Located in the extreme south of India along its western coast is the city of Thiruvananthapuram. Still better known by its former (and easier to pronounce) name, Trivandrum, Thiruvananthapuram is the most populous city in the state of Kerala. It’s also the biggest city in India’s deep south. As the largest urban center in the region, it’s no surprise that there are many things to see and eat in Trivandrum, India.
Here, the residents mostly speak the state language, Malayam, though many people also know English. The humid, jungle climate and powerful sun encourages the growth of endless coconut and banana trees. The local spices, which made the city an ideal ancient spice-trading post dating back to 1000 BC, serve the local cuisine well. The vibrant flavors and complex composition of Kerala food must be tasted to be believed!
Regardless of what type of tourist you are, Trivandrum has something to tickle your fancy. Whether you’re into immersing yourself in the culture of local bazaars, visiting historical buildings dating back to the days of the British Raj, or visiting breathtaking modern wonders, Trivandrum and its surrounding area has you covered. These are the top 15 things to see and eat in Trivandrum, India!
Upon arriving in Trivandrum, my very first stop was the 16th-century Sri Padamanabhaswamy Temple, one of the most prominent Hindu temples in the world. The city’s name, Thiruvananthapuram, translates to “the City of Lord Ananta,” a reference to the temple’s principle deity, Vishnu. Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple is considered one of the 108 Holy Abodes of Vishnu, also known as the Divya Desams. Inside the temple is an 18-foot-long idol of Vishnu, Padamanabhaswamy, in a reclining position.
The temple was built in a blend of Kerala and Tamil architecture called Dravidian architecture. It’s a replica of the Sri Adikesavperumal Temple in the town of Thiruvattar in the Kanyakumari District of the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu. But the temple’s greatest claim to fame is that it is the richest temple in the world, with over $22 billion USD worth of gold and jewels uncovered there so far. It’s also thought that the vaults of its treasury contain roughly $100 trillion worth of riches!
During my visit to the temple, I noticed that there were lots of pilgrims there. My amazing guide, Vishnu, told me that they were from Sabarimala Temple, another Hindu temple in Kerala. There are also vendor stalls outside the temple, where you can buy religious items.
NOTE: You can only enter Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple if you are Hindu, but everyone can view it from the outside. Even if you can’t go inside, it’s easily one of the top things to see in Trivandrum, India!
Of all the great spots to have a fantastic and authentic Kerala breakfast in Trivandrum, one of my favorites is Good Morning Hotel. This eatery opens at 6:30 a.m. and produces roughly 700 porottas (a type of flaky flatbread) every morning. Despite that, this spot is so popular with locals that it’s usually completely sold out within two hours, so get there early!
I highly recommend getting three flaky, layered porottas with a serving of chunky, spicy beef curry. Eating them together was like heaven had exploded all over my palate. The meat was tender and contained a rich, red masala, which made me salivate the moment it touched my tongue. The flavors were truly out of this world!
Finish up your meal with some black tea. The kind I had contained mint leaves, masala, herbs, and nice chunks of ginger. The delicious combination made for a tasty, flavor-packed palate cleanser!
Another of the top things to see in Trivandrum, India is the beautiful Attukal Bhagavathy Temple. Located in the center of the city just over a mile from Sri Padamanabhaswamy Temple, this Hindu shrine is dedicated to the goddess of prosperity and salvation, Bhandrakali.
The temple itself hosts ten annual festivals, including its main festival, Attukal Pongala. This 10-day festival in February and March attracts millions of women every year, who descend upon the temple to prepare a sweet rice porridge called pongala. They cook the dish in small pots in the open to appease Bhandrakali.
I visited Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in January of 2020, so I was a bit early to witness the festival, but the temple is absolutely beautiful. It’s a must when you visit Trivandrum!
When you visit any city in India, it is imperative that you visit a market or bazaar to get an authentic look at local life. Trivandrum is no exception. There, you should check out Chala Bazaar, the busiest street market in the state of Kerala. There, you’ll find hundreds of vendors selling everything from spices to jewelry to fresh meat and seafood.
