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Tourist Places To Visit In Chennai (Madras)
Chennai is the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu and is also known as the ‘Culture Capital’ of South India, with some amazing tourist places peppered through its landmass. Chennai has a rich past that was carved by the efforts of the British East India Company. Situated on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, it was built as a coastal outpost for the East India Company when they were granted land by the ruling Telugu emperor in 1639. Formerly known as Madras, this southern metropolitan has been the torch-bearer in the whole of South India for carrying the ancient culture forward. Today, it stands strong as the fourth largest city in India, attracting tourists with its magnificent architecture and humble culture. Chennai has been instrumental in treating tourists with humility and respect. A prominent feature of this city is the lexicon of British architecture intertwined with the essence of Telugu culture that makes it a quintessential place to visit in South India. Here are the top tourist places to visit in Chennai.
Marina Beach of Chennai is the second longest beach in the world. It has a 12km long coastline that is enclosed with palm trees along the promenade. It is a great tourist spot where you can spot locals taking long walks and enjoying the calm sea-breeze. One can take an evening stroll and enjoy street food like Murukku and Sundal that is famous amongst the locals. This beach is excellent for experiencing a magnificent sunset. Chennai youth can be seen taking half dips in the water as swimming is not an option at this beach due to the powerful undercurrents. Horse rides offered across the length of this beach are a major draw for children.
Santhome Cathedral Basilica Church
The Santhome Cathderal Basilica Church bears a massive significance in the religion of Christianity since it is built on the site where Saint Thomas - one of Jesus’ twelve Apostles died. It is believed that Saint Thomas built a chapel here after he travelled to India in AD 52. Then the Portuguese built the Basilica in the 16th century which was later rebuilt by the British in 1893. The Church displays splendid architecture by the British which is preserved in the best state that depicts the faith of Catholic followers. The Church has drawn believers from all parts of the world; even Pope John Paul II prayed in this church in 1986.
Fort St. George
Considered to be the first ever establishment of British in India, the St. George Fort was built as early as 1644 along the coast of Bay of Bengal. It is the most visited place by tourists as this fort showcases the Church of St. Mary - the oldest Anglican Church in the country and the Wellesley House Museum, within its walls. Travelers can take a look at the oldest structures built by British and experience the architectural splendour of these buildings. The Museum hosts some of the very rare relics of the Maharaja era of India. Tourists can take a guided tour to explore St. George Fort, historically known as White Town and experience the grandeur that it has showcased over the last ten years for being the Administrative Headquarters of the Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu.
Guindy National Park
Guindy National Park is the only park in India that is situated within the city suburbs. This park is one of the smallest in the country but inhabits a variety of trees, shrubs and mammals. If you are lucky, you might get a glimpse of a rare Black Winged Kite while on a safari in this park. Along with Spotted Deer, Elephants and some species of wild cats, this park is a home to many snake and reptile species that are kept in the adjoining Guindy Snake Park. You can experience the might of the mysterious Indian King Cobra and take a trip into its kingdom alongside the in-house species of Adders and Vipers. If interested, tourists can also join the Chennai Turtle Walk at midnight to support the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle.
To get a slice of ethnic Chennai, you should also take a ride to the markets and explore the oldest parts of the city. Mylapore tank and the Mandavali area serve the purpose well. It is the oldest residential sector of the city and the tank is a part of the seventh century Kapaleeshwar Temple. The entire area is built around this temple that is to a traveller’s surprise, the best place to observe the culture of Chennai. The narrow streets and roads that lead to the temple are flocked with shops that sell flowers and temple offerings. It is an exceptional phenomenon that will give you a chance to be one amongst the locals.
Express Avenue Mall
One of the largest shopping malls in Chennai, Express Avenue mall is established for the brand conscious elite. This mall is besotted with international brands for the crème de la crème of India. A mesh-mash of business and leisure, this mall has been awarded the most admired mall of 2011 in India. Fun city and Escape city are two entertainment joints established in the mall that attract crowds from all walks of life.
Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary
If you are a bird watcher and an avid adventure junkie then Vedanthangal is a place for you. One of the biggest bird sanctuaries in India, this place is a haven for nature lovers. November to February is the best time to visit.
Founded in 1855, The Arignar Anna Zoological Park a.k.a. Vandalur Zoo, was the first public zoo in India. Spread across 230 acres, Vandalur Zoo is the largest zoological park in India. Located about 30 kilometers from the city center, the zoo is home to over 1500 wild species including 46 endangered species. A must visit for animal lovers and families with kids.
