I happened to be in Chennai in 2014-15 while pursuing my post graduate diploma in digital journalism. Over the 10 months that I stayed there, I visited many places to cover stories for my assignments and many others simply because of my utter love to see new places but it was seven places that made me want to visit the south Indian city soon and more often in the future, than I ever imagined.
According to me, here are seven places that you should visit when you are in Chennai.
Chanced upon this place through word-of-mouth and a carefully crafted proposal that would make me visit this small town in Chennai. Situated in North Chennai, Sowcarpet is a small town which is known to have the last few thousand cycle rickshaws; the other place being the next to Chennai Central station. The yellow tricycle hand-driven rickshaws are a welcome sight in that particular vicinity. The banyan-clad bare-footed riders charge a meagre Rs 40 to travel within 4 kilometres of the narrow streets of Sowcarpet. They often haggle for more and if you’re an outsider you might just feel sorry for them and give them an extra 10 bucks.
How to get there: The easiest way to get there is by taking a train to Chennai Egmore railway station. Pay nothing more than Rs 50 by auto-rickshaw from the railway station.
Main Attractions: Crowded streets filled with yellow (often designer) cycle-rickshaws travelling through meandering paths and the feel of old Chennai, according to the locals I spoke to.
2. Ritchie Street
Another one of my reporting assignments accidently led me to Chennai’s version of Mumbai’s Lamington Road. Just about 10 minutes away from Chintadripet railway station, the market is rightfully Chennai’s electronic shopping hub. One can get every kind of electronic item in this huge market which boasts of having been there since the 1950s when only a few shops selling radios and transistors made up the entire market which now runs on several parallel streets.
How to get there: Take a train to Park Town from any railway line in Chennai and then board a train towards Velachery and stop at Chintadripet railway station.
Main Attractions: Cheap, reasonable and long lasting electronic items. Also witness a few remaining shops that repair radios and outdated electronic items.
3. Santhome Basilica
There are many churches in Chennai but very few have the peaceful and divine aura of Santhome Church in Mylapore. The cathedral built over the tomb of St Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus who came to India is an architectural delight according to me. Though I’ve visited Annai Vailankanni Church in Thiruvanmiyur in Chennai, Santhome still remains my favourite and a must-visit for anybody who visits Chennai.
How to get there: Take a train to Thirumayilai railway station from Chennai Central Station. It is a 20 minute walk from the railway station; or take an auto-rickshaw which should cost around Rs 30.
Main Attractions: The architecture of the church and also the numerous services held at the church.
4. Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
Many might argue that the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium should have been on my list instead of the Jawaharlal Nehru football stadium but my inability to go to the stadium during the time I was in the city is why it does not feature on my list. The football stadium is situated near Chennai Central railway station and is now buzzing with activity owing to the success of the Indian Super League (ISL) in India. Many local matches are played there weekly and it is a complete delight to watch local teams battle it out for the coveted Chennai Football League title. If you ever get a chance go for a Reserve Bank of India match; it is a delight to watch the fans, not more than 200, one side of which are busy cheering for the team. Like Kolkata has Mohun Bagan FC and East Bengal FC, Chennai has its very own share of notorious RBI fans.
How to get there: If you’re on the Velachery-bound railway route, get down at Park Town station for a 20 minute walk to the stadium which is just behind the Chennai Central Railway Station.
Main Attraction: Any RBI match in the Chennai Football League for their fans or any Chennayin FC match in the Indian Super League (ISL).
5. Besant Nagar Beach
Yes, I do not recommend the famous Marina Beach in Chennai. The crowded Marina beach apart from the average food has nothing to offer. In a place like Chennai where the heat gets to you at any part of the day, a good option would be Besant Nagar beach in Thiruvanmiyur near Adyar. The lesser crowded beach is a perfect place to visit after an early dinner in the city. If you’re planning on eating out, there are various options in fast food like KFC but you can skip those for delicious burgers and pasta from Mash and Tasty Jones, situated diagonally opposite the beach. They are high priced but have really good food for vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians in the area. There are also several corn, groundnut, pineapple and coconut water sellers along the stretch facing the beach to choose from. Not far from the beach is the Broken Bridge which has a good view for early risers.
How to get there: Get down at Indira Nagar railway station on the Velachery route and take an auto-rickshaw which will cost nothing more than Rs 50.
Main Attraction: Visit for a lesser crowded beach that will make it a good experience and an occasional game of cricket or football.
If you’re in Chennai, you have to visit the lesser known temple town of Mahabalipuram situated less than two hours from the city. While it may make you cringe that a temple town is not your cup of tea, the tiny place buzzing with activity will surprise you. Known for its temple architecture, Mahabalipuram attracts a crowd that definitely crosses a few thousands every day. A market selling various stone and granite souvenirs are available there for reasonable prices. Lunch can be had at Moonrakers, one of the best restaurants in the town. A one-day trip is all you need to see Mahabalipuram.
How to get there: Get down at Thiruvanmiyur railway station and walk 10 minutes to the Thiruvanmiyur bus depot to board any bus to Mahabalipuram that appears every 30 minutes.
Main Attraction: Temple architecture
Prepare to be amazed when you are in Pondy, the more I say is less for this once-French colony not very far away from Chennai. Not more than four hours away, this place is perfect for a weekend getaway when you are in Chennai. For more details, read Pondicherry Travels.
How to get there: Get down at Thiruvanmiyur railway station and walk 10 minutes to the Thiruvanmiyur bus depot to board any bus to Pondicherry that appears every 30 minutes.
Main Attraction: Paradise Beach for the breathtaking view, Café Xtasi for wood-fired pizzas and Café Satsangha for French and Italian food.
P.S. All the above places have been selected from my experiences and visits to them. Hope it helps people travelling to Chennai.