Chennai isn’t known as a tourist destination. Rather it’s a place people use as a launching pad to explore the south of India. However we think spending at least a day here is worth it as an introduction to Tamil-Nadu. The city is quite sprawling and upon landing at the airport, I was excited to see Tamil on the signage (the script looks like a cross between Thai and Hindi!) Have as many fruits as possible (safely) – we were bowled over by the deliciousness of the coconuts, pineapples, papayas, and pomegranates here.

You can probably see all the sights in one day, and we had wonderful hospitality at a friend’s place, complete with crowing roosters and delicious home-cooked meals. Thanks Samy!


  • Arulmigu Kapaleeswarar Temple (★★)
    • We started seeing a lot of colorful Hindu temples during our time in Tamil Nadu, but this one is quite spectacular.  It is a fabulous introduction to Dravidian architecture, with tall rectangular pyramids over the gateways.  This temple is located in the neighborhood Mylapore, which means peacock – apt for how colorful these tops were.  The street is lined with vendors selling fresh flowers and of course, trinkets.
    • We were there on a temple day because several people came in with tributes for blessings.  A blessing consists of warming one’s hands over a candle flame and passing them over the forehead and receiving white powder and a flower.  The white powder is then dabbed onto the forehead.
  • Chennai Lighthouse (★★)
    • Fabulous views of Chennai and Marina Beach accompanied with a cool breeze. At the base is a small museum with old relics.
  • Marina Beach (★)
    • Right after the visit to the lighthouse, we walked a bit and dipped our feet into the Bay of Bengal.  It’s a HUGE beach, complete with a a tractor picking up trash.  Apparently the beach comes alive at night.
  • Santhome Cathedral (★)
    • Chennai has such a complex history, even its places of worship are diverse.  This is one of only three churches built over a Jesus’s apostle.  We had been to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, so this was a very interesting change as I don’t think most know that St. Thomas is here.


  • Amethyst (★)
    • This Wild Garden cafe is a bit pricey, but really nice ambiance – the inside is nice and air conditioned and the outside is a leafy green oasis.  Good filter coffee, the Western food was not bad.  There is also a bookshop and boutique upstairs. If you are looking for a beautiful outfit, jewelry, or coffee table book, this is the place to check out. 

OTY’s ★ Rating System
Our rating is similar to the Michelin guide, but applied to attractions as well as restaurants.  Most places won’t be Michelin-priced as we’re on a budget, and sometimes a star may reflect exceptionally good value (like free!).  Since we don’t like to be negative, we don’t include any places that we wouldn’t recommend.
(★★★) Exceptional attraction/cuisine, worth a special journey. Wish we could go back again!
(★★) Delicious and/or delightful, this spot is worth a detour.
(★) Good pitstop, especially if you’re in the area.