This comprehensive guide to Chennai will take you to the Pallava era and back. It is designed to help you figure out the neighborhoods and the attractions.
In this guide you will also get safety scores, restaurants and tips. Chennai is hot most days of the year and it is a tough city to navigate through the city in that heat. Carry a water bottle.
Chennai Metropolitan area has a population of almost 9 million people in the districts of Chennai along with part of Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur districts. Almost five million people live in Namma Chennai, where the purple patch is on this map.
There are temples scattered all over the city and there is no shortage of things to do in Chennai. Industries include car manufacturing, IT industry and movies which is a pride of the city. Give this city as much time as Pondicherry and you will see how fun it is, despite the face melting heat.
Getting into Chennai
Getting into Chennai is easy because it has good roads and railroads. Here are ways you can arrive at Chennai.
This airport is well connected to Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, and the rest of India. Until Bangalore got its international airport, most people used this airport to catch their international flights. It is the third busiest airport and second-largest cargo hub in India. Transport options from the airport:
Suburban railway: Before the metro, the suburban railway connected the airport to the rest of the city. It is on the South line and you can use it to quickly get to the city. (Up to ₹30 for about 150 kilometer trip)
Chennai metro: It is the second metro in India to connect the city to the airport. The airport metro station is 450 meters from the airport terminal on the Blue line. (Up to ₹21 for a trip)
Taxis: Taxis are an expensive option and they can be hired outside the terminal to get to the cities. (₹500 – 2000)
City buses: Grand Southern Trunk Road has buses plying over it to the city. The airport is situated by the road. However, traffic might make your journey longer than your flight. (Up to ₹15 – 75 for a trip)
2. Train stations
Chennai has lots of railroad in the city and trains come from all over the country. Here are some of the main train stations where you could catch a train or get off one.
Chennai Central (terminus) (code: MAS): It is Chennai’s main train station and it is operational since 1873. It is where the HQ of Southern Railway is and it is in an impressive red building, the most famous landmark of the city. Chennai to Bangalore was the first train line from this heritage building.
Today this is the station most people arrive at or leave from. There are 12 platforms for inter-city trains and 5 for suburban trains (which is called the Moore Market complex). All the suburban trains leave from or arrive here. You may have seen it in the movies.
Trains from Delhi, Howrah and Hyderabad arrive into the Central by Nadiambakkam, Korakkupet, Basin Bridge line (North line).
Transport from Chennai Central are the Suburban trains at Moore market and Chennai park stations. Buses are available at the bus stop outside the train station. There are taxis and auto rickshaws available in plenty outside the station.
Chennai Egmore (code: MS): An identical cousin of the Chennai Central but smaller and built in 1905. It is another station where trains terminate. While the Chennai Central services trains from the far North, this station is where trains to most cities in the South of Tamil Nadu stop, like trains from Pondicherry, Coimbatore, Tiruchirapalli and Kanyakumari.
Popular train stations on this line include Tambaram, Guindy, Numgambakkam, and Chennai Beach which is a terminal for the MRTS line of the suburban train network and it is busy all the time.
It is the second largest bus terminus in Asia and they found the space to build this bad boy. There are buses to almost every city in Tamil Nadu and to cities in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala. A record of about 4500 buses can arrive and leave from here in a day.
At peak hours, the roads near Koyambedu are so busy that there are plans to build smaller bus stations elsewhere in Chennai.
Getting Around in Chennai
1. Elevated and commuter trains
Chennai suburban railway transports people of Chennai to work and back home. North, South and West lines are three of the four lines. These routes shares its lines with inter-city trains.
Its fourth line is called the Chennai Mass Rapid Transit System which is elevated and dedicated to only mass transit. The trains run from Chennai Beach to Velachery shown as yellow line in the map below.
Chennai metro plans to take over this stretch in few years time, and you can travel in AC trains at double the cost. Cool?
2. Chennai metro
Chennai metro is new and it may soon take over the Chennai Mass Rapid Transit System thus expanding its network by about 20 kilometers. The ticket price is between ₹10 and ₹60.
Tourist cards are available for a value of ₹100 with refundable deposit of ₹50 valid for a day. Stored value cards will save 10% of the trip cost on the metro and they are available for initial deposit of ₹2100.
At this point, the metro is not integrated with bus transport or commuter trains. In the future, every mode of transport will be integrated and traveling will be easier and faster.
3. Chennai metropolitan transport
There are more than 600 routes and 4000 buses plying on the roads of Chennai. There are AC and non-AC buses that travel within the city and the suburbs. CMBT is the biggest bus station in Chennai and it has buses to different neighborhoods and suburban areas of Chennai.
4. Taxis & auto rickshaws
Taxis are available at Chennai Central and Egmore train stations and at the Koyambedu bus terminus. These taxis take you to your accommodation and on tourist trails at a fixed rate. There are radio and app based taxi companies too. Like every other cities in India, Ola and Uber have a good network of taxis in the city.
Auto rickshaws are three wheeled motorized vehicles that can speed across the city and the breeze due to speeding can be a relief during the Chennai summer. An eight kilometer ride could cost you anywhere between ₹100 to ₹150.
