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With two days in Chennai, not only will you have time to check out the city’s top attractions, but you can also head farther afield to explore some of the many beautifully preserved Pallava temples in the area. Here’s how.
Day 1: Explore Chennai
Morning: Start your day off exploring Chennai’s spiritual side in the Mylapore neighborhood. Begin with an early morning visit to the Kapaleeshwar Temple, a colorful Dravidian-style temple built in the seventh century to honor Lord Shiva. Just next door is the Sao Thome Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Thomas the Apostle, a relic of whom is said to be housed here. Get a neighborhood overview and visit both on a small-group guided tour.
Afternoon: Spend your afternoon in George Town, a charming colonial neighborhood situated around the 17th-century Fort St. George, built by the East India Company. Area highlights include the fort itself, which houses a museum of colonial artifacts, and St. Mary's Church, the oldest British-built structure still standing in India.
Night: As the sun begins to set, make your way over to Marina Beach for a stroll, followed by dinner at a local restaurant. Top off your first night in Chennai with a nightcap at a local bar—quite a few are located just inland from the beach on Cathedral Road.
Day 2: Day Trip to Temples
Morning: Get up early and head out to Kanchipuram, about a 90-minute drive from Chennai. The capital city of the Pallava dynasty, Kanchipuram is home to some of the most spectacular examples of Dravidian architecture in the region. Don't miss the Devarajaswami Temple, notable for its 96-pillar marriage hall. Arrange your own transport or hire a private guide/driver for convenience and a greater understanding of the site’s history.
Afternoon: In the afternoon, head out to Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram), a temple complex dating back to the eighth century. Right on the beach overlooking the Bay of Bengal, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is particularly known for its intricately carved stone temples built under the Pallava dynasty.
Night: While you could head back to Chennai in the evening, it’s worth sticking around Mahabalipuram to watch the sun set. The temples are closed to visitors after dark, but the town is popular with foreign tourists, and there are plenty of little shops selling carved figurines and restaurants selling Indian and international fare.