Kandy Travel Guide
Despite being Sri Lanka’s second largest city, Kandy is a world away from Colombo. Situated in the hills, surrounded by peaks and lush rainforest, this place lacks the chaos of its coastal cousin.
Come check out our Kandy travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
Start your tour of this magnificent city by visiting the Royal Palace of Kandy. Up until the early 19th century, it was the seat of the Sri Lankan monarchy. The British put a stop to that, but fortunately, they left the palace intact for future generations to appreciate.
Its history goes back to the mid-14th century, with King Vickramabahu III being the first royal to occupy it. Over its existence, the royal court built numerous palaces to accommodate nobles, their guests, and the kingdom’s business.
It will take the better part of a day to see everything. As such, we advise dedicating your first day in Kandy to this task.
Of all the buildings in the Royal Palace’s compound, none are as famous as the Temple of the Tooth. Historians believe the abbots of this temple acquired a tooth of the Buddha long ago. This relic had become so treasured that the people thought whoever possessed the tooth had the divine right to rule the country.
Thanks to its well-preserved architecture and the presence of an auspicious relic, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the tooth is well-guarded, and thus, hidden from view, other attractions do exist. Its paintings, statues, and ornate hallways are stunning, as is the golden and gem-encrusted case that contains the tooth.
Try to plan your visit for Wednesday. On this day, ritualistic bathing of the tooth takes place, after which the monks distribute the holy water to those present.
Before leaving the royal compound, take a stroll through the International Buddhism Museum. Assembled through the contribution of 17 countries, it tells the story of Buddhism, from its origins to the present. From the precepts of this religion to its iconic statues, you’ll get a better sense for this popular faith.
Farmers have carpeted the mountainous interior of Sri Lanka with tea plantations. Learn the history of this industry by dropping by the Ceylon Tea Museum. It is located four kilometres out of town inside the old Hantane Tea Factory, so you’ll need to take local transportation out to the site.
When you arrive, you’ll get to see the machinery that processed tea leaves back in the early 20th century. There’s also exhibits on the tycoons that helped put this island nation on the map for tea. After your tour, you’ll get to sample a range of drinks created from this miracle plant.
Want to leave the tourist crowds behind for a bit? You can do that with ease by taking a step into the Udawattekele Sanctuary. Translating to “the garden above the royal palace,” you’ll see how it was fit for a king.
As you stroll through its 104 hectares, keep your eyes peeled for barking deer, mouse deer, macaques, and other endemic wildlife. Orchids are also common, so have your phone handy to capture them.
The British held Sri Lanka for more than a century, but some occasionally met their end while in Kandy. Visit their graves at the Kandy Garrison Cemetery. Headstones of note include that of Sir John D’Oyly, who negotiated the surrender of the Kandyan kingdom. Remember: even though families laid the last person to rest in 1953, act respectfully. Think about how you would like strangers to act before the graves of your loved ones, and respond appropriately.
Enjoy a moment of relaxation and reflection by spending time at Kandy Lake. Known as the “sea of milk” for its creamy colour, the royal court of Kandy created it in 1807. Formerly a rice field, palace engineers crafted a dam to flood it. Their masterpiece: an artificial island with a centrepiece fountain. According to local lore, the king had a tunnel built to the isle so his harem could bathe there.
Today, its shores bear palms and fruit-bearing trees and have paths suitable for jogging. Swimming is not allowed, as its waters have become too polluted from generations of runoff.
Get an epic panoramic view of the city of Kandy from Arthur’s Seat. Locals say it got its name from a British tea planter of the same name. His estate used to sit here, and on the property, he had a stone seat where he admired the view of the city below.
More than 1,000 tourists per day take in the view from this vantage point. If you are a professional photographer, get here early to secure the best angles.