If you ever find yourself in Chennai with a free day, wondering what to do, here’s a list of 7 beautiful day trips that you can take from the city.
The first place on any such list has to be Mahabalipuram. Located less than 60km from Chennai, the group of monuments here are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This town was quite the crucible of innovation during the reign of the Pallavas, who ruled between the 6th and 9th centuries AD. The monuments of Mahabalipuram showcase the evolution of Dravidian temple architecture as we know it today. The oldest structures here are cave temples, gouged out of rocks. Then came chariot shaped shrines carved out of single monolithic rocks. These eventually gave way to structural temples, similar in design to the temples we see in the region today.
(About 60 km from Chennai)
Sadras or Sadurangapattinam, about half an hour’s drive from Mahabalipuram, was an important Dutch settlement between the 17th and 19th centuries AD. This and their other settlements on the Coromandel coast gave the Dutch a monopoly over trade routes to the East Indies. They built a brick fortress by the sea in Sadras, which was damaged during a siege by the British in the late 18th century. Today, the picturesque ruins of this fort and an adjoining Dutch cemetery with intricately carved tombs make it worth the drive from Chennai.
(About 75 km from Chennai)
3. VEDANTHANGAL BIRD SANCTUARY
The Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary has a huge lake that attracts migratory water birds from many parts of the world with extremely harsh winters. The water in the lake recedes during the hotter months, and fills up when the North-East monsoon sets in - just in time for the birds to arrive. The winged visitors to Vedanthangal include varieties of cormorants, egrets, storks, pelicans, spoonbills, herons and lots more.
(About 90 km from Chennai)
The village of Chandragiri lies in the shadow of the infinitely more famous Tirupati. It is home to a small fort built in 1000 AD by the Yadavaraya rulers of the region. It became a part of the Vijayanagara empire in the 14th century, and Chandragiri served as the capital of the kingdom in the end, right before its final collapse. It is believed that Krishna Deva Raya, the most iconic Vijayanagara ruler, lived in this fort until his ascent to the throne in Hampi. You can visit Chandragiri and be back to Chennai the same day, but if you’re looking to combine it with Tirupati, you’ll need more time than that.
(About 145 km from Chennai)
5. GINGEE FORT
The Gingee Fort is one of South India’s most magnificent forts. It is believed to have been built by the Chola rulers in the 13th century. It went on to be occupied by most of the important dynasties of the era - the Hoysalas, the Vijayanagara rulers (who appointed Nayakas to take care of it), the Bijapur Sultanate, the Marathas, the Mughals, the French and finally the British, after which it faded into obscurity. It is built on 3 hillocks called Rajagiri, Krishnagiri and Chandrayanadurg, tightly enclosing a triangular area that was quite impregnable. Gingee is a great destination if you are looking to combine physical activity (there are three hillocks to climb!) with a dose of history.
(About 160 km from Chennai)
6. TIGER CAVE
Located in Saluvankuppam, about 5 kms before Mahabalipuram as you approach it from Chennai, Tiger Cave is a rock cut temple dedicated to Goddess Durga. The cave resembles a tiger, with a cluster of smaller tiger heads around its head. There is also a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the same complex. As old as the monuments in Mahabalipuram, the structures here are believed to date back to the reign of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I, who ruled during the 7th century AD.
(About 55 km from Chennai)
Kanchipuram is considered one of India’s holiest towns, and is also one of the country’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Historically, Kanchipuram was called the city of a thousand temples, and it has more than a hundred even today. Some temples that you could begin your visit with are the Kailasanathar Temple, the Ekambaranathar Temple, the Kamakshi temple, the Vaikunta Perumal Temple, the Varadharaja Perumal Temple and the Matangeshwarar Temple - and these are just the tip of the glorious iceberg that is Kanchipuram.
(About 75 km from Chennai)
This list is by no means exhaustive - there are so many more shorter as well as longer trips you can take from Chennai, but hopefully, these gave you some ideas to start with!