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Is Kandy Worth Visiting in Sri Lanka?

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Wondering is Kandy worth visiting in Sri Lanka? Let me help! I’ve visited Kandy twice, each trip opening my eyes to what this facinating city has to offer.

My first visit to Kandy in 2018 was a whirlwind experience, skimming only the surface of what this historic city offers. However, my return visit—this time on a group press trip organized by Sri Lanka Tourism—provided a richer, deeper understanding of Kandy’s cultural and spiritual depth.

Kandy, the last capital of the ancient kings’ era of Sri Lanka, is more than just picturesque views. It’s a city where the old-world charm meets the bustling life of the present, housing the sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic alongside vibrant cultural exhibitions. Missing out on Kandy might mean missing a substantial slice of Sri Lankan heritage. It is a UNESCO world heritage site after all!

In this guide, I’ll delve into why Kandy should be on your Sri Lanka itinerary. From its historical significance to its serene natural landscapes and the unique experiences it offers, we’ll explore what makes Kandy one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka.

Things to do in Kandy Sri Lanka

1. Explore the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy

Inside the temple of the tooth
Ceremonial performance inside the temple of the tooth

Sri Dalada Maligawa, known in English as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, is a Buddhist temple and one of the most popular Kandy tourist attractions.

The temple draws both pilgrims and tourists, who come to witness the thrice-daily ceremonies at 6 am, 9:30 am, and 6 pm, each offering a chance to see local devotees in prayer amidst a flurry of ritual activity.

I’m not usually up with the sun, so I chose to visit during the evening ceremony. It was a mesmerizing experience, filled with the sounds and sights of devotion, but it was also quite packed. The mix of eager tourists and devout locals made for a crowded and somewhat bewildering atmosphere.

The Temple of the Tooth is undoubtedly a cornerstone of Kandy’s cultural and spiritual life. Nestled within the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy, this revered site houses the sacred tooth relic of Buddha.

temple of the tooth

For those who prefer a quieter visit, I’d recommend exploring the Temple of the Tooth outside of the ceremonial times, which is what we did on my second visit.

You’ll have more room to appreciate the intricate details of the temple’s architecture and decorations and to absorb the tranquil and spiritual ambiance without the crowds (although there were still quite a few tourists).

2. Nelligala International Buddhist Centre

After the bustling atmosphere at the Temple of the Tooth, the Nelligala International Buddhist Centre was a refreshing contrast. We timed our visit for sunset, which turned out to be a magical experience.

Unlike the popular Temple of the Tooth, Nelligala was quieter, primarily frequented by local devotees coming for evening prayers. This made the visit feel much more intimate, and at times, we even felt like we were part of the attraction!

Nelligala International Buddhist Centre is beautifully serene. The sounds of prayers echoing from the speakers and the panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges create a mesmerizing atmosphere.

Side view of large golden buddha statues with one prominently in the foreground against a cloudy sky, standing serenely with right hand raised.

Perched on a hill, the centre offers a stunning vantage point from which to watch the sun dip below the horizon, casting a warm glow that softly illuminates everything.

This place isn’t just about the views, though. The real beauty lies in its tranquil setting and the sense of peace that envelops you as you explore the grounds. It’s a perfect spot for reflection and meditation, far removed from the tourist trail.

If you’re seeking a spiritual experience that feels personal and untouched, Nelligala should definitely be on your itinerary when visiting Kandy City.

3. Hiking in the Knuckle Mountains

One of the highlights of my trip to Kandy was an adventurous hike along the Katusu Konda trail in the Knuckle Mountains—a spot made famous by its appearance in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. We started early from Kandy to catch the cool morning air, which added an extra layer of freshness to our adventurous ascent.

The trail itself was a fun challenge, complete with ducking under tree branches and navigating through changing vegetation. The path took us through dense greenery, opening up occasionally to stunning natural vistas.

The real treat, however, awaited us at the summit: breathtaking 360-degree views of the surrounding landscapes. Surprisingly, we didn’t encounter any other tourists along the way, which made the experience feel like we had discovered an untouched piece of paradise.

I would definitely recommend hiring a guide for this hike as the trail isn’t marked, and it’s easy to lose your way amidst the wilderness. We went with a guide from Blue Knuckles Travels, and they were great.

Also, don’t forget to wear long leggings—leeches are common in some areas of the trail (our guide sprayed our shoes with lysol before starting).

Despite this little challenge, the hike is immensely rewarding, not just for the views but for the sheer adventure. It’s a must-do for anyone visiting Kandy who loves a good hike and a dash of cinematic history.

4. Exploring the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kandy

"Beautiful

A tranquil retreat from the city’s hustle, the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya are one of the best things to do in Kandy. Originally exclusive to Kandyan royalty, these gardens now open their gates to tourists, offering a lush escape into one of the finest collections of flora in the region.

The entry fee is 3000 rupees as of 2024, but be sure to check the website for the most up-to-date prices and opening hours before you visit.

visiting the botanical gardens on a day in Kandy
The gardens contain a stunning variety of orchids

I recommend setting aside at least two hours to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of these expansive gardens, which stretch over 147 hectares.

