13 Unmissable Places to Visit in Tamil Nadu, South India.

13 of the best places to visit in Tamil Nadu, South India.

The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is a fascinating destination to travel because it is home to one of humanity’s oldest remaining living classical civilisations. The areas rich history goes back to the stone age and is easy to see in the places to visit in Tamil Nadu. The area has been in continuous human habitation for over two millennia and the ancient culture is still very much alive today in the Tamils’ language, temples, religion, dance, poetry and food.

Map of places to visit in Tamil Nadu

Map of Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu was the home of 3 ancient Tamil empires – Chera, Chola, and Pandya who were in a constant struggle with each other for control of this land but this contributed to one of the world’s oldest and most unique languages and culture, including some of the oldest extant literature in the world and important ancient Dravidian temples and UNESCO places to visit in Tamil Nadu.

13 of the best places to visit in Tamil Nadu that you simply can't miss

This means that Tamil Nadu is heaven for culture vultures, pilgrims and those who enjoy history and visiting old temples – there are alot of temples in Tamil Nadu so expect these to form much of your sightseeing itinerary when traveling in Tamil Nadu but there are many more places to visit in Tamil Nadu and interesting things to discover in India’s deep south.

Tamil Nadu isn’t as firmly on the backpacker trail as places like Kerala, Hampi and Mysore in Karnataka and the ever popular beaches of Goa but those who make the effort to come over here will travel through and experience one of the world’s oldest living cultures without feeling like they are on the tourist trail too much.

The Best Places to visit in Tamil Nadu:

Chennai High Court, Places to visit in Tamil Nadu, South India

Chennai High Court, Tamil Nadu

Chennai (Madras)

On the first places to visit in Tamil Nadu is the capital Chennai (formerly Madras) Chennai is a busy, sprawling city that holds on to its ancient Tamil culture and traditions and also has some interesting colonial architecture and history. Chennai is not packed with obvious tourist attractions like Delhi but is worth spending a few days to explore the temples, museums, galleries and the beach and to start getting an insight into Tamil culture and get to know the people of Chennai who are infectiously enthusiastic about their city and offer less hassle than in the other big Indian cities.

Chennai makes a great gateway to South India from South East Asia as there are many cheap flights from places like KL, Bangkok and Singapore.

Read More:

Guide to Chennai

The Best Chennai City Tour: Storytrails Walking Tours

kanchipuram silk sarees sml

Kanchipuram silk sarees

Kanchipuram

Kanchipuram, Mahabailpuram and Chennai are often referred to as Tamil Nadu’s Golden Triangle. Kanchipuram was once the capital of the Pallava dynasty, and is famous for its fine silk saris and known as a “City of a Thousand Temples.” Only 100 temples remain today and are noted for their beauty and diversity. Kanchipuram it is only 80 kms from Chennai and is one of the best places to visit in Tamil Nadu on a day trip for the capital.

The Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram

The Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram)

After Chennai one of the most popular places to visit in Tamil Nadu for backpackers is Mahabalipuram, only about 2 hours south of Chennai. Mahabalipuram (Mamallapurma) is a chilled out seaside town home to many interesting temples including the UNESCO World Heritage listed Shore Temple, the Five Rathas (sculptured temples in the shape of chariots) and the huge rock carving of Arjuna’s Penance which depicts scenes from the Mahabharata epic. Mahabalipuram’s beach is more of a fisherman’s beach than one for sunbathing but it’s a good place for surfing and the town has a lively backpacker vibe and also some nice resorts to relax in.

Read More: Mahabalipuram Guide.

 

Tiruvannamalai Temple and Hill

Tiruvannamalai – Arunchaleswar Temple and Mount Arunachala

Tiruvannamalai

Mount Arunachala in the holy Tamil town of Tiruvannamalai is believed to have very special spiritual energy as the mountain is considered to be the embodiment of Lord Shiva and has the ability to quieten the mind. Tiruvannamalai is the one of the best spiritual places to visit in Tamil Nadu and draws both Hindu pilgrims and Western backpackers looking for a more spiritual scene than in nearby Mahabalipuram to the Arunachaleswar Temple and Sri Ramana Ashram and the town is especially busy on full moon nights when pilgrims walk around the holy mountain.

 

French influenced streets of Pondicherry

French influenced streets of Pondicherry

Pondicherry (Puducherry)

Pondicherry is a surprising place to find on the coast of Tamil Nadu – Pondy is actually a tiny separate union territory as it was a former French colony in the 18th Century. Pondicherry is still India but the French influence can still be felt along the relaxed streets of yellow colonial buildings, along the sea front promenade at sunset and in the cafes and patisseries. The Sri Aurobindo Ashram also attracts spiritual seekers and the interesting Auroville community is nearby.

