Chennai is a city but Madras is an emotion ~ Tamil Culture.
I didn’t understand it when I was planning my trip to Chennai. I was growing up when Madras was renamed Chennai and I got accustomed to it. A metropolitan city, just like Delhi seemed underrated to me until a few ago. An acquaintance of mine shifted to Chennai to study and couldn’t stop gushing about it. It was the time when I realised I should put Chennai on my India bucket list. Apart from all the routine compliments, I heard a lot about Pondicherry as well. Finally, I booked a ticket and decided to take a trip to Chennai & Pondicherry. I was overwhelmed when Google suggested a lot of options but not all can be covered in a single trip to Chennai. So I’m going to present my Chennai travel guide with my experience & suggest the best places to visit in Chennai in one day
A metropolitan city in the southern part of India and a major connecting point to numerous other places in the entire Southern region. The language spoken is Tamil and English. Hindi or any other regional languages from India are not well recognised here.
Places to visit in Chennai in one day | Chennai Travel Guide
Chennai is a major hub for corporates making it a metro city and frequent inbound travellers. Chennai is much more than the corporate hub. The colonial influence and the tea café culture going on for decades are some of the things which no one talks about. So, I present my recommendations about the best places to visit in Chennai in one day and the things you can do during your trip.
Marina Beach is indeed one of the best places to visit in Chennai in one day or more. Marina Beach is the second largest beach in the world making it a top tourist destination in Chennai. No wonder it is full of tourists and locals alike. The Gandhi statue at the entry of the beach is another prime attraction.
Take a stroll at the beach when the sun sets and simply just sit there enjoying the breeze as I did. I literally just sat there when the sun was about to set until I realised I am hungry. The sand in my dress, the humidity on my face, and the zephyr from the ocean tempted me to sit there a bit longer. I procrastinated leaving the beach until the time I could. There were local vendors trying to sell tea, coffee & snacks, but I didn’t want any distractions. Sitting there alone was everything I have dreamed about since the day booked my flight. This is the perk of solo travel, you can do whatever you want, no judgements!
The beach wasn’t as clean as I had hoped, but surely better than the Juhu Beach of Mumbai. Yet, as all Chennaites claim it is too clean, I’d hope they work more towards it (no offence guys).
The Light House
The picture we have seen on Instagram where the water is deep blue and Chennai’s coastline is clearly visible is probably taken from the Light House.
Chennai’s Light House might not be the most beautiful in terms of architecture but it’s well-maintained & gives amazing views of the Marina. This makes it one of the top places to visit in Chennai in one day or you can visit it again if you have time.
The Light House is closed on national/public holidays so plan your trip accordingly. I couldn’t go upstairs as it was closed when I went.
I am not religious and even wanted to skip the Kapaleeshwarar Temple when I was in Chennai. But my jaws dropped when I saw the temple from outside when my cabbie dropped me.
I couldn’t help but stand at the very entrance of the temple in awe at what I just encountered. The architecture of the Kapaleeshwarar temple is beautiful beyond any words can express, it’s pure ecstasy for the eyes.
The temple was built in the 7th century and Hindu God Shiva is worshipped in the temple. Surprisingly, non-Hindus are not allowed in the main shrine, which is something I personally don’t approve of. I saw a number of foreign tourists on the temple premises admiring the beauty of the temple from the outside, but they didn’t go inside the shrine where idols are kept.
The main shrine worshipping God Shiva shows the traces of the history it holds. The dark walls & dim lights are its witnesses. I paid my respects and didn’t offer any prasad as I am currently contemplating whether I am an atheist or just a non-believer of idol praying, that’s a discussion for later.
There’s no entry charge for the temple, though you can hire a guide from outside the temple. There is no official place to book a guide outside, but sensing you are a tourist, guides will approach you on their own. Photography is not allowed in the main shrine, but you can take pictures outside, with a minimal fee of 25₹ (less than 1$). You need to remove shoes outside the temple. The counter is free but you can donate money as you like.
St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica
St. Thomas Cathedral is a Basilica located in the San Thome locality of Chennai. The Roman Catholic Basilica dates back to the 16th century by some Portuguese explorers but was rebuilt by the British in the 19th century.
There are three churches around the world built on the tomb of an apostle of Jesus. St. Thomas Cathedral is one of those three making a step in world history. The other two are Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, and the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain.
The pure white architecture of the Cathedral left me mesmerised and the stained windows reminded me of the churches I visited in Europe.
