Kandy in Sri Lanka was the last capital of the Sinhala kings and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Read on for the top places to visit in Kandy!
Have you heard of Kandy in Sri Lanka? It’s one of the most famous places to visit in Sri Lanka: 9 out of 10 times, visitors will have Kandy on their Sri Lanka itinerary. The city was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, and is one of the most important cultural and religious epicenters in Sri Lanka.
But here’s the thing: Kandy is a fairly hectic city and my personal recommendation would be to stay outside of the city to get away from the hustle and bustle. For those visiting the Cultural Triangle in Sri Lanka, you can easily check out the top places in Kandy in a day. Read on for things to do and see if you only have 1 day in Kandy!
How to get to Kandy
Kandy is located inland, pretty much bam smack in the middle of Sri Lanka. It is approximately 120 KM away from Colombo, and the drive from Colombo to Kandy will take 3 hours. If you’ve read some of my other Sri Lanka travel guides and tips, you’ll know that the fastest and easiest way to travel around Sri Lanka is by car, especially if you are short on time.
Most hotels can help you to book a private car and driver – a one way transfer from Colombo to Kandy or Kandy to Colombo will cost you anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 LKR (the actual fare may be higher due to the currency devaluation and soaring fuel prices). Alternatively, you can take a train or bus if you are on a budget: read more about taking the train between Colombo and Kandy here.
Where to stay in Kandy
Instead of staying in Kandy city, I recommend staying at Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge or Rukgala Retreat. These two beautiful boutique hotels near Kandy are approximately 45 minutes away from the city and offer a peaceful setting with views for days.
Madulkelle offers luxury glamping tents surrounded by lush tea plantations, and Rukgala Retreat has bedrooms overlooking the mountains as well as twice-daily Yoga classes in their stunning open-air shala. Click here to see availability and current rates at Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge, click here to check current rates and room availability at Rukgala Retreat or click here to see more highly rated hotel options in and around Kandy!
Sri Lanka has incredible accommodation options to suit all budgets around the island. Click here for some of my favorite boutique and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka!
You can plan a day trip to Kandy for sightseeing from either hotel, just make sure you ask your tuk tuk or car driver to stick with you for the day. Make sure you agree on a price first – it’s important not to get into a tuk tuk unless you’ve agreed on a price, including their rates for waiting. Click here for 14 other things you shouldn’t do when you travel to Sri Lanka!
Unmissable things to do in Kandy
Wondering what to do in Kandy? There are a handful of places you should add to your Kandy itinerary. You’ll find that you can easily visit the different sights within 1 day, or you could also spread them over 2 days in Kandy if you are not short on time and would rather make the most of your time in this cultural capital city. Read on for places to visit in Kandy in 1 day!
1. Visit Sri Dalada Maligawa AKA the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. It houses the relic of the tooth of the Buddha, which is believed to have been retrieved from the Buddha’s funeral pyre by one of his disciples. Safeguarding the relic was the responsibility of the King, as it was regarded as a symbolic representation of the Buddha, and he who held the relic had the right to rule.
Take your time walking through the Temple of the Tooth – it is a sacred place of worship for Buddhists and many devotees travel from across Sri Lanka to visit and give offerings at Sri Dalada Maligawa. Ensure that you are mindful of that during your visit – I would encourage you not to take photos of people without their consent during prayer, and many shrine rooms do not allow photography as well.
The sacred shrine room where Buddha’s tooth is kept opens a few times a day at 5:30 AM, 9:30 AM and 6:30 PM (but you cannot see the tooth itself). During this time the temple can get extremely busy and drummers wearing traditional Kandyan clothing perform rituals as well. The temple is open from 5:30 AM to 7:30 PM and is open every day. Make sure you also visit the Octagon and Pallemale Vihara shrine rooms.
In order to enter the Royal Palace Complex, it is important to be dressed appropriately – your shoulders and knees must be covered, and you must remove your shoes before you enter the temple. The dress code at the Temple of the Tooth is extremely strict!
Entry costs 1500 LKR (bring exact change – cash only) and can be purchased from the ticket machines to the right of the entrance. If you are from India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangalesh, Bhutan or Afghanistan your entrance fee will cost 1000 LKR.
2. Learn about Buddhism at the International Buddhist Museum
Adjacent to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is the International Buddhist Museum. The cost of entry is included in your Temple of the Tooth ticket, and no photos or videos can be taken inside. It is one of the best places to visit in Kandy and offers an in-depth look into the history and philosophies of Buddhism around the world.
Wondering where to stay if you are visiting Kandy? Head to Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge for the ultimate glamping experience and a panoramic view of the “closed fist”. The property also features a infinity pool, on-site spa and incredible restaurant. Click here to check rates and availability at Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge!
I also love Rukgala Retreat just outside of Kandy city where you can join twice-daily Yoga classes and eat the most delicious vegetarian fare. Click here to check availability and current rates at Rukgala Retreat in central Sri Lanka or check out even more options in and around Kandy.
3. Walk around Kandy Lake
Kandy Lake is a lake in the heart of the city and located right next to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. It is a man-made lake that was built in 1807 by King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, the last ruler of the Kingdom of Kandy.
The lake dominates the landscape of Kandy, and on a clear day you should go for a gentle stroll to take in the city views – it’s one of the most beautiful places in Kandy if you’re looking for a picturesque getaway.
