This Chennai Tourism guide is designed to provide tips and guidance about all the things to do and places to see in Chennai. Whether you’ve already decided to go or are still looking around for inspiration our guide will help you; it contains a list of incredible activities in Chennai, as well as a list of some of the most highly-recommended hotels in Chennai and other helpful pieces of advice.
“Chennai is not just a city, but an experience; it is a metropolitan with a heart. The new age high rises form a pretty skyline across the sea side but Chennai’s soul remains in those old temples and churches scattered throughout the city. There’s an old world charm to it which refuses to be overshadowed.”
– Akanksha, http://www.akankshadureja.com/
Tourist Places in Chennai: Religious Sites
Narayana Krishnaraja Puram, Triplicane, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600014, India
The Parthasarthy Temple is one of Chennai’s oldest temples; it was built in the 8th century by King Narasimhavarman I and dedicated to Krishna as the charioteer Parthasarathy. The most interesting part of the temple is its five figurines or avatars dedicated to the different incarnations of Vishnu. If you are looking for somewhere to relax or open your mind, you could not choose a better spot. The serene atmosphere is the reason why visitors from all over the world come here to think upon issues and say prayers (open from 6am-12pm and 4pm-9pm every day).
Vadakku Maada Veethi, Mylapore, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600004, India
On the water’s edge of Mylapore sits the Kapaleeshwarar Temple; the first thing any onlooker will notice is the riot of busy colour that emanates from this bold religious structure. This current form of this Hindu temple of Shiva was built in the 13th-16th century and is still a place of daily Hindu rituals. The temple is open from 5.30am-12.15pm and 4pm-9.30pm, but if you want to witness one of the six daily puja services, then visit the website for timings.
Thousand Lights Mosque
Royapettah, Peters Road, Peters Colony, Thousand Lights, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600086, India
The Thousand Lights Mosque, built in 1807, is Chennai’s main Shia mosque and a sacred place of pilgrimage for the Muslim people in India. It got its peculiar name from the story that this vast ethereal building needs over 100 lights to fully illuminate its main hall.
San Thome Cathedral
Kamarajar Salai, Kuil Thoppu, Mylapore, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600004, India
San Thome Cathedral is a large Roman Catholic cathedral built by the Portuguese in the 16th century after they arrived in 1522. It was later re-built (1896) in a more neo-Gothic style, making it a beautiful and charming sight to behold. There is a shrine on the Southside of the cathedral, called St. Thomas’ Pole, it is believed that this holy monument saved the cathedral from being damaged by the 2004 tsunami. The church is open for visitors from 6.30am to 7.30pm, it is a sacred place for Catholics so make sure to dress appropriately.
Tourist Places in Chennai: Monuments & Museums
With a history branching back in time, Chennai has its fair share of historical monuments and museums that tell a good story. Here are some historical places on the Chennai tourism map.
Fort St. George
Rajaji Salai, Near Legislature and Secretariat, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600009, India
Built by the British in 1644, Fort St. George, is considered to be one of the first establishments of British presence in India. It first started as a trading post and was then later used by the army; now it is seen as an important historical monument of India. Beyond its memorial status, the fort also houses Tamil Nadu’s Legislative Assembly and Secretariat. Other buildings also include the Fort Museum which provides an opportunity for visitors to explore the origins of the fort, colonial artwork and historical military artefacts. Make sure you also have a look around the oldest surviving British Church (St. Mary’s, built in 1680) and a somewhat eclectic museum dedicated to Robert Clive (a former Commander-in-Chief of British India). The fort is open from 9am to 5pm every day except for Friday and costs only ₹5 for Indians.
“Chennai, or Madras as it was called earlier, is paradoxically a young and an old city. It has Fort St George, the British settlement, which once formed the nucleus of the city that is under 400 years old. And areas like Mylapore, the oldest part of the city, dating back to the 1st century. My favourite haunt are the streets around the Kapaleeshwar temple Dedicated to Shiva and his consort Parvati, this shrine is over 1400 years old, but it is believed that the original temple was demolished by the Portuguese, who apparently built the San Thome Basilica over it when Mylapore came under the colonial trail.”
