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Chennai, or the ’Gateway to South India’ as it is also called, is a city with a rich colonial past famous for its cultural events, music, literature, dance and cuisine as well as for being the home of India’s second-largest film industry, known as Kollywood. While Chennai mainly is a commercial city with automobile, technology and healthcare industries and, therefore, has fewer famous tourist attractions than many other Indian cities, it still has plenty of delightful offers for visitors. For those with an interest in history, a visit to Fort St. George – built in the 1640s by the British – is a must. Apart from the British heritage, the site also showcases the rich history of southern India throughout the centuries in the museum located on the fort’s grounds. Chennai is also home to some 75 temples, churches and mosques well worth a visit, particularly the beautiful and richly-ornamented Kapaleeswarar Temple. The city’s beach, the Marina, is one of the longest stretches of sandy beaches in the world and something visitors cannot miss. Those reluctant to swim in the sea can instead visit one of the city’s many waterparks, or just indulge in the foods and snacks and souvenirs sold in the stalls on the beach. The city also hosts both colorful street markets as well as luxurious shopping malls with wood and stone carvings, mats, textiles and silk being some of the most sought-after items on offer. After a hard day of shopping, tourists can relax, or start the evening’s party, at one of Chennai’s many swish restaurants and bars.
Chennai is home to a colonial fort and an array of beautiful temples, monuments and churches, water sports and amusement parks, street markets and shopping centers, fine dining and luxury hotels, as well as one of the longest sandy beaches in the world.
South Indian cuisine, also referred to as Dravidian, usually consists of several (mainly vegetarian) dishes eaten with steamed rice. Tamil cuisine, famous for the use of a variety of spices, recommends that one includes in a main meal all the six tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salt, astringent and pungent. A Thali, here known as "meals", is traditionally served on a banana leaf. Look around and see how the other guests handle their leftovers and banana leaf, for good table manners. Restaurants are often referred to as a "hotel" on the signs outside, on which it usually also states if the restaurant serves meat or not. Most of the good restaurants in Chennai are located in the city’s up-market hotels, and are known for their lunch buffets. Don´t miss out on all the street stalls that serves wonderful south indian food and note that some foods are only served during breakfast whilst others only are served during night.
A number of different coffee chains have established themselves in the centre of Chennai, where one usually finds coffee, tea, sandwiches and a variety of biscuits and desserts on offer. Most of the cafes open at 10 am and close at 10 pm. Each mole, or area of the city, has a number of cafés as well.
Chennai’s nightlife scene has been expanding in recent years, but still, due to regulation, most of the bars and night clubs are found in the top-end hotels. Some of the mid-range hotels also offer a drinking room where Indian beverages can be bought and consumed. Most of the bars in Chennai close at midnight.
Shopping in Chennai is easy and fun and, like in any other big city in India, one can find anything from traditional handicraft to the latest digital products. Tourists mostly buy palm leaf mats, bronze and brass castings, jewellery, stone carvings from the nearby town of Mamallapuram, ready-made or tailored clothes, and last, but not least, the famous silks from Kanchipuram. Contemporary artworks or genuine antiquities as well as different musical instruments are also items strongly sought after. There are several shopping areas, all of them located in the Egmore, Nungamabakkam or T-Nagar districts. The most popular are Theagaraya Nagar, known as T-Nagar, and Anna Salai. Georgetown, which grew around the fort, is another interesting shopping area. In the mazelike streets one can find shops specialized in selling only one type of merchandise such as fireworks in Badrian Street and paperworks in Anderson Street. Even without the shopping, a walk here is recommended to get a feel for the Indian culture and life. The best shopping malls in the city are Chennai Citi Centre and Spencer Plaza.
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