As you wander through, you’ll discover an impressive variety of flowers and trees. Keep an eye out for the playful monkeys that are just as much a part of the gardens as the plants!

"Monkeys

Established in 1821, shortly after the British occupation of the Kandyan Kingdom, the gardens are steeped in history and botanical wonder. Walking through, you can almost feel the royal past intertwined with the natural beauty that has been cultivated here for nearly two centuries.

If you’re heading to the gardens, consider making a quick stop at the Kandy Viewpoint. Located conveniently off the side of the road, this spot offers picturesque views of Kandy Lake and the sprawling city below.

take in the viewpoint on a day in Kandy
Kandy view point

5. Visit the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue

Visiting the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue is one of the best things to do in Kandy
Visiting the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue in Kandy

One of Kandy’s most striking landmarks is the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue. Visible from almost anywhere in the city, this imposing figure is over 25 meters tall, ranking among the tallest Buddha statues in Sri Lanka.

The journey to the statue itself is an experience. It involves a 20-minute walk up the hill, which might be a bit of a climb, but the rewards at the top are worth every step. Once you reach the statue, you have the option to admire it from below or venture inside for a closer look.

Constructed in 1972, the statue depicts Lord Buddha in the Nirvana pose, symbolizing his moment of Enlightenment. This serene posture adds to the tranquil atmosphere of the site, making it a perfect spot for reflection and photography.

Remember to dress respectfully when visiting. To honor the statue’s cultural and religious significance, remove your shoes and cover your knees and shoulders.

6. Explore the local markets of Kandy

Visiting the markets is one of the best things to do in Kandy
Walking through the local markets on Kandy

Strolling through the vibrant markets of Kandy was a lot of fun. As a lover of fresh produce, I particularly enjoy visiting the fruit stands, where friendly vendors often offer samples of exotic fruits. These markets not only provide a delightful glimpse into local life but also offer delicious and safe snacking options at a bargain.

Beyond the fresh produce, Kandy’s markets boast an extensive selection of local spices that capture the essence of Sri Lankan cuisine. You’ll also find a variety of clothing stalls. Be prepared for persistent sales tactics in the clothing sections! The key here is to engage confidently in bargaining; it’s part of the fun and allows you to immerse fully in the local shopping culture.

"Eating

7. Experiencing the Cultural Dance Performance in Kandy

Two performers on stage, one playing a traditional drum and the other holding a bow, both in colorful costumes and headgear, engaging in a cultural dance or act among the things to do in Kandy

Every evening at 5 PM, next to the iconic Temple of the Tooth, visitors have the opportunity to witness a traditional Sri Lankan cultural dance performance.

I’ve attended this show on both of my trips to Kandy, and while I find it leans a bit towards the touristic side, it’s an accessible introduction to local arts as it’s free to attend, thanks to government sponsorship.

The performance lasts about an hour and features several traditional dances. The highlight for me—and likely for many others—is the dramatic fire walking that concludes the show. The performers do ask for donations afterward, which is something to be prepared for if you choose to participate in acknowledging their craft.

While I enjoyed the performance for its cultural display and the enthusiasm of the dancers, it’s not an absolute must-see if your schedule in Kandy is tight. There are plenty of other enriching experiences around the city that offer deeper insights into Kandyan culture.

8. New Ranweli Spice Garden in Kandy

pepper on a spice tour
A pepper plant

If you’re curious about how the spices used in Sri Lankan cuisine are grown and processed, consider stopping by the New Ranweli Spice Garden during your stay in Kandy. While the place is somewhat touristic, the free half-hour tour offers an interesting overview of local spice cultivation.

The tour allows you to see spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg in their natural state and learn a bit about how they are transformed into the products we use daily. This can be a unique opportunity to understand the effort and process behind the spice production, from the ground to the grocery shelf.

After the tour, you’ll be shown a variety of spice-derived products in a small shop on the premises. Although buying is optional, the products are reasonably priced and practical, which might make them hard to resist, especially if you’re looking to bring a piece of Sri Lanka’s famous spice heritage back home. For anyone interested in culinary souvenirs, this visit could be a worthwhile addition to your itinerary in Kandy.

Visiting a Spice Farm is one of the best things to do in Kandy
Spice Farm in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy Day Trips

If you’re pressed for time on your Sri Lanka itinerary but still want to delve into the country’s rich history, Kandy is an excellent base for exploring nearby historic sites. Located centrally, Kandy offers convenient day trips to several notable destinations.

One must-visit site is the Dambulla Cave Temple, renowned for its intricate rock carvings and stunning murals. Just a short drive from Kandy, this temple complex offers a peek into ancient Buddhist art and architecture that is both awe-inspiring and spiritually enriching.

Another remarkable day trip is to the ancient city of Anuradhapura, home to the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree. This sacred fig tree is believed to be a cutting from the original Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. Visiting Anuradhapura not only connects you with a pivotal point in Buddhist history but also allows you to explore extensive archaeological ruins in a serene setting.

