4 Family-friendly travel secrets of Chennai to explore with kids
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Mums, which cities come to mind when you think of South India? We are sure there are many but we bet Chennai is on your top three list!
Now, let’s play a five-second game:
Close your eyes for a moment and think of Chennai. What do you see, hear, and smell? Ancient temples, picturesque beaches with kids laughing and running around, stores overflowing with stunning silk sarees, and fragrant food that teases even the most sophisticated palates!
Quite easily, the historic city of Chennai is one of the chief custodians of South India’s cultural, artistic, religious, and culinary heritage. Like its famous thali with multiple small side-dishes, Chennai has so much to offer that it can leave you dazed and confused. That’s why we’re here to make it simple for you so that you don’t have to fret about making choices!
Here are four of the best things about Chennai that make it the perfect edutainment experience for your entire family:
1. Breathtaking Beaches For Little (and Big) Beach Bums!
Chennai has many golden beaches that are popular picnic hotspots for locals and tourists alike. These sandy slivers of the Coromandel Coastline are also perfect for weekend getaways for families like yours, who wish to spend quality time together.
Going to the beach is as much about learning as it is about fun. The sensory stimulation of the salt water and sand aside, your child can learn so much about geography, environment, and habitats from just one visit.
Here are our top three family-friendly beaches in Chennai:
This is one of the largest beaches of the world and a definite must-visit. Not only will your kids get to enjoy the majestic waves of the Bay of Bengal, they will also love the carnival-like atmosphere here, including horse rides and local chaat delicacies.
If you want your little one to have a true cultural experience, then simply walk up to the fisher-folk who populate this stretch of the beach, and have a friendly chat with them. The Marina Beach has a famous fish market where fishermen sell their daily fresh catch. Bring your kids there and show them how fishmongers earn their living!
You can also tell your kids how this lively beachside was completely shattered during the Tsunami of December 26, 2004. This could be a good opportunity to explain to them what natural disasters are and their effects on people and the environment.
Elliot’s Beach or Besant Nagar Beach
This is one of the cleanest beaches around Chennai. Ask your child to look out for Olive Ridley turtles that can be spotted at Chennai beaches during the nesting season between January and April. Let them guess why the turtles have been named so (Answer: because of the olive colour of their shell).
If you and your child still have energy left after turtle-spotting and sun-sand fun, visit the historical structures that populate the area, such as the Karl Schmidt Memorial – an architectural landmark commemorating a European sailor who drowned in 1930 trying to save the life of a girl.
You cannot go to Chennai and skip the world heritage site of Mahabalipuram, which is just a 1.5 hour drive away from the city via the East Coast Road.
The main attraction here is the ancient Shore Temple that dates back to the eighth century and was built by King Narsimhvarman I of Pallava dynasty. Also known as Mamallapuram, it has many sites of historical importance which are ideal to introduce your child to Pallava history.
It is worth considering making a weekend trip of this. Check into the family-friendly Holiday Inn® Chennai OMR IT Expressway on the way. This will give you the chance to get some good rest in preparation for more excitement the next day, such as an exhilarating auto ride or a bicycle tour to the nearby village of Kadumbadi!
This place is perfect to show your child what rural life is really like. They can also go on a fishing safari that will allow them to experience the life of a fisherman and get a chance to see a real fishing village.
- The Marina Beach has a famous fish market where fishermen sell their daily fresh catch. Bring your kids here and show them how fishmongers earn their living!
- Enjoy pani puri, cold drinks and ice cream on the beach with your little ones.
- Though the beaches are generally safe in Chennai, beware of pickpockets and beggars.
2. Look beyond the beaches for a food fix
The Chennai coastline is so striking that you’ll find it hard to leave. But the vast, enticing sea is just the beginning of the Chennai edutainment experience for you and your little big traveller.
Chennai represents a fascinating aspect of Indian history. It is an amalgam of ancient settlements, powerful Southern dynasties, British Colonialism, and a rich trading history. As such, there are plenty of attractions made intriguing with complex tapestries of the past woven through their very core.