4. Visit the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha
The Big Buddha statue in Kandy is one of the tallest in Sri Lanka, and offers unbeatable views across the city. The temple is located just outside of Kandy city, and displays Buddha in a seated pose overlooking everything below. There is a set of stairs located at the back where you can climb about mid-way for a higher vantage point, and also leads to a small chamber with murals depicting the life of Buddha. Though it is one of the most popular tourist places in Kandy, it tends to be fairly peaceful, quiet and uncrowded.
Entry costs 250 LKR and you’ll need to take your shoes off before entering – bring some small change for the shoe minder, and make sure you have some socks as the ground gets blistering hot.
5. Check out the Kandy city view point
This free view point in Kandy is one of the best places for panoramic views of the city. Almost every tuk tuk driver will know how to get there – don’t skip this pavilion if you only have 1 day in Kandy.
Ready to book your trip to Sri Lanka? I recommend staying at Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge or Rukgala Retreat outside of Kandy city. Click here to see availability and current rates at Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge, click here to check current rates and room availability at Rukgala Retreat or click here to see more highly rated hotel options in and around Kandy!
6. Stop at the Red Mosque
The Red Mosque is located a stone’s throw from the Temple of the Tooth, and like the Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid in Colombo, has a unique red and white candy cane-esque exterior. It is on a busy road, and each day Muslim devotees visit the mosque for daily prayers while tuk tuks zip and zoom their way through traffic.
7. Tour the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya
The Royal Botanical Gardens is one of the top places to see in Kandy, except it’s actually just outside of Kandy City. The sprawling grounds cover 147 acres and date back to the 14th century; today, it is home to a national nerbarium, fernery, palm avenues, flower and spice gardens and more. Though it is an extremely popular tourist destination in Kandy, you’ll want to make sure that you visit when the weather is good. I went on a rainy day so it was extremely gloomy – not exactly garden-touring weather!
Entry costs 3000 LKR per adult or 1500 LKR per child, and the gardens are open from 7:30 AM – 6:00 PM every day (ticketing ends at 5 PM).
Is it worth visiting Kandy?
To be completely candid, of all the places I’ve visited in Sri Lanka, Kandy is probably my least favourite. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to who has visited Kandy hasn’t been that fond of the city either – it can feel almost frantic and overwhelming. But here’s the thing: it’s on most Sri Lanka itineraries because of its deep cultural and religious roots and history. For first timers to Sri Lanka, I would recommend stopping over in the greater Kandy region for at least 1 to 2 nights – just stay at an awesome boutique hotel outside of the city so that you can experience the nature that surrounds Kandy.
If you have 2 days in Kandy, venture into the city for 1 day of sightseeing, and spend the other day lounging by the pool, practicing Yoga, hiking through the UNESCO-listed Knuckles Mountain Range, swimming in waterfalls or visiting a tea plantation.
Where to go after Kandy
If you’re traveling from north to south, head to Nuwara Eliya, Ella or the south coast of Sri Lanka. You can either take a car or hop on the most picturesque train journey in Sri Lanka through hill country.
Ready to explore Kandy? I recommend staying at Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge or Rukgala Retreat outside of Kandy city. Click here to see availability and current rates at Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge, click here to check current rates and room availability at Rukgala Retreat or click here to see more highly rated hotel options in and around Kandy!
Planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Here are some quick logistics must-knows:
✈️ To get into Sri Lanka by air you will fly into Bandaranaike International Airport (airport code: CMB).
🛂 Most visitors will need to apply for a Sri Lanka e-visa (except for nationals of Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles) but can be done online. It usually takes 24-48 hours for the visa approval to come through via e-mail. You can also get a Sri Lankan visa upon arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport.
💱 The currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee (different from the Indian Rupee), and the official exchange rate currently varies from approximately 300-330 LKR: 1 USD/Euro or 200 LKR: 1 AUD. Exchange some money upon arrival or withdraw some from ATMs in major cities like Colombo and Galle.
📱 Local SIM cards and data packages can be picked up at the airport. You can buy a 30-day Sri Lanka SIM card from Mobitel here (the booth is located in the arrivals hall after you pick up your luggage) and top it up during your stay at any Food City supermarket or local Mobitel shop.
👚 The primary religion in Sri Lanka is Buddhism, so be mindful of your attire when you visit temples. While there is no strict dress code it can be considered culturally offensive to walk around towns and villages wearing extremely revealing outfits – the same goes for men and women. Read more on what not to do in Sri Lanka here.
💵 In general there is no need to tip if your hotel or restaurant has included a service charge. However, a small tip is always appreciated by people in the service industry (such as porters, housekeeping staff, waiters etc.) and tuk tuk drivers.
🛏️ There are a variety of hotel options suiting every budget: budget hotels can cost anywhere from US$30-50/night, mid-range hotels from US$75-120/night and luxury hotels from US$150-200/night and upwards. l always recommend booking hotels in advance when you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, as popular hotels fill up quickly – click here for some of the best tried-and-tested boutique and luxury hotels to stay at in Sri Lanka or explore more Sri Lanka hotel options here.
Have you visited Kandy? What did you think? Tell me all about it below!
Headed to Sri Lanka? You might also find these helpful:
- Not sure what to start? Check out this easy 2 week Sri Lanka itinerary
- Avoid making travel mistakes in Sri Lanka with this insider guide
- Yoga lovers should also look into staying at Rukgala Retreat, also located near Kandy
- Make sure you go on a day trip to Knuckles Mountain Range for stunning views, waterfalls and a visit to a local village for lunch
- Need more inspiration? Here are some of the top travel destinations to visit in Sri Lanka
- For more Sri Lanka travel tips and recommendations head on over here
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