Last updated on September 21st, 2018 at 03:00 pm
Let me say straight away that this is the city I enjoyed the most in my trip in 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.
What did she have to say about this unique city? These are her words
“There are many things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka. So many attractions and beautiful places to see, so many experiences to live. The people will welcome you, their culture will enrich you and the food will awake dormant taste buds”
So I could only take her suggestion and explore.
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.
I was also lucky to be in Kandy at the start of August, during the Esala Perahera, one of the most ancient Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka, over 1700 years old, probably the highlight of my visit to Kandy
Kandy is one of 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 local and British architecture have mixed 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 and things to see, both in the centre and in the area around.
I start this list of beautiful places in Kandy with probably the most iconic festival in Sri Lanka, the Esala Perahera
The Esala Perahara 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 for ever 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 participating in this traditional, over 1,700 years old, festival.
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 sometime 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
“A big reason any sight seeing 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 sight seeing 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 AUD) 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.“
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 in the west hill.
Why should you visit 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 small ticket to pay for access (foreigners only)
One of the most historical and holiest places in Kandy, very popular with the locals and right in the center 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 believe
This Anglican church is another example of the integration of the 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.
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.
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.”
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, although in both case you may end up with a misty sky (quite typical in central Sri Lanka), therefore I would not invest too much hope. Obviously if you are lucky you will have the rare shot 😉
The view is to the Kandy lake, the centre of town and the Temple of the Sacred tooth.
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 few minutes to visit the colonial dining and sitting rooms inside the building and the outdoor swimming pool.
British colonial style, a bit decadent, with a history of over 150 year, you may feel suddenly in the eighteenth century.
It also works as 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 spot 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 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 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 awesome. I would personally suggest a walk early in the morning, or jogging if you are into it.
And here is what Tania 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. 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 traveling with family like, 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. AUD25) for 15 minutes around the lake and will include an informal commentary if you’re lucky.“
This is a place I would highly suggest to anyone that:
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.
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
The 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 Nuwaraeliya (literally “city of lights”) are 2.5 hours drive up country.
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. If you enjoy trekking and camping, don’t miss this. I didn’t have time to check this out this time around but it’s definitely on my list when I return“
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 in my list once I am 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 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!
Some of the accommodations in Kandy are really majestic and unique, something to remember for the rest of the life.
If interested to see the best places in the country, and not only Kandy, you may have also a look to 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 LOL
The rooms were gigantic and facing a little pond. The view of the Mahaweli river in the early hours of the morning was magnificent. It is located around 20 min drive from Kandy centre and miles away from the city traffic, just what I needed!
As an alternative, you may look into the below accommodation.
The Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge is an amazing place based on luxury tents with a view to remember for many days to come, which makes Madulkelle a special lodge to visit, even for just an afternoon tea.
The Hanthana Holiday Rooms is a place you would call a home away from home. The breakfast can be based on local food or international taste. Clean, simple, very friendly staff and very economical too. It’s not at walking distance to Kandy but they can organise a tuk tuk for you
The Polwaththa Eco Lodges are another eco-friendly solution. You can experience Kandy from a different corner, a green corner, with lots of walks all around. Lovely staff, always available to help out
Now, if you are looking for unusual and fun things to do in Kandy you may explore one of these options:
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 a 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 or receive royalties of any kind. 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!
I like to thank Tania Nallathamby for all the suggestions and tips! She has provided lots of invaluable information.
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Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry.
Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.