Finding the best Tamil Nadu hotels can be a tricky prospect for those of us who are used to going online, looking at a few pictures, reading some reviews, and then clicking “Book Now”. The problem starts with the online booking engines. None of them have a comprehensive selection of hotels in a given area – instead, each hotel tends to choose just one booking site to represent it.
If you’re going to some of the bigger cities in Tamil Nadu, like Chennai, Madurai, and Trichy, also have a look at Oyo Rooms and Zo Rooms, which review independent hotels and allow them to join the site only if they meet the requirements (like having clean linens, free WiFi, AC rooms etc).
Just be warned that we found almost universally that the pictures and descriptions of Tamil Nadu hotels online did not match the hotels AT ALL in real life. Usually, the pictures online were of the hotels when they were brand new, and now it’s 10 years later, with no maintenance in between.
The complexity online is only the beginning. There are zillions of hotels available in Tamil Nadu, even in the smaller towns, and many of these are not online at all. Many of them are also filthy, uncomfortable, and insalubrious places to spend the night. However, in most places we went, there were also a few hidden gems to be discovered.
Our best finds all came from just showing up in town, with a vague idea of where most of the hotels were clustered. Then, we then looked around until we found the good ones.
If you don’t want to spend half of your trip to Tamil Nadu going in and out of different hotel rooms, our guide to finding the best Tamil Nadu hotels and restaurants is a good place to start.
Note: All of the Booking.com links in this post are affiliate links, which means that if you use them to book your hotel, we will get a small (very small) commission. It does not add any cost onto your booking and helps us keep writing these amazing blog posts for you. So, thanks in advance!
According to the internet, many people skip Chennai altogether when they come to Tamil Nadu, heading straight for the seaside town of Mamallapuram.
But we say, don’t do it! We really enjoyed our three days in Chennai and could have used more time to get a feel for this sprawling city. We stayed in the T Nagar area, where we learned the ins and outs of shopping in Chennai’s Pondy Bazaar and tasted some of the top-rated food and coffee in the city.
Chennai has plenty of temples, LOTS of shopping, a diverse and delectable food scene, a million twisty back alleyways, and even a beach. So if you can deal with the noise and the frenetic pace of the city, plan for a few extra days here.
If you do go, check out our Traveler’s Guide Shopping in Chennai’s Pondy Bazaar and our Guide To Using The Autorickshaws in Chennai to make your stay a little easier and a whole lot more enjoyable.
I have to say, I was pretty excited when I found the OYO Rooms website. Online, OYO Rooms looks like a nice collection of inexpensive boutique hotels. The only OYO hotel we managed to stay in during our time in Tamil Nadu was this one in Pondy Bazaar, which I chose because it’s in the center of the shopping district. Sadly, it wasn’t nearly as “boutique” in real life as it was on the internet.
- Great location (if you like to be in the heart of the action)
- Really nice owner and extremely helpful staff
- Decent free breakfast
- Close to several good restaurants
- It’s on the third floor of an India “mall” which opens right onto the street – it didn’t feel very secure and the building itself was filthy and a little depressing
- The rooms are pretty run down – they don’t look like they do on the OYO Rooms website
- Could have been much cleaner
- WiFi is slower than molasses in February
Treebo Bluten, T Nagar, Chennai
On our return to Chennai, I decided that our one OYO Rooms adventure was enough, so we went slightly upscale at Treebo Bluten, also in the T Nagar area. Treebo Bluten is on a quiet side street lined with upscale homes – one of the quietest spots we saw anywhere in Chennai. It is in quick reach of the shopping and restaurants of Pondy Bazaar and spitting distance from the Apollo Medical Clinic should you need any medical assistance.
As with almost everywhere we stayed in India, Treebo Bluten would have been much improved by a woman’s touch (sexist maybe, but so darn true). However, it was clean and comfortable, with a decent bathroom, WiFi that usually worked, and good air conditioning. The staff were on hand to help us with every need (except for that early morning we came down to find them all asleep in the lobby).
The Pondy Bazaar location of this (giant) Tamil Nadu chain of restaurants looks, from the outside, to be a mega-sized sweet shop. Their sweets counter is to-die-for if you like Indian desserts. But the savoury food is also well-prepared and reasonably priced.
I especially liked the channa masala from the chat (snacks) station. Also, their filter coffee is purported to be some of the best in the city.
Confusingly, restaurants in Tamil Nadu are often called “Hotel” even if they don’t have guest rooms. Hotel Saravana Bhavan, another chain with locations all over the world (including the UK, Malaysia, Canada, the US, Australia and more), is one such restaurant.
