There are many things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka – which explains why this is one of the most popular places to visit in the country. I admit it took me a while to warm up to it, but I was eventually captured by its unique charm and truly enjoyed the four days I spent there.
Located in the famous Hill Country, one of the most scenic regions of Sri Lanka, Kandy is indeed a very interesting city. It used to be the capital of the ancient kings and while it lost its capital status a while ago, it remains the second largest city in the country and it has retained all its religious and cultural significance.
In Kandy Sri Lanka you’ll find the most holy relic for the Buddhist faith, as well as numerous other attractions that will keep you busy for a few days. It’s also the starting point for one of the most scenic train rides you’re bound to take in your life.
In this post, I highlight all the best things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and in its immediate surroundings. I also share a few tips to make the most of your time in the city.
If you are planning to visit Sri Lanka, make sure to read my post “9 Fabulous Places To Visit In Sri Lanka.”
These are some of the best tours of Kandy which will give you a good introduction to the city:
- Kandy all inclusive city tour – a full day tour that goes to all the most famous local attractions.
- Kandy private day trip from Colombo – if you don’t have more time to spend there, it’s a good option to get to see all the most famous places.
- Full day Kandy highlights tour – a good tour that goes to all the most important places to visit.
- Private Kandy tour do it all in one day – you can choose to go by tuk tuk or by car.
- Kandy city tour – a classic tour that takes you to all the most important places to visit in Kandy.
- Highlights and hidden gems of Kandy – this tour goes to the best attractions as well as to some unusual places.
17 Great Things To Do In Kandy Sri Lanka
Visit the Temple of the Tooth Relic
The Sri Dalada Maligawache, or Temple of the Tooth Relic, is one of the holiest places in Sri Lanka and one of the most famous places to visit in Kandy. It’s a very important pilgrimage destination, home to a tooth that is supposed to belong to Buddha and which used to have political value as it was believed that whoever held the relic would be the governor of the country.
It’s thanks to the relic that Kandy is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The temple is located in the Royal Palace complex, where there are several temples and museums, and visiting is one of the ultimate things to do in Kandy. Most locals and people from other parts of Sri Lanka go there for the puja, during which they offer their prayers and admire the gold casket in which the tooth is guarded (keep in mind you won’t be actually able to see the tooth).
TIP: Make sure to be dressed appropriately upon visiting. Both men and women should cover their legs and shoulders, or else they will be denied entry.
Make sure to plan your visit carefully. I’d recommend avoiding the puja if you are not a fan of the crowds. This is performed three times daily – at dawn, at noon and in the evening – and that’s the worst time to visit, because there will be a long line to get in and chances are you’ll end up being pushed and pulled by the crowd, without really being able to seeing anything.
On Wednesdays there’s a ceremony called Nanumura Mangallaya, during which the relic is bathed with an herbal preparation of scented water and flowers.
Visit Dalada Maligawa Museum
This is one of the nicest museums in Sri Lanka, with a good exhibit of relics and documents that will allow you to learn more about Buddhism and how the peaceful teachings of Buddha had an impact on the world history, and how is spread throughout Asia and the rest of the world. It’s a good place to get a better understanding of the culture and history of Sri Lanka, so I recommend visiting as one of the things to do in Kandy.
Check out my post “The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler.”
Walk around Kandy Lake
Kandy Lake is an artificial lake that was excavated upon orders of Wikrama Rakasinhe, the last king of Sri Lanka. He wanted to have an addition to the Temple of the Tooth Relic complex. The lake was never really completed, as the works had to be interrupted with the British invasion in 1815. It’s one of the most famous places to visit in Kandy, and on a regular day locals and tourists alike can be seen strolling along its perimeter. It’s a nice sight, though the noise of traffic and the smell of exhaust from the old buses that drive around the lake can be a bit too much at times.
Explore Peradeniya, the Royal Botanical Garden
The Royal Botanical Garden dates back to 1371 and it can be easily reached by tuk tuk from the center of Kandy. There, you’ll find a whopping 4000 species of plants, among which medicinal plants, orchids and lots of beautiful palm trees. It’s a pleasant place to walk around for a couple of hours.
Visit a spice garden
With so many spices coming from Sri Lanka, it’s easy to see why you’ll find so many spice gardens here. They are normally free to enter – so a good place to visit if you are traveling on a limited budget. It’s a good place to buy spices you may want to take home with you (but don’t forget to haggle the prices!). You will find excellent quality vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg (my personal favorite), cloves and much more.
Admire Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue
The massive Buddha statue of Bahiravokanda Vihara is located on a hill overlooking Kandy and it’s one of the most famous religious monuments in town. Visiting is what to do in Kandy for nice views, but if you intend to go make sure not to walk all the way up there in the early afternoon unless you can really bare the heat. Remember you have to remove your shoes before entering the premises.
