Thiruvananthapuram is a historic city, dotted with many historical structures, parks, museums, tourist centers and palaces. Its also famous for its distinctive greenery, present all over, a rare site in any bustling Indian city. Most ticketed museums are closed on Mondays, so do check online/by phone before visiting. Visit the official website of Kerala Tourism for more details.
Monuments and museums
- Chacha Nehru Children's Museum. A good children's museum with a large collection of dolls, masks, and paintings. A mini aquarium and water play area is set here. Located in Thycuad, in the heart of city, it is a good evening spot for families.
- 1 East Fort. An old fort around Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. Today most of fortifications have been dismantled, except the Eastern side. The fort will sometimes be referred to as the East Fort because of this. The Fort Gate opens directly before Sree Padmanabha Temple and is designed in a European style. The illumination of the East Fort Gate in the evenings is a major attraction.
- 2 Kanaka Kunnu Palace (Golden Hill Palace in Malayalam). The cultural hotspot of ancient Thiruvananthapuram. The large palace and its sprawling gardens was once the banquet palace for visiting State guests of Travancore. Today, it has engaging galleries and the grand lawns serve as open-air auditoriums for regular concerts and evening dance programs.
- 3 Kerala Government Secretariat. Built as Huzur Kacheri (Secretarial Offices in Malayalam) in 1860 to serve as the Royal Durbar Hall of Travancore Kingdom, this building has an imposing structure. The building was designed by the British Royal Engineers Corps combining international architectural styles and is a testimony to past influences from Roman, Dutch and English styles on Kerala. The old Legislature Assembly Hall inside the complex (Asia's first native legislative assembly) has a good museum with a detailed gallery that depicts the history of the Travancore Legislative Assembly. Other areas in this building are not of tourist interest as they are government offices.
- 4 Kerala Legislature Assembly Complex (Niyamasabha Mandiram). The new legislature assembly complex, called Niyamasabha (Law House in Malayalam), is a modern structure located in heart of the city. It's famous for the classical Kerala architecture with ornate teak works, a unique Kerala styled dome, exquisitely designed interiors and a vast expanse of greenery around it. A photo shoot before this structure is an excellent addition to your travelogue.
- 5 Kuthiramalika Palace (Puthen Maliga Palace) (close to Padmanabhaswamy temple). 9:00-12:30 and 14:00-16:45. A unique palace designed by Maharaja Swathi Thirunal (a famous musical genius Maharaja of Travancore), this palace is famous for its horse shaped windows and decor. Has a good collection of many antique items from the Travancore era kings. Thrones, paintings and many belongings are kept in a very good condition, housed in an erstwhile royal building. This palace is the location of the Swathi Thirunal Music Festival and other musical concerts patronized by the Royal family. Adults ₹50, foreigners ₹150.
- 6 H.H Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma Chithralayam (Royal art gallery) (same entrance as Kuthiramalika and one ticket counter for both (but separate tickets)). 9:00-12:30 and 14:00-16:45. Has an exhibition of portrais and pictures of memorable scenes from the life of the last Maharaja of Travancore. Adults ₹30, foreigners ₹75.
- Kerala Science and Technology Museum (near Priyadarshini Planetarium). This large science museum features a timeline of various technologies. On display are galleries on Electrical Engineering, Biomedical, and Mechanical Engineering. It has a collection of electronic equipments and a 3D theatre with regular shows.
- 7 Keralan Museum (Opposite of Napier Museum's garden-complex, south of Museum Rd). Housed in a beautiful colonial building, this newly developed museum (circa 2008 vintage) presents a periodised history of Kerala. It's the first 'interactive' museum in the country, featuring touchscreen terminals. Like so many museums and historical texts in India, there are no maps inside to provide visual aid to the topics. Regardless, the museum is very pleasant, clean, modern and well presented when compared to others. Displays begin in the stone age and advance through rock art and stone tools to pottery, bronze sculptures, folk art and architecture, with a few latter-day items to boot. A small canteen behind the museum for staff of the adjacent tourist department offers good value fish or vegetable curry. Entry is ₹200 for foreigners, extra for a camera.
- 8 Kowdiar Palace. In Kowdiar, this is the current, official residence of the Travancore Maharajas and royal family. It is off-the-limits for public. However a friendly guard may let you inside to have a glimpse of this large architectural wonder built in mixture of Saxon-Travancore styles. The public however can enter into Panchavadi, the resting place of Late H.H Maharaja Chitra Thirunal- the last and popular King of Travancore.
- 9 Legislature Museum (Adjacent to Legislature assemble). This museum depicts the history of South Asian Legislature assemblies. The building was once the headquarters of Travancore Royal Nair Brigade (Travancore Army). Today its galleries can give a detailed look into history of South Asian legislature activities and process.
