I visited the City of Chennai in Southern Eastern India after 3.5 months in India however in Red Lollipop Hostel which is where I stayed I met many travellers who had just arrived in India. This had not happened to me anywhere else, except Mumbai which is where I started my India trip. They seemed to enjoy Chennai as their first place in India and it made me think that Chennai is a good place to start backpacking India trip from.
Here are some reasons why Chennai is a great Backpacker City, what makes Chennai a great city for first time travellers to India and some things to do in Chennai as a Backpacker:
It seems the biggest reason that traveller to India make Chennai their first visit is because of the flights. Many travellers seem to come from Sri Lanka to India and fly into Chennai, or Madurai, from Colombo Sri Lanka because the flights are the cheapest into those two Cities.
They’re also very cheap from other places in South East Asia and Australia. I met some Australians who got amazingly priced flights to Chennai so that was there reason for visiting Chennai.
India By Backpack suggests looking at Kiwi for flights as it’s easy to compare different dates and locations to ensure you get the best flight price!
It’s Not Too Big.
Chennai is great because it is a big city but it’s not too big, or at least in terms of where Chennai’s attractions are. The best things to do in Chennai are not walkable (more on them below) but some of them are and it’s easy to get a Tuk Tuk or Uber between them to help get around.
A Good Welcome to Hindu Culture.
Chennai has a big Hindu Temple called Kapaleeswarar Temple in the area of Mylapore which is a good area to stay in. I did a walking tour with Story Trails in Chennai called Peacock Trails one morning, I learned so many stories and facts about the Temple and Hindu culture which despite being in India so long myself I had no idea about.
As a good introduction to India and into Hindu Culture I would recommend taking a walking tour with Story Trails and visiting Kapaleeswarar Temple.
No Major Icons.
There are no major attractions in Chennai or big things to see in Chennai, that doesn’t mean that it should not be visited, it should, but as a first City in India you may arrive in Chennai tired or jet lagged from the flight and you won’t have to feel the pressure of seeing the most famous things in India!
Instead you can take it easy, explore the City at your own pace before moving on.
Some good places to see in Chennai are: Kapaleeswarar Temple, St Thomas Church, Marina Beach, Chennai Lighthouse, St Thomas Mount, St George Fort, Georgetown.
It’s Easy to Get Around.
With a Metro System, lots of local buses, Uber and Ola, Chennai is really easy and cheap to get around as a backpacker.
Good Street Food.
Want a great welcome into India in terms of Food? Well you can get some good street food in Chennai, especially down at Marina Beach in the evening, this is a popular place for locals to visit with stalls on the beach selling lots of the popular street foods, and for a great price!
To Meet other Travellers.
The most popular hostel in Chennai because it’s one of the only hostels is Red Lollipop Hostel which is great for meeting other backpackers in India. As I said most people I met were new to India so if you are on the look out for a travel buddy, arriving in Chennai and staying at Red Lollipop is a good way to meet them!
Note that there are other hostels in Chennai but many are Women Hostels in Chennai and working hostels in Chennai for Indian’s I believe. I would not recommend staying at one of these as a backpacker.
Alternatively if you want a hotel, you can search for hotels in Chennai on Booking.com here, and still benefit from the other aspects that make Chennai a great city for first time travellers to India.
Now you know why you should visit Chennai, read up on the common India scams and how to avoid them.
You’ll also need to get a sim card for travel around India, read here how to get one.
Need to book accommodation in India? We recommend using Booking.com as we love the huge range of accommodation and flexible booking options.
Need to check out Flights to India? Kiwi.com is a great site to compare prices and routes to get the best deal!
Remember that you’ll need travel insurance when you travel to India. There are a lot of companies out there we know, but World Nomad’s is a travel insurance provider designed by travellers, for travellers and includes lots of unique benefits like not needing a return flight home booked, which many providers need proof of if you claim. Whilst you’re thinking about it, get a quote for them here!
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