St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica or Santhome Basilica as locals call it has peculiar interiors with visible resemblances to the Roman churches. The locals who come here to pray usually remove shoes outside but it is not mandatory. The church can be easily reached via auto-rikshaws or cabs. Some auto rickshaws are on standby on the church premises. Some even may try to lure you into the pretext of showing you around, like I met one. But I was in the mood to explore the rest of my from the Cathedral to the lighthouse on foot, so I ignored them. Yes, you read that right, the church is within walking distance from the Marina taking up to 10-15 minutes. It took me longer because I spotted this cutie, tell me you too see her –
Besant Nagar Beach Aka Elliots Beach
Elliots Beach is located in Besant Nagar, a posh colony of Chennai. This is the beach favoured by the locals & especially the youth. The entrance of the beach is surrounded by some of the best cafes & restaurants in the town.
Elliots Beach also has a landmark Karl Schmidt memorial in memory of a European sailor who got swallowed by the sea in the 1930s when he tried to save a girl.
Chennaites claim the beach to be much cleaner than its counterpart Marina, but in my opinion, both were the same. The Marina beach, however, had this awful smell on the back side of the lighthouse because of the fishing bay. Apart from that, not much difference.
is used to be less touristy, but I could see more tourists & locals there than at the Marina. What I loved about the Elliots was the lively vibe, the college students enjoying their time, families soaking in their feet. The best part was the cafes just outside the beach making it easy to hang out after a beach tour.
Sri Parthasarathy Temple
On the day I landed in Chennai, a chatty cabbie introduced me to this historic temple which was unknown to me. The Kapaleeshwarar Temple is glorious and receives all the attention. But the Parthasarathy temple should also be on your list of places to visit in Chennai in one day. Why you may ask. Because it’s located close to the Kapaleeshwarar temple only which makes it easily accessible.
The 8th-century temple idolises Lord Krishna, and my cabbie graciously explained to me the meaning of the name. Partha is for Lord Krishna and “Sarathy” means charioteer ideally of Arjuna in Mahabharata. The temple is one of the oldest temples in the city which makes a visit to the temple worthwhile.
The temple is often ignored by tourists, even though I wasn’t aware of it. But I received a great introduction which made me recommend it.
Thousand Lights Mosque
Another major Chennai sightseeing place is the Thousand Lights Mosque. The mosque is located in the Anna Salai district of Chennai and was extremely close to where I stayed. I passed the mosque numerous times and admired its beauty but couldn’t visit the mosque. If you have more than a day, I’d definitely recommend visiting the largest mosque in the city, but with only a day, it’s difficult to accommodate all.
Where to Stay in Chennai
Chennai is a huge city with no good or bad place to stay, but if you have only a day, I think it’s best to stay near the city centre. I stayed in IBIS City Centre in Anna Salai, from where the Marina was only 5 km away. But, it’s nice to have options, right?
Park Hyatt Chennai – The hotel is also closely located in the city centre and boasts of being a business hotel. Apart from the Hyatt brand, the hotel’s culinary delights are to look out for. When I was there, I went to Park Hyatt’s Flying Elephant for lunch which left me startled. Although I recommend staying in the Park Hyatt, I would recommend at least enjoying a meal, preferably dinner at The Flying Elephant.
Hyatt Regency – Another Hyatt but equally amazing, located in Anna Salai and extremely close to the Marina. One of the best-rated hotels in the city offering coastal flavours of Italy along with other Asian cuisines.
The Raintree – An hotel surrounded by lush greenery amid Chennai’s bustling life is the Raintree. The complimentary buffet breakfast is their plus along with the quiet location. The Raintree’s other branch is also located in Anna Salai, located close to T-Nagar. The views from the Terrace give the hotel an edge.
Radisson Blu City Centre – A hotel chain located close to Chennai’s railway station and boasts amazing contemporary decor. The restaurant of the Radisson Blu is open all day and serves some of the finest international liquor.
Where to eat in Chennai
Chennai is a wonderful introduction of South India to the world. When in Chennai, I’d suggest never leaving without trying their local cuisine which we North Indians (& practically everyone else ) call “South Indian food”. The freshly prepared dosa, the perfectly rounded idli, uttapam served with Sambhar and the pysum for the sweet lovers. Where to try all or some of these? I’d recommend Murgun Idli for its mouthwatering cuisine.
Apart from all the South Indian food, if you’d like to try international including Asian cuisine, head to The Flying Elephant for sumptuous delicacies.
If you crave Indian delicacies & are open to some cool innovations with food, head to the Spice It restaurant in IBIS City Centre. They also have a bar which is perfect for a boy’s night out.
Chennai is also home to beautiful cafes to chill and hang out with friends & family. I encountered one such cafe, the Wild Garden which was located amid greenery in the true sense. The European feel of the cafe instantly made me love it and the humble staff made it all worthwhile. The prices are slightly higher but the location & decor of the cafe made up for that.
How to reach Chennai
Chennai is well connected through airlines, railways and roads. The city has a domestic as well as an international airport which makes it available for a number of airlines. Look out for the offers, sometimes the fares from Delhi to Chennai can go as low as 5500₹ (75$). The rail network is also well connected to Chennai with major trains like the Chennai Rajdhani Express. The highways leading up to Chennai are well maintained and are connected to nearby metros like Bangalore via the ECR route.
