If you are looking for Top places to visit in Chennai, this short Chennai Travel Guide on the city would be perfect to learn about how to spend one day in the city and get an experience of food, people, art and culture within that day itself. The guide should be useful especially for travellers who have limited time (including business travellers) and also because Chennai is a huge city and because there is so much to do in the city.
Located on the coast of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Chennai can get extremely hot and humid in almost all seasons. Hence the travel plans should be made around this to be able to explore the most here. To make things easier I broke the guide into three sections - Morning, Afternoon and Evening.
Start your morning with a walk on the Marina Beach, which is actually one of the longest beaches in the country. When the sun is still rising and the air still cool, the walk can be rejuvenating. Mornings and evenings are perhaps the only times you can spend there, but for evening I have other plans!
Once done with the morning stroll, you will be hungry and I recommend Murugan Idlis for breakfast. Murugan Idlis is a chain and you can find them all across the city. They are famous for their extremely soft idlis. Top up your breakfast with a cup of South Indian Filter Coffee.
Once the stomach is full, its time to head out again and explore one of Chennai's landmark temples - Kapaleeshwarar Temple. This is one of the ancient temples of the city and absolutely worth the visit. Its also a place where many couples and families come to get married and if you are lucky, you can even see some of these as well. I was there on an auspicious day and saw about five weddings taking place there. Its quite an experience! If you are interested in Chennai temples, more information is available at - Temples of Chennai through a temple trail.
After the temple its time to go back again to the beach. The first place in the list is Theosophical Society which has one of India's largest Banyan tree which is about 450 years old. Close by there is also Kalashetra which was set up early last century and is credited to bring the classical form of Bharatnatyam back into our lives. Learn a little about the dance, it would be useful for something that has been planned for the evening.
The morning was actually extremely hectic but idea was to capitalize on the day before things got really hot. A little past noon, you must be ready for you lunch and my recommendation is again local South Indian food. You must try out the thali at Ratna Cafe at Triplicane (Triplicane High Road, Triplicane, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600014) . The cost is about Rs 150 and its totally worth it!
After lunch, you need coffee, of course. Also, its a quite hot outside and so I recommend going to Amethyst Cafe. To me the cafe represents the youth of the Chennai and a place where like minded people, especially artists, travellers and photographers, can meet and share their ideas. The place has been around for a while now, though it has not changed location from the old Colonial house, where I visited it a while back. I would recommend staying at the cafe not just for coffee, but also for the sun to get down a little so that you can venture out again.
Express Estate, Royapettah, Chennai,
Tamil Nadu 600014
If you are not too tired, I would also suggest a visit to Church of Our Lady of Light also called Luz Church. Built in 1516, it is also the oldest church in Chennai and one of the oldest in the country as well. The Portuguese style architecture is quite unique and a visit there is very calming. Unfortunately not many visitors go there as it's no longer well known.
If you still have more energy, do plan a visit to Sowcarpet, one of the busiest areas of the city . The area is home to Chennai's migrant population, especially from North and East India. There are Jain temples, Rajasthani temples, chaat places and so on. In fact in this part of Chennai you can even get away with speaking only in Hindi. For me it was quite a discovery!
Evening on the weekends in Chennai is a time when people head out of their homes, especially to explore culture. Unlike other major cities, in Chennai you can always attend a very high quality classical dance performance with talented local artists, and most of these are free. Bharitiya Vidya Bhavan is a really good place to attend such an event, though its a good idea to check in local papers for the place and timings. I saw a Bharatnatyam performance by an internationally renowned local girl, Sudharma and also interviewed her for my project Tell Me Your Dream.
Once done with dance, its time for food again. I would still recommend a local food place for dinner - Saravanaa Bhavan. Saravanaa Bhavan is a huge chain of Tamil food restaurants across the world. In fact the last time I was at one of restaurants, it was in Sunnyvale, California. However, if you want to explore something new, I would recommend Above Sea Level at Raintree, St Mary's Road.
With dinner, a full day of travel in Chennai gets over :)