13 things to do in Kandy [with hidden places to visit]
Let me say straight away that this is the city I enjoyed the most on my trips to Sri Lanka.
I had with me a list of things to do in Kandy, mostly based on tips from Tania, one of the site collaborators and Sri Lanka travel expert.
I have visited it twice, of which once during the most important festival of the city (more on this later)
In this guide, you will see my top experiences to have, including also a few hidden gems
But let’s get into it
Table of Contents
- 1 Top things to do in Kandy
- 1.1 The Esala Perahera festival
- 1.2 Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
- 1.3 The Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue
- 1.4 Lord Kataragama Temple
- 1.5 Red Mosque
- 1.6 St. Paul’s Church
- 1.7 Trinity College Open Air Chapel
- 1.8 Best viewpoint of Kandy Town
- 1.9 The Queen’s Hotel – Colonial architecture
- 1.10 Kandy Market
- 1.11 Kandy Lake
- 1.12 Good Shed Bus Stand
- 1.13 Walk through the small lanes of the old town
- 2 Things to do around Kandy
- 3 Suggested accommodations for Kandy
- 4 Fun and uncommon things to do in Kandy
- 5 Things to do in Kandy at night – The best restaurant
- 6 Travel & Photography Tips
You can read also
- Best time to travel to Sri Lanka
- Best areas to visit in Sri Lanka with itineraries
- Travel photography in Sri Lanka – best images and a full guide
- Essential travel guide to Jaffna in the north of the country
- Where to go and how to experience a tea plantation in Sri Lanka
- What to see and where to stay in Sigiriya
- A guide to Kalkudah and Pasikudah Beach on the east coast
Can all of the activities in Kandy be covered in 2 full days?
Stretching the days maybe. I would personally suggest booking at least 3 nights which get you 2 full days. Having a 3rd full day would help.
Top things to do in Kandy
Kandy is one of the largest cities in Sri Lanka. It was the last capital of the Sinhala kings till the occupation of the British empire.
The Sacred City of Kandy was declared in 1988 as a world heritage site by UNESCO.
Once you walk in the city centre, you soon realise how the local and British architecture is fused to build a pleasant “Kandy” style
I like to call it the heart of Sri Lanka, a city in the middle of the island with so many attractions.
I have been asked a few times if Kandy can be visited on a day trip from Colombo (btw, check out these unique things do in the capital).
My suggestion is to plan a couple of days in Kandy alone, however, if you are running out of time, you should check out this 2-day tour that includes both Kandy and the Tea fields of Nuwara Eliya at a real bargain price.
Alternatively, if one day is all you have, then this day tour from Colombo is just perfect.
I start this list of amazing things to do in Kandy with probably the most iconic festival in Sri Lanka, the Esala Perahera
The Esala Perahera is recognised as one of the most colourful religious pageants in Asia.
It usually runs for 10 days at the beginning of August and, if possible, you should really add it to your bucket list and plan your visit accordingly.
It’s spectacular, to say the least.
What I am not able to describe with my photos was the louder and louder local music and the smell, unique, something I will remember forever in my life, something I read in Kipling’s book and I thought it was such a distant world.
I was lucky enough I had access to the backstage of this iconic festival in Kandy in honour of the country’s most prized possession, the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha.
The procession originally started in 310 AD, with the arrival of the famous tooth relic.
What impressed me the most?
The lights, the sound and the passion of the locals taking part in this traditional festival, over 1,700 years old.
The pageant is accompanied by the men of fire, on both sides of the street.
These are the people carrying balls of fire (burning shells of coconuts mixed with oil) at the highest temperature you can imagine, sweating, with aching muscles and sometimes getting burned by the dripping hot oil.
This is a must visit for any stay in the city. Tania, our collaborator, has helped me to better understand the importance of it.
A big reason any sightseeing traveller would visit Kandy is its cultural attraction.
Sri Lankan kings ruled the island for over 2,300 years. Kandy was the seat of the last kingdom before British rule.
The last king of Sri Lanka, Sri Vickrama Rajasinha ruled until the Kandyan provinces were captured in 1815.
The 17th century Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) in Kandy is believed to house the tooth of Buddha.
Throughout Sri Lankan history, the tooth relic has been central to political governance.
Every day, throngs of white-clad worshippers walk through the temple with flower offerings.
Not only is the temple one of the most significant religious sites in Sri Lanka, but it is also one of the top tourist sightseeing attractions in Kandy and the country.
