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MGR Memorial at Marina Beach is one of Chennai's best-known modern monuments | © Balasubramanian G. Velu / WikiCommons
MGR Memorial at Marina Beach is one of Chennai's best-known modern monuments | © Balasubramanian G. Velu / WikiCommons

The Top 9 Things to Do for Free in Chennai, India

Picture of Arun Venkatraman
Updated: 19 January 2018

Having a ton of money sure helps you have fun no matter where you are, but the true mark of a great city is just how much fun you can have when you don’t have any money at all! And if you’re a penniless adventurer, you definitely won’t be disappointed with what Chennai has to offer. From the best parks and nature experiences to even free delectable food, here are some of the best things you can do in Chennai for free.

Watch the sunrise at the Marina

This activity is a staple pick-me-up experience for every Chennaiite – rich and poor alike. Walk past the yoga practitioners, frisbee champs, and seniors practising laughter therapy, and all the way to the edge of the beach at the Marina to witness a sunrise unlike any other. From fishermen getting ready to set out into the blue to morning walkers and other sunrise lovers, the Marina is never empty at dawn and makes for a scintillating experience that’s perfect to start your day.

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Fishermen with their catamaran getting ready for setting out just before sunrise at Marina Beach in Chennai | © Balamurugan / Flickr

Get in time for prasadam at a city temple

Prasadams are offerings of food prepared for God and given out to devotees almost every day at temples all across the city. While most just make for a small appetiser, there are some temples where the prasadams are legendary for their taste and are an experience in themselves. Some of the most popular prasadam items are the tamarind rice at Mylapore’s Kapaleeswarar Temple or the vada malai at Nanganallur Anjaneyar Temple. Although you will have to wait in line for a while to get yours, the taste of these offerings makes it worth it.

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Devotees lining up for prayer at the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Chennai | © Vinoth Chandar / Flickr

Visit the Government Museum

This museum of human history and culture has been one of Chennai’s best-known tourist destinations for more than 150 years and continues to attract a large number of people on a daily basis. With artefacts, sculptures and other items dating back up to 2,000 years, the museum is a treat for any history lover. And to add to its collection, the museum complex also houses the age-old Connemara Library, which is one of the oldest libraries in the country.

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Government Museum Complex in Egmore, Chennai | © L.vivian.richard / WikiCommons

Art gallery-hopping

Chennai’s art scene is picking up at an unprecedented pace, with several new art galleries popping up across the town. For anyone with a taste for art, spaces such as The Faraway Tree, Focus Art Gallery, and the famous Apparao Galleries present an opportunity to witness the city’s vibrant art culture first-hand. The city is also home to Cholamandal Artists’ Village, one of the largest art residencies and repositories of its kind that boasts an enviable collection of artworks.

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An art installation at the entrance of Cholamandal Artists’ Village in Chennai | © Destination8infinity / WikiCommons

Anna Centenary Library

Built at the cost of nearly Rs. 172 cr, the Anna Library is, without doubt, one of the most state-of-the-art libraries in not just the country but all of South Asia. The new library, which boasts more than 1.2 million books on its shelves across seven floors, has succeeded largely in bringing to the common person the facilities associated with a high-end university education. From a full-fledged braille section and massive collection of regional language works to even a children’s and digital library section, the Anna Library is a centre of education unlike any other. And the best part is that all facilities in the library are free of cost!

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The Anna Centenary Library Complex in Kotur, Chennai houses nearly 1.2 million books | © Commons_sibi / WikiCommons

Forest bathing at Huddleston Gardens / Theosophical Society

For the most part, Chennai might be as much of an urban jungle as any other city. However, one of the unique aspects of this city is that it is home to several green areas that are free to visit. While the largest of these is the Guindy National Park, if you want to experience being amidst nature for no cost at all, the best option is the Theosophical Society Campus and the adjacent Huddleston Gardens in Adyar, both of which are natural forest areas formed around the pristine ecosystem of the Adyar Estuary. The Theosophical Society Campus boasts unfiltered natural greenery and is also home to the Adyar Banyan Tree, one of the largest banyans in the region.

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The Adyar Banyan Tree’s main trunk was severely damaged in 1989 in a storm; however, its roots continue to survive | © Ram Karthik / Flickr

Midnight drive along East Coast Road

Long drives on East Coast Road has been Chennai’s go-to stress-buster activity for a long time now. The highway hugs the coast of Chennai for nearly 20 kilometres (12 miles) within the Greater Chennai limits and boasts some of the best tourist attractions in the city, including some nearly secluded beaches, several resorts, parks and even a medium zoo in the Madras Crocodile Bank. However, even without visiting any of these attractions, a simple drive along East Coast Road is an amazing experience in itself, especially during the night when the road has far less traffic.

Sunset at Broken Bridge

The only experience comparable to sunrise at Marina Beach is witnessing the sunset at the Broken Bridge in Adyar. While the Marina offers just as good a view of the sun sinking into the horizon, it is more often than not heavily crowded during the evenings, as are other popular beaches in the city. The Broken Bridge, a sort of makeshift modern cultural monument, on the other hand, offers a better experience, coupled with the pleasure of solitude since it doesn’t attract nearly as many people as other sunset points. Located at the mouth of the Adyar Estuary, the Broken Bridge is also at the centre of a pristine and untouched ecosystem, meaning that you’ll have plenty of nature and birds to keep you company and sweeten the experience.

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A view of MRC Nagar as seen from the mouth of Broken Bridge in Adyar, Chennai | © PlaneMad / WikiCommons

Rent a cycle for free

Chennai’s public transport system has often been lauded for providing an excellent end-to-end commute, but this aspect received a major fillip recently after the Chennai Metro Rail Limited partnered with a cycling club to offer cycles for rent at no cost at its main stations. Under the plan, a Kochi-based club known as Athi’s Cycle Club will make up to 10 bikes available at all major metro stations; people can rent them for up to 24 hours at no cost, although it involves a refundable deposit. At the moment, only three stations are covered, but plans are on to expand coverage to all locations. Currently, the only ones with free bicycle renting are the Ekaduthangal, Tower Park and Nehru Park stations.