How to Spend 24 Hours in Pondicherry: A Local’s Guide

Pondicherry is a place in southern India that combines the simplicity of a coastal Tamil Nadu culture with the sophistication of French cuisine and architecture. With beautiful beaches, engaging spiritual centres, mouth-watering French delicacies, and a happening nightlife, Pondicherry packs a punch for a tourist destination.

Having lived in Pondicherry for five years as a researcher, I have set on several expeditions on my two-wheeler to enjoy the diverse experiences this little French Riviera has to offer. I have combined my local expertise to bring you the best recommendation for how to spend 24 hours in Pondicherry.

In this travel guide, I will tell you how to navigate the town through the day, the top Pondicherry attractions, where to shop, where to eat, and how to have the most exciting one-day trip to Pondicherry.

How to Spend 24 Hours in Pondicherry

How to Get Around in Pondicherry

The best way to comfortably get around Pondicherry is by your vehicle or one hired from Chennai. Another option is to hire a vehicle in Pondicherry for the day. If you stayed in a hotel in Pondicherry the night before your one-day trip, then ask the reception to arrange a vehicle for you. Getting around in Pondicherry is an expensive affair as taxis and even tuk-tuks quote exorbitant charges and the final rate totally depends upon your haggling skills. On top of that, ride-hailing services, such as Uber and Ola, are not available in the town.

If you have a valid driver’s license, hire a two-wheeler for the most value-for-money means of travel. If not, hire tuk-tuks and negotiate the price. It is important to note that international visitors with English-language license may not require an International Driver’s Permit. Once you get to the French Quarters, every attraction is close by and you can even cover them by foot or by cycle-rickshaw.

Best Guided Tours in Pondicherry

How to Spend 24 Hours in Pondicherry

Watch Sunrise at Serenity Beach

Serenity Beach is a popular sunrise point in Pondicherry near Auroville. If all you have in Pondicherry is 24 hours, this should be your first stop. Plan to reach the beach as early as 5:30 AM as sunrise is typically between 5:45 AM and 6:30 AM. There are several beach resorts in the vicinity, some even with private beaches. If you plan to reach Pondicherry the night before, there are several good options by the beach to choose from.

Beautiful sunset at Promenade Beach in Pondicherry

In the early morning, you will see the beach slowly come to life as the fishermen gather and push their motor boats to set for their morning catch. If you ask nicely and pay a small charge, the fishermen will take you on a ride on their boat. This is an incredible opportunity as in most coastal towns I have visited in India, they don’t take you. You can watch and record the daily activities of the local fishermen community and also interact with them. These are small, brightly-coloured open boats with diesel motors. They will provide you with a life jacket and that’s all the safety gear you can get.

Breakfast at Auroville Bakery

After the exhilarating experience at Serenity Beach, head to Auroville Bakery located 3.5 kilometres from the beach. Auroville Bakery is a must-visit café in Pondicherry serving organic and wholesome food. You can get freshly baked goodies like bread, quiche, tarts, and pies with the perfect brew of coffee from as early as 6:30 AM. They have beautiful outdoor seating with plenty of greenery around.

Sumptuous breakfast at Auroville Bakery

Apart from the continental breakfast items on their menu, they also have some Indian dishes like idly and dosa. If you would like to try South Indian breakfast without worrying about the spice level, Auroville Bakery is your best bet. They make the Indian dishes to better suit the Western palette.

Visit Matrimandir in Auroville

Located about 20 minutes from the Auroville Bakery, the Matrimandir at Auroville is the most iconic landmark in the town. Matrimandir is a large golden sphere situated at the centre of Auroville, a universal township community built around spirituality and sustainability. It is built on the philosophies and teachings of two spiritual gurus, Mirra Alfassa (also known as The Mother) and Sri Aurobindo.

Mesmerizing matrimandir in the outskirts of Pondicherry

Matrimandir is first and foremost a meditation centre. With white marble flooring, pastel-white walls, and a concentration crystal at the centre, reflecting natural light, Matrimandir creates a very calming environment for silent meditation. Unfortunately, entry to Matrimandir is restricted to serious meditators and you will not be allowed inside without a prior in-person booking. You can however visit the Auroville Township, learn about its legacy, and click photos of Matrimandir.

