Kandy, in the lower altitudes of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, is one of the more popular destinations in Sri Lanka. It is well known for its beauty – both in its surrounds and the lake in its centre – and for the Sacred Temple of Buddha’s Tooth, perhaps Sri Lanka’s holiest site. Sharon was very excited to go there, and the city has quite a few things for travellers with and without kids to do.
We passed through Kandy twice. The first time we stayed for a few days after coming from Polonnaruwa. The second time we stayed only for a night to break up the journey from Nuwara Eliya to Colombo and on to Galle.
Kandy is one of Sri Lanka’s largest cities. As such there are many Kandy attractions, and things to see in Kandy as well as around in the nearby area. When we were looking at what to do in Kandy we focused on things that were close to the centre of the city, especially around the lake. Here’s our list of Kandy places to visit:
Of all the things to see in Kandy, this is the most famous and popular draw-card. Built late in the 15th century to house Sri Lanka’s holiest artifact: a tooth of Buddha that came from India in the 4th century. The tooth has massive religious significance to Sri Lanka’s Buddhist community and the temple is quite popular with tourists and followers alike.
There are two entrances to the temple complex, one by the lake to the south, and another at the south west corner of the main part of town, near the Queen’s Hotel and Pizza Hut. Being a religious site, shoulders and knees need to be covered and hats off (this is enforced at the entrances). There is a ticket office near the main steps leading into the temple itself. Next to it is a place to leave your shoes.
There are two ceremonies per day, the first at 9:30 to 11:00 when the temple is open for visitors. Various artifacts are displayed around the main hall. There’s a small library holding many of the original Buddhist texts brought from India and many written thousands of years ago. Out the back of the main hall is a room full of Buddha statues from all around the world, and a brief history of the tooth in captioned illustrations.
Upstairs of the main hall is the “tooth room” where you can see the gold casket that the tooth is kept in. You cannot see the tooth itself. If you’re prepared to wait, you can queue up to go right up close to the room with the casket (which has a window looking into it) but it’s long – praying there gives mega karma and its crowded. You can view the room from further back but you don’t see much and it is almost as busy directly in front.
At the rear of the complex is the World Buddhist Museum, housed in the former British colonial High Court building. Entrance costs extra, but you get to see the history of Buddha and Buddhism around the world. It in itself is considered one of the top places to visit in Kandy but S was not interested so we didn’t go.
Also on site, free and a big hit with S was a large taxidermied tusker elephant, Raja. Something of a national icon, Raja carried the tooth (in its casket) from the temple around Kandy is special annual parades. He died in 1988 and was put on display, looking quite lifelike. It is tucked away to the left of the main hall as you face it.
The temple is one of those “must see” attractions and if you’re in Kandy it makes sense to have on your “Kandy things to do” list. How interesting it is, given you don’t see the tooth and could barely see it’s casket, is debatable and up to the individual although I found it worthwhile. It gets crowded and might be hard for younger kids, although S managed and loved the elephant.
Cost of entry: Rs 1500 per person. Kids should be free but I was made to pay for S. Guides pester you from the ticket window and you should bargain if you’re interested. There is free wifi that provides a free audio guide if you can access it. The shoe minders might “ask” for a Rs 100 fee when you collect your shoes – it isn’t required.
Kandy is built around the scenic Kandy Lake, which runs roughly south-eastwards starting from bottom edge of the main part of the city. There’s a path all the way around it and it makes a great walk, or just an easy, traffic free way to get around by foot. There’s lots of places to sit by the lake, and the lake has plenty of ducks and fish and there are a few vendors where you can buy food to feed them.
S enjoyed our walk (although we didn’t go round the entire thing). The lake is one of the more beautiful places in Kandy to spend some time and should be on your list of things to do in Kandy if you have the time.
At the southwest corner of the lake lies a well maintained playground (you can find it here). There’s a range of equipment for kids of different ages and S and Z had a lot of fun there trying most of it out. The park is popular with locals and we usually saw other kids playing there.
There’s a R 20 fee per adult that helps pay for the upkeep.
