Chennai is my hometown, a beautiful city where I lived a major portion of my life. And I've roamed extensively all over Chennai and all its surrounding places... Here's a suggestion of 12 roads less travelled or unusual places / things to do in Chennai for the explorer or traveler (not tourist) in you...
1. UNESCO World Heritage at Mahabalipuram: Tamil Nadu boasts ownership to 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites - Mahabalipuram complex and 4 major Chola Temples in Thanjavur. Mahabalipuram is very close to Chennai and it takes less than an hour to reach there from the outskirts of Chennai. You could see the place for minimum an entire day or upto a week if you enjoy each and every sculpture!
2. Bird watching & some back waters: Chennai's green lungs are in quite a few places. There's Pallikaranai Marsh Land, Kelambakkam Back water, Perungudi lake and Pulicat aka Pazhaverkadu which are major spots for bird watching. Infact birds from all over the world come here in winters incl flamingos, pelicans, jacquanas and several hundred more species. These also visit Siruthavur lake.
3. Trekking anyone? Though Chennai isn't as blessed as Bangalore when it comes to its hills, but there are a few like Pallavaram hills. However the major hills to trek is the Nagalapuram range which includes Nagala, Tada, Nagari etc. One of virgin range of hills, its a haven for trekking and camping (ofcourse, risks involved, it isn't a picnic).
4. Secluded beaches & sea adventures: Chennai boasts owning the world's 2nd largest beach Marina, which is always crowded. Then there are Elliots beach & Thiruvanmiyur beach which are somewhat lesser crowded. However, with the entire stretch of East Coast Road, from Thiruvanmiyur to Mahabalipuram, going along the sea line, its beach everywhere. Stop your vehicle wherever you want to and get going... Check out the Sozhinganallur Beach which was absolutely serene a few years back but pretty much buzzing of late.
5. Pre-historic spots: Not just historic, there are a few pre-historic spots around Chennai as well. Megalithic burials, cysts, and dolmens can be seen at Thiruporur and Siruthavur on the ECR, a bit before Mahabalipuram.
6. Attend a couple of cultural events: Chennai isn't considered the cultural capital of India for nothing. Carnatic music, Bharathanatyam dance mostly, but also tons of folk performances, North Indian classical music, instrumental music, Kuchupudi, Mohiniattam, Kathak, and many many many more performances plus religious celebrations happen throughout the year, but way too many in the months of December and January. The best part, a bulk participation of lively young crowd is present!
7. Visit a few temples: Chennai and temples, are kinda synonymous. Everyone knows Mylapore Kapalishwara Temple and Triplicane Parthasarathy Temple. However, every village around Chennai has its own age old Shiva Temple & Vishnu Temple. Visit Madambakkam Dhenupurishwarar Temple, Mambakkam Sathyapurishwarar Temple, Ponneri Agasthiswarar Temple, Thirumazhisai & Thirunindravur Temples, Magaralishwarar Temple etc.
8. Eat a South Indian food: Idli or Dosa with 3-4 chutneys & podi for breakfast, proper south Indian Thali meals with rice, sambar, rasam, appalam, avakkai pickle for lunch, all eaten with hands than spoon or fork or knife is a must to complete the experience.
9. Shop at T.Nagar: Chennai experience can be complete only after you try to wear a saree and feel the crowd of Chennai and for both Thyagaraya Nagar is a great option. Try to go on a weekend before a major festival like Diwali to experience the Mad-rush!
10. Experience Green lungs: Greenery is also an integral part of Chennai. Not just the wild trekking trails and water bodies, there are some green spaces in Chennai as well like Adyar Estuary, Kalakshetra, Nanmangalam forest etc.
11. Art Attack: Art also has its own space in Chennai. No. I'm not talking about the galleries, but about the spaces where they explore their skills & passions and network as well - Cholamandal Artists Village and Dakshinachitra.