There is a reason that Chennai is dubbed the ‘Gateway to the South’ since it makes an excellent base to travel Southern India, but not only just, you can even visit some of the region’s most interesting sites around Chennai in just a day, so check out our recommendations for the best day trips from Chennai.
The city of Pondicherry is one of South India’s largest tourist destinations. The former French colony is famed for its colonial buildings, churches and temples. One of the curious features of Pondicherry is its mix of Tamil culture and roots with a distinct French accent that has been left over from the colonial era, where you’ll find wide leafy avenues and a laid-back joie de vivre.
The top tourist sights in Pondicherry include its beaches and its ashrams. The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is one of India’s most famous centres. It is set up like a small experimental town just outside of Pondicherry city. In addition to the Pondicherry ashram, the city is famous for its yoga festival as well.
For those who want to miss out on the meditation time, Pondicherry still has a lot to offer, with old churches dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries and historic buildings left behind by the French.
The Thirukameswar Temple is one of the most beautiful in the region and merits a visit on its own as it is.
Being only a couple hours drive from Chennai, so it’s very easy to do Pondicherry in a daytrip.
Located just 60 kilometres outside of Chennai, this town is a jewel in Tamil Nadu, with a concentrated cluster of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the town. The stunning Shore Temple and a group of rock-carved sanctuaries dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries offer plenty of places to visit in Mahabalipuram.
Sites in Mahabalipuram include the Thirukadalmallai temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, which was built by the Pallava King. The Descent of the Ganges is an open air relief, and the rock cut Varaha Cave Temple and the Shore Temple should be enough to entice curious visitors on an excursion from Chennai. This is definitely one of the best day trips from Chennai you can take. If you pick one, make sure it’s Mahabalipuram.
This city in Tamil Nadu dates back to antiquity, and is famous for its temple to the Dancing God, which covers an area spanning 40 acres at the heart of the city. This temple dedicated to Shiva, is not just one of the places to visit in Chidambaram, but it’s also a major pilgrimage site.
Asides from the ancient temple, the city itself is also full of character, where people can divine the future from old palm leaves, and many travel to Chidambaram just to get a horoscope reading.
If you want to see as many temples as possible in the shortest space of time, then Kanchipuram should be top of the list. With 7 temples to its name, where the oldest temple, the Kailasanthar Temple, dates back to the 7th century and is one of India’s holiest places and the top tourist attraction in Kanchipuram.
And it’s not just the temples the town is famous for, but it’s also renowned for its silk weavers, which makes Kanchipuram the saree hub of the country. The combination of temples, sarees and local culture ranks an excursion to Kanchipuram as one of the best day trips from Chennai.
If you’re looking for a spiritual switch-off then Thiruvannamalai is one of the best day trips from Chennai. The ancient Annamalaiyar Temple is one of the five Shiva temples with a manifestation of a natural element, in this case it’s fire.
Another top tourist attraction in Thiruvannamalai is Tirumalai, a Jain temple complex and home to three caves and four temples and a 5m high 12th century sculpture of Neminatha, making it the tallest sculpture in Tamil Nadu.
There are also a few ashrams, drawing in a more spiritual crowd into the town.
This small town in northern Tamil Nadu is set between four mountains at 920 metres above sea level. Yelagiri is a great spot to stay the night and engage in some hiking. There is an attractive lake, waterfalls and activities for the whole family to get into on a relaxing trip into the hills. If you’re more into nature than monuments, Yelagiri is one of the best day trips from Chennai in that case.
The Rickshaw Challenge, a crazy rickshaw rally across South India organized by our partners the Travel Scientists, visits many of these places. You’ll drive your own auto-rickshaw while the Travel Scientists organize everything else from the itinerary to the accommodation for the whole group of adventurers.