The Best Things to Do in Chennai's Besant Nagar Neighbourhood

Visitors enjoying the sunrise at Besant Nagar Beach in Chennai | 
Visitors enjoying the sunrise at Besant Nagar Beach in Chennai | | ©Destination8infinity/Wiki Commons
Photo of Arun Venkatraman
4 January 2018

Besant Nagar is counted among Chennai’s coolest neighbourhoods and is home to some of the must-visit tourist attractions in the city. Named after famed colonial-era social activist Annie Besant, the neighbourhood’s best-known landmark is the Besant Nagar beach, the second most popular beach in Chennai after the Marina. However, the beach is far from being the only destination worth visiting in this seaside neighbourhood. Here are all the things you can do in Besant Nagar, Chennai.

Visit Kalakshetra Foundation

Counted among India’s best-known cultural organisations, the Kalakshetra Foundation in Besant Nagar is a pioneering centre in teaching the south Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam. Founded in the year 1936 by famed dancer and Bharatanatyam exponent Rukmini Devi Arundale, the foundation has historically produced some of the biggest names in Bharatanatyam and classical dance in the country. Kalakshetra is also well-known for its nature-friendly campus and classes are usually conducted under a large banyan tree that has stood there for more than half a century.

A Bharatanatyam recital at the Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai’s Besant Nagar | ©US Consulate General/Flickr

Besant Nagar/Elliots Beach

After the Marina Beach, it is Besant Nagar’s Elliots Beach that garners the most crowd among beaches in Chennai. Named for Edward Elliot, a former governor of Madras Presidency, the beach boasts of a far more urban culture than the Marina, with the promenade being decked with cafes, restaurants, and dessert spots. The beach itself is popular for its street food, which includes corn on the cob, fried fish and sundal, a south Indian preparation made with chana dal.

The Besant Nagar Beach is the second most visited beach in Chennai | ©Kartyjazz/Wiki Commons

Annai Velankanni Church

This replica of the original Our Lady of Good Health (or Annai Velankanni) Church in Nagapattinam is located right on the Elliot’s Promenade and is extremely popular among both locals and visitors. The church, much like the original Velankanni basilica is famous across the city for its healing properties and is a must-visit during Christmas and New Year celebrations.

The Annai Velankanni Church in Besant Nagar, Chennai | ©Daniel/Wiki Commons

Temple hopping

While Besant Nagar may have a cosmopolitan feel to it, it is also home to a number of important temples and sites of worship for Hindus. The most popular temples in the neighbourhood include the Ashtalakshmi Temple, which is close to the beach, the Varasiddhi Vinayagar Temple, and the Ratnagirishwarar Temple on 6th Street.

Library Hopping

In addition to its love for dance and performing art, Besant Nagar is also well-known as a centre of literary culture in Chennai, with a vibrant reading culture and a number of well-known libraries and bookshops. Chief among these is the U Ve Swaminathan Iyer Library, which is an important centre for Tamil literature and contains over 2,200 palm leaf manuscripts and 33,000 books. Other popular libraries include the Book World – Lending Library and the Ilovereadin Library.

The U Ve Swaminathan Library in Besant Nagar, Chennai | ©jBuchholz/Wiki Commons

Food and drinks

Besant Nagar is one of Chennai’s best neighbourhoods when it comes to options for food and drink and is particularly famous for South Indian cuisine restaurants such as the Murugan Idli Shop and Vishranti Hot Point. The beach promenade is also home to a number of global cuisine restaurants such as Cozee’s, Mash, and Pupil Food Court. As for drinks, there are also a number of great bars and pubs in the neighbourhood such as Based on a True Story (BOAT) or the M’Bessy Kitchen and Bar.

Cycling routes

Above everything else, the one thing that Besant Nagar is truly famous for is its greenery and the amazing cycling routes it offers. Dozens of Chennaiites prefer this neighbourhood and its green thoroughfares for cycling in the morning, with famous routes being through Besant Avenue, Blue Cross Road and the Besant Nagar Beach Promenade.

The road through Blue Cross Road and onto Besant Nagar Second Avenue (Pictured here) is popular among cyclists | ©Gowrishanker/Wiki Commons

Huddlestone Gardens/Besant Gardens

The Huddlestone Gardens is one of the biggest and best known green spaces in Chennai and covers an area of more than 260 acres. The gardens were renamed recently as Besant Gardens and are considered to be a part of Adyar’s Theosophical Society Campus. It is home to an untouched ecosystem that includes exotic trees and several species of native fauna such as the fruit bats, jackals, and wild cats.

The Huddlestone/Besant Gardens are a part of the Theosophical Society Headquarters in Besant Nagar | ©Aleksandr Zykov/Wiki Commons