By Lakshmi Sharath, http://www.lakshmisharath.com/
Pantheon Road, Beside Ashoka Hotel, Beside Government Maternity Hospital, Egmore, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600008, India
This museum houses an intricate array of cultural history and arts inside a large British-built complex. It is widely considered by travellers as one of the best sights in Chennai owing to its dedicated and detailed representation of Indian history. The Bronze Gallery inside Chennai’s Government Museum is the highlight of the trip; on display here is an overwhelming collection of South Indian bronzes dating all the way back to the 7th century (including Shiva as Natarja). Other galleries show the archaeological and religious history of India.
To visit the Government Museum in Chennai you will need to pay ₹15 (for Indians, international prices vary) and to take pictures or videos it will cost you ₹200. Your ticket to the Government Museum, will also grant you access to The National Art Gallery, Contemporary Art Gallery and Children’s Museum. The museum is open from 9.30am to 5pm on Saturday to Thursday.
47, Valluvar Kottam High Road, Nungambakkam, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600034, India
Built in honour of famous poet and Saint Tiruvalluvar, writer of Thirukkural, this memorial is made up of approximately 3000 stones. The best part of this monument is that all 133 chapters of his epic Thirukkural are inscribed into the walls of the first corridor. Other interesting parts include epic monuments and an incredibly large auditorium. Valluvar Kottam is open from 8am to 6pm every day except for Fridays and public holidays. To visit the memorial it will cost ₹10 for adults and ₹5 for children.
East Coast Road, Muttukadu, Chengalpet, Tamil Nadu 603118, India
Along the East Coast Road, just 16 miles south of Chennai is DakshinaChitra; this “living museum of art” gives visitors a chance to experience the architecture, lifestyles, performing arts and other cultural factors of Southern Indian living. It is slightly off the beaten track of your average Chennai trip but well worth the excursion. DakshinaChitra includes 18 different historical houses each with their own relevant exhibition all for your viewing and learning pleasure.
DakshinaChitra is open every day from 10am to 6pm, except for Tuesday, and will cost ₹100 for adults and ₹30 for children. Prices for adults increase to ₹120 when there is a festival on, and prices for bringing in a camera range from ₹20 to ₹75 depending on the type of camera.
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Tourist Places in Chennai: Wildlife
Chennai tourism includes a few sites to encounter wildlife native to the region. If you are travelling with kids, these are good spots for a family holiday.
Madras Crocodile Bank Trust
Post Bag No 4, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu 603104, India
Chennai is home to one of the largest reptile zoos in the world, the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust. The main aim of this establishment is to research and promote the conservation and safety of reptiles and amphibians in India. Rated highly by visitors, this eight and half acre area is home to around 2,500 reptiles and amphibians. You can interact with some of the creatures, embark on guided tours and participate in a range of activities for all ages. Besides the snapping crocodiles, the trust is home to a safe and secure nesting beach for Sea Turtles (Olive Ridley sea turtles).
The park is open from 8.30am to 5.30pm Tuesday to Sunday and costs ₹35 for adults and ₹10 for children below 10 years old.
Guindy National Park
Rangeguindy, Opp IIT Madras, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600025, India
Guindy National Park is one of the only National Parks situated inside a city in India and is also the 8th smallest in India. Do not be deceived by its size; this park is a valuable experience for all who appreciate and enjoy interacting with the animal kingdom. It is home to jackals, deer, snakes, tortoises, over 130 species of birds and more. The Guindy National Park is open daily from 9am to 5.30pm, except for Tuesday and costs ₹20 for adults and ₹5 for children.
“Chennai is a city with swag. Autowallahs here will juggle their keys, a la Rajinikanth, while asking you where you want to go. Go to the beach and order papads, and you’ll be totally blown away by the zing of it, with the cool breeze brushing your face. From roadside street food to any international cuisine, nearby treks to amazing gigs Chennai has it all. There’s amazing south indian food and great coffee to be had everywhere, not to mention the city’s wonderfully clean beaches, museums and wildlife parks.”