The Visiting Centre at Auroville opens at 9:00 AM and entry is free. Once you get the ticket, you enter a video room where they show a very detailed movie on the founding and evolution of the Auroville township. After a tour of Auroville, you can also check out the souvenir shop for handicrafts and handmade skincare products. Expect to spend around 2 hours at Auroville as there is a lot to explore.

Visit Aurobindo Ashram

If you completed your exploration of Auroville by around 11:00 AM, head straight to Marine Road in the French Quarters located about 15 kilometres (30-minute drive). Here you will visit Aurobindo Ashram, another important landmark in Pondicherry. Aurobindo Ashram is the memorial of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother and is considered sacred by the people of Pondicherry and the followers of the Aurobindo philosophy.

The iconic Aurobindo Ashram of Pondicherry

Once you enter Aurobindo Ashram, you are required to switch off your mobile and maintain absolute silence as it is primarily a place of meditation. At the heart of the Ashram complex, you will find two white marble tombs (known as samadhis) where devotees pay homage to the two spiritual pioneers.

Aurobindo Ashram is open from 8:30 AM to 12:00 PM in the morning and 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM in the afternoon. You will only need half an hour to explore Aurobindo Ashram, so make for Aurobindo Ashram only if you can reach Marine Street by 11:30 AM.

Shop for Souvenir at Marine Street

Once you are at Marine Street, it’s time to go souvenir shopping. Aurobindo Ashram runs several organizations promoting handicrafts by local artisans using organic materials. Auroshika, on Marine Street, one of the most popular souvenir shops in Pondicherry is your best bet for such items. You can get organic scented candles, handmade soaps, natural skincare products, and terracotta home décor items from here.

Souvenir shopping at Marine Street in Pondicherry

If you are looking for something dirt cheap, check out the line of stalls opposite Aurobindo Ashram selling trinkets like metal jewellery, pottery, and home décor items. I have been a regular at these stalls during the years I spent in Pondicherry. The products are surprisingly long-lasting!

If you are looking to buy clothing, I would recommend Kalki and Casablanca on Mission Street for high-end fashion. On the other hand, for cheap, Bohemian clothing and accessories range, explore Jawaharlal Nehru Street Market.

Savour a Seafood Lunch

Being a coastal town, Pondicherry is a haven for seafood lovers. Whether looking for a fine dining experience or trying the local flavour in popular restaurants serving rice and fish, I have some great recommendations for you. Since you are at Marine Street, according to this one-day guide, explore the seafood restaurants in the French Quarters or by the Promenade Beach.

Delicious seafood Lunch_ Vanjaram fry in Pondicherry

One of the most popular seafood places, Fish Aurant Restaurant is just 600 meters from Marine Street. You will find some of the best crab preparations of Pondicherry here. You can also get fish fried in local flavours here. A must-try seafood dish here is Vanjaram fry, a preparation of Indo-Pacific King Mackerel marinated in local spices and then deep fried in coconut oil with curry leaves.

If you are looking for an upscale seafood dining experience, check out De Bluefin Seafood Restaurant, Rendezvous Cafe Restaurant, or Madame Shanthe’s Cafe Restaurant. All these restaurants are within 1 kilometre of Marine Street.

Explore the French Quarters

After a hearty seafood lunch, it’s time to explore the French Quarters of Pondicherry. While the rest of India was under British rule from the 17th to 20th century, Pondicherry alone was under French rule. And while the rest of India won its independence in 1947, the French left Pondicherry after 15 years in 1962. This almost 300-year-long colonization has left an indelible mark on the landscape of the town, especially the region known as the French Quarters, where most of the French colonizers once lived.

The French Consulate of Pondicherry

To this day, you can see large French-style mansions with pastel walls and large bay windows in this area. While some of them function as government offices and official buildings, most of them have been transformed into upscale resorts with modern comfort and amenities. This region of Pondicherry, known as the Paris of the East, is well-maintained with cobblestone sidewalks and tree-lined street dividers. You can explore the French Quarters, also known as White Town, on foot, rental bicycle, or cycle rickshaw. Expect to spend 1.5 to 2 hours to really soak in the French vibe of the place.

