Madurai is one of India’s most ancient cities and dates back to the 6th century B.C. After a few months of travelling through north India we were ready to explore the south. We actually met up with our parents who travelled from New Zealand and went to visit Madurai with them.
We didn’t know what to expect from this large city located in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. All we knew was that it was home to the famous Meenakshi Amman Temple. So….was Madurai worth visiting?
Is Madurai Worth Visiting? Madurai is an ancient city and is one of India’s oldest continuously inhabited metropolises in the world. Home to the famous Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai’s deep rooted history, rich culture, many attractions and incredible food makes Madurai a vibrant and exciting travel destination worth visiting.
For our parents, Madurai provided a glimpse into the hustle and bustle of Indian city life. It also proved to be incredibly rich in culture and history. There is a new story to learn at every corner and you can feel the essence of bygone times when you visit Madurai.
The soul of the city and it’s historic marvels captivates travellers from around the world, including us! In this article we will provide a detailed travel guide, so that you don’t miss any of the must sees in the ancient city of Madurai! You can also see our Madurai travel video below for a deeper insight into our travel adventures in Madurai.
Why Visit Madurai?
Madurai has been a travel and trade destination for centuries. The ancient Romans, Greeks and even Marco Polo and Ibn Battutaall visited this important city. Today, Madurai is still a vibrant travel destination, a place to discover the hustle, bustle and chaos of a true Tamil Nadu city.
During our time in Madurai, we enjoyed the energetic markets, the historic marvels, kind people and incredible food! The Beauty of Madurai is that it is not touristy at all and your experience here will be raw and authentic.
So, if you want to experience the vibrancy of an Indian city and admire many historic attractions including the towering Meenakshi Amman Temple then we recommend adding Madurai to your south Indian travel itinerary.
What to Expect in Madurai?
Before visiting Madurai you should be prepared for what to expect. Do expect a bit of chaos on the streets. The spirited streets of Madurai will be crowded with cows, people, motorbikes, spiritual rituals, market stalls, Rickshaws, hand drawn carts, and everything in between!
You may also notice some trash and pollution and all this may come as culture shock for some who have travelled to Madurai from outside of India. For us, we loved the dynamic street life and witnessing the true essence and culture of the city in abundance.
Attractions in Madurai
Perhaps Madurai’s most famous attraction is the Sri Meenakshi Temple. Built over 2000 years ago the towering gates of this temple are a magnificent sight of brightly coloured, intricate sculptures which can be seen from many parts of the old city.
The life of the temple is exciting and vibrant with many priests, puja ceremonies, music, wedding processions and market stalls occurring in and around the temple complex. People from all over the world can enter the complex, however only Hindus can enter the main inner temple for worship.
Madurai Storytelling Tour:
We are not big on taking organised tours, but we had limited time in Madurai and we thought it would be a great experience for our parents. So we researched and found a really great tour company in Madurai that specialises in walking tours named Storytrails.
Storytrails offer a variety of Madurai walking tours and we decided to go with the Once upon a Madurai & the Food Trails tours. It really was a great experience and we were able to discover hidden, historic places that we would have never have found on our own and learn stories that gave us a glimpse into the city’s old past.
Our guide was knowledgeable and charming and taught us a lot about the mythological roots of Madurai city. We recommend this tour if you are interested in learning more about the culture and history of Madurai. You can check out their Tripadvisor page for more reviews and info >>>
Madurai Banana Market:
Exploring the small and vibrant banana market of Madurai was one of the highlights for us. This is a fascinating place and is a great place to experience the local culture.
Located on Swami Shanthi Street in the old city, this market is filled with many stall holders and over 16 varieties of bananas to choose from. It is also part of the wider Madurai vegetable market that we recommend you also take the time to explore.
Other Markets in Madurai
The bustling markets of Madurai are a great place to soak up the atmosphere and local life. They are also a great place to pick up some incredible items such as handmade handicrafts and beautiful fabrics. Some of the lively markets in Madurai’s old city include Puthu Mandapam, Avani Moola Street & West Chitrai Street.
Puthu Mandapam Market is a particularly mesmerising bazaar and one of the oldest markets in Tamil Nadu. It is located inside a beautiful historic building filled with intricate carvings and historic idols. The market stalls were closed to allow for building restoration when we visited, but we were still able to see the incredible architecture of this structure.
Located on a busy street intersection near the Meenakshi Temple is a giant bull statue that represents the sacred Hindu vehicle of Lord Shiva. It really is a magnificent site and is located across the road from the bustling Pudu Mandapam market mentioned above. We recommend to stop by and take a look at this eye catching historic landmark.
Try Delicious Food in Madurai
Madurai is rich in culinary delights and is an incredible place to discover authentic south Indian food. Fluffy idli and crispy Dosa are just the tip of the iceberg!