– Kumar Kislay, Marketing Head of http://www.holidify.com/
Beaches in Chennai
Besant Nagar and Marina Beach are the two main beaches in Chennai that offer up a truly exotic holiday experience. These two beaches on the Bay of Bengal are a great place to soak up the sun or relax in the shade of the Banyan trees. During the day you can purchase souvenirs or trinkets from the stalls on the beach or purchase some tasty fish dishes for your lunch. Watching the sun go down from the cool sand in the evening is a favourite past time of those looking for a more romantic feel.
Shopping in Chennai
“The first time I walked into Nalli in T-Nagar in Chennai, I was fantastically surprised. For a non-shopper like me, I invested 3 hours sifting through the silks and purchased one myself (amongst many others my mother bought). Buying traditional silk saris from this city is always the best souvenir.”
– Amrita Das, http://travellingidesofmarch.com/
Where to Enjoy Chennai Food
For some classically, traditional Southern Indian food we’ve rallied up a list of the most highly-recommended and well-reviewed restaurants in Chennai from people who have been there. To experience the culinary delights of Chennai we recommend you visit the following:
Saravana Bhavan is a favourite of locals, which you always know is a good sign. The restaurant is part of a chain but this does not detract from the delicious dishes it serves. You can find them in several places in Chennai, including Vadapalani and Pondy Bazar.
Dakshin is a restaurant inside the ITC hotel and serves only the best Southern Indian cuisine.
Dakshin, Aishwarya Colony, Adyar, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600020, India
Annalakshmi is a themed-restaurant whose décor reflects the classic temples of India; it serves vegetarian food from northern and southern Indian and Jain cuisine.
18/3, Sigapi Achi Building, Rukmani Lakshmipathy Road Egmore, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600008, India
“Chennai’s has diverse neighborhoods and is the center of South Indian artistic and religious traditions — which makes it a unique urban village to explore. Recent years have added a new layer of cosmopolitan life: luxury hotels, boutiques, contemporary restaurants and swanky bars and clubs open well into the night. Upon your visit, definitely explore the temples and beaches and don’t miss out on the nightlife as well!”
– Anjali Shah, http://pickyeaterblog.com/
Nightlife in Chennai
Nightlife in Chennai is very familiar and classically like modern Indian nightlife in other major cities. We know you might be looking for a quiet drink in a bar or a long night dancing the night away, so we’ve made a list of our top five bars and clubs we recommend you visit.
Gatsby 2000 (Club)
No. 132, Crowne Plaza Chennai Adyar Park, T T K Road, Alwarpet, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600018, India
Pasha @ The Park (Club)
No. 23/13, Khader Nawaz Khan Road, Nungambakkam, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600006, India
The Flying Elephant (Bar)
39, Velachery Main Road, Guindy, Raj Bhavan, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600032, India
10 Downing Street (Bar/Club)
Kences Inn, 50, North Boag Road, T Nagar, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600017, India
Bike and Barrel (Bar)
115, Sir Thyagaraya Road, Pondy Bazaar, T. Nagar, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600017, India
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Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Chennai
Luxury Hotels in Chennai
Chennai is not short on the luxury front and the Leela Palace is just one example of this. It is close by to many popular attractions in Chennai including the San Thome Cathedral and Kapaleeshwarar Temple, which are both within 3miles of the hotel. The hotel has three restaurants, a full-service spa, an outdoor pool, a health club, a fitness centre and a bar/lounge. But the best part is that all rooms have deep soaking tubs where you can just relax from a busy day of sightseeing.
Alternatively, the Vivanta by Taj hotel in Chennai is another luxurious option for travellers looking to indulge whilst exploring the best of Chennai tourism. The hotel is family friendly and less than one mile from the popular Government Museum. Other hotel amenities include several restaurants, an outdoor pool, a health club, free WiFi in public areas, a bar/lounge, a coffee shop/café, and a sauna.
Luxury hotels in Chennai usually have starting costs from around ₹6,000 per night’s stay, but you should visit the Expedia website for more information as these costs could change depending on when you organise your trip to Chennai.