As you walk, you will spot some prominent historical buildings like The Governor’s Palace (Raj Niwas), The Church of Our Lady of Angels (Église de Notre Dame des Anges), The French Institute of Pondicherry (Institut Français de Pondichéry), École Française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO), Pondicherry Museum, and the French Consulate. Maison Perumal, Palais De Mahe – CGH Earth, and Villa Shanti are some of the top-notch stays in White Town in the French architectural style.

Enjoy an Aerial View of Pondicherry

If you completed your exploration of the French Quarters by 4:00 PM, it’s time to catch a spectacular aerial view of Pondicherry from atop the Pondicherry New Lighthouse. Located just 2 kilometres from the French Quarters, this lighthouse is a popular spot among photography enthusiasts. You can visit the lighthouse from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM only and on all days of the week, except Mondays. There is a nominal entry fee of Rs. 10. There are no lift services, so you will need to climb several flights of spiralling staircases to reach the top of this 150-foot tall, black-and-white striped lighthouse. You will forget all about the stairs once you get to the top as the view is just wow!

Magical aerial view of Pondicherry from the lighthouse

Take a Stroll at Promenade Beach

As the sun sets, it’s time to take a stroll on the most popular beach in Pondicherry, The Promenade Beach. Located adjacent to the French Quarters this beach comes to life in the evening with tourists, locals, street hawkers, and occasionally, exhibitions and social events. It is a great spot for people-watching and photography. You will also find some interesting examples of street art on the compound walls by this beach. Promenade Beach has a rocky shoreline, so, you cannot swim or engage in water sports here. It is more of a social gathering place.

By the pavement, you will find Goubert Avenue, a street with some of the best cafes and restaurants in Pondicherry. There are several landmarks you will find here like the Gandhi Statue, the Statue of Joseph François Dupleix, the French War Memorial, the Kargil War Memorial, and the Old Lighthouse.

The Promenade is well-maintained with a long wide strip of concrete pavement. The ornate streetlights cast a dreamy hue on the pavement in the evening. You can take a stroll checking off the landmarks as you go and then relax on the park benches as you watch the sun slowly disappear down the horizon. Check out some of the supercool trivias on Pondicherry.

Dinner by the Sea

The best way to end this dreamy night is to have a scrumptious spread by the sea with the gentle breeze rustling your face amidst the rhythmic sway of the waves crashing against the promenade fencing. No matter what your taste buds are craving, you will find a restaurant here with the best sea view.  Le Café on the promenade offers the best open-air sea view ambience at Promenade Beach. This 24×7 café offers continental and south Indian cuisine. If you prefer a vegetarian meal, head to Oceans7. For a fine dining experience, check out Escape In, Sicily’s, or Bay of Buddha.

Promenade Beach is also the epicentre of Pondicherry’s nightlife with vibrant pubs and hookah lounges. With alcohol being tax-free in Pondicherry, these pubs are the frequent hangouts of youth from nearby states as well. Weekends are particularly fun and loud with DJ nights and live music. My recommendations by Promenade Beach include L’Aqua, Hook Lounge and Restobar, and Flaming Dragons Lounge and Nightlife.

After ending the night on a ‘high’ note, head to your stay for a comfortable sleep. Choose your accommodation by Promenade Beach or in the French Quarters so that you won’t have to travel far.

Pondicherry FAQs

When is the Best Time to Visit Pondicherry?

The best time to visit Pondicherry is from October to March when the weather is pleasant and ideal for sightseeing and beach activities.

Is Pondicherry Safe for Female Travellers?

Yes, Pondicherry is generally safe for female travellers, especially in well-visited tourist areas; however, it’s always advisable to follow general safety precautions and avoid isolated places at night.

How to Reach Pondicherry?

Pondicherry can be reached by road from Chennai (about 150 km away), and by train to Puducherry Railway Station. Pondicherry has its own airport, but it is not well connected. The road is the best mode of transportation to reach Pondicherry.

About the Author

Dr. Ashley Antony is a researcher and travel writer from Kerala, India. She has lived in Pondicherry for five years as a Doctoral Research Fellow at Pondicherry University. Her website, Plan Ashley Go, offers detailed travel guides to plan budget family travels.


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