While India has many blooming metropolitan cities, all with their own unique flavour, Chennai stands out for its culture, heritage and sense of nostalgia. For me, Chennai, or Madras, was the ultimate summer vacation destination, and I have fond memories of days spent frolicking with cousins under the cool shade of trees in Indira Nagar, slurping down the famous cold coffee at Satyam Theatres, gorging on Paneer Tikka at Boat Club and going for long sultry walks around the IIT campus, resplendent with monkeys, deer and many types of flora and fauna.
Known as the gateway city into 'South India', Chennai is in stark contrast to other North Indian metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Chennai is a place where tourists and locals alike can always have a great time as there is always something to keep you interested and engaged. While there is enough and more to experience in this city, here are some of the highlights you definitely can’t miss if you’re making a short weekend trip to Chennai.
If you’re a water baby, love a hot sunny day at the beach, playing in the ocean, reading a book or just people watching, Marina Beach is a definite must visit for you. Though it can be crowded and noisy at certain times of the day, it’s not too hard to find your own quiet corner in this 13 kilometre stretch of sand, one of the longest in the world. You’re sure to see multiple food and games stalls around, as well as local children playing football, families flying kites and couples strolling along hand in hand against the backdrop of the setting sun. It’s definitely the place to go to truly absorb the essence of Chennai.
Fort St George
While Chennai is definitely a modern city, it has a long legacy and history that has been preserved at Fort St George, the first fortress the British East India Company built in 1639. While the Fort currently houses the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly and administrative offices, it is a great destination for colonial architecture and history buffs. The fort also includes a church and a museum filled with items from colonial times, providing enthusiasts a complete experience in ancient local history.
Whether you’re a culinary connoisseur or just someone who’s always hungry (like me)! Chennai is host to some iconic and mouthwatering food that just doesn’t taste the same anywhere else. It’s a wonderful idea to start your day at Saravana Bhavan, for a traditional south Indian breakfast of masala dosa, uttapams and the iconic filter coffee. While Sarvana Bhavan is now a global chain, it originated in Chennai in 1982, and nothing beats the experience of this restaurant in Chennai. If you’re into fine dining, then hitting up Marina for Asian style seafood, or Peshawari for its authentic interpretation of food from the North West Frontier Province is ideal. However, to really experience any city through your taste buds, there is no better way than local street food. Try some local snacks like Atho Man, Masala Sundal and Sambar Vada to feel the heat of this popular cuisine. Do ensure you end your meal with a piece of melt-in-your-mouth Mysore Pak!
One of the city’s highlights, Kapaleeshwarar Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati. The temple dates back to the 7th century CE, almost 1300 years ago! Built in a unique style of Dravidian architecture, the Temple is known for its colourful sculptural depictions of deities and animals. The gopuram, or facade at the entrance of the temple, is an ornate tower that is around 40 metres high, and is also decorated with intricate and brightly painted sculptures. The temple is a popular spot for devotees and tourists alike, for religious festivals and prayers or to simply appreciate its unique architecture and beauty. During the months of March and April, the devotees at the temple celebrate the spring festival, and the carnival-like atmosphere makes this the perfect time to visit.
While Chennai is now mostly busy streets, malls and modern infrastructure, The Theosophical Society’s Huddleston Gardens on the banks of the Adyar river is one of the few places one can go to enjoy the local flora and fauna and be one with nature. The garden stretches across over 260 acres of land, and is a popular place for bird watchers and nature lovers as it is the ideal place to find many different types of migratory birds, jackals, snakes, bats and other such wildlife. The Huddleston Gardens is also home to the 450 year old Adyar Banyan Tree with large swinging branches, one of the largest in India and a definite must see.
If you’re in the mood to pick up some souvenirs, or you’re a bonafide shopaholic, you can’t miss Pondy Bazaar, a go to destination for most Chennai locals. From high fashion branded clothes to casual street wear to even safety pins, you can find anything and everything at Pondy Bazaar. It is even home to some iconic commercial establishments such as Sarvana Stores, Nandu Hall and Ratna Stores. However, If you plan to go on a shopping spree, it might be a good idea to carry cash with you and wear a pair of sneakers!
Chennai is the perfect weekend getaway destination because of the multidimensional layers to this city that is brimming with culture, modernity, history and amazing food. Whether you want to eat out, enjoy nature, explore history and architecture, shop, or just relax, you can do it all in Chennai.