Pondicherry, officially known as Puducherry, is one of the seven Union Territories of India and gets commonly referred to as Pondy. It is a beautiful blend of beaches, heritage, adventure, and cultural richness.
A former French colony until 1954, it has the perfect amalgamation of the French and Franco-Tamilian architecture as well as local culture. Combining it with traditional Indian sensibilities makes it a dreamy escape offering the best of both worlds.
Due to its colonial past and its geography, Pondicherry is home to home to people from various Indian states as well as the world. In this post, we’ll be sharing with you the perfect Pondicherry travel guide.
1. French Quarter/ White Town
The White Town also is known as the French Quarter is one of Pondy’s most sought attractions. It is a part of various heritage tours as one gets to explore the two very distinctive parts of the city – the French Quarter and the Tamil quarter. Each offers beautiful traditional architecture, quaint and vibrant lanes. The French colony has historical importance and many old mansions and buildings have been preserved and converted to hotels, homestays, or cafés.
Must visit places in the French Quarter:
French War Memorial: Situated on the Goubert Avenue, commemorates all those soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their countries in the World War I.
Aayi Mandapam: Another hidden gem is the Aayi Mandapam, a beautiful white pavilion-like structure located in Bharati Park. It was built in the 19th century and has ancient folklore and significance connected to it.
Mahatma Gandhi Statue: Standing between eight tall monolithic pillars, the Statue of Mahatma Gandhi is an iconic landmark. The pillars are from Gingee Fort, which is 68 km from Pondicherry.
Old French Custom House: Designed in typical French colonial architecture, it was built in the 19th century.
Old Lighthouse: Located opposite the Gandhi statue, the lighthouse traces its history from the year 1836.
Kargil War Memorial: Built by the Indian Army in remembrance of the 1999 war and to commemorate the brave soldiers.
2. Beaches of Pondicherry
Pondicherry is home to gorgeous coastline and boasts of incredibly scenic, unspoiled beaches while also offering a wide array of options. Right from a family retreat to a secluded serene stretch of land, the following are some of the best beaches in Pondicherry.
Promenade Beach/ Rock Beach: A rock-lined stretch of beach around 1.2 Km long located in the White Town, this beach is said to be one of the most beautiful and finest of the beaches here. One can see throngs of people walking, jogging or enjoying the sunsets.
Paradise Beach: Perfect for those looking for some peace and quite, this beach is only accessible via a boat ride from the Chunnambar boathouse. A beautiful white sand beach, it is perfect for swimming and relaxing, while also offering water sports like kayaking, canoeing and jet-skiing and various food options in form of restaurants and shacks.
Serenity Beach: It is known for its blue waters and idyllic sand, besides its considered a great place for surfing. There’s a surf school nearby, making it a great option to learn a skill or two while on vacation.
Some other beaches and the activities they offer are:
Auroville Beach: surfing, family, and casual outings. Mahe Beach: fishing and swimming. Karaikal Beach: kayaking, canoeing
3. Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Part of a spiritual community which was established by Sri Aurobindo Ghosh (a renowned spiritual Guru), along with ‘the Mother’ on 24th November 1926. The Ashram is one of the prime destinations for tourists and seekers of spiritual knowledge.
It is estimated to have 1,200 members, including 400 students and disciples living on the campus. Undoubtedly one of the best spiritual abodes in Pondicherry, peace, tranquility and discipline are strictly maintained in the ashram.
It has a library, shop, and museum inside, but the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in the garden area are the main attractions. For more information about the ashram, click here.
Timings – 8am to 12 noon, 2pm to 6pm. Entry is free.
4. Temples and Churches of Pondicherry
Pondicherry is famous for its pious Hindu temples and beautiful Churches.
The temples here are strikingly different with colorful religious shrines carved and perched on top of the temples. Some of the must-visit temples are listed below.
Temples of Pondicherry
Manakula Vijaynagar Temple: This 350-year-old ancient temple is located in White Town and dedicated to Lord Ganesha, drawing devotees from all over Pondicherry and beyond. The deity of Lord Ganesha is seen in the company of his two wives Riddhi and Siddhi, which is a rare sight. Timings: 6.30 am – 11.00 am, 4.30 pm – 9.00 pm
Sri Thirukameswar Temple: A truly religious site in Pondicherry, this temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is an ancient shrine with its existence dating back to the 12th century under the rule of Chola Dynasty. Timings: 5.00 am – 12.00 pm, 4.00 pm – 9.00 pm.
Kamakshi Amman Temple: Dedicated to Hindu Goddess Kamakshi, an incarnation of Goddess Durga or Parvati this temple is believed to be built by the Pallava Kings in the 6th century. Timings: 6.00 am – 12.00 pm, 5.00 pm – 9.00 pm
Sithananda Swamy Temple: A temple which pays homage to a saint, Guru Sithananda Swamigal, being his Jeevan Samadhi and dates back to the 19th century. Its premises cover a sprawling area of 45,000 square feet. Timings: 6.00 am – 12.00 pm, 4.00 pm – 10.00 pm
Sri Karneshwar Nataraja Temple (Pyramid Temple): It is located on the beach at Pudhukuppam, 12 kilometres north of Auroville. The pyramid temple was rebuilt after the original smaller temple in the same place was destroyed by the tsunami of 26th December 2004. It is built as per the concept and dimensional proportions of the Pyramids in Egypt.
