A major tourist destination in South India, Chennai is a metropolitan city with modern, commercial and historical significance. Situated on the south eastern coast of the country, this port city is spread across 426.7 sq km. It is the administrative capital of the state of Tamil Nadu and is well known for having the 2nd longest coastline in the world. Popularly known as the "Gateway of South India", Chennai is noted for its beaches, medical tourism, bird watching sites, Fort St. George and religious destinations like St. Mary's Church, Kapaleshwar Temple and the Big Mosque. Know more about the state in the Chennai Travel Guide.
Best Time to Visit Chennai: November to February
How to Reach Chennai
By Air: Chennai has an international airport, named Anna International Airport, at its southern suburb of Tirusalam. This airport connects cities from all over the country and the world including London, New York, Kuwait, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Colombo and Singapore. The Anna Terminal receives the international flights and the Kamraj Terminal receives the domestic flights in the airport. You can avail taxis, buses or trains (at Tirusalam Railway Station about 0.17 km from the airport's international terminal) to travel to your desired destination in Chennai.
By Rail: Chennai Central and Chennai Egmore are the 2 railway stations that manage the departure and arrival of trains from all parts of the country. The city is also home to the Southern Railway headquarters.
By Road: There are four national highways that connect Chennai - NH 5 (to Kolkata), NH 4 (to Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai), NH 45 (to Tiruchirapally) and NH 205 (to Tiruvallur). You can travel to Chennai by boarding public and private intercity and inter-state buses. You can also hire cabs from travel agencies as well.
Tourist Attractions in Chennai: Places to Go
Tourists have wide options for sightseeing and things to do in Chennai. The city has the infrastructure that every modern city in India has including malls, fine dining restaurants, fast food joints and discotheques. Along with these, there are sea beaches like Marina, Edward Elliot's and Breezy beaches that provide the best views of the Bay of Bengal. But these beaches are not good for swimming due to the strong currents. In addition, you can also visit thechurches, temples and mosques that are noted for their architecture. Nature lovers have a range of options for wildlife watching. Here are the popular sightseeing attractions in Chennai:
Heritage Buildings in Chennai
Planning your travel to Chennai is incomplete without adding a trip to these historical buildings in the city:
Fort St. George - Built in the year 1640, Fort St. George was the first establishment of the British in India. It was initially used as a trading center and later became a fortified building complex that warded away the raids of Hyder Ali, ruler of Mysore and the French. Attractions include the Fort Museum with armor that belonged to Tipu Sultan, a library with several rare books and manuscripts, and St. Mary's Church that is considered to be one of the oldest British made churches in India.
Valluvar Kottam - This chariot shaped stone monument complex was built in the memory of Tiruvalluvar, a well-known literary figure of Tamil Nadu. Apart from the memorial, the complex also houses Asia's largest auditorium.
Kapaleeshwar Temple - One of the best known South Indian temple, it was built in the 8th century in Mylapore. It is well known for the Thaipusam Festival that is celebrated in January.
Wallajah Mosque - Also known as the Big Mosque, this granite monument complex, built in 1795, is much visited for its architectural brilliance. The mosque complex also organizes several ceremonies held all round the year.
Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Thomas - Located on the burial tomb of St. Thomas, Jesus Christ's Apostle, this church is one of the only 3 that were built over the tomb of Christ's Apostles in the world. Attractions in the Basilica include a museum containing artifacts associated with the saint and rare paintings.
Museums in Chennai
Museums in Chennai showcase the history, art, anthropology and development of Chennai and Tamil Nadu. While on a tour to Chennai, it is a good idea to visit the following museums:
Government Museum- Formed in the year 1857 at the city's center; this state museum is arguably the oldest in India. It is a large museum complex with different sections for varied subjects - coins, plants, animals, historical artifacts, items made with bronze and archeological remains.
Birla Planetarium - An interesting museum for science students and scholars, Birla Planetarium houses some of the advanced inventions in the field of astronomy, physical science, energy and material science. You can enjoy audio visual presentations about the sky, solar system and space.
Regional Rail Museum - This museum features the evolution of trains in India. Children can also enjoy rides in a toy train.
National Art Gallery - Established in the year 1907, the gallery is housed in an impressive looking building made of red sandstone representing Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. It features paintings, sculptures, traditional arts on glass, handicrafts and miniature items across 4 sections.
Wildlife and Bird Sanctuaries in Chennai
Chennai is one of the few cities in the world where you will find a protected estuary, national park and several bird watching areas inside the city. If you are a wildlife enthusiast or bird watcher you must visit the following places:
Fair and Festivals in Chennai
The cultural richness of the city of Chennai is evident from the fairs and festivals held here. As the city has a majority of Hindu population, all the Hindu festivals are celebrated extravagantly. Apart from these, Chennai fairs and festivals that are worth attending are:
Chennai Music and Dance Festival - Celebrating the cultural diversity and richness of South India, this festival is a much awaited event held in the month of December or January every year. It is organized in several locations in the city and the month long festival attracts celebrity musicians from India and abroad to showcase their dance and music performances.
Travel & Tourism Fair - This fair is organized by the Tamil Nadu Development Corporation for 3 days in the month of January. It involves trade and exhibitions regarding the various sightseeing and other attractions in Tamil Nadu.
Arubathimoovar Festival - Dedicated to the 63 saints who devoted their lives to Lord Shiva, this festival features a colorful procession around Mylapore, a Chennai suburb. It is held in the month of March or April and the rituals also include praying at the Kapaleeshwar Temple in the town. This festival is also known as Brahmotsavam.
History of Chennai
Chennai, till recently was known as Madras, which was derived from the name Madraspattnam. It was earlier a small village where the British built their first permanent settlement, Fort St. George, after they entered the South Indian soil in the 17th century. Before this time, the village was ruled over by a number of rulers including the Cholas, Pallavas, Vijayanagar, Pandyas and the Cheras for different time periods until the arrival of foreigners. Between the 16th to 18th centuries, the Portuguese, French, British and the rulers of Mysore tried to gain control over the region through bloody battles and treaties. It was the British who ultimately won over the land and established it as a port city. They brought together the adjoining villages including Nungabakkam, Narimendu, Vepery, Mulapore and 8 others to form the city of Madras, capital of the Madras Presidency that was Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka together. Post-independence, Madras became the capital of the newly formed Tamil Nadu and it was in the year 1996 that its name was changed to the present Chennai, after Chennapattnam, the name given to the area around the British Fort St. George.