Tamil Nadu, with its distinctive ancient Dravidian culture, is a fascinating part of South India. The state draws both tourists and pilgrims alike to its towering, intricately built temples. Beaches and hill stations are popular destinations as well. Due to its culture, Tamil Nadu is a particularly hassle-free destination to visit, especially for women. Enjoy these top tourist places in Tamil Nadu.
Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, is known as the gateway to south India. 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. The city's main attractions are its beach, temples, museums and galleries, old Portuguese style churches, and amusement parks.
Around one hour south of Chennai, you'll find the best beach on the east coast—Mahabalipuram (also known as Mamallapuram). The beach has a thriving backpacker scene but is also popular with tourists who come to relax at the resorts there. It's known for its stone sculpture industry and is a great place to shop for these items. Other attractions are the Shore Temple, Five Rathas (sculptured temples in the shape of chariots), and Arjuna's Penance (a huge carving on the face of a rock depicting scenes from the Mahabharata).
Popularly known as a "City of a Thousand Temples", Kanchipuram is not just famous for its distinctive silk saris. Located around 80 kilometers from Chennai, on the main road to Bangalore, it was once the capital of the Pallava dynasty. Today, only 100 or so temples remain, many of them with unique architectural beauty. The diversity of temples is particularly noteworthy. There are both Shiva and Vishnu temples, built by various rulers (the Cholas, Vijayanagar kings, Muslims and British also ruled this part of Tamil Nadu) who each refined the design.
Kanchipuram, Mamallapuram, and Chennai are often referred to as Tamil Nadu's Golden Triangle for tourists.
Pondicherry, a separate union territory on the east coast of Tamil Nadu, is not really a place that you'd expect to find in India. It was a former 18th-century French colony and still retains a distinctly French flavor. Those who feel in need of a break from India will enjoy the taste of French culture there and the relaxed atmosphere. Sri Aurobindo Ashram attracts plenty of spiritual seekers. The French Quarter and the Promenade, bordered by the Bay of Bengal, are the most happening parts of the city. Auroville is a popular day trip.
Ancient Madurai in Tamil Nadu is home to the most impressive and important temple in south India --the Meenakshi Temple. If you only see one south Indian temple, the Meenakshi Temple should be it. The city of Madurai is more than 4,000 years old and has remained a major center of Tamil culture and learning. During the heyday of its history, when the Nayak dynasty ruled, many magnificent temples and buildings with superb architecture were constructed. The 12-day Chithirai Festival, featuring a re-enacted celestial wedding of God and Goddess, is held in Madurai during April each year.
The Cholas built more than 70 temples in Thanjavur, with the most outstanding one being the Brihadeswara Temple (known as the Big Temple). It's an astonishing sight to behold. Constructed solely out of stone, its dome rises to over 60 meters. The other main attraction at Thanjavur is the poorly maintained Royal Palace. The highlight is the painted ceiling of the Palace's Durbar Hall. The city is also renowned for its stunning Tanjore paintings, inlaid with gold.
Famous for its old mansions (some of which are open to the public) and fiery curries, Tamil Nadu's Chettinad region is located about 2 hours drive from Madurai and Tanjore. It can be explored on a day trip. Or, have a heritage stay at a mansion that's been converted into a hotel! The Bangala is a stately homestead located in Karaikudi, in the heart of Chettinad. The food is a highlight; seven courses are served on a banana leaf. Cooking classes and special packages for the exploration of local cuisine are also offered.
Established in the early 19th century by the British as the summer headquarters of the Chennai government, Ooty is now a soothing place to escape the summer heat. If you travel there during the peak season in April and May, do be prepared for it to be crowded though! Ooty's most popular attractions include the 22 hectare Government Botanical Gardens (a flower show is held there every May as part of the Summer Festival), boating on Ooty Lake, and climbing Dodabetta Peak for an excellent view of the Nilgiri hills. To get to Ooty, take the scenic toy train from Metupalaiyam.
Kanyakumari is located on the furthermost tip of India, where the Bay of Bengal merges with the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The distinguishing feature of this spiritual town is the Swami Vivekananda Memorial and towering statue of Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar, located on a rocky island off the shore. The Swami meditated there in 1892, before setting out on his religious crusade. Kanyakumari is also home to a striking Gandhi Memorial, with architecture resembling that of an Oriya temple. If you visit Kanyakumari 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. It's also one of the best places to see the southwest monsoon arrive in India, in late May each year.
Rameshwaram is a peaceful little pilgrim town, brought to life by the constant stream of people that come to bathe in its holy water, get a puja done to purify their karma and visit Ramanathaswamy Temple. The approach to Rameshwaram is dramatic, with two long bridges (one for trains and one for other vehicles) linking it to the mainland. Not far from Rameshwaram, the crumbled, windswept remnants of Dhanuskodi, a town destroyed by a cyclone in 1964, are eerie in their isolation. Adam's Bridge is about as remote as you can get. This chain of reefs and sandbanks almost connects India with Sri Lanka, which is only around 30 kilometers away.
Many people say that Tiruvannamalai, and in particular Mount Arunachala, has a very special spiritual energy. The holy mountain has been called the most silent place on earth, as it has the ability to quieten the mind. It's considered by Hindus to be the embodiment of Lord Shiva. Tiruvannamalai attracts both pilgrims and spiritual seekers to its Arunachaleswar Temple and Sri Ramana Ashram. The crowd swells on full moon nights and during the Karthigai Deepam festival in November when pilgrims walk around the holy mountain.