Expect the price increase during the ride and also be ready to have a 10 minute argument about it if you do not agree to the price. Rickshaw drivers are notorious for getting you to sit in their vehicle, refusing to turn on the meter and then getting you to pay their price at the end of the trip. But it does not happen all the time.
I had drivers refuse excess fare and took only what we agreed on. Most drivers have helped me find a destination if they are not sure. But these days you have Google maps and you can guide your rickshaw driver. There are share auto rickshaws that are economical. But they do not drop you at your door, a good option nonetheless.
If you want to avoid hassle at all, Ola app is the alternative which you can use to hire an auto rickshaw. You can pay what your app says, may be more if you are feeling generous.
There are places in Chennai where walking is the best thing to do. Chennai has the longest beach in Asia and some of the places like Tyagaraja Nagar is too crowded for vehicles. You will walk, take pictures and update your Instagram.
Some helpful Tamil phrases
Welcome – Vaanga
My name is… – En per
I’m from Bangalore – Yen sondha oor Bangalore
Bon apetit – Sandoshama sapdinga
Thank you – Nanri
How much is this? – Idhevalavu?
Banana – Nalla valey palam
Shop – Kadai
I love you – Naa onna kaadhalikkire
Goodbye – Apra paaklaam
The population index places Chennai at fourth highest in the list. There are many buildings that are from the British era, but the city has existed as Chennaipattinam since the beginning of time. It is multi cultural and multi ethnic city where everybody can live. Tamil speakers are in the absolute majority, and trailing behind them are people speaking Telugu and Kannada.
Punjabi, Bengali, Malayalam and speakers of other languages too live here. People speak English and they do attempt Hindi. However, it is best to learn Tamil to get by. There are umpteen number of temples scattered around the city where sari clad ladies with mallipoo (jasmine flower) on their head and men with white shirt and veshti visit.
Festivals are plentiful and Pongal in January is the most awaited one. You could join the local population to celebrate this festival. Most people of the city are traditional and they like to remain so. Besides, they are helpful and you will be surprised that they go out of their way to help you.
It should be of no surprise to you that people are hard working. Tamil Nadu is the third largest economy in India despite being the 11th largest state (by area).
People here are suckers for sports and cinema. They have a Chennai Open for tennis lovers and cricket lovers support M.S. Dhoni. Why? He is the captain of Chennai’s cricket team, that’s why. A.R. Rahman and Rajnikanth are not just names, they are two of the biggest names in Indian movies.
It has a quieter nightlife than Mumbai and Bangalore, but it exists and you will meet interesting people there. So again, how to be a Chennaikaran? Learn some Tamil, the Tamil culture and know that the East Coast Road (ECR) is not just any road.
Food in Chennai
There are four nice things about Chennai, transport options, the people and culture, and Chennai’s heritage are the first three. The last and the best thing about Chennai is the food.
What to eat for breakfast
Filter coffee: Waking up in the morning is not enough, you need every cells in your body to listen to you. You will get to do that if you drink a steel tumbler full of aroma filled hot coffee. (Recipe)
Idly sambhar: Idli is served with sambhar in most Chennai restaurants and it is usually soft, fluffy and moist. It is a delicious breakfast if you master it and if you serve it with sambhar and coconut chutney. Check out the recipe, Saravana Bhavan style. (Recipe)
Medhu vadai: It is crisp, deep fried and tastes best when it is served hot, eaten with idli and sambhar. The popular variant of it is called the thayir vadai served with dollop of curd and spices. (Recipe)
Masala dosai: Made of rice dough and black gram, it is a typical breakfast item in the whole of South India. You can eat it plain by dipping it in sambhar or chutney, or as masala dosai which has mashed potato (or stuffing of your choice) masala in the middle, rolled and then served with sambhar and chutney. (Recipe)
Most Tamil households will have dosas for dinner too. Adai dosa is a variant made of lentils and rice with red chillies. It is usually thick and you cannot eat more than 3 in a sitting. (Recipe)
Poori: Or puri, it is a deep-fried bread served with curry or vegetable stew. This is a common snack throughout India, but the accompanying curry is slightly different in each region. (Recipe)
Uttapam: It is a thick pancake with toppings fused into the batter. Toppings include tomatoes, onions and chillies. You can make it with capsicums and cabbage or cauliflower florets too. You can eat it with chutney or sambhar, or both. (Recipe)
Idiyappam: It is rice noodles which is also called string hopper and it is a traditional breakfast in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and South & Coastal Karnataka. It is called Nool puttu in Sri Lanka. Idiyappam is eaten with vegetable curry or coconut milk/sweetened milk. (Recipe)
Paniyaram: Most households prepare and eat this as an alternative to idly and dosa. It is made with rice flour batter, chopped onions, chillies and some spices. It is small, light and you can pack it as a snack for the road. (Recipe) Alternatively you can make adai paniyaram like the adai dosa.