How to commute in Chennai
Public transport is exposed to buses with the latest addition of the metro rail network. Although the metro is still tightening its grip on the city, buses are probably the only major public transport. The auto-rickshaws are the next best bet, but as per local recommendations, they’re worse for tourists. They usually ask for your identification and another ton of questions which intimidated me. Even my hotel’s staff recommended not to go for the autos. So, I opted for uber or ola which wasn’t that cheap but not expensive either. Again, as a local friend told me to opt for Ola for cheaper fares, I chose Ola instead as they had higher availability.
If you have more than a day in Chennai, I highly recommend taking a day trip to Mahabalipuram to explore the gorgeous temples by the shore.
When in Chennai, try to plan for at least 2 extra days and keep them to experience French culture in India. Head to Pondicherry for a quiet & relaxing getaway from Chennai.
Have you been to Chennai? How many of these spots would you like to visit from my list of places to visit in Chennai in one day? Do share your experience with me.
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Amazing post about one day trip to Chennai. I have been to the place in the month of October explored some of these places.
Glad you liked the post.
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Nice breakdown Shivani. I enjoyed my time in this special city, walking around town, feeling the energy of Chennai.
Glad you liked it. Thank you for reading 🙂
Hi Shivani, I loved reading this post of yours. I’ve never thought of, or heard of Chennai as a destination. I’ve only known of it has a hot and humid big city where people have to go for business trips. The Kapaleeshwara temple seems so fascinating. You’ve inspired me to visits the churches, temples and beaches of the south.
Believe me, I was right there with you, but it is more than just a business destination. Glad you liked it. Thank you for reading 🙂
I had never heard of Chennai before, I looks like a wonderful place. The beach and the temple look incredible! Thankyou for sharing.
Yes it indeed is 🙂 Glad you liked it. Thank you for reading.
Wow, I knew very little about Chennai before reading this post. There are so many lovely places to visit there. The beach looks so relaxing. Would love to visit those beautiful temples. Thanks for the great recommendations.
I too never considered Chennai as a tourist destination, but it is surely a different city with its unique culture vibe. Thank you for the comment.
I’m really struck by the two different temples co-existing side by side. The Kapaleeshwarar Temple and St. Thomas Cathedral. Both are stunning and so different. The South Indian Cuisine sounds amazing. I checked out the website of murugan idli shop and all I can say is yum!! It’s too bad the beaches are not clean. They look lovely. Thanks for the highlights of Chennai.
The temples & the churches of Chennai are definitely worth visiting. Beaches were a bit let down for me too, but still better than Mumbai’s, so I’d take that 😀 Thank you for the comment.
What a gorgeous coastal city! I think that Lighthouse is so unique. Not what you’d expect in design. I’d love to explore India one day.
Yes it is different from my expectations but still looks nice 🙂 Hope you get to see India some day. Thank you for the comment.
Had never heard of Chennai – so much to do. Love the design of Kapaleeshwarar Temple. Absolutely stunning!
The temple is truly marvellous, glad you liked it. Thank you for the comment.
Wow, there are so many things to do in Chennai! Honestly, I kind of like the modern look of the lighthouse. It’s very different compared to the typical “barber’s pole” style that I see all the time here in the U.S. The fact that it has great views makes it even more appealing!
The lighthouse + the temple definitely make me want to add Chennai to my “places to see” list. Thanks for sharing!
Yes, Chennai’s lighthouse is modern styled which goes by the city I think, because it’s a metropolitan too. Glad you liked it 🙂 Thank you for the comment.
I remember Chennai from my College days when I had gone to participate in a Law College Moot Court. I even remember horse riding on the Marina Beach LOL… Kapaleeshwarar Temple is really beautiful. Quite a detailed post 🙂
Yes, horse riding is still there, which honestly I find weird, but it’s a thing most tourists prefer 😀 Glad you liked it and thank you for the comment.
Omg awesome! I so want to visit Chennai now after this post. This is truly awesome.
Glad you liked it and thank you for the comment.
I didn’t get to see Chennai but after seeing your posts I regret it!
Oh, maybe next time 🙂 Glad you liked it and thank you for the comment.
I have never been to Chennai, but I would loooove to visit that temple and the beach! That could make a relaxing, fun day, even if you couldn’t fit much else in!
All the South Indian food sounds divine too! <3
The temple was the highlight for me too 🙂 Glad you liked it and also the food. Thank you for the comment.
You’re welcome! I always love your posts. 🙂
MARINA BEACH looks amazing! This is not at all how I pictured India. There are hardly any people in site!
Ha ha, honestly it was 9 in the morning, and it was hot & a working day, that’s why no one was at the beach 😀 But in the evening, the beach livens up 🙂