Mahabalipuram Travel Guide

Once a bustling port of Tamil Nadu, the town of Mahabalipuram rose to prominence from 4th to the 9th century, during the heydays of the Pallava Kingdom. Centuries later, today Mahabalipuram with its numerous architectural marvels is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From ancient temples to ruins of age-old shrines, the places to visit in Mahabalipuram will fill you with an absolute sense of pleasure. Also, an archaeologist's delight, this shore town boasts of a large number of ornate stone-carvings made out of uncut rocks. Such structures are sprinkled all over the complex that demands the awe of travellers who flock to the place almost round the year. Mahabalipuram's strategic location along the east coast of India and proximity to major cities of South India, make it an ideal weekend getaway. One of the most prominent places to visit in Mahabalipuram happens to be the Shore Temple. It is a complex full of temples and religious shrines. The Shore Temple is one of the oldest temples in India built out of blocks of granite, dating back to 700-728 CE. Shore Temple symbolises the excellent Pallava architecture and the maritime ambitions of the their rulers. Its small size belies its excellent proportion and the supreme quality of the carvings, many now eroded into vaguely impressionist embellishments.

However, today the shore temple has been ruined to a great extent owing to constant soil and wind erosion. Despite that, the remains that are left, are strikingly beautiful and thus attracts thousands of visitors. Other places to visit in Mahabalipuram include Arjuna's Penance and Krishna's Butterball. Apart from the shore temple, these two happen to be major tourist attraction in the town. Depicted from the epic Mahabharata, the structure is a rock-cut one and considerably huge. Unique in its own way, both the structures are definitely worth admiring. On the other hand, the Varaha Cave temple and the Mahisasuramardini Mandapam are equally admirable for their imposing structures. Apart from the historical sites and structures, Mahabalipuram boasts of other places of interest that includes lighthouses, pristine beaches, temples and even museums. Its possible to survey the best monuments preferably early in the morning near the coast when you can possibly grab the best sights of the ruins. It would seem you are almost inside an open museum. As a beach destination, it goes without saying that Mahabalipuram is definitely one of its kind. In our Mahabalipuram travel guide, we have compiled every detail about the places to visit and things to do in an around the coastal town of Mahabalipuram.

Best Time to Visit Mahabalipuram

Because of its geographical location (along the coast), Mahabalipuram enjoys a humid and tropical climate almost throughout the year. Summers can get scorching hot and humid, thus making it somewhat difficult for the tourists to explore around. Monsoons are humid and the moderate rainfall also makes it somewhat uncomfortable for the tourists. Winters are best time to visit Mahabalipuram as the weather is pleasant with humidity in the air reduced considerably.

  • Summer

    Mahabalipuram experiences very hot and humid summers. Average temperature ranges anywhere between 25°C to 37°C. At times, the temperature even crosses 40 making it exceptionally exhausting for travellers to roam around and explore the town. Therefore, very less number of tourists flock to this prominent tourist destination during summer months.

  • Monsoon

    Monsoons in Mahabalipuram span from July to mid-September. Owing to its geographical location, the coastal town experiences somewhat scanty rainfalls with occasional heavy showers. However, humidity level goes up considerably making it quite difficult for the tourists go around the town or even indulge in tourist activities.

  • Winter

    Winters are the best time to soak into the beauty of Mahabalipuram. The town enjoys winters from November end to mid-February. Weather during this time is extremely pleasant as temperature ranges from 21°C to 27°C. Humidity in the air is substantially reduced, and travellers can enjoy exploring the town and indulge in a lot of tourist activities as well.

Popular Tourist Attractions & Best Places to Visit in and around Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram is an ideal escapade for all kinds of travellers - be it family vacationers, solo travellers, couples or even backpackers. The ample places to visit and things to do in Mahabalipuram will fill you up with an absolute sense of delight.

  • The Shore Temple

    One of the most prominent places to visit in Mahabalipuram is the Shore Temple. Since the temple is located right next to the coast of Bay of Bengal, it is termed as the Shore Temple and it is the biggest attraction of the coastal town. The temple complex was built between 700-728 AD under the patronage of Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava Dynasty. The shrine is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.

  • Descent of the Ganges

    A major part of the frescoes of the monuments of Mahabalipuram, the Descent of the Ganges is one of the most popular tourist attractions of the town. It is one of the largest open-air rock relief in the world. This giant relief is an excellent work of fresco depicting a particular scene from the great Hindu epic The Mahabharata. An entire mythological narrative is depicted in the form of frescos on the walls.

