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Chennai (Madras) Travel Guide

About Chennai (Madras)

Chennai, the fascinating, frenetic capital of Tamil Nadu, offers the perfect introduction to the Indian south – colourful temples, famously spicy food and a rich history that leaps out of the architecture.

Formerly known as Madras, Chennai was the site of the first British trading post in South India, and the legacy of the Raj is still visible in the colonial buildings and historic churches that dot the streets of the old city, centred on Fort St George. For more than a century, rival colonial powers squabbled over this corner of South India before the British finally gained the upper hand in the 18th century.

Modern Chennai has grown up rather haphazardly around this colonial core, sprawling along the coastline beside the city’s most famous landmark, the 13km-long (8 mile) Marina Beach. This wide strip of sand is where Chennai residents come to promenade, fly kites, eat snack food and just unwind away from the urban crush.

As the capital of the Dravidian south, Chennai is understandably proud of its Tamil culture, with traditions and religious customs that predate the influx of tribes from central Asia into the north of India.

You’ll see signs of Tamil culture everywhere, from the curving letters of Tamil script on shop signs to energetic performances of Carnatic music and dance and the riotous films produced in Kollywood – the southern Chennai suburb that is home to India’s second largest film industry.

The Tamil influence is also obvious in the city’s famously spicy cuisine, with fiery vegetarian curries flavoured with coconut, tamarind and chilli – traditionally served on banana leaf plates.

Other must try dishes include dosa (crispy rice and lentil pancakes), idli (steamed rice cakes), uttapam (like a dosa but topped with vegetables) and the spicy chicken, lamb and seafood curries produced by the Chettiar community.

In many ways, Chennai is still traditionally conservative, lacking the cosmopolitan flavour (and nightlife) of Mumbai, Bengaluru (Bangalore) and Delhi. However, Chennai is just a short bus or train ride from some of South India’s most famous sights, including the ancient temples of Mamallapuram and the French outpost of Pondicherry.

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Featured Hotels


The Park Chennai

Converted from the old Gemini Film Studios, this 5-star deluxe property offers sleek modern design with a spattering of movie magic. Original film posters fill the stylish lobby and the movie theme extends to the rooms and hallways. Rooms are modern and stylish, with wood flooring, frosted glass and sumptuous fabrics. There is also a rooftop pool and stress-banishing spa, plus several bars and restaurants.

ITC Grand Chola Hotel

Vast and opulent, the Grand Chola lives up to its ostentatious name, with 522 rooms and 78 luxurious serviced apartments in a veritable palace with lush grounds in the heart of Chennai. The décor evokes the wealth and luxury of the Chola Dynasty, the greatest maritime power to rise in South Asia, with carved columns, curving stairways, granite statuary and vast open spaces.

Vivanta by Taj Connemara

There are several lavish Taj properties in Chennai, but Vivanta by Taj Connemara is the closest the city has to a proper heritage hotel. Set in an art deco mansion, the hotel was founded in 1854 but remodelled extensively during the colonial period. Rooms are calm and sophisticated, the dining options are top notch and there's a gorgeous palm-shaded pool.

The Residency Towers Chennai

Offering top value for excellent facilities, the Residency Towers has stylishly furnished rooms and suites in a handy location between Thyagaraya Nagar and Teynampet. It's a smart modern property, with a swimming pool, a small gym and good eating and drinking options on site, including South Indian restaurant Southern Aromas, and the popular Bike & Barrel bar.

E Hotel

Located in the Express Avenue mall, this boutique property has excellent shopping right on the doorstep, and a crisp, modern style that marks it out from the competition. The 44 rooms are equipped with flatscreen TVs, Wi-Fi, tea and coffee making facilities, a mini bar and plush bathrooms, with some pretty textiles to add a splash of colour.

Hyatt Regency Chennai

Offering the usual Hyatt Regency package in a convenient location close to the attractions of Mylapore, this hotel provides the comfort of familiarity in this often hectic city. There are 327 comfortable rooms with excellent facilities, plus three restaurants, a spa and fitness centre and a tempting pool to cool down from the heat.