Chennai, the capital city of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is a bustling metropolis known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and artistic heritage. For those considering things to do in Chennai, exploring the historic Fort St. George, which houses the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and other official buildings, and visiting the Kapaleeshwarar Temple, a classic example of Dravidian architecture, are top activities.
The city’s Marina Beach, one of the longest urban beaches in the world, offers a scenic setting for leisurely strolls, with the Bay of Bengal’s waves providing a soothing backdrop. Nearby, the Government Museum in Egmore showcases a vast collection of artifacts, including ancient coins, sculptures, and paintings, offering a deep dive into the region’s history and culture.
Beyond its historical and cultural attractions, Chennai is also renowned for its classical dance forms, traditional music, and unique Tamil cuisine, providing a feast for the senses. For those seeking the best places to visit in India, Chennai’s blend of ancient traditions, artistic expressions, and culinary delights makes it a captivating destination.
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Attractions & Things to Do in Chennai, India
1. Kapaleeshwarar Temple
Kapaleeshwarar Temple, located in Mylapore, is a vibrant example of Dravidian architecture dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is known for its towering gopuram (gateway tower), richly decorated with depictions of Hindu deities.
Travel Tip: Remember to dress modestly, covering shoulders and legs, and to remove shoes before entering the temple.
2. Marina Beach
As the second longest urban beach in the world, Marina Beach stretches along the Bay of Bengal and is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.
Travel Tip: Avoid swimming due to the strong undercurrents; instead, enjoy a leisurely walk, savor some local street food, and witness a stunning sunrise or sunset.
3. Government Museum Chennai
The Government Museum Chennai, or the Madras Museum, is one of the oldest in India and is home to an extensive collection of archaeological and numismatic items, along with Roman antiques and works of artists like Raja Ravi Varma.
Travel Tip: Allocate several hours for your visit if you want to cover the vast sections of the museum comprehensively.
4. Fort St. George
Built in 1644 by the British East India Company, Fort St. George is a historic fortification which now houses the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. Inside the fort, there’s a museum that showcases military memorabilia and artifacts from the colonial period.
Travel Tip: Carry an ID, as security might check it at the entrance due to the legislative assembly within the premises.
5. San Thome Basilica
San Thome Basilica, built over the tomb of Apostle St. Thomas, is an important religious site and a beautiful example of neo-Gothic architecture.
Travel Tip: Try to visit during a mass to experience the serenity and the organ music, but ensure to maintain the sanctity of the services.
6. Guindy National Park
As one of the few national parks situated within a city, Guindy National Park offers a green respite with its lush landscapes, a variety of flora and fauna, and a children’s park.
Travel Tip: Wear comfortable footwear and bring binoculars if you’re interested in birdwatching.
7. Chennai Rail Museum
For rail enthusiasts, the Chennai Rail Museum presents the evolution of the Indian Railways with a good collection of vintage locomotives and carriages.
Travel Tip: Check out the toy train ride available within the premises, which is fun for both children and adults.
8. DakshinaChitra Museum
DakshinaChitra Museum is a living-history museum dedicated to South Indian heritage and culture, showcasing traditional homes, and offering workshops in crafts like pottery and weaving.
Travel Tip: Plan to spend at least half a day here to participate in the workshops and explore the museum thoroughly.
While not in Chennai itself, the ancient coastal town of Mahabalipuram, with its UNESCO World Heritage-listed temples and rock carvings, is just a short drive away and is a must-visit for anyone interested in history and architecture.
Travel Tip: Consider hiring a guide at the site to get detailed insights into the historical context of the monuments.
10. Theosophical Society
The sprawling gardens of the Theosophical Society offer a peaceful retreat with a rich variety of plants, a 450-year-old banyan tree, and an atmosphere conducive to meditation and reflection.
Travel Tip: The library here is a trove of esoteric and religious texts, well worth a visit for those interested in the Society’s philosophy.
11. T. Nagar Shopping District
T. Nagar, or Thyagaraya Nagar, is Chennai’s premier shopping district, bustling with stores selling everything from silk sarees to gold jewelry. It’s a vibrant place to experience the commercial heart of the city.
Travel Tip: Be prepared to haggle to get the best prices, especially in the smaller shops and street stalls.
12. Breezy Beach
Breezy Beach lies in the quiet neighborhood of Valmiki Nagar and is less crowded than Marina Beach, making it a pleasant place for a relaxed evening.
Travel Tip: The beach is not well-lit at night, so it’s advisable to visit during daylight hours.
13. Connemara Public Library
Part of the Madras Museum complex, the Connemara Public Library is an architectural beauty and one of the four National Depository Libraries in India, receiving a copy of all books, periodicals, and newspapers published in the country.
Travel Tip: It’s a great spot for research or quiet reading, but remember that some areas are only accessible with a membership.
14. Ashtalakshmi Temple
The Ashtalakshmi Temple, near Besant Nagar Beach, is dedicated to the eight forms of the goddess Lakshmi. The temple’s tiered structure offers stunning views of the Bay of Bengal.
Travel Tip: Visit during the evening aarti (prayer) to see the temple lit up and filled with devotional energy.
15. Kalakshetra Foundation
Kalakshetra Foundation is a cultural academy dedicated to the preservation of traditional values in Indian art, especially in the field of Bharatanatyam dance and Gandharvaveda music.
Travel Tip: They offer performances and sometimes workshops that are open to the public; check their schedule in advance.
FAQ About Things to Do in Chennai, India
What are the must-visit places in Chennai?
Chennai is known for its beautiful Marina Beach, the historic Kapaleeshwarar Temple, the impressive Fort St. George, and the educational Government Museum. The city’s vibrant culture and architecture can be seen in every corner.
Can I explore the city’s art and culture?
Absolutely! Chennai is home to the Kalakshetra Foundation, where you can witness traditional Bharatanatyam performances, and the DakshinaChitra Museum, which showcases South Indian heritage and architecture.
Are there any wildlife sanctuaries near Chennai?
Yes, the Guindy National Park is a protected area within the city limits and the Arignar Anna Zoological Park, which is home to numerous species of wild animals, is located on the outskirts of Chennai.
What are some local markets I can visit in Chennai?
For a local shopping experience, visit the bustling markets of T. Nagar or the Pondy Bazaar, where you can find a range of items from traditional silk sarees to modern electronics.
Is there a place to enjoy nature in Chennai?
Yes, the Theosophical Society gardens offer a tranquil green space, and the Chennai Botanical Garden is perfect for a peaceful stroll amid the lush flora.
What are the best activities for families in Chennai?
Families will enjoy visiting VGP Universal Kingdom, an amusement park with rides and attractions, or the MGR Film City, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at movie making.
Can I take a boat ride in Chennai?
Certainly, you can take a scenic boat ride at the Muttukadu Boat House, located on the backwaters of the Bay of Bengal, just outside the city.
Are there any historical tours available in Chennai?
Yes, you can embark on heritage walks that explore the colonial history and local culture of Chennai, covering historic landmarks and cultural hotspots throughout the city.