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5 free things to do in Chennai
Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

By Sudha Mathew

Madras to some, Chennai to some, this is a city that grows on you. At first sight, it looks and feels a tad bit provincial despite being one of the four Metro cities of India and an erstwhile British Presidency. After a while you realize that’s because its distinctive culture has been preserved alongside the growth of IT and manufacturing industry. Do interact with the locals to experience the warmth of the city along with their manic love of Tamil movies.

While Indian cities often aren’t planned with a view to incorporate public spaces and performances, there are a few fun things to do in Chennai that won’t cost you a rupee. When I tell people that it is one of my favourite cities, I am invariably asked about the best places to see in Chennai. This compilation also includes my recommendations to friends.

Be a beach bum

Chennai is a coastal city offering a medley of beaches to choose from. You could choose Marina beach, the world’s second longest beach and the most popular one in the city. Or you could go to Elliot’s beach in Besant Nagar, a young hip sibling of the venerable Marina beach. There are quieter beaches along the coastline like Thiruvanmiyur beach or Covelong beach. Drive around and choose one that appeals to you. Caution: You might see men wearing swimming costume but mostly people of both sexes are fully clothed.

Things to do in Chennai Elliott's Beach
Elliott’s Beach, Besant Nagar.

Take a long drive on ECR Road

Rev up your car or bike and head out on the long stretch of East Coast Road popularly called ECR. Start at Thiruvanmiyur and end at Mahabalipuram. This drive covers a 40 km stretch and will take about an hour depending on speed and traffic. Once you are out of the city, you can spy the sea at many places along the road. If you have the time, you can walk around the World Heritage Site at Mahabalipuram. Tip: Go early in the morning or late in the evening when the heat is less and so is the traffic. 

People watching at Kapaleeswarar temple

Possibly the most popular temple in Chennai, Kapaleeswarar temple is devoted to the Hindu god, Shiva. Devotees believe that praying here can cure you of any disease. Kapaleeswarar Temple is located in Mylapore, a very old area of the city. The little streets around the temple seemed to have stayed the same for decades. They are crowded with small shops catering to the needs of devotees with items like brassware, flowers, lamps, coconut and everything else required for worship. Offering interesting vignettes for street photography, this is the perfect place to get an idea of the cultural traditions of an ancient city. Take a look at this black and white montage of the area and its people. http://ow.ly/lkvPU 

FYI: The temple is open from 5.00 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and from 4.00 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.

Things to do in Chennai -Kapaleeswar Temple
Kapaleeswar temple is the bustling beating heart of Mylapore.

Eat for free at Grand Sweets

Ask a true blue Chennai-beats-in-my veins citizen where to buy the best sweets and there’s only one answer. Grand Sweets! Started by a man called Natarajan after umpteen failed businesses, this was his last attempt to become successful in Chennai. He did make it big and how! Though there are branches across Chennai, make sure you go to the original establishment in Adyar to experience its old world charm. Natarajan was a very religious person. He started a daily tradition of offering a large batch of sweets/savoury dish in a puja to God and then distributing it free to customers. The custom continues till today. The daily offering is usually a sweet dish and is extremely tasty. Tip: Go in the early evening to get your share.

Pretend you are alone in a forest at the Theosophical Society

The Theosophical Society once a buzzing hub of nationalist activities is now a large verdant area in Adyar known mostly to birdwatchers and morning walk enthusiasts.  In this bustling city where it is hot throughout the year, the Society’s grounds provides a welcome green umbrella for a leisurely walkabout. Read more about the Theosophical Society http://www.ts-adyar.org/content/contact-us

FYI: Visiting Hours – Morning: 8.30-10.00am; Afternoon: 2.00-4.00pm

Monday to Saturday. Closed Sunday and Public Holidays



Things to do in Chennai -Theosophical Society

Images courtesy Wikipedia, Seeveeaar and Theosophical Society.


Care to share your fun things to do in Chennai with me?




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Posted by Sudha at 10:27 pm
    Comments ( 3 3)
  • Crunch

    June 19, 2013

    Well if you haven’t been to .. you should walk into some of the really awesome classical or contemporary dance or music concerts. Chennai is so well known for it’s art scene. Pick a sabha (or even a beach – depending on which season it is) and spend an evening watching just about any kind of Indian performance. It’s stunning how varied and wonderful the art scene is there! Nice work on this site by the way :)


  • sudha

    June 19, 2013

    I have to admit shamefacedly that I never went to a classical anything while I lived in Chennai *blush*. But asking for my readers – I know there are many concerts in Margazhi (Dec) but is it also there through the year? and are any of them free? Thanks so much for the compliment on the site.

  • Kishor

    September 15, 2016

    Hey Sudha, Great list. I have been there to all these places. Can be done easily in two days.

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About me

The wise man travels to discover himself - JR Lowell


My name is Sudha Mathew. I'm an ex-banker who quit the rat race after a decade to follow my passion for travel and to combine it with my experience in understanding client requirements and exceeding their expectations.


While our content is mostly about the holiday experience, the accommodation and services, there's so much more to a journey. I have discovered a whole new me through travel. So I've reserved this corner of the website to share the unexpected aspects of travel. This space is also to hear from you about your journeys and discoveries. Bon Voyage!

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