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary nearby, the conducive weather allows for spice plantations, flower parks and more.
Thekkady Rose Park is a lush botanical garden with an entry fee of INR 50 per head. If you have at least 3 hours in hand, you should book the Adventure package worth INR 400 which can be shared among friends or family who accompany you. You can indulge in games such as rope walking, spring bouncing, bungee jumping, boating, etc. All of the activities are kid-friendly, and can be safely enjoyed by all. The rose park has plenty of greenery and plants other than roses too. There are several installations here meant for photo-ops.
Elephant Junction Thekkady is a small area where tourists can get up close and personal with pet elephants who have been trained for entertainment. There are facilities for elephant trekking, which takes you on an elephant ride through the woods, commanded by mahouts. You can also try feeding the elephants or bathing them.
The most important site on your trip to Thekkady should undoubtedly be a visit to the Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. This is an important tiger and elephant reserve, while also being a place for many endangered species of plants and other animals. Bordering the state of Tamil Nadu, the national park is spread over the Pandalam and Cardamom Hills. Take heart in the abundance of flora and fauna here: 1900+flowering plants, 170+ grass varieties, 140+ orchid species, 60+ mammal species, 260+ bird species, apart from reptiles, amphibians and fishes. One can trek through the forest trails, camp in the woods or even do boating in the beautiful Periyar Lake.
Thiruvananthapuram, also known as Trivandrum, is the capital of Kerala, and also the most populated city in the state. The place enjoys an attractive coastline while also having a stretch of undulating low hills. The Malayalam translation of the name of this city means “The City of Lord Anantha” (from thiru anantha puram). The wealth of greenery and public parks have earned Trivandrum the nickname of ‘The Evergreen City of India’.
Known primarily for its multitude of beaches and museums, Thiruvananthapuram also preserves some of its historical palaces. Do not skip Kuthiramalika, a palace built by one of the erstwhile Maharajas of the former Kingdom of Travancore in British India. Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma commissioned the construction of this Kerala-style palace, officially known as Puthen Malika, which translates to New Palace. Built with marble, granite, rosewood and teak, Kuthiramalika means ‘Mansion of Horses’. The palace was so named because of the carving of 122 wooden horses on the wall brackets of the sloping roof on the southern part of the mansion.
Another palace of note is the Kowdiar Palace which exudes royalty through each of its 150 rooms. Even though this is the private residence of the descendants of the royal family, visits can be arranged on request. You can also enter when the palace hosts exhibitions pertaining to the local culture, art, music or textiles. Built in 1934, the grand palace was a wedding gift given by the last ruling Maharaja of Travancore (Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma) to his sister, Maharani Karthika Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi.
Former summer retreat of the Travancore royal family, the Kanakakunnu Palace is open to all. Since the royal family was vegetarian, the palace was, once upon a time, used to serve non-vegetarian delicacies to diplomatic guests. Today, one can enjoy the India Dance Festival in the premises. Organized by the Department of Tourism, the fest runs from October through March each year.
Renowned for its IIM (Indian Institute of Management), Kozhikode is also a versatile vacation destination. Formerly known as Calicut, the city was once an important spice trading location. Kozhikode was once ruled by the Samoothiri dynasty, and over the years, saw cultural and trade influx from the Arabs, the Portuguese, the British, the French and the Dutch.
Kozhikode offers plenty of beaches and museums to indulge both your body and mind. For the religious tourists, there are many temples and mosques strewn across the city. Check out Thali Maha Shiva Kshetram, Valayanad Devi Temple, Azhakodi Devi Temple, Thiruvachira Sree Krishna Temple, Varakkal Devi Temple, Thalikkunu Shiva Temple, Sreekanteshwara Temple and Niramkaitha Kotta Temple to see how Kerala architecture was used in shrines.
Mosques such as Kadalundi Nagaram Masjid and Idiyangara Mosque show typical Islamic architecture, the only exception being Mishkal Mosque which has the sloping thatched roofs, as seen on the Hindu temples here.
