Shore temple at Mahabalipuram

Discover Mahabalipuram: 18 Wonderful Activities Not To Miss

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Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a popular destination for tourists who want to explore and learn about ancient Indian culture and architecture. Intricate rock-cut cave temples, majestic monolithic temples, bas-relief sculptures, and sunny beaches. There’s so much to explore and experience in this quaint little town. But don’t worry, we’ve got your back. In this blog, we take you through the top 18 things you can see and do in Mahabalipuram. So let’s dive right into it.

18 Wonderful Things To Do In Mahabalipuram

1. Catch Sunrise By The Mahabalipuram Beach

Mahabalipuram fishing beach

We have spent many days and nights chasing the sun and watching sunrises and sunsets in new places. But nothing comes close to the serenity the Mahabalipuram beach offers. The soft, golden light over the horizon, the sky subtly tinted with orange hues, the music of the morning birds, and the gentle sound of waves lapping on the shore; every sense of ours was stimulated in the serene atmosphere, and we couldn’t help but get transported to another dimension.

Whether alone, with a loved one, or with a group of friends, this is a simple yet significant way to connect with nature and recharge your mind and body. So, wake up early and head to the beach to catch the sunrise.

If you want to enjoy the shores devoid of tourists, head to the fishing beach, which has beach cafes and restaurants linked up by the shore.

2. Visit The Shore Temple

Aerial view of the Mahabalipuram shore temple
Aerial view of the Mahabalipuram shore temple

A trip to Mahabalipuram is incomplete without visiting the shore temple. Unlike the other monuments in Mahabalipuram that are made up of monoliths, the shore temple is the first structure made of “granite blocks.” 

The temple complex comprises two shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva and one shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Besides these, you’ll also find a unique sculpture of a Chinese lion which is quite distinct from the other sculptures in the temple. It could be an artifact created and left by Chinese influencers or invaders.

Things to know before visiting the UNESCO monuments at Mahabalipuram
Things to know before visiting the UNESCO monuments at Mahabalipuram

True to its name, the shore temple has an adjacent beach and welcomes everyone. The structure is a mark of excellent craftsmanship and solid engineering that passed the test of time.

  • Timings: 6 AM – 6 PM on all days
  • Entry Fee: INR 40 for Indians, INR 600 for foreigners, Free for children below 15 years. (same ticket as in the school of architecture)
  • Restroom facilities: Drinking water and clean restrooms are available inside the Shore Temple complex
  • Parking: Paid parking is available. Rs. 10 for two-wheelers and Rs. 30 for cars.

Related: Smart tricks to get a discount on the entry fees.

3. Surf And Conquer The Waves

If you’re an adrenaline junkie looking for something more sporty, Mahabalipuram has that sorted for you too. Whether you’ve tried surfing before or not, Mahabalipuram can be your go-to spot for experiencing the ocean in a slightly off-beat manner. The shore has several surfing spots that suit surfers of varying caliber. So whether you’re a beginner or an expert, you will have fun.

With experienced instructors and friendly staff, Mumu Surf School tops our list of surfing institutes in Mahabalipuram. They offer different courses to learn the sport. If you are a pro, you can rent surfboards daily and embark on a new adventure every day.

4. Explore The School Of Architecture

Arjuna's penance
Arjuna’s Penance

The School of Architecture is a single complex that comprises numerous bas-relief structures, cave temples, carved monoliths, and more. These include Krishna’s Mandapa, Arjuna’s Penance, Krishna’s Butterball, Trimurthy Cave, Ganesha Ratha, Varaha Cave Temple, the unfinished Raya Gopuram, the Mahisasura Mardini Cave, Olakkannesvara Temple, the Heritage and Maritime Museums, and the Lighthouse. That’s right, all these monuments are present on a single campus. You can take your time exploring all these and don’t worry. You won’t get lost in this vast space. There are enough direction markers and boards installed to keep you on track. 

