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A panoramic view of the Central Station in Chennai, often called the gateway to the city | ©PlaneMad/Wiki Commons
A panoramic view of the Central Station in Chennai, often called the gateway to the city | ©PlaneMad/Wiki Commons
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How to Spend 24 Hours in Chennai, India

Picture of Arun Venkatraman
Updated: 11 December 2017
Chennai is the kind of city that grows on you the longer you stay. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t any fun if you’re only here for a brief time. So whether you’re visiting on a short trip or find yourself stranded in this southern metropolis for the day, here’s the only guide you need to make sure you don’t leave Chennai disappointed.

6AM

Sunrise at Marina/Besant Nagar

Ask any Chennaiite what’s the best way to experience sunrise in the city and nine times out of 10 the reply would be either Marina or Besant Nagar Beach. While Chennai’s two most popular beaches pull more crowds in the evening, it is in the morning that their majestic beauty can truly be experienced. Marina is where most early morning congregations, group meetings, and other events take place, while Besant Nagar beach, which is surrounded by more residential areas, is usually buzzing with locals out for a walk or run in the early hours. While the city has received much flak for most places shutting down for the night earlier than in other cities, the real beauty of Chennai is that everything here starts early too. By 6-7AM almost all shops and businesses are normally awash with customers going about their day, so you’ll never feel out of options during your beach visit.

A busy day at the Marina Beach in Chennai
A busy day at the Marina Beach in Chennai | © DARSHAN SIMHA / Flickr

St Thomas Mount

Alternatively, the other most popular destination for catching the sunrise in Chennai is the St. Thomas Mount. The climb is steep at the start but is also pretty short, so set off early and you’ll get a brilliant view of both the city and the sunrise. Once you’ve taken in the breathtaking views, head to the church at the top for an experience that is both spiritual and educational at the same time.

Sunrise at St. Thomas Mount Church in Chennai
Sunrise at St. Thomas Mount Church in Chennai | ©YJennith/Wiki Commons

10 AM

Museum Hopping

Whether it’s the beach or the Mount you’re heading to for catching the sunrise, make sure you don’t stay much longer after the sun is up, lest the heat sour your experience. Daytime in Chennai is best spent indoors and one of the top indoor destinations in Chennai is the Government Museum in Egmore, which lets you learn in depth about this regions’ rich history. The Egmore Museum counts amongst its collections some of the rarest relics, artworks, and artifacts that include numismatic collections dating back centuries and several prized works of famous Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma. Also, pay a visit to the Connemara Library located within the museum complex to read a book at one of the country’s oldest functional libraries. If you are interested in Chennai’s British heritage or the railways, the other popular museums in Chennai you can visit are the Fort Museum, which houses some of the most important artifacts of the British Raj in India and the Railway Museum in Perambur, which gives you an idea of how the railways aided in the development of this region.

Government Museum Complex in Egmore, Chennai
Government Museum Complex in Egmore, Chennai | ©Vivian Richard/Wiki Commons

1PM

Stop for lunch at any of Chennai’s popular vegetarian restaurants to try out the famous ‘full meals’, which are traditionally served on banana leaves and come with up to a dozen separate items! The most famous restaurants to try the full meals in Chennai include the Adyar Ananda Bhavan, Sangeetha Veg Restaurant, and Mathsya.

If meat is on your mind, then the most iconic non-vegetarian restaurant in Chennai to visit for a full-course lunch is Buhari. This age-old restaurant-chain with multiple outlets in the city is often credited with having invented famous dishes such as the Chicken 65!

2.30PM

Shop for sarees at T Nagar

If shopping is on your mind and you want to get your hands on the famous Kancheevaram silk sarees of the region to take back home, then your best bet is the shopping district in T Nagar. Known as one of Chennai’s busiest marketplaces, T Nagar’s Ranganathan Street and Usman Road are dotted with popular shops such as Pothys, Chennai Silks, and Sri Kumaran Silks. Getting through their vast collection is bound to eat up time, but if you have any left, then check out shops such as Saravana Stores or GRT for the other popular merchandise sold in this market – gold jewelry.

A busy day at the shopping district in T Nagar
A busy day at the shopping district in T Nagar | ©McKay Savage/Flickr

5PM

Kapaleeswarar Temple

Chennai truly comes alive only when the sun goes down. And some of the best places to experience this city’s vibrant culture are its temples. Popular temples such as the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore and the more than 1,000-year-old Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane are usually buzzing with devotees in the evening and often have special poojas and aarthis that are quite the sight to behold. Take a walk within these temples, not just for a spiritual experience but also an architectural one.

Arulmigu Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Chennai, South India
Arulmigu Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Chennai, South India | © Jayakumar / Shutterstock

Cafe hopping in Alwarpet/Mylapore

Once you’ve taken in the majestic vista of Chennai’s ancient temples, head to Alwarpet or Royapettah to spend some time at Chennai’s must-see cafes. Start with new entrants such as Writer’s Cafe in Royapettah or Cyclo Cafe in Kottur and then head to classics such as the Chamier’s cafe in Alwarpet. Other great options include the Amethyst in Royapettah and House #22 in St. Thomas Mount.

Ciclo Cafe is a new cycle-themed cafe in Chennai
Ciclo Cafe is a new cycle-themed cafe in Chennai | ©Destination8Infinity/Wiki Commons

8PM

Fine-dine at Chennai’s best

Chennai’s food scene is often dominated by smaller restaurants and eateries that offer an authentic south Indian culinary experience. However, Chennai doesn’t lag behind when it comes to fine-dining as well and boasts some pretty great options. If you’re looking for a sumptuous dinner that runs over multiple courses, head to Up North at The Raintree Hotel in Teynampet or the Golden Dragon at the Taj Coromandel in Nungambakkam.

Late night drive on the ECR

There is no better way to relax after a busy day in the city than going for a late night drive along the scenic East Coast Road. The highway is filled with great food options, attractions, and resorts that will themselves take an entire day to explore. However, ECR is one road where even not stopping anywhere and just taking in the sea breeze can be a pleasant experience.