Beach fans should head to Kozhikode Beach (also known as Calicut Beach) which has stones jutting out of the sand, leading to an intriguing formation, great for photo-ops. The beach also has a park called the Lion Park, apart from an aquarium to entertain the kids. Kappad Beach is another option with a rocky shoreline and plentiful public amenities. To skip the crowds, try the Bhatt Road Beach or the Kamburam Beach which is a little bit offbeat and much quieter. For activities such as boating, Ancia Beach is a good option.
7. Fort Kochi
The art capital of Kerala, Fort Kochi is just a small part of the larger area of Cochin. This place is known among thriving artists the world over for its Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The contemporary art festival which begins in December and runs until the end of March the following year, is the largest of its kind in all of Asia. During the biennale, Fort Kochi sees most of its art galleries, cafes, exhibition halls and public spaces swamped with art aficionados, struggling painters and even amateur artists who spend several months exploring the art scene of Kerala and beyond.
Apart from art, Fort Kochi has the perfect backdrop for photographing the Chinese Fishing Nets or Cheena Vala, as it is locally known, which are used by the local fisher folks. Catering to the young, backpacking crowd, Fort Kochi offers plenty of home stays, hostels and other types of shared accommodation for budget travellers. Nevertheless, some of the most refined luxury hotels are also present here for the well heeled and comfort-conscious.
Fort Kochi was previously known by various names such as Cochim de Baixo, West Kochi, Old Kochi and Lower Kochi. The northern stretch of the coast of Fort Kochi can easily be explored on foot if you have the entire day to spare. Begin at the Indian Naval Maritime Museum which has exhibits on the naval technology, history, communication systems, uniforms, ship models and more.
As you walk along the Fort Kochi Beach, venture inland to see the Indo Portuguese Museum and the adjoining Bishop’s House which is a church. This doesn’t take very long to visit since there are not too many exhibits inside. However, the garden complex can make for a nice walk. Further ahead, the Dutch Cemetery, which is in ruins, gives an insight into the design of gravestone styles of the Dutch.
Right on the Mahatma Gandhi beach, one can spot the ruins of Fort Emmanuel or Fort Manuel which was the first Portuguese fort in the entire continent. Named after the then King of Portugal, Manuel I, one can see the remnants of an old cannon. Somewhere along the inroads, you will find St. Francis CSI Church which is one of the oldest European churches in the country.
Head to Vasco da Gama Square and follow the promenade to the Indo-European style Bastion Bungalow. You might want to venture away from the coast to pay a visit to the imposing Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica, one of only nine in Kerala. This heritage Portuguese church sports gothic architecture.
For street-style shopping, stroll through the bustling Princess Street or for a quieter experience, go to the Strings Museum of Musical Instruments. Greenix Village is another amazing place for enthusiasts of Kerala’s traditional dance forms such as Kathakali, Mohiniattam, Kalaripayattu (martial arts and dance) and indigenous puppetry. They even have an ornate Kathakali Museum where different characters, poses and instruments are kept on display.
8. Munroe Island
Spread over 13.4 square kilometres, Munroe Island is actually not just a single island but a cluster of eight. These islets are also called Mundrothuruthu. What makes Munroe Island so interesting is the fact that it is an inland group of islands set amidst the Ashtamudi Lake and the Kallada River which is also called Punalurar. Ashtamudi is a backwater lake and its name literally translates to ‘eight braids’ in Malayalam.
Munroe Island is named after General John Munro who was a Scottish soldier. He had also served as Resident and Diwan of the former princely states of Travancore and Cochin in the early 19th century. He was the administrator who oversaw the reclamation works which resulted in the formation of the eight islets. Playing on the famous tagline ‘God’s Own Country’ which is used for the state of Kerala, Munroe Island is sometimes referred to as ‘God’s Own Island’.
Most of the village locals make their livelihood by making coconut coir, and it is possible to watch the entire process of coir retting and coir weaving. Tourists can also enjoy demonstrations of fishing and prawn feeding. While natural features such as the mangroves, the avifauna, the backwaters, the lagoons, the shores and the coconut farms are appealing, one can also look forward to boat rides through the narrow canals.