We are not big fans of cultural performances. We usually find them more boring than entertaining and prefer to be out exploring, rather than sitting in a theatre. However, we decided to make an exception in Kandy.
We had heard that the dance and drum shows here were very entertaining. That, coupled with the fact that S was very keen to go, meant that we had to give it a try.
We went to a performance at the Kandy Lake Club. The shows are at 5pm and last for about an hour. What is a plus is that when you arrive, you can go into your theatre and pick a seat. They will reserve it for you and you can come back just before the show starts. We were there 45 minutes early and got front row centre. Bonus!
We watched about 10 different cultural dances which included fire dancing and fire eating! At the end there was also some fire walking.
The show was quite dazzling with costume changes and, of course, fire. The dancers rubbed the fire into their hands, up and down their arms and into their mouths. I had difficulty explaining to Miss 4 why this was not something to try at home.
We enjoyed the show and were glad we went. Despite what our guide book said, it was not busy and certainly not filled with tour groups so don’t be turned off! It’s one the best things to see in Kandy.
Entry is 1000 rupees per seat.
There are some well know places to visit near Kandy that we did not have time to see:
We didn’t end up visiting the Botanical Gardens due to the rain. However, not far from the centre of Kandy is a large Botanical Gardens, 60 hectares in size. It is the largest botanical garden in Sri Lanka, with a wide range of plants and flowers, and a lot of open space for kids to run around.
Entry is a crazy Rs 1500 for adults and Rs 550 for kids. Every tuk-tuk driver knows where to go so it shouldn’t be too hard to get to. It is roughly 3.5km from the centre of Kandy.
One of Sri Lanka’s most famous tourist attractions, the Elephant Orphanage has 80 or so elephants roaming the park. One of the highlights is the daily bathing of the elephants, which happens around 10am. Most of the elephants in the park come down to the river to wash and bathe.
Despite the noble aims of the orphanage, reports online and from other travellers we met highlight that it is very much a commercial operation where you can pay to help feed or ride on an elephant, and that elephant welfare is not paramount. It may not be the feel-good elephant experience it once was.
Entry is Rs 2700 per adult, Rs 1250. It is open from 8:30am to 6pm.
There’s a lot of accommodation in Kandy, and given the large amount of tourists who travel to see the places of interest in Kandy, there is a range of levels. These are hotels in Kandy we stayed in:
We stayed in the simple but lovely Renuka Inn. Somewhat off the beaten track and a few hundred metres from the south-east of Kandy Lake. A tall building, it has some great views from the top where the rooms are. Our room had a great balcony, which gave us some wonderful views of the nearby rice paddies and the hills that surround Kandy. It must be one of the best places to stay in Kandy for views of the hills.
The room we stayed in was a triple room, with a double and single bed. It had air conditioning, a fan and a bathroom with fabulous hot water. It was comfortable and quiet.
Our room cost approximately Rs 3450. We booked through Agoda. Renuka Inn is located 29/261/K Ampitiya Road (although to get there you need to turn down Shahtri Kumara Ranasinghe Mw which is the first turn left heading southward down Ampitiya Road, which starts near the south-east corner of Kandy Lake). It’s very much worth the extra couple of dollars to get the balcony room. Click here for more information and to see the latest prices.
We stayed here on the way back from Nuwara Eliya.
A simple and cheap guesthouse near Kandy station and the Goods Shed bus station – it took us 10 minutes of walking. We managed to get a four person room which was a good size and it was comfortable for the night we were there. The air-conditioning did not work too well but the hot water was fine. Being so close to the main bus and train stations for Kandy, there’s a fair amount of noise at all times from trains and buses but it quiet considering this.
It isn’t the best place to stay in Kandy but if you’re arriving late at night or leaving early in the morning by bus or train, then it is good option.
Our room was Rs 2500/AUD24 for the night. Hotel 335 is located at 335 Queens Road, Kandy. Click here for more details.
There are plenty more fabulous places to stay in Kandy. Here are some other options to help you choose where to stay.
