Looking for the best things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka?
Coined as the second city to Colombo, Kandy is full of culture and life. It’s elevation in the green peaks give this city a much more small-town feel. You won’t have any issue escaping the commotion of the city centre if you want to relax and hear your thoughts.
A walk around Kandy lake is just the ticket to observe local life and watch the ducks swim in the ripples. If you want to go further into nature, visit the Royal Botanical Gardens just outside of the city, it won’t disappoint.
Do make sure to wander into the market streets of Kandy though, where the heartbeat of the city pulses.
Of course, a visit to the UNESCO Temple of the Sacred Tooth will be one of the major highlights of your trip to Kandy. Believed to be home to a piece of Buddha’s tooth, you will find devotees from all over the world here. Go early to listen to the drumming ceremony and to watch devotions of flowers being given to the shrine. Don’t forget to leave time to visit the surrounding gardens and buildings.
From iconic temples, abundant gardens, quiet lakes, and lively markets, Kandy has it all. To experience all the best things to do and see in Kandy, make sure to spend a good 2 full days here to immerse yourself in everything this city has to offer.
Once leaving this lively cultural city, you can take one of the most scenic train journeys in the world: the Kandy to Ella train ride.
The Essential Guide to Kandy: Exploring Sri Lanka’s Cultural Capital
#1 Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy
One of the main attractions, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy is best seen first thing in the morning. The white plastered and gold topped exterior takes you into an elaborately decorated temple with local woods and richly red fabrics.
Thought to hold a piece of Buddha’s tooth, the shrine room is heavily guarded as believers stream slowly through the space. Offerings of florals and money are made. The drumming ceremony, which I highly recommend you visit, takes place at 5:15am daily. This is the ideal opportunity to see the ceremony before tourists come pouring in. Take your time here to explore the different rooms of the temple and the exterior gardens.
WHERE | Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy
COST | Entrance fee is 1500LKR ($8USD)
#2 Wander the streets and Walk Around Kandy Lake
A mishmash of old colonial and Sri Lankan building facades, the streets of Kandy are not to be missed. The hustle and bustle of this city is a sympathy of sights, sounds and smells. Take some time to wander in and out of the city’s back alleys and markets. A perfect place for street photography and people watching.
After you’ve absorbed the energy of this cultural city, make your way to the manmade Kandy Lake at sunset and stroll around the 2.1 km circumference. The quieter side of local life is on display here, and plenty of rest stations are at your disposal to fully take in all of your surroundings. The iconic Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is also located right at the lake, making a great backdrop for your walk.
WHERE | Kandy Lake, Sri Lanka
COST | Free
#3 Sunrise at Bahirawakanda Temple (Buddha Temple)
The Buddha Temple sits atop a hill, in the centre of the city of Kandy. Buddha, in its enormous statuette form, will greet you at the top of the stairs.
Arrange a tuk tuk at your hotel or hostel for a sunrise mission to Bahirawakanda Temple.
I was the only one there for quite some time and was only joined by two other people when sunrise kicked in. I imagine sunset here would be breathtaking as well, but be aware that this is when most tourists will come to visit the temple. There is something about watching the city awaken that really sticks with you. And it’s free to enter!
COST | Free
TIP | Take your shoes off at the bottom of the stairs before heading up to the temple
#4 Lunch and Shopping at Sthree Craft Shop and Café
Put your tourist dollars to good use, and stop in at this lovely little shop for delicious food and handmade crafts. Sthree Craft Shop and Cafe is an initiative supporting disabled youth looking to gain experience in hospitality and mistreated women suffering from violence and abuse.
The lunch I had was a completely vegan Sri Lankan platter with a multitude of different curries, rice and condiments and man, did I ever enjoy it (yum!).
The craft shop is full of authentic Sri Lankan goods. Batik table clothes, dresses, coconut wood kitchen utensils and beaded jewellery are just a few. I spent a good 45 minutes wandering around the shop and was happy to know that the money from my purchase was directly given to the woman who created the product. What a great way to support the local economy!
