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Chennai Travel Guide | Explore Ancient Madras in Tamil Nadu

by Steven
Published: Last Updated on

The city of Chennai is best known by its old name of Madras. It is the main city of the state of Tamil Nadu and the fifth-largest city in the country. Chennai has about 4.5 million inhabitants and is located on the beautiful Bay of Bengal. Marina Beach is the main beach of the city and also the largest in the country. And the inhabitants of Chennai are only too proud of that! And there is plenty for tourists to discover in this historic city. Are you planning to visit Chennai? In this travel guide, you can read all about this Indian pearl of the south.

What would you like to know about Chennai in India?

A brief history of Chennai

Chennai today has some special nicknames. For instance, it is also called the Detroit of India, because of the large number of cars produced here. But also India’s Health Capital and Banking Capital of India are nicknames that give the city considerable prestige.

As early as the sixteenth century, the Portuguese built a small fort here to influence trade in this region. Around 1612, the Dutch took over for a short time, but it was finally the British who built a fort called St. George from 1639. It ensured that Madras became one of the most important trading centers in Asia for the British East India Company. Although in 1749 the French tried to take control of the fort, the British proved too strong. By the late 1800s, they controlled much of the trade that took place in India.

That British influence never left. For example, they built a large railroad network that connected Chennai to other major cities such as Bombay (Mumbai) and Calcutta. Also, around 1893 the British built the white cathedral San Thome Basilica. Industrialization also seemed to be in full swing in India.

When India declared independence in 1947, Madras became the capital of Madras Province. The name of this province was changed to Tamil Nadu in 1956. It would eventually take until 1996 for the city of Madras to be renamed as well. Now we know it mainly as Chennai, although the name Madras will always be associated with this historic city.

Sightseeing – What to do in Chennai?

Because of its British colonial past, Chennai still has an old fort that is used today as a military and medical center. But you will also find some nice temples and even churches. A brief description of the best historical sights can be found here.

Fort St. George: Actually, the city is built around this fort. The British built a bastion here in 1639 to defend the spice trade. So you will find a museum here where the history of the city is clearly explained. And do not forget to visit St. Mary Church. Upon arrival at the fortress, it is mandatory to identify yourself, as part of it is also used as a military center.

San Thome Basilica: This is the most important church in India. This white basilica is a place of pilgrimage for many Catholics, as they claim that the Apostle Thomas was buried here. This tomb can also be visited in a small room in the basement of a building next to the church.

The Kapaleeshwarar Temple: This is the most important Hindu temple in the city. It was built in the 7th century in honor of the god Shiva. It is located in the district of Mylapore and can be combined with a visit to the San Thome Basilica.

Government Museum Chennai: This museum is located in the district Egmore. It was built in 1851 and is one of the oldest in India. And to be honest, I still found it quite enjoyable for a few hours. There are several halls that tell about the history of people and culture in Tamil Nadu.

Accommodation – Where to stay in Chennai?

Visiting Chennai meant a first introduction to India for me. And I admit, it was not easy. But the city does have a certain charm that I only really got to know at the end. I stayed here for three nights at the hotel Le Stay Inn in the Triplicane district. The hotel was cheap, the bed was fine, and downstairs around the corner, there was a restaurant with a great breakfast. But the hotel was chilly in my opinion and the rooms were very basic.

Looking for accommodation in Chennai? Check here for the possibilities

Transportation – How to get to Chennai?

The city’s airport is called Chennai International Airport. There are no direct flights from Amsterdam to Chennai, but you can change through another city in India. From the airport you can take the metro to the city center. A cheaper option is the bus. The city’s main train stations are Chennai Egmore Train Station and Chennai Central Station. Both stations are located near each other and trains depart from here to the rest of the country. Is the next destination New Delhi? Then you’d better book a plane ticket, because the train takes one and a half days.

Next destination in India?

From Chennai, you can go in all directions in India. I myself went to the south and visited the beautiful coastal temple of Mahabalipuram. Then you can go on to Puducherry and Madurai. For the north go to Hyderabad and for the west the big IT capital of the country, Bangalore.

Do you have any tips and ideas about Chennai in Tamil Nadu, India? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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