When backpacking Sri Lanka, Kandy will be on your bucket list. It is the city to start your scenic train ride through the mountains. Yet, there is much more to it. In this guide, we cover all the amazing things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
We also have a guide on the best hostels in Kandy if you’re planning on staying overnight (which we recommend!).
Before we traveled to Sri Lanka, some people (falsely) advised us to skip Kandy; and only take the train from here. And we are so glad we did not listen to them! There are many things to see in Kandy and in the area around.
After all, after the capital Colombo, Kandy is the second biggest city in the country.
You will find the big-ticket attractions easily – places like the Temple of The Tooth and the Botanical Gardens are world-famous. But there are plenty of other things to do in Kandy.
Lying amidst the hills in the center of the island, Kandy is recognized as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka.
Known as the last Royal Capital of Sri Lanka this cultural city which is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1988.
Kandy is encrusted with many enriching sites that need to be explored. Take a look at the top 19 places you need to see on your next visit.
Ready? Let’s get this life-time experience started with the most famous sight.
1. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa)
The Temple of the tooth relic also known as the Dalada Maligawa is the most holiest Buddhist temple in Srilanka, making it the most scared places of worship among Buddhists around the world.
It is located in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy, which houses the relic of the tooth of the Buddha. Since ancient times, the relic has played an important role in local politics because it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country.
The city was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings and is a World Heritage Site mainly due to the temple. The entire temple complex covers a large area and as well as the main shrine there are few other temples and museums within the complex.
Rituals are performed three times daily:
at noon and
in the evenings.
On Wednesdays there is a symbolic bathing of the relic with an herbal preparation made from scented water and fragrant flowers called Nanumura Mangallaya.
If you can, plan your visit to the temple on Wednesday.
Good to know: Bear in mind you have to wear clothes that cover your legs and shoulders. Otherwise, you will not be allowed to enter the temple.
2. Royal Botanical Garden – Peradeniya
The historic Royal Botanical Garden is dated back to 1371.
It is located approximately a twenty minute tuk tuk ride from the city center and it attracts about 2 million visitors annually.
The total area of the garden is 147 acres. It includes more than 4.000 species of plants.
The Royal Botanical Garden is renowned for its collection of orchids.
3. Kandy Lake
This is one of the many free things to do in Kandy. Next to the Temple of the Sacred tooth relic, you will find the cities Lake.
An artificial lake built in the heart of the city in 1807 by King King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe .
There are many legends and folklore regarding the protected lake.
One such is that the small island at its center was used by the king’s helm for bathing and was connected to the palace by a secret tunnel.
A bike ride or an evening stroll around the lake is ideal as the city quietens down.
Note: Eager fortune tellers lurk by the lake to those interested in knowing what may lie in their future.
4. Udawatta Kele Sanctuary
Udawattakele is a 257 acres forest reserve on a hill-ridge in the city.
The sanctuary is famous for its extensive avifauna and adventurous bike rides. The reserve also contains a great variety of plant species, especially lianas, shrubs and small trees.
There are several giant lianas.
Many of small and medium size mammals that inhabit Sri Lanka can be seen here. Udawatta Kele was designated as a forest reserve in 1856, and it became a sanctuary in 1938.
The forest is of religious importance as there are three Buddhist meditation hermitages and three rock shelter dwellings for Buddhist monk hermits.
5. Bhairovakanda Buddha Statue
Although not of any historical significance, this is perhaps the introductory symbol of Kandy. it is one of the cultural things to do in Kandy.
The 80ft Buddha Statue can be seen from almost everywhere in the city.
This iconic massive Buddha overlooking Kandy is well worth a visit. A ten minute tuk tuk ride from the city center will bring you to this is the ideal place to take panoramic pictures of the historic city.
For a better viewing experience take the twenty minute climb up the stairs to the Buddha statue. It is relly worth it the effort!
6. St.Paul’s Church in Kandy
St. Paul’s Church is located in the main city on sacred grounds west of the Temple of the Tooth.
Towering Construction of this Church began in 1843 and was completed in 1848.
The church was later enlarged in 1878 and 1928. It was consecrated in 1853 and was meant to be a
symbol of British power. As it was first used by British officials and the British Garrison, it has been called the Garrison Church.
St. Paul’s church, with its simple and spacious interior, has been maintained for over 150 years as a fitting memorial to the colonial and multicultural, multi religious heritage.
7. Lankathilake Vihara
An ancient Buddhist temple situated in Udunuwara..
It is located on Daulagala road, approximately 40minute drive from the city center.
Lankathilake Vihara is considered as the most magnificent architectural edifice created during the Gampola era.
