Kandy is Sri Lanka’s 8th largest biggest city and considered to be one of the holiest places in the country. There are many temples in the city, most notably the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, which might sounds like something lifted from an Indiana Jones movie but is actually a shrine to a tooth relic of the Buddha himself.
One of the highlights inside the temple is a hall that houses around 30 huge paintings, depicting the story and history of the tooth after Buddha’s death (Parinirvana) and how it ended up in Kandy. We found it fascinating up to around painting number 20, which is where it got a little weird and the tooth started flying. I won’t spoil it, but it