Authored by Shraddha Maheshwari
Pondicherry is a beautiful beach town on the southeastern coastline of India. A French colony until 1954, even today you can still see the impact and influence the French have left.
Here you’ll find colourful alleys, french cafes and heritage hotels. There are European mansions, bougainvillaea laden walls, and chic boutiques in what has become known as the French Capital of India.
From authentic French food to beautiful colonial villas around town, everything in Pondicherry screams France … and French is still largely spoken – the official language throughout town.
One beautiful thing about Pondicherry is that it slows time down for you – the place has such a calm vibe to it, and will leave you with a different experience to the normally chaotic and hectic cities India is more well known for.
From long walks on the beach, or exploring its cobblestone streets (the French call them boulevards and rues), here are 10 things you can do around town.
10 Things To Do in Pondicherry: The French Capital of India
Sunrise at Promenade Beach
Promenade Beach is the liveliest part of town in Pondicherry. It is a rocky beach (also known as rock beach or Gandhi beach) so there aren’t many beach activities, though the sunrise here is stunning, and brings many locals out.
This is a great place for an evening stroll along the coastline, and attracts many landscape photographers who take advantage of the meeting of the rocks and the sea. Locals do also swim off the rocks.
You can sit along the beach line on rocks, walk via the concrete walkway around the beach (also accessible by wheelchairs or strollers). After 6 pm the area is closed to vehicle traffic, so you can wander freely around the street.
The beach stretches for 1.2 km from War Memorial and end at Dupleix Park on the Goubert Avenue. There is a wide range of French architecture and cafes around the area, and landmarks you can see along the walk, including statues of Joan of Arc and Mahatma Gandhi, an old lighthouse, and the remains of the old pier.
Image credit: Avinash Singh (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Learn to Surf at Serenity Beach
Being a coastal town, Pondicherry offers a lot of beach fun, and if you’re a fan of surfing, or it’s something you want to learn, you can enjoy the sport at Serenity Beach.
If you’re new to the sport, you can easily hire an instructor here and learn to surf. There’s a surf school on site, and the waves are perfect for beginners (waters of the Bay of Bengal), while also offering adrenaline pumping waves further out.
Serenity Beach is well known to be the most beautiful beach in Pondicherry – there’s golden sand, swaying palm trees, and the whole scene is pristine. It’s a very secluded and peaceful beach (hence the name serenity), great for relaxing, with very little crowds.
There’s a fishermen’s market here where you can shop for your favorites at very cheap prices (you need to know how to bargain though), and a weekend flea market. And sunrise photography is popular among local photographers.
Cycling or Biking Around Pondicherry
The best way to explore Pondicherry is by foot or bicycle, and around town there are many vintage bikes you can rent. Or, you can join a cycling tour.
Bike tours of the city organized in English, Hindi, Tamil and French, and you can sign up at the Sita Cultural Centre. Most of them start early in the morning (around 7 am) and end with a good breakfast.
Tours take you around the Green Quarter (the Muslim area), the White Town (where the French lived), and the Black Quarter (where Tamilians live). Alternatively, you can rent a bike yourself and go around the town.
Scuba Diving in Pondicherry
Pondicherry does not have a real coral reef, yet it has an artificial reef which is well maintained for scuba diving. There is only one dive centre in Pondicherry – Temple Adventures.
Of the many dive sites in Pondicherry (there are 22), Temple Reef is the most popular, with 4 spots at a distance of 30 metres from each other. You’ll see between 30 – 40 different species of fish in one dive, like groupers, lionfish, snappers, frogfish, trevallies, pufferfish, and shrimp.
If you’re are in luck, the site also gets periodic visits from manta rays and whale sharks!
Scuba diving in Pondicherry is definitely worth your time and money. While Temple Reef is 18 m deep, there are also deep dive sites, like Aravind’s Wall (40 m deep), Fan Garden (34 m), and 3 Roses (50 m).
