Kandy is a vibrant city in the middle of Sri Lanka. It is for some travellers the start, or end point of their train journey through Sri Lanka’s inland. Apart from the beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka, the country is also famous for its religious sites which can be found around Kandy and Sigiriya. So if you have the time, there are lots of beautiful places to visit in Kandy. After all, Kandy is the second biggest city in Sri Lanka after the capital Colombo. Plan to spend one or two days in Kandy after, or before you hop on the famous train. In this travel blog you will find a complete guide about all the best things to do in Kandy Sri Lanka.
How to get around in Kandy
The best way to explore Kandy city is with a Tuk Tuk, or you have to be very confident to drive a motorbike. There are also options for Kandy day tours where you go to the hotspots of the city in one day. But if you want to be more flexible, you can better arrange a Tuk Tuk.
Enjoy the Royal Botanical Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens are located approximately a twenty minute Tuk Tuk ride from the center of Kandy and is a great escape from the busy city. The total area of the garden is 147 acres and attracts about 2 million visitors yearly. The Royal Botanical Gardens have more than 4.000 species of plants and trees and are well known for their orchid collection! It is a place where people of all ages gather, especially in the weekends. Wander around the massive and beautiful garden, take photos at the impressive palm trees relax in the grass or drink some Sri Lankan tea at one of the cafes.
The entrance fee of the Royal Botanical Gardens is 2000 LKR which is pricey, but worth it if you have some hours to spend there.
Visit the Temple of Tooth
The Temple of Tooth, also known as Sri Dalada Maligawa, is the most holiest Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. Making it even one of the most sacred places of worship among Buddhists around the world. This beautiful golden-roofed Buddhist Temple in the heart of Kandy is a must visit. Plan an early-morning visit to skip the crowds and see the legendary sacred tooth relic of Buddha. The Temple of sacred Tooth relic is located in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy where you can see a few other temples and museums within the complex.
Visit Dambulla Cave Temple
The Dambulla Cave Temple, officially called Jumbukola Vihara, is the largest and best-preserved temple cave complex in Sri Lanka. It is one of the eight UNESCO attractions that Sri Lanka has to offer. The Dambulla Cave is 70 km outside of Kandy located which is a 2 hour drive one way. You can combine a visit to the Dambulla Cave temple perfectly when you’re on your way to Sigiriya, or if you have some spare time in Kandy and you want to escape the busy city.
Stroll along Kandy Lake
Strolling around the Kandy Lake is one of the many free things to do in Kandy. Next to the Temple of Sacred Tooth relic, you will find the cities artificial lake which was built in 1807 by King King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. The nicest part to walk along is the area around the Temple of Sacred Tooth relic. Due to some past cases of harassment, women should not walk here alone after dark.
Take a trip to Sigiriya
Sigiriya is a stunning area which is a three hours drive north from Kandy. Sigiriya is famous because of the Lion Rock, which is one of the Sri Lankan UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Lion Rock is an enormous 200-meter high rock fortress towering over the jungle. One of the best ways to experience this ancient rock fortress and UNESCO World Heritage is by hiking to the top with sunrise or before sunset. For this reason, it is recommended to spend one or two nights in Sigiriya.
Tip: Instead of hiking the Lion Rock fortress, you can also hike the opposite Pidurangala Rock. That is a great alternative to avoid the crowds at sunrise, plus its way cheaper! Not only do you get the same panoramic views on the jungle as you get from the Sigiriya Lion Rock, but also a head-on view of Sigiriya Lion Rock itself. Which is in our opinion way more beautiful than the view from the Sigiriya Lion rock towards the Pidurangala Rock!
Visit the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha
Nestled within the hilltops above Kandy lies Bahiravokanda Vihara. A giant 88-foot statue which is one of Kandy’s most notable religious monuments. The top can easily be reached by car or motorbike, and a small climb up the stairs will be rewarded with a panoramic view of the city. The statue itself can be seen from most places throughout the city and is particularly enchanting at night when the lights are on. Make sure to remove your shoes before entering the sacred site and cover your knees and shoulders.
Watch Kandy dancing
One of the unique things to do in Kandy is visiting a traditional Kandy dance. This intense, energetic show, with dancers and drummers will take one hour and starts around 17.00. Make sure you get there on time to buy the tickets and secure your spot. During the show, Sri Lankan music is played and the dancers wear colorful traditional costumes. There are 3 venues to watch Kandy dancing, all located around the lake:
- Kandyan Art Association & Cultural Centre
- Kandy Lake Club
- Mahanuwara YMBA
Smell the nature at Udewatakele Forest
Udawattakele Forest is a 257 acres forest reserve on a hill-ridge in Kandy. The sanctuary is famous for its extensive avifauna and adventurous bike rides. The reserve also contains a great variety of plant species and even some small and medium sized mammals can be seen here. Udawatakele Forest was a forest reserve in 1856 and it became a sanctuary in 1938. The forest is of religious importance as well because there are three Buddhist meditation hermitages and three rock shelter dwellings for Buddhist monk hermits. It’s a nice way to get some fresh air and escape the busy, and a bit polluted city.
Stay at a luxury nature resort
If you have some budget to spend and you want to have a quiet getaway from the busy city centre of Kandy, you might want to check out one of the luxury nature resorts around Kandy. We stayed at Aarunya Nature Resort for 3 nights which is a 20 minute drive away from Kandy city. This sustainable luxury boutique hotel is a true gem for nature lovers. Overlooking Knuckles mountain range and tucked away on a hill in the jungle, the incredible views on the green valley and nature sounds makes you want to stay here forever.
Explore the local market
If you want to explore the real local Kandy, you have to go to the local market. Despite the market here is not that big, you will be able enjoy the authentic experience. It is a place where you can take many photos and portraits. People are very friendly and you can communicate well as almost everyone speaks English.
The market has two different parts:
- The first one, which is close to the train station, is dedicated to fish.
- The second area, closer to the lake, is dedicated to fruits and vegetables.
You will find many food stalls selling tasty fruits like pineapples, bananas, mangos and more more!
DON’T visit an elephant orphanage
Although visiting an elephant orphanage is a popular thing to do in Kandy, it isn’t ethically responsible. You might be led to believe that these orphanages take care of the elephants, (which is partly true). But sad enough, the elephants are only used as a form of tourism entertainment rather than they’re genuinely being taken care of. Multiple animal organizations have written about this and have stated that these examples of tourism animal activities are always a no go. You can better go on a safari in Sri Lanka to spot wild elephants in their natural habitat. This is in our opinion one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka and super adventurous!
Train ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya – Ella
Kandy is the starting point, or end point if you’ve traveled the other way through Sri Lanka, of one of the world’s most beautiful train routes. A stunning 4-7 hour journey through the tea plantations hills, which is an absolute must-do on any Sri Lanka travel itinerary! Feel the wind through your hair and across your skin, if you stick your nose outside of the door or window of the open train. An epic experience that allows you to see the Sri Lankan nature in a complete unique way!
Tip: Make sure to check the type of train because not all trains are the blue one! This might make a huge difference for your perfect Sri Lankan train picture as displayed below!
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