Footwear must be left outside the temple, so flip-flops/thongs are probably best for your visit. You must also have your shoulders covered and wear long pants/skirts.
Foreigners pay between Rs 500-1000 ($5-10) for entry, including a Rs 300 video camera fee.
There are no restrictions using your camera inside the temple, but I would suggest you exercise some judgement and respect as most visitors to the temple are worshippers.
Nobody is actually allowed to see the tooth.
It is housed in an inner shrine and large elephant tusks guard the entry.
The interior of the temple is beautifully carved and decorated with ivory, lacquer and inlaid timber.
The Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue
It’s an easy walk from the city centre to the Big Buddha that I would suggest in the early part of the morning, because it’s not that hot and because you will have a better light too; the statue, in fact, is facing east.
You won’t miss it as it is visible from any site in the city, standing up on the west hill.
Why should you visit the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue?
Mainly for the view, which is comparable to the other viewpoint I describe later, but from the west side of town.
The other reason is obviously the 86 feet tall Big Buddha, which really stands out.
There is a small ticket to pay for access (foreigners only)
Lord Kataragama Temple
One of the most historical and holiest places in Kandy, very popular with the locals and right in the centre of the city
One of the interesting things about this temple is that it is venerated by both the Buddhists and the Hindus.
Have a walk around at your own pace.
Entrance is free, you just need to leave your shoes at the door.
Long trousers only, as well as shoulders covered.
I was personally approached by kids wanting me to be in a photo with elephants and asking me 2,000 rupees.
Be aware, you don’t need to pay anyone, for either photos or special blessing.
Kandy has impressed me big time on the way different religions are so well integrated.
Just meters from the Lord Kataragama Temple, you can find the Red Mosque.
It is indeed a small mosque, however, so peaceful and full of character. Definitely a place to visit, always in respect of the religious belief.
St. Paul’s Church
This Anglican church is another example of the integration of different religions.
It is located on sacred grounds right at the corner of the Sacred City of Kandy, where the Temple of the Tooth is.
It is over 150 years old, and still very well maintained. If the architectural style is Neo-Gothic, the interior is more Victorian-inspired.
Trinity College Open Air Chapel
Tania is highly suggesting also the Trinity College, which I have not personally visited due to lack of time (but next time I will 🙂 ):
Trinity College is a private boys school founded in 1872.
It is a well-regarded school nationally.
Why am I telling you this?
One of my favourite and beautiful places in Kandy is the open-air chapel at Trinity College.
The chapel has no walls. Fifty-four granite pillars support the traditional Kandy style double pitched roof.
If you want a quiet moment away from the crowds or if you want to photograph traditional indigenous architecture, make sure you visit the Trinity College Open Air Chapel.
Sundays are best.
Grab a pew, spend some moments in solitude, feel the gentle breeze on your skin, say a prayer and don’t leave without a closer look at the carvings and murals.”
Best viewpoint of Kandy Town
When it comes to an overall view of Kandy, you will hardly find anywhere better than this viewpoint.
It’s a short walk from the lake, although it can be challenging if done in the middle of the day.
Sunset provides better colours than sunrise.
During the day, you may end up with a misty sky (quite typical in central Sri Lanka).
Obviously, if you are lucky, you will have the rare shot 😉
The view is of the Kandy Lake, the centre of town and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth.
The Queen’s Hotel – Colonial architecture
I believe this is the most iconic Kandy hotel.
The architecture is just outstanding, and the location is right in the centre, the best spot to start any trip.
Even if you are not staying in this hotel, you should spend a few minutes to visit the colonial dining and sitting rooms inside the building and the outdoor swimming pool.
A decadent British colonial style, with a history of over 150 years, you may feel suddenly in the eighteenth century.
It also works as a fantastic location if you are in Kandy for the Esala Perahera.
It is indeed a bit tired and I would suggest a stay only for the colonial experience.
If you are looking for a more updated accommodation, you may check my suggestions later in the post.
This was one of my favourite spots to walk about and discover the local food, the local taste, the local way to make business.
It is essentially organised in two areas.
The first part, closer to the train station, is dedicated to the fish.
Come early to experience the busy life of the locals bargaining on the fresh products.
The second area, closer to the lake, is instead dedicated to fruit and vegetables.
In both cases, you will have plenty of photo opportunities.
Honestly, everyone was so friendly. It was actually great to talk with the shop owners about the products they had.
English is widely spoken.
This is also what Tania told us:
The Kandy Market is a short 15-minute walk from the Temple of the Tooth.