An activity which travellers find entertaining is the famous Kallada Boat Race or Kallada Jalotsavam which is held 28 days after the celebration of the Keralite festival of Onam. Organized on the Kallada River at Munroe Island, the boat race is a great place to watch a rowing race among large traditional boats which house almost a hundred oarsmen each. Munroe Island is said to be gradually submerging into the waters, so you’d better not miss it before it disappears completely.
Located in the North Eastern part of Kerala, Wayanad is literally ‘the land of paddy fields’. In fact, its name in Malayalam ‘Vayal Nadu’ translates to exactly that! The district is part of the Western Ghats and has varying altitudes in the range of 700 metres to 2100 metres. This makes Wayanad a great hill station vacation destination.
Blessed with abundant wildlife, the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, which is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, offers a good dose of adventure for animal enthusiasts and lovers of the wild. This animal sanctuary covers four mountain ranges, Tholpetty, Sulthan Bathery, Kurichiat and Muthanga. The dense teak forests are a haven for tigers, deer, elephants and the Indian bison. Birdwatchers should wait in anticipation for the calls of peafowl, woodpeckers, owls and babblers.
One of the towns in this district of the Southern Deccan Plateau which must be visited is Kalpetta. Hikers can look forward to the gorgeous views from the Chembra Peak. Like icing on the cake, the Neelimala Viewpoint is where most travellers flock for breathtaking panoramas of Wayanad’s forests, mountains, valleys and waterfalls. The religious tourist might find the hilltop Ananthanatha Swami Jain Temple worth a stroll, mainly for the coffee plantations which surround it.
A mesmerizing island complex that remains Wayanad’s open secret is Kuruvadweep. Also known as Kuruva Island, this is actually a river delta spanning 950 acres in area. Kuruvadweep is a group of three protected islands which are not inhabited but see a lot of tourist influx. Entry is restricted but fun once you discover you will be commuting on handmade flat rafts, if not fibre boats. Covered by dense evergreen forests, the island complex has a treasure trove of indigenous herbs, birds and beautiful orchids.
10. Jew Town
Once home to the state’s Jewish community, Jew Town, today, is a shopping favourite. On Jew Town Road, several small shops set up their stalls of food items, souvenirs, traditional fabric works, antiques, paintings and crafts. Even some ethnic Jewish items are up for sale at some curio stores. There are also a few cafes which offer traditional Israeli dishes such as shakshouka. Visit Antique Museum Kochi for a glimpse or traditional clocks, pottery, statues and other collectibles.
You will spot the 16th century Paradesi Synagogue in the centre of the mishmash of little shops. Built in 1568, this is the oldest synagogue in all of the Commonwealth Nations which is still active. Paradesi Synagogue is also one of only eight synagogues constructed by the Malabar Yehudan or Yehudan Mappila people. The name ‘Paradesi’ means ‘foreign’, alluding to the foreign Jewish influence.
Known over the world over for its eponymous beach, Kovalam is but a small coastal town in the southern part of Trivandrum City. The name means ‘coconut grove’ in Malayalam, accurately representing the abundance of coconut palm in the area. Once an idyllic fishing village, Kovalam is famous today for its Ayurvedic treatments, spiritual and health retreats and a number of beach resorts which facilitate vacationing close to the beaches.
The Kovalam Beach is a 17 km stretch of four beaches which are partitioned by outcrops. The crescent formation on the shoreline is visible from a high-rise building. The beaches which contribute to the coastline are Eve’s Beach (known as Hawah Beach in the local language), Lighthouse Beach, Ashoka Beach and Samudra Beach.
The Lighthouse Beach is so named after the Vizhinjam Lighthouse which stands on its sands. Built at an altitude of 35 metres above the sea level, atop the Kurumkal hillock, the lighthouse is an attractive landmark. Measuring 118 feet in height, Vizhinjam Lighthouse is painted in stripes of red and white. Most of the other beaches are places for the local fishermen to go about their fishing activities. One can watch them in action to kill time though.
