Things to Do in Pondicherry: Seaside Pondicherry, with its extensive French heritage, is a place that is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Stroll along the streets and promenades of the French Quarter, sit in the cafes, browse through the boutiques, and soak up the ambiance. While sightseeing, don’t miss out on these cultural things to do in Pondicherry. There are many thriving local industries to discover! You can also stay at the heritage property near the beach and take a day trip to the experiential spiritual community of Auroville near Pondicherry.
The Top 11 Things to Do in Pondicherry
- Explore Pondicherry by Bicycle
The best way to get acquainted with Pondicherry is to wake up early and take The Wake Up Pondy Cycle Tour offered through Sita Cultural Center. It covers various areas including the interesting old houses of the Muslim Quarter, Goubert Market and Flower Market, Kuruchikuppam Fishermen’s Village, and Beach Road. You’ll get to hear enlightening stories about the city that you won’t find in a travel guide!
- Go on a Heritage Walk Through the French Quarter
Pondicherry was the largest French colony in India until 1954 when French rule ended. However, his legacy lives on in the French Quarter where the architecture, food, and language are all preserved. It can be quite a cultural shock, as it certainly feels more like France than India there. The French Quarter is ideally visited on foot, so grab a map from your hotel and start walking!
If you prefer to go on a guided walking tour, there are a few options. StoryTrails conducts a 2-hour French Connection Trail that covers the district’s heritage, including landmarks such as Notre Dame d’Anges (Church of Our Lady of Angels) and Government House (formerly the French Governor’s Palace). The Aurobindo Ashram and Pondicherry French Quarter Walking Tour offered by The Blue Yonder also traces Sri Aurobindo’s journey.
- Eat Like a Local in the Tamil Quarter
Pondicherry has a dual identity, clearly divided by the French Quarter and the Tamil Quarter on the other side of the canal. Unlike the Tamil Quarter, the architecture and culture are more in line with India. The neighborhood is home to many migrants from the surrounding states who came to Pondicherry to follow the teachings of Sri Aurobindo. StoryTrails will take you on their Food Trail Guided Walking Tour, as well as introduce you to some of their favorite foods and entertain you with stories from life there. The tour operates daily from 4.30 pm onwards. till 7.30 pm
- Get an Elephant Blessing at a Temple
The Manakula Vinayagar Temple, dedicated to Lord Ganesha, was built before French-occupied Pondicherry in the 17th century. The temple survived attempts to demolish it by French missionaries and is a popular pilgrimage site for Hindus. However, it is most famous for its resident elephant. She blesses visitors who donate a coin, by touching them on the head with her trunk. The temple remains open from 5.45 am to 12.30 pm. Its golden chariot, vibrant images, and numerous stone carvings of Lord Ganesha in various forms are the main features inside. Unfortunately, photography is only allowed in certain areas.
- Take a Cooking Class
If you enjoy cooking, don’t miss the opportunity to learn some cool new dishes to impress your friends and family. There are French and Indian cooking classes at the Sita Cultural Center. Various options are available, including vegetarian. You’ll be able to learn a thorough French menu, from starters to desserts, with ingredients available in the Indian market.
Indian cooking classes cover Tamil, Bengali, and North Indian cuisines. These classes begin with a visit to the market to familiarize the participants with the spices used. French cooking classes are held on demand for more than two students, while Indian cooking classes take place on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Also on demand.
Alternatively, if you want to cook in an Indian home and eat with family, check out the lessons from Shyama’s Kitchen.
- Be a Gourmet Foodie and Try New Cuisines
Prefer to eat rather than cook? Pondicherry has some of the best restaurants which are housed in heritage properties. They are really atmospheric. One of the best is the Chez Francis at Hotel de l’Orient on Rue Romain Rolland. It specializes in Pondicherry Creole cuisine, combining local Tamil spices with French ingredients and delicious French cuisine.
Villa Shanti on Rue Safran is probably the most popular place to eat in Pondicherry. It is indeed very beautiful at night when its courtyard is lit with candles. Both Indian and European cuisines are served. The Courtyard Restaurant at Le Duplex Hotel, the former residence of the French Governor-General Joseph François Duplex on Rue de la Casserole, offers a fusion of “Pondicherry cuisine.”
- Appreciate French and Indian Art
Pondicherry has a thriving art scene, to which the French have contributed. Bohemian Artica Café Gallery is in an old French house on Rue Labordonis and will appeal to those who love quirky art and fashion (there’s also a boutique on the premises). You can comfortably spend a few hours there with light bites, juices and coffee provided. The popular Kalinka Art Gallery on Rue Bazar Saint-Laurent displays contemporary works by Indian and international artists. It’s a really knowledgeable owner.
The Tasmai Center for Art and Culture in Kuruchikuppam provides a platform for contemporary visual arts, including sculptures by local artists. It is home to a gallery, studio, and owner who is an artist-sculptor. Events such as workshops and talks often take place there. For a unique experience, you can also stay at an art gallery in Pondicherry. The Ordon Heritage Guest House is located on the top two floors of the Ordon Art Gallery on Rue François Martin and features seven air-conditioned double rooms (all decorated with art, of course!).
- Learn How to Make a Kolam
Kolam making is another activity offered by Sita Cultural Centre. This attractive form of decoration is drawn on the doors and entrances of homes and is especially prevalent during festivals (such as Pongal) in South India. It sounds amazing but it requires a certain technique to do it. Classes last 90 minutes and take place daily at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Admire and Buy French-colonial Embroidery
The quiet grounds and 18th-century mansion of the Clooney Embroidery Center are an attraction in themselves. However, the high-quality French-colonial embroidery produced by the women in the center is quite unique. This renowned institution is run by Roman Catholic nuns to provide employment and income for underprivileged women. Items available for purchase include cushion covers, bed linens, handkerchiefs, tablecloths, napkins, and tea towels.
The Cluny Embroidery Center is located at 46 rue Romain Rolland, opposite Hotel de Lorient. It is open from 9 am to noon and 2 pm. Every day till 5 PM (closed) except Sundays and Mondays.
- Visit Sri Aurobindo Handmade Paper Factory
You’ll find eco-friendly stationery as well as gorgeous notebooks, wrapping paper, kraft paper, gift bags, and even paper lanterns at Sri Aurobindo’s handmade paper factory. Silkscreen printing adds complexity. The prices are also extremely reasonable! This charming factory, S.V. Patel Salai was established in 1959 as a unit of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. It is spread over several leafy acres, and it is possible to visit.
The factory is open from Monday to Saturday from 9.30 am to 11.30 pm and till 2.00 pm. The showroom is open Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 5.30 pm till 4.30 pm. On Sundays, it is open from 10 am to 1 pm.
- Watch Handicrafts Being Made at Auroville
Love handicrafts? Auroville has a number of enterprises that provide local employment and produce a wide range of items including incense, clothing, tableware, jewelry, and household items. Join this Auroville Art & Craft Trail offered by Wandertrails to learn more about how they’re keeping the art alive and to see artisans in action. You will be guided through some craft centers by an Auroville resident and told about the community. If you want, you can even go into making something.
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