COST | Meals range from 400 – 1200 LKR
#5 Visit the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kandy
The most beautiful gardens in Sri Lanka, the Kandy Botanical Gardens is a great respite from the busyness of the city centre. Palm lined avenues, perfectly manicured plants and a house full of stunning orchids are only some of the highlights this attraction has to offer. Put a couple hours aside to ensure you have time to peruse the grounds at ease.
COST | Entrance fee is 1500 LKR ($8 USD)
TIP | Visit the suspension bridge for a cool photo, but come prepared with some patience as the bridge is popular with the instagrammers.
#6 Overnight Stay at Tamarind Garden Farm in Digana
Located a short drive outside of Kandy is the small village of Digana, home to Tamarind Garden Homestay. Basic but beautifully crafted homestay cabins dot the hillside to a stunning view of the local reservoir. The food and hospitality are what really make this place shine and is what you come to expect from the Sri Lankan locals. Petting cows and lounging in hammocks are common activities here as the homestay is a part of a small working farm.
WHERE | How to get to Tamarind Garden Farm in Digana from Kandy, Sri Lanka | Hire a tuk tuk or taxi to take you the 40 minute journey to Digana.
BOOK A STAY | Tamarind Garden Homestay, Sri Lanka
TIP | Ask for the village walk. The staff will take you to the local haunts. This includes the convenience hut, the local jewelry craft-smith and they give you an insider look at small village life in Sri Lanka.
#7 Kandy to Ella Scenic Train Ride
One of the most scenic train rides in the world, the trip from Kandy to Ella will leave you slack jawed. The Kandy to Ella train journey will take you up through lush green tea plantations, vibrant villages, jungled hilltops, and deep valleys. The locals will likely come out to greet you with warm smiles and big waves.
One of the highlights of my 3-week itinerary in Sri Lanka, this train ride is not to be missed. I’d suggest breaking it up into two parts, taking the first leg from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, and then continuing on to Ella.
COST | The second class compartment will only cost you 270 LKR ($1.50 USD), and the third class compartment will run you 150 LKR (less than $1USD). Both can be purchased at the Kandy train station the day of your journey
BOOK | If you are looking to sit in the observation car, which will give you the best view of the scenery, I’d suggest getting the latest Kandy to Ella train ticket prices online and purchasing early
#8 Day Trip to Sigiriya Rock Fortress
If you haven’t been following a 3-week Sri Lanka itinerary, then you might be interested in a day trip to see the Lion Fortress of Sigiriya. Located just outside of the small village of Sigiriya, the dusty red Lion Rock Fortress features frescoes, lion statues and meandering staircases. Once you make it to the top, panoramic views of the jungle will greet you, along with the ancient ruins of the old capital city of Sri Lanka, dating back to the 5th century.
WHERE | How to get from Kandy to Sigiriya | Take a local bus from Kandy bus station to Dambulla station. From there, you can transfer to the bus headed to Sigiriya or simply hire a tuk tuk to take you the short 25 minutes journey.
COST | Entrance fees for Sigiriya Rock Fortress are on the higher end at $30 USD, and if you choose to book a day tour from Kandy, it will cost you anywhere from $30 – 150 USD.
Kandy Travel Guide
Located in the green Central Province of Sri Lanka, Kandy is sprawled into the nooks and crannies of the hill country, and is centred around a manmade lake.
A 3 hour train journey north-east from the capital city of Colombo, Kandy has a population of 125,000 residents and is known for some of the richest and oldest culture and history of the entirety of Sri Lanka.
Best Time to Visit Kandy, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has two distinct monsoon seasons, each striking the north-east and south-west coasts at opposite times of year. The best time to visit Kandy in the centre of the country is during the driest months of December to April. The monsoon hits this part of Sri Lanka between July to November. Shoulder months like May and November will provide pleasant weather with a chance of sporadic rainfall.
As opposed to the coastal regions of Sri Lanka, Kandy faces larger fluctuations in temperature with hot days and cooler nights.
TIP | Make sure to check for local holidays as it’s common for shops, restaurants and attractions to close down. A list of 2021 public holidays in Sri Lanka is available here
TIP | Bring a warm layer, rain jacket and good shoes as temperatures dip in Kandy when the sun isn’t shining.