Mid-Range Hotels in Chennai
If you’re looking to indulge in luxury but with a lower price tag, there are a range of mid-range hotels in Chennai that will suit your tastes. The Somerset Greenways hotel in Chennai is a family friendly hotel within 2miles of the San Thome Cathedral and Kapaleeshwarar Temple. The hotel boasts a top-quality restaurant and also has an outdoor pool, health club, bar and sauna.
Another guest favourite is the family friendly, yet sophisticated E Hotel located in the entertainment district of Chennai; nearby to the Spencer’s Plaza Shopping Mall. It is also only a mile away from the Government Museum and has its own restaurant, fitness centre, bar/lounge and a 24 hour café.
These hotels all cost within the ₹2,000 to ₹6,000 price range, depending on when you visit and the length of your stay. Visit the Expedia website to find out more.
Budget Hotels in Chennai
If you’re looking for a more budget hotel, so you have more to spend on the experiences around Chennai, then Expedia has something for you. One of our guest favourites are the OYO hotels and apartments, such as the OYO Apartments Velachery Railway Station.
Nearby to many popular sights and experiences, this hotel also has 24-hour room service, dry cleaning and laundry facilities, free continental breakfast and free WiFi in public areas. The staff are very accommodating and always on hand to give tips and advice about how to get around and other local knowledge.
Alternatively, the Radha Regent is approximately within 3 miles of Valluvar Kottam. Hotel features include a restaurant, a fitness centre, bar/lounge, free buffet breakfast, free WiFi in public areas, a coffee shop in the lobby, and 24-hour room service.
Budget hotels in Chennai range in price from ₹1,500 to ₹3,500 but this will depend on whether you visit during peak times of the year and how long you will be staying. The Expedia website will tell you more information and give you the exact prices of your stay.
Getting Around: Transport in Chennai
Chennai Metro Rail
Phase 1 of the Chennai Metro Rail has been completed and is open for the public. This new, part-underground rapid transit system makes travelling around the city much easier. Minimum fare for using the metro is ₹10 and maximum is ₹40, depending on the distance and route of your journey (and the carriage class).
Getting from the Chennai Airport
The Chennai Metro can be used to get from the airport; however a cheaper option is the suburban train to/from Tirusulam station near the domestic airport terminal. The trains run every 10 to 20 minutes from 4am to midnight and costs approximately ₹5.
The classic Indian autorickshaw is a prominent feature in the streets of Chennai; typically fares are ₹25 for the first 1.8km then ₹12 per additional kilometre. A lot of drivers will still use every opportunity to extort extra money from you, so to avoid these extra charges we recommend you do not pay upfront, and always clearly agree that they turn the meter on before embarking on your journey. Rates increase by up to 50% from 11pm to 5am.
“Zip around in a luxury car. Several luxury cars are available for self-drive rental in Chennai, for a few thousand rupees a day (or even by hours). Should you ever get an urge to try new set of wheels or need luxury car to impress your date/business partner, you can rent a Fortuner/Mercedes GLA/C Class and so on… It is a cool way to experience these cars without having to spend a fortune owning them.”
– Shrinidhi Hande , www.enidhi.net
Best Time to Go to Chennai
The best time to go to Chennai all depends on what you are looking for. The city is in the middle of a tropical zone of India, which means that in the summer the temperature can soar to around 45 °C during the day. March to June constitutes as Summer in Chennai, but do not be totally deterred as the cool breeze makes evening strolls on the beach very romantic and calming.
The Winter season is the most comfortable time of year to visit (November to February) as the temperatures are cooler (20-25°C) and sightseeing or relaxing on a beach are equally as enjoyable. Just be warned though, it could rain a bit in the winter so make sure to check the weather before you start packing.
Winter also welcomes the festive season of Chennai; Pongal is celebrated in the month of January and a Music and Dance festival is held in December.
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Now you’ve got all of the information, head to the Expedia.co.in to book your flights, hotels and activities in one place.
Download the PDF version of our Chennai Tourism Guide, so you can take it around with you on your travels.
Featured Image by Balasubramanian G Velu