Like any big city, there are many places to eat in Kandy. Bakeries and places with short eats are common throughout the city (as in the rest of Sri Lanka). Here are some of the restaurants in Kandy we ate at:
Near our hotel for the second stop in Kandy, the Oak-Ray proved a real find.
Out the front they have a bakery section with a good range of items. There is a seating area with a restaurant further in with a decent range of dishes from Rs 300.
The service was excellent, the drinks were cold, there was beer (a bit of a rarity) but best of all there was a kids play area at the rear, which our kids loved. One of the nicest dining experiences we’ve had in Sri Lanka, and our number one Kandy restaurant experience.
Located on Queens Road.
A small and simple restaurant, located next to the tennis courts at the south eastern corner of Kandy Lake. They serve typical Sri Lankan food and a smattering of “Chinese” and Western dishes (although many dishes were unavailable when we asked). Nothing is too expensive, lots of things are Rs 200 or less. It is at the east end of the lake next to the playground.
Next Door to the Garden Cafe was a small place that was open for breakfast and lunch and sometimes dinner. It had large serves Rice and Curry meals for Rs 150 (with chicken) or less – eat in or take away. It had some short eats and snacks as well.
S and myself were trapped by the rain after our visit to the temple and so went in here for some Western pizzas. The pizzas weren’t bad and you could get little 1 person pizzas from Rs 300+, medium 2 person pizzas from Rs 650+ (although most are more) or large ones from about Rs 1200.
We travelled to and from Kandy twicetaking both buses and trains.
We took regular public bus from Polonnaruwa to Kandy. The trip took four hours and cost us a total of Rs 504 for four seats (adults were Rs 168, kids 84). While the bus wasn’t air conditioned and could get a bit squishy as people got on and off the room was not too bad. Lots of open windows meant it never got too hot.
We took the train on this route. Read more here.
While you can take a regular bus to Kandy from Nuwara Eliya, we opted for a “luxury” express bus. The luxury bus has air conditioning but is more cramped then the public bus. It is faster, however, taking two hours rather than four. For either option the roads are windy, so if you are susceptible to motion sickness take the train. The luxury bus cost Rs 219 per seat – no discounts for children.
We could not catch the train directly to Galle, so we had to travel via Colombo.
When trying to reserve ahead of time, we were only able to book the first class observation car to Colombo which was nice. Fully air conditioned with extra comfortable seats it made the two and a half hour journey seem very quick. Tickets were Rs 800 for an adult and Rs 400 per child.
You can read more information about all our journeys in our Sri Lanka travel guide.
Three wheelers were easily available. Very short trips could be had for 100 rupees, but to get from one end of the lake to the other tended to cost 200 or more, depending on traffic. At certain times they tended to ask for quite high prices (500+ rupees) when it suited them (rain, busy traffic, lots of potential customers). If this happens, walk for a bit and you will find someone more reasonable.
The part of Kandy near the east end of the lake was a good place to stay with kids. The playground was fantastic to let off some steam. Once you are on the lake, there are some nice paths, and its a lovely walk into town.
Poor Z was ill and didn’t get to experience much with Kandy (either did his mummy), but S loved looking at ducks and fish on the lake, really enjoyed the cultural performances and found the temple interesting (she’s asking questions about religion recently, and so the temple visit piqued her current curiosity).
We spent an average of Rs 9,600 a day in Kandy, including accommodation and a massive Rs 1330 on laundry. We are not finding laundry good value in Sri Lanka.
Food was relatively inexpensive, however getting around could add up as we needed 3-Wheelers for the first place we stayed.
Our stay in Kandy was marred by rain which impacted our time there. We didn’t do as many Kandy tourist attractions as we had hoped. Still, we were able to do its main attraction- the Temple of the Sacred Tooth – and enjoy one of its highlights in the beautiful Kandy Lake. The lake makes Kandy a pleasant place, even for one of Sri Lanka’s larger centres.
When it wasn’t raining, we benefited from Kandy’s altitude with slightly cooler weather and less humidity. This, combined with the nice vistas and lakes, makes Kandy a lovely place to visit.
If you’ve been to Kandy, we would love to hear your tips! Otherwise, feel free to ask any questions!
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