  • Monuments at Mahabalipuram

    Monuments at Mahabalipuram are a group of religious shrines nestled along the Coromandel Coast. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are more than 400 monuments at the place. Apart from the temples, the many caves at the Monuments of Mahabalipuram are equally amazing to behold. Admire the temples for their beautifully carved architecture as you lose yourself in the tide of timelessness.

  • Arjuna's Penance

    One of the most prominent reliefs at the archaeological site of Mahabalipuram happens to be the relief-Arjuna's Penance. The bas relief is a must visit while you are on a tour of Mahabalipuram. The relief was carved out of a single stone and stands almost 45 feet tall from the ground. Just above the shrine, Arjuna's figure is carved standing. Arjuna's Penance is a must observe while on a tour of Mahabalipuram's ancient monuments. Read more

  • Pancha Rathas

    Another major site to behold among the main monuments of Mahabalipuram are the Pancha Rathas, that literally translates as the Five Chariots. These are monolithic rock-cut temples carved out of a single huge rock standing majestically on the southernmost extreme of the monuments complex. The five rathas are dedicated to the five Pandava Brothers and their wife Draupadi. Built in the south Indian style of architecture, these chariots are definitely worth admiring.

  • India Seashell Museum

    One of its kind in India, Seashell Museum is a popular tourist attraction in Mahabalipuram. Opened for public in 2013, the museum is an initiative of an individual named Raja Mohammed. The museum houses more than 2300 species of shells and nearly 40000 exhibits-all from Mohammed's personal collection. Admire the huge collections of shells and learn more about marine life at the museum. Read more

  • Krishna's Butter Ball

    Popularly referred to as Krishna's Butter Ball, it is a huge round-shaped boulder standing at an angle of 45 degrees and balancing itself atop a rock. While there's not much to the site aesthetically, thousands of tourists are attracted towards it simply because its highly intriguing. It stands on an approximately 1.2 meter base on a slope and is believed to have been on the same place for nearly 1300 years.

  • Varaha Cave Temple

    A significant part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Group of Monuments, the Varaha Cave Temple is yet another interesting place to visit in Mahabalipuram. The cave temple is one of the finest examples of the Pallava style of Architecture. Varaha - a form of Lord Vishnu is the most important sculpture in the temple, is seen holding on Bhumi, his wife (a form of mother earth) on his trunks.

  • Krishna Mandpam

    Also referred to as the Krishna Cave Temple, the Krishna Mandapam is the largest-cave cut religious shrine among the Group of Monuments in Mahabalipuram. Legends have it that, Lord Krishna saved the common people from Indra's wrath of incessant rains by lifting up the Govardhan mountain. This particular episode from Hindu mythology has been reconstructed in the form of frescos here, which is truly admirable.

  • Pancha Pandava Cave

    Yet another wonderful place to visit in Mahabalipuram's main Group of Monuments is the Pancha Pandava Caves. As the name suggests, the rock-cut cave temple is dedicated to the five Pandava brothers. Despite being unfinished, the cave continues to remain one of the major tourist attractions of Mahabalipuram. One of the unique frescoes in the Group of Monuments in Mahabalipuram, the Pancha Pandava Cave is a must visit in the coastal town.

  • Mahishasuramardini Cave Temple

    Among all the cave temples in the coastal town, the Mahishasuramardini Cave temple is one of the interesting places to visit in Mahabalipuram. Located very near to a lighthouse, the cave temple is dedicated to commemorate the mythological episode where Goddess Durga killed the demon Mahishasura. The carving symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. This particular carving is considered one of best creations of the Pallava Period.

  • Ganesh Ratha Temple

    Dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the Ganesh Ratha Temple is a major religious shrine in the coastal town and one of the most important places to visit in Mahabalipuram. The chariot is an example of a rock-cut monolith architecture dating back to the Pallava Dynasty. It was constructed during the reign of Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman. One of the main features of the Temple is the engravings inscribed in Nagari and Granth script. (74)

  • Trimurti Cave

    The Trimurti Cave is a religious shrine dedicated to the three triumvirate of Hinduism-Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar. This particular cave temple is yet another fine example of Pallava architecture. The temple is different from other temples in a way that it doesn't have pillared mandapas. The right most shrine is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the left one to Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma resides in the middle one.

  • Tiger Cave Temple

    Among the many sculpted wonders of Mahabalipuram happens to be the less-visited Tiger Caves. Dedicated to Lord Subramanya, the temple does end up attracting some enthusiastic and seasoned travellers. Dating back to the 7th and the 8th century, the Tiger Caves are associated with the Pallava Dynasty. It is believed that the Pallava Kings addressed their audience from this point.

