Here is your quick reference for where to go sightseeing, eating, drinking and shopping on a whirlwind trip to the beach city of Chennai.
Fort St George- Finished in 1653 by the British East India Company, the fort has undergone many facelifts. Inside the vast perimeter walls (the ramparts are 18th-century replacements) is now a precinct housing Tamil Nadu’s Legislative Assembly & Secretariat, and a smattering of older buildings. The Fort Museum has displays on Chennai’s origins and the fort, and interesting military memorabilia and artwork from colonial times.
Marina Beach- Take an early morning or evening stroll (you don’t want to roast here at any other time) along the 3km-long main stretch of Marina Beach and you’ll pass cricket matches, flying kites, fortune- tellers, fish markets, corn-roasters and families enjoying the sea breeze. But don’t swim: strong rips make it dangerous. At the southern end, the ridiculously popular Madras Lighthouse is India’s only lighthouse with a lift; the panoramic city and beach views are fabulous.
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Kapaleeshwarar Temple- Mylapore is one of Chennai’s most characterful and traditional neighbourhoods; it predated colonial Madras by several centuries. Its Kapaleeshwarar Temple is Chennai’s most active and impressive, believed to have been built after the Portuguese destroyed the seaside original in 1566. It displays the main architectural elements of many a Tamil Nadu temple – a rainbow- coloured gopuram, pillared mandapas (pavilions), and a huge tank – and is dedicated to Shiva.
Chennai is packed with inexpensive ‘meals’ joints (‘messes’), serving lunch and dinner thalis (all you can eat meals), and tiffin (snacks) like idlis, vadas and dosas.
Hotel Saravana Bhavan- Dependably delish, Chennai’s famous vegetarian chain doles out epically good South Indian thalis and breakfasts, filter coffee and other Indian vegetarian fare. They have outlets in Egmore, George Town, Mylapore and Pondy Bazaar.
Amethyst- Amethyst is a nostalgically posh haven that’s outrageously popular with expats and well-off Chennaiites. Well-executed European-flavoured dishes range over quiches, pastas, sandwiches, crepes, creative salads, all-day breakfasts and afternoon teas.
Peshawri- Perfect for a five-star splash-out, the ITC’s signature Northwest Frontier restaurant serves inventive, flavour-popping creations at intimate booths alongside a glassed-in kitchen that gets you right in on the culinary action. Try huge hunks of pillowy chilli-grilled paneer, expertly spiced kebabs, or the deliciously rich house-special dhal bukhara, simmered overnight. There’s an astounding international wine/cocktail list.
Chennai nightlife is on the up, with a smattering of lively new openings, but you’ll need a full wallet for a night out here.
365 AS- In the glamorous Hyatt Regency, Chennai’s hottest party spot bursts into life on Friday and Saturday nights, when wild DJ sets kick off on the terrace. Otherwise, it’s a swish, sultry lounge serving carefully crafted cocktails alongside Indian and international wines, beers and spirits. Dress code is smart casual (for guys, trousers and closed shoes).
Sera the Tapas Bar- Sera is packed most nights with a young, fashionable crowd sipping sangría and cocktails. It’s a good idea to book. Tapas include garlic prawns, fried calamari and aubergine dips; the tortilla española (potato omelette) is authentically good.
Sudaka- A genuine, sassy cocktail bar where expertly concocted, wittily named liquid mixes are served in a moodily lit lounge alongside artful Latin American and international cooking. Just name your spirit and they’ll whip up something special.
T Nagar has great shopping, especially at Pondy Bazaar and in the Panagal Park area. Many of Kanchipuram’s finest silks turn up in Chennai, and the streets around Panagal Park are filled with silk shops; this is where you buy your sari. Nungambakkam’s shady Khader Nawaz Khan Rd is a lovely lane of increasingly upmarket designer boutiques, cafes and galleries. For arts and crafts, head to Naturally Auroville in Nungambakkam. Colourful handicrafts and home-decor trinkets, including bedspreads, cushions, incense, scented candles and handmade-paper notebooks are available, all from Auroville, near Puducherry.