If you are not so much of a beach bum, Kovalam has other attractions to keep you interested. Explore the Halcyon Castle, a beach resort built in 1932 for the royalties of the erstwhile princely state of Travancore. Temple fans can visit the Vizhinjam Rock Cut Cave Temple and the Thiruvallam Parasurama Temple.
If you are into art, head to the Kovalam Art Gallery to gaze at the inspiring compositions on display. The profusion of water bodies in and around Kovalam (such as the Vellayani Lake and Karamana River) have ensured the need for dams. Plan a trip to the Aruvikkara Dam and Neyyar Dam, and also enjoy the sunset from Valiyathura Pier.
Characterized by hills and backwaters, Bekal invites tourists to explore its coastal attractions. No trip to this town is complete without a visit to the Bekal Fort. This mid-seventeenth century fort was built by Shivappa Nayaka, the ruler of the temple town of Keladi, in 1650 AD. With most of its fort wall touching the waters of the Arabian Sea, the fort commands an area of almost 40 acres.
Some interesting features of the Bekal Fort are a set of underground steps leading to the fort, a water tank, an observation tower and a magazine (storage area for arms and ammunition). This fort provides a nice vantage point to see the towns of Bekal, Kottikulam, Kanhagad, Uduma and Pallikkara.
Another fort worth a visit is the Chandragiri Fort which was built in the 17th century AD. Spread over 7 acres, the fort stands 150 feet above the sea level. Located by the Payaswini River, the ruins of the Chandragiri Fort provide insights into the ancient kingdoms of Thulunadu, Kolathunadu, Vijayanagara and Keladi Nayaka. Architecturally, the fort has a simple square layout.
Forts aside, Bekal has a couple of Hindu temples which sees a lot of devotees rushing to offer their prayers. Trikkannad Tryambakeshwara Temple and Sree Madiyan Koolom Temple see a lot of footfalls. The latter, said to be 500 years old, is home to some vintage wooden carvings. Flaunting the traditional Kerala style of architecture, Sree Madiyan Koolom Temple has ceilings and pillars which enthral visitors.
When in Bekal, you cannot miss its beaches, especially since it’s a coastal town. Do plan a visit to Bekal Beach and the surrounding park, Chembirika Beach, Kappil Beach, Pallikkara Beach Park, Kasaba Beach Park and Uduma Beach.
Also known as Cochim de Cima or Upper Kochi, Mattancherry is one of the traditional neighbourhoods of Kochi. Mattancherry Palace happens to be the most famous attraction of this area. Also known as Dutch Palace, this is actually a Portuguese palace and museum with the traditional Kerala architecture on its exterior. The museum exhibits the life of the kings of Kochi through paintings and murals. The compound has plenty of greenery and also a pond, adding to the character and charm of the place.
Other sightseeing options are the Jeevamatha Catholic Latin Church, St. George Orthodox Koonan Kurish Old Syrian Church and International Tourism Police Station and Police Museum. At the latter, one can learn about the methods used by the Kerala Police, look at their arms, medals, photographs, uniforms and more.
Almost at the southern tip of Kerala, Poovar is a village in the Neyyattinkara taluk. Home to a huge concentration of 5-star properties, this hamlet is a popular tourist destination in south Kerala. The name Poovar means ‘flower-river’ in Malayalam (from ‘poo’ and ‘var’), given by the 18th century Travancore king Marthanda Varma after he witnessed the lovely flowering trees by the Neyyar River which flows through this tehsil.
There are diverse sightseeing options in Poovar which range from beaches and museums to temples and mosques. Check out the Pozhiyoor Golden Beach which is relatively less crowded and enjoys nice sea breeze and sunsets, which make the sands shine like gold. To try boating, head to the Pozhikkara Beach. For some variation in the terrain, explore the Azhimala Cliff and its adjoining beach which is strewn with boulders. A slightly less crowded choice is the Adimalathura Beach which is slightly far from all the popular beaches but worthy enough for a visit, thanks to the crabs which can be spotted here.
