Situated along the coast of the North Malabar region in southwestern India is the beach city of Kannur, India. It is the region’s largest city with a population of over 232,000, so you’d be right in thinking there are tons of things to do in Kannur, Kerala, India. The city is also known by its Portuguese name, Cananor, as well as the Anglicized name it took during the British Raj, Cannanore. But its name actually derives from the name Kannan, which is the Tamil moniker for Lord Krishna.
Before India was colonized, the Kannur area was home to a temple dedicated to Kannan. The temple was governed by the Kolathiri, the ruling house of the Kolattunādu kingdom. Back in the 12th century, Kannur was an essential trading center, as it regularly conducted business with both Arabia and Persia. By the 16th century, the Portuguese colonized the area, followed by the Dutch in the 1660s. By the 1790s, the British had taken over and continued their reign until India won its independence in 1947.
This beautiful port city and its surrounding area were the site of some of my most memorable adventures when I explored the state of Kerala in January of 2020. From incomparable spicy seafood to gorgeous beaches to ancient religious rituals, Kannur has it all and more. These are the 10 things you must do in Kannur, Kerala, India!
Visit the Local Fish Markets
When visiting Kannur, there are few ways to get a taste of local life better than a visit to one of the city’s many fish markets. There’s a massive one near the coast where you can watch the fish be offloaded and then auctioned and sold. This frenzy is easily one of the top things you must do in Kannur, India.
Watching customers clamor for fish, and the fishermen proudly displaying their catch is interesting to watch. The real spectacle, however, is where the fish are sold, as you’ll get to see vendors showing off their fish, butchers breaking them down, and customers rushing to buy them. Seeing the butchers clean and cut up the fish may be gory to some, so it’s not for everyone. But it’s as raw and real as you can get! You can see everything from massive sailfish to prawns to marlin to even stingrays!
I also recommend heading to the harbor, where people buy from the fishermen in bulk. This market is small and caters mostly to locals and tourists, while the larger market serves hotels and restaurants. While you’re there, check out the fishing boats and casting nets. During my visit, I got to watch several fishermen make a large, red net, and I also hopped across several boats. They’re bigger than I thought they’d be and go out fishing for several days at a time!
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Eat Biryani at Hotel Jaya
While you’re sightseeing in Kannur, you’ll probably get hungry and want to grab a bite to eat. One of the best places in the city to eat some authentic local food is Hotel Jaya, a small spot that’s big on flavor! Here, they specialize in biryani, a flavorful layered rice dish that’s extremely popular throughout India.
Here, you’ll eat off of a banana leaf instead of a plate. The biryani is excellent, and contains a lightly fried chicken and a perfectly cooked boiled egg. It’s flavorful on its own, for sure, but the chutneys that come on the side really take it to the next level.
I loved the sour, pickled flavor and potent kick of ginger in the beet root chutney. You also have to try the spicy coconut chutney with chilies! The tropical coconut flavor it adds to the biryani is out of this world! The egg also adds a nice texture, as does the tender chicken. And even though this was my fourth biryani in three days—biryani is huge in northern Kerala—it was so fantastic that I didn’t mind having another.
In addition to the flavor, having this biryani is one of the top things you must do in Kannur, India for the price alone. You get a very generous serving for just 90 rupees, or roughly $1.18 USD!
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Stay at Seashell Haris Beach Home
Having a safe place to store your possessions and a comfortable place to lay your head is important when you travel. It also helps when that place has a warm, friendly, and attentive staff that makes you feel at home. That’s 100% the case at Seashell Haris Beach Home in Kannur.
This 12-room guest home is a beachside southern Indian resort. It’s run by Mr. Haris, a jovial and lively man, and his son Roshan. During my stay, I enjoyed two different rooms, the first of which was located in an extension of the property. They were both bright and comfortable with a king-sized bed, a desk where I could work, a table, a nice bathroom, a closet, and a balcony that overlooks what has to be one of the most picturesque beaches in Kerala.
The staff at the resort is world-class. Roshan accompanied me on several of my adventures around Kannur and gave me first-hand local information I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Also, if you visit any of the fish markets I mentioned earlier and buy a fish, you can bring it back to the resort, where they will gladly cook it for you.
