Most tourists use Chennai as a gateway to other destinations. The most famous being Mamalapuram and Pondicherry.
Mamallapuram is a World Heritage Site renowned for its 7th century Shore Temple. Though just a two-hour ride (51 kms south) from Chennai, you could spend days walking about the rock cut temples, lounging on the beach, shopping for exquisite sculptures, eating delicious seafood or just watching artisans chip away at blocks of stone to create fascinating sculptures for temples, homes, tourists and hotels. Most visitors come to this little fishing village for the world-renowned dance festival that goes on from late December to early January and showcases some of the best classical Indian dance performances. Other attractions include the Five Rathas and the rock carving of Arjuna's Penance and several cave temples, mandapams and the museum.
Two and a half hours away is Puducherry, an erstwhile French colony, that has retained a lot of its Mediterranean flavour. You can see it in the treelined boulevards and beautiful villas of the French Quarter, the seafront promenade (with a statue of Gandhi standing at the pier), the churches, the bi-lingual signs and the red kepis that the police wear. Visit the Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple, dedicated to Ganesha, the 18th-century, neo-Gothic, Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, the Pondicherry Museum and Raj Nivas the mansion occupied by the lieutenant governor. But don't leave without a trip to the Aurobindo Ashram and to Auroville, 8 kms north of Puducherry. Concieved by Sri Aurobindo's French disciple, Mirra Alfassa (The Mother), in 1964, the City of Dawn is based on her vision of freedom, respect for labour and peace and is home to people from all over the world The architecture of Auroville is certainly one of its appealing qualities, but so is the meditative lifestyle based on a utopian idealism typical of the '60s.
150 kms from Chennai is the pilgrimage city of Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. Well known for several temples and famous for the distinctive red wooden toys and brass idols, it is most visited for the Venkateswara Swamy temple, also known as Tirupathi Balaji Temple. Dedicated to Lord Venkateswara or Balaji, it is the richest and most influential temple in India, with a history that goes back several centuries. One of the busiest pilgrimage centres in the world, it is common for devotees to stand in line for hours for one fleeting glimpse of the deity.
Kanchipuram was the historical capital of the Pallavas during the 7th-9th centuries. It was a city of learning second only to Banaras and the birthplace of the founder of Zen Buddhism. Today Kanchipuram is one of the seven sacred cities of India and is known alternatively as The City of a 1000 Temples, as well as Silk City for the world-renowned hand-woven silk fabrics and saris made here. Kanchipuram lies at a distance of roughly 70 kms from Chennai.
About 160 kms away is the fort town of Ginjee, also called Chenji or Jinji. Known as the Troy of the East, Shivaji declared the fort in Gingee as the most impregnable in India. The fort complex is made up of three hillocks, with three forts on them. The first and most difficult to penetrate has seven gates, a moat and other defenses. The second fort has more gates, a temple as well as a mosque, and a jail among other structures. The inner-most fort consists of the living quarters, an eight-storeyed marriage hall, stables and a shrine.