Busy streets, a motley collection of architectural wonders, fiery local cuisine and a thriving film industry make Chennai (Madras), India‘s fourth largest city, the perfect hub from which to experience true India, both the glamorous and the gritty. Whether you’re spending a day or a week in the capital of Tamil Nadu, here are ten of the city’s best things to do.
1. Take a religious tour.
Chennai’s eclectic mix of catholic churches, Hindu temples and Islamic mosques make the city a living, breathing crash course in comparative religion. Don’t miss St Thomas Mount and the San Thome Cathedral, Kapaleeshwar Temple, and Wallajah Mosque.
2. Catch a Kollywood film.
Chennai is home to Kollywood, India’s second largest film industry, and if there’s one thing Tamils take very seriously, it’s their movies. Cool off on a hot afternoon with a visit to the cinema. Many of the films are dramatic enough that you don’t really need to understand Tamil to get the gist of what’s going on.
3. Browse the collection at the Government Museum.
The 46 galleries of the Government Museum house, among other things, the best collection of traditional Indian bronze sculptures anywhere in the world.
4. Relax on Marina Beach.
The world’s second largest city beach is also prime people-watching real estate. Get there early in the morning to watch the fishing boats head out to sea and stay for a day of lazing on the 7.5-mile (12-kilometer) stretch of sand.
5. Haggle for knick-knacks at the Pondy Bazaar.
Elbow your way through the crowds shopping the dozens of stalls at Chennai’s Pondy Bazaar to hone your negotiation skills and find a bargain on glitzy jewelry, colorful saris, fresh produce and street snacks.
6. Watch and learn a classical Indian dance.
Hundreds of Bharata Natyam performances take place in Chennai every year. The classical dance form originated in Tamil Nadu and is characterized by statuesque poses and graceful movements.
7. Treat your taste buds to spicy Chettinad cuisine.
Meat lovers can catch a break from the largely vegetarian Indian food scene with chicken, mutton and fish dishes prepared with the spicy, aromatic flavors characteristic of Chettinad cuisine. Keep a bottle of water on hand, as this food is considered one of the spiciest in Asia.
8. Take a day trip to the Sacred City of Kanchipuram.
The City of a Thousand Temples is one of India’s seven holiest cities and the place to go to shop for silk saris while taking in the classical Dravidian architecture.
9. Revisit the Raj at Fort St George.
Built in 1640, Fort St George was the first British colonial foothold in India. The local legislative assembly now meets here, but you can still tour the grounds and check out the Raj artifact collection in the Fort Museum.
10. Watch a cricket match at MA Chidambaram Stadium.
Cricket is to India what baseball is to America, and the whole city of Chennai seems to pause whatever they’re doing whenever a match comes on. Chennai’s own Super Kings play here, and you can pick up your own set of inexpensive cricket equipment in the sporting goods shops nearby.