Elliot’s Beach is one very beautiful beach in Chennai, and what’s more, it is less dense and crowded than Marina. The sand here is brown, and very clean, while the Schmidt Memorial is a good sightseeing spot. It was built for Karl Schmidt, a Dutch sailor, and attracts visitors with its stories and beauty. The Velankanni Church and AshtaLakshmi Temple nearby are also pretty famous and should follow your itinerary. Eliot’s Beach is about 10 km from Chennai’s city centre.
Thousand Lights Mosque
The Thousand Lights Mosque, as the name suggests, burns a thousand oil lamps in its hall. If this was not attraction enough, this mosque is one of the biggest in India, hence imparting a grandeur to its structure. The domes of this mosque are quite splendid, and exude an aura of awe. Separate huge halls for gents and ladies are spacious, giving you the peace and quiet to pray or even explore. Thousand Lights Mosque is open from 5.30 in the morning until 9 in the night.
We named this place as a pretty famous site near Eliot’s beach. Now the grandeur of this shrine makes its space for itself. The Vellankani Shrine is an old church, painted pristinely white, on the coast of Bay of Bengal. The Church is a tall tower and you can hear prayers drifting through the air in English and Tamil, charming your senses. You can visit it any time between 5 in the morning to 9 in the evening.
Another temple near Eliot’s Beach that was worth visiting, the Ashtalaxmi Temple sits right on the beach, precisely on Besant Beach, singing the praises of Devi Mahakali. The idols in the sanctum of this temple are of Shri Ganesh, Guruvayoorappan and Dashavatara, while the outside of the structure is designed in the shape of om. It is unique and peaceful. Some of the coveted festivals to visit here are Diwali, Pongal and of course, Navratri. The chants and poojan are all accompanied by fresh sea breeze!
Dakshina Chitra or the south gallery is a living history museum that narrates the Tamil history and culture of times gone by. This small open air gallery-cum-village houses replicas of South India everyday life artefacts from 19th and 20th Century. You get to see the folk, craft, art, architecture and much more used by the local fishermen and villagers. It is a unique experience in itself and you can also take hoards of pictures as you explore.
Royapuram Fishing Harbour
The Royapuram Fishing Harbour is one of Chennai’s biggest fish markets and harbours. More than 500 boats set off from here to catch fresh game. From early morning to the wee hours of night, this harbour is bustling with activity. Street photographers love this place for its honest, raw portrayal of Chennai life, while backpackers get to see the culture and hospitality firsthand. Its a chaotic, messy place, with sellers shouting their best prices over each other and the smell of fish and salt water carrying all through. So visit only if you are comfortable.
Well, here’s where you see the moon and the planets and the stars in Chennai. For a marginal cost! The Birla Planetarium is home to telescopes and entrapments and equipments that allow you to see into space. There are audio-visuals and presentations to describe the various phenomenon, constellations etc to visitors. Exhibitions on Seasons, Sky, Solar Systems, comets, etc are also regularly put up. So if you are a science or space enthusiast then this is a must for you to visit when in Chennai.
San Thome Church
Another pristine white church in Chennai, San Thome is home to the tomb of Saint Thomas. And hence the name. It is a place of worship, a shrine, as well as a monument due to its ancient beauty. There is awesome colonial architecture with stained glass windows and flower and candle shops. A hige sitting statue of Saint Thomas welcomes you, leading you to the highest tip where the Cross is. San Thome Church is 17 km from the city airport.
Breezy Beach, located in Valmiki Nagar, is a suburban beach that provides you with a perfect little escapade into the wild wild sea. It is a family beach and kept very clean. Sunrises and sunsets are coveted here, as are dusk time walks. There are shacks and cafes by the beach that sell the best idlis and sundals, while the Thiruvanmiyur market is a bustling little flea market kind of place to shop local. Sunrise-breakfast-walk is one perfect morning itinerary here!
Madras War Memorial
The Madras War Memorial of Chennai is built in dedication to the martyrs of World War II. It is made of white marble and carved beautifully. The names of all those soldiers who lost their lives in the war have been carved on the structure of this memorial. There are gardens surrounding the building where you can stroll, or visit the Stone of Remembrance.
Cholamandal Artist Village
Chennai’s own little crash course on local indigenous art form — the Cholamandal Artist Village is an artists’ hub where the community farmers to showcase and sell their paintings, sculptures and handicrafts. The gallery setup is modern in its amenities but rustic in its feel, compelling you to believe that you are in a chic little art village. Cholamandal is in Injambakkam region of Chennai and quite renowned among groups that are aesthetically inclined.
This is the place where you can get some insight into Swami Vivekananda's life. He was a thinker, philosopher and religious guru who walked on the path of his own guru RamaKrishna Paramhansa. Vivekananda’s teachings have inspired generations, and here in this house you can see a lot of it in artefact form — from galleries to exhibitions to meditation room. Here in this place Swami Vivekananda spent his time after returning from America, therefore it holds special importance.