Chapati: This power breakfast item is made from wheat flour and the dough is fried on a pan until it turns brown. You can eat it with vegetable stew, scrambled eggs or spicy chutney. (Recipe)
Pongal: Pongal is a rice item eaten with chutney. Most temples in Tamil Nadu offer pongal as an offering to devotees. It has a sweet variant which is eaten together with the spicy one. (Recipe)
Know your lunch
Sapaat (Full vegetarian meals): This is an inescapable kind of lunch in Tamil Nadu. Restaurants in Tamil Nadu serve your lunch on a banana leaf. Accompanying the rice and sambhar, there is rasam, pulses, appalam and a sweet. Some restaurants might agree to serve you only rice and sambhar or rasam on request. (Recipes of: Drumstick sambhar, Iyengar rasam and rice)
Chicken 65: An entree item, it was invented in Chennai in 1965 and sold for ₹65. It is deep fried with hot chillies and served with raw onion and coriander garnishing. (Recipe)
Chettinad chicken: This spicy chicken dish is the most popular in Chennai. They make it with coconut gravy, and enrich it with curry leaves and spices. You can eat with it the above mentioned breakfast items and rice. (Recipe)
Biryani: The mughals brought conquest to the South and also the biryani. There are local variants to the biryani in the Tamil Nadu region. The Dindigul and the Ambur versions are as popular too. Besides, they make biryani with chicken, seafood and mutton. Where will you start? (Recipe)
Seafood: Chennai is a coastal city, besides it was a small fishing village during the Pallava and Chola times and that means they know their seafood. One of the favorite seafood of Chennai is the fish curry or the prawn curry with rice.
It forces you to drool at the beginning and perspire at the end. Nethili fish (Anchovy) fry is one of the favorite fish fry here. Even prawns and squid are fried. (Recipes: Madras fish curry, Madras prawn curry, Nethili fry)
Sundal: Sundal is made of channa or green peas boiled with mustard seeds, grated coconut and curry leaves. Marina beach is a popular sundal destination.
You cannot tell if Marina beach made sundal famous or if sundal made Marina beach popular. Nonetheless, it is sometimes served as temple offering. (Recipe)
Bajji and pakoda: These evening snacks are available at restaurants and also on the street carts. Onion pakoda is a deep fried onion fritter and it is spicy. It has a chicken, egg and bread variant.
Sweetmeat: Sweetmeat is an integral part of the diet of anyone in Chennai. Chennai has its fare share of sweetmeat shops and they sell like hot cakes.
The grand sweets is a popular sweetmeat shop and it is known to have a huge crowd who follow a numbering system and wait for hours for their turn to buy sweets.
For dinner, eat and repeat all of this or go hungry. Your choice.
Guide to Neighborhoods in Chennai City
This guide has details of neighborhoods, sights to see, along with safety scores. Travel with friends, be cautious and have a good Chennai experience. Keep your cell phone on and necessary phone numbers handy.
Central Chennai (மத்திய சென்னை)
This is the business and administrative region of Chennai. There are many government buildings, parks, temples and churches. This area came up around the fort to support trade and other administration activities of the settlement in Fort St. George.
George town (ஜார்ஜ் டவுன்)
Safety score: Unavailable
George Town or Muthialpet as it is known is the first settlement to come up in 1640 and the Brits named this place after King George V. The settlement went to the French and then the British took it back from them.
Many settlements came up around the George Town like Washermanpet for washmermen, Kosapet for potters and Chintadripet for weavers. There are many bazaars in this place that sell hardware items.
The original site of the temple was in Chennaman kuppam, an old settlement. In 1640, they moved the temple to its current location. Chennaman kuppam too may have lent its name to Chennai. Maratha king Shivaji visited the temple in the October of 1677 and then prefixed Chatrapati to his name after worshiping this deity.
Former settlement of the British where they had their administrative offices. The modern settlements grew around it. Today the fort is the house of Tamil Nadu’s legislative assembly and the Secretariat. There are many heritage buildings, temples, churches inside the fort and tourists can access part of the fort on some days.
The museum exhibits many items of the British era like weapons, coins, uniforms and other things. Wellesley House has Tipu Sultan’s cannons on its ramparts and there is a memorial of the event where Tipu Sultan handed over his sons as hostages to the British as per agreement to stop the war. Tipu took his sons back at Devanahalli fort after payment.
Other religious sites
When George town expanded, people came to stay here, built temples and churches for worship. Masjid Mamoor is a mosque built in the 18th century and it is one of the oldest mosque in Chennai. The Armenian Church and St. Mary’s Cathedral are two of the well-known churches here.
Sri Chenna Kesava perumal temple is the oldest temple built in the 18th century dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is said to be a deity of Chennai.
Safety score: 4.5/5
If you are arriving by train, Periyampet is where you will arrive at. It is noisy, crowded and full of goods and people moving between the train stations, government buildings and businesses.
It is the main train station in Chennai and very busy. The station itself is almost a kilometer long and has 17 platforms. All the three routes of the suburban train start here. The building is impressive weather you look at it from afar or from up above.
It has a clock tower that chimes every 15 minutes and every hour. Facilities inside the station include restaurants, accommodation, bookshops and shops. The building has retained its maroon color since 1873.
Jawaharlal Nehru stadium is next to the Chennai Central and hosts athletic, cricket and football games. It is the home of Chennayin football club and the Tamil Nadu football team. The indoor stadium hosts contact sport competitions, volleyball, throwball, chess and carrom competitions.