Head down Dalada Veediya toward the clock tower. Dalada Veediya is the main street in the hub of Kandy.
The Maligawa is at the start of Dalada Veediya and the bell tower is at the other end.
Stop at Devon or the Bakehouse for some traditional Sri Lankan “short eats” (snack food) and a cup of sweet, milky Sri Lankan tea.
The Market is not big but you will enjoy the sensory experience.
Try some fruit that you haven’t tried before, like the Wood Apples (nothing like apples) or the very fragrant Jack fruit.
Or try the many varieties of bananas and mangoes. Sri Lankans love bananas and mangoes!
Don’t forget to buy some spices for your mum before you leave
The city’s central point of interest is the large man-made lake.
I had a morning walk around and it was just outstanding.
I would personally suggest a walk early in the morning or jogging if you are into it.
And here is what Tania also suggested:
Spend a couple of hours soaking in the atmosphere, walking around the lake or reading your guidebook on one of the lakeside benches.
Another reason to visit Kandy is its natural beauty. As well, its cooler climate is a welcome respite from searing temperatures around other parts of the island of Sri Lanka.
Kandy is nestled in the hollow of a valley and is surrounded by rolling green foothills.
You can very often see monitor lizards and turtles sunning themselves on logs over the Kandy lake.
If you are travelling with the family, hire a boat from Joy boat services at the south-east end of the lake.
A leisurely motor around the lake will keep the kids entertained and will give you a chance to photograph Kandy from a different aspect.
A boat hire will cost you Rupees 2,500 (approx. $20) for 15 minutes around the lake and will include an informal commentary if you’re lucky.
Good Shed Bus Stand
This is a place I would highly suggest to anyone that:
- loves street photography, as I do. There are so many opportunities. I could stay there for hours, just waiting for the right time. I like to build my circle of confidence (read more here) and start shooting from there. Thrilled with the outcome.
- you need a bus to another destination. This is the main bus station in Kandy.
The Good Shed Bus Stand is one of the oldest in Sri Lanka, and although it may need some renovation, it is still a great spot to explore and watch the busy life passing by.
Walk through the small lanes of the old town
This was another highlight for me.
Try to do it in the very early part of the morning to avoid some of the traffic and benefit from the beautiful light that gets through the small buildings
Most of the attractions I have talked in this post can be also visited with an organised day tour in Kandy, which will make your life so much easier
Things to do around Kandy
This list of the 13 main activities in Kandy will help to scratch only the surface of this town.
There are also other things to see around town, or not too far away from it.
This is what our expert Tania suggested:
Kandy is a gateway to other sightseeing attractions in Sri Lanka. Many points of interest are only a short distance from Kandy.
From Kandy, the highlands of Nuwara Eliya (literally “city of lights”) are 2.5 hours drive up the country or 3 hours with the “tea train”.
In this case, I suggest joining this organised tour by train to Nuwara Eliya and back by small van.
You will get to enjoy the famous tea train and stop, on the way back, at the Ramboda Falls and the Blue Field Tea Factory.
Whilst you are in the region, do also visit Horton Plains where you can sit at the edge of “Worlds End”.
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and the Knuckles Mountain Range are both approx. 1.5 hours drive from Kandy.
The Knuckles Mountain Range is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, unmissable, if you enjoy trekking and camping
I have been personally to Pinnawalla, and to the central highlands (read the full post here) and I had such an incredible experience.
I may also add another site which I did not have the time to visit but absolutely on my list once I will be back to Kandy, the Ceylon Tea Museum.
It’s only 5km from the city centre or around 15-20 minutes by tuk-tuk.
I was said it is a great experience for tea lovers, and I am. It costs around 800 rupees and includes also tea tasting and a visit to the museum and factory.
Being Sri Lanka highly recognised as the tea country, I did a separate tour close to Norwood, around 3 hours south of Kandy, on my way back to Colombo
On the opposite side of the lake, you may also visit the Kandy Garrison Cemetery, established at the start of the 18th century for British nationals however closed just after 50 years as too close to town.
This site shouldn’t be confused for the Commonwealth War Cemetery which is instead 10km west from the city centre
A site I have missed and that I was suggested to visit is the International Buddhist Museum, just behind the Temple of the Tooth.
My list of attractions in Kandy for my next visit is becoming too big LOL I should buy a bigger bucket.
I still can’t believe how many things and places to experience are available in this country!
