There are many cities in South India. Below is a list of the nine most notable. Other cities are listed on their specific regional page.
South India differs quite radically from the North, in part because of a lack of inculturation of Islam. South India's languages while belonging to a separate linguistic group, nevertheless influenced a great deal of the sub-continents' culture before the era of Muslim rule. Indeed the well-known Hindu revivers, Shankara, Ramanuja & Madhava, all hailed from the south of the Vindhyas.
The ancient history of South India was much attributed to large empires like the Hoysalas, Chalukyas, Gangas, Kadambas, Chola, Pandya and Chera, all hailing from similar roots. Whereas Cholas were more famous through its large empires, cultural monuments and navy which brought much of South East Asia under its domination, the popularity of other houses, Chera and Pandiyas were nevertheless. Cheras ruled much of the modern Kerala was extremely popular through its extensive trading relations with West, particularly Roman and Greek Empires as well as with Egyptians. Pandiyas were renowned for their cultural achievements, concenrated much of Southern Tamil Nadu. Towards early AD Centuries, several other Hindu Dynasties like Chalukyas, Vijayanagar Empire, Pallavas etc scrambled much of the Southern peninsula barring Kerala, which remained under Cheras.
Towards Medieval periods, Vijayanagar Empire became one of the largest empires covering two thirds of South India, particularly Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh with its capital at Hampi. The frequent attacks of Sultans of Delhi and other Northern Muslim states, slowly weakened the great Vijayanagara Empire, disintegrating it, giving raise to several Muslim states modelled on Northern Mughal styles in south. Vijayanagara itself was replaced by the Wadiyars of Mysore as the pre-eminent Hindu kingdom. None of these developments lasted very long, and succumbed rapidly to invading colonial powers.
The growth of Portuguese, Dutch and other European powers, made South India, one of the major bases for European powers to fight for its share, in which British emerged victorious. British started their expansion into India setting up its base in Madras (Chennai) and slowly grew into a major power all over India. Barring a few Kingdoms like Travancore, Kochi, Mysore, Hyderabad and Coorg, most of the south Indian area came under British dominance by end of 19th century.
After Independence, South India remained one of the major economic powerhouse for the nation. Most of the south Indian cities are reputed for various industrial bases. The growth of the IT industry in cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Trivandrum, textiles in Coimbatore, Auto-manufacturing in Chennai, and Tourism and economy in Kerala, have contributed to the success of the South, and has propelled it as the leading region of the country.
One of the major differences between the South and the rest of India are the languages spoken. The four major languages, Kannada (in Karnataka), Malayalam (in Kerala), Tamil (in Tamil Nadu) and Telugu (in Andhra Pradesh) are all Dravidian languages entirely unrelated to the Indo-Aryan languages, such as Hindi, spoken in the rest of the country, though they contain many loan words from Sanskrit. Even the scripts of all four languages, while originally Indic, have diverged quite radically from Devanagari.
As a rule, throughout the South, English is better understood than Hindi. The Tamils, in particular, have resented Delhi's occasional attempts to impose Hindi on them, and many will find it offensive if you try to talk to them in Hindi. Learning a few words of the local lingo, on the other hand, will go down a treat. Outside Tamil Nadu, Hindi is still usable, though it is not widely spoken in rural areas.
South India has more international airports than rest of India with regular connections to almost every corner of the world. Chennai & Hyderabad are the major air gateways into southern India, fielding flights from all over the world.Bangalore International Airport,Kochi international airport and Thiruvananthapuram International Airport are other airports after Chennai along with and has regular connections from Middle East and South East Asia as well as popular tourist oriented charters. Other popular options are , Kozhikode Airport, Trichy Airport, Mangalore Airport and Coimbatore Airport.
South India's Dravidian architecture is quite different from the rest of India. The most obvious, and often striking, feature is the gopuram perched on every temple entrance, a stepped, steeply rising pyramid carved with layer upon layer upon layer of fantastically detailed and brightly painted statues.
Important historical temples include Mamallapuram (7-9th century) and Hampi (14-16th century),Jewish synagogue in Kochi, while the busiest active pilgrimage sites today are Tirupati, by some measures the entire world's busiest, and Madurai, which has been operating continually for over 2,500 years.
Recently, there has been a great rise in the number of complaints about harassment of innocent tourists in various destinations around the country. The Ministry of Tourism has adopted a strategy of introducing Audio Guide Devices at various places of interest around the country such as the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, etc. to provide reliable and factual information to tourists. It is wise to hire such devices as you can avoid being ripped off or ambushed by desperate touts itching to make a buck. The Ministry of Tourism has also announced its partnership with AudioCompass, a company specializing in creating Audio Tours of all places of interest in the country including Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Pondicherry, Kanyakumari, Kochi, etc in the form of Audio Devices available at the monuments and Smartphone apps that can be download from the App Store.
South Indian food is quite different from that elsewhere in the country, being mostly rice-based. They also make greater use of pulses. The typical meal is sambhar or koottu (a watery curry) with rice, or avial (mixed vegetables) with rice. There are regional variations too — the coastal regions make greater use of coconut and fish. In the State of Kerala, it is common to use grated coconut in everything and coconut oil for cooking, while someone from the interior could be surprised to learn that coconut oil, can in fact, be used for cooking. Anyway, all kinds of dishes from all parts of the world can be found in cities across South India. A variety of sea food fresh from the sea can be found in cities like Kochi & Chennai.
A very incomplete list of typical standalone Southern dishes, all of which are commonly eaten for breakfast:
All of these can be eaten with Sambhar, and chutney, a condiment that can be made from practically anything. South Indian cuisine is predominantly vegetarian, though Chettinad, Andhra and Kerala cuisines use meat heavily and are a lot more spicier. Coffee (kaapi in Tamil) tends to replace tea in the south.
A South Indian speciality is the banana leaf meal. This consists of steamed rice served with about two to six vegetable dishes like sambhar, porial (a dry stir-fried dish), rasam (a thin, peppery soup), koottu along with curd and buttermilk, all spread out on a disposable and environmentally-friendly banana leaf. For a non-vegetarian meal, curries or dishes cooked with mutton, chicken or fish are included. Meals are often accompanied by crisp appalams. Refills of curry and rice are often free, with men with buckets walking around to serve you more. After a final round of rice and curds or buttermilk or both, a traditional meal is concluded with a small banana and a few betel leaves and nuts. If served on a metal tray instead of a banana leaf, a set meal like this is known as a thali instead.
Generally mineral water in a bottle is best. Larger bottles are much better value. Alcohol is available even in some "dry" States, at drab Government outlets, best to buy as "take away". Prices may be cheaper than you expect. Ask for directions to find one, as they are not obvious.
See cities articles for more listings.