As you make your way through the frantic, bustling crowds, you’ll come across vendors selling produce like tomatoes, eggplant, shallots, potatoes, limes, beets, peas, carrots, pickles, an okra-like vegetable called a lady’s finger, and a variety of banana called palayamkodan. You can also find ginger root, lentils, seeds, and much more!
While you’re at the bazaar, pop into one of the shops for a sweet and refreshing soda sarbath. This herbal drink is made from a crushed root, sugar syrup, lemon juice, water, and ice. Afterward, continue on to the seafood section of Chalai Bazaar, where you’ll see a flurry of activity. Here, you can watch as butchers break down fresh fish as vendors sell tuna, crayfish, shrimp, and dried fish. It’s sensory overload in the best way!
With daytime temperatures around 100°F and high humidity, exploring the city can be a real challenge. But thankfully, there are places where you can not only beat the heat, but also grab a delicious bite to eat as well. One of them is the wonderful Edaneram Restaurant, which aims to bring once-popular root vegetables back to Kerala cuisine.
Unlike most restaurants in India, Edaneram (which means “break time”), is colorful, well-lit, and yes, air-conditioned. That makes it the perfect place to escape the heat. It also doesn’t hurt that they serve some of the most delicious food in all of Trivandrum!
There, they serve an interesting boiled water with flavorful spices, which is worth a try. I recommend trying their delicious yam and cassava (yuca) with a deceptively spicy bird’s eye chili chutney called kanthari mulaku. The fiery Kashmir chili chutney, and sweet, apple-like gooseberry chutney are also fantastic. Don’t miss out on their citrusy hot lime tea as well.
But the main thing you must try at Edaneram is their pazham pori and pothu curry, which is buffalo roast with a sweet, fried banana. The dish is served on a banana leaf, which helps enhance the vibrant flavors of the food. I loved the bits of coconut in the rich curry. The banana reminded me of the plantains I eat at home in Miami. The sweet and spicy combination, combined with the tender meat and light dough on the banana made for a mind-blowing combination I will never forget! Having this dish easily makes my list of the best things to see and eat in Trivandrum, India!
If you’ve watched my travel episodes, you’ll probably know that I have a thing for Indian haircuts. The level of skill Indian barbers have is unmatched, and the amount of pampering you receive really is second to none. If you’re a male traveler and find yourself in Trivandrum, you must have this remarkable experience at Mr. Barber barbershop.
The small, clean, air-conditioned shop only contains two seats, so just know that you might be in for a wait when you visit. The way my barber took care of the dry skin on my scalp, gave me the perfect skin fade, trimmed my beard, and washed and blow-dried my hair was phenomenal.
Then, it was time for my favorite part: the massage. He started my massaging my scalp with an oil serum, which was so tension-releasing and relaxing, it was practically orgasmic! He followed that by tapping around my entire head with the sides of his palms, cracking my neck, and pounding the back of my neck. It may sound odd or rough, but it is seriously the most incredible experience. I could feel all of my stress melt away. I almost fell asleep at one point!
If you visit Kerala without having a sadhya, you haven’t properly visited Kerala. A sadhya is a large, traditional Kerala feast that is served on a banana leaf. They can encompass up to 30 different curries, bread, rice, and desserts. It’s somewhat similar to a thali in that it contains a large variety of dishes that you can mix and match with each other. And the best place to have one in Trivandrum is Mother’s Veg Plaza.
Mother’s Veg Plaza is a very popular spot in the capital. It’s the only restaurant there that serves sadhya every day of the year. Best of all, the massive meal is practically a steal at just 220 rupees, which comes to less than $3 USD. Like other popular restaurants I’d visited in India in the past, there is no real seating system here.
There is no queue. Basically, you stand around the usually jam-packed restaurant, wait for someone to get up, and hope you get to their now vacated seat before anyone else.
But the sadhya is worth the less-than-ideal method to find a seat. Spread out across my banana leaf was a mouthwatering feast including rice, dal, ginger pickle, mango, papadum, pineapple chutney, gooseberry, banana chips, bitter gourd chutney, and more. Everything looked and smelled unreal!