Mr. Haris even joined me at the markets and bought some mussels, so we had an outstanding southern Indian seafood brunch I will never forget! And after a nighttime street food tour I took of Kannur, Roshan even surprised me with a liter of my favorite Indian beer: a Kingfisher Strong!
Seashell Haris Beach Home
Adi Kadalayi Nada
Kannur, Kerala 670003
Dine at Malayattor Hotel
If you’re craving a savory, flavor-filled lunch while you’re in Kannur, one of the best places to visit is Malayattor Hotel, a restaurant that has served locals since 1957. The food there is served on a banana leaf and is so tasty, don’t be surprised if you dream about it later!
I recommend going all-out with mackerel, rice, vegetable curry, fish curry, pachadi, lemon pickle, veg fry, mussels (also known as kallumakkaya), yogurt curry, and spicy chili gravy. As always, be careful with the fish curry, as you’ll probably need to pick out the bones before you mix it with your rice and dig in. But once you get rid of the bones, the creamy, velvety, coconut-flavored curry is pure bliss!
The veg curry is fantastic on its own, but add the dry fried veg pickles to it for a sour punch of flavor. For more sourness, try the chili gravy! I also recommend the meaty and succulent mussels, which are both salty and spicy. Alternate between the mussels and the yogurt curry, which contains curry leaves, to temper the heat in your mouth.
The main standout, outside of the mussels, is the mackerel. South Indian fish is always a treat and this one is no exception. It’s incredibly tasty and is covered in a salty but intensely flavorful masala. The flaky fish pairs really nicely with the rice.
To finish off your meal, try a glass of buttermilk! I’ll admit, I usually hate buttermilk, but this kind was exceptional! It contained ginger, chilies, coriander, and shallots. The flavor combination was so unique and tasty that I couldn’t help but finish my glass! It’s a fantastic way to end your meal, which is very inexpensive. Mine only came to 300 rupees, which is just under $4 USD.
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Go on a Nighttime Street Food Tour
Kannur has lots of amazing sit-down restaurants, but if you want to experience as many aspects of its cuisine as possible, you’ll need to hit up some of the city’s street food stalls. It’s one of the best things to do in Kannur, India, for sure. Don’t forget to bring your appetite!
Beef Curry with Puttu
As you explore Kannur, there are several foods you should look out for. One of them is puttu, a rice flour powder that’s served alongside beef curry with chilies, onions, cucumber, carrots, and lettuce. It’s similar to a spicy, non-veg polenta, but the onions help cool down the spice.
A popular dish you’ll find throughout Kerala is tapioca. I ate it on several occasions in my travels through the state. One of the best varieties I had was in Kannur. It came with spicy mussels and contained chilies, onions, and curry leaves. The meaty, succulent mussels and the starchy, fiery tapioca was a marriage made in south Indian heaven! Order a cup of chai with it—the milky ginger tea also pairs with it nicely. The tapioca and mussel combination should run you about 80 rupees, or a little over $1 USD.
Patel with Mutton Liver
Other street food dishes I implore you to try in Kannur include mutton liver with patel. Patel is similar to a puri that’s cut into strips, mixed with the meat and masala, and topped with onions. The iron-rich flavor of the liver, mixed with the masala-soaked patel strips, made for one of the best liver dishes I’ve had in India! At 90 rupees/roughly $1.17 USD, this Malabar treat is a steal!
To continue with the meaty street food theme, let’s talk about beef chili. This dish isn’t like what Americans think of when we see the word “chili.” This is basically beef that is stir-fried with chilies and red chili flakes. You eat it with a flaky, layered flatbread called parotta. If you’ve ever eaten Chinese or Mongolian beef, it’s similar in flavor, as it has both sweet and spicy elements. It’s by far my favorite street food dish in Kannur!
If you still have room in your stomach after indulging in Kannur’s finest street food, head over to Calicut Fruit Stall for dessert. There, you can get fresh smoothies, including a milky and divine carrot smoothie. They also serve an outstanding milkshake-like drink called kadhi. This thick, creamy, and chunky concoction contains milk ceeam, sugar, cashews, almonds, and walnuts. As you would probably expect, it’s incredibly rich and has a nutty and refreshing flavor. It’s only 80 rupees (about $1.04 USD), so it’s an inexpensive way to end your night! Having one is easily one of my favorite things to do in Kannur, India!