Bird Watching at Ousteri Lake
Ousteri Lake (also called Osudu Lake) is one of the most relaxing places to visit in Pondicherry (it’s technically 10 km out of the city, though is absolutely worth the trip!).
This is a man-made freshwater lake, and an unexpected bird haven. It’s open from sunrise to sunset, and has been recognized as Asia’s most important wetlands by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources).
A combination of water, marsh and mudflats, this site offers the best bird watching in South India, and is home to more than 40 migratory birds. Keep an eye out for birds like the rose ringed parakeet to the white breasted kingfisher. There are pelicans, storks, cormorants, and even flamingos!
Entrance is free, and you can head to the boathouse for kayaks, paddle boats, or to join a power boat tour (boat rides and rentals are charged). There’s also a restaurant called Seagulls.
Visit an Experimental Township
Auroville is a futuristic city, 20 minutes away from Pondicherry. This is an experimental township where you can visit and stay, volunteer and intern, or attend workshops and therapies.
The vision for Auroville is to be an international community free of government, money, religion, and strife. It was founded in the 1960’s by Sri Aurobindo and his compatriot, The Mother, or Mirra Alfassa. To quote her directly:
“Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.”
About 2,000 people from 50 countries live in this artificial village today, and we recommend blocking out the whole day to explore it. There are picturesque houses and lands lush with greenery, but what attracts most tourists is the Matri Mandir (a huge golden sphere at the center of the township).
Apart from the posh cafes, restaurants and shops, you can also visit the Auroville beach. It is a beautiful beach with inviting shallow waters.
Temples and Churches
Temples and churches are an amazing way to indulge in spirituality and local culture in Pondicherry, and many of them are architectural wonders!
You can easily spend a full day hopping from one church/temple to another. The following are some we recommend:
Temples to visit in Pondicherry
➤ Sithananda Swamy Temple
➤ Kamakshi Amman Temple
➤ Sri Varadaraja Perumal Temple
➤ Sri Vedapureeswarar Temple
➤ Sri Gokilambal Thirukameswar Temple
Churches to visit in Pondicherry
➤ Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges
➤ Church of Our Lady of Good Health
➤ The Church of Lady of Lourdes
➤ Our Lady of Assumption Church
➤ Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Slow down at Pondicherry Botanical Garden
Just like all other things here are French, this beautiful garden was also built by French colonists (in 1826). It is in a French theme with beautifully designed landscapes, fountains and an aquarium.
The garden is spread across 22 acres and is the best place to slow down in nature in the center of the city. Several species of plants and trees can be found here, and many of them are actually used in research to manufacture medicine.
The placards on the trees which contain your typical information like origin and species name, also include the medicinal value. Medicinal plants are commonly used in Indian culture.
If you like the idea of floating on the deep blue waters of Bay of Bengal, you can rent a private yacht in Pondicherry (or for budget travelers, you can take a regular boat trip).
Sailing along the coast is a great way to get another perspective of the town, otherwise you can simply lay in the sun and look out over the water!
Alternatively, you can also take a boat ride through the backwaters of the Chunnambar River, which meets the sea of Bay of Bengal in Pondicherry (boats leave from Chunnambar boat-house).
A tour of the scenic backwaters is a great way to relax, while taking in the vegetation and life you see along the banks of the river. You can take a boat tour for the day, or spend the night in one of the houseboats on the actual water.
Image credit: Manasa Malipeddi (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Other Places to Visit in Pondicherry
Pondicherry is full of fun and fantastic things to do; if you’re interested in the city’s history you should visit Puducherry Museum. If interested in spirituality, you can visit Aurobindo Ashram for lessons, or to shopping for books and literature in spirituality.
Architecture fans should stop by the French War Memorial on Goubert Avenue. And even if you’re not a foodie, everyone should experiment with unique cuisines which combine Indian and French flavours while in Pondicherry!
What are your favorite things to do in this Indian / French city?