My Lady’s Garden separates the indoor and outdoor stadiums. People come here for their morning walk and people practice sports. There is a swimming pool that costs ₹15 per hour. However, the park needs some maintenance.
The Greater Chennai Corporation, the organization that looks after the city sits in the Ripon Building, an impressive white building that was established in 1909 by Lord Ripon.
The Chola empire had Egmore as an administrative division. Even the Vijayanagar kings knew of its existence. It grew to a modern town under the British rule.
Safety score: 3.2 – 4.6/5
This neighborhood is at the North of river Coovum. It is existing since the Chola period and it is flourishing since the British occupation. Chennai Egmore station is an impressive red building that serves a terminus for inter-city trains.
Egmore has beautiful churches. St. Andrew’s Church is near the Egmore station and was built in 1821 to serve the Scottish community in Chennai. Wesley Church was built in 1905 by the Wesleyan Mission.
Today it belongs to the diocese of Madras of the Church of South India. During the month of November, this church celebrates the harvest festival by offering food grains to the poor.
National art gallery, Connamera public library & Government museum
National art gallery has a sizable collection of art from the 16th and 17th century, cave art and other exhibits.
Connamera is one of the largest in India that hosts centuries old publications in Tamil and it serves as a depository library for the UN.
Not far from the library is the second oldest government museum in India. The collections include archaeology, numismatics, zoology, painting and sculptures.
10 AM to 5 PM from Wednesday to Monday; Indians: 15 for adults and 10 for children; Foreign nationals: 250 for adults and 125 for children; Camera : 200 for still and 500 for video; Egmore
Safety score: 3.8/5
Nungambakkam is a commercial center with many multi-national establishments, government offices, shopping malls, restaurants, and residences. There are places to hangout a while and take photographs.
Valluvar Kottam is an impressive structure constructed by former CM M. Karunanidhi in memory of Tamil poet and saint Thiruvalluvar of Kanyakumari who existed 2000 years ago and wrote an epic poem called Tirukkural.
It is in the form of a temple chariot with a life-size stone statue of the ancient poet sitting inside the chariot. The poem is inscribed in the pillars of the corridors of the auditorium.
The roof of the auditorium is of the same level as of the statue and you can get a good look of the statue from there.
It is a multi-dome mosque and a pilgrim center for the Shiite muslims. Nawab Umdat-ul-Umrah built it in 1810 on the land donated by Nawab Wallajah. There are separate prayer rooms for men and women, and a library. The minarets soar to a height of 64 feet.
It is an ATP grade tennis court where tennis greats like Nadal, Somdev, Carlos Moya, Bopanna and Paes played. ATP hosts Chennai Open here in the first week of January.
The taluk of Mylapore has some of the oldest neighborhoods of Chennai. During the times of the Pallavas and the Cholas there were many small settlements. It was during the British Raj that these neighborhoods merged with the fort area. There are lots of places for religion and academics.
Safety score: Unavailable
Triplicane is older than George Town and 1000 years ago it was a dwelling place of the Pallavas. There are many ashrams here including the Ahibila mutt, Uttaradi mutt and the Raghavendra mutt among others in the mada veedi (chariot procession streets) around the Parthasarathy temple. Many Carnatic musicians have lived in Triplicane.
It is an 8th century temple for Lord Krishna built by Pallava king Narasimhavarman I where Vishnu followers frequent. The temple was once surrounded by a forest of Tulsi plants.
They consider one of the holy abodes of Lord Vishnu. The four other forms of Vishnu representing here are Narasimha, Rama, Varaha and Gajendra.
Parthasarathy is the role of Krishna as a charioteer to Arjuna in the battle at Kurukshetra in the Mahabharatha. The offering to the Lord is not spicy.
6 AM to 11:30 AM & 5 PM to 8 PM; 50 for special entry; Tiruvallikeni
Chennai’s most popular beach where locals go to for morning walks. The beautification of the beach has been happening since the British era. The evenings bring in hawkers selling bajji, sundal and other eatables.
There are memorials for former chief ministers M.G. Ramachandran and Jayalalitha at the end of the beach. Do not swim here as the current are strong enough to carry you away. The Vivekananda House is a museum dedicated to Swami Vivekananda’s life as he stayed here in 1897.
Chidambaram stadium was built in 1916 and it is the home of the Tamil Nadu cricket team and the Chennai Super Kings of the IPL. One of the two tied test matches in history happened here between India and Australia.
Wallajah mosque was built in 1765 by Nawab of Arcot Muhammad Ali Wallajah’s family with Mughal architecture. It is the largest mosque in Chennai and it is a granite structure. It is a white building and has two minarets with two gold plated domes.
5 AM to 8 PM; Chepauk
Safety score: 1.9 – 4.3/5ad
This is the cultural hub of Chennai and one of the oldest residential hub. Back in the days, there was a huge peacock population here and the name Mylapore means “cry of a peacock.” In the ancient times, Germans, Greeks and Romans came here for trade and they have written the name of this place in their books.
The Pallava architects built the temple by the sea shore in the 7th century. The Portuguese destroyed the temple to accommodate the San Thome church. The Tuluva kings of the Vijayanagar empire rebuilt the temple with the remains of the old temple in its present location in the 16th century.