- 10 Napier Museum. Tu Th-Su 10AM-5PM, W noon-5PM. Named after former Madras governor, Lord Napier (Francis Napier, 10th Lord Napier and 1st Baron Ettrick), this museum is a beautiful building in the museum (read: park) compound. This masterpiece was designed by Madras Government architect Robert Chisholm in Indo-Saracenic style. The museum displays rare archaeological and historical artifacts including bronze idols, ceramics, an impressive carved wooden cart, Buddhist statues from various parts of the country and neighbouring places, ivory carvings, chests, Balinese shadow puppets, various old coins, Hindu puja items, and more. Quite a few objects are foreign, and of those quite a few are Chinese. Unfortunately most are lacking labels, have labels only in Malayalam, or are very vague. Look up at the impressive roof when you enter! No photography allowed. There is no sign saying 'Napier Museum', just 'Art Gallery' and it's the big building in the park to the north of Museum Road. ₹5 for tickets.
- Palayam Pally (Masjid-i Jahān-Numā). The principal mosque of Thiruvananthapuram. It is a Juma Masjid (Friday Mosque). The Mosque is one of the largest in Kerala and famous for its regular sermons. The mosque was established with patronage of Travancore Kings.
- 11 Priyadarshini Space Planetarium. One of the largest planetariums in India and rated as one of the best horizontal planetariums of the world. It has a collection of astronomical science objects from ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization). 2 major shows regarding various secrets of universe are done daily. It has a good Sky Theatre, a large conference hall and is the location of regular space related programs.
- 12 Sree Chithra Art Gallery (Sri Chitra Art Gallery). Not open on Mondays.. An art gallery in the Museum compound and displays a rare collection of mainly Indian paintings. The main attractions are paintings by Kerala painter Raja Ravi Varma and other famous painters Raja raja Varma and Nicholas Roerich. Also featured are miniature paintings from around the world, Kerala mural paintings, and Tanjore miniature paintings.
- 13 Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple. The icon of the city: the world's richest temple. The temple came to prominence after the details of the temple's massive wealth were released by an order from the supreme court of India. The temple itself has thousands of stories to tell with immaculate sculptures and mandaps. The entire Thiruvanathapuram city was built around this temple. It was nominated into the last round of 7 Wonders of World. The building style is a mixture of Kerala and Tamil architecture. The temple has many structures inside, like musical pillars, golden mandap, 500 pillared corridor famous for its sculptures and large collection of temple mural paintings. The temple has a large clear pond called Padmatheertham, which is also landmark. The deity is Maha Vishnu in a rare reclining posture, called as "ananthasayanam" or the lord's sleep. The temple has a huge role in history of Kerala, with the presiding deity even being crowned as Emperor of Travancore in 18th century and all the rulers ruling the state in the name of the deity. The royal crown of Travancore, is preserved inside the temple, though seeing it is a rare. The temple does not use any lighting generated by an electrical source and has no light bulbs or tube-lights. The only lighting is either natural or from oil lamps, which is quite minimal. The use of electronic items is prohibited in the temple. This temple is open only for Hindus, and even the Hindus admitted inside have to follow rigorous dress code and customs. Dress code for men is just Kerala Mundu (White Dhothi) with the body uncovered waist-up. Dhotis are available for one-time rental or for sale from nearby shops. Women are required to wear an Indian Sari or Kerala Mundu (The idea is that your legs must not be visible separately). Entrants would also be asked to store their bags, umbrellas, etc., at a nearby counter. This temple belongs to the Travancore Royal Family and is guarded by the Palace Guards of Travancore. Beware of presence of large number of professional touts at the entrance of temple, who attempt to forcibly sell puja plates with flowers, incense, oil lamps to first timers and tourists. Likewise at exit gates, touts try to hard sell pictures, lamps, and shells by claiming it is holy and sacred. Do not be carried away by claims and politely avoid them. Inside the main arena of the temple, you can view the diety in 3 stages - Hand, Navel (with the Lotus carrying Brahma) and Feet.
- St Anne's Church, Pettah. This is the first Christian church of Trivandrum set up in 1796 during the reign of King Rama Varma, commonly called "Dharma Raja". It was built on the orders of the King for the benefit of Thachil Matthoo Tharakan, one of his ministers, who was also the first ever native Christian to be appointed as a minister in a Princely State in India. The old church was renovated several times. It is situated on the road leading to the airport.
- 14 Zoological Park. Closed Mondays, Tu-Su 10AM-5PM. This is the first zoo India opened in 1843, as a concept of Palace for wildlife. Situated in the Museum compound, this area has a rich botanical garden. There are a wide variety of animals, plants and birds. It has a separate reptile park and butterfly garden.
