13 Reasons Why You Should Visit Chennai

Chennai, India
Chennai, India | © ReflectedSerendipity
Arun Venkatraman

India’s southern-most metropolis Chennai is a city of contradictions. While on the one side it boasts a booming economy and a thriving culture of music and arts, the city is also home to some of India’s oldest artistic traditions. Chennai is also home to neighborhoods that predate colonial history by more than 1,500 years. It also has a beauty that cannot be appreciated without actually paying it a visit. We’ve compiled a list of 13 reasons why Chennai should definitely feature in your travel plans.

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It is home to one of the world’s oldest living classical languages

Chennai is the capital city and seat of power of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which has been the home of the Tamil language for more than 2,000 years. If not for its present merits, the city is worth paying a visit to just to be in the presence of a culture and a language that predates even the Roman Empire.

An Inscription in Ancient Tamil Script Found at Tanjore Brihadeeswarar Temple

The city is home to the colorful Tamil film industry

Apart from traditional arts and culture, the city of Chennai is also home to Kollywood, which is the Tamil language counterpart to Hindi’s more popular Bollywood. While Bollywood has attained immense global recognition in the recent years, the Tamil film industry is just as vibrant and boasts some of the biggest film productions and stars to have come out of India. It is also home to the two-time Oscar-winning music director AR Rahman.

Two-Time Oscar-Winning Music Director AR Rahman Performing at NH7 Weekender Music Festival

Some of the oldest temples in the world are located in Chennai

From Mylapore’s Kapaleeswarar Temple to Tambaram’s Dhenupureeswarar Temple, Chennai has been largely successful in preserving India’s great and antiquated religious architecture. With more than a dozen temples and temple ‘towers’ dotting the city’s skyline, these ancient marvels once reigned as Chennai’s original skyscrapers. Any holiday plans to check out South India’s rich temple culture is incomplete without a visit to Chennai.

Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram

Chennai’s Marina Beach is the second-longest urban beach in the world

At 13-kilometers-long, Chennai’s Marina Beach is reputed as the second-longest urban beach in the world. While it is also the most popular one among Chennai’s many beaches, with an average width of 300 mts, there’s plenty of space and sand to go around for everyone at the Marina.

Marina Beach, The World’s Second Longest Urban Beach, As Seen From Lighthouse, Chennai

The city’s surroundings are a bird-watcher’s paradise

Apart from drawing thousands of tourists from around the world, Chennai and its suburbs also hold a unique place in the travel maps of several rare migratory birds. Birding in Chennai is dominated by two destinations, the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary on the outskirts and the Pallikaranai Marshlands within city-limits. Among the two, the Vedanthangal Sanctuary is particularly popular among birders since it attracts several rare species such as the Grey Pelican and the Large Egret.

A Species of Storks Breeding in Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary

There’s no better place to witness India’s cricket craze

While India is famous for its love of cricket, Chennai serves as a microcosm for that particular sport’s frenzy in the country. Be it in county cricket (IPL, where the home team Chennai Super Kings is set to make a comeback next year) or international fixtures, Chennai’s sprawling MA Chidambaram Stadium draws some of the largest crowds in the country. Catching a match here would definitely give any fan a true sense of India’s fervor for cricket.

Home Team Chennai Super Kings Playing Against Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL at MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai

And it’s not just cricket…

The city also boasts of a frenzied fan following for a number of other sports ranging from football and badminton to beach volleyball and chess (former World Champion Viswanathan Anand hails from this city). So a sports fan of any game will feel right at home.

Viswanathan Anand Playing Against French Grandmaster Maxime Varchier-Lagrave in Paris

A rare chance to rescue endangered turtles

Beaches near Chennai are also one of very few coastal areas in India where Olive Ridleys, an at risk species of turtles, come to breed every year. During the hatching season, activists and student groups undertake ‘Turtle Walks’ along the beaches to rescue turtle hatchlings from wandering off into the city roads and guide them to the ocean.

An Olive Ridley Turtle at Auroville Sea Beach, Pondicherry

Chennai hosts one of the world’s largest music festivals

Every year during the months of December and January, Chennai plays host to concerts where over 2,000 individual artists take to the stage and give performances in the region’s traditional carnatic music, making Chennai one of the best places to witness South Indian art and culture.

Carnatic Vocalist Abhishek Raghuram Performing at Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai

It’s one of India’s safest cities for women

While harassment and violence against women still remain a big concern for tourists travelling to India, Chennai has made a reputation over the years for being one of the safest cities in India, topping most surveys on the issue.

Chennai Central Railway Station

Its numerous cuisines make this a paradise for vegetarians…

Chennai’s cuisine is renowned the world over for its wealth of vegetarian options. Be it the dosas with three types of ‘chutneys’ or its four-course full meals served traditionally on banana leaves, Chennai surely won’t disappoint any vegetarian foodies visiting the city.

Masala Dosa

…And non-vegetarians

While the vegetarian fare in Chennai may be world-renowned, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the city’s got just as many options for meat-eaters as well. True to its coastal town identity, Chennai is renowned for its seafood and also for being a hub for various non-vegetarian cuisines from Tamil Nadu such as the Karaikudi Chettinad cuisine.

Chettinad cuisine

It boasts of some of the best weekend getaways

While Pondicherry is the most obvious culprit, the former French colony is far from the only weekend destination close to Chennai. A scenic coastal road hugging Chennai called the East Coast Road (on which Pondicherry also lies) can take you to several great weekend destinations including the age-old temple town Mahabalipuram (40 kms) and former Dutch and Danish colonial forts in Sadras (72 kms) and Tranquebar (270 kms).

Fort Dansborg at Tranquebar or Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu
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