 

The Matrimandir at Auroville

The Matrimandir at Auroville

Auroville

Only about an hour from Pondicherry lies Auroville, one of the most interesting and unique places to visit in Tamil Nadu. Auroville is an experimental utopian international community founded by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother in 1968 as a collective experiment dedicated to human unity and international understanding. You can visit the famous golden Matrimandir and learn about Auroville in a day trip from Pondicherry (as a tourist you can’t go inside the Matrimandir though) but if you really want to learn and experience Auroville then you will need to stay for longer – there are communities, cafes, organic farms and variuos projects and workshops in Auroville and also guesthouses where visitors can stay. An even better to become properly immersed into the community stay and volunteer in Auroville for a few weeks.

Read More: One inspiring day in Auroville: A Utopian Community in South India

Auroville Guide: Things to know before you go 

 

Tanjore Temple

Brihadesware Temple in Tanjore

Tanjore (Thanjavur)

As you head away from the Coast and into the real heart land of Tamil Nadu make time to marvel at the impressive Dravidian architecture at the Brihadeswara Temple in what was once the ancient capital of the great Chola empire. The city is also famous for its amazing golden inlaid Tanjore paintings and you can also check out the decaying Thanjavur Royal Palace.

 

View over Trichy

View over Trichy

Trichy (Tiruchirappalli)

As the geographical centre of Tamil Nadu, Trichy makes a good base but also has enough attractions from it’s colourful history passed between the hands of warring dynasties to entertain you for a day or two. The highlights of Tiruchirappalli include the imposing Rock Fort Temple, the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple (possibly the biggest temple in all India) along with a vibrant bazaar, some more interesting temples.

 

Chettinad Cuisine

Chettinad Cuisine

Chettinad

The Chettinad region is famous for Chettinad cuisine, fiery curries and opulent old mansions filled with curiosities and antiquities from around the world when this region used to be the home of some of the most successful traders and bankers. Some of the mansions and open to the public or have been converted to heritage hotels like Bangala in Karaikudi which is also revered for the amazing 7 course Chettinad meals served on banaa leaves and cooking courses.

 

Meenakashi Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Meenakashi Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Madurai

The ancient Tamil town of Madurai is over 4,000 years old and a vibrant center for Tamil culture, spirituality and learning. Madurai is home to the towering and colourful Meenakshi Temple, one of the most important and most impressive temples in all India and an absolute must see when traveling in South India making Madurai one of the most important places to visit in Tamil Nadu.

Read More:  8 Things to do in Madurai 

View over Ooty, Tamil Nadu

Ooty

If the heat of South India is started to get to you escape to the hill station of Ooty,  short for Ootacamund. This refreshing hill station in the Western Ghats close to the border with Karnataka was the British summer headquarters of the Madras government and nowadays, especially in Summer, the cool breezes and stunning vistas make it one of the most popular places to visit in Tamil Nadu. You can take the fun toy train from Metupalaiyam and enjoy the scenci views, once you reach Ooty enjoy the huge botanical gardens, boating on the Lake and trekking in the hills nearby.

Read More on the hill stations of Ooty and Kodaikanal

 

Railway bridge to Rameshwaram.

Railway bridge to Rameshwaram.

Rameshwaram

Rameshwaram at the most Easterly tip of South India is a peaceful little pilgrim town surrounded in legend and mythology as the place where Hanuman lept across the ocean to Sri Lanka to save Sita in the Ramayana . Rameshwaram is popular with Hindu pilgrims and Indian tourists who come to visit Ramanathaswamy Temple, pray and bathe in the holy water.

Getting to Rameshwaram is itself an adventure as you cross the long bridge that links it to mainland India. Also explore the eerie remains of Dhanuskodi that was destroyed by a cyclone in 1964 not far from Rameshwaram and look out over Adam’s Bridge – a chain of reefs and sandbanks that almost connects India with Sri Lanka, only 30 kms across the ocean.

 

Kanyakumari at sunrise

Kanyakumari at sunrise

Kanyakumari

Finish your exploration of Tamil Nadu by visiting Kanyakumari at the furthermost tip of India. Kanyanumari is a spiritual town where 3 oceans collide as the Bay of Bengal merges with the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. The best time to visit Kanyakumari is on the full moon night in April, you’ll be treated to the magical sight of the sun setting and moon rising simultaneously over the ocean. One of the most famous features of the town is the Swami Vivekananda Memorial and the huge statue of Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar which sit out on a rocky island off the shore.

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13 of the best places to visit in Tamil Nadu, South India

More Tips for traveling in Tamil Nadu

Although there are many incredible places to visit in Tamil Nadu this area is not so touristy as other parts of India and sometimes not so well developed for travellers as popular places like Rajasthan or Kerala. English is not so well spoken or signposted and it can sometimes be hard to find a English speaker and your Hindi won’t get you very far here either as the language is Tamil here.

But don’t let this put you off, Tamil people are generally very friendly and helpful and as a solo female traveller I also felt safe here and didn’t get hassled too much at all.

Traveling as a solo female in Tamil Nadu. At the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram

Traveling as a solo female in Tamil Nadu. At the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram

Also bear in mind that Tamil Nadu, in contrast to most parts of India, gets most of its rain from the North East Monsoons in October, November and December while the rest of India is drying out.