The crunchy and airy banana chips were the perfect blend of sweet and salty, and the mix of rice, crunched-up papadum, and dal was a texture and flavor bomb in my mouth. I also loved the pickled lime, gooseberry, and mango. There was also a wonderful tomato-based soup called sambar, which I loved mixing with the banana and rice. The fruity, zesty, and tangy combination had my taste buds going wild! The pineapple chutney was the star of the show for me, though! I loved trying it with the rice, as well as a chili.
Dessert consisted of four different types of payasam, which is a sweet, rice-based porridge that you eat with things like mashed bananas and sweet chapatis. The final payasam contained vermicelli noodles. It was out of this world, and that’s coming from someone who isn’t normally a huge sweets lover! Trust me, if you don’t eat at least one sadhya during your time in Trivandrum, you’re doing it wrong!
One of the top things to see in Trivandrum, India, especially for history buffs, is the Napier Museum. One of the city’s most unique structures, it is housed in a massive building constructed in the Indo-Saracenic architectural style. This style was mostly used by British architects in India during the late 19th century. From the outside, it reminded me of a big mansion in a park!
The museum was originally established in 1855. It was later rebuilt in 1874 by Robert Chisolm, the architect of the Government of Madras. Inside, the museum houses an extensive collection of Indian art in its Sree Chitra Art Gallery. You’ll also find rare items of historical and archaeological significance, including a temple chariot, bronze artifacts, ivory carvings, coins, stone sculptures, ancient ornaments, wood carvings, and more! Visiting is a great way to learn about the history of the region. You can see it all for only 20 rupees/$0.26 USD.
While there’s plenty to see inside, there’s also a lot to check out in the museum grounds. There, you’ll find beautifully maintained gardens, which are the perfect place to relax and unwind. The grounds are also home to the Trivandrum Zoo, a 55-acre zoological park where you can see 82 animal species from around the world!
Speaking of Kerala’s history, one of the best places to get a taste of Kerala’s past and a taste of its unbelievable cuisine, is Villa Maya Restaurant. Here, you’ll find modern takes on regional favorites. They also serve dishes inspired by locations once connected to Kerala via the Spice Route.
Located in a beautiful 18th-century Dutch mansion, this award-winning restaurant is considered the best in Trivandrum. It’s also known as the third-best restaurant in all of India! Because of that, it’s easily one of my top 15 things to see in Trivandrum! While there are stunning-looking indoor dining areas and lounges, I highly recommend enjoying your meal in their private courtyard garden. Here, it’s like a meeting of two worlds, with the lavish palace and jungle-like garden blending with each other seamlessly. At night, the dim, romantic setting makes the courtyard the perfect place for a date!
I suggest starting your meal with some of Villa Maya’s bite-sized papdi chaat appetizers, which are both crunchy and sweet from the sev and tamarind chutney. Enjoy a citrusy lemon-gooseberry juice before moving on to a unique, coconut-based soup that contains a refreshing mix of coconut milk, ginger, spring onions, cilantro, green chilies, and coconut meat.
Though the dishes at Villa Maya have influences that range from local to places as far away as Syria, Italy, and Morocco, I wanted to sink further into the Kerala-inspired offerings. They included a seafood appetizer platter containing a fresh, spicy, and peppery squid that was perfectly tender. There was also a dried and deceptively spicy kingfish and succulent, buttery prawns whose flavors kept my taste buds guessing with each bite!
Before you leave, ring the bell that the waiters give you to signal that you enjoyed your meal and take a mouth freshener. It reminded me a lot of the Indian street food called paan and gave me an instant boost of energy! If you feel the need to freshen up, head over to their fancy, open-air bathroom, which contains a pond and even koi fish! This bathroom alone is one of the coolest things to see in Trivandrum, India!
Roughly ten and a half miles south of the city center of Trivandrum is the suburb of Kovalam. This suburb, whose name translates to “a grove of coconut trees,” is home to the world-famous Kovalam Beach, a crescent-shaped series of three separate beaches divided by rocky outcroppings. Whether you’re a sun lover, water enthusiast, or nature fan, this beach is among the top things to see in Trivandrum, India.
