Chennai Travel Guide
Also known as Madras, Chennai is one of the largest cities in Southern India. Despite having 7.5 million souls, it is less visited than other places in this country.
Come check out our Chennai guide for independent travelers as we cover the best things to do in Chennai, India.
Start your time in Chennai by making a trip out to the Kapaleeshwarar Temple. Parvati, the consort of Hindu god Shiva, is worshipped at this temple. Built in the 7th century in the Dravidian-style, historians say the Portuguese destroyed the original structure.
The current iteration dates from the 16th century and is no less beautiful than the original building. Open from 5:30 am to 10 pm, six rituals take place during the day and evening. If you can, visit during one of four annual festivals, as this temple is at its best during these times.
Sri Parthasarathy Temple is another significant Hindu temple in the Chennai area that is worth your time. Constructed in the 8th century AD, worshippers come here to pray before the likeness of Lord Vishnu.
Unlike the Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Sri Parthasarathy managed to escape destruction by the Portuguese. As such, it is easily the oldest building in the Chennai region. However, this complex saw significant expansion during the days of the Vijayanagar kings in the 15th century. Because of these additions, Sri Parthasarathy is one of the most physically impressive Hindu temples in Southern India.
Festivals happen every month – no matter your time frame, you’ll be able to hit one if you want. Check out Theppam festival if you can – happening during February/March, it features a colourful series of floats.
Did you know Chennai has a major place in the history of Christianity? That’s what you’ll learn when you pay a visit to St. Thomas Mount National Shrine. According to lore, Saint Thomas, one of the Apostles of Christ, travelled by boat to preach the gospel in India.
While in the Chennai area, he met his end atop a hill; this place became known as St. Thomas’ Mount. Over the years, a series of caretakers maintained his grave. This included a local Muslim, who marked the site with a perpetually burning lantern.
Today, a chapel sits where theologians say Saint Thomas died. Like any temple or mosque, dress and act respectfully inside, as pilgrims visit here from all over the world.
If you have time for one more temple while in Chennai, visit the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple. A more recent addition to this city’s collection, it honours Sai Baba, a religious figure in the early 20th century. He made no distinction between Hinduism and Islam, teaching tenets of both faiths.
To this day, you can find temples preaching his message of love, forgiveness, and inter-denominational acceptance around the world. This hall of worship gets busy on Thursday, so avoid visiting on this day if crowds bother you.
Being a coastal city, Chennai has many beaches. According to locals, Besant Nagar Beach is one of the best. We don’t advise swimming here, and it’s not just because it’s polluted – there is also a nasty undertow. Every year, people drown here, so resist joining residents who defy warnings.
Despite this, this sandy beach makes it a great place to unwind after a stressful day of sightseeing. After your stroll, stop by a nearby food stall – it’ll make for an ideal end to your day.
Are you travelling in Chennai with kids? Entertain them with a visit to VGP Universal Kingdom. Spanning 41 acres, it is home to a water park, petting zoo, and a stage where live acts perform.
However, it is best known for its Snow Park. This icy attraction allows those who live in the tropics to experience snow for the first time. As for you, it’s a great way to find relief from the heat waves Chennai is infamous for.
If you’re looking for the ultimate Indian shopping experience, you’ll find it on Ranganathan Street. Considered by some to be the most crowded street in the world, you’ll find everything from jewellery to saris here.
Shoppers jam-pack this thoroughfare, so take care at all times. This is prime pick-pocketing territory, so keep valuables in the front and stay aware.
If Chennai’s heat is too intense, or if monsoon rains have made exploration impossible, head to Express Avenue Mall. This shopping centre combines 900,000 square feet of shops with a 25-stall food court, a hotel, and office space.
After buying everything you need, hit up the multiplex. With nine screens, you can catch the best of Hollywood or Bollywood – your choice!