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The Thirumylai (Mylapore) Railway Station in the Chennai MRTS elevated railway line | ©Srini G/Wiki Commons
The Thirumylai (Mylapore) Railway Station in the Chennai MRTS elevated railway line | ©Srini G/Wiki Commons

The Best Things to Do in Chennai's Mylapore Neighbourhood

Picture of Arun Venkatraman
Updated: 30 December 2017

Mylapore may be one of Chennai’s most famous locales, but many don’t know that this neighbourhood also boasts a history and culture that predates the founding of Chennai (Madras) by more than 1,500 years! Thanks to this ancient heritage, Mylapore has scope for more touristy experiences than most other neighbourhoods in the city. From temple-hopping to savouring the best of South Indian delicacies, here are some things you should definitely try.

Kapaleeswarar Temple

The Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore is the neighbourhood’s most famous and recognisable landmark and boasts a thousand-year-old history. The age-old temple is not only a cultural centre but is also an architectural marvel, featuring a 40m tall gopuram that is for all intents and purposes, Chennai’s oldest skyscraper. However, unlike other heritage structures, the Kapaleeswarar Temple boasts a vibrant temple culture and attracts hundreds of devotees every day, making it one of the few remnants of this region’s pre-colonial past. The temple is also a cultural and fine-arts venue and regularly hosts dance and music recitals.

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The Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore has a rich history going back to nearly a 1,000 years! | ©Aleksandr Zykov/Wiki Commons

Shopping at Luz

Decked with dozens of shops and showrooms selling everything from electronics to textiles and boutique silk, Luz corner in Mylapore is one of Chennai’s best-known shopping districts and attracts a large number of shoppers on a daily basis. Unlike the more commercial T Nagar, Luz also boasts a number of quaint stalls and boutiques that make it perfect for the offbeat shopper. Head to the Mysore Silk Palace or Nalli Silks to get your hands on some great Kancheevaram sarees, or visit the Murugan Old Book Shop, a quaint second-hand bookstore that could be a treasure trove for book lovers patient enough to sift through the vast collection.

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Mylapore’s Luz Corner has a number of boutiques selling popular Kancheevaram silk sarees | ©Rahamanuddin/Wiki Commons

Santhome Basilica

There aren’t many places in Chennai that can match the Santhome Basilica in terms of heritage, historical importance, and grandeur. Built by the Portuguese in the 16th-century, the Santhome Basilica, named for St. Thomas, is one of the three known basilicas in the entire world that were built upon the tomb of a direct apostle of Jesus Christ, making it one of the most important sites in Christianity. This exquisitely designed structure boasts a majestic all-white facade and features large windows with coloured panes, while the interior features a large decorated hall with several rows of carved wooden pews.

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The Portuguese-built Santhome Basilica in Chennai was constructed in the 16th-century | ©Vinoth Chandar/Flickr

Carnatic cutchery at a ‘Sabha’

If there is any part of the entire country that can truly be called the centre of Carnatic music culture and tradition, it is Mylapore. The area surrounding Mylapore is home to more than a dozen key cultural venues and concert halls known as Sabhas, which regularly organise Carnatic music cutcheries. And in the months of December and January, these sabhas also play host to the lion’s share of concerts that take place during the Madras Music Season. Some of the most prominent sabhas and venues for performances in the neighbourhood are the Music Academy on TTK Road, Narada Gana Sabha and the Kapaleeswarar Temple. A visit to Mylapore is incomplete without witnessing a Carnatic music concert.

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Carnatic music recital by vocalists Shanmukhapriya and Haripriya | ©Os Rupias/Wiki Commons

Heritage and culture walk across Mangollai and Mada Veethis 

Thanks to its steep history, the thoroughfares of Mylapore have been witness to some of the most important historical events and have also been home to several immensely important figures, starting from Thiruvalluvar, who composed the seminal Tamil work on ethics, Thirukkural and resided here nearly 2,000 years ago! This neighbourhood has also been home to several other legends such as the freedom fighter and poet Bharathiyar. Even today, a walk through the streets of Mylapore is no less than a history lesson, and several homes and buildings from bygone eras still exist in the neighbourhood as heritage structures. Several guided cultural and architectural walks have also been started in this neighbourhood in recent years by modern tour operators and companies such as Storytrails and Triple O Studios.

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Making rice flour patterns or Kolams is a Tamil tradition common in Mylapore’s communities | ©McKay Savage/Wiki Commons

‘Full Meals’ at a Mylapore Mess

They might not feature swanky decor or silver cutlery, but the humble messes of Mylapore are nonetheless immensely famous for being some of the best places in the city for savouring South Indian cuisine. Popular messes such as Rayar Mess and Mylai Karpagambal Mess are usually crowded in the evenings and are visited by both locals and tourists alike. These messes are best known for their quintessential vegetarian ‘full meals’ platter, which can come with as many as a dozen dishes and are traditionally served on banana leaves.

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‘Full meals’ can include up to a dozen items in a single plate or banana leaf | ©Terry Presley/Flickr

Citi Center Mall

The Citi Center Mall in Mylapore’s RK Salai is one of the oldest and most popular shopping malls in the city and also boasts a multiplex on the top floor. Footfall in the mall has decreased in recent years thanks to several new and larger ones coming up around the city, but the mall still boasts loyal patronage from Mylapore locals. It is home to one of the biggest bookstores in the city such as Landmark, and also features several other shopping and entertainment options such as Netz Cricket, a rooftop sports turf.

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The Chennai Citi Centre Mall in Mylapore’s RK Salai is one of Chennai’s oldest malls | ©Rammstein737/Wiki Commons

Pub-hopping

Mylapore is often seen as a more traditional neighbourhood in the city, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any options for those looking for a cocktail or a cold beer in the evening. Among the more famous pubs and bars in the neighbourhood are venues such as Illusions, the Madras Pub on RK Salai and Bay 146 pub in Savera Hotel on Cathedral Road. Other popular options include The Poker Bar and Sera, the Tapas Bar.