Chennai is a cultural, economic, and entertainment hotspot in the south. The capital city of Tamil Nadu started its life in the early 1600s. However, over the centuries, Chennai has grown tremendously to become a vibrant and vivacious city that encapsulates the cosmopolitan culture of the tech hub in Tamil Nadu, while still being very close to its roots.
From the gorgeous beaches, the historical monuments, the metropolitan lifestyle, to the cities attachment to religion in the best way possible, the city of Chennai has all sorts of experiences for you to cherish.
You don’t have to take our word for it. You can visit the Government Museum to relive the days of the Chola and Chalukya Dynasties. Or check out the age-old Dravidian architecture sprinkled through the city in the form of temples, or visit the recent history of the place by taking a walk at the first fortress built in India by the British.
While these are just a few highlights, the capital city of Tamil Nadu has a very distinct character of its own that can only be experienced by visiting the place. So, we’ve covered all the information you would need to experience Chennai in the best way possible. Here’s your Chennai travel guide!
Also read: Best Road Trips From Chennai
The first records of the city of Chennai are seen in the year 1576, when under the rule of Sriranga Deva Raya, Muthuraja Chennappa Nayakadu was settling down here, naming the area they were settling in as ‘Chennapatnam’. However, in the year 1639, when the British laid the foundation of their rule in the area, they renamed the area to be ‘Madraspatnam’, as a derivative of Muthuraja, the same administrative leader as earlier.
Later, under British rule, Madraspatnam was eventually shortened to Madras. In 1996, the Tamil Nadu government renamed the city of Madras to Chennai, claiming the new name to be a derivative of the city’s actual name, while Madras was a result of British rule.
Through the course of history, and even in the present, Chennai keeps on growing in terms of its economy and modernization. However, the city has done a commendable job of keeping its culture close to the heart. The city truly reflects its culture and traditions while fusing the modern elements of life to make a seamless ecosystem.
When it comes to the food of this city, we cannot help but discuss the delicious dishes like Chettinad-inspired meat dishes, milagi podi, Pongal, and the ever-famous filter coffee, that Chennai is most famous for. Other than that, rice is a staple in the area, much like the other states in South India. Just like the food, the clothing of the people here is very colorful too. Traditionally, men wear a veshti or a lungi. Women on the other hand are majorly known to wear sarees as their traditional outfits.
One part of the culture that the city of Chennai is loud and proud of is the art, especially dance and music. Since the father of Carnatic Music, Purandara Dasa, called Chennai home, the idea of Carnatic Music is very well celebrated here. The biggest celebrations of Carnatic Music are seen in the venues of devotion since that is also where the roots of the music lie.
When it comes to the traditional dance of this place, we don’t think we need to tell you a whole lot about Bharatanatyam. This dance is philosophized as the celebration of eternity and the universe, through the body and the beauty it holds within. The biggest celebrations of dance and music in Chennai are seen in the Chennai Music Festival and the Margazhi Festival Of Music And Dance, both of which are held in or around December.
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Chennai International Airport is one of the busiest airports in India. In fact, it’s the third busiest airport in the country, closely following Delhi and Mumbai. The international terminal in this airport is called Anna Terminal, while the domestic one is called Kamraj Terminal. This airport receives heavy traffic internationally as well as domestically. So, you’re most likely to find a direct flight into this airport without a lot of hassle.
The commute from the airport to the city is made very easy by the multiple modes of public transport available to and from the airport. You can get a commuter train from the airport. However, remember that you might have to walk a distance of about 500 meters to get to the station closest to the airport. So, we suggest you choose this mode of transport only if you don’t have a lot of luggage.
There is also a metro that is accessible by ‘walkalator’ or a moving walkway, and the airport also houses taxi stands right outside the departures. However, you might want to research the fares and sternly say no to the haggling drivers that will surround you as you exit the airport.
The city of Chennai has two long-distance train stations - Chennai Egmore and Chennai Central. Both of these stations are very well connected to the city, and even the airport, by buses and taxis.
The Chennai Central station connects the city with other major cities in the country like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Coimbatore, Ahmedabad, Madurai, and more. The Egmore station, on the other hand, is host to all the trains that cover the places inside Tamil Nadu, and a few outside the state borders as well.
Both of these stations see heavy traffic of trains every day and are booked a few days in advance. So, if you’re planning to travel to or from one of these train stations, make sure you book your tickets 30-50 days in advance.
