The city might not have any monuments or tourist attractions that are known in the world, but Chennai in India has a very rich culture and history to boast of. Formerly known as Madras, Chennai is now known to be South India’s cultural capital. The city has a very unique cuisine for you to try and a lot of historical, architectural, and interesting sites to visit. When you visit, you can choose to stay among the city’s best beach resorts and sea-view hotels. So get ready to delve into the heart of the city and experience all that it has to offer by making sure to check out these things Chennai is famous for. Scroll down to find out more.
1. Carnatic Music
Carnatic music is one main subgenre of Indian classic music that is rooted in ancient Sanatana dharma traditions. It is commonly associated with the Indian states of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Chennai is home to a large number of Carnatic musicians and was said to be where the genre first occured in the 19th century. The city is also home to Music Season, which is considered one of the world’s biggest cultural events since it is held for six weeks. Initially, the festival is a one-month celebration of Carnatic music, but it has since evolved into other art forms that are non-Carnatic.
Sundal is a popular stir-fry dish in South India that includes chickpeas or other dry legumes prepared with several spices. Sundal, sometimes deemed as the South Indian salad, is normally consumed as a snack because of its quick preparation. Sometimes they are served as a side dish or as a main course for brunch. The chickpeas are boiled in water and salt, and once tender, it is stir-fried with fresh coconut and spices such as mustard seeds, black gram, and curry leaves.
3. Ambur biryani
There are countless versions of biryani in India. This mixed rice dish is prepared with local spices, rice, and meat or eggs. Potatoes can be mixed into the dish in some regional varieties, too. Chennai’s beloved version of this iconic dish is Ambur biryani which originated in the town of Ambur, just a few hours from the city. This particular version of biryani is made with dhalcha (lentil-based curry) and pachadi (fresh pickles) or raita (sliced onions with curd). Ambur biryani is also known for its higher meat ratio.
Tip from Trip101 local expert
While the rest of India, and perhaps the world, knows Chennai for dosa, idli, sambar, etc., the city also has an umpteenth number of non-vegetarian eateries. A very popular option for regular meals here is the 'mess' - you'll find them bustling with regular customers every single day. You may have to wait in queues on weekends and public holidays to get a place. Their popularity goes to show the quality of the food. My personal favorite is New Pattukottai Kamatchi Mess in T. Nagar, Chennai. You must try their mutton meals and mutton biriyani, as add-ons, you can get mutton kola urundai, mutton brain, prawn sukka, and crab gravy. You can wash it all down with a refreshing bottle of Goli soda and then take a nice nap.
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4. British-era Architecture
Chennai is home to magnificent architecture following the Indo-Saracenic style during the British Raj colonial era. This British-era architecture is a revivalist style that is inspired by the Mughal architecture that the British considered as the classic style of India. Some of the major structures in the city that are designed after this architectural style are the Madras High Court Building and the Ripon Building. The first building in India that is designed with Indo-Saracenic style is the Chepauk Palace by Paul Benfield.
5. Technology hub of India
Chennai is quickly becoming one of the largest information technology hubs in India. Next to Bangalore, the city is also notable for being a large exporter of software and the home of big software companies like Adrenalin eSystems, Lister Technologies, and Accel Frontline Ltd. Oracle, HCL, Infosys, and other brands like BirlaSoft and Accenture also calls Chennai as their home in India. The city is also one of the largest providers of business process outsourcing services in the country.
6. Pongal Festival
Known as South India’s most popular festival, the Pongal Festival is a four-day festival celebrated every January 14 to 17. This famous thing in Chennai is a harvest festival dedicated to Tamil Nadu, the Sun God, and is similar to Thanksgiving. Get to see those colorful kolams along every street in Chennai, or try their popular Pongal dish. Experience their unique traditions and rituals as they thank their gods for a year’s bountiful harvest.
7. Historic temples
Devoted Hindu followers all over the world certainly have visited Chennai’s great and historic temples. They offer a very rich religious history and a breathtaking architecture. These amazing heritage temples add up to the diversity and uniqueness of the city. Surely, Chennai’s temples would attract not only Hindu followers but also architecture and history enthusiasts all over the world. One of the must-visit temples in Chennai is the Arulmigu Kapaleeswarar Temple that features a marvelous architecture and intricate carvings.