Sculpture depicting the war between Goddess Durga and Mahishasura
Sculpture depicting the war between Goddess Durga and Mahishasura

To know each sculpture’s history and significance, listen to the audio tour or hire a guide. Read the blog to know all the details bout this UNESCO site.

  • Timings: 6 AM – 6 PM on all days
  • Entry Fee: INR 40 for Indians, INR 600 for foreigners, Free for children below 15 years. The same ticket is valid for visiting all the monuments at Mahabalipuram.
  • Restroom facilities: Clean restrooms are available near Trimurthy Cave.

5. Test Gravity At Krishna’s Butter Ball

Krishna's butter ball

Krishna’s butter ball is a huge and ancient granite stone standing firm on the holy land of Mahabalipuram. It is a massive boulder that appears to be defying gravity by balancing itself on a slope without any visible means of support or nails. Historians believe that this was likely the first sculpture that the Pallava sculptors attempted, and it weighs nearly 250 tonnes and is 5 meters wide. 

In 1908, a British collector attempted to move the stone with the help of 7 elephants but was unsuccessful. Even today, it stands strong while people try to unravel its mystery. The stone’s balance is due to the friction between the rock and the base that holds it together. While there are many theories from physicists and geologists, the actual reason behind its miraculous balance remains unknown.

  • Timings: 6 AM – 6 PM on all days
  • Entry Fee: INR 40 for Indians, INR 600 for foreigners, Free for children below 15 years. The same ticket is valid for visiting all the monuments at Mahabalipuram.
  • Restroom facilities: Clean restrooms are available near the Trimurthy cave.

Note: It is located in the same complex as the School of Architecture

6. Tour At The Maritime & Heritage Museum

Located in the same complex, the Maritime and Heritage Museum is a must-visit attraction for those interested in water transport and lighthouses. You’ll find miniature models of ships, a model of the control panel deck in a ship, the top portion of a lighthouse, ancient ships, maritime equipment, and powerful tungsten lamps, among other exhibits. 

The museum also displays pictures of old lighthouses and ship routes. All this and more make up for a unique educational tour and enhances your experience in the historic town with so much to offer. There is also a children’s play area where kids can relax.

Note: You have to leave your footwear before entering the museum.

  • Timings: 9 AM – 12:30 PM, 2 PM – 4:30 PM
  • Entry Fee: INR 10 for adults, INR 5 for children, INR 25 for foreigners, and free for children below 3 years
  • Camera charges: INR 25
  • Restroom facilities: Available
  • Parking: Paid parking is available at both the museums

7. Dine At The Beach Cafes

Mahabalipuram has been developed a lot lately due to the growth of tourism in the region. One of the intriguing parts of this development has been the rise of cozy cafes and seaside restaurants. The place has various dining options catering to all tastes and budgets. We have written a blog that highlights where to eat and stay. Read to know more.

 

8. Observe The Handicrafts Carved By The Sculptors

Sculptors at work in Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram is a treasure trove of handicrafts, and the streets are lined with shops where you can witness skilled craftsmen carving intricate sculptures right before you. The attention to detail and emotion portrayed in their work is truly impressive, and you’ll find yourself mesmerized by the artisans’ skill and precision. Moreover, their creations are among the most authentic art pieces as they showcase their sensibilities, culture, and beliefs and signify who they are.

shopping handmade statues at the streets

From small trinkets to larger sculptures, you’ll find various items to choose from, all crafted with care and attention. Whether you’re looking for a unique souvenir or a one-of-a-kind gift, the handicraft shops in Mahabalipuram have something for everyone.

9. Go Street Shopping

Handicraft shops

One of the most fascinating aspects of street shopping in Mahabalipuram is observing the cobblers crafting shoes by hand. Watch them work their magic as simple tools and materials such as leather are transformed into comfortable and functional footwear right before your eyes.

Local boutiques sell beautifully crafted dresses, sarees, and other traditional garments made by artisans of the region. You’ll be amazed by the intricate designs and stunning fabrics unique to the place. The various trinkets, handicrafts, and other souvenirs capture the essence of the town’s culture and traditions. From intricately carved stone sculptures to colorful pottery and hand-woven textiles, there’s something for everyone to take home as a reminder of their time in Mahabalipuram.

