From the stunning tranquil backwaters of Allepey to the modern bustle of Bangalore, there is truly something for everyone in Southern India. It is the perfect place to start your India adventure, as most travellers find it calmer and quieter than its Northern counterpart. It is also perfect to be travelled all year around, as even the Monsoon season here tends to be less intense than other parts of the country.
There is so much to see, that narrowing all that down into a 3 week itinerary is the tricky part- so here is a comprehensive guide to all the must visit places in Southern India, including best ways to get there and must do's once you've arrived!
Chennai is a great place to fly into as flights are usually cheaper. However, it is a very intense first stop! Be prepared for humid heat and very busy streets- this will truly be your first taste of India. Highlights to see include the historic area of Mylapore, the Madras High Court and the numerous markets and bazaars. However, I would recommend spending just one night in Chennai and then leaving as soon as possible- it is much better explored at the end of the trip when you are more accustomed to India.
Pondicherry is a gorgeous French Colonial town which ended up being one of my favourite places in Southern India. From Chennai, you can either hire a taxi which should take around 3.5 hours, or get a direct train which should take about the same amount of time. Wander the gorgeous streets of Pondicherry, making sure you visit the White Town, including Old Court Complex, Joan of Arc Park and the Pondicherry Museum. Head to Cunnambar Boat House and catch a boat across to Paradise Island Beach, watch the sun go down at Rock Beach and spend your evenings dining on Indian food with a French Twist.
Kanyakumari is famous for being the Southern most tip of India, where three oceans meet. It is also viewed as a very holy and sacred place. From Pondicherry, you can get a train (the journey takes around 13 hours so is best taken overnight if possible and in a sleeper AC carriage!) directly to Kanyakumari or into nearby town Nagercoil. Kanyakumari is very colourful, so make sure you take some time to wander down by the waterfront. Other popular activities include getting a ferry out to visit the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue, visiting the memorial where Ghandi's ashes were kept and wandering around the Tsunami Monument.
Thiruvananthapuram is the bustling capital of Kerala, an easy train ride away from Kanyakumari. The most famous spot to visit is the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, which dates back to 1729. The complex is open from 5pm (but bear in mind that tourists are not allowed inside the temple). Other hotspots within the city are the Veli Tourist village where you can do boating on the lake and numerous museums such as the Kerala State Science and Technology Museum and the Priyadarsini Planetarium.
Varkala is the most gorgeous beachside town located just 1.5 hours drive from
Thiruvananthapuram. Whilst it's now popular with tourists looking for a relaxed weekend or a yoga retreat, it has also been a famous Hindu pilgrimage site since the 12th century. Head to The Cliff, which is lined with stalls, restaurants and bars (would highly recommend the ABBA restaurant for food), visit the numerous temples in Varkala including Janardana Swami Temple and spend some time relaxing on the beach!
One of the most best activities to do in Southern India is backwater boating, and Allepey is the most famous place to do it! Allepey is easily reached by train from Varkala and is a coastal town, with one side being the Arabian sea and the other side covered by small rivers and canals which make up the Allepey backwaters. The combination of crisscrossed canals, paddy fields, palm trees and local villages make it an experience totally unique to India. Other top things to see in Allepey are the main beach and the Allepey Lighthouse which gives an amazing view over the town.
Kochi is an amazing port city with so much to see- it is definitely one of my favourite areas in Southern India! Head across to Fort Kochi and visit the Chinese Fishing Nets which is a traditional method of fishing, a Dhobi Khana to see a typical Indian washing room, the Santa Cruz Basilica Cathedral and the Dutch Palace.
Coimbatore is a city located about five hours train journey from Kochi. While individually Coimbatore doesn't offer a huge amount in the way of tourist attractions, it is a great stop over on your way to Ooty or Bangalore. Spend your time either picking up some souvenirs at the numerous shopping malls or take a trip out of the centre of Coimbatore to visit the Adiyogi Shiva Statue, a 112 feet tall and 147 feet long statue dedicated to Lord Shiva.
When in Southern India, heading out to one of the hill top towns is a must do. The majority of the hill top towns in India were developed by the British in a bid to escape the oppressive heat in the summer, and therefore a lot of the towns are very quintessentially English. The most famous way to reach Ooty is by the Nilgiri Mountain Toy Train- a steam train which runs from Mettupalayam railway station. This is a very popular thing to do, so make sure you book your tickets up in advance! The best things to see in Ooty include visiting the Botanical Gardens, heading to the Dolphin's Nose view point or heading on a hike if the weather is clear. Bear in mind that Ooty is at a much higher altitude so warm clothes are advised (and needed!).
Mysore is a gorgeous city just a few hours drive from Ooty. It's a great city for walking- if you stay in the centre, most of the top sites are within walking distance of each other. The top sites include Mysore Palace (which is definitely worth a visit), Mysore Zoo and Chamudeshwari Temple. There's also some great weekend markets to visit!
Bangalore is known as the the technological capital of India and definitely feels much more fast paced than other cities I visited. If you are a coffee fan, make sure you head to Third Wave Coffee (we were there daily). Other highlights are Bengalore Palace, which was inspired by Windsor Castle in England, Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace, ISKCON Temple, the KR flower market and the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum.
Either finish your Southern India adventure in Bangalore, which also has a large international airport, or take a train back across to Chennai and finish up there!
Overall, I absolutely LOVED Southern India. It's a great place to start exploring India, as it tends to be more chilled and quieter than the North but still gives you that amazing true experience.
Enjoy your adventure!