I still remember how I felt when I got down at Chennai Central for the first time in my life. The station – its façade in the Gothic Revival style architecture – seemed vaguely familiar and oh, that was probably because I’ve seen it in a lot of movies. And, my familiarity of any kind with the city ended there; everything else about Chennai was absolutely new to me. I wasn’t even sure how I would survive given that I knew next to nothing about the place. However, as days passed, the city started growing on me and I fell in love with it in a brief span. That’s not all! I explored the city’s breadth and length and did many things in that short stint – from tasting authentic local food and visiting places of worship to spending every other evening at Marina Beach and going on a shopping spree in T Nagar.
If you are new to Chennai and looking for interesting things to do, let me help you out. In this blog, I’ll tell you about some incredibly cool things you can (and should) do when you are in the city. So folks, here we go. It’s time to fall in love with the capital city of Tamil Nadu.
Best Things To Do in Chennai:
1. Explore the City’s Culinary Wonders
It might sound ridiculous, but the best way to fall in love with a city is to first fall in love with its food. And when in Chennai, you are spoilt for choice as it is dotted with restaurants and food joints, both big and small, that serve a dizzying variety of dishes. When in doubt, always start with dosas – the quintessential South Indian dish you can never get bored of eating. You’ll get dosas in every nook and corner of the city, but my recommendations include Murugan Idli Kadai, Ratna Café, ID, and Saravana Bhavan. Besides dosas, you can also try idli, sambar and rasam rice, kuzhi paniyaram, and pongal.
That’s for the vegetarian part of your love affair with Chennai. For the non-vegetarian part, start with a plate of Ambur biriyani at any of the Ambur Star Biryani outlets in the city or go for the much raved about Dindigul-style biriyani at Dindigul Thalappakatti Restaurant. You can also try chicken chettinad, kothu parotta, and nethili fry, among others. And lastly, seal your everlasting bond with the city with a steaming cup of filter coffee.
2. Spend an Evening (or More) at Marina Beach
An iconic place in the city of Chennai, Marina Beach is best known for its placid beauty, picturesque surroundings, and the coastline that stretches about 13 km, making it one of the longest beaches in the world. It’s indeed a rejuvenating experience to watch the sun go down sitting on this sandy beach and munching on a pack of freshly roasted peanuts. Trust me, you will love this experience. And hold on my friend, it’s only going to get better. There are numerous food stalls by the beach, not to mention the fun games and activities like kite flying, pony rides, and beach volleyball. All these make Marina Beach a must-visit spot with a lot of fun things to do in Chennai. So when the beach calls you, be ready to answer it! And, when here, be sure to explore Ice House, Senate House, MGR Memorial and Anna Square.
3. Shop Like a Maniac at Pondy Bazaar
Take my two cents before you head out to Pondy Bazaar. First, put on your best pair of sneakers because you will have to walk a lot. Second, fill your wallet with cash (real cash not cards) because cash payment is much easier when you buy things from street vendors.
Now, let’s get to business. Pondy Bazaar, the official name of which is Soundarapandian Angadi, is a one-stop destination for all your shopping needs. To say that the place is popular is an understatement; it is every Chennaite’s second home! Whether you want to buy branded items or indulge in some street shopping haggling with vendors, Pondy Bazaar is the right place. And, you will find everything (nearly everything, I meant) here at pocket-friendly prices, from safety pins, shoes and household items to bags, clothes and faux jewelry. The bazaar also houses some of the best-known commercial establishments in the city, such as Saravana Stores, Ratna Stores, Naidu Hall, etc. Spending a few hours in this market is among the top fun things to do in Chennai.
Want to take a short break from shopping? Step into one of the many restaurants on the street, including Adyar Ananda Bhavan, Saravana Bhavan, and Anjappar; grab a quick bite and continue on your shopping spree. Go on shopping my friend, not till you drop but till the shops drop their shutters!