The history of the temple dates back to the 14th century. According to historical reports this temple was built by King Bhuvanekabahu IV, who reigned from 1341 to 1351 A. D.
The king entrusted the construction of this temple to his Chief Minister named Senalankadhikara, who successfully finished the works of this temple.
8. Gadaladeniya Temple
Gadaladeniya RajamahaViharaya with an ancient monastery located 16km from the city is found on the flat rock at Diggala in the district of Kandy.
According to a inscription there this temple was built by King Buwanekabahu IV in the year 1344.
The main shrine room has seated (in Vajrasana) Buddha Statue under a Makara Thorana and four standing Buddha images. The makara thorana is decorated on both faces with gods such as Brahma, Suyama, Santhusuta, Natha and Maithree, and two attendants.
9. Embekke Devalaya (Embekka Temple)
This temple was built by the King Vikramabahu III of Gampola Era (AD 1357 – 1374).
The shrine consists of three sections:
the “Sanctum of Garagha”,
the “Digge” or “Dancing Hall” and
the “Hevisi Mandapaya” or the “Drummers’ Hall”.
The Drummers’ Hall that has drawn the attention of visitors to the site, due to the splendid wood carvings of its ornate pillars and its high pitched roof.
The carvings, which adorn the wooden pillars of the drummers’ hall, as well as the “Vahalkada” (the entrance porch of the devala, which is said to be older) are some of the best examples of Sinhalese art.
The roof itself has significant features. The rafters all slant from above towards the incoming visitor are fixed together and kept in position by a “Madol Kurupawa”, a kind of a giant catch pin the like of which we do not find elsewhere.
This temple is approximately 20 km from the city center and can be reachable by bus, Tuk tuk or taxi.
11. Traditional Kandy dancing
One of the unique things you can do in Kandy while visiting is attending a Kandy dance.
Kandy dance is an intense, energetic show, with dancers and drummers. During one hour, they will dance and play music in colorful traditional costumes.
There are 3 venues to watch Kandy dancing, all located around the lake:
Kandyan Art Association & Cultural Centre
Kandy Lake Club
The performance starts around 17.00. Make sure you get a bit ahead of time to buy the tickets and secure your spot.
12. Explore the local market
The market here is not big but you will be able enjoy the sensory experience. It is a place where you can take many photos. People were very friendly and you can communicate well, as English is widely spoken.
The market has two different part:
The first one, closer 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…actually, almost everything!
What about trying a fruit you never tasted before? On the stalls:
13. Eat, eat and repeat
Curry lovers, Sri Lanka is one of those places where you can find curry everywhere. And anytime!
If you happen to arrive late to the city, there is a cheap restaurant called Balaji Dosai.
It was not the best in town, as it happens to be a chain, but in case you don’t find any restaurant open… just go there. They open until late.
14. Street photos
It is a great place for street photography, cause people are nice and you have many colorful places.
Just stroll around the market, along the city center during the day or, even better, head to the Bus station.
There you will be able to capture not only people but also buses, Tuk Tuks…
Please remember: Always be respectful when taking photos of people. Ask for permission and do not be rude and interrupt people. It is also common to buy something small in return of the favor taking a photo. it can be a coca cola, some food or even a small donation.
15. Visit a spice garden
There are many spice gardens around. Actually, many spices come from there. Now that you are here, what about exploring a spice garden? It is a free thing to do in Lanka, and not far away.
You will find spices like:
We even found a funky wild pineapple!
The spice gardens are normally free to enter. You might be offered a guide, and pushed a bit to buy something at the end of the visit.
It is not mandatory to buy, so feel free to say they you do not want to buy anything.
If you want to buy something, remember the golden rule: Bargain!
16. Attend a cricket match
An unusual things to do in Kandy, that can be fun.
Did you know cricket is the most popular sport in Sri Lanka? As per our friends in Kandy, the second most popular sport is also cricket.
So if you happen to be during the cricket season, consider attending a match.
17. Things to do in Kandy at night: Temple of the tooth relic
Okay, fair enough, we already covered this one in #1 on this list.
The main attraction you cannot miss it visit the The Temple of the tooth relic. They have a traditional ritual on the evening. So go there and learn and try to see the tooth of Buddha.
The schedule differs, so ask your accommodation about the ceremony, they will know.
18. Enjoy the social time at your Hostel
Last but not least, after a long day enjoying all these top things to do in Kandy, we recommend kicking back at your hostel. Hostels are a great way to meet new people plus you will get incredibly good tips from other backpackers.
It is time to leave Kandy in the best possible way.
