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Fascinating things to do in Madurai, India, including a visit to the water-lily-filled Flower Market, the Gandhi Museum in Madurai, and the mesmerizing Meenakshi Amman Temple

Having spent over six months traveling the length and breadth of India, on three separate trips, it remains one of my favorite countries. I’ve traveled to the addictive country alone, with an ex-boyfriend, and also as part of a group, and each experience was wildly different from the previous. For my last trip, I focused most of my attention on the state of Tamil Nadu hunting out the best food in Madurai and enjoying unique experiences in the city before heading up the coast to Thanjavur, Pondicherry, and Mamallapurum and then taking an internal flight to Hyderabad, the place where I first learned about Sadhguru.

women wearing saris stand before bags of flowers and foliage for sale at Madurai's flower market in Tamil Nadu India
Sellers gather at Madurai's Flower Market (Photo: Lydia Swinscoe)

During my three days in Tamil Nadu’s most vibrant city, I got to learn a lot about Gandhi thanks to the fascinating museum in Madurai, as well as witness blessings and ceremonies at the awesome Hindu temple Meenakshi and have some seriously off-the-radar experiences at the local markets…

Four unmissable things to do in Madurai

1. Visit the Gandhi Museum in Madurai

Madurai is the city where in 1921 Gandhi renounced his European-style clothing and decided to solely wear the white loincloth he’s still known for to this day. Connecting him with the working classes of India, Gandhi’s loincloth—made from Indian cotton—became a symbol of national unity, regardless of class or gender. He continued to wear the loincloth until the day of his assassination in January 1948.

A white building that houses the Gandhi Museum in Madurai, India, one of the best things to do in Madurai
Gandhi Museum in Madurai (Photo: Lydia Swinscoe)

I learned more about Gandhi and India’s independence movement at the Gandhi Memorial Museum in Madurai. The museum includes a collection of rare photos and Gandhi’s handwritten letters, as well as a small but interesting bookshop.

Opening hours: 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 5.45pm daily. Closed Sundays
Address: Collector Office Road, Alwarpuram

Free entry


2. Explore Meenakshi Amman Hindu Temple

Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful temples in India you don’t need to be religious to appreciate the magnificent Meenakshi Amman Hindu Temple in the center of town. Dedicated to a form of the Hindu goddess Parvati, this mesmerizing pilgrimage site features shrines, secret chambers, and thousands of intricately carved pillars spread over a massive 14 acres. There are so many grand and impressive temples in India, yet this one remains one of my favorites.

A view of the main stupa of the Meenakshi Amman Hindu Temple in Madurai India with birds flying around the colourful spire
Meenakshi Amman Hindu Temple in Madurai (Photo: Lydia Swinscoe)

On the day I entered the temple, I saw families being blessed in fascinating ceremonies and people offering vegetables, flowers, rice, and fruit to the holy men that sit within the temple grounds. It’s easy to spend a day here, exploring the pillared halls, and shrines and immersing yourself in the magical atmosphere. Look out for the Shiva shrine (there’s one that non-Hindus can visit), brightly painted ceilings, and Ganesh carvings. 

Opening hours: 4am to 12.30pm and 4pm to 9.30pm daily
Address: Madurai Main Street
Entrance to the temple is free but there is a charge of 50 rupees ($0.60) to take a camera inside

3. Head to Mattuthavani Flower Market

The Bustling Mattuthavani flower market is one of the busiest I’ve seen throughout my travels with a rumored 10 tonnes of flowers on display, daily. I took a rickshaw to the market just outside of Madurai one morning and managed to photograph some of the utterly beautiful flowers on display.

Two Indian men sit amongst piles of pink and red flowers at Madurai's Flower Market in India, visiting the flower market is one of the most fascinating things to do in Madurai
Piles upon piles of bright blooms at Madurai's Flower Market (Photo: Lydia Swinscoe)

There's everything you can imagine, from perfect water lilies bundled into huge blue plastic bags to piles of intoxicating jasmine. It’s easy to get to the market from Madurai and most rickshaw drivers will incorporate a stop at the nearby central vegetable market too.

Opening hours: open 24 hours Tuesday to Saturday and 3am to 10pm Sundays and Mondays

Address: Mattuthavani Flower Market, Madurai

4. Take a walk through Mattuthavani Central Vegetable Market

I love going to food markets when I’m traveling, mainly to see if there’s anything I don’t recognize, but also, it’s these places, where you can get a real sense of daily life. I visited on a weekday morning and found the Central Vegetable Market to be a much calmer affair than the jam-packed flower market.

An Indian woman sits among hundreds of bananas for sale at Madurai vegetable market in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu
One of the many banana stands at Madurai's Central Vegetable Market (Photo: Lydia Swinscoe)

Local farmers and growers come here to sell their produce from surrounding villages and I was amazed to see whole stalls dedicated entirely to bananas, from small yellow varieties piled into wicker baskets to bright green ones hanging from the roof, and even deep red banana flowers. Ginormous cauliflowers, neat bundles of green chilies laid out on white sacks, and mounds of pink wrinkly onions were also in abundance.

Opening hours: from roughly 3am to 2pm daily

Address: Melur Main Road


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