Activities not to be skipped in Poovar are boating in the pristine backwaters, a trip to Elephant Rock, a visit to the colourful Aazhimala Siva Temple by the Arabian Sea and another one to the Chenkal Maheswaram Temple which boasts of the iconic Kerala-style thatched sloping brick and an enormous statue of the Shivalinga. For a dash of greenery, go to the Kuzhipallam Botanical Garden which is spread over 40 acres, and home to hundreds of pretty flowers, some of which are also for sale.
This beauty on the Malabar Coast offers a lot of beaches for those who desperately need some Vitamin-Sea. Formerly known as Quilon, the city of Kollam borders the Laccadive Sea and calls the Chinnakada Clock Tower its main landmark. This port city was once called ‘Coulao’ by the Portuguese traders who had settled here. The name ‘Kollam’ is thought to have come from Sanskrit in which it means ‘pepper’. Interestingly, apart from spices, this city is famous for its production of cashew and coconut coir.
At the very centre of Kollam is the Ashtamudi Lake where one can spot the Chinese fishing nets which are basically shore operated lift nets introduced to Kerala by the ancient Chinese traders. This palm shaped lake also lets tourists relax in luxury houseboats as they take a ride through the narrow canals.
There is no dearth of beaches in Kollam, the most renowned being the Kollam Beach which is formally called the Mahatma Gandhi Beach. This beach is equipped with a lifeguard outpost and is considered relatively safe. This has also contributed to it being a favoured destination wedding option. Other beaches of note in this city are Thirumullavaram Beach, Thangassery Beach (which also has the eponymous lighthouse painted in red and white spiral stripes), Eravipuram Beach, Thirumullavaram Beach and Mayyanad Beach.
Architecture and history enthusiasts can consider walking past the Thevally Palace or Thevalli Palace built in the early 19th century. Located on the Thangassery Beach, the Tangasseri Fort is a striking example of Portuguese architecture, albeit in ruins, with its exposed brick walls. The fort is called Fortaleza da São Tomé in Portuguese and alternatively referred to as St. Thomas Fort or Fort Thomas. Sporting traditional Kerala architecture, the British Residency Bungalow is a much-used landmark and also serves as the Government Guest House. Another heritage building not to be missed is the Cheena Kottaram or China Palace which flaunts Indo-Saracenic architecture which is a mixture of European, Indian, Moorish and Islamic styles.
The landscape of Thrissur is dotted with ample temples and churches which are not just places of worship here, but also architectural examples to be studied and explored. Formerly called Trichur, this city is colloquially called ‘God’s Own Town’. Apart from shrines, there are also religious festivals that attract tourists to Thrissur. This cultural capital of Kerala was, once upon a time, the administrative capital of the medieval Kingdom of Cochin.
It is not surprising that Thrissur should have so many Hindu Shiva temples, given that its very name means ‘The city with three Shiva temples’ when its long-form Malayalam and Tamil name ‘Thri-Shiva-Perur’ is considered. Even in Ancient India, the city was known as ‘Vrishabhadripuram’ which means ‘Kailash of the South’, Kailash being the mythological abode of the Hindu deity Shiva.
The most popular Shiva temples which you can put on your list are Vadakkunnathan Temple which also tells the story of Mahabharata through murals, Punkunnam Shiva Temple where along with Shiva, Parvathy, Ganesha, Partha Sarathi and several other idols are worshipped, and Trikkur Mahadeva Temple, a rock cut cave which was used not only by Hindus but also Jains and Buddhists for meditation.
The spread of Catholicism has ensured the construction of a lot of ornate churches and cathedrals in Thrissur. You might want to visit Basilica of Our Lady of Dolours which is built in the splendid Indo-Gothic style of architecture, spread over 25,000 square feet, the Bible Tower which, at 42.5 metres, happens to be the tallest church tower in all of Asia, and St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church which commemorates Saint Thomas who was one of the apostles who preached Christ in India in 52 AD.