8. Chennai Super Kings
Cricket is probably one of the most popular and loved sports in India. Almost every city in India has its own cricket team, and Chennai is known for the Chennai Super Kings. It is the city’s very own cricket team that plays in the Indian Premier League. If you are a cricket enthusiast, see them in action in their home ground at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium.
M.A. Chidambaram Stadium
Address: Victoria Hostel Rd, Chepauk, Triplicane, Chennai, India
Website: M.A. Chidambaram Stadium
Jallikattu is Chennai’s traditional bull taming event that is a part of the annual Pongal Festival. The event involves releasing a raging bull into a crowd of people. The participants will then try to get hold of its hump and ride on it for as long as possible. Participants also attempt to get hold of the red flags that come with the horns of the bull. This Chennai special thing has received several backlashes over the years. Despite this, it is still a popular event among locals and foreigners alike.
10. Filter coffee
If the United States has Seattle and Australia has Melbourne, then India also has Chennai to be its “coffee capital.” With its very strong coffee concoction and combined with thick milk, Chennai’s filter coffee is surely one of every coffee aficionado’s favorite. A lot of global coffee shops might have already come to Chennai’s shores, but filter coffee shops are still the preferred ones by the locals and tourists alike. Sip a cup of hot coffee while taking a break from all of your strolling in the city in one of its prized filter coffee shops.
Tip from Trip101 local expert
You can also buy freshly ground filter coffee powder here. My chosen local brand is Kaapiyumm - they have a small outlet in Thiruvanmiyur. But you can also get their coffee powder delivered via Swiggy. But, if the aroma of fresh coffee being ground wafts towards you on the street, just follow the trail to the store. You won't be disappointed.
11. Marina Beach
Marina Beach is Chennai’s most popular tourist attraction. It is India’s longest beach and also the world’s second largest beach with a total stretch of 12 kilometers (7.5 miles). Its long stretch of fine sand is surely the best spot to have your tan or build some sand castles. Its roaring waves and strong currents also make it a perfect place for surfers and water adventurers. Also, check out the Kannagi statue that symbolizes the story of a legendary character from one of the most popular epics in South India.
Address: Triplicane, Chennai, India
12. Ancient monuments
Formerly known as Madras, the City of Chennai has a very rich culture and history over the years. Because of this, a number of monuments have been put up to immortalize these historic events. These monuments have become a hit among tourists. You surely wouldn’t want to miss these architectural marvels. Must-visit ancient monuments include Fort St. George, Freemasons Hall Kamaraj Memorial House and MGR Memorial.
13. Cheap shopping at Ranganathan Street
Ranganathan Street is Chennai’s busiest street because of its status as the shopping center of the city. There’s a diverse array of shops along the street - from interesting and exotic food, beverages, confectionery shops to textile and intricate Indian tapestry. The street is always crowded with both locals and tourists. You might as well try to visit this famed street and get to try their famous cuisines or buy some souvenirs for your loved ones - all at a cheap price.
14. Delicious food
Chennai is also a haven for exotic food and street food lovers. There are certainly a lot of pushcarts, sidewalk stalls, food trucks and fancy restaurants serving the finest Indian food all around the city. Aside from the usual chaats and idlis, you should also try other amazing street foods like muttai curry, atho man, sundal, kozhi roast and parottas.
Bharatanatyam is one of India’s folk dances that originated from Tamil Nadu. It is performed as a solo dance by only women traditionally. The dance exhibits India’s various religious and spiritual themes, especially Shaktism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism. Aside from the dancer, the performance also includes a singer, music and a guru who directs it. Bharatanatyam is a great way to learn and see Indian culture for yourself. You can also enroll yourself in Bharatanatyam classes if you even want to learn more of it.
Enjoy Chennai's rich culture
The diversity and the rich culture of Chennai is indeed something that you should experience at least once in your life. The list above is just a fraction of the famous things that this delightful city has to offer, but it’s not at all exhaustive. However, if you have a limited time in Chennai, then start by checking out our recommendations above and get a feel for what this Indian city has to offer. Get ready to immerse yourself in the amazing Indian culture and make sure to try these on your next trip.
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