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Chennai is the fourth biggest city in India, but you’d never guess it from the slow pace of life and the modest demeanor of its inhabitants. Formerly known as Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu is famous for its film industry - the second largest in India, after Mumbai - and its incendiary spices, best sampled as part of a traditional thali (all-you-can-eat meal). Historically, Madras was a busy trading port, and 2000 years of expansion have created a crowded, disjointed modern sprawl. Almost every visitor to Tamil Nadu passes through Chennai, but most people move quickly on to smaller, more manageable destinations elsewhere in the state. ...

Chennai is the fourth biggest city in India, but you’d never guess it from the slow pace of life and the modest demeanor of its inhabitants. Formerly known as Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu is famous for its film industry - the second largest in India, after Mumbai - and its incendiary spices, best sampled as part of a traditional thali (all-you-can-eat meal). Historically, Madras was a busy trading port, and 2000 years of expansion have created a crowded, disjointed modern sprawl. Almost every visitor to Tamil Nadu passes through Chennai, but most people move quickly on to smaller, more manageable destinations elsewhere in the state. Highlights for visitors include the ornate carvings on the Kapaleeshwar Temple and cooling evening strolls along the 12 km (7.5 miles) of sand at Marina Beach. Most locals are committed vegetarians, and meat and alcohol can be hard to find, but nightlife is better than you might expect thanks to a rich tradition of Indian classical music and performing arts.

Joe Bindloss
About the Expert

Joe Bindloss has written more than 30 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, Time Out and other publishers, with a focus on Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent and island nations.

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Joe Bindloss for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, Tamil Nadu state, south India
  • Language: Tamil, English
  • Currency: Indian Rupee
  • Research: Wikitravel
  • Weather: Daylight | Rainfall
  • Current Time:

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    November to February, particularly December for the annual Festival of Carnatic Music and Dance