You can also think of organising a day trip to Sigiriya and Dambulla from Kandy, but it’s going to be a lot of driving (around 5 hours return).
Some of the accommodations in Kandy are really majestic and unique, something to remember for the rest of life.
If interested in seeing the best places in the country, and not only Kandy, you may have also a look at the guide to where to stay in Sri Lanka
I enjoyed so much my stay at the Mahaweli Reach Hotel. The pool was invaluable after a day of Kandy exploration. Both breakfast and dinner had so much choice. I could eat for hours.
The rooms were gigantic and facing a little pond. The view of the Mahaweli river in the early hours of the morning was magnificent (see photos here).
It is located around 20 min drive from Kandy centre and miles away from the city traffic, just what I needed!
A unique alternative is the Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge, an amazing place based on luxury tents with a view to remember for many days to come, which makes it a special lodge to visit, even for just an afternoon tea.
For a budget stay, the Hanthana Holiday Rooms is a clean and simple accommodation with friendly staff. It’s not at walking distance to Kandy, but they can organise a tuk-tuk for you
Fun and uncommon things to do in Kandy
Now, if you are looking for unusual and fun things to do in Kandy, you may explore one of these options:
- Pallekele International Cricket Stadium: I asked what is the main sport in Sri Lanka and I was answered “Cricket, Sir”, and the second sport “mhmh, still cricket sir”. That summaries the passion of Sri Lanka for this sport and if you are lucky enough to be in Kandy during a cricket game, then book your ticket and don’t miss a night, or day, out.
- Good Shed Bus Stand: if you are passionate about street photography, then this is the place to be. I spent 2 hours there and I could stay more. So interesting.
- New Ranweli Spice Garden: explore a garden full of vanilla and cacao, cinnamon and cardamom, nutmeg and citronella, turmeric and cloves and so much more. It’s free to enter. Guides are offered. Located behind the Temple of the Tooth.
Things to do in Kandy at night – The best restaurant
Here Tania suggested an amazing eatery that should not be missed in Kandy, called Kumar’s Kade. This is what she had to say:
Kumar’s Kade (pronounced “Ka Dey”) may not be your big reason to visit Kandy but if you do make Kandy a part of your Sri Lankan itinerary, check him out.
You won’t find Kumar’s Kade in any guidebook you buy.
But if you are looking for a delicious, cheap local eating experience, you can’t go past Kumar’s street Kade (literally “shop” in Singhalese). Very local and very authentic.
He sets up his food cart on Kotugodella Veediya (approx. 40m away and perpendicular to Dalada Veediya) daily from 7pm to 4 am.
I rocked up at 1am with some friends after a few too many cocktails at the Earls Regency Hotel and his freshly cooked Egg Gothamba Rotis were the Sri Lankan equivalent of fat souvlaki.
His deft fingers stretched and flipped the rolled up ball of oiled dough until it was transparently thin.
He slapped it on a hot plate, beat an egg into the centre, neatly folded it into shape and voila…a perfect foil to a night of excesses.
Just a disclaimer…I am in no way affiliated to Kumar. Just a fan of his ingenuity.
And honestly, it is hard to find Sri Lankan food that is not tasteful.
I always enjoyed so much my lunch and dinner time!
For the best street food, head next to the big parking area, the best.
The Cafe 1886 is also another great place which has been running for 100 years, an institution in Kandy.
Travel & Photography Tips
- The best way to get to Kandy is by train from Colombo (the capital). Trains run throughout the day but take the Intercity trains which are an express service. Your journey will take 2.5 hours and cost approx. AUD15 one way for the premium air-conditioned coach. Book early as tickets sell out fast.
- Intercity trains leave Colombo at 7am and 3.30pm daily. Return trains from Kandy to Colombo leave at 6.30am and 3pm daily. Aim to spend 3 days in Kandy. More if you want to explore the surrounding Kandy points of interest.
- In Kandy, three-wheelers are plentiful and convenient. Drivers will inflate prices for foreigners, so definitely negotiate a fair price before you start your travel. A chat to your hotel/rest-house hosts will give you an idea of what a reasonable rate is.
- If you want to travel like a local, hop on a bus for a tenth of the price and hold tight around the lake! Alternatively, if you want to work out all that rice and curry, Kandy is a great city to navigate by foot.
- There are no issues with photography in the Temple of the Tooth Relic but please be respectful.
- Kandyans are generally happy to oblige any requests to photograph them.
I like to thank Tania Nallathamby for all the suggestions and tips! She has provided lots of invaluable information.
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