To avoid the rains and the steamy Southern heat the best time to visit Tamil Nadu is between January and March for cooler and drier weather.
After exploring Tamil Nadu you could head into Kerala, the capital Trivandrum is only a few hours train ride from Kanyakumari. Check out my Kerala Guide for loads of awesome things to do and places to go in beautiful Kerala!

Have you traveled in Tamil Nadu? Any tips or awesome places to visit in Tamil Nadu that I missed?

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18 Comments

  • Géraldine says:

    Hi Anna,

    Think I’ll use your itinerary for my one week trip in Tamil Nadu. Please, can you give me some tips in terms of transportation and affordable places to sleep (if you have any)?

    Also did you have a bag packed or a small luggage with you that you left in the guesthouse while you were visiting these places?

    Please let me know.

    Thanks a lot,

    Géraldine

    • Anna says:

      Hi Geraldine, glad my itinerary was useful for you and excited to hear that you are going to Tamil Nadu although it would be very rushed to try and fit all these places into 1 week – it took me almost a month but then I like to travel slow and have work to do as well while I’m traveling. I’m meaning to write up some more guides which would include accommodation but don’t have time at the moment. If you decide which destinations you will go to exactly and email me I’ll send you some recommendations. For the luggage I just left it at the guesthouse while I was out exploring during the day and took out a handbag with me – I don’t worry too much about theft of my belongings in India. Hope you have a good trip! 🙂

  • Sima says:

    Hi Anna, what would be the highlights if you had two weeks to travel tamil nadu? How did you travel between cities? (i.e hired a driver or via train, etc)

    • Anna says:

      Hi Sima

      I traveled solo through Tamil Nadu on local buses only, I didn’t have much luck with the trains – it seemed easier to just hop on the bus but hiring a car and driver isn’t too expensive and would make the trip a little easier although it’s perfectly possible to do it on the bus, even as a solo female.

      I think my highlights if you only have 2 weeks would be to fly into Chennai, visit Kanchipuram as a day trip from Chennai and then Mahabalipuram, Pondicherry and Auroville and Madurai for the Meenakashi temple. From there you could travel into Kerala if you had time – it’s such a beautiful state with the backwaters, beaches and wildlife. I’ve written loads about Kerala http://www.global-gallivanting.com/category/india-2/kerala/

      Hope this helps and hope you have a great trip 🙂

  • Katy says:

    Hi, thanks for this really useful article. What are the beaches like in TN? Are there places you can chill out in a beach hut for a few days and soak up some sun? We love Goa and Kerala but find Goa in particular so Westernised now and would love to explore a new part of India but a bit of beach time is pretty important to us! Thanks for any suggestions.

    • Anna says:

      Hi Katy, Glad that the article has been useful. There are beaches in Tamil Nadu but some are not really sunbathing types of beaches – I def wouldn’t recommend stripping down to a bikini on the beaches n Chennai! The beaches around Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry are quite nice and you could swim and sunbathe there but they still can’t compete with the beach life vibe or facilities of those in Goa or Kerala but if you want a mixture of culutre with a day or two on a beach thrown in you might enjoy. Or how about the Andaman Islands as a quieter alternative to Goa? http://www.drifterplanet.com/havelock-island-the-ultimate-backpacker-destination/ or Sri Lanka? I wouldn’t say TN is the best place for a beach holiday tbh.

  • Beautiful clicks and nice write up about our state Tamil Nadu. There are lot more places to visit , if you want any help in finding car or driver in future pls let us know.

  • Craig Charles says:

    Hi Anna, I’m visiting India in November for two weeks, I fly not bombay and then onto Goal for a few days. After this I’m planning to visit the Isha foundation area and adiyogi statue, so would also be visiting Coimbatore for a night or 2. What’s your knowledge of Coimbatore and staying their.

    • Anna says:

      Hi Craig – I haven’t visited Coimbatore yet sorry. I’m interested to visit the Isha foundation though. Hope you have a good time there 🙂

  • Vishnu Chandran says:

    Glad to hear that u love kerala so much😍😍😊nice article also..and I am going to tamilnadu next week so this is so helpfull.. Thank u anna

  • Palak Jain says:

    Hey, This is very useful article. Can you suggest me few more beaches in Tamil Nadu? I love Goa and Kerala but they become more westernised, so i wanted to explore now in Tamil Nadu.

  • santhosh says:

    It is such a good article which gives us ideas about the places to be visited in Tamilnadu.
    Can you suggest which are best Resorts or hotels in Kovai.

  • Nisha says:

    Wow! Nice collection of information about South India. It helps a lot thanks for making

  • Maggie says:

    Hi Anna
    As regards Auroville – is it easy just to walk about there – any other transport other than scooters and bicycles?
    You really are an inspiration and I look forward to reading more about your travels in India!
    Many Blessings
    Maggie

    • Anna says:

      Thanks Maggie! Auroville is quite spread out across the countryside and forest. I don’t think I could really recommend walking around there and the community want to avoid vehicles as much as possible. I think they were setting up a community public transport system. See more info here – https://www.auroville.org/contents/2801

  • jack says:

    Thanks for sharing very nice blog post amazing traveling information.

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