The statue can be seen from several places in the city, and it’s especially beautiful at night when it glows in the dark.
Walk around Udawattakele Forest Reserve
Once a private garden for the king of Kandy, Udawattakele is now a wildlife sanctuary where you’ll find many species of mammals, birds as well as reptiles. There also are various Buddhist meditation hermitages. It’s a nice place to explore if you want to be in a quiet place.
Visit the Commonwealth Cemetery
One of the nicest places to visit in Kandy, Sri Lanka, is the Commonwealth Cemetery, which was founded in 1871. This is meant to be a memorial for the soldiers that took part in WWII to defend Sri Lanka, and a lovely place to explore thanks to the peaceful atmosphere which is truly at odds with the chaos of the city. It’s a spotless place (once again, at odds with the actual look of the city). It’s free to visit, but you can make a donation towards its maintenance.
Attend a Kandian dance and drum show
If you are into local arts and dances, one of the best things to do in Kandy is attending a show of dance and drums that takes place at the Kandyan Art Association Hall and other places in town (ask at your hotel for more details). The performance is just long enough to be entertaining, it’s colorful and fun, and it’s not expensive. There also is a fire walking ceremony at the end of the show, which starts every day at 5:00 PM. Make sure to buy tickets in advance.
Shop at the local market
If you want to get a bit of local action, head to the local market. It’s a chaotic, loud place but you’ll have a chance to buy lots of good fresh fruits and vegetables – the papaya is especially tasty – and to interact with the friendly locals, who are always happy to pose for photos (though I recommend always asking for permission before snapping). Prices are usually very honest, but you may want to try your bargaining skills nevertheless.
Food in Sri Lanka is very interesting. I admit I am not a huge fan of the very spicy, very garlicky flavor, but I agree that one of the things to do in Kandy is getting properly introduced to local cuisine. If you want to treat yourself to a good meal, head to the Kandy Muslim Hotel. There, you’ll find excellent curries, and the famous kottu roti, a dish of chopped rottis fried with meat, vegetables and to which a bunch of other ingredients are added.
If you happen to staying in a more local place – ie a homestay – ask the owners if they also prepare meals. They will usually be happy to cook you a scrumptious meal for a real steal, and you will know for sure that what you are having is local!
You can even go on a food tour – there is one with a whopping ten tastings which you can book here.
Have some tea and cake
If you happen to be walking along the main street of Kandy, Sri Lanka, you will notice that there are several coffee shops. These are all good places to have a break with a cup of local tea and a bit of cake. Another thing I really enjoyed there is lemonade, which is made fresh to order and is a nice way to cool down from the incessant heat.
Learn how to cook a proper curry
If you really appreciate Sri Lankan curries and want to learn how to reproduce them at home, one of the best things to do in Kandy is enrolling in a cooking class to master all the secrets of the most famous national dish. There are several in town, usually involving shopping at the local market for fresh ingredient and then preparing the meal you will eat.
These are some of the best cooking classes in Kandy
Visit Giragama Tea Factory
If you love tea as much as I do, you will love Sri Lanka! This is one of the biggest tea producers in the world, and you’ll find lots of tea plantations in the country. One of the best places to visit in Kandy if you want to learn more about the process of making tea – from growing the plants, to picking the leaves and drying them, until turning them into the delightful drink – is Giragama Tea Plantation. This is just outside the city, at an easy tuk tuk ride.
You will be taken through the plantation, the factory and the museum, and at the end of the tour you will be offered a cup of tea. The shop sells an incredible selection of teas so this is your chance to buy some to bring home.
Get out of Kandy to visit Embekka Devale
One of the nicest things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka, if you are tired of the chaos and noise of the city, is to get out to explore the surroundings. It’s easy enough to do it by bus, and the local bus service is good and cheap. But you can even contract a tuc tuc to take you around for the whole day.
One of the places you should visit is Embekka Devale, a beautiful temple where you’ll find locals praying and making their offers. The temple shrines has three main sections. The nicest one is the Drummers Hall, which has beautiful wood carvings. It’s a nice place to relax for a bit to observe the puja in a much more local and less crowded environment compared to that of the Temple of the Tooth Relic.
And Lankatilaka Vihara
This temple isn’t as easy to reach as Embekka Devale, but it is worth the effort. You will be able to spot it from the road below, as you approach it, and the view is splendid. The temple was built in the 14th century. There is a small fee for visiting, though to be honest there isn’t really anybody that collects the money. There are two entrances – one facing the hill and one on the back side.
For more Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, read my post “A Guide To The Most Unique Buddhist Temples In Sri Lanka” and for off the beaten path destinations, make sure to read my post “Sri Lanka Off The Beaten Path.”
You can go on a day trip from Kandy to all the nearby temples. You can book it online here.
