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Chennai Marina |  © Nagesh Jayaraman/Flicker
Chennai Marina | © Nagesh Jayaraman/Flicker
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How to Spend 48 Hours in Chennai, India

Picture of Anjana
Updated: 23 February 2017
Travel itineraries can be a real challenge, involving lots of research and plenty of planning. Bustling from one place to another, making pit stops, fitting in eleventh-hour impulses—travel plans can sometimes go out of hand. But worry not, we’ve got you covered. If you find yourself in the quaint and beautiful city of Chennai with 48 hours on hand, we’ve curated a list of things to do and places to see that will surely leave you with an aftertaste of the city, and have you asking for more.

For the Beach Bum

Chennai is a coastal city that is home to the second-longest beach in the world, the Marina. Walk down the shores of Bay of Bengal and soak in some tropical sunshine. Depending on your mood, you can choose to visit the lively Marina beach or Elliots beach, where street food shops are propped on the sands with people swarming in the evenings. For some quiet time, dip your toes in the tranquil, private beaches dotting the East Coast Road (ECR). In the evenings, when the coast comes to life, try some spicy Indian street food like bajji or sundal that makes for a mouth-watering treat. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, sign up for some water surfing at Covelong point on the ECR.

For the Heritage Lover

The city has a quite few unique architectural masterpieces belonging to different eras. The 17th-century fortress built by the British, called Fort St. George, houses the magnificent St. Mary’s Church (also known as the Westminster Abbey of the East), which must be on the top of your list if you’ve got a thing for history and architecture. The city’s distinctive Indo-Saracenic architectural style can be seen in a few buildings that have stood the test of time. Your checklist should include Santhome Cathedral, Madras High Court, Government Museum, Madras University, Connemera Library, and Victoria Public Hall. The quaint structures left standing may not always be open to the public, so check with the locals before you head out to visit these old-world beauties.

For the Culture Seeker

Your trip to Chennai is not complete unless you’ve visited the gorgeous rock temples of Mahabalipuram. Witness the true marvel of the Pallava architecture in structures like the Pancha Rathas, Descent of the Ganges, and the shore temple. DakshinChitra, a heritage village of sorts, is the ideal place to learn about culture while shopping for some exquisite handmade souvenirs. Chennai also has many temples, like the Kapaleeswar temple and Parthasarathy temple, that are quite well-known. If you are in the mood to discover more temples, choose a direction and you’re sure to stumble upon more architectural treasures brimming with culture from the South. If you happen to be in the city during the month of December, brace yourself for some cultural extravagance with Carnatic music concerts and Bharathnatyam performances that put the city high on the cultural map.

For the Ardent Ambler

Parrys, a neighborhood in north Chennai, is a part of the city that’s older than the rest of it. The streets here have a character of their own, so try to keep up with its pace. Parrys has quite a few food joints that serve splendid Indian snacks like samosas and other chaat items. Mylapore, with its narrow alleys and markets lining the streets, has some very interesting architectural marvels, like Dravidian gopurams and temple tanks. What are you looking for? Street shopping, binge eating, or just aimless walking? This place has it all. Hidden around every corner are places that serve some mouth-watering south-Indian dishes. Ask the locals to point you towards places like the jannal kadai, maami’s mess, and kaalathi stall to discover some of Chennai’s food secrets. The packed streets of T Nagar and Pondy Bazar is where you’ll find almost everything on earth. The markets of Koyambedu are a color riot, with stalls selling fresh vegetables, fruits, and flowers. You might want to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground to win against the wild crowd that makes for the spirit of these streets.

For the Party Animal

Chennai lives up to its expectations of being a metropolitan city. The emerging nightlife will take you to popular hangouts like Illusions, Radio Room, Plan B, Q Bar, F bar, Zara’s the tapas bar, and Bay 146. Following an eventful day, wind up with a drink, or shake a leg on the dance floor. The city also hosts a flurry of events, so make sure you check for a memorable evening.

For That “Chennai” Experience

Consider your trip incomplete if you haven’t checked these off your list. You’ve only got 48 hours and spending three of them inside a movie theater will seem like the last thing you might want to do. But trust us when we tell you that the city has a distinct movie culture and your movie experience in Chennai will be like no other. The city theaters that sells tickets at Rs. 10 are the halls that burst with spirit and energy with the crowds roaring, revealing a side to the city that can’t be experienced otherwise. Hop onto the yellow auto rickshaws to get a feel of the city streets that are always bustling with activity. And last, do not leave the city until you’ve tried the authentic filter kaapi served in steel tumblers and crispy hot dosas that will leave you wanting more.