- Location: T Nagar
- Timings: 09:00 am to 10:00 pm
- Entry Fee: Free
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4. Take a Trip to Fort St. George
Brush up your history, and you will remember the importance of Fort St. George in Chennai’s past and present. It was the very first fortress the East India Company built in India, in the year 1644. Back then, it was called the ‘White Town’. Everything about the fort – from its architecture to decorated corridors and halls – exude a colonial charm, which is hard to miss. Currently, the place houses the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and its administrative offices. The fort compound comprises a church, museum, and Wellesley House. The museum is a must-visit place if you are a history buff because it contains many exhibits from the colonial period. So, visit the fort in Chennai, take a trip through the pages of history, and get a glimpse of what Chennai was like when it was Madras.
- Location: Rajaji Salai Road
- Timings: 09:00 am to 05:00 pm (closed on Friday)
- Entry Fee:
- Children (under 15 Years) – Free
- Adults (above 15 Years) – ₹ 5
5. Get Hooked to Books at Anna Centenary Library
I admit it; this is not among the most thrilling or adventurous things to do in Chennai. Yet, spending a few hours at Anna Centenary Library is indeed a pleasurable thing to do, and you can take my word for it. To begin with, the library is built at an astronomical cost of about ₹ 172 crores. That’s serious money, people! Spread across 8 acres, this nine-story building is one of the largest libraries in Asia with over 1.2 million books. The library has different sections namely, Own Book Reading (where you can carry your books and read), Children’s Books, Tamil Books, English Books, Periodicals, and also a Braille Section. This quiet, spacious library is every bibliophile’s paradise to explore the world through words.
- Location: Kotturpuram
- Own Book Section – 08:00 am to 09:00 pm
- Other Sections – 09:00 am to 08:00 am
- Entry Fee: Free Entry
6. Take a Stroll through the Theosophical Society’s Huddleston Garden
Fancy some unfiltered greenery right in the middle of Chennai’s urban cityscape? There’s a garden, quite an unusual one, that you must not miss visiting – the Huddleston Garden at the Theosophical Society. Located on the banks of river Adyar and stretching over a whopping area of 260 acres, this garden is every nature lover’s dream come true. It’s also an ideal place to spend some ‘me-time’, talking to your inner self, listening to some soul-stirring music, or just admiring the beauty of natural greenery. Make sure that you don’t miss the 450-year-old Adyar Banyan Tree, one of the largest in the area. You can also spot migratory birds and a large variety of native and introduced fauna and flora. The garden is calm (to the extent of making you feel eerie), greener than most places in the metropolis, and completely vehicle-free. What more could you ask for from an urban jungle?
- Location: Adyar
- Timings: 08:30 am to 10:00 am and 02:00 pm to 04:00 pm (closed on Sundays)
- Entry Fee: Free
7. Enjoy the Stunning Beauty of Kapaleeshwarar Temple
A temple with a history that goes back to about 1300 years is not something you would expect to see in the middle of a metropolitan city, but this is Chennai, my friend. A trip to Chennai is not complete if you don’t spend some time enjoying the quaint yet stunning beauty of Kapaleeshwarar Temple. From multi-colored gopurams to pillared pavilions, it has all characteristic features of a South Indian or to be more specific Dravidian temple. Built in the 7th century by the rulers of the Pallava dynasty, the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. So if you are a devotee of Shiva, this is a place you must not miss.
Even if you are not a devotee of Shiva or a believer for that matter, a visit to this temple must be on your to-do list for aesthetic reasons. The temple has many shrines and halls that are decked with beautiful carvings; the surrounding area constructed in the traditional agraharam style adds to its charm. And the best part is that the temple periodically hosts dance and music performances, so consider yourself lucky if you happen to be at the temple on such a day.
- Location: Mylapore
- Timings: 6:00 am to 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm
- Entry Fee: Free
8. Watch History Come Alive at the Government Museum
Did you know that Chennai houses the second oldest museum in India? So, when you are in a mood to explore history, you can also head to the Government Museum. Also known as Madras Museum and Egmore Museum, the place was established nearly two centuries ago, in 1851 and is best known for its numismatic and archeological collections and Roman antiquities. The museum campus also comprises a theatre, several galleries, a public library named Connemara Public Library, and a Children’s Museum among others. While you are here, don’t forget to check out the life-size animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex displayed in the natural history section and the 400-year-old Bible in the library. Whether you are looking for things to do in Chennai alone or with your family, this place with several gasp-worthy exhibits fit your fill.