Beaches and nature
- 15 Kovalam Beach. 17 km from Thiruvananthapuram City, the locals believe this to be one of the finest beaches in India. There are 2 large beaches and they are highly safe for swimming. A visit to Kovalam is a must when you are in Trivandrum. The beach becomes crowded during November–December, when foreign tourists flock in mass. Beware of local touts and beach-side restaurants/shops selling items nearly 3 to 4 times more than its normal price. Haggling is accepted with sellers. Several massage parlours near the beach are fake and are illicit sex parlours.
- 16 Shanghumukham Beach (Shangumukham Beach). This city beach is 8 km outside the city, adjacent to the airport. Local people flock here to watch the sunset. It's a well maintained, safe beach. There is an indoor recreation club nearby. Matsyakanyaka a gigantic sculpture of a mermaid by sculptor Kanai Kunjiraman draws a fair crowd. A small garden and star-fish shaped restaurant operates here and attracts large crowds. There is also a temple nearby.
- 17 Veli Tourist Village (Veli Lake and Tourist Village). A lake blending into the beach, almost as if it were teasing the sea. This area features boating, horse riding on the beach, a floating bridge, a shallow pond where you can feed the fish, and beautifully maintained gardens. It's an excellent destination if you are interested in water adventure sports.
There are several attractions located outside the city limits.
- Attingal Palace. The headquarters of Travancore Queens who ruled the small province of Attingal. The large palace also houses one of the royal family temples. Much of the palace is off-limits to public, however its durbar hall and public areas are open to the public.
- Kerala Art College. Affiliated with Kerala University and easy to find, it is directly opposite the unmissable Chandrasekharan Nair (Football) Stadium. It is housed in an old colonial building with sprawling grounds behind. There are occasional art shows (e.g. after graduation, circa early June) held upstairs, and the downstairs offers a large library with world art books. The grounds have many impressive sculptures from students who are friendly and may be keen to show you around the workshops.
- 18 Koyikkal Palace, Nedumangad. This palace was built in the 16th century and showcases the traditional palace architectural style of Kerala. It features a folklore museum and a numismatics (Coins and currency) museum.
- 19 Neyyar Dam. A surprising scenic local, the Neyyar Dam is an excellent picnic spot. There is also a yoga center and several temples near this dam, if you are interested in making a day-trip of it.
- 20 The Padmanabhapuram Palace. The old headquarters of Travancore Royal family The palace is recorded as the World's largest Wooden Palace, by the Guinness Books of Records. It is entirely made of teak and rosewood and has flooring made of granite and a rare ayurvedic mixture with secret extracts to keep the floor cool in the summer season and warm during the rainy season. It has a grand Dubar Hall made out of rosewood and glass. The Palace houses numerous rare antiques, including a 600-year-old spice bed made out of a special wood treated in various spices to rejuvenate the kings. The clock tower is one of the oldest in South Asia that is still working. It is 65 km from Trivandrum City and is in the Kanniyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. The royal sword of Travancore Maharajas is preserved here and is taken to Trivandrum in a grand procession during Arattu Festivals of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
- 21 Ponmudi. A hill station in the district nestled within a tropical forest. It offers hiking and trekking opportunities.
- See Trivandrum on foot. Take public transport to Kanaka Kunnu Palace. Visit this public building that adorns the on top of a hill. It is often used for cultural programs which might be a nice addition to your visit. Check local listings to see what is offered and when. Once finished, walk down to the Napier Museum and Zoo. Walk around the park, admire the architecture, and visit the zoo. Also of interest in this area are the Sree Chitra Art Gallery, Natural History museum and the Reptile House. Then walk towards Palayam along the MG road absorbing the roadside buzz of activities and shopping at the roadside shops.
Usually there are cultural programs at VJT Hall which may be open to the public. Continue along MG road towards the Secretariat. The area around the secretariat is known locally as Statue, due to a few neglected statues of important figures. There are sometimes political protests or demonstrations along this place. You should sample the food from the local restaurants here. SMS Institute on a side road, near the Secretariat, sells authentic Kerala handicrafts and gifts. Prices start from ₹25 to a few thousands. Continue along the MG road and you will find many local book shops including Modern Book House and Prabhat book store. The Ayurveda college , which teaches traditional ayurvedic medicine, will be on the right side of the street. Opposite this, there is another handicraft store. Walk along the MG road and you will reach the junction with traffic signals known as the Over bridge locally. There are a few movie theatres nearby.
The railway station and bus station are towards the left, about half a mile. If you continue straight, you will eventually reach Pazhavangadi. You will see the remains of a fort (well hidden) on the right side (known as Kottakakam/East fort). The famous Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple is nearby, complete with a temple lake (Padmatheertham). The architecture of the temple is more in line with Tamil temples as compared to other Kerala temples. On the left is Chaalai Bazaar. This is a busy congested road teeming with all kinds of shops.