If you really want to try some unique street foods we suggest a food tour, we ended up doing a food tour with Story Trails and were glad we did. We discovered many delicious Madurai specialities that we would have never have tried otherwise.
We also found a great restaurant named Hotel Sree Sabarees that was very affordable and delicious. Here we ate a delicious unlimited banana leaf Saapaadu with over 14 dishes to try for only ₹100/$1.30 per person. You can read more reviews and find out more about Hotel Sree Sabarees on Tripadvisor >>
Samanar Hills Madurai:
About 20mins drive from the city centre you will reach the Samanar Hills. This site is home to a lotus pond, an ancient Jain temple and historic caves and carvings. You can reach the top of the hill via 300 steps and we recommend climbing close to sunset for great views and cooler temperatures. Samanar Hills is slightly off the beaten track, but is a great place to come if you are interested to see some very special relics of Jainism.
Festivals in Madurai
Pongal Festival – January
Pongal is a harvest festival and is one of southern India’s most enthusiastically celebrated events. Held in January, this festival is dedicated to the Hindu Sun God. This three day festival injects even more life into the streets of Madurai with the worshiping and decoration of farm animals and carnival-like celebrations.
The traditional Pongal sweet dish is made in all households and is offered to the gods, you may also see many brightly coloured rice-powder kolam artworks and murals across the city. Jallikattu is part of Pongal and is usually held in rural Madurai where people gather at fields to witness the taming of wild bulls.
Chithirai Festival – April
Chithirai Festival is one of Tamil Nadu’s most celebrated religious events and honors the wedding of Goddess Meenakshi to Lord Sundareswarer. Held in the month of April this is a two week long event that attracts many people and invigorates the street of Madurai as people celebrate with zeal.
During this festival you will witness the reenactment of the wedding which includes many rituals, parades, moving idols on massive chariots, traditional drama, dance, and music. This is definitely a great time to experience Madurai, but be prepared for very crowded streets and hot temperatures.
Float Festival – Jan/Feb
One of south India’s most dazzling festivals is the Float Festival held on the Mariamman Teppakulam Lake in Madurai. The Float Festival is celebrated on the full moon night of the Tamil month Thai, which usually occurs in January or February.
At this vibrant event you will see beautifully decorated deities being transported on floats across the lake, lit up with lamps and lights. You will also experience plenty of traditional music and even a fireworks display.
Places to Stay in Madurai
|The Lost Hostel, Madurai ₹450/$6USD
Located just 2km from the old city, this is a clean and comfortable budget accomodation for travellers. This place also has good wifi & a hot showers which is always a bonus in India for budget accommodation!
|Criston Homestay ₹1500/$20USD
Run by a lovely local family who provide delicious home cooked food! It is a clean comfortable accommodation located 5km from the old city with a gorgeous rooftop terrace to enjoy! The glowing reviews from other travellers makes this a great option in Madurai.
|Avea Accommodation ₹1500/$20USD
This Is where we stayed during our time in Madurai. The rooms were small but clean & modern & the staff were very helpful and kind. Located 5km from the old city, we would definitely recommend this bnb for an affordable and modern accommodation option inMadurai.
|Courtyard by Marriott ₹7500/$100USD
This is a luxurious hotel in Madurai featuring a restaurant, bar, garden, gym and pool. Enjoy a taste of class and elegance at this stunning facility in Madurai!
How to Reach Madurai
Air: Madurai has a domestic airport so it is easily reached via flight. If you are short on time then flying throughout India is definitely your best option. However, flights are significantly more expensive than other transport options on offer.
Below are some examples of flight times and prices from Major destinations to Madurai. Please note: flight times will differ depending on transit times and prices are approximate.
- Delhi to Madurai 3hours / ₹7500/$100USD
- Jaipur to Madurai 5hours / ₹7500/$100USD
- Chennai to Madurai 1.5hours / ₹3000/$40USD
- Mumbai to Madurai 3hours / ₹9100/$120USD
- Kochi to Madurai 4.5hours / ₹6100/$80USD
Road: Travel by private taxi is always faster than train travel and can be more comfortable for shorter trips, however it can be a lot more expensive. As budget travellers we usually travelled by train or bus, but with our parents visiting for the South Indian leg of our journey we decided to book a taxi from Madurai to Thekkady.
This was a 150km journey and cost us ₹4000/$50USD which we split between the four of us. We booked the taxi through our hotel in Madurai who were very helpful. We recommend if you are planning to book a long distance taxi, to contact your hotel ahead of time to gather quotes for you.
Train: There are many direct trains to Madurai from most major cities in India. If you are on a budget and have the time, travelling by train can be more much economic and more adventurous than flying.
For foreigners, travelling by train is also a great way to meet friends and experience the local way of life in India. However more often than not train journeys will take WAAAAY longer than flying or driving, so you do need to factor in the time cost.
You can read our full guide to using Indian trains here >>>>Train Travel in India Explained. Below are some approximate examples of trip times and prices. Please note prices will depend on the class you book and these are estimated prices for sleeper & AC class.
