For the first-time visitor, there’s no dearth of places to visit in Chennai, the southernmost metro in India. The Tamil capital dazzles a visitor with its range of experiences: be it sampling spicy Tamil fare, a walk on its picturesque beaches, a visit to the intricately-carved temples or an excursion to the city’s quiet wildlife havens. Here are the top things to do in Chennai.
FORT ST. GEORGE
Fort Museum, Old Secretariat, Rajaji Salai, Fort St. George, Chennai
The site of the first fortress built in India by the English East India Company in 1640, Fort St. George is dotted with numerous heritage buildings. It is now the headquarters of the Tamil Nadu government, while the surrounding area, known as Georgetown, has numerous wholesale markets such as Burma Bazaar. Walk around to admire the towering spire of the 17th-century St Mary’s Church, the oldest Anglican Church in India. Afterwards, head to the Fort Museum, which is housed in an 18th-century building known as the Exchange House. It exhibits various memorabilia from the British era, together with prints and paintings of colonial Madras. Located right next to the fort, the High Court is the second-largest judicial building in the world. It was built in an Indo-Saracenic style in 1892, and became the first Supreme Court of India.
Once a Pallava port, the neighbourhood of Mylapore is most famous for the Kapaleeshwar Temple dedicated to Shiva. Built in the 7th century AD, the temple complex has all the classic features of Dravidian temple architecture, including bronze idols of the Nayanmars or saints of Shiva, a colourful central gopuram (gateway) with carved figures of gods and goddesses, and a temple tank. The surrounding streets are buzzing with shops and flower sellers.
THE ROYAL ENFIELD FACTORY
ADDRESS: Adyar, Chennai
TICKET PRICE: Rs. 600 per person
A treat for biking enthusiasts, the Royal Enfield Factory in Chennai conducts factory tours where visitors can witness the making of Royal Enfield Bullet 350 among other classic models. Take a walk-through the premises and you’ll find yourself fascinated with the precision and dedication of the workers assembling everything from the smallest metal to the engine into the main body. Divided in multiple sections including assembling, painting, testing among others, the factory offers an as-close-as-it-gets experience into making of this classic motorbike.
GUINDY NATIONAL PARK
ADDRESS: Anna Salai, DMS Compound, IV Floor, Teynampet
Designated as a protected area in Tamil Nadu, the Guindy National Park sprawls across 2.70 sq km, and is one of the few national parks located within the city limits. A photographer’s paradise, the park is home to hundreds of blackbucks, spotted deer, and a wide variety of jackals, turtles, hyenas, pangolins, hedgehogs, common mongooses and birds. Shadowed by soaring trees, the park encloses a few beautiful lakes and streams, and is best explored during early mornings. The park also comprises of restricted areas which can be frequented by visitors only if they are accompanied by a forest ranger from the Forest Department.
MADRAS CROCODILE BANK
ADDRESS: Mamallapuran, Chennai
TICKET PRICE: Rs. 35 per adult, Rs 10 per child
WEEKLY OFF: Closed on Mondays
A reptile zoo and a herpetology research station, the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust is home to 14 species of crocodiles, 10 species of turtles and a variety of snakes (including anacondas) and birds. Located 40 km south of Chennai, the zoo was established to save three endangered species—mugger crocodile, saltwater crocodile, and the gharial. As you explore the zoo on foot, you can spot crocodiles basking in the sun, turtles resting by the sand dunes, and snakes crawling against the trees in their protected surroundings. Located right next to the Guindy National Park, the zoo also houses a shop which stocks comprehensive collection of books on reptiles.
Sprawling over a distance of 13km, Marina Beach is the longest natural city beach in India and the second longest in the world after Miami. It runs from Fort St. George in the north to Besant Nagar in the south. It’s best to visit the beach either at early morning or dusk, when the sandy stretch is cooled by sea breeze. During the evenings, it transforms into a popular hangout for Chennai residents. Amidst statues and memorials of political leaders, there are numerous food stalls selling snacks such as boiled peanuts and fried fish, shops and joyrides.
Housed in a complex of British-era buildings known as the Pantheon, Chennai’s Government Museum is a treasure trove of artefacts from the 6th century onwards. It focuses on ruling dynasties like the Hoysalas, Chalukyas, Cholas and Vijayanagar Empire. There are also galleries dedicated to natural history and zoology, as well as bronze sculptures. One of the major highlights is the National Art Gallery, which exhibits a selection of Mughal, Rajasthani and Deccani artworks from the 10th to the 18th century.
Located close to Cholamandala Artists’ Village, this cultural centre exhibits arts and crafts from Tamil Nadu and neighbouring states like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. There are models of traditional homes and workshops, as well as demonstrations for pottery and weaving and other crafts during the weekend. The Craft Shop offers a treasure-trove of local products, including wooden dolls from Kondapalli and palm leaf boxes from Pulicat.