Madras (Chennai), the state capital, is a sprawling coastal city and the gateway to this historic state. Established in 1640 as Fort St. George by the British trader Francis Day, this bustling city has a wealth of Imperial architecture and Indo-Sarcenic buildings line its marina. Near Madras are the ancient temple towns of Mahabalipuram, with the legendary Shore Temple, and Kanchipuram, known for its exquisite silks.

Although like most Indian cities, it is congested, there is an almost complete lack of stress and tension, which is greatly symbolic of the deep spirituality of this state. The first British settlement in India, Chennai still has a fine legacy of colonial architecture which display a wide range of influences from the elegant classical style of the 18th century to the much more eclectic Anglo-Indian school of the late 19th century. It is the latest of a line of Indian cities that is hurtling into the 21st century, and now even has a small but impressive collection of trendy shops, coffee bars and nightclubs.