Chennai, a major metropolitan city in South India, is rich in culture and heritage. Formerly known as Madras, it was under British rule, and hence you would find many buildings with Indo-Saracenic architecture.
The main attractions though are the Dravidian temples built with fine craftsmanship. Here are some of the best sights and attractions in Chennai.
It’s one of the oldest parts of the city and is a major cultural hub in the region. It is home to some of the finest monuments in the city. Here are some of the important attractions of this town.
a) Kapaleeswarar Temple - It’s one of the top places to visit in the city and is famous for the colorful pyramidal structures on top is known as Gopurams. The highlight of the temple is the 63 bronze idols of Shaivaite Saints. The timing is from 5 am to 12 pm and 4 pm to 9.30 pm.
b) Santhome Cathedral Basilica - The Church is a significant monument as it houses the tomb of St. Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Christ who is believed to have traveled to India in 52 AD and spent his final days in Mylapore. The timing is from 6 am to 9 pm.
The longest urban beach in India is the pride of Chennai. It’s a popular tourist spot and is often packed with tourists and locals alike. There are prominent buildings like the University of Chennai, Senate-House, Chepauk Palace, Presidency College, PWD office located near the beach.
Also, there are statues of many important personalities alongside the beach. You can also climb atop the lighthouse to get a panoramic view of the surroundings.
Named after Edward Elliot, the Chief Magistrate and Superintendent of Madras, it’s located to the south of Marina Beach. It’s a tranquil place and is popular for morning and evening walks among the locals and tourists.
The nearby attractions are:
a) Velankanni Shrine – The shrine is dedicated to the Lady of Health or Blessed Virgin Mary, due to the lore of an apparition in Velankanni. The timing is from 7 am to 9 pm.
b) Ashtalakshmi Temple – It’s a modern temple constructed in 1976, and it’s dedicated to the 8 forms of Goddess of wealth – Lakshmi. The timings are from 6.30 am to 12 pm and 6 pm to 9 pm.
Located 58 kilometers away from Chennai, this beach town is a UNESCO world heritage site for its temples and caves carved out of rocks. Here are some of the important places to visit in this historic town.
a) The Descent of the Ganges (Arjuna’s Penance) – It’s a 7th-century monument carved on a monolithic rock that depicts the tale of descent of the river Ganges to Earth as per Indian mythology. It features carvings of many mythological characters along with carvings of animals mentioned in the mythological tales.
b) Krishna Butterball – It’s a huge boulder on a slope that has somehow been able to hold on to balance since ancient times.
c) Cave Temples - There are 14 famous caves in Mahabalipuram that are dedicated to various mythological characters and depict popular tales. Some of the important caves are Krishna Cave, Varaha Cave, Trimurti Cave, Mahishasuramardini Cave.
d) PanchaRathas-Ithasfivemonolithicsculpturesresemblingchariotsthatareablendof Buddhist and Dravidian architecture. The sculptures are named after the five Pandavas and Draupadi from the epic Mahabharata.
e) Shore Temple - The temple complex consists of 3 shrines built from rocks and stones in Dravidian style architecture near the seafront. Two of the main shrines are dedicated to Lord Shiva, while the miniature shrine is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It’s believed to be a part of 7 pagodas – a legend told by European travelers in old times. However, after the place was hit by a Tsunami in 2004, an ancient temple was revealed in the vicinity along with some sculptures which renewed the speculations regarding this tale.
The ticket price for all the monuments in Mahabalipuram is Rs.35 for Indians and visitors from SAARC/BIMSTEC countries while it’s Rs.550 for others. The timings are from 6 am to 6 pm.
The city of Kanchipuram is widely regarded as the city of Temples. It is a major pilgrimage site and is also known for its silk sarees. Here are some of the important places to visit in this city.
a) Kamakshi Amman Temple - The temple is dedicated to the Goddess Kamakshi, an incarnation of Goddess Parvati. The main deity sits in the Yogic posture of Padmasana in a Red Sari. The other attractions at the temple include a golden Gopuram in the middle of the courtyard, a beautiful pillared hall, and a pond on the premises. The timings are from 5.30 am to 12.30 pm and 4.00 pm to 8.30 pm.
b) Varadharaja Perumal Temple – It is the biggest and the most important Lord Vishnu Temple in the city. The main highlight of this temple is the depiction of Lord Vishnu on a Fig wood known as Athi Varadar in a special vault inside the temple tank called the Anant Saras. The Athi Varadar is taken out for public viewing after every 40 years for 48 days. It was last taken out in July this year. Another important place within the complex is the Hall of 100 Pillars depicting various mythological characters. The timings are from 6 am to 12 pm and 4 pm to 9 pm.
c) Kailasanatha Temple - It’s the oldest temple in Kanchipuram, and it’s dedicated to Lord Shiva. It has 58 small shrines surrounding the main temple. There is a 16-faced Shivalinga inside the main sanctum. There is a sculpture of Nandi outside the temple surrounded by four pillars. The timings are from 6 am to 12 pm, and 4 pm to 9 pm.
Located 90 km away from Chennai, this lake is a large brackish water lagoon by the Bay of Bengal. It is home to many migratory birds and is rich in flora and fauna. It can be visited for a nice and relaxing day trip. The village was a former Dutch colony, so you’ll find a Dutch fort and a cemetery in the vicinity.
Important travel tips to Chennai
The best time to visit is from November to March as the weather is quite harsh during the rest of the year. There is occasional rainfall until December, so be prepared. During this time, various festivals like the Carnatic Music Festival in December and Pongal in January also take place.