How to Spend a Weekend in Chennai (9 Things to See and Do)

Updated on March 3, 2020
Babu Mohan profile image

I am a marketing professional holding a postgraduate degree in management. I live in Chennai and have traveled extensively in Tamil Nadu.

If you only have a couple of days in the city, these are the true musts!
If you only have a couple of days in the city, these are the true musts! | Source

Chennai is one of the four major metropolitan cities in India. It is known for its thriving IT and automobile industry, and it has the largest expatriate population of any Indian city. This city was named 'Madras' by the British during the colonial era, and the British legacy can be felt there even now.

One needs a minimum of one week to explore Chennai as a first-time visitor. But time is precious, and we may not always have the luxury of being able to take a week-long vacation. If you have just a couple of days in Chennai, this list will help you choose from among the city's many attractions, allowing you to discover its atmosphere and soul in a short amount of time.

Top 9 Things to Do and See in Chennai

  1. Visit DakshinaChitra Museum
  2. Try Vegetarian Madrasi Meals
  3. Visit Mahabalipuram
  4. Try Filter Coffee at Madras Coffee House
  5. Go Shopping on T. Nagar
  6. Take a Trip to Vandalur Zoo
  7. Enjoy Non-Vegetarian Madrasi Meals
  8. Take a Tour of Colonial-Era Buildings
  9. Go to Marina Beach

Tamil Nadu Merchant House, DakshinaChitra
Tamil Nadu Merchant House, DakshinaChitra | Source

1. Visit DakshinaChitra Museum

Any trip to Chennai would be incomplete without a drive on the ECR. I would recommend doing this on the first day, as it involves some travel. We are spoiled with many choices on the ECR, but personally, I would pick a visit to the DakshinaChitra Museum. It is a unique attraction not seen elsewhere in India.

The museum showcases many traditional residences seen across South India. There are separate sections for each South Indian state. One can also enjoy activities like mehndi, pottery, cultural events and shopping in Crafts Bazaar. The traditional residences were moved from their original locations to the museum to keep authenticity intact. For more information, check out my list of the Top Things to Do at DakshinaChitra Museum.

A Typical Madrasi South Indian Meal
A Typical Madrasi South Indian Meal | Source

2. Try South Indian Vegetarian Meals

South Indian vegetarian food is a specialty in Chennai, but there is no guarantee you will be served an authentic South Indian breakfast at your hotel. So lunch is your best opportunity to taste authentic Chennai food.

There are two options on the ECR for good South Indian vegetarian food with a touch of Chennai. Sangeetha near DakshinaChitra Museum is the ideal choice if you wish to have lunch immediately after the museum visit. If you have time, you can also reach Adyar Ananda Bhavan in Mahabalipuram to have a taste of Madrasi food. Sangeetha and Adyar Ananda Bhavan also have many locations within the city.

Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram
Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram | Source

3. Visit Mahabalipuram

After lunch, spend some time in Mahabalipuram, a town on the East Coast Road that can be reached in 30 minutes by car from DakshinaChitra. It is a coastal town known for its stone sculptures created during the 7th century. Shore Temple, Pancha Rathas, Arjuna Penance, and the cave temples are the major attractions in Mahabalipuram.

It is also a great place to buy craft items and stone sculptures. Edible treats abound here as well; palmyra fruit and tender coconut are sold by roadside vendors on the East Coast Road connecting Chennai and Mahabalipuram.

A Typical South Indian Filter Coffee
A Typical South Indian Filter Coffee | Source

4. Try Filter Coffee at Madras Coffee House

South Indian filter coffee—known for its strong, yet pleasant, aroma—was not invented in Chennai, and the city does not have coffee plantations nearby. Yet filter coffee and Chennai are closely associated, so much so that no visit to the city would be complete without a cup of filter coffee.

In the good old days, the streets were filled with many coffee shops, but there are far fewer now. Still, authentic filter coffee is available in a few places, like Madras Coffee House. They have many locations in the city, so chances are you can find one near wherever you are.

I recommend rounding out your evening in style with a cup of filter coffee when you return to the city from Mahabalipuram.

Ranganathan Street, T. Nagar
Ranganathan Street, T. Nagar | Source

5. Go Shopping on T. Nagar

When the evening is still young, head to Usman Road near Panagal Park on T. Nagar. You will find many hypermarkets, garment stores, jewellery shops, and more. But T. Nagar is not known just for organized retail outlets; the streets are filled with many hawkers who sell everything from electronics to fruit.

Ranganathan Street leading to T. Nagar Railway Station is a place where one can experience an ocean of humanity on most evenings. Be prepared to enjoy the crowds, as this place is always buzzing with activity.

White Tiger in Vandalur Zoo
White Tiger in Vandalur Zoo | Source

6. Take a Trip to Vandalur Zoo

The first half of your second day in Chennai can be spent in Vandalur Zoo, one of the largest zoos in India. One of the best things about this place is that it provides enormous green cover right in the middle of the city. The animals are also housed in reasonable comfort.