It has two gopurams (towers) and lots of carvings of vahanas (divine vehicles) inside the temple. The temple sees the most crowd during the annual festival of brahmotsavam in April. The temple has a mention in some of the oldest Tamil poetry which is cool only.
5:30 AM to 12:30 PM & 4 PM to 9:30 PM; Tirumailai
The oldest ashram of the Ramakrishna Order in South India built in the mix of Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist and Christian styles, the mix of architecture signifies that it is a place of universal religion.
Sri Ramakrishna is the main deity here and the statues of Ma Sharada and Vivekananda flanks the main deity on either sides. There is a huge hall for meditation. It is a place of peace and tranquil.
5 AM to 11:45 AM, & 3 PM to 9 PM; Tirumailai
Adi Kesava temple is an ancient temple built in Dravidian architecture in honor of Lord Vishnu. The shrine of Garuda faces Lord Vishnu here. Peialvar, one of the 12 Vaishanite saints was born here.
7 AM to 11 AM, & 5 PM to 8 PM; Tirumailai
Santhome got its name from Apostle St. Thomas who is buried here in a crypt below the church. It is one of the three basilicas in the world that is built over the tomb of an apostle.
In 1986, Pope John Paul II visited this basilica. The three feet tall statue of Virgin Mary is from Portugal. Paintings and inscriptions narrate the life of the apostle.
Other religions sites
It was a place where musicians hung out and spent time discussing music. It plays an important role in promoting Carnatic music and it revived Bharatanaytam. They also run a music school and has some eminent musicians as its faculty.
The lighthouse is at the end of the Marina beach and it is 46 meters tall that is operational since 1977. It has an elevator inside the structure, the only lighthouse with an elevator in India.
Safety score: 3.5 – 4.2/5
Teynampet, the area got its name because there were lots of coconut trees here. Tennam means coconut and pettai means town. The famous Poes garden has homes of Late Former CM of Tamil Nadu Jayalalitha and Tamil superstar Rajnikanth.
The Consulate General of the USA is in Teynampet next to the Gemini flyover, the first over bridge in Chennai. There are consulates of countries namely Japan and Malaysia.
Semmozhi Poonga is a biological park with 500 species of plants and about 100 species of trees. The flora consists of medical plants, rare trees and aromatic herbs. People come here for their morning walk.
10 AM to 8 PM; Kodambakkam
If Mylapore is the place for religion and culture, Guindy is a place for academics, research and conservation of nature. Guindy taluk too hosts sites of religious importance like 400 to 1000 year old temples, churches and mosques.
Safety score: 3.1/5
An important neighborhood in Chennai, it is an entry point to the city from the suburb. Vehicles from the suburbs of Chennai traveling to the city meet at the Kathipara flyover.
It is the only national park within city limits and it is the 8th smallest in India. There are huge banyan trees, about 130 species of birds, 14 species of animals, 60 species of butterflies and spiders. There are umpteen number of insect species too.
Previously it was a game reserve of the British elites, it is now a protected area. Hangout with the blackbuck, Indian civet, spotted deer, hyenas and the jackals. Birds include parrots, parakeets, egrets, and woodpeckers.
It is an extension of the Raj Bhavan, the residence of the Governor of Tamil Nadu.
The snake park is well within the bounds of the national park and is a favorite hangout spot of the city’s herpetologists. Romulus Whitaker established it in 1972.
There are many species of poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. You can also find turtles and crocs there. There is a museum that is of entertainment value too.
8:30 AM to 5:30 PM; 10 for adults, 1 for children below 12 years, 10 for still camera and 100 for a video camera.
The IIT Madras campus in Guindy, one of the premier technological institutions in India, has a huge green cover spread over its 600-acre campus.
Anna Centenary Library is a huge library inside the Anna University campus with a huge collection of books in all of the 9 floors. There is a section for children and braille books.
Sandwiched in between the Anna University campus and the CLRI campus is the Birla planetarium that hosts shows on astronomy and sciences.
10 AM to 5:45 PM; 40 for adults and 25 for children below 12 years; Kotturpuram
Safety score – 3.5 – 4.3/5
Adyar sits on the Southern banks of the Adyar river. Before 1948 it was a separate village where zamindari system was prevalent.
“Theos” means god and “sophy” means wisdom. Put these two words together, you get the meaning divine wisdom for theosophy. Helena Blavatsky founded the society in new York but the HQ was moved to Chennai in 1886.
It is in a 250-acre garden called Huddlestone gardens beside the Adyar river not far from the Elliot’s beach. A 450 year old banyan tree lives here.
In this campus, you will find a Hindu temple, a Sikh shrine, a Zoroastrian temple and a mosque proving that the society follows the concept of Universal Brotherhood. Annie Besant served as its President.
Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore visited the campus. The society has dedicated itself to the study of oriental religions and philosophy.
This place is a photographers’ paradise. Broken bridge that is across is a nice place for a stroll and for taking pictures.
It is also known as Tholkappia poonga and is a ecological hotbed of Chennai. The corporation transported it from a muddy wasteland to this bird watching hub. There are about 100 species of bird in this 358 acre park.