  • Wide Beach

    The Wide Beach is definitely a major attraction of Mahabalipuram. Located right next to the Shore Temple, the beach makes for an excellent option to take a stroll and witness either sunrise or sunset. Since the beach is a rocky one, swimming is not a great idea. However, Wide Beach is definitely one of the best places to visit in Mahabalipuram.

  • Sri Sthala Sayanaperumal Temple

    Sri Sthala Sayanaperumal Temple is a popular religious shrine in Mahabalipuram. Ranked among the 61st of the total 108 Divya Desams, the shrine attracts several devotees round the year. The presiding here is Lord Vishnu who is seen in a sleeping posture with his hands on his chest. One of the common religious shrines in Mahabalipuram, do remember to offer prayers at the Sri Sthala Sayanaperumal Temple.

  • Mahabalipuram Beach

    One of the most popular beaches in south India, the water's edge is worth a visit if you happen to be in Mahabalipuram. A sudden stroll on the beach with your significant other in the evening watching the sunset is an experience to remember. Adventure lovers can end up trying activities like diving and surfing at the Mahabalipuram Beach. Read more

  • Sculpture Museum

    The sculpture museum is yet another major tourist attraction in the coastal town of Mahabalipuram. As the name suggests, the museum is exclusively dedicated to sculptures and houses more than 3000 of them. Most of the sculptures are that of Gods and Goddesses, and these highlight the astounding art of the Gupta Period. Buddhist and Hindu sculptures are also present in the sculpture museum. Read more

  • Maritime Heritage Museum

    Another major attraction among all the places to visit in Mahabalipuram happens to be the Maritime Heritage Museum. As the name suggests, the museum houses various maritime heritages. These include several ancient ships and first ships that landed on the coast of Mahabalipuram. And these also include the models of the routes that these ships took to reach up to the Indian coast.

  • Lighthouse Heritage Museum

    The Lighthouse Heritage Museum is among the latest additions among the awesome list of places to visit in Mahabalipuram. The museum consists of all kinds of heritage items from the old lighthouses of Mahabalipuram and other items related to the same. If you are interested in exploring something different in this coastal town, then a tour of the Lighthouse Heritage Museum is a must.

  • Raya Gopuram

    The Raya Gopuram happens to be an offbeat attraction in the shore town of Mahabalipuram. It is ideally an unfinished structure now ruins of a temple. Historians opine that the structure belongs to the 16th century and is a latter addition among the monuments of Mahabalipuram. While there's not much to do here but admiring the tall structure with all its intricately woven inscriptions are definitely worth it.

Where to Stay in Mahabalipuram?

Being a very popular tourist spot of India, there's no dearth of accommodation options in Mahabalipuram. Several accommodation options are available in the town catering to all kinds of tourists. From backpackers to family vacationers to solo travellers to luxury seekers can easily find an accommodation suiting their budget. Whether it's a travellers' hostel near the beach or a family-friendly hotel-you can find all in Mahabalipuram.

How to Reach Mahabalipuram?

Located barely 55 kilometres from Chennai, Mahabalipuram can be accessed from all over the country easily. While Chennai is the nearest airport and also nearest railhead, Mahabalipuram can also be reached from other major cities of south India, such as Madurai, Coimbatore and Pondicherry.

  • By Air

    Chennai International Airport is the nearest airport to Mahabalipuram, roughly 55 kilometres away. Apart from being well-connected with a host of domestic airlines with the rest of the country, Chennai airport is also well-linked internationally. Taxis and buses are easily available from the airport for Mahabalipuram.

  • By Rail

    While Chennai happens to be the nearest railhead yet again for Mahabalipuram, the coastal town is also well-connected by train with the rest of the major cities like Madurai, Coimbatore, Thiruvananthapuram and even Kochi. Trains from the above-mentioned cities for Mahabalipuram ply on a regular basis and tickets can be booked easily.

  • By Road

    If you love long drives, you can also opt for a road trip to Mahabalipuram from a number of cities in south India. Buses from Chennai, Pondicherry, Madurai and Coimbatore ply on a regular basis and can be availed easily.

Tamil Nadu Travel Information at a Glance

There's an abundance of culture, tradition, art, craft, nature, and wildlife experiences awaiting in Tamil Nadu. Choose from our wide array of Tamil Nadu travel packages and get that incredible holiday experience at this colour palette kind of a destination. We design the finest tour packages keeping your likes and dislikes in mind so that you are guaranteed a holistic travelling experience that too in a budget of your choice.