One of south India's major cities, Chennai is a mixture of sights and sounds that blends grand colonial architecture with colourful temples. It's also a booming commercial hub offering top restaurants and great shops, while Chennai beach provides the chance to relax.
Top things to see and do
- Head to Marina Beach for a fascinating insight into local life. There are kite flyers and fortune tellers, as well vendors selling delicious snacks such as sundal, a dish of spiced lentils. Just don’t swim – there’s a powerful undercurrent that means it’s unsafe.
- More like a grand mansion than a former trading post, Fort St George was built over 300 years ago by the British East India Company. Its imposing archways and towering pillars reveal just how profitable colonial trade with India was and ensure the building is now high up on all must-see lists.
- Mingle with the flower sellers and worshippers at the Kapaleeswarar Temple, one of Chennai’s oldest and most instantly recognisable shrines. From its huge, multi-coloured gateway covered in intricately designed statues to its impressive pavilions, it’s unique.
- Visit the Government Museum, one of India’s biggest and oldest. With six buildings, it has a vast collection that features stuffed animals, ancient Indian artefacts and traditional paintings. In building three you’ll find a stunning set of bronze statues, some of which date back to the 7th century.
- Don’t miss the opportunity to try some traditional Chennai cooking. George Town is the place to head for delicious street food such as uttappams, a kind of Indian pizza topped with tomatoes, onions and chillies.
Tips for travellers
Just over an hour away from the city are the ruined temples of Mamallapuram, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. You’ll find the ancient Shore Temple, with its religious carvings that looks out over the ocean. There are also the mysterious statues known as the Five Rathas, which are thought to represent mythical chariots.