How to Spend 24 Hours in Chennai

How to Spend 24 Hours in Chennai
Chennai Central is one of the oldest and biggest railway stations in India Photo Credit: GEMINI PRO STUDIO /

Scorching hot during summer and unbelievably crowded, the modern city of Chennai dipped in traditions from its Madras days never fails to surprise a traveller

Vishnu Mohan
October 05 , 2020
05 Min Read

A city of old tales and modern trails, Chennai with its beaches, temples, and culture, is a treat for any visitor. This modern-day city is deeply rooted in its Madras days reflecting a rich history and heritage. Set on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, this fast-growing metropolis known for its sultry, tropical climate offers a feeling of warmth to anyone coming in. Taking a tour of the ‘gateway of South India' means a lot of walking, riding in tuk-tuks, and indulging in lip-smacking authentic Tamil cuisine.

Here's how to do a 24 hours trail in Chennai. 


Eat the Tamil Way

Masala dosa served with coconut chutney and sambar is a local favourite

Start with a daybreaker meal of fresh, authentic idli, dosa, vada, or parotta-kurma. A mini-meal called tiffin is savoured in place of breakfast (or an early dinner). Reasonably priced, a good south Indian meal at the city’s vegetarian restaurants, cafes and bhavans are a must-do while in Chennai. 

On a Temple Trail

The Gopura of the Kapaleeswarar temple sculpted with colourful idols is a sight

Next go temple spotting. The loudest and most appealing facets of Chennai is its treasure of temples. With rich mythological connections, the city is home to many of these, all mostly ancient ones. Their structural beauty with colourful murals and carvings make them stand out. We especially recommend the Parthasarthy and Kapaleeswarar temples.

The Church Saga

The basilica was built in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers

Located close to the Kapaleeshwarar Temple is the Santhome Cathedral Basilica Church. The 16th-century structure is renowned worldwide as one of the only three churches built over the tomb of an Apostle of Jesus Christ — St. Peter in Vatican City, St. James in Compostela in Spain, and St. Thomas in Chennai. The tomb of St. Thomas is supposed to contain a bone fragment of the saint’s finger and a cross he had carved in the basement of the church. 

The Colonial Past

The fort complex sheds light at the colonial period of Madras

Founded in 1639, Fort St. George is the first English fortress in India. The 17th-century monument built by the British for trade purposes, today houses the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly. It also hosts two interesting tourist sites in the St. Mary’s Church and the Fort St. George Museum.

Wild in the City

Escape the city for a while at the Guindy National Park. Spanning about 2.7 sq. km, the park comprises forests, lakes, and streams, making Chennai one of the few cities in India to have a national park built within city limits. The inhabitants here include the endangered blackbuck, spotted deer, numerous reptiles, birds, and a fascinating variety of insects and butterflies.

The Vandalur Zoo, situated about 40 km from the city, is India’s first and largest zoo. Also known as the Arignar Anna Zoological Park, the 510-hectare zoo is known for its mystical white tigers. Apart from the majestic cats, chimpanzees, ostriches, and deer can be spotted here. 

Shop for Silk 

After you are done checking out the sights, visit Pondy Bazaar. Also known as Soundarapandia Bazaar, it is one of the busiest street shopping districts in India. The silk sarees sourced from village weavers are the perfect souvenir to take back home.

Monumental Magic

The shore temple was built completely of large blocks of granite

A drive away from the city lies the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mahabalipuram. The ancient site is a time capsule to the 6th century, home to exquisite rock carvings, cave temples, and monuments. It once served as an important trading port for the people of Rome and Greece. 

Evenings at the Beach 

 Catch a bird’s eye view of Chennai from the lighthouse at Marina beach

No trip to Chennai is complete without visiting its beaches. And Marina Beach is up there with the best. The beachfront well within city premises, and you can spend hours strolling here, taking in the waves, and having street food. Walking the whole beach, however, is a tough task, as it is the second-longest beach in the world with a coastline of around 13 km. 

Located at Besant Nagar well in the city premises, Elliot’s Beach (named after Edward Elliot, the then Governor of Madras) is yet another picturesque sand trail in Chennai. Calm, tranquil, and easily accessible, it is a less-crowded alternative to Marina. The long stretches of the beach host the Schmidt Memorial which commemorates Karl Schmidt, a European sailor who drowned trying to save the life of a girl in 1930. 

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