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Chennai Information Guide and City Profile

What You Need to Know About Visiting Chennai

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The Tower of Marundeeswarar Temple-Chennai, India
Photo by learning.photography (Gautam Chakrabarti) - India/Moment Open/Getty Images

Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, is known as the gateway to south India. Despite being an important city for manufacturing, health care, and IT, Chennai has managed to retain a spaciousness that's lacking in other major Indian cities. It's a sprawling and busy, yet conservative, city with deep traditions and culture that are yet to give way to the growing foreign influence there. This Chennai guide and city profile is full of travel information and tips.

History:

Chennai was originally a cluster of small villages until English merchants of the British East India Company selected it as the site for a factory and trading port in 1639. The British developed it as a major urban center and naval base, and by the 20th Century the city had become an administration hub. In recent years, Chennai has achieved booming industrial growth across a range of sectors, encouraged by the city's favorable infrastructure and availability of space.

Location:

Chennai is located in the state of Tamil Nadu, on the eastern coast of India.

Timezone:

UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) +5.5 hours. Chennai does not have Daylight Saving Time.

Population:

Chennai has a population of over 8 million people, making it India's fourth largest city after Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata.

Climate and Weather:

Chennai has a hot and humid climate, with summer temperatures in late May and early June often reaching an extreme 38–42 degrees Celsius (100–107 degrees Fahrenheit). The city receives most of its rainfall during the northeast monsoon, from mid September to mid December, and heavy rains can be a problem. The temperature decreases to an average of 24 degrees Celsius (75 Fahrenheit) during winter, from November to February, but doesn't drop below 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit).

Chennai Airport Information:

The Chennai International Airport is very conveniently located only 15 kilometers (9 miles) south of the city center. It's well connected in terms of transport. The best way to get to the city center from the airport is by taking a prepaid taxi from the arrivals terminal (the booth nearest to the door is government regulated), however it's also possible to take the train. There's a train station (Tirusulam) across the road not far from the airport, and suburban trains run from there to Egmore Station. Travel time is around 40 minutes. Alternatively, Metropolitan Transport Corporation bus services are also available.

Alternatively, Viator offers hassle-free private airport transfers from $23. They can be easily booked online.

Transport:

Three wheeled auto rickshaws offer the easiest way of getting around but unfortunately fares are relatively expensive and rarely charged as per the meter. Foreigners are invariably quoted excessively high rates (often more than double) and should be prepared to negotiate hard before the journey. Note: Chennai's Auto Rickshaw Revolution and new options for travel by autos. The taxis in Chennai are known as "call taxis". These are private cabs that need to be phoned in advance and cannot be hailed from the street. It's a good idea to hire one of these taxis to go sightseeing, as attractions are very spread out. Buses are cheap and cover most of the city. There's the local train service as well.

What to See and Do:

Unlike some other cities in India, Chennai doesn't have any world famous monuments or tourist attractions. It's a city that requires time and effort to really get to know and appreciate it. These top 10 places to visit in Chennai will give you a feel for the city's distinctive culture and what makes it special. There are two amusement parks located a short distance from the city -- the amusement park at VGP Golden Beach, and MGM Dizzy World. The five week Madras Music Season in December and January is a big cultural draw card. The annual Pongal festival also happens mid January. However, Chennai unfortunately lacks the cosmopolitan nightlife of other Indian cities.

If you have time for a side trip, also consider these 5 Places to Visit Near Chennai. The tourist circuit of Chennai, Mammallapuram and Kanchipuram is often referred to as Tamil Nadu's Golden Triangle.

Where to Stay:

Hotels in Chennai are generally less expensive than in cities such as Mumbai and Delhi. It's possible to stay at a luxury hotel in Chennai for under $200 per night. Mid range hotels also provide great value for money. And, if you want to try something different with a personal touch, stay at a bed and breakfast! Here are 10 of the best Chennai hotels, with convenient locations, for all budgets.

Health and Safety Information:

Chennai is a relatively safe destination that experiences less crime than most other major Indian cities. The main problems are pickpocketing and begging. Beggars specifically target foreigners and can be quite aggressive. Avoid giving any money because it will only attract them in swarms. The unruly traffic in Chennai is another problem to be aware of. Drivers often drive in an undisciplined manner, so extra care should be taken when crossing the road.

As Chennai is also one of the most conservative major cities in India, it's important to dress in a manner that respects this. Revealing or tight fitting clothes, both on men and women, should be avoided even at the beach. Lightweight clothes that cover the arms and legs are best.

Chennai's climate requires special consideration to be given to health during the summer and monsoon season. Dehydration and other heat related illnesses are a concern in the extreme heat. Flooding during the heavy monsoon rains also increases the risk of bacterial diseases such as leptosporosis and malaria. Therefore additional monsoon season precautions should be taken in Chennai. Do visit your doctor or travel clinic well in advance of your departure date to ensure that you receive all the necessary immunizations and medications.

As always in India, it's important not to drink the water in Chennai. Instead buy readily available and inexpensive bottled water to stay healthy.

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