They serve up typical South Indian dishes like idly, dosa, medu vada, and thalis (which are usually called “meals” in Tamil Nadu) and more. The non-AC hall in Pondy Bazaar doesn’t look like much, but the food is great and the staff are friendly. You can opt to sit upstairs in the AC hall if you prefer.
Filter coffee and chai tea are both excellent here as well.
The location just near Panagal Park is a little dark and dismal inside, but the food is good and the sambar flows freely. They seemed to be a little less used to tourists than at A2B and Saravana, so it was a little harder to order here. If you opt for Murugan, and you’re a little unsure of your Indian foods, get something simple like a meal or a masala dosa.
This isn’t a restaurant per se, but it’s a great way to try a bunch of crazy Indian foods from tiny speciality shops.
Usually, we wouldn’t spend this much money on a single experience, especially not a tourist-focussed experience like a food tour. But, the Storytrails tour was worth every penny and then some. Lakshmi from Storytrails was so welcoming and friendly it felt like we were being shown around Chennai’s George Town by a close friend. (It may have helped that we were the only two on the tour that day).
She walked us through the narrow busyness of George Town’s Mint Street, taking us to street stalls, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, hidden away modern cafes, and even one large sweet shop all the while telling us the history of the area and the people in it. Of course, there were many crazy foods to try – not one of which we’d ever laid teeth on before – and entertaining stories about where those foods originated.
The Storytrails food tour is the best way to try all those food vendors you might otherwise not notice, while also ensuring that you don’t get sick by picking the wrong one.
Mamallapuram (aka Mahabalipuram)
This seaside resort is a popular tourist destination because it’s so close to Chennai. It’s also a little sad and, quite frankly, I wish we’d skipped it.
Of course, my distaste for the town is in no small part due to the egregious error I made in choosing our hotel. Yes, even experienced travellers screw things up sometimes.
Hotel Ramakrishna, Mamallapuram
First, let me just say, DO NOT STAY HERE. I’m not linking to it so that you don’t make the mistake we did.
Hotel Ramakrishna wins the award for “least like its internet profile”. The room we stayed in is actually shown on their Booking.com profile. It’s just that instead of new furniture, sparkling white sheets, and stylish wallpaper as is shown online, the room had a blood-stained blanket, dingy grey sheets, mildewing paperless walls, and a filthy bathroom instead.
In 2006, Mamallapuram was hit by the tsunami that devastated so many locations in the area and the Hotel Ramakrishna has obviously not been refurbished since. All of this would not be so terrible if the hotel were not so ridiculously overpriced. They added 25% at check in for taxes and “service fees”, too. Yuck.
Silver Moon Guesthouse, Mamallapuram
So, where to stay instead? We also checked out the Silver Moon Guesthouse while in town, just in case we ended up passing back through Mamallapuram. In contrast to our shabby accommodations, Silver Moon looks like it has been well maintained and cleaned in recent memory. The prices are cheaper too, and the rooms are bright and seemed comfortable. To top it off, the staff at this guesthouse and cafe were pleasant and helpful.
We weren’t too thrilled with any of the restaurants in Mamallapuram, but Sri Ananda Bhavan became our mainstay while we were in town. Expect the typical array of South Indian dishes at a budget price.
(Perhaps if we’d been able to get online, we could have found somewhere better to eat!)
Pondicherry – more commonly called Pondy – is touted as a colonial gem of South India. We were expecting streets lined with beautiful old buildings, like you would see in Luang Prabang, Laos or George Town, Malaysia. Those buildings do exist, but Pondy was a bit of a disappointment to us since any beauty is marred by the narrow, dirty streets and the almost constant heavy traffic. We did find the local fish market, which is the only site in Pondicherry that you should not miss!
This little hotel with a single room on each floor is as close to a boutique hotel as we saw in India. It’s very well-run and maintained, with more charm and personality than your average Indian hotel. The owner is friendly and full of good advice, while the hotel dog will charm you until you get sucked into showing her some love (after which she’ll never leave you alone). The WiFi is tremendously slow, as is to be expected in Tamil Nadu, and stopped working altogether at frequent intervals.
The breakfast was underwhelming, but the breakfast lounge on the rooftop has gorgeous views of the Bay of Bengal and a comfy lounge area where you can spend lazy afternoons enjoying the sea breeze.
La Closerie – Bay of Bengal, Pondicherry
If you want to go upscale in Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry is the place to do it. Directly across from L’Escale is La Closerie, and every time we walked by we practically drooled over the colonial mansion and quiet courtyard pool. If you’re in the mood for some old world luxury (for around $60/night), La Closerie is the place for you.
