Best of Chennai: Places to see
The coastal city of Chennai is rich in culture, tradition, arts, cuisine and architecture. An array of religious sites, museums, historic monuments and beaches in Chennai makes the city worth a visit. If you don’t mind the heat, then make sure you don’t miss the following places.
The graceful San Thome Cathedral is both place of worship and historical monument. Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, it is within easy reach of San Thome Beach. It is believed to be the final resting place of St Thomas the Apostle, ‘Doubting Thomas’, who brought Christianity to the subcontinent.
The Government Museums in Chennai is considered one of the best in the region. Housed in the Pantheon Complex, it showcases a splendid collection of South Indian bronzes from the 7th-century Pallava era to modern times. Here, you can marvel at the many Shiva statues. There are also displays dedicated to the major periods in South Indian history with 2nd-century BC Buddhist sculptures and remnants of the Vijayanagar Empire.
For the ultimate outdoor experience in Chennai, spend an evening at Marina Beach or Besant Nagar Beach. Walk on the sands, eat some street food and simply watch the waves come and go.
The Parthasarathy Temple is one of Chennai’s oldest and a fine example of South Indian temple architecture. You will also see here the religious fervor that exists even in the most modern of cities.
If you’re in Chennai with kids, give them the thrill of visiting the Snake Park in Guindy. It is adjacent to a children’s park and they can see these fascinating reptiles up close and also learn how venom is extracted from poisonous snakes. The Crocodile Bank on the oustskirts of the city is also loads of fun for kids.
Best of Chennai: Things To Do
Apart from basking in the glory of Chennai’s lip-smacking food map and enjoying a sunset at the famous Marina Beach, here’s a list of things tourists can do in Chennai. Make your trip a memorable one with these unique activities, worth experiencing in this city.
Discover this bustling city by foot. Sign up for a walking tour conducted by outfits such as Storytrails. You can choose between walking tours such as the Bazaar Trail which lets you experience Chennai through its vibrant markets. The Peacock Trails takes you through the traditional quarters of Mylapore where rituals and ancient customs still thrive.
The Bharatanatyam experience
Visit Kalakshetra, Chennai’s legendary dance school founded by Rukmini Devi Arundale. Here, you can see the traditions of Bharatanatyam kept alive and, perhaps, take in a performance. The Rukmini Devi Museum has an impressive collection of costumes and other memorabilia which trace the evolution of Bharatanatyam.
Visit Cholamandal Artists Village
The Cholamandal Artists Village on the outskirts of the Chennai is a unique artists’ collective where you can see painters and sculptors at work. Wander through this space, enjoying both old works of art as well as contemporary creative efforts.
An evening of Carnatic Music
Chennai is a city steeped in culture and is proud of its appreciation of classical music and dance. Many of the local sabhas have top class performances through the year. But to enjoy them all at once, make it to the Margazhi ‘season’ when the city is one large concert hall for Carnatic music performances.
The East Coast Road, or ECR as the locals refer to it, is both a getaway to Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry as well as a recreational drive. Take a drive down ECR, enjoying the sea views along the way, stopping at one of the many restaurants that dot the stretch. There are also amusement parks and multiplexes along this route.
Best of Chennai: Places To Eat
Every foodie must make their way to Chennai once in a lifetime. While filtered coffee and idli and dosa joints is something you will find in every corner of the city, there is more to Chennai’s culinary journey you certainly should not miss.
Chennai food means idli, dosai, vadai and great filter coffee or, rather, kaapi, to most people and they aren’t wrong. While in the city, ensure you tuck into these staples at breakfast time and for evening tiffin. Some of the best idlis and ghee uttappams are to be had at the Murugan Idli Shop and don’t forget the molagapodi to go with these. Idiappam-paya, Chennai-style biryani and Chettinad meals are other truly local specials.
Marina Beach is a street food lover’s delight and the thenga-manga-pattani sundal, boiled channa tossed with coconut slivers and raw mango makes an outing to the beach complete. Kotthu parota, tossed up with the noisy clank of tawa and spatula, is another must-try Chennai street staple.
While there aren’t too many standalone bars – most of them being in hotels – you can still find a watering hole to suit your mood in Chennai. The Bike & Barrel and 10 Downing Street offer an English pub feel, while the Flying Elephant at the Park Hyatt is for elegant cocktail evenings.
Chennai abounds with budget eating options such as Sangeetha on Nungambakkam High Road, where you can get a very satisfying vegetarian South Indian meal for cheap. New Woodlands, in Nungambakkam, also has a reputation for quality, affordable food.
It doesn’t have to be all idli-dosai in Chennai, for there are exotic and gourmet dining choices aplenty. For a spice-scented Chettinad meal dine at the Rain Tree at the Taj Connemara, where they also make delicious cocktails inspired by local flavours. Ottimo at ITC Grand Chola is for elegant Italian and Peshwari, also at the same hotel, serves up robust North West Frontier cuisine.
Best of Chennai: Places To Shop
Chennai offers a wide variety of things for shopaholics. From Kanjeevaram silk sarees to traditional temple jewellery, Chennai has all this and more. Here’s a look at the hotspots of shopping in Chennai.
For souvenirs of Chennai shop at Poompuhar, the state-run arts and crafts emporium on Anna Salai. Here, you can buy everything from glittering Thanjavur paintings to bronze statuettes and silverware. There’s also some lovely temple jewellery you can browse through.
Few Indian women, and even foreigners for that matter, can resist the temptation of going silk-shopping in Chennai. Being not far from the famous silk-weaving town of Kanjeevaram, the city has an array of shops that specialise in gorgeous silks. Nalli is one of the oldest and most reputed silk saree shops in Chennai.
You haven’t shopped in Chennai until you’ve shopped in T-Nagar, which includes Ranganathan Street. This is the area in which you can shop for everything from temple jewellery, to stainless steel, clothes, stationery and musical instruments. For an upmarket shopping experience head to Anna Nagar with its line-up of fashion boutiques and luxury stores.
Some of the best street shopping to be done in Chennai is in Pondy Bazaar, a great place for bargaining for everything from costume jewellery to readymade clothes and crockery. You can also experience the city’s colourful street life here.
While the street shopping is a unique Chennai experience, there are lots of sprawling malls in the city, too, where you can shop in air-conditioned comfort. Express Avenue and Phoenix Market City are some of the city’s most popular malls and there’s also Spencers Plaza which still exudes some of its old world charm.