You can see a wide range of animals, including many big cats, elephants, bison, zebras and giraffes. They even offer a lion safari during the daytime. Battery-operated vehicles that can be used to go around the park are available for a nominal fee. Walking is a healthier option, but it might take a full day to see all the sections that way. So I would recommend using the battery-operated vehicle to hasten the process.

Ponnusamy Hotel, TTK Road
Ponnusamy Hotel, TTK Road | Source

7. Enjoy Non-Vegetarian Madrasi Food

Chennai is also known for its great non-vegetarian restaurants, some of which have been in operation for several decades. I recommend trying Buhari Restaurant at Mount Road near Tarapore Towers or the Ponnusamy Hotel Restaurant on TTK Road. You will be treated to great food and a touch of Chennai flavor.

What should you order? A mutton biryani or a parotta can be tried in either of these hotels. Buhari makes dum biryani, and Ponnusamy makes biryani in the South Indian style. If you go to Buhari, do not miss their tea.

Ripon Building
Ripon Building | Source

8. Take a Tour of Chennai's Colonial-Era Buildings

Go for a drive from Chennai Central to Santhome Church to cover the following colonial-era buildings:

  1. Ripon Building
  2. Chennai Central Railway Station
  3. Fort St. George
  4. Napier Bridge
  5. Madras University Building
  6. Icehouse
  7. IG office
  8. Lighthouse
  9. Santhome Church

Chennai city was developed by the British during the colonial era. Before the city came under British rule, the Dutch held it for a brief period, leaving their footprints as well. We may or may not appreciate this part of history, but there is no doubt that its architecture provides a visual treat.

Bird's-eye view of Marina Beach
Bird's-eye view of Marina Beach | Source

9. Spend the Evening at Marina Beach

There is nothing more refreshing than the sea breeze on an evening in Chennai. It is no wonder that thousands of residents and tourists throng the beaches in the city.

There are many good beaches in the city, and the most famous—Marina Beach—is not my favorite. That said, I would still recommend Marina Beach for a first-time visitor, as it is the largest and the most crowded. You have not seen Chennai if you have not seen Marina Beach.

The Leela Palace
The Leela Palace | Source

Stay Options in Chennai

The city has many multi-star hotels, including Taj Connemara, Taj Clubhouse, Taj Coromandel, Hyatt, Crowne Plaza, The Leela Palace, and ITC Grand Chola. There are also many good budget options, such as Woodlands, Savera, and Ambassador Pallava in the city center.

Being a major metropolis, the city is well connected by road and rail to other parts of the country. It has one of the busiest airports in the country, with connectivity to all major cities in India and many international destinations.

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Mohan Babu

    Please leave your valuable comments.

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      • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

        Mohan Babu 

        7 weeks ago from Chennai, India

        Thank you, Chitrangada. I am glad my article could trigger positive memories about your Chennai visit.

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        7 weeks ago from New Delhi, India

        A well written and informative article about Chennai. I am happy that I have visited this wonderful place. Your well illustrated article, refreshed my sweet memories.

        Thanks for sharing this wonderful article.

      • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

        Mohan Babu 

        7 weeks ago from Chennai, India

        Thank you, Liz. I am delighted to see your encouraging words.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        7 weeks ago from UK

        This is a great guide to Chennai. I appreciate the clear structure of your article.

      • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

        Mohan Babu 

        7 weeks ago from Chennai, India

        Thank you, Yogitech. I am glad you had a great time during your last Chennai trip.

      • profile image

        Yogitech 

        7 weeks ago

        Sir you have really portrait the journey of Chennai beautifully, remembered me of my trip to Chennai in 2016.

        It was really awesome trip.

        Thanks for sharing such a great article on travels.

      • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

        Mohan Babu 

        7 weeks ago from Chennai, India

        Royal Enfield and Mahabalipuram make a terrific combination. I am glad my article could trigger pleasant nostalgic memories.

      • emge profile image

        MG Singh 

        7 weeks ago from Singapore

        I have a strong association with Chennai( Madras) and Tamilnadu. I was posted at AFIS at Tambaram and did my GST training at AFAC, Red Fields, Coimbatore. I also underwent the staff college course at Wellington close to Coonoor. Lovely place and I am still a member of the Madras Gymkana club, end of Mount Road. I have lots of friends there and your article brought my memories alive. I had a Royal Enfield and remember taking my GF for long drives including Mahabalipuram and evenings at Adyar beach. Wonderful article.

      • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

        Mohan Babu 

        7 weeks ago from Chennai, India

        I hope you visit Chennai soon and take pleasant memories with you.

      • Cheryl E Preston profile image

        Cheryl E Preston 

        7 weeks ago from Roanoke

        Great story and beautiful photo''s. I wish I could see it all.

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