Park Guest House, Pondicherry
Though this was our first choice when we arrived in Pondicherry, we didn’t even get as far as seeing a room. The on-duty staff left us sitting in the lobby without so much as a welcoming nod in our direction while they chatted with another set of guests about their daily lives. We finally inserted ourselves into the conversation to enquire about rooms and were met with an unfriendly answer and a quote that seemed too high for an ashram hotel. Since they don’t have WiFi either, we went elsewhere.
However, it does have a pretty location on the seafront and is popular with other travellers, so you may want to give it a try.
Artika Cafe Gallery, Pondicherry
Adjusting to India food for breakfast was hard for me, as I like to have a light breakfast of sweets, not a heavy breakfast filled with garlic and onions. I’m also a big fan of fresh fruit, which is best avoided in India unless you prepare it yourself. So it was great to be able to get a huge bowl of fruit, muesli and homemade yogurt at Cafe Artika. The also do a decent-looking toast and omelette if that’s more your breakfast style.
As a bonus, the man running the show had a very sweet vibe about him and the outdoor patio seating on designer antique furniture invites you to spend the day sitting around in the shady yard.
There is supposed to be WiFi here, but we couldn’t make it work during our visit.
Yes, we went for pizza in India. After a few weeks of Indian food, I was dying for a little change of pace. When I read that Xtasi serves Italian-style pizza from a wood-fired oven, I was sceptical but thought it was worth a try. The pizza was actually pretty decent (far better than the pizza in say Slovenia or Croatia) and the restaurant is popular hangout for local 20somethings, young Indian tourists, and a random foreign backpacker or two.
Also, they have cold beer.
Hotel Surguru, Pondicherry
This restaurant has three branches in Pondicherry and gets consistently good reviews online. It is central and convenient, especially as a place to get set meal in air conditioning. The food was good, if not spectacular.
The Pondicherry A2B is similar to its counterpart in Pondy Bazaar, Chennai, except the non-AC hall has a self-service counter which may make it a little more difficult to decide and get what you want if you’re not familiar with the South Indian favourites. Upstairs, the AC hall is filled with well-heeled Indians on holiday, who will make you feel positively grubby in your travel clothes. As far as we could tell, prices are the same or only slightly more for table service in the AC hall.
Likely the only reason you’ll come to this ramshackle town is to visit the spectacular Nataraja Temple around which everything in the town is centred. Sadly, Chidambaram is also infamous for its lacklustre / terrible hotels. Many people make it a day trip or a stop off between Pondy and points further south, but we quite liked the atmosphere and were happy to get to spend different times of day in the temple.
Vandayar Hotel, Chidambaram
We think Vandayar might be the best hotel in town, but it was still fairly rotten – literally, parts of the bathroom walls were rotting away and the bathroom door looked like it had been recently rescued from the garbage dump. The bath towels looked like they should be taken immediately to said dump.
Here’s a little video walkthrough of Vandayar I made one day when I stayed home “sick”.
Our bed was decent and the sheets were almost white. Of course, we got the cheapest room, which was still on the high end of our budget (around $35 per night). If you want a little extra comfort, check out their deluxe rooms; they are in a different wing and perhaps they have been more recently refurbished.
Either way, bring earplugs. The Vandayar Hotel is directly across from the bus station, where bus horns sound on an endless loop all day and much of the night.
The restaurant at Vandayar serves a tasteless buffet breakfast with soggy medu vada and uninspiring curries. They also had the distinction of making the worst tea and coffee we’ve ever been served.
The major selling point of Vandayar is the WiFi, which was excellent and speedy – the only decent WiFi we encountered in India.
Other Hotels in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu
We didn’t look at any other hotels in Chidambaram, but if you want to go a bit easier on your budget, Hotel Akaysha might be worth a look.
Located on the west side of the Nataraja Temple, this is probably the best place to eat in town. One of the dikshitars (Tamil priests) at the temple, a self-proclaimed foodie, told Stephen that Palagaram was his favourite place to eat in the city.
It is fairly new and the cleanest, most up-to-date restaurant we saw in India. For a start, all of the staff were wearing hairnets or hats – that was the first sign we’d seen in Tamil Nadu that someone at the restaurant is taking hygiene seriously. Secondly, after taking our order, the manager asked if he could play some music we’d like on the sound system. At first, we were a little uncomfortable with the idea, but then we decided “hey, he asked”. A few minutes later we were listening to Radiohead in a restaurant in Tamil Nadu. After one track, they very quickly switched back to India music!