T. Nagar (தியாகராய நகர்)
Safety score: 3 – 4/5
T. Nagar is the commercial capital of the city and it is easily accessible from any part of the city. This shopping district rakes more revenue than any neighborhoods in India. The Ranganathan street is the most popular street for its shops that sell silks sarees, clothes, and steel vessels.
Pothy’s, Nallis, Saravana Stores, and Chennai Silks are some of the popular brands and most people in South India will recognize the names. There are many temples, churches and mosques in this area.
Similar shopping area is the Pondy bazar which is as big as the Ranganathan street and it does good business. Panagal Park on North Usman road is a park in this neighborhood built by former CM and Raja of Panagal.
Velacheri is a retail hub. Due to the mushrooming of the IT companies here, there are many retail outlets and posh hotels that have come up here. In modern times it also became one of the prime residential neighborhoods of Chennai.
Velacheri (வேளச்சேரி) & Tharamani (தரமணி)
Safety score: 4/5
Velachery is a commercial neighborhood that has a lot of business and IT crowd. Velacheri means community of farmers which means this could have been a farming community in the ancient times.
Tharamani too is a neighborhood that has IT parks and research institutions. Tidel Park is the first IT park to come up here. World Bank has an office here.
Asian College of Journalism has its campus here. People world over come here to study their postgraduate diploma courses. M.G.R. film city is a studio complex that has film studios and was set up by former CM Late Jayalalitha.
Dandeeswaram temple is another ancient temple built by the Pallavas in Dravidian architecture and it is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Besant Nagar (பெசன்ட் நகர்)
Safety score: 4/5
Besant Nagar is named after Annie Besant, a British theosophist and writer. This is where most of Chennai’s affluent live. There are many restaurants, shops, boutiques and lots of green cover.
This is also called the Besant Nagar beach and is cleaner than most beaches in Chennai. The beach front has eating joints and there are restaurants nearby. While at the beach, enjoy the sun, and eat good food; but do not swim because of the strong currents. The white wall you see from afar is a memorial for Karl Schmidt, a Dutch sailor who saved a drowning man.
6 AM to 8 PM; Kasturibai Nagar
It is by the Elliot’s beach and people worship Mother Mary here as the Lady of health. Worshipers believe that praying to Mother Mary will cure them of their diseases and illness.
6:30 to 8 PM
Ashtalakshmi or temple of eight forms of Lakshmi is a temple that people come to worship for well being and prosperity. The temple has a eight sided tower in Dravidian architecture. Some of the festivals people celebrate is Navaratri and Deepavali.
6 AM to 11 AM & 11 AM to 5 PM
Safety score: 3.5/5
In the ancient times, Thiruvanmiyur was an important place for turtle habitat. Thiruvanmiyur got its name from the temple dedicated to Valmiki, the write of Hindu epic Ramayana. The neighborhood derives its name from Thiru-Valmiki-oor.
Kalakshetra was set up in 1936 and it is an important landmark of the city. It works to conserve and preserve the traditional arts. Students can learn music and Bharatanatyam here. It is an institute of national importance.
The temple has been in existence since the 7th century AD and it was expanded by the Cholas in the 12th century. They say that sage Valmiki came here and stayed here for a while.
Lord Shiva blessed him and then this neighborhood borrowed Valmiki’s name and then changed to Thiruvanmiyur. The temple has two gateway towers and a huge kalyani (tank) which is cool.
Thiruvanmiyur is a popular spot these days and it is near to the ECR. It is cleaner than the beaches in the city because the locals clean the beach.
Another notable factor is that Olive Ridley turtles lay eggs here and there is a conversation network that protects these little ones. Sign up for a turtle walk with them. There are shops that sell seafood by the beach.
6 AM to 8 PM; Tiruvanmiyur
Safety score: Unavailable
Mambalam taluk has residential and commercial neighborhoods. Mambalam train station serves this area and it is the fourth busiest train station after Chennai Central, Egmore and Tambaram. Some of interesting neighborhoods in this taluk are Kodambakkam, Mambalam, and Saidapet.
Kodambakkam is the hub of the Tamil film industry and there are residences of many Tamil movie stars. They frequent the movie studios that are in this area. It should be of no surprise that there are many ancient temples that came up during the period of the Cholas in the 13 century that includes the Vengeeswarar temple, Valeswarar temple, and Vadapalani Murugan temple.
Safety score: 1.9 – 3.5/5
Since the ancient times, the sediment deposit from the Coovum river created Aminjakarai and the name means “shaped land”. The neighborhood of Amijakarai has many temples, churches and mosques. Other neighborhoods of the Aminjakarai taluk include Koyambedu, Anna Nagar, Perambur and Arumbakkam.
Anna Nagar Tower in the Dr. Visveswaraya Towevelar Park is a 138 feet tall tower built for the 1968 World Trade Fair. People use this park for their walk, jog and to practice martial art forms like Silambattam. However, people are not allowed to the top floors of the tower.
Suburbs of Chennai
The suburbs of Chennai is as cool as the neighborhoods in the city and chaotic too. There are lots of roads, vehicles, buildings and people everywhere. Lets look at all the neighborhoods in the suburbs in brief.
