A very long coastline, rich and distinct cultural history, beautiful colonial architecture, fragrant jasmine garlands and of course, mouth-watering idlis, vadas and dosas with piping hot sambar are just a few images that come to mind when one thinks of Chennai.
Tamil Nadu’s capital city, formerly known as Madras, had its genesis as a colonial city. It has long been an important urban, commercial and naval centre. Today, the city is a major IT centre and automobile manufacturing hub. It is home to the University of Madras, several prestigious cultural institutions and the magnificent Margazhi music festival.
While Chennai certainly has a lot to offer to the discerning traveler, here are a few things that are not to be missed when in Chennai:
1. First things first- the ‘sapaattu raaman’s’ (foodie’s) delight!
- Go local with ‘saapaadu’ at Rayar’s Mess: Savor fresh and authentic South Indian fare at Rayar’s Mess. Visit this pre-independence era restaurant in Mylapore for steaming hot food in a homely atmosphere. Tucked away in a narrow lane, the place has limited seating and given its immense popularity, you will most likely have to wait. However, we promise it will be worth your while. Rayar’s old-world charm and delectable pongal, idlis, vadas and dosas with their famous chutneys will make you want to come back again and again. Follow the meal with the classic Madrasi filter kaapi for an unforgettable experience.
- Fizzy Paneer Soda: The paneer here is not to be mistaken for cottage cheese. Paneer (pronounced pan-neer) in Tamil means rose water, and this rose water goli soda is a local favorite. Like its North Indian cousin bunta, it comes in Codd-neck bottles. Infused with rose flavor, this aerated drink is just what you need to refresh yourself in the hot and humid Chennai weather. Pop in to any local juice bar in Mylapore or Triplicane for a fizzy fix, or visit regular stores in the city, where you can help yourself to the Chennai-based company Kozzmo Beverages’ Paneer goli soda.
- Norukku, Theeni and so much more – Murukku, Thattai and snacks galore: No trip to Chennai can be complete without a taste of traditional snacks and sweets, and what better place to try savory classics like murukku, ribbon pakora, thattai, mixture and sweets like Horlicks mysore pak, athirasam and jangri than the Grand Sweets and Snacks. From its humble beginnings in 1982, it has grown to become a household name in Chennai and a standard of excellence in traditional South Indian sweets and namkeens. It gets its name from a customer who described the taste of the sweets as grand, and grand they most certainly are! While the original store is in Adyar, they now have branches all over the city. Stock up on these snacks and devour the pure ghee goodness.
- Murukku Sandwich: Why have a regular sandwich when you can have one that’s a Chennai specialty? Post having the traditional murukku, it’s time to taste it in a new avatar. Make a trip to Sowcarpet, a charming old neighborhood in northern Chennai and head to S Chinnappa Sandwich Centre. Bite into their scrumptious local sandwich- the Murukku sandwich! Stuffed with murukkus, this is one crunchy local delicacy you must try while in Chennai.
2. Enjoy scenic views at Thalankuppam Pier
While the beaches of Chennai are most certainly worth visiting, we recommend enjoying the peace and tranquil of the Thalankuppam Pier. As Tamilians would call it, ‘kann kollaa kaatchi’- it is a sight to behold! Situated in Ennore in the north of Chennai, the picturesque fishing town offers some breathtaking views of the Bay of Bengal. It has also been featured in several prominent Tamil movies. In fact, the drive to the pier along the Ennore High Road is most pleasurable.
If you’re looking for some serenity and solitude, or moments with a special someone, this is the place for you. You won’t find the crowds that throng other beaches in the city and can take in the beauty of the sun, sand and the sea at leisure. Chennaiites recommend going early in the morning to catch the sunrise. This place, also known as the Nettukuppam Pier, is a photographer’s delight, so make sure you take your camera along!
3. It’s all fun & games at The Board Game Lounge
There’s something for everyone in Chennai, and that includes board game aficionados! Head to The Board Game Lounge in Gandhi Nagar, Adyar. The cafe is dedicated to modern tabletop gaming and offers over 200 games across a range of themes. Less than a month old, the cafe is already becoming popular among avid tabletop gamers in Chennai.
What’s more, you can play your favorite board game whilst digging into some delicious desserts and sipping coffee!
4. Light up your day with some brilliant views from atop the Marina Lighthouse
A prominent landmark of Chennai, the Marina Lighthouse offers some wonderful views of the Bay of Bengal and the city. At INR 20, this trip to the top is most affordable and most delightful, as there is a lift going up to the viewing gallery on the 9th floor, eliminating the need to climb multiple flights of stairs.
Built in 1977, it had been closed to the public following the assassination of former PM Rajiv Gandhi. However, it was reopened in 2013. Cameras are also allowed into this solar-powered lighthouse for a fee, so you can capture the views from the top! Once you’re done admiring the view, you can come down and visit a small government-maintained museum behind it, which has old lamps from previous lighthouses on display.
5. A most enjoyable and guaranteed no-holds-barred shopping experience at Pondy Bazaar
Located in the heart of T.Nagar, this crowded yet thoroughly delightful local bazaar has every item you need to tick off your shopping list. An array of sights, sounds and smells will greet you as you begin your shopping spree, and it will most likely be a spree. Whether you’re looking for branded clothing or clothes sold at street stalls, accessories or groceries, furniture or utensils, or some mouth-watering food and beverages, this market has it all.
Make sure to brush up on your bargaining skills before you set foot here, for that’s where half the fun lies. People haggling with hawkers and vendors is a common sight and will surely encourage you to partake in the experience and get the best possible value for your money. The famous must-visit stores include Rathna Stores, which boasts of an impressive variety of household items and will definitely tempt you to buy something new for your home, and Naidu Hall, with its vast range of garments. It has long been known as a great destination to shop for women’s innerwear, with many locals recommending it.
Have something to add to our list of hidden gems, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(With inputs from Pavithra Ramesh, Shruthi Atmaram & Anirudh Athreya)