Witness a Theyyam Ritual
One of the things I hope you’ll be able to do in Kannur, India is experience a Theyyam ritual. Theyyam is a form of ritual worship that takes place in the Kolattunādu area of Kerala between November and February. This region of the state includes the Kannur District, Kozhikode, Kasaragod, Wayanad, and other nearby areas.
What is Theyyam?
This form of worship consists of rituals, traditions, and customs that are several thousands of years old, some of which date back to the Neolithic period. Theyyam is considered to provide worshippers with a direct channel to God, through which they can receive blessings. In total, there are between 400 and 500 varieties of Theyyam, most of which are exclusively performed by men.
Witnessing a Theyyam ritual is tricky, though, as it’s very much a private ceremony. They don’t give out the location beforehand, so you have to be invited in order to experience it. Luckily for me, with some help from my friends at the Seashell Haris Beach Home, I scored an invite to a ceremony, which began well before dawn.
The ritual took place at a small village temple. There, (after we took off our shoes), we got to see a performer get made up as Gulikan. Gulikan iis worshipped as Lord Shiva. He’s covered in white makeup and black stripes, and dances around in a mask and massive headpiece with long black hair for the first hour of the ceremony. While he dances and walks around on stilts, drummers provide music as other performers build a bonfire and wave burning sticks.
The second half of the performance ramped up with the introduction of the Vayanatt Kulavan, a blind, old man thought of as the son of Lord Shiva. The Vayanatt Kulavan wears an elaborate, red-and-orange costume; orange face makeup; and intricate green, orange, and yellow patterns on his chest and stomach.
He also dons a large headdress. This part of the ceremony is a huge spectacle, as the Vayanatt Kulavan kicks around the glowing embers of the bonfire. Between his makeup, costume, and the embers glowing in the darkness, he looked really scary!
The ritual continued until after dawn. I walked away with burned feet and a slightly burned hand from the flying embers, but I couldn’t complain because witnessing it was such an honor. It was an epic and impactful experience and I’d never experienced anything like it in my life. If you get the chance, witnessing a Theyyam ritual is one of the things you must do in Kannur, India. It’s absolutely incredible!
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Attend an Indian Wedding
At the other end of the religion spectrum in India is yet another fun and interesting activity that will require an invite: an Indian Christian wedding! During my time in Kasaragod, I had the pleasure of being invited to the wedding of a couple named Nibin and Tanya, who held a reception for 1,500 people afterward!
Of course, with that many people, I knew the food prep would be insane, so I took the opportunity to explore the kitchen to check it out. What I found made my mouth water like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Inside the large, hot space, I got the chance to watch them cook up duck roast masala, an enormous vat of biryani, Kuttanad duck curry, beef roast, chicken 65, and much more! I was in non-veg Indian food heaven!
Outside the main kitchen, I also watched cooks preparing rice flour dough, freshly shaved coconut, and two divine-looking flatbreads called appam and ney pathal. Inside the dining hall, guests were greeted with fresh fruit shakes. I tried a fantastic watermelon one, as well as a minty shake, a musk melon shake that reminded me of a banana daiquiri, and a wonderful pineapple-mint shake.
But the best part of the reception was the food! After watching the cooks prepare it for hours from start to finish, tasting it was a real treat. Between the mild masala flavor and juicy meat, the chicken 65 was as excellent as I thought it would be, and the beef curry with the ney pathal was tender and buttery.
I also really liked the fatty duck and the creamy chicken biryani. The dessert—kheer halwa and ice cream with fruit—was also quite fantastic. The cooling combination of the carrot cake-like halwa with the ice cream, pineapples, and blueberries was the perfect treat for such a hot day.
Hands down, visiting an Indian wedding is one of the top things you must do in Kannur, India. Of course, you’ll need an invite, but if you can get one, make sure you go and enjoy the food! This was my very first Indian wedding, but after my experience, I knew it wouldn’t be my last!
Visit Sree Subrahmanya Swami Temple
On the route between Kannur and Kasaragod is the town of Payyanur. There, you’ll find Sree Subrahmanya Swami Temple, one of the most sacred sites in the Kannur District. You can only go inside the temple if you’re Hindu, but there are other activities there that make visiting it one of the best things to do in Kannur, India.