Take one of the most scenic train rides in the world from Kandy to Nuwara Elya, Ella and Badulla…
You will be passing along the mountains; get your camera ready.
You will notice the train station in Kandy will be packed with tourists wanting to join in. The staff at your hostel can actually help you to secure a spot in your ride. Just ask at the reception. They may be able to organize a Tuk-Tuk for you and bring you to a train station before Kandy itself.
This way you have a much bigger chance to score an actual seat.
Good to know: We recommend to bring some water and food with you on the train ride. It will be a long ride.
Once in Ella, there are so many cool things to do, such as the amous Nine Arch Bridge. Find here a guide to the coolest things to do in Ella.
Map of Sights and Top Things to do
Great, you made it this far. Let us reward you with the full map of all the things to do in Kandy we think are worth it.
Here is again a list of our best things to do in Kandy:
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa)
Royal Botanical Garden – Peradeniya
Udawatta Kele Sanctuary
Bhairovakanda Buddha Statue
St.Paul’s Church Kandy
Embekke Devalaya (Embekka Temple)
Hanthana Mountain Range
Traditional Kandy dancing
Explore the local market
Eat, eat and repeat
Visit a spice garden
Attend a cricket game
Temple of the tooth relic
Enjoy the social time at your hostel
Take the scenic train to Ella
How to get to Kandy?
We are sure you will hear about Kandy.
It is the second most large city in Sri lanka and it is the beginning of the magical and scenic train ride through tea plantations. Whatever you do, don’t miss that train ride!
Kandy is very well connected and one of the easiest destinations to reach.
It is just a 3.5hr drive from Colombo and there are also multiple train and bus connections from Colombo to Kandy. Actually you can come here from almost any destination. We took a bus from Trincomalee to get here.
Getting to Kandy by Train
A train ticket will cost you around 2.50 USD if you get on 1st class and less than 1 USD if you get 3rd class. Please always check prices beforehand.
There are also train connections to Anuradhapura and Jaffna in the north, Trincomalee and Batticaloa in the east.
Of course, the train connects Kandy with other hill country towns such as Nuwara Elya, Ella and Badulla…
These towns are part one of the most scenic train rides in the world, so make sure you don’t miss the experience!
Getting to Kandy by bus
There are several bus services available from Colombo and other major destinations such as Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Ella… to Kandy.
If it is your first days in Sri Lanka and you want to travel by bus, bear in mind than the local bus has no air conditioning and takes really long to get from one place to another. It might seem a bit chaotic, as some times you just have to jump out of the buss when your stop arrives, but normally people are helpful and drivers try to stop when foreigners are using the local bus.
Also: Unfortunately Matt was on crutches. People were incredibly helpful with the buses, luggage and seats. Everybody was paying a bit more attention because of the crutches, but in general all people were met were helpful.
Nevertheless, on the major stations, you will also find private companies, offering bus transfers on smaller buses – some of them with air conditioning. Ask before you pay and get in.
On our first bus ride, we took one of the private buses. It is more comfortable than a local bus, and you get indications when you have to get out. Nevertheless, you might also feel packed at some point of the ride.
Getting to Kandy by car/ transfer
Some tourists find traveling in Sri Lanka stressful.
Worry not, you can get a private transfer to any city in Sri Lanka. Just remember to negotiate a discount, as the first price will be inflated. You can also hire a driver for the entirety of your trip, or just for some days.
We did not use this option, therefore I cannot recommend you any diver, but just ask at your accommodation, I am sure they can arrange it.
When is the best time to visit Kandy?
If you ask the locals when is the best time to visit Kandy, they will tell you that the best time is during their festival: The Esala Perahera.
The Esala Perahera is one of grandest (and oldest) of all Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka. It features:
lavishly decorated elephants.
The festival takes during July or August, depending on the full moon.
Please bear in mind: during this festival the elephants will be in chains. It is said, it is for security reasons. If an elephants gets mad, it can become really dangerous. Personally, we felt a bit uneasy about the whole chain issue. On the other hand, you do not want to be disrespectful about the culture.
Hostelgeeks does not promote animal tours.
Bear in mind the city will be fully packed (and the accommodations get booked really early – even one year in advance) as people from all around the country come to the city.
If your concern is the weather, Kandy has quite a constant tropical weather, but it has 2 monsoon seasons. Here we resume the seasons for you:
The dry season in Kandy goes from December to April.
From October to November Kandy experiences 2 monsoon seasons, which bring rain to the area.
If you plan to go trekking, it can get tricky during the monsoon season.
The two monsoons are:
Yala Monsoon (from May to September)
Maha Monsoon (from October to November)
Now that you got the general information about Kandy, get ready!