During my visit to Kovalam Beach, I had the pleasure of enjoying a fresh, tender coconut as I watched locals fly kites, sell various treats, and play in the water. You can also hike to one of several lighthouses. On my hike toward one of them, I came across a fenced-off section near a rocky stretch of shoreline, where I had perfect views of two of the three beaches. One looked much more touristy, while the other was dominated mostly by locals.
If you wish, you can also pay for a ten-minute speedboat ride for 800 rupees/$10.67 USD per person, or 1,600 rupees/$21.34 for a 20-minute ride. When you want to get something to eat or drink, head over to Jeevan Ayurvedic Beach Resort’s seaside restaurant. Just outside the restaurant, you can buy some freshly caught fish, which they’ll grill up for you, or you can just enjoy a Kingfisher Deluxe Strong beer and watch the sunset like I did. It’s so beautiful and peaceful, and spending at least a few hours at the beach is a must!
When you travel, I suggest always eating at spots that are very popular among the locals. Safety-wise, it’s great because it’s one of the best ways to ensure you won’t get sick from eating there. But it’s also a good idea because a place teeming with locals means the food is probably excellent. Enter Kethal’s Kitchen in Chalai Bazaar.
You’ll likely have a wait ahead of you, as Kethal’s chicken is extremely popular. The long wait time is worth it, as the chicken here is among the best I’ve ever eaten in India. Your meal of eight pieces of baby chicken fry and five chapatis is served to you on a banana leaf, alongside a bowl of fatty gravy. The chicken fry is incredibly spicy and coated in a phenomenal marinade.
The contrast between the tender chicken and chewy chapati is incredible, and when you dip them both in the gravy, it’s a true flavor explosion across your palate. The gravy also has a tactical purpose, as it helps temper the heat in your mouth from the chicken! It’s easily one of my favorite things to see and eat in Trivandrum, India!
I’m all about authenticity when I travel. When I visit a new place, I want to experience everything a local would normally see and do. That includes diving into whatever they eat for breakfast. In this part of India, a very popular breakfast item is a dish called pazhamkanji. You can try it at the Janarthana Hotel in the nearby village of Chadayamangalam in the Kollam District.
One of the most traditional foods you can eat in Kerala, pazhamkanji is a fermented rice gruel usually made from leftover rice from the night before. The rice is mixed with curd, mashed cassava, bird’s eye chili, onion, gooseberry pickle, and coconut chutney. It’s eaten alongside fish curry, fish fry, or both. Like most dishes in Kerala, this messy, flavorful mixture is eaten with your hands.
Pazhamkanji used to be mostly eaten in homes, as it was believed something so messy wouldn’t sell well in a restaurant setting. But it wound up doing very well! I could see why! I love eating with my hands, so I had the time of my life mixing the pazhamkanji with my fingers and licking bits of rice from my hands.
It was made even better by the spicy fish curry. Be sure to separate the bones before you dig in. I also recommend adding some chicken curry, which is amazingly fresh and packed with flavor. If the heat from the chilies or the fish curry start getting to you, temper it by adding more curd. Together, everything creates a gastronomical bomb with its diverse textures and the mix of sour, salty, and spicy. It’s one of my favorite things to see and eat in Trivandrum, India, without a doubt!
Best of all, it only costs 60 rupees, or just $0.79 USD! It’s a major steal!
While you’re on your day trip to the nearby village of Chadayamangalam, you should take the time to see another of the top things to see in Trivandrum, India: Jatayu Earth’s Center. One of the most unique attractions I’ve ever visited in India, this 65-acre nature park contains an adventure center, a soon-to-be-opened museum and cave resort, and the largest bird statue in the world!
Jatayu Earth’s Center opened to the public on August 17, 2018. Its centerpiece, a massive, concrete statue of the divine bird Jatayu, was designed and created by noted sculptor, screenwriter, and film director Rajiv Anchal. The statue symbolizes the safety and honor of women and is one of Kerala’s most noteworthy tourist attractions.