And how was the food? It lived up to its reputation. Excellent. In fact, if we go back to Chidambaram, we’ll try to find a hotel on this side of the temple to be closer to Palagaram.
Black Forest Bake
Almost a Western-style bakery, Black Forest Bake is the place to go if you miss cake, cupcakes, brownies and the like. The cakes are not spectacular (we tried an eggless chocolate layer cake) but they’re a good approximation of Western desserts.
They also have a selection of flaky “sausage” rolls that are filled with vegetarian fillings like mushroom, green peas, and potatoes. This was the perfect thing for Stephen to bring home for my lunch the day I was too sick to be bothered getting out of bed for lunch.
If you’re staying at Hotel Vandayar, the nearest decent restaurant is in the bottom of the Hotel Saradharam (hidden behind the gas station and ATM adjacent to the Chidambaram bus station). The best dish that we tried was the Gobi Manchurian (breaded and deep-fried spicy cauliflower) which was paired with Chinese noodles as a lunch special. They also do well with the typical range of South Indian foods.
I wasn’t too impressed with the hygienic standards here, but it was not much worse than most South Indian restaurants.
For some reason, probably to do with the local politicians, Trichy seems to be a little better off and a little better maintained than most of the other cities we’ve seen. For the first time, we saw people painting buildings and doing maintenance on public structures. There are far fewer empty derelict buildings in Trichy and the city bus system seems to be flourishing. We also really liked the vibe of the town and especially recommend the wonderfully atmospheric Sri Jambukeshwara Temple.
After a few wrong turns using Booking.com, we decided to just arrive in Trichy and find a hotel the old-fashioned way – legwork. Turns out we didn’t have to use our legs too much. The first place we saw after getting off the bus was Hotel Vijey, a modern-looking construction set back from the road. We could tell it had promise because out front, two men were working hard to put up a brand new bamboo fence. This led us to believe that other glorious maintenance work had been done around the place in recent years.
(You won’t really understand why that’s a big deal until you’ve stayed in some of India’s wonderful old hotels, that were put up by some well meaning soul in another century and then left to stand and rot while management still somehow convinces people to stay there.)
We saw two of the least expensive class of rooms, and both were spotless, with modern fixtures in the bedroom and bathroom. If you have the cash, do yourself a favour and opt for a second-floor room to avoid the stench of the first-floor hallway, where an open sewer drain is located. If you’re broke like us, hold your breath whenever you leave your room!
WiFi does work in the room, but it’s molasses slow. Free (really delicious) breakfast.
Usually, we would never eat in a hotel restaurant, but in India, they are some of the best food available (and sometimes they are awful. You just have to take your chances.) But, after having a great breakfast two days in a row there, we decided to try it for lunch before grabbing the bus. The two “gravies” we had may be some of the best food we have eaten in India. The service is also outstanding.
We found this place by wandering around the area of the bus station until we found a restaurant that was busy. In contrast to all the others we passed, Sri Saraswathi was nearly full.
The food was above average, if not exceptional, and the dining hall was clean and well kept. They had women doing the cleaning – which almost always means a more hygienic environment.
We had two meals at this cavernous restaurant on the edge of the bus station; both times it was heaving with people. Though the service was a little slow by Indian standards, it was comparable to service in an American restaurant, so you can actually go for a leisurely meal.
The menu has descriptions of all the food they serve, so you can actually figure out what to order without asking a million questions to a waiter who may or may not be able to give you detailed answers in English.
The Gobi 65 was very tasty here, as was the special dosas with Alu Gobi (potato and cauliflower curry) inside.
If you’re in the mood for something sweet, they also have luxuriously named ice cream treats, such as the Sizzling Brownie, for dessert.
Yercaud is often described as the poor man’s Ooty, and it may be so, but we enjoyed our brief stay here. If you need a quick getaway from the heat and don’t have the time (or the money) to go to Ooty, or if you’d just rather avoid the tourist crowds, Yercaud makes a nice little retreat. There’s not a whole lot to do here, so be prepared to just kick back and let the hours float by.
There are lots of decent-looking options for hotels in Yercaud, but you should forget about all of those and reserve a room at Rams Inn. By the time we arrived here, I had learned not to even hope that the hotel would resemble its internet pictures or be anything more than just a place to keep our stuff and sleep.
Rams Inn Yercaud came as a huge surprise. It is better than it looks online, has wonderful views of a jungle-like coffee plantation outside, and is managed by the nicest man we’ve met at any hotel in India. Not only that, but all the light fixtures work, the walls have been recently painted, the linens are spotless, and the bathroom is clean and modern. It almost seems too good to be true.