Also read: Best Budget Hotels In Chennai
Chennai is home to one of the largest bus stations in Asia. Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus, or CMBT, serves seven different corporations run by the state. It serves private and government buses from almost every major city in the country, multiple times per week.
There are hourly buses for places like Tirunelveli, Tirupati, Pondicherry, and Coimbatore. There are different terminals for private and government-run buses. While these terminals are pretty much next to each other, the locals will take you exactly where you need to go, once you tell them which terminal you’re looking for.
Chennai has five major national highways sticking out of the city, going towards Kolkata, Bengaluru, Tiruchy/Madurai, Pondicherry, and Tiruvallur. The Golden Quadrilateral Project, which is a huge national highway connecting the four corners of the country, is under construction. Once it’s built, the city of Chennai will have one more highway coming in, that will be very well connected to the opposite ends of the country as well.
If you don’t drive here, but want to drive within the city, we suggest you rent a car from the airport itself or use an online aggregator like ZoomCar or Revv. Also, if you’re an international tourist trying to drive in India, we suggest you take a day or two to get used to the traffic and its flow in the country since it’s very different than the rest of the world.
Chennai is located on the banks of the Bay Of Bengal, making this city a perfect place to have a tropical climate. This tropical climate comes with tropical humidity, too. And it sticks around for almost the entire year, only short of the months when the temperature drops.
To put it in perspective, the city of Chennai experiences the summer season from March to August. However, the heat often carries into October as well and the city sees some days in these seven months where you see a little rain, too. Despite the scarce rain in summer, the average temperature tends to stay around 45°C. So, you’ll be hot and sweaty.
The monsoon in Chennai, like the rest of India, begins around the middle of June and ends in September. However, the heat that spills into this season from the summer months tends to drive the humidity up by a lot. Humidity, combined with moderate to heavy rains make this city a little less travel-friendly during the monsoon. However, if you’re the kind to prefer the rains and the adventures it brings in, you’ll fall in love with this place in the monsoon.
The winters are a huge sigh of relief for the city of Chennai since the temperatures, along with the humidity, drop significantly. However, the winters in Chennai are very short-lived and last only from November to February. In these three months, the average temperature of Chennai swings between 14°C and 22°C. The weather is pleasant and the mornings hold just the right amount of warmth in the winter mornings. Definitely, this is the best time to visit the city and fall in love with its charm.
Also read: Safe Staycations In Chennai
Chennai has a suburban train network, much like Mumbai’s local trains. These trains run on four routes that are named after the area of the city they service. Namely, Western Line, Northern Line, Southern Line, and the MRTS Line.
Know your destination and the train, or trains, you’ll need to take to get there. You’ll have to keep in mind that the trains are very crowded, especially during peak hours. This means that you’ll have to carry your bags and belongings very carefully. However, out of all things, price is not something you’ll have to worry about on this train since the lowest ticket costs only INR 5, while the most expensive ticket you can buy is INR 100. If you plan on using the trains for a few days, you can also avail a weekly or monthly pass from one of the stations.
The city has a 28 km-long metro line that stretches across all the major parts of the city like the airport, the CMBT, and a lot of places in-between. The metro train to the former destination is on the Blue Line, while the one for the latter is on the Green Line.
The Metro train in Chennai begins its service at 6 am every morning and the last train departs at 10 pm. During rush hours, you can expect a train at every station at an interval of 5 minutes. Which, during other times, may take up to 15 minutes. You can make this experience even easier by buying tickets at one of the automatic machine booths, reducing your wait time by a few minutes, at least.
Chennai has an extensive network of buses run by the government. This local bus service is run by the organ of the local government called Metropolitan Transport Corporation or MTC.
These buses will take you to almost every corner of the city and have multiple major termini to make the transit easier. There are two types of buses running in Chennai: normal and deluxe. While the fare for the normal buses is between INR 3 and INR 50, you can expect the fare for the deluxe buses to be double the amount for the normal buses.
The thing is, the deluxe buses only stop at the major termini. This means you’ll have to walk a little or hail a cab in order to get one of these AC, less crowded, faster buses. Which, considering the crowd and traffic in Chennai, sounds like a fair deal.