Even from a distance, the statue of Jatayu is a sight to behold. You can either climb the 826 steps up a mountainside to reach the statue at the very top, or you can take a 5-10 minute cable car ride. Both cost money, so check out the pricing information below. I suggest taking the cable car up, which allows you to have a bird’s eye view of the boulders and vegetation dotting the mountainside.
Resting 1,200 feet above sea level is the statue itself. At 200 feet long, 70 feet tall, and 150 feet wide, the concrete statue covers a whopping 15,000 square feet! From the statue’s base, you’ll have stunning views over Kerala. Further along is an amphitheatre, where you can enjoy those views and get a stunning angle of Jatayu itself. Nearby is a temple dedicated to Lord Rama and a large imprint in a stone that is said to be his footprint!
One of the coolest things I got to do at Jatayu Earth’s Center is go inside the statue of Jatayu. My friend Vishnu and I got exclusive access to climb to the top and peer out of the windows that make up the statue’s eyes. There, we got unparalleled views of Jatayu’s claws, wings, and the expansive vegetation far below. Once you’re finished at the statue, I suggest taking the stairs back down. It’s a great way to work off the pazhamkanji you ate earlier!
Here are the prices for the various activities offered at Jatayu Earth’s Center. These prices were accurate as of January of 2020, so be sure to check the park’s official website for the most up-to-date pricing information.
Parking: 20 Rupees/$0.26 USD for 2 hours
Walk to Jatayu Statue: 250 Rupees/$3.30 USD
Take Cable Car to Jatayu Statue: 450 Rupees/$5.94 USD
Adventure Center: 500 Rupees/$6.60 USD
Helicopter Tour: 2,400 Rupees/$31.68 USD
On your way to and from the Jatayu statue in Chadayamangalam, you’ll pass through the small town of Kilimanoor. There, you’ll find the next of my top things to see and eat in Trivandrum, India, Vazhiyorakkada Restaurant! This traditional restaurant is known for its curries and non-veg food, which is made by a local woman in its kitchens.
I recommend their oonu, which is a large meal served on a banana leaf. It includes several vegetable curries, rice, parippu (dal), fish curry, fried prawns, squid thoran, chicken liver, duck roast, chicken curry, a crisp flatbread called papadum, and more. Part of the fun of the meal is mixing different items together and getting new flavor and texture combinations!
The chicken liver is absolutely mind-blowing, as are the fiery, fried prawns. I also couldn’t get enough of the flavorful, greenish duck roast and the bony but tasty chicken curry. There was also a delicious, smoky fish fry, which was like a fish steak, and an amazing mixture of pineapple, cheera, and beetroot called pachadi. But the highlight was the unbelievable squid thoran, which was soft, tender, and full of coconut!
I couldn’t help but return to it again and again. This was one of my all-time favorite meals in India!
Another of my favorite things to do in Trivandrum is to take a day trip to Varkala. This popular seaside resort town is teeming with tourists, but it’s also a fantastic place to get a taste of local culture if you look hard enough. Visiting the famous Varkala Beach and checking out its gorgeous beachside cliffs is a must, and shopping along its boardwalk is a fun way to spend a couple of hours.
You can also visit some of the local temples, including the 2,000-year-old Janardanaswamy Temple. There are also great roadside huts selling amazing southern Indian street food that you won’t want to miss. For a full rundown of everything you need to see and do in Varkala, check out my full Varkala city guide!
With less than a million residents, Kerala’s capital may not be among the biggest cities in India. But it certainly has an incredible amount of heart and charm. The people are warm and friendly and delight in seeing foreigners enjoy their food and culture. There’s no shortage of things to see and eat in Trivandrum, India, whether you’re into beaches, phenomenal food, Hindu temples, or museums. It’s a city you must take at least 48 hours to explore the next time you visit India. Book a trip to Trivandrum today to check out its beauty and wonders for yourself.
I have to thank my friend and guide Vishnu for taking the time out of his schedule to show me around Trivandrum for two days. The first 48 hours of my Kerala trip wouldn’t have been possible without him and his generosity. Be sure to follow him on Instagram!
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