Formerly known as Madras, vibrant and cosmopolitan Chennai’s history dates back 350 years, with the arrival of the British East India Company and the establishment of Fort St George in 1644. Modern-day Chennai now serves as a major commercial, economic, and cultural centre of South India, hence its new moniker the ‘Gateway of South India’. It is the fourth largest city in India, and while it is growing as an economic powerhouse, traditional Tamil heritage is still apparent. As you stroll along the streets, the ubiquitous Tamil cinema (also known as Kollywood) can be found at every major corner, with restaurants and stalls serving Chettinad cuisine such as vadai, pongal and Chettinad Pepper Chicken, and women in sarees and men in dothis going through their everyday motions – the populous city bursts with life and colour.
Best of Chennai
1. Marina Beach
The longest beach in the country, right here in Chennai, is not to be missed! Along with the usual beach activities like swimming and kite-flying, you can also catch the locals playing beach cricket on some days. Grab a beach towel and head over here—either for some water fun or to bask in the lively atmosphere.
2. Fort St George & St Mary’s Church
Six metres high and as sturdy as the day it was built almost three and a half centuries ago, Fort St. George now functions as Tamil Nadu’s Legislative Assembly after withstanding numerous attacks during India’s previous colonial rule. Also located within the fort is St. Mary’s Church, the first ever English church in Chennai.
3. Guindy National Park
With lush evergreens, vast space and an abundance of animals, Guindy National Park is definitely an exciting natural playground for the whole family. Get in touch with India’s gorgeous wildlife including the spotted deer, elephants, Indian civets and more than 14 species of mammals, 130 species of birds and over 60 species each of butterflies and spiders.
4. Valluvar Kottam
Built in honour of Thiruvalluvar, one of Tamil Nadu’s most revered classical poet, philosopher and saint, this 39m high monument surrounded by a moat is shaped like a temple chariot, and houses a life-size stone effigy of Thiruvalluvar.
5. Vivekananda House
Documented here is the colourful life of Swami Vivekananda, a revered Hindu monk from the late 19th century. A beautiful structure from the outside, inside it houses many of Vivekananda’s writings, historical photographs, as well as a 3D show on his life and more than 40 intriguing paintings depicting the cultural heritage of India.
6. San Thome Basilica
Beautiful and grand in white, this neo-gothic church was built during the 16th century over the tomb of St Thomas, one of Jesus’s twelve apostles. Marco Polo once visited this church in 1292, and wrote about the miraculous healing powers from the tomb’s sand in his travel diaries.
7. Kapaleeshwarar Temple
Considered to be ‘the pulse of Chennai’ for many locals, it’s really hard to miss this eye-catching multi-coloured temple. It was originally built around the 7th century and rebuilt during the 16th century by the rulers of Vijayanagara. Built in a classic Dravidian style and intricately decorated with bronze statues of 63 Saivite saints, this vibrant temple has an unmistakeable effect—one cannot help but feel a gush of emotion upon entering it.
8. Chennai Museum
Established in 1851, not only is it the second oldest museum in India, it is also the largest museum in South Asia. Take your time to explore the many fascinating exhibits and ancient artefacts including the bronze sculptures from the Pallava, Chola, Hoysala and Chalukya dynasties as well as the Amaravati collection—the excavated remains of the Buddhist stupa in Amaravati, which include panels, pillars, carved railings and Buddha statues made from white marble.
9. Chennai Guided City Walk
Get to know the city of Chennai via guided walks by Storytrails, a company which conducts interesting guided walking trails that all can follow. Choose from the Peacock Trail which goes around the ancient temples of Mylapore, the Bazaar Trail to experience the colourful and chaotic George Town via foot or rickshaw, or the Spice Trail where you are taken to the diverse food options around Chennai, from the streets to fine dining.