- Delhi to Madurai 45hours / ₹500-1200/$6-15USD
- Jaipur to Madurai 41hours / ₹500-1200/$6-15USD
- Chennai to Madurai 8hours / ₹300-800/$4-10USD
- Mumbai to Madurai 27hours / ₹400-1000/$5-13USD
- Kochi to Madurai 12hours / ₹300-800/$4-10USD
How to Get Around in Madurai?
Perhaps the most fun way to get around in Madurai is by Rickshaw. There are plenty of rickshaw drivers available all throughout the city who will be willing and ready. A handy tip is to avoid using street names, instead have a clear landmark to give to your driver. For example, if you are trying to get to the old city you could say Meenakshi Amman Temple, railway station or Periyar.
It is also important to negotiate and agree on the price before you take the journey. Know how long the journey is before you depart so you can figure out if the price they are giving you is fair. For example, if you know your journey is 5km you can then negotiate better. For a 5km journey you might expect to pay about ₹80-100.
Ola is similar to Uber and is a recommended mode of transport in Madurai. The benefit of Ola is you do not need to negotiate the price with the driver and you know you are getting a fair price, instead of an inflated tourist price. You can also avoid trying to explain your destination to the driver at the map will show them the exact location.
We also used Ola to get an idea of a taxi fare, then if we went to catch a Rickshaw and they were charging us more, we knew we were getting ripped off. Rickshaws, should always be slightly cheaper than Ola or Uber.
Madurai has a well connected local bus system that is run by the government. These buses can get overcrowded at certain times of the day, but this will be your cheapest option for travelling in and around Madurai.
Trying to figure out local bus timetables and stops is always difficult, so if you are a foreigner don’t be afraid to ask locals for help and to let the bus driver know which stop you are wanting. The main stop in the old city is Periyar Bus Stand and this is located near the railway station, just 900metres from the Meenakshi Amman Temple.
Once you are in the main city centre aka the old city, you can get around easily on foot. Walking around the old city is also a great way to accidentally discover hidden surprises and intriguing streets and buildings.
Weather in Madurai
Madurai has similar weather conditions to other cities in south India and is generally a hot place. We visited Madurai in June and it was very hot and humid. Below is some more information on each season of Madurai.
WINTER SEASON, Dec-Feb: 20℃ to 30℃
Winter in Madurai is not exactly cold, it is however much cooler and more pleasant than the summer months.With blue skies and low rainfall winter is considered the perfect time to visit Madurai weather wise.
HOT SEASON March-June: 35℃ to 40℃
We visited Madurai during summer and it was sweltering hot and very humid. Expect intensely hot, sticky and humid heat. However there are ways to combat the heat in India such as having an air conditioned room, exploring in the mornings and evenings and keeping a travel umbrella with you to protect from sun rays.
MONSOON SEASON: July-Nov: 25℃ to 35
Monsoon is slightly different in this region and hits Southeast India hard during the months of October & November. During the months of July, August and September temperatures cool down slightly and rainfall is fairly low but gradually increasing. The onset of full blown monsoon will hit during October and November and Tamil Nadu will be hit by massive storms, cyclones and heavy rainfall.
Daily Costs in Madurai
Madurai is a travel destination that is fairly easy on the pocket. Below is the average daily costs for a trip to Madurai. We know that everyone has different budgets so we have created the average spend for budget, midrange and lux travellers.
Budget: Total Daily Costs = ₹1000/$13USD
- Food: ₹300/$4USD
- Accomodation: ₹500/$6USD
- Transport: ₹200/$2.5USD
Mid Range: Total Daily Costs = ₹4000/$50USD
- Food: ₹500/$6USD
- Accomodation: ₹1500/$20USD
- Tour: ₹1500/$20USD
- Transport: ₹500/$6USD
Lux: Total Daily Costs = ₹11000/$140USD
- Food: ₹1500/$6USD
- Accomodation: ₹7500/$100USD
- Tour: ₹1500/$20USD
- Transport: ₹500/$6USD
How Many Days to Visit in Madurai
2-3 days is a sufficient amount of time to see the main highlights of Madurai. We could only stay 2days due to our parents’ tight time schedule. However, we would usually encourage travellers to stay as long as possible in each town they visit to really soak up the vibe. So, if you enjoy Madurai and have the time, spend a week if you can!
Other Places to Visit in Tamil Nadu
There are many other places to visit in Tamil Nadu, but we really did enjoy our time in Chennai.
We hope this Madurai travel guide has helped you realise that Madurai is definitely worth visiting! If you have any other questions related to travelling to Madurai then feel free to leave a comment below and we will answer your questions as best we can.
You might also find our Recommended Travel Gear Page helpful while planning for your trip! After a year of adventures through Asia these are tried, tested and proven travel essentials we recommend.
Cheers, Native Travellers
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