10. Watch The Aerial Views From The New Light House

Mahabalipuram lighthouse

Perched on a hilltop, the lighthouse offers surreal views of the vast coastline, the Bay of Bengal’s turquoise blue water, and the historic town. You can climb to the top of the lighthouse, enjoy the scenery, and soak in the beauty. The place is also perfect for capturing aerial views and taking Gram-worthy pictures. There is also a lighthouse museum located nearby.

Before we move on to the next item on the list, here’s an interesting piece of trivia. This isn’t the only lighthouse in the town. One of the oldest constructions in the place is the Pallava-era lighthouse. Built in 640 CE by Pallava King Mahendravarman, the ancient relic stands beside the new modern lighthouse. Unfortunately, you cannot climb to the top of the old one.

  • Timings: 10 AM – 1 PM, 2 PM – 5:30 PM
  • Entry Fee: INR 10 for adults, INR 5 for children, INR 25 for foreigners, and Free for children below 12 years.
  • Camera charges: INR 20 for the camera and INR 25 for the video camera.
  • Restroom: Available but not maintained well.
  • Parking: Paid parking is available

11. Jaunt At The Sea Shell Museum

India sea shell museum in Mahabalipuram is India’s first and Asia’s largest sea shell museum, home to 40,000+ sea shells. What’s even more fascinating is that all the sea shells were collected by a single person named Raja Mohammed. He has been collecting sea shells for about 4 decades since the 1980s and flaunts rare shells from over 50 countries worldwide. 

7+ attractions inside the museum include the horror house, sports arena, 3D art gallery, pearl museum, and more. There is also a shell crafts and pearl store available inside the premises.

  • Timings: 8 AM – 8 PM
  • Restroom: Available
  • Parking: Available
  • Entry charges for each are as follows
    • India Seashell Museum – INR 100
    • Mini Asia & Mineral Museum – INR 100
    • Mamalla Fish World – INR 50
    • Pearl Museum – INR 50
    • Dinosaur Museum – INR 200

300 INR to visit all the above five attractions. Separate charges for the below ones.

  • Gaming Arena – Separate pay per game
  • Horror House – INR 50
  • 3D Art Gallery – INR 50
  • Virtual Reality – INR 50

12. Stop By The Crocodile Bank

Located 11 km from Mamallapuram, the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, and Centre for Herpetology, or the Crocodile Bank, is one of the largest reptile zoos in the world. With over 300 crocodiles and 100 reptiles, including snakes and turtles, it is home to 14 of the 25 crocodile species around the globe. Inaugurated in 1976 by Romulus Whitaker, Zai Whitaker, and a few conservation visionaries, the bank set out on a mission to save India’s declining crocodile population. The zoo acts as the perfect infotainment activity for children and adults alike.

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to experience the place after dusk, the zoo offers a night safari with trained guides and relevant equipment to enjoy the tour. There is also a merchandise shop for you to grab souvenirs.

  • Timings: 9 AM – 5 PM, closed on Mondays
  • Night Safari Timings: 7 PM – 8:30 PM from Tuesday to Sunday
  • Entry Fee: INR 100 for adults, INR 50 for children, free for children below 5 years
  • Night Safari Fee: INR 300 per person
  • Restroom: Available
  • Parking: Available

13. Go Boating At Boat House

Boating at the Mudhaliyar Kuppam (38 Km) and Muttukadu boat houses (22 Km) near Mahabalipuram is a must-do activity for those who love being on the water. The boat rides offer a calm and tranquil experience as you sail through numerous seagulls surrounded by lush green landscapes. Various boating options and water sports activities make it a perfect way to relax and unwind amidst nature and create beautiful memories.

The Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) maintains the boating houses. They offer many amenities, making it a cool hangout spot for families, friends, couples, and solo explorers.