North Chennai (வட சென்னை)
Safety score: Unavailable
The North of Chennai is only residential and has lots of IT parks, temples, and factories. There is nothing worthwhile to visit here. There are lots of industries and you can expect pollution, oil spills, smells from the dump yards. The North line of the suburban train ends in Ennore. Some of the neighborhoods are Todiarpet, Kolathur, Manali New Town, and Tiruvottiyur.
If you go further North of Chennai, you will reach Andhra Pradesh which is cool. Take a bus, train or travel in a car to Kalahasti > Tirupati (and Tirupati) > Hyderabad.
But do not leave Chennai yet.
East Chennai (கிழக்கு சென்னை)
Safety score: 2.5 – 3.5/5
East Chennai is like North Chennai, neighborhoods full of residential areas, industries, people, vehicles and noise.
Ambattur is a taluk in the district of Chennai. It is known for its bicycle factory that manufactures the Hercules bicycles. The Ambattur Industrial Estate has manufacturing center of Dunlop, TVS bikes, and there is a railway factory manufacturing sleepers. Besides, some of the top Tamil channels operate here.
However, birding enthusiasts come here to spot birds, rare or not. Puzhal lake is a huge lake and it is a serene place. It is the water source of North Chennai.
Beyond Ambattur is Avadi which is a manufacturing hub of heavy vehicles. Avadi hosts a manufacturing plants for battle tanks, combat vehicles and ordnance. There are temples that you can visit.
Southwest Chennai (தென்மேற்கு சென்னை)
Safety score: Unavailable
All of the out-of-city goodness is to the Southwest and South of Mylapore. Go further South and you will come upon biodiversity parks, temples, lakes and other interesting things.
Porur is a neighborhood Southwest of T. Nagar and it has a 1000 year old Shiva temple called Ramanatheswarar temple. Along with this, there are many Hindu and Jain temples spread over in Porur.
Nanmagalam reserved forest is a forest inside the Chennai city. At first look, you will see monkeys, foxes, and birds in the forest. Hiking is allowed after permission from the forest officials. This place has the endangered horn owl which is cool if you can spot it.
Tambaram is a commercial hub and a residential neighborhood Southwest of the Nanmangalam forest. The Cholas did battle with the Western Chalukyas here and the British forces engaged the forces of the Nawab of Carnatic in battle here during the Carnatic wars. It is also a Chola thing to build temples and there are many here, some are more than 1000 years old.
Arignar Anna Zoological Park, is also called Vandalur zoo because it is in the neighborhood of Vandalur on the GST road outside Chennai. This 600 acre forest has hundreds of species of animals and birds. The zoo has a library with good collection of books on wildlife. There is an aviary, amphibian house, and a crocodile enclosure. There are elephant rides for a fee.
9 AM to 6 PM; 20 for adults, 15 for below 12 years, 25 for still camera, 150 for video camera. There is a parking fee too; Vandalur
Go further in the Southwest direction, and you will end up in the holy city of Sriperambudur. Further than this, you will reach Kanchipuram > Thiruvannamalai > Namakkal > Madurai > Kanyakumari > Kerala.
South Chennai (தென் சென்னை)
Safety score: Unavailable
South Chennai is the favorite neighborhood outside the city and you will like it. As you travel down the East Coast Road, you can visit good beaches like the Palavakkam beach and Olive beach. The Sholiganallur taluk has nice neighborhoods like Injabakkam and Sholiganallur which has many IT corridors that hosts the office of Infosys, TCS, Wipro and PayPal.
This artist’s village at Injabakkam is a nice stopover if you love art and culture. It was founded by painter KCS Panicker and they named it after the Cholas who patronized art and culture in their empire that ruled over South India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.
They have an open-air theater for performance arts like dance and poetry, there are sculptures made of bronze, copper, and wood. They conduct workshops and exhibitions to keep the interest of art and culture alive.
9:30 AM to 6:30 PM; 20 for adults and 5 for children;
Golden beach is clean and tidy with good number of crowd and food stalls. It is a major tourist attraction because of the theme park established by the VGP Group in 1997. I have seen movie shoots happen inside the theme park.
The statue man is another attraction here. He is dressed like a soldier with a staff in his hand. He has not smiled, moved, or neither blinked for 31 years.
The management will reward anyone who can disturb him. Till now no one received the reward. The statue man owes his strength to the practice of yoga.
11 AM to 7:30 PM; 275 for adults and 225 for children; Golden beach
Not far from here you can visit the 3D art museum where you can fight with Bruce Lee without getting hurt or travel all over the world without getting wet.
Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada’s ISKCON has a temple at Injabakkam and the project began in 2002. The statue of Krishna was installed in 2012. Krishna Janmashtami brings in a huge crowd to the temple.
7 AM to 12 PM & 5 PM to 8 PM; Iskcon temple
Further down the ECR
There are lots of beaches along the ECR which is by the sea. Further down the ECR, you enter the district of Kanchipuram. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami devastated the livelihood of people in these parts but life has picked up since the last few years.
It is a heritage museum established in 1996 where you spend 3 hours learning about how South Indian lifestyle is. There is representation of life of people of Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala and Karnataka according to the region. Jewels, garments and cultural activities are introduced to you in the museum. You can learn to make pots too.
