Chennai, also known as Madras, is a lively beachside city with an ample amount of popular and unique things to do for both tourists and locals alike. It is situated on the Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal in the Tamil Nadu state, which is in the south of India.
The city of Chennai features an eclectic mix of architecture and culture which results in some intriguing sites to see, and here I’ve put together a list of the top things to do in Chennai idea for first time visitors. Note sure where to stay? This site should help with your Chennai hotels booking.
Top Things To Do in Chennai
- Stroll along Marina Beach
- Visit one of the many Hindu Temples
- Take a tour around Fort St. George
- Go on a street food binge
- Wander the halls of Santhome Cathedral
- Spend a day at Ubbalamadugu Falls
- Have an eventful family day at Muttukadu Lake
- Enjoy a live performance at the Kalakshetra Foundation
- Head to Cholamandal Artists’ Village to glimpse the local art scene
Top Things To Do in Chennai
Stroll along Marina Beach
I’ll start with one of the most obvious things to do when in Chennai and it is to visit the longest beach in India. Marina Beach features a soft, sandy coastline that runs along the Bay of Bengal. It has gained notoriety as the place to go to relax during the summertime as the amount of attractions surrounding the beach can fill a few days in your itinerary.
Due to the strong undercurrent that comes off the bay, it is extremely dangerous to swim in the water at Marina Beach. However, if you are looking to dip your toes to cool off, there are two public swimming pools that are staffed for your safety near the beach.
Most visitors of Marina Beach like to stroll up and down the promenade to adore the many structures and memorials that have been erected. There are often many vendors selling local dishes and souvenirs, especially in the summer. Lastly, don’t forget to visit the lighthouse that you can climb up to get an incredible, elevated view of the whole bay and the sandy stretch of Marina Beach.
Visit one of the many Hindu Temples
Chennai is home to a mixture of religions but the most dominant faith of the locals is Hindu, which means that there are an abundance of beautifully intricate Hindu temples around the city. The most popular one is Kapaleeshwarar Temple which is believed to date back to the 7th century CE due to its architecture.
If you are lucky enough to be visiting Chennai during Panguni, you will bear witness to the Arubathimoovar festival. A time where the city comes alive and pays respect to Kapaleeshwarar with a large procession through the streets of Chennai.
Take a tour around Fort St. George
Fort St. George has a very significant role in the development of Madras and a stop by the grounds is a must while in Chennai. The Fort was built by the British East India Company who initiated trading activities on this side of India and thus, promoted the growth of the city.
Although the building is used for the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly, you can stop by and visit the museum which illustrates the Forts history as well as St. Mary’s Church; which is one of India’s oldest Anglican churches.
Go on a street food binge
Chennai is known for its mouth-watering street food and if you find yourself here, one of the top things you can do in Chennai is feast like a local. You can find a lot of vegetarian food but also flavourful meat dishes. Idli is one of the most popular meals and is made up of steamed rice cakes that are served with sambar and coconut chutney.
Some of the best areas to explore the culinary world of Chennai are street vendors on the Marina Beach promenade and around Kapaleeshwarar Temple. You also want to make a stop at Srinivasa Road in T Nagar district to get a taste of some authentic roti and dosas.
Wander the halls of Santhome Cathedral
This remarkable, stark white basilica should not be skipped while exploring Chennai. It is named after one of the twelve apostles due to the belief that it has been built atop the resting place of St. Thomas. There is no denying the allure of the Neo-Gothic architecture that Santhome features and it’s beauty is only amplified by its proximity to the ocean.
Spend a day at Ubbalamadugu Falls
If you are craving some time surrounded by nature, an exciting thing to do is take a day trip to go waterfall chasing. Leave early prepared with comfortable shoes to trek in and a bag full of snacks and water. It takes about an hour and a half to drive to Tada Falls from Chennai and then about a 45 min trek through the jungle to reach the first waterfall basin.
You will be rewarded with the stunning, crystal clear cascades of Ubbalamadugu Falls and it is possible to swim at the base. There is a second set of falls a bit further but more suited for advanced trekkers as they can be a bit dangerous to get to.
Have an eventful family day at Muttukadu Lake
Looking for a little less trekking and a little more fun than you should head to Muttukadu Lake where you can take part in an array of watersports. This getaway has been gaining popularity with the locals and is a great thing to do for families visiting Chennai.
Most people choose to rent a boat or a jetski to explore the lake however, you can take part in more adrenaline-fueled activities such as wind surfing and water skiing here. There is also an interesting group of rock cut temples nearby in Mamallapuram that is possible to see during your visit.
Enjoy a live performance at the Kalakshetra Foundation
As mentioned earlier, Chennai has a very rich cultural presence and if you are looking for a unique thing to do while in the city, you should head to the Kalakshetra Foundation.
This is an art school that focuses on the Kalakshetra form of dance which was developed by Rukmini Devi Arundale, a Chennai native. Stop by for one of their monthly performances to observe the grace of the dancers currently practicing at the school.
Head to Cholamandal Artists’ Village to glimpse the local art scene
In 1966, a community of Chennai artists established the Cholamandal Artist’s Village to create a space where they can share their skills and show off their work. Although it has declined in population, you can still head there to explore the numerous museums and galleries that highlights the modern handicrafts of those that still reside in the village.
The list could go on for ages of all the sublime things to do in Chennai. Local food here is scrumptious and the architecture is grand. There is so much history to explore throughout the streets of ancient Madras. Did we skip your favourite thing to do in Chennai? Let us know in the comments!