In the very heart of Sri Lanka lies the magnificent city of Kandy, a place of outstanding character and beauty. In contrast to the hustle and bustle of Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo, Kandy exudes a sense of calm and splendour in every aspect of its make-up, from the charming colonial buildings, to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that the city is home to.
The unique attractions of this vibrant and diverse city include important Buddhist relics, mystical gardens, picturesque lakes, forests, tea plantations, and colourful dance performances. It therefore goes without saying that, should you be lucky enough to spend any time in Kandy, there is plenty to see and do.
For the first timers to this wonderful city, we have here a list of some of the must-see attractions, as well as exciting live shows, fine eateries and events to take advantage of. Plan ahead and take note of the kind of things you want to experience, and you’ll be sure to make your stay in Kandy the best it can possibly be. So let’s get started!
A visit to the Temple of the Tooth
Known locally as ‘Sri Dalada Maligawa’, this beautiful Buddhist temple is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous attractions, and it is a place of huge significance to the Buddhist community because it’s said to house the relic of a tooth of Buddha himself. Every day here, monks from all over the country use the temple for their worship and rituals, and visitors can even discover the room where the tooth itself is held. This fascinating place has a complete air of majesty and intrigue about it, and is an absolute must when visiting Kandy. Just be sure to politely refuse the ‘guides’ at the entrance, you really don’t need them and they’re often overly expensive.
A walk around Kandy Lake
Close to the Temple of the Tooth is the beautiful Kandy Lake. Arguably, this is the most iconic sight of the city, and the picturesque scenery that surrounds it is well worth a walk through on a pleasant day. A leisurely stroll around the lake covers about 2 miles, and at points you’ll encounter spots of absolute calm and peace, which are very welcome after a busy day exploring.
A stroll around the Botanical Gardens
If you enjoy a pleasant venture through natural settings, then another great option is the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens. This paradise contains some 4,000 species of flora, including palm trees, orchids, spices and flowers, and the meticulously plotted garden walks will leave you amazed by their beauty. There is a dedicated orchid house here, as well as a pond area where you can spot lizards and birds, and there’s even a restaurant. There’s a reason why this place attracts over 2 million visitors a year – you have to see it to believe it.
The New Ranwell Spice Garden
There are a number of spice gardens close to Kandy, but the New Ranwell Spice Garden is considered the best. Here, you can wander the gardens that are full of spices and herb plants such as cinnamon, aloe vera, turmeric, cloves, vanilla and nutmeg, to name just a few. It is utterly fascinating to see these familiar herbs and spices in their natural state, and the scents that fill the air are simply amazing.
Take in the view from the big Buddha
On top of a hill is the Bahirawakanda Temple, and here is where you’ll find a 88-foot high Buddha statue, as well as undoubtedly the best view in all of Kandy. Brave the walk up the hill (or do what I did and hire a tuk-tuk), and if you’re up to it you can get an even better view by climbing the stairs which lead to the Buddha’s shoulder. This is an unforgettable experience, and the best way to catch a view of the entire city of Kandy, the surrounding mountains and the lake.
A day of museum hopping
Kandy has a whole host of fascinating museum spaces for those with a passion for history. The National Museum features displays and artefacts that serve as a reminder of life in Sri Lanka before European settlement, and is a fascinating insight into authentic Sri Lankan culture. Located next to the Temple of the Tooth is the International Buddhist Museum, which is the only museum in the world that is purely dedicated to showcasing Buddhist culture throughout Asia, with each room featuring displays for each country. This is an absolute must for learning more about Buddhist culture. Finally, the Kandyan Art Association & Cultural Centre is a colonial era showroom that displays local artwork, crafts, lacquerware and brassware that have been perfected for generations in Kandy. The prices can be a bit steep, but the insight of watching craftspeople working on the spot is priceless.
Witness a Kandyan dance performance
A traditional Kandyan dance (accompanied by traditional Kandyan drumming) is a colourful and frenetic spectacle. Dances including the cobra dance, the mask dance, and the amazing fire-walk are truly a sight to behold. This is an insight into traditional Sri Lankan culture, and can be seen in a number of locations throughout Kandy. The city hall hosts dance performances most nights, and only ask for a small fee per person.
We’ve still so much more to see…
With so much to see and do, there’s little time to cover absolutely everything, so here are just a few more things that you really shouldn’t miss. Visiting a tea plantation such as the one found at Giragama is a must when visiting Sri Lanka; these settings really are an integral piece of the nation’s culture and history. A day at the Udawatta Kele Sanctuary – a place once restricted from visiting for normal citizens – is another enjoyable adventure, and is an amazing way to experience the landscape of Sri Lanka for yourself. The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is another amazing visit, where you can see all the excellent work that’s being done to protect these majestic animals. Finally, having dinner at the incredible Empire Café restaurant is a fantastic way to spend your time in Kandy, a location which has recently been renovated into a modern and exciting place for diners to experience great tasting curries, pastas and salads in some of the best surroundings you could find.
However you spend your time in Kandy, you’re guaranteed to find something that will have you falling in love with this magical city. Kandy encompasses everything that makes Sri Lanka what it is, and this unique place of beauty is there to be discovered by everyone with an interest in history, culture and nature - so why not book your trip today?