The temple has an on-site pond that is full of large catfish! As my friend Ebbin and I approached, I could see other people along the pond’s shores, sprinkling handfuls of puffed rice into the water. We bought a bag of puffed rice for 20 rupees ($0.26 USD) and did the same.
Almost immediately, the surface of the water started to roil as the fish rushed to the surface, swimming over one another as they fought to gulp down the rice. They sucked down the rice like little vacuum cleaners! Feeding the fish is a great way to see just how big they are. Some of them looked like they were at least a meter long!
Sree Subrahmanya Swami Temple
Payyanur, Kerala 670307
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Take a Day Trip to Mahé
As of April of 2020, the country of India was made up of 28 states and eight union territories. These territories are run by the federal government instead of the state government, so they’re tax-free. You can also drink alcohol in them. And one of these union territories—Puducherry—has a district called Mahé within an hour’s drive from Kannur. Taking a day trip there is easily one of my favorite things to do in Kannur, India!
A Drinker’s Haven
The moment you cross the bridge into Mahé, you start seeing liquor stores, wine shops, and bars everywhere. Sometimes you’ll find up to four of them on one corner!
I recommend laying low and not filming much or taking too many photos in the bars, as this is where locals come to drink and unwind. Check out Breezer, a bar that sells everything from Bacardi to whisky to Oro, which is a smooth but strong brandy from the state of Karnataka. You likely won’t find many places like this outside of the union territories, so if you like a nice drink, this is the place for you! Just remember, you have to finish all drinks while you’re in Mahé. You can’t take them back with you into Kerala.
Elsewhere in Mahé, you can find street food—I bought some delicious and salty roasted peanuts from a vendor there—and sites like a beautiful Christian shrine. But outside of the bars and liquor shops, the main highlight is the boardwalk along the Mahé River. It’s the perfect place to relax and go for a walk, and you can also admire a gorgeous virgin beach across the water. You can also see lots of fishing boats out on the river!
Whether you want a drink or if you’re in the mood for a relaxing walk along the boardwalk, Mahé is where you want to be. It’s one of the top things you must do near Kannur, India and is a truly unique place!
Relax on the Beach at the Seashell Haris Beach Home
I stayed at the Seashell Haris Beach Home for two incredible nights. During that time, I enjoyed views of the nearby beach from afar, from my rooms and from the dining hall where we enjoyed our seafood feast. But before I left, I knew I had to go down and truly explore it.
A set of narrow, stone steps lead down to the breathtaking stretch of sand. It’s littered with large rocks that I couldn’t resist climbing and hopping across. From the top of them, I had stunning views of the Arabian sea, the never-ending beach, and the resort high above me.
Although Kannur itself is a city that’s home to lots of people, this beach is somewhat of a hidden gem in its namesake district. It’s off the beaten path, so I basically had the entire beach to myself. It’s the perfect spot to relax, go for a swim, or watch the sunset. When you stay at the Seashell Haris Beach Home, take full advantage of this beach. Exploring it is one of my favorite things to do in Kannur, Kerala, India, for sure.
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Kannur is a wonderful mix of everything I love about India. It’s a blend of contemporary, with its modern buildings and airport, and the truly ancient, as evidenced by its Theyyam rituals. It’s home to beautiful temples and is rich with history and culture. And it’s where you’ll find some of the tastiest seafood anywhere in India. But the thing that really makes it one of my favorite destinations in Kerala is its people. Their smiles, their friendly nature, their excitement to share their way of life with you is what I love the most about it. It’s another of the things you must do and experience in Kannur, India. Book a trip to Kannur today to experience it for yourself!
I have to thank my good friend and fellow travel/food vlogger Ebbin Jose for driving me around Kerala for ten whole days. He helped me organize most of my Kerala itinerary, and my Kerala articles and episodes would not have been possible without him. Follow him on Instagram and subscribe to his food and travel channel on YouTube!
I also must thank the incredible Haris family from the Seashell Haris Beach Home for welcoming me into their family with open arms. They were nothing but warm and kind to me, and showed me a true local experience in and around Kannur that I’ll never forget. Book a stay at the Seashell Haris Beach Home here!
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