As I write this I am looking out the window onto a gorgeous green hillside and listening to the evening chorus of frogs. Just magical.
Though we’re not sure what accounts for its elite status, this branch of the Hotel Saravana Bhavan chain delivers just what we’ve come to expect – tasty South India food at a good price.
Just off of the roundabout near Anna Park, we stumbled upon a great tiffin stand by just mooching around one night, checking out what everyone was serving up in their street stalls. The friendly guy running the place came over for a chat and to explain to us what they were making. Even though we’d just eaten, we knew we’d have to come back.
We ate here twice, and both times the food was good and the service excellent. They even had a korma that featured some kind of soy fake meat product in it, if that kind of thing floats your boat. If you can keep the waiter from serving you more sambar and chutney than you could ever possibly eat, you are stronger than we are.
They also serve chicken for the non-veg crew.
Tips for Finding the Best Tamil Nadu Hotels
- Does the WiFi work? Test it before you check in if being online is important to you. More often than not it doesn’t work or just barely does.
- Are the bed sheets clean or are they covered in stains?
- Is the bathroom decent?
- Are the windows securely closed and without large holes to the outside? (This is more to keep out mosquitoes than crooks).
- Is the bed reasonably soft and solid?
- How much street noise is there in the room?
- Does the room smell like open sewer or mothballs (if so, you can find a better one!)?
- Is it an 11am checkout or a 24-hour checkout (meaning you have to check out 24 hours after you check in)?
Tips for Ordering at a Tamil Nadu Restaurant
When you walk into a Tamil Nadu restaurant, typically a waiter will take charge of you and seat you in his section. He will then stand there expectantly, assuming you already know what to order. This is either because a) most South India restaurants have the same stuff on their menus or b) foreigners always order a thali (usually called “meals” in Tamil Nadu).
- Step one is to ask for the menu – it’s usually in English.
- The menu is great to get ideas, but they probably don’t have everything on it. If you order something they don’t have, you’ll get the Indian sideways head shake and be told to choose something else.
- There will definitely be stuff on the menu that you have no idea about. If your waiter can speak English well enough, don’t be afraid to quiz him.
- You can order a bread item (like dosa, chapati, or paratha) which will come with a runny curry called sambar and a few different chutneys. If you’re not a huge eater, this can be enough for a meal. Sambar is often bottomless, and someone will come around and refill yours when you need more.
- In some restaurants, you can order a “gravy” which is what we would call a curry. Gravies include things like Paneer Mutter and Channa Masala. One of these per person plus a serving of rice and/or a naan or roti is enough for a meal. Plain rice is usually not on the menu, but just ask for plain rice or basmati rice if you want some.
- Thalis, or meals as they are more commonly known in Tamil Nadu, are pretty universal on every menu here. There is often a “Special Meal” which comes with somewhere between 5-10 little dishes of curries and chutney and some assorted bread. The “Mini Meal” is a smaller version and we found it was usually plenty for lunch.
- They don’t make dosas / dosai at lunch, only for breakfast and dinner. We don’t know why, but I suspect it’s because nobody wants to slave over a hot wok during the middle of the day.
Foods to Try in Tamil Nadu
- Gobi Manchurian or Gobi 65 Breaded and deep-fried cauliflower smothered in a rich red slightly spicy sauce. Yum.
- Masala Dosa We probably would have eaten this at every meal if we weren’t so set on trying new things.
- Medu Vada Tiny savoury donut rings made from black lentils. When they’re prepared well they are crispy and hot on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. The are not prepared well all that often.
- Pongal A mashed up rice dish that comes in sweet or not-sweet. A little bit like curry mashed potatoes.
- Idly A fluffy pancaked made from partially fermented dough. Weird but good.
- Chinese Food While in Tamil Nadu we learned that Indians are slightly obsessed with Chinese food and have developed their own dishes based on Chinese classics. In our experience it’s not very good, but once you’ve been in India for a while, you’ll be ready for something a little bit different, and Indian Chinese food is as different as it gets.
- Ice Cream Another national obsession and the perfect treat on a sizzling hot Indian summer day.
While it can be challenging to find a decent hotel in Tamil Nadu, especially on a budget, we found that we could afford to spend a little more on hotels because we were able to get filling and healthy meals for just a couple of dollars. Just be warned, in Tamil Nadu, spending more on hotels doesn’t mean you will get more. Check the room carefully before you check in.