The capital city of Tamil Nadu and the financial centre of Southern India, Chennai has, in recent years, come into the limelight only for its growing metropolitan nature. However, many people are unaware of the fact that Chennai is not only rich in cultural, educational and recreational activities but also has gained international recognition for the same, by trusted forums such as the New York Times and Lonely Planet.

1. Kapaleeswarar Temple

Kapaleeswarar Temple

Photo by Aleksandr Zykov, CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the most important religions destinations in Southern India, the Kapaleeswarar Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and houses one of his lingams. Said to have been established by the Lord Brahma himself, this temple has multiple legends of piety and penance attached to it.

The temple was built in the 7th century CE by the Pallavas. Standing at 120 feet, it is a massive structure, towering over the street before it, and is designed in the Dravidian style of temple architecture that is common in Southern India. The entrance to the structure is over forty feet and leads to a lake on the other end. The walk through the temple is the most intriguing, as it will take you through an intricate path of shrines and temples dedicated to various Gods, Goddesses and mythological legends.

2. Santhome Basilica

Santhome Basilica

Photo by Vinoth Chandar, CC BY 2.0

One of the few major cathedrals in India, Santhome comes with an interesting story. Saint Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ was martyred and buried here and it was on his tomb that the Portuguese build the Basilica in the 16th century. In 1893, the British rebuilt the Basilica and converted it into a cathedral. It is even said that once in every few hundred years; the cathedral provides a small amount of sand to its devotees, which devout Christians believe to have healing powers. The cathedral was also briefly witness to battle between the English and French trading companies for control over trade in India.

Built in the Neo-Gothic architectural style, Santhome is, even today, a major pilgrimage for Indian Christians.

3. The Government Museum

The Government Museum

From Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Started in 1851, the Government Museum is the second oldest museum in India. It is spread over 16 acres of lands and includes the museum itself, famous for its collection of archaeological and numismatic artefacts, the National Art Gallery, the Connemara Public Library, an initiative by the British to help preserve manuscripts within India and remains one of the four libraries to receive a copy of every manuscript ever published, the Museum Theatre, a colossal theatre where Shakespearean plays used to take place, and have been replaced by events showcasing Indian culture and a children’s museum, with interactive ways to educate the children.

4. Fort St. George

Fort St George

From Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Fort St. George, or the White Town, is an important mark in recent Indian history. This is the very first English fort built in India in 1644 by the East India Company and some could say, marked the beginning of their gradual infiltration into the Indian subcontinent. It was established so as to give the East India Company a stronghold over the spice route and thus became the sight of much violence between the French and the English.

The Fort includes the oldest English church in India as well as a museum that houses some ancient treasures, including the first ever Indian flag to be flown on the day of Independence. In fact, it is said that the flag was designed at this Fort. Many other events of historic significance have also occurred here.

5. Marina Beach

Marina Beach

Photo by Darshan Simha, CC BY 2.0

At thirteen kilometres long, the Marina Beach holds the record for being the second longest beach in the world. It is also the most popular beach in the country, attracting over 30,000 visitors each day. However, a trip down to this scenic beach during morning or evening hours is a must, when only fishermen can be noticed going about their work in the distance and the surroundings are quiet and the sand has been washed clean. A walk down the Marina beach will be like a walk through Chennai itself, where you see how the people and get to experience their food, wares and culture, with the backdrop of the ocean.

Chennai has all this and a lot more to offer. It’s a city that has grown exponentially with time and become a financial giant and is yet simple, gentle and humane at the same time.