Where to stay in Kandy

Interior of a multi-level atrium with elegant balconies, a skylight, and a seating area with red chairs on the ground floor, perfect for those looking for things to do in Kandy
The Grand Kandyan

During my visit to Kandy, we stayed at the Grand Kandyan, a hotel that certainly lives up to its name with its opulent, gold-laden decor. It’s a place that radiates glitz and glamor, though admittedly, it’s a bit more extravagant than my usual taste. The rooms, while comfortable, could benefit from some updates to match the grandeur of the common areas.

Despite this, the hotel’s location is a significant plus. It offers stunning views of the surrounding city and hills, making it a picturesque spot to wake up in or unwind after a day of exploring. One of the highlights is the rooftop pool—an ideal spot for a refreshing swim with a view.

For those who appreciate historical settings and don’t mind a bit of old-school luxury, the Grand Kandyan provides a solid base in Kandy. Its central location makes it convenient for visiting the city’s main attractions, and the amenities, like the rooftop pool, add a touch of relaxation to your stay.

Getting around Kandy

Navigating Kandy can vary widely depending on your travel style and budget. On my most recent visit, we explored the city in the comfort of an air-conditioned minivan.

While it might sound a bit luxurious, hiring a private driver in Sri Lanka is surprisingly affordable, especially if you’re traveling with a large group of family or friends. This option not only provides comfort but also flexibility, allowing you to visit multiple destinations on your own schedule without the hassle of public transport.

For those embracing the backpacker lifestyle, as I did back in 2018, a tuk-tuk is a fantastic and budget-friendly choice. During my hostel stay, I managed to arrange a tuk-tuk for the entire day for 1500 rupees, though you might expect to pay around 3000 rupees today due to inflation and changing rates.

Remember, it’s crucial to negotiate with tuk-tuk drivers; they often start with a higher asking price. I initially received a quote of 2500 rupees for mine! Tuk-tuks offer an authentic local experience and are perfect for short stays when you’re looking to squeeze in as much sightseeing as possible.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a bit more adventure and autonomy, renting a motorbike could be the way to go. This option gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace and is particularly enjoyable in Kandy’s scenic surroundings. However, be sure you’re comfortable with local driving conditions and have the necessary licenses.

FAQ: Kandy Sri Lanka

How many days do you need in Kandy?

Ideally, spend at least two to three days in Kandy to fully experience its cultural sites, scenic beauty, and local activities.

Is Kandy or Colombo better?

Kandy and Colombo offer different experiences; Kandy is better for cultural and historical exploration, while Colombo offers a bustling city vibe.

What is special about Kandy?

Kandy is renowned for its rich history, including the Temple of the Tooth Relic, and its vibrant cultural festivals like the Esala Perahera.

Is Kandy or Ella better?

Ella is ideal for nature lovers and hikers, while Kandy offers a deeper dive into Sri Lanka’s cultural and religious heritage.

Is it safe to walk around Kandy?

Yes, it is generally safe to walk around Kandy, but it’s advisable to be cautious at night and in less crowded areas.

Why do tourists visit Kandy?

Tourists visit Kandy for its historical landmarks, cultural significance, and beautiful natural surroundings.

When should I go to Kandy?

The best time to visit Kandy is during the cooler, dry months from December to April.

Where to go after Kandy Sri Lanka?

After Kandy, consider visiting Nuwara Eliya for its tea plantations, Ella for hiking, or Dambulla for its historic cave temples.

Is 1 day enough for Kandy?

One day is enough to see the main sights in Kandy, but an extra day or two allows for a more relaxed and comprehensive exploration.

Final thoughts: Is Kandy worth visiting in Sri Lanka?

So, is Kandy worth visiting in Sri Lanka? Absolutely! Kandy is worth visiting, especially if you have a keen interest in temples, religious sites, and rich cultural experiences. Beyond the bustling city life, Kandy is surrounded by stunning natural beauty, offering ample opportunities for exploration and tranquility.

Its central location also makes it a strategic stop in any Sri Lankan itinerary, allowing for easy transitions to other must-see destinations like the scenic train ride to Ella or a visit to the nearby historical sites.

Kandy is more than just a city; it’s a gateway to understanding the heart and soul of Sri Lanka, blending the spiritual with the scenic. Whether you’re drawn by its cultural depth or the natural wonders that lie just beyond, Kandy is a wonderful place to visit in Sri Lanka.

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photo of lora hiking in knuckle mountains with overlay text is Kandy worth visiting in Sri Lanka

Author

  • Lora Pope

    Lora is a full-time digital nomad on a quest to visit every country in the world and pet as many dogs as she can along the way. Over the last 15 years, she has traveled to 70+ countries and six continents solo. She currently calls Puerto Vallarta, Mexico home and enjoys ending each day with sunset and tacos on the beach.

    https://explorewithlora.com/about [email protected] Pope Lora

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