This delectable history also trickles into the culinary landscape of Chennai, showing that food and culture are inextricably linked.
Here are two experiences we recommend to bring culture and history alive through food and seasoning:
Take a foodie road trip (with a dash of culture)
A trip to Chennai is incomplete without a drive down the scenic East Coast Road, which is made doubly beautiful by the wonderful food outlets that dot its length. Make a pit stop (and take a toilet break!) at any of these local restaurants and relish authentic South Indian cuisine, such as deliciously fragrant sambhar with piping hot, steaming idlis.
Indulging in local food is one of the best (and tastiest!) ways of learning about a region’s historical and cultural influences. For example, did you know that traditional South Indian meals, or thalis, are served on a banana leaf due to the ancient belief that it removes toxins from the food?
Encourage your children to eat with their fingers in order to experience the texture of the food through touch, and not just taste. Ask them to try and identify the spices they taste in a fun game!
Sample sea salt from its source
Chennai can get quite hot during the summer months of March to May. However, if you are brave enough to take on the heat, then this just happens to be the time that you will get to see salt being extracted from salt trenches.
While at the trenches, teach your kids about how salt is mined and processed. Remind them to think about just how much effort it takes to get something seemingly simple like salt, into our kitchens. Don’t forget to buy some raw salt to add that extra zing to your meals back home and also remind your kids about their learning experience with each bite!
- If your child is not a fan of chilli, you can always ask for it to be omitted or reduced from your kid’s meal.
- When eating without cutlery, try to encourage your child not to make a huge mess for the wait staff to clean up!
- When visiting the salt trenches, remember to bring hats and water for the little ones.
3. Acquaint your kids with Chennai’s heritage, culture, and art
There’s nothing like a good museum to really encourage your little historian to ask questions about the past! Chennai, then, is the ideal spot. Here, you’ll find many museums that will give you and your kids a peek into the rich history and heritage of the region.
These are our top four picks for must-visit museums in Chennai:
The Government Museum
Established in 1851, the Government Museum is the second oldest in India and is mainly famous for its massive archaeological and numismatic collections.
When you’re there, head to the Children’s Museum which is of course specially dedicated to knowledge-hungry kids like yours! This section is divided into three: the civilization gallery, kids’ corner and the transportation gallery for optimum learning and fun.
Address: Beside Government Maternity Hospital, Pantheon Road, Egmore, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600008.
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday: 9.30am to 5pm. Friday: 9.30am to 4.30pm.
Dakshina Chitra Museum
This museum is said to offer the best depiction of South Indian culture under one roof. It is also known as a “living museum” because it is home to many artisans who still engage in age-old traditional crafts. We hear that the puppet show is a great hit among little ones! Kids will also be pleased to know there is a playground here.
Address: East Coast Road, Muttukadu, Chengalpattu, Tamil Nadu 603118.
Opening hours: Wednesday to Monday: 10am-6pm.
Founded by Rukmini Devi Arundale in 1936, this glorious centre for artistic endeavours is the perfect place to introduce your child to South Indian art and culture. They also host many kid-friendly programmes and festivals through the year.
Tell your kids to look for the huge, old banyan tree here, and ask them to guess what the long rope-like things that hang off the branches are (they are roots!) for a bit of botany learning thrown in the culture mix.
Address: Kalakshetra Road, Thuruvanmiyur, Radhakrishnan Nagar, Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600041.
Opening hours: 8.30am to 11.30am daily.
India Seashell Museum
Take your child to the one-of-a-kind Shell Museum that displays a wide variety of shells, conches, fossils, shark teeth, and whale fins. The 40,000 specimens that are housed in this museum are not just beautiful to look at, but are also a good way to introduce children to conchology or the study of shells. We recommend you request for a guide who will talk about the different varieties of conches and their significance.
Address: 191/1A2, Kalpakkam Road, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu 603104.
Opening hours: 8am to 8pm daily.
