Chennai is often considered the cultural capital of South India. With dozens of historic sites, stunning beaches, and some of the best food in the country, its diverse neighbourhoods and hidden sights make it an excellent city to explore.
1. Walk through the Semmozhi Poonga botanical garden
Set up by the horticulture department of the Government of Tamil Nadu in 2010, this botanical garden covers an area of 20 acres. It is built opposite the American Consulate, on what was previously the Woodlands Hotel. It has many quiet walkways, waterbodies, and over 500 species of plants.
2. Go surfing on Kovalam Beach
Just an hour away from Chennai, Kovalam Beach is known for its surfing. There is also an accredited surfing school offering lessons for beginners and rented boards for more experienced surfers.
3. See St Andrew’s Church
Popularly referred to as “The Kirk,” this church was built to in 1821 for the Scotsmen in the British army. It was inspired by St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London’s Trafalgar Square and is one of the oldest churches in the city. You can also Litte Mount in Saidapet, which is said to be where the apostle St Thomas lived and preached when he came to India.
4. Stop at the Chepauk Palace
Widely regarded as one of the first buildings constructed in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, this palace was completed in 1768 by British Architect Paul Benfield for the Nawab of Arcot. It is known for its intricate carvings, wide arches and red brick walls. The palace covers a sprawling 117 acres and hs two blocks (the Kalas Mahal and the Humayun Mahal). While both faced several structural problems and fires over the past few years, the palace has recently been renovated and is open to visitors.
5. Experience the Cholamandal Artists’ Village
Spread across 10 acres of land near Adyar in Chennai (in the village Injambakkam), this fascinating self-supporting artists’ village is among the most successful in Asia. Founded by artist K. C. S. Paniker, it is home to several resident painters and sculptors who produce all kinds of amazing arts and crafts.
6. Go back in time at the Ripon Building
Chennai is one of the oldest colonial cities in India and retains much of the elegant architecture of the era. One of the best examples is the majestic all-white Ripon Building that was completed in 1913. Built in the neoclassical style close to Central Railway Station, it houses the iconic Westminster Quarter chiming clock.
7. Visit the Gangaikondan Temple
This stunning Shiva temple near Chennai is almost a thousand years old. It was built to commemorate the Chola victory of Rajendra Chola over the Chalukyas and is often overlooked by visitors.
8. Go to the “Broken Bridge”
Located in Adyar, this derelict and disused bridge to nowhere is an unusual attraction in Chennai. It is in the middle of a thriving river estuary and is the perfect place to view the Bay of Bengal and sunset.
9. Anna Centenary Library
Completed in 2010, this is one of Asia’s largest libraries, with over 1.2 million books spread over 9 floors. It is frequented by students, locals, and experts from all across the country.
10. Relax in solitude at ‘Side Beach’
While everyone heads to the more famous Marina and Elliot’s beaches, this beach is often overlooked and sidelined. Dubbed ‘Side Beach’ by the locals, it is usually empty. Here you can enjoy the Bay of Bengal amidst peace and quiet.
11. Have a glass rose milk at Kalathi
This legendary 87-year-old store is perhaps one of Mylapore’s best-kept secrets. Located near the famous Kapaleeswarar Temple, it sells a creamy concoction of chilled milk and rose syrup.