For any bus you board in Chennai, one rule of thumb is that the seats on the left are reserved for the ladies, while the ones on the right are for the men. The information about the buses and their routes is available on MTC’s official website. You can also avail a daily, weekly, or monthly pass from the website, or from one of the termini. A daily pass can also be validated by the conductors in the buses. This means you can purchase one on the bus itself.
In Chennai, if you want to hail a cab, you need to arrange for it before you actually start your journey. This has been the norm before the internet when you had to call a taxi service provider to send one to you. This norm from the era-gone-by has earned the cabs in Chennai the name of ‘call-taxis’.
You can avail a cab for yourself with a Hindi or English-speaking driver. You can also choose what facilities the cab has. These facilities will alter your fare to a huge extent. However, regardless of what facilities you choose, remember that cabs in Chennai are a little more expensive than usual, and even though you’re not driving, traffic exists and it will be your problem.
A rickshaw has to be the easiest and most ubiquitous way of getting around town. They are cheap and easily available. In Chennai, while the law states that all rickshaws need to be metered, you’ll only find about 50-60% of rickshaws actually adhering to that law. The best way to deal with this is to walk away from any rickshaw driver who refuses to drive according to the metered fare and look for one that does. On a good day, you should be able to hunt for a metered rickshaw in 5-10 minutes.
In recent years, the concept of share-autos has emerged. These are bigger three/four-wheelers that carry 4-5 people instead of the rickshaw’s usual three. They operate on fixed routes and fixed rates, charging slightly more than the bus service and traveling slightly faster than the bus service, too. One benefit of share-autos is that they will take an unusual route if enough people demand it. So, gather a mob and try your luck!
Also Read: Temples In Tamil Nadu
'The locals are rude and uneducated’
This stereotype has been around for as long as we can remember. The thing is, Chennai is home to a lot of amazing educational institutes and employment opportunities. Consequently, this city attracts many individuals from all over the country, every year.
For a city that is rude and uneducated, there are a lot of migrating students and young professionals living happily in the city. The irony is apparent, right?
Kapaleshwarar Temple is a centuries-old shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. After its initial construction in the 7th century, the temple is believed to have undergone severe renovations or complete rebuilding in the 16th century, after being destroyed by the Portuguese invaders. The present structure boasts mind-blowing Dravidian architecture and the most important features of the temple are a brightly colored gopuram and a pillared mandapa.
This mosque is a shrine that is highly regarded by the Shia community. Built in 1820, the Indo-Saracenic style mosque features a prayer hall that is so huge that it required a thousand lamps to sufficiently light it up, earning the place its name.
What was born in 1644 as a supporting structure to the British on the Coromandel Coast, has now become a heritage site that has seen a support structure become a city, and finally a tourist attraction with a functioning museum and a functioning government office. It’s no wonder that there are some marks made by the different times this place has seen. Now, these marks of time will allow you to have an in-depth look into history as well.
Also Read: Places To Visit In India For Its History
What Is Chennai Best Known For?
Chennai is known as one of the biggest economic, educational, and cultural hubs in the southern part of India. Chennai is best known for its unique culture, temples, and tropical climate. The famous celebrity Rajnikant and the all-time-favorite IPL cricket team Chennai Super Kings are also reasons that the city is well known for.
Is Chennai Safe To Live?
Yes. Chennai is comparatively safe since the crime rate in Chennai is lower than a lot of major cities in India.
What Is The Main Food In Chennai?
While rice is the staple here, street food consists of many delicacies like idlis, dosas, vadas, atho, puttu, and sundal. All of these are available on almost every street cart and are absolutely delicious.
Can I Live In Chennai Without Knowing Tamil?
While there are a lot of people who can speak multiple languages, you might find it difficult to find people who are willing to do so in regular conversation. Hence, living in Chennai without knowing Tamil might be challenging but it’s possible.
Which Snack Is Famous In Chennai?
Muruku & Muruku Sandwich is one of Chennai's famous snacks.
Which Is The Heart Of Chennai?
The Mylapore area is regarded as the heart of Chennai. In this area, you'll find a plethora of temples, markets, and restauraunts. So, now you know where to shop till you drop.
How many IT companies in Chennai are present?
It's said that more than 4,000 software companies are established in Chennai alone.
Which Hill Stations Are Near Chennai?
Some hill stations that are near Chennai are Horsley Hills, Yercaud, Yelagiri, and Meghamalai.