How to Get Around Kandy
What I consider to be the best way to see a place, walking can enhance your experience with a combination of exercise and time to notice the details. Due to the small size of Kandy city centre, it maintains a high walkability level.
If you decide to enjoy the outlying activities, such as the Royal Botanical Gardens or Buddha Temple, hailing a tuk tuk is your best bet. Costing approximately 200-400 LKR each way, a tuk tuk ride is super fun and can provide you a chance to chat with a local.
Haggling is a must and make sure you stick to your guns and finalize the price before getting into the tuk tuk.
TIP | Always finalize the price before getting into the tuk tuk
Since Kandy enjoys the modern amenities of a larger city, you can find services like Uber and Pick Me here. Looking to make an early morning journey to watch sunrise at Buddha Temple, for example? Schedule your pick up the night before to make your experience as stress free as possible.
Where to Stay in Kandy, Sri Lanka
As the main cultural city of Sri Lanka, Kandy enjoys an abundance of high end and luxury accommodations, but because this destination is located on the main Sri Lanka tourist route, there are options in the mid range and budget realms as well.
I’ve recommended three accommodations below, but you can also search for all hotel options for Kandy, Sri Lanka using Agoda.com.
HELGA’S FOLLY ANTI HOTEL | Just as the name of the property eludes to, this spot was created to emphasize an anti hotel vibe. Kitschy, and downright funky, this accommodation is bound to be one of your favourite stays of your trip. The onsite restaurant also offers local Sri Lankan cuisine made fresh daily with organic produce. Prices and Availability here
AARUNYA NATURE RESORT + SPA | Splurge for a night at this luxury resort located a 30 minute drive outside of Kandy city in the neighbouring rainforest. Aarunya is set on a 7 acre colonial plantation and offers a swimming pool, fitness centre, bicycles and free wifi. Prices and Availability here
OZO KANDY | A rooftop pool with epic views is the highlight at this mid range accommodation. OZO comes complete with a sophisticated and chic interior aesthetic, restaurant, bar and fitness centre. Prices and Availability here
Best Places to Eat in Kandy, Sri Lanka
BALAJI DOSAI | Serving up some of the best dosas in the city, this little gem located right across from the Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic. Fill your belly with cheese or masala dosas (250 LKR) and try one of their south Indian chais (100 LKR). See location here
CAFE BANANA CHILL | Want to get a healthy start to your day? Stop by this backpacker-esque hole in the wall for some local fruit smoothies (350 LKR) or chia pudding parfaits (800 LKR). See location here
VITO WOOD FIRED PIZZA | With an open air patio overlooking Kandy, this is a great place to stop for dinner after your stroll around the lake. Good, albeit American style, pizza can be found here. See location here
MORE ESSENTIAL GUIDES FOR SRI LANKA
Want to continue planning your trip to Sri Lanka?
Check out my 3 WEEK SRI LANKA ITINERARY or if you prefer to determine the route yourself, read the specialized guides below for some of the best experiences in Sri Lanka:
SRI LANKA BUCKET LIST | Get inspired by all that Sri Lanka has to offer. Here are my Sri Lanka highlights.
SRI LANKA TRAVEL TIPS | Prepare for your Sri Lanka trip by reading my 21 top tips on what you should know before visiting the beautiful teardrop isle
ELLA | Nestled in the green centre of Sri Lanka, this hiker’s paradise features trails with panoramic views of jagged green hills, deep valleys and rushing waterfalls.
YALA NATIONAL PARK | Majestic elephants, elusive leopards, and a myriad of bird species can all be found in one of the biggest national parks in Sri Lanka.
WELIGAMA | Where surf culture is alive and thriving, this central town is located on the golden south coast of Sri Lanka and offers the best surf beach for beginners, and an abundance of traditional and modern eateries.
GALLE FORT | Fortified stone walls, dutch and Portuguese style architecture, great food and shopping all culminate in this little town that was once a major Sri Lankan trading post.
SRI LANKA PACKING LIST | Take the guesswork out of packing and easily check off my list to all things you will need for Sri Lanka’s warm climate