Some other prominent temples are – Sri Varadharaja Perumala Temple, Sri Vedapureeswarar Temple.
Churches of Pondicherry
Churches depict the French and English past of Pondicherry and are the original testimonies to the changing times and their impact. Being great examples of classic gothic, French influence architecture, one must visit some of the churches in Pondicherry mentioned below.
Basica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: Situated near the Pondicherry railway station, this century old basilica is a fine example of Gothic architecture in oriental style. It boasts of large and beautifully intricate rose windows that depict the life of Jesus Christ on them. Timing– 6am to 10:30pm
Immaculate Conception Church: Immaculate Conception Cathedral is the cathedral mother church for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Pondicherry and Cuddalore. This beautiful cathedral is situated in the middle of French Town, and is built in Portugese style architecture and one can see similarities to churches in Goa and Diu. Timing – open from 5:15 am to 12 noon, 3:00pm to 8:30pm
Our Lady of Angels Church: Being the fourth oldest church in Pondicherry, it was built in the Greco-Roman style of Architecture by Napoleab III in 1855, with Louis Guerre being the architect. It is known as the only church that offers mass services in three different languages namely French, Tamil and English.Timing – 6:15 am to 8:00 pm
Located about nine miles away from Pondy, is Auroville also called ‘The City of Dawn’. A perfect example of ‘unity in diversity’ and a must visit for all architects, urban researcher and planners, this township is a universal town with its inhabitants being from across the world, irrespective of caste, creed, culture or country. The town is divided into various zones like Peace Zone, International Zone and Residential Zone.
One of the major attractions of Auroville is the golden dome-shaped Matrimandir, where devotees meditate. Auroville also offers eclectic boutiques, a bookshop, restaurants, and cafes serving international cuisine and many more modern and quirky entities that draw visitors throughout the year.
6. Pondicherry Museum
Learning about the history of any place is the best way to understand and get acquainted with it. A noteworthy place that houses a plethora of historical and cultural treasures.
One can find an amazing collection that belongs to various ancient dynasties, French settlements, and even a few belongings to Roman empires.
7. Arikamedu Archeaological Site
If one wants to go deeper exploring the historic route, a visit to the archaeological site of Arikamedu is a great option.
At a distance of 4 kilometres from the city, the site has numerous findings like pottery, jewelry, and is said to have Roman and Greek connections, as Arikamedu was a Greek trading post.
8. Ousteri Lake
Situated at about 10 km from Pondicherry town is another great place for tourist to want to bask in the natural beauty.
It is a century-old man-made lake and has been recognized as one of the important wetlands of Asia by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It also offers activities like boating along with great flora and fauna to revel in for the tourists.
9. Parks and Gardens
The Dupleix Park
It is a great option to spend some quality leisure time with family and friends. And it also hosts exhibitions providing options for shopping from time to time.
Pondicherry Botanical Garden
Established in 1826 in a very ornate and authentic French style, it holds an educational and recreational value both. Spread on over 22 acres of land, it boasts of more than 1500 species of trees of international and Indian origin.
10. Food and Shopping in Pondicherry
As a result of its colonial history, and numerous influences including those of France, Portugal, Netherlands, and England, the food and restaurant scene of Pondicherry is a diverse array of choices. One will find a variety of international flavors mixed in with the traditional Indian cuisine.
Following are some amazing restaurants we’d recommend.
Carte Blanche: A perfect place to dine and experience the French way, the restaurant boasts of beautiful French-inspired architecture and ambiance. Also, it is one of the must-visit non-veg restaurants in Pondicherry. Must try: Sand Lobster, Tamarind Fish Curry, and Ratatouille
Surguru: Located in the Heritage Town, this offers the traditional south-Indian menu one would keep coming back for. Its specialties being dosa’s and thali.
Kasha ki Aasha: Known for amazing fusion food, one must try this you enjoy low-key rooftop vibe to a restaurant and an interesting fact is that its run by all women. Must try: European Thali, Pancakes.
La Pasta: A true heaven for pasta lovers, La Pasta is a cozy Italian restaurant specializing in various pasta sauces. It a pretty little place with a quaint ambiance.
Shopping in Pondicherry
One must not missing exploring the shopping scene in Pondicherry. It is known for its aromatic candles, essential oils, incense sticks, handmade paper items and handicrafts, souvenirs, cotton dresses and metal artifacts.
Following are some places you must visit to get the best of shopping in Pondicherry.
Serenity Beach Bazaar: One of the best for street shopping, this village-style market offers a good collection of handicrafts, numerous food stalls add to the experience. Timings- 10 am to 5 pm (open only on weekends)
Nehru Street: An epitome of street markets, where one can find local handmade pottery, clothing along with daily consumer goods. Timings- 10 am to 5 pm.
Casablanca: One of the iconic landmarks, it is an ideal mix of a mini-mall and a boutique. One of the best-known shopping malls in Pondicherry.
Auro Woods: If you’re looking for pretty handicrafts, this is the place for you. Specializing in exquisite woodwork it also is known for some eclectic antique pieces. Location- Auroville. Timings- 10 am to 8 pm.
So, here we conclude with our Pondicherry travel guide offering you all the best places to visit and experiences in the beautiful coastal town.
Have you travelled to Pondy? Share your experiences with us in the comment section.