Hop on a train across the Hill Country
One of the best things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka, is to hop on a train that goes through the Hill Country. Most travelers try to do it at least once, because for a real bargain you get impressive views of the countryside and of the hills with the beautiful tea plantations. Make sure to get to the train station well in advance to get our first class tickets, as they sell out quickly. Second class tickets are ok and very very cheap, but you may have to stand for the ride.
Practical Tips To Organize Your Trip To Kandy, Sri Lanka
Where to stay in Kandy, Sri Lanka
As one of the most touristy destinations, there are some very good accommodation options in Kandy, suitable for all sorts of budgets and tastes. During my time there I opted to stay at a local homestay, but I had a chance to explore the grounds of several hotels and hostels that I can recommend.
These are some of the best places to stay in Kandy:
- Old Town Hotel is actually a homestay, located a bit outside the center of town but within easy walking distance. Rooms are large and comfortable, the area very safe and the owners kind. You can have meals there as well. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- The Radh Hotel is an excellent option if you want a comfortable place that is in the heart of town. Rooms are very large and comfortable. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- The Oasis Hostel is a very good options for backpackers and solo travelers, with good dorms, common areas and even private rooms. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Guided tours of Sri Lanka that also go to Kandy
Sri Lanka isn’t a difficult country to visit, but if you aren’t a master of organization or want to have the experts plan your trip, you can count on some excellent guided tours. These are the best tours of Sri Lanka that also go to Kandy:
- Sri Lanka encompassed – a 14 day G Adventures tour goes to all best places to visit in Sri Lanka, including Kandy.
- Discover Sri Lanka – a 12 day G Adventures and National Geographic tour to discover the country more in depth.
- Sri Lanka on a shoestring – a 12 day G Adventures tour perfect for if you have a small budget.
- Sri Lanka express – an 8 day G Adventures tour perfect if you don’t have much time but want to make the most of the country.
- Sri Lanka heritage sites – a 6 day tour that goes to all the best heritage sites of the country.
How to get to Kandy
Kandy is at about 3.5 hours drive from Sri Lanka capital Colombo. There is no airport, but as this is the second biggest city in Sri Lanka it is very well connected to the rest of the country and you can reach it by bus, train and even car.
You should be able to find a train to Kandy from many places around the country. There are regular trains from Colombo, Anuradhapura, Jaffna, Ella, Badulla and Nuwara Eliya. Train tickets are very cheap, and the rides very scenic, but if you want to reserve your seats you have to get to the train station well in advance. In fact, I recommend booking your train online.
For prices and timetable and to book trains from Colombo, click here.
For trains from Nuwara Eliya click here.
For trains from Ella click here.
Going to Nuwara Eliya? Make sure to read my post “A Complete Guide to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka.”
Kandy is well connected to the rest of Sri Lanka by bus. I arrived there from Sigiriya and it was a straightforward ride.
Traveling around Sri Lanka by bus is in general very easy, but buses can get very crowded, you will have to take your bags on the bus with you, and sometimes you won’t find a seat. Some long distance buses have air conditioning, but don’t take this for granted.
Bus travel can be very slow, and the roads are windy especially around the Hill Country, but the good news is that locals use the bus to move around so this is a good chance to get to talk to them – you will immediately notice that they are incredibly kind and helpful. Women always occupied a seat for me when they realized I was getting on the bus!
By private transfer
I don’t recommend driving in Sri Lanka – so if you aren’t a fan of public transportation, you will have to hire a car with a driver. Make sure to haggle the prices, and they will be inflated for tourists.
If you are heading to Kandy straight from Colombo, you can book your transfer here.
If you are traveling from Galle, book your transfer here.
For private transfers from Sigiriya, book here.
Make sure to check out my post “A Complete Guide To Galle.”
How to move around Kandy
Kandy is fairly easy to explore on foot. If you plan to go to some of the attractions that are a bit further away, you can opt for public transportation – which is actually quite reliable; or get a tuk tuk – but make sure to bargain the prices.
When to visit Kandy, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons, and even if you do your best to avoid the rain, you’re bound to get some. The dry season in Kandy starts in December and ends in April, though this may not be the dry season in other parts of the country that you plan to visit. All in all, I recommend going when you can. I visited in August, and out of 4 full days in Kandy it only rained once, consistently and for a couple of hours.
Other useful information
Please take care to remember that you’ll need a visa to enter Sri Lanka. You can easily apply for your visa online here.
Make sure to also get a good travel insurance. Get yours here.
Check out my post “Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”
For more readings about Kandy, Sri Lanka, you can check one of these books:
For more readings about Sri Lanka, check out my posts “Everything You Should Know Before Backpacking Sri Lanka,” “A Guide To The Things To Do In Sigiriya Sri Lanka” and “A Great Guide To Anuradhapura Sri Lanka.”