- Check out the Children’s Museum and Doll Gallery at the National Museum.
- Set aside at least half a day to spend at the various museums in order to enjoy them fully.
- Pack snacks and water for your kids, and dress them in comfortable sandals or shoes as they’ll be doing a fair bit of walking.
4. Visit lakes, sanctuaries, and falls
Most kids seem to have an innate love and fascination for animals and birds. If your little one is like this, then Chennai won’t disappoint. It’s chock-full of natural attractions, that will fascinate your young nature lovers and teach them important lessons about biology and conservation.
Here are three of our all-time favourite attractions:
Pulicat Lake and Bird Sanctuary
The second largest saltwater lake in India is Pulicat Lake, a significant portion of which overflows to the state of Andhra Pradesh. The sanctuary here attracts migratory birds like pelicans, flamingos and painted storks each year between November and February.
Ask your junior ornithologist to look out for the open-billed stork – the mandibles of its beak do not meet except at the very tip! This unique feature actually helps it catch mollusks, which it loves to eat. You can also talk to your kids about why birds migrate (for food and breeding purposes) and why it’s important to preserve areas that are conducive to these two things.
A popular weekend getaway, this place is ideal for a small trek or hike with older kids. If you have the required gear, it can be a great camping site too. The path to the beautiful Tada Falls is said to be moderately easy for kids to navigate and provides a good challenge in fitness and endurance. However, do make sure your kids are wearing comfortable footwear. This waterfall and its surroundings are known for their pristine beauty. Remind your child about why we should endeavour to keep it like this and talk to them about the harmful effects of water pollution on various aquatic eco-systems.
We hear that the best time to visit the falls is between August and December, when the weather is cooler.
Madras Crocodile Bank Trust
“Never smile at a crocodile,” says a popular kids’ song, and it’s never been truer than here at the Crocodile Bank Trust! It was initially started as a conservation effort, but is presently a Centre for Herpetology.
It is home to thousands of these prehistoric beasts, lounging around lazily on the sandy banks, or swimming like lethal submarines in the water. Your child will probably want to know why some crocs have their mouths wide-open. You can tell them that this is a special method they use to keep cool (because they don’t sweat!).
The Bank also has a lot of snakes–let your kids watch a demonstration of how snake venom is extracted! The place allows visitors to play volunteers and you can join the feeding sessions every Sunday. Weekends have fun programs and workshops too.
- Avoid visiting outdoor attractions at noon—it can become too hot.
- Always bring wide-brimmed hats and plenty of drinking water when heading outdoors with the kids.
- Places such as Pulicat Lake may not have toilet facilities, so encourage older kids to use the bathroom before you head out for the day. Bring a portable change mat for younger children.
- Remind your kids that the best way to observe animals in their natural habitat is by being as quiet as possible.
Final tips and recommendations
- The best season to visit Chennai is November to February. Although it is winter in India, Chennai is not too cold.
- Chennai is generally a hot and humid city, so keeping hydrated is advisable. You could also sip on the refreshing, local coconut water found everywhere.
- Carry and drink bottled water wherever you travel in Chennai.
- It’s a conservative city, so lightweight clothes that cover the arms and legs are recommended.
- A South Indian Thali at Saravana Bhavan and Adyar Bhavan cannot be missed! You can order a mini tiffin for your kids!
- Enjoy pani puri, cold drinks and ice cream on the beach with your little ones.
- Bring insect repellent to protect kids from sandflies on the beaches and keep them safe from mosquito bites too.
- Though the beaches are generally safe in Chennai, keep an eye out for the occasional pickpocket.
- Pack a roll-up change mat for on-the-go diaper changes.
- Wide-brimmed hats/umbrellas and sunscreen are a must to protect kids’ delicate skin from the sun when out and about.
There you have it, mums and dads – a great guide to Chennai with kids offering you the perfect balance of learning and fun. Why not head there for real now, and prepare to have the holiday of a lifetime with your family!
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