- Location: Egmore
- Timings: 09:30 am to 05:00 pm (closed on Fridays and certain public holidays)
- Entry Fee:
- Students – ₹ 5
- Children (under 12 years) – ₹10
- Adults – ₹ 15
9. Take a Trip to St. Thomas Mount
How about taking a trip to a small hillock that is rumored to be the site of a famous Christian saint’s martyrdom (Apostle Thomas in AD 72)?! If yes, include St. Thomas Mount in your itinerary. And, getting there is pretty easy as there is a metro station that serves the neighborhood. Not only does the mountain house a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Expectation, it also provides a stunning panoramic view of the city and the airport. Besides, the mount also has a small bell tower, a cross pillar, an old banyan tree, and a statue of Mother Theresa. The hill is located near Guindy, which means you can also visit Guindy National Park if you have some extra time on hand.
- Location: Parangi Malai
- Timings: 6:00 am to 8:00 pm
- Entry Fee: Free
This list contains only a fraction of the things one can do in Chennai. There’s certainly more places to visit in Chennai, from temples and churches to beaches, shopping streets, and food joints. Taking a drive on the East Coast Road is among the best things to do in Chennai at night, whereas morning birds can watch the sunrise at Elliot Park. The activities listed here are nothing but a good teaser to the grand movie that Chennai is. And, as they say, picture abhi baki hai, mere dost! The next time you are staying at hotels in Chennai, you know what all you can do to make your trip much more then you initially planned.
10. Visit Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram – or Mamallapuram as it used to be known – is a town situated on the Coromandel Coast, strewn full of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Awe-inspiring cave temples and magnificent sculptures, dating back to the age of the Pallava Kings, dot the landscape. Visiting Mahabalipuram is like strolling into an ancient era and deserves to be high on your list of activities to do in Chennai. From the Shore Temple to the gravity-defying ‘Krishna’s Butter Ball’, there is no end to the marvels that await here. Besides the historical and cultural attractions, the seaside town is also known as a hotspot for surfing and café-hopping. You will easily find many hotels in Chennai situated all across this famous tourist town.
- Timings: 07:00 am to 07:00 pm
- Entry fee: Rs. 35 per person
11. Get a glimpse of life at Royapuram Fishing Harbour
Get your fill of history, fresh seafood and tons of exciting photos, all in one place, with a visit to Royapuram Fishing Harbour. Watch the life of the local fishing community unfold before your very eyes at this busy hub. As early as 2 am, you can get to see hundreds of boats and catamarans head out for the day. At the auction hall, watch the day’s catch make its way to varied destinations. You can even get to watch fishing boats being built at the boat building facility nearby. Once you have had your fill of the local culture, try the many restaurants in the area for the most sumptuous seafood meal.
Location: Kasimedu Village
If you are planning a short trip to Chennai, here is a 2-day itinerary you could use.
12. Be enthralled by space at Birla Planetarium
Satiate your scientific curiosity and have all the questions you ever had about space answered at BM Birla Planetarium. The planetarium is equipped with the latest Hybrid Projection System that enables you to not only see the star-studded night sky but also witness the apparent motion of stars, space flights, galaxies, nebulae and other astronomical bodies. This is one of the most ideal things to do in Chennai with family, especially when travelling with kids. The planetarium is part of the Periyar Science and Technology Centre that also has various other exhibits and programmes related to science.
- Location: Kotturpuram
- Timings: 10:00 am to 05:45 pm
- Entry fee: Rs. 30 per person
13. Experience serenity at Valluvar Kottam
Thiruvalluvar is one of the most revered poets of Tamil Nadu and Valluvar Kottam was constructed in 1975 to pay homage to his work, Thirukkural, which still holds the Tamil people under its spell. The memorial is built in the form of a temple chariot and the architectural style is reminiscent of the grand old temples of the state. All 1330 verses of the Thirukkural, written over 2000 years ago, are inscribed on the impressive granite columns in the façade hall corridors. Visit this tribute to the great saint for a peaceful afternoon spent admiring the magnificent structure and the person it commemorates.
- Location: Nungambakkam
- Timings: 08:30 am to 05:30 pm
- Entry fee: Rs. 3
14. Hangout and chill at Express Avenue Mall
Let the shopaholic in you have free rein at Express Avenue Mall. You needn’t look any further for things to do in Chennai with friends. From top-end luxury brands to pocket-friendly fashion and hangouts for food and entertainment, this is a must-do Chennai experience you shouldn’t miss. Catch a movie at the multiplex and pick up some great deals. Also, watch out for the pop-up stalls and flea markets that crop up occasionally with off-beat products.
- Location: Anna Salai
- Timings: 10:00 am to 10:00 pm
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15. Visit Vivekananda House
Vivekananda House – or Vivekanandar Illam, as it is locally known – is historically important for hosting Swami Vivekananda for 9 days after his return from the triumphant visit to the West. The building, which was later renamed in his honour is now a Chennai landmark and a welcoming destination for those seeking inspiration or spiritual upliftment. The ‘Experience Vivekananda’ Museum in the complex gives you a smart introduction to the saint-philosopher through advanced technology like Augmented Reality and 3D/4D effects.
- Location: Triplicane
- Timings: 10:00 am to 12:30 pm; 03:00 pm to 07:15 pm (closed on Mondays)
- Entry fee: Children: Rs. 10, Adults: Rs. 20
16. Spend a relaxed day with family at Chetpet Eco Park
You will never run out of activities to do in Chennai! If you have had your fill of history, culture, shopping and gastronomic excursions, take a break and chill out in Chetpet Eco Park. Described as the Green Lungs of the City, this beautiful spread of land is a haven for joggers and walkers. With the introduction of activities like kayaking and paddling in the lake, it has also become a hub of fun and activity for Chennai’s youth. You can also try your hand at angling in the lake and at the end of the day, relax with some great food in the food court.
- Location: New Bupathy Nagar, Kilpauk
- Timings: 10:00 am to 07:00 pm
- Entry fee: Rs. 25
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17. Enjoy yourself at the VGP Universal Kingdom
Earlier known as VGP Golden Beach, VGP Universal Kingdom has been a Chennai-favourite for decades. The park was recently named among the Top 100 Theme Parks in the World. Set along the beachside, this sprawling park offers a range of rides to satisfy every age group and every level of thrill and adventure you are looking for. From scuba diving to a 35-metre high roller coaster ride, this is where you can satisfy your craving for an adrenaline high. If you are looking for things to do in Chennai for couples, head to this entertainment city for a fun-filled day that will leave you with plenty of great memories.
- Location: Injambakkam
- Timings: 10:00 am to 07:30 pm
- Entry fee: Children: Rs. 500 to Rs. 845, Adults: Rs. 600 to Rs. 945
18. Go on a Lion Safari at Arignar Anna Zoological Park
Chennai’s Arignar Anna Zoological Park, spread out over an amazing 602 hectares, is the largest in the country and among the best maintained. The zoo is home to over 2600 animals in a naturalistic habitat and is also home to several rare and exotic species. The lion safari and deer safari are not to be missed as also is a sighting of the beautiful white tiger. You can cycle around the expansive grounds or take the battery-operated cars to get around. The zoo is a matter of pride for the city and ‘Vandalur Zoo’ as it is locally known attracts large crowds every day.
- Location: Vandalur
- Timings: 09:00 am to 06:00 pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
- Entry fee:
- Children: Rs. 50
- Adults: Rs. 90
- Lion and deer safari:
- Children: Rs. 60
- Adults: Rs. 100
19. Seek blessings at Ashtalakshmi Temple
The Ashtalakshmi – or 8 forms of the Goddess Lakshmi – is considered the giver of all things a human could wish for – from food to knowledge, courage, success and wealth. The 8 forms of the Goddess are seen in this temple, worshipped in different sanctums. There are also sculptures depicting the 10 avatars of Vishnu or the Dashavathara. The outstanding feature of the temple is that it is constructed in the shape of an ‘Om,’ the primaeval chant of Hinduism. Visit for the serene experience of devotion at a South Indian temple.
- Location: Besant Nagar
- Timings: 06:30 am to 12:00 noon (extended to 01:00 pm on Fridays and Sundays); 04:00 pm to 09:00 pm
20. Get a taste of South Indian culture at Dakshinachitra Museum
For the culture lovers looking for activities to do in Chennai, you cannot get a more comprehensive view of South Indian culture and heritage than at the Dakshinachitra Museum. The museum pays homage to the art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts and performing arts from all over South India. The complex has 18 authentic historic houses from all over the region, each one once marked for demolition by the owners. They now house contextual exhibitions giving a wider understanding of their history and heritage. The museum displays more than 4000 artefacts and 1,00,000 picture representations from all over the South.
- Location: Muthukadu
- Timings: 10:00 am to 06:00 pm
- Entry fees: Rs. 150 for adults; Rs. 60 for children of age 13 to 18; Rs. 40 for children between 3-12
21. Revisit history at Alamparai Fort
Be prepared to get philosophical at the majestic ruins of Alamparai Fort, where the grandeur of a royal past is slowly being eroded by the sea. A trading hub since ancient times, the area has witnessed everything from wars to earthquakes. The fort was constructed by the Mughals and later handed over to the French before it was captured and demolished by British forces. The beautiful ruins are now being restored and with its picturesque location by the sea, is a favourite haunt for photographers. It is one of the top things to do in Chennai for couples if Insta-worthy photographs in exotic locations are your driving force. The site is open 24×7 and there is no entry fee as of now.
22. Go parasailing at Covelong Beach/Marina Beach
If you are on a work trip and wondering what to do in Chennai for 1 day, head down to Covelong Beach and let the skies unfurl before you! The Coromandel Coast is a divine location to be flying over, with its golden sands and swaying palms. Let the adrenaline surge power you to rise above the earth and get the most unforgettable experience you can imagine! The activity is also popular on Marina Beach.
Cost: From Rs. 700/ for a 20-minute solo ride
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23. Walk along Thalankuppam Pier
One of the most unforgettable things to do in Chennai at night is to catch the sunrise at Thalankuppam Pier. Thalankuppam is a fishing hamlet and is still a popular destination for Chennaiites to buy fresh catch for the day. The pier extends about a kilometre into the sea and the walk above crashing waves can seem as frightening as it is exhilarating. The beach itself is a picturesque one. Visit to see first-hand the locale for many dramatic movie-like scenes and to get some unforgettable clicks above the sea.
24. Explore the historical side of Chennai in Old Mylapore
The busy town of Mylapore is said to have been in existence some 1500 years before Chennai (or Madras as it used to be before). The area is a cultural hub of the city but is also a historical site well worth exploring. If you have a couple of days to spend in Chennai, reserve one of them to explore this side of town. Forgo the glitzy malls and famous temples – this day should be about the older areas where you will get to see houses that are over a hundred years old with quaint architecture, swings and gardens. Be sure to sample the local food at the humblest of eateries and you will return with your spirits as enriched as your memories.
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25. Explore Cholomandalam Artists Village
Get a unique peek into the artist’s life at Cholamandalam Artists’ Village – India’s largest self-supporting artists’ village. A brainchild of the visionary artist, KCS Panickar, the village lies in a sleepy stretch of 10 km where resident artists showcase their creations in a permanent exhibition in the complex. The village has two commercial galleries where works of art are displayed and also available for sale. There is also a museum and an open-air theatre where you may get to catch some spirited performances. A walk through the idyllic village is an uplifting experience that is well worth having even as you appreciate the wealth of art that is all around.
- Location: Injambakkam
- Timings: 09:30 am to 06:30 pm
- Entry fee:
- Children: Rs. 20
- Adults: Rs. 5
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