19 Things To Do In Madras aka Chennai!

So, this week is celebrated as Madras Week, in continuance with the Madras Day celebrations, I thought it would be good to create a listicle of sorts for people who will be visiting India. Most tourists/backpackers only visit the northern part of India – Agra, Delhi, Himachal etc. Why not visit the southern part of the country as well? There is so much history associated with each and every part of my country India. 

This post is dedicated with things, routine, if not crazy things, you can do when you are in the Southern Indian metropolitan city – Chennai aka Madras. This city is known as the Detroit of India, with companies such as Ford, Hyundai setting up factories in the outskirts of the city. So here is a list of 23 things you can do in Chennai aka Madras, read on!

1 .  An evening at Marina Beach

The number 1 activity any person will recommend is to visit Marina Beach, the second longest beach in the world.

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Marina Beach

Eat the yummy fritters also called as Bajjis that are sold by the shore. The Marina beach is very dear to every person in the city right from a child to an octogenarian. Apart from this beach you also have the Elliots Beach and Besant Nagar beaches in Chennai. They both are pretty smaller than Marina which has a very long shoreline. These are hangouts for college students, office-goers, kids, families.


2. Visit Santhome Basilica, Santhome

things to do in chennai
Santhome Basilica – Image

This is a Roman Catholic church built by the Portugese, in the 16th century. The church is located in Santhome, an locality in Chennai and thus stuck the name!


3. Visit Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore

things to do in chennai
Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Mylapore – Image

This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, located in Mylapore, Chennai. The temple is said to have been built around the 14th century (probably earlier)

4. Eat & Drink Filter Coffee at Karpagambal Mess, Mylapore

things to do in chennai
Filter Coffee – Image from CC BY-SA 3.0

The Karpagambal Mess (named after the consort of Lord Shiva, at Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Devi Karpagambal) located just outside the temple premises offers tasty home cooked meals, snacks, tiffin items. It is truly a thing of joy to eat at this place. No meal is done until you drink the trademark filter coffee at the Mess. Simply divine!


5. Watch a FDFS of the local filmstar, if possible that of Rajinikanth

things to do in chennai
Posters in Chennai – Image from The Hindu

Watching a First Day First Show (FDFS) of a popular filmstar is a thing to be experienced. The euphoria, the joy, the madness, craziness of the fans is worth seeing, experiencing first hand. It is something you may have never seen or done in any part of the world.

This is an example of what it sounds like inside the cinema hall when your favourite star’s name comes on the big screen.


6. Shopping at Pondy Bazaar/Ranganathan Street/T.Nagar

The one place where you can probably see a million people at one time! haha, a place favoured by women and probably disliked by men.

things to do in chennai
Shopping scene during Diwali – Image from Wikimedia Commons

A one-stop shopping destination for locals and tourists alike – whether you are looking to buy clothes, gold jewellery, cosmetic jewellery, utensils, household items, anything under the sky – you will find it all in one place – T Nagar or Thyagaraya Nagar.

7. Shop and Eat at Sowcarpet

Sowcarpet is yet another shopping destination if you are looking to buy things especially in bulk. There are several hidden gems, get a friend to guide you to the famous shops, eats in this locality.

things to do in chennai
Chaat at Sowcarpet – Image from Wikipedia

This locality is primarily inhabited by people who migrated from North India to the South several generations ago.  Gujarati Mandali serves delicious gujarati meals every day and totally worth the money you pay – no ambience but who cares when you are served one hot chapati/phulka after another as you gobble up the yummy food!

The High Court of Madras is also in the vicinity, so you can head there as well.

things to do in chennai
Madras High Court – Image by Yoga Balaji – From a Digital Camera (Nikon), CC BY 3.0

8. Board a train at Chennai Central Station

Formerly known as Madras Central Station, this is the principal railway terminus in the city. Trains to cities in other states depart and arrive at this station.

things to do in chennai
Chennai Central Railway Station – by MrPanyGoff

There are 2 other hubs namely Chennai Egmore Railway station and Tambaram Railway Station that have trains departing and arriving from other cities inside of Tamil Nadu, cities outside of Tamil Nadu.

9. Take a bus to visit other places in Tamil Nadu from CMBT, Koyambedu

things to do in chennai
CMBT (CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

CMBT or Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus is Asia’s largest bus terminus. It is the central hub that has buses plying to places outside of Chennai, different cities in Tamil Nadu. CMBT provides a very well-connected road route for people travelling often to interior Tamil Nadu.

10. Ride on the Chennai Metro

things to do in chennai
Chennai Metro By VtTN (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons]
The Metro is one of the latest features added to the city’s transport system. It covers a length of about 45km over 2 corridors. Do take a ride and enjoy sight seeing the city.