For adults: 100 during weekdays and 120 during weekends; 20 for the puppet show; Mary World
Further down on the ECR road, you will cross the Muttukadu backwater. But before that try boating at the Muttukadu boathouse (9:30 AM to 5 PM), cross the bridge to reach Kovalam, a town built by the Nawab of Carnatic.
The Portuguese fort at Kovalam is today the Taj Fisherman’s Cove. The Kovalam beach is a popular spot for surfing.
The Madras crocodile bank is a zoo for reptiles, snakes and crocodiles established by Romulus Whitaker. It is one of it’s kind research institute in India and Asia for reptile studies.
The crocodile bank has the largest crocodile in India at 5 meters in length. He can eat 5 kilograms of chicken in one sitting. There is a snake venom extraction center.
You can participate in many of its activities and volunteer here which is a good option for wildlife enthusiasts and students who want to volunteer.
9 AM to 5 PM from Tuesday to Sunday; 200 for adults and 100 for children; Vada Nemmeli
Mahabalipuram is a UNESCO world heritage site built by the Pallavas more than 2000 years ago. The stone structures are architectural and cultural wonders. The ancient lighthouse, five rathas, Arjuna’s penance and the shore temple is the monuments you will enjoy exploring.
Ancient recordings say that there were seven temples on the shore. It was called the land of the seven pagodas because there were seven towers visible from the sea and it was an important landmark for ancient travelers.
The other six temples may be buried somewhere down there or swallowed by the ocean. Further research may shed light on the truth.
Best to visit between 6 AM to 5 PM; Free everywhere, 10 for Indians and 500 for foreign nationals at the Shore temple.;
Traveling down the ECR further South will bring you to Alamparai fort which is in ruins. People go there for a pit stop and for a photo shoot.
Auroville & Pondicherry
Auroville is a community with its own administration and it is the coolest thing ever. The Matrimandir is the focal point of this place and it is like everybody and everything here derives energy from this.
You can stay for couple of days at some of the inexpensive accommodations. But it is better to stay for a month or two to volunteer work at some of the projects here.
Pondicherry is city that has a mix of French and Tamil. Some people can speak both the languages and English. There are AC buses from Koyambedu to Pondicherry. While hanging out at the French part of town is nice and all, do not forget to try the Tamil part of town.
1. Shopping and eating
People of Chennai shop like no other. Gold, clothes and steel utensils are some of the things that people buy. Festivals like Diwali and the month of Akshaya tritiya will bring in a lot of crowd to T. Nagar and the jewelry shops all over the city. Sari shopkeepers have no problem unraveling saris and showing it to you.
After you shop, you can eat all you want. There is a list of food you can eat in the pre-travel guide and you can do just that in the shopping districts, at the beach or at restaurants at Sowcarpet and Mylapore. However, the best thing to do is to learn to cook food and cook them yourself.
2. Adventuring in Chennai
The Kovalam beach by the ECR has a surfing school called the Bay of Life surfing school that will help you balance and ride the wave. If trekking is your thing, then there is a fix for that. There are handful of popular trekking trails. Pallikaranai marshland is a popular bird watching spot.
Walking tours are good for people who like to listen to stories and learn at a slow pace. For walking tours, contact Storytrails, they have storytellers who will help you understand Chennai through food, music and stories.
The Art of bicycling trips have bicycle tours all over South India and they have few pit stops in Chennai and elsewhere in Tamil Nadu
3. Cheer your sports team
Chennai has a good sporting culture and there are many sports teams you could watch and cheer for, whether ancient or modern.
People demonstrate their passion for it all the time, one such instance is protest to protect Jallikattu.
The beaches are good place to spot sports lovers and people play or practice martial arts, cricket, football and other sports. Some of the sports team that belongs to city and the grounds they play are:
Badminton – Chennai Smashers – Premier badminton league
4. Attend festivals
Festivals are an integral part of the city’s identity. The harvest festival Pongal is the first festival of the year when people give thanks to nature for all the food grains they have. The Tamil New Year is in the month of April and people welcome the new year by buying new clothes and making delicious food.
Another popular festival is Deepavali in the month of November. This festival is to welcome the good in life and keep the bad away. There are many festivals and fairs that is celebrated in a particular area.
Natyanjali dance festival is a cultural festival dedicated to dance and it happens in the end of February. There are festivals for music also.
5. Movies and music
Chennai is the capital of the Tamil movie industry called Kollywood and people are passionate about the movies and their movie stars. Buy movie CDs and DVDs at the malls and shopping centers. Some popular Tamil superstars are M.G.R., Rajnikanth, Kamal Hasasan, Dhanush, Ajit, Vikram, Vijay among others. Where to watch them good movies? Check this link.
6. Birding and ecological conservation
There are animal and bird sanctuaries in Chennai and in regions around Chennai. Some beaches protect and conserve the turtle population and some conserve and protect birds.Read this blog and plan your trip.
Chennai offers many things that I cannot cover in this page despite living in this city for quite a while and traveling regularly. This guide provides list of activities for few days only. There are many magazines and locals that can tell you a lot more. But let me know if I can add more.
Featured image source: Kapaleeshwarar temple
Safety score: Safetipin, an organization validates how safe a person is after dark in a place, based on research.
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