  • Timings: 9 AM – 6 PM
  • Restroom facilities: Available
  • Parking: Paid parking is available at both the destinations
  • Boating charges: You can check the tariff on their official website – Mudhaliyar Kuppam and Muttukadu boat houses

14. Stay At A Cozy Homestay or Resort

Staying at a homestay or resort is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture, interact with the locals, and get an authentic taste of Mahabalipuram. Various options are available, ranging from traditional homestays to luxurious resorts. These accommodations offer comfortable rooms and delicious regional delicacies and often come with ample amenities like swimming pools, spas, and beach access. Additionally, many of these homestays and resorts are located in quiet, peaceful areas, making up for a perfect escapade away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Read that blog to know where we stayed and our personal recommendations.

15. Take A Short Ride To The Tiger Cave

Located 11 Km towards Chennai, you can see 11 enormous Yaali carved in a square niche on a rock. Yaali is not a tiger but an imaginary creature with the head of a lion, an elephant’s tusk, a horse’s body, and a serpent’s tail. 

Few people believe that Tiger Cave is a temple dedicated to the goddess Durga because of her lion mount. A few others believe it to be a shrine for Lord Indira because of the elephants, and some say that this is where King Mamalla used to come to watch wrestling matches. Inscriptions of the Atiranachanda Cave and the remains of the 8th-century old Saluvankuppam Murugan Temple are found near the cave.

  • Timings: 9 AM – 5:30 PM
  • Entry Fee: INR 25 for Indians, INR 300 for foreigners, and free for children below 3 years
  • Restroom facilities: Available
  • Parking: INR 20 for two-wheelers and INR 40 for the car.

16. Get Fascinated By The Pancha Rathas

Pancha Pandava Rathas

Pancha Pandava Rathas are five chariots associated with the Pandava brothers from the Hindu epic Mahabharatha. Although there is no apparent connection between the chariots and the Pandavas, the name came from the fact that there are 5 chariots. Pancha Pandava Rathas translates to Five Pandava Chariots. Each of these ancient chariots is cut out of a single rock of granite, but none move. However, these chariots are fine examples of intricate craftsmanship despite lacking functionality.

Five Pandava Chariots - UNESCO site at Mahabalipuram

The five Rathas are Draupadi Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Bheema Ratha, Dharmaraja Ratha, and Nakula Sahadeva Ratha. Each chariot is more intricate and complex compared to the previous one. It’s almost as if the sculptor was experimenting with design to master the art of sculpting the perfect chariot. 

The Dwarapalakas or gatekeepers are generally seen in pairs with mirror images of each other, but here in Mamallapuram, they stand in different positions holding different weapons. The Pallavas symbol of a lion can be seen in many places here. All the Rathas have different styles of roofs as well. What’s fascinating about these is that the Rathas were discovered recently from under the sands. Don’t forget to listen to the audiobook to learn about each Ratha in detail.

  • Timings: 6 AM – 6 PM on all days
  • Entry Fee: INR 40 for Indians, INR 600 for foreigners, and free for children below 15 years. The same ticket is valid for visiting all the monuments at Mahabalipuram. (same ticket as in the school of architecture)
  • Restroom facilities: Available.
  • Parking: Paid parking is available

17. Activities By The Shore

Mahabalipuram offers a range of activities to enjoy by the shore, making it a perfect place for families and friends. You can go horse riding along the beach or try your hand at various games such as archery, balloon shooting, ring throwing, and many more. These games are usually set up by vendors along the beach and add a fun element to your day at the beach.

18. Take A Day Trip

Mahabalipuram is not only a great destination but also a perfect base to explore the nearby attractions. There are many day trip options that you can take from Mahabalipuram. Some of the popular day trip destinations include Vandalur Zoo (45 Km), Kovalam Beach (20 Km), Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary (55 Km), Chennai (60 Km), Pondicherry (100 Km), and mangroves at Pichavaram (157 Km).

Apart from these, what else did you do in Mahabalipuram? Let us know in the comments below.

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