11. St Thomas Mount, Guindy

things to do in chennaiChurch atop St Thomas Mount – By Nvvchar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

This is a small hillock located close to the Chennai International Airport/Guindy. We visited this place for a school picnic, it was very interesting at that point, to see planes take off and land from so close. The hillock has a chapel dedicated to Mother Mary and is also said to house the “tooth” of St Thomas.  I am not sure how true this is, because I faintly remember seeing it (wink)

12. Vivekanadar Illam or Ice House/Vivekananda House, near the Marina Beach

things to do in chennai
Swami Vivekananda – By Manjappabg (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Ice House is a very important place for the Ramakrishna Movement in South India, Swami Vivekananda stayed at this place for 9 days when he visited the then Madras in 1897 to deliver his lectures. The house now showcases exhibits on Swami Vivekananda’s life, Indian culture, it is maintained by the Ramakrishna Math. Now if you are wondering why it is called “Ice House” and also cannot see any connection between Swami Vivekananda and Ice… here is the story – the British used this house to store ice during their rule! This place is a must visit for those who draw inspiration from Swami Vivekananda’s teachings.

13. Thalankuppam Pier, Ennore

things to do in chennai
Thalankuppam Pier – By Prateek Rungta from Delhi, India (Thalankuppam Uploaded by Perumalism) [CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons]
In the northern suburbs of Chennai lies Ennore,famous for its port called the Ennore Port. Here you can find the Thalankuppam Pier – made popular by its appearance in many a Tamil movie. The pier is located in the fishing hamlet of Thalankuppam. It is a superb experience to watch the waves reach you (standing on the pier) during high tide. So you have a pretty much empty beach, a broken pier, fishermen, fishing boats, gushing waves – makes for a perfect evening. Also, apart from checking out the vanishing pier, you can also try some yummy street food which is said to include Burmese Atho, local eats.

14. Kili Josiyam at the road side astrologer

things to do in chennai
Kili Josiyam – Image from Flickr

All over Chennai, you can find quite a number of soothsayers waiting to tell you your future. There are those who can read your palm, read your face, while some others resort to getting help from parrots or guinea pigs. The soothsayer using a parrot to tell you your future is called Kili Josiyam (Kili = parrot, josiyam = astrology). The soothsayers may or may not be original, but you can just have some fun and see what card the parrot picks up for you!

15. Theosophical Society, Adyar

things to do in chennai
Theosophical Society – Image By Aleksandr Zykov from Russia (The Theosophical Society) CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This place is more popular for the lush green trees and gardens, you can get to see a variety of birds and quite a few animals moving around. Surely this place is one spot to cool off from the blazing Chennai sun. There have been several rumours going around about the banyan tree at this Society being haunted, some of them even reported ghost sightings, a few heard someone screaming at night… Sounds spooky enough for you to make a trip?

16. Valluvar Kottam, Nungambakkam

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Valluvar Kottam, Nungambakkam

A popular monument shaped like a temple car, that is dedicated to the Tamil Poet ThiruValluvar. You can find the 1330 verses of the Thirukkural, couplets written by the poet, as inscriptions in the corridor of the hall near the temple car.

17. Attend Margazhi Music Festival in December (also known as December Music Season)

things to do in chennai
Carnatic Music Concert at Music Academy – Image from Flickr

The Tamil/Lunar month of Margazhi (dec 15 to jan 15) brings with it winter as well as lots of chances of listening to Carnatic (South Indian Classical) music and dance. This is one way to usher in the New Year for those inclined to traditional music. These concerts are held in concert halls all over the city, and state.

18. Enjoy a dance performance at Kalakshetra, Thiruvanmiyur

things to do in chennai
Kalakshetra Dance Performance – Image from Flickr

Renamed to be called the Kalakshetra Foundation, this institution was founded in 1936 by danceuse Rukmani Devi Arundale. The institution is dedicated to preserve Indian art and craft – dance, music to highlight. Artists who have made waves or are making waves in the field of art are all former students of Kalakshetra.

19. Ride on the East Coast Road (ECR)

things to do in chennai
ISKCON Temple Chennai Off ECR – Image by Hayavadhan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The East Coast Road is a highway that connects Chennai to Pondicherry via Cuddalore. You can see the picturesque beach views as you ride along the highway. ECR is dotted with different interesting places and things to do. You have theme parks such as VGP Golden Beach, MGM Dizzie World. Dakshin Chitra is another interesting place – which brings in the 4 states of the south together – you can see the handicrafts, craftsmen, art work in one single place. ECR also leads you to Mahabalipuram or the Shore Temple built by the Pallavas. ISCKON temple also comes on the way.

There are a few other interesting places slightly out of Chennai for example you have the Kovalam Beach or Covelong beach, 40km south of Chennai; Pulicat lake, a water lagoon is located about 60 km north of Chennai. There are also a host of malls in the city of Chennai, but since I am not a “mall” person I skipped mentioning that as an activity – some notable ones include Express Avenue, Spencer Plaza, Phoenix Mall, Forum Mall in Vadapalani.

With this, I bring to an end my list of things to do in Chennai, the places listed here are only a few, there is a lot more you can do here. So, let me know if you do visit Chennai aka Madras any time in the future. Happy travels. Happy Madras Week!


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9 thoughts on “19 Things To Do In Madras aka Chennai!”

  1. I would love to spend some more time in Chennai! Unfortunately I only spent half a day and a night there before needing to catch a flight further south. Next time I am India I will spend more time there for sure!

    Emma x

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