Chennai is perhaps most famous for its large number of temples and religious sites, a fact that has often led to it being called “the cultural capital of India.” There are many places to see in Chennai. The city is full of cultural, historical, and architectural sites that are sure to thrill any history buff.
Chennai may not have a reputation for having many touristy attractions, but there is more to it than that. From crowded ancient temples to even more crowded beaches, this city is full of many amazing things to see and do. Here are some of the top places to see in Chennai:
1. Marina Beach
One of the most famous places in Chennai is Marina Beach. It is the second longest beach in the world. This makes it one of the city’s biggest landmarks, as well as a go-to venue for everything from picnics to political rallies.
2. Fort St George
Another major Chennai landmark is Fort St George. Built in 1644, it is steeped I history, and was the first British centre of power in the south. Today, the fort is used by the Government of Tamil Nadu. Inside its walls is the fascinating Fort Museum, which showcases several colonial-era artefacts, such as weapons, uniforms, and even personal letters. You can also find St. Mary’s Church, which is said to have been the first Anglican Church in India. It was consecrated in 1680, and is often called “the Westminster Abbey of the East”. Don’t miss the stunning altarpiece which is said to have been painted by Raphael.
3. Kapaleeshwar Temple
Dating back nearly 1,300 years, the Kapaleeswarar Temple is one of the oldest places of worship in Chennai. Built in the traditional Agraharam style of architecture, the temple’s tallest gopuram stands at over 40 meters tall. It is also a cultural centre, hosting numerous classical music and dance performances each year.
4. Vandalur Zoo (or the Arignar Anna Zoological Park)
The Arignar Anna Zoological Park, also known as the Vandalur Zoo, is one of the largest zoos in the country. It was opened in 1855 (then known as the Madras Zoo) near the Government Museum, and was also India’s first public zoo. It now covers over 600 hectares, and houses 1,500 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects, including 46 endangered species.
5. Government Museum
Considered to be one of India’s oldest public museums, the Government Museum in Egmore is one of the most underrated places in Chennai. Full of ancient artefacts, from Roman coins and a life-size sculpture of a T-Rex, it’s an excellent place to spend an afternoon. It also houses the Museum Theatre and the Connemara Public Library
6. Santhome Basilica
This 16th-century Gothic style Roman Catholic Cathedral is said to mark the final resting place of St Thomas the Apostle who brought Christianity to India. The basilica was built by the Portuguese and completed in 1523, and made a basilica in 1956. It is one of just three basilicas around the world that are built over the tomb of an Apostle of Jesus Christ.
7. Besant Nagar Beach
Also known as Eliot’s Beach (in honour of Edward Elliot, once the Governor of Madras) this is a popular alternative to the crowded Marina Beach. The beach is lined with numerous restaurants and cafes. Along the beach lies the Karl Schmidt Memorial, dedicated to a Dutch sailor who saved people from drowning. You can also visit the Ashtalakshmi Kovil and the Velankanni Church nearby.
8. Guindy National Park
Chennai is one of the only Indian cities to have a large national park located within its city limits. Thought he Guindy National Park is quite small (covering less than 3 square kilometres), it is home to over 150 species of animals, including blackbuck, spotted deer, cobras, and jackals. There is also an exciting Snake Park for visitors to see.
9. Valluvar Kottam
Opened in 1976 near the Chennai Central Railway Station, Valluvar Kottam is a monument built to honour Tamil Poet and Saint Thiruvalluvar. It has a massive 101-feet high temple chariot which houses a life-size statue of the saint, as well as depicting verses from his most famous work, Thirukkural on the pillars around it. There is also a magnificent auditorium which regularly hosts exhibitions and shows.
10. Birla Planetarium
Chennai’s Birla Planetarium is one of the top three planetariums in the country. It boasts numerous astronomical models, exhibits, and educational exhibits covering everything from physics to energy and transportation. They are spread across eight galleries, including one that provided an amazing virtual experience of the night sky.
11. Dakshin Chitra
This cultural museum on the ECR Highway is full of history and culture. Here, you can experience South Indian culture and heritage without ever leaving Chennai. With 18 heritage houses, artisans, and folk performances, it serves as a repository for the traditions of 5 states. It is also known for its stalls selling clothes, jewellery, and souvenirs.
12. T Nagar
Thyagaraya Nagar, popularly known as T. Nagar, is Chennai’s largest and most well-known shopping area. It is full of stores and vendors selling everything from colourful silk saris and gold jewellery to delicious food and kitchen appliances. The area also has a number of parks and recreational facilities, if you want to escape from the large crowds of shoppers.
13. Theosophical Society
One of Chennai’s oldest organizations, the Theosophical Society in Adyar has one of the best green spaces in the city. It was founded in New York in 1882 by a group of people who wanted to explore philosophy without the barriers of race, sex, or colour, and its headquarters moved to Chennai in 1886. Its grounds are also home to the 450-year-old Adyar banyan tree that is said to be one of the largest in the country.
14. Armenian Church
Constructed in 1712 (and reconstructed in 1772), Chennai’s Armenian church is one of the oldest churches on the Indian subcontinent. The church was built for the city’s small but a thriving Armenian population, though almost none are left today. It is known for its belfry with six enormous bells that each weigh around 150 kilograms.
15. Burma Bazaar
Escape the crowds at the more famous T Nagar at the cultural melting pot of Burma Bazaar. It is named after the Tamil-Burmese community that set up shop hereafter leaving Burma (now known as Myanmar). A paradise for street shoppers, you can find everything from used books to great street food here. Don’t miss the delicious Burmese Atho Noodles!
16. Thousand Lights Mosque
This multi-domed mosque in Anna Salai is one of the largest in the country. Spread over an area of three acres, it was built in the early 19th century by the Wallajah family. It is said that a thousand oil lamps were once needed to illuminate the mosque’s assembly hall, which gave rise to its name.
17. Connemara Library
The Connemara Public Library in Egmore is one of India’s four National Depository Libraries. It recieves a copy of everybook, newspaper, and periodial punlished in the country. The library was initailly a part of the Madras Museum, but was turned into a free public library in 1890 by the then Governor of Madras, Lord Connemara.
18. Madras High Court
Built in 1862, the red walls of the Madras High Court Complex houses one of the oldest high courts in the country. The stunning building is also full of stained glass doors, and even has the original lighthouse of the Madras Port.
19. Vadapalani Murugan Temple
Also known as the Vadapalani Andavar Temple, this temple is dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Muruga. It was originally built in the 1809s, but was renovated in the 1920s. The temple is a popular destination for weddings, and is known for its massive 40 meter tall entrance tower (or rajagopuram) and its beautiful temple tank.
20. MGR Film City
Covering a massive 70 acres, Chennai’s MGR Film City is popular tourist destination, especialy for film-buffs. Opened in 1994, it is named in memory of the late actor and Chief Minister of the state, M. G. Ramachandran. It features a number of filming locations and sets (everything from Mughal places to Japanese gardens) as well as a film institute.
21. Vivekananda House
Originally constructed in 1842 by Frederic Tudor as a storage space for ice, this was where Indian Saint Swami Vivekananda stayed when he visited Chennai in February 1897. It was later leased to the Ramakrishna Math and currently houses an exhibition on the life of Swami Vivekananda.
22. Annai Vailankanni Shrine
This Gothic-style Catholic shrine is located near Beasant Nagar Beach, and is a popular pilgrimage destiation. Oficially known as the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health, it was built by Portuguese sailors in the 17th century. The area is said to see many occurances of apparitios of Mary and the Christ Child, and is also known as the “Lourdes of the East”.
23. Nettukuppam Beach
Located at the northernmost tip of Chennai, this is one of the most peaceful beaches in the city. It is where the Ennore creek joins the sea, and is largely free of the crowdsand hawkers that often populate the other beaches in Chennai. Its concrete pier is an excellent vantage point from where you can see the skyline of Chennai.
24. Madras Crocodile Bank Trust
One of Chennai’sbest known wildlife attractions, the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust is also a research and conservation agency. It houses over 2,400 speciesof reptiles, including 14 types of crocodiles and alligators. The MCBT is also known for its conservation work with Olive Ridley turtles.
25. Parthasarathy Temple
Located in Triplicane, the Parthasarathy Temple dates back to 8th century. It is known for its majestic gopurams (ornate towers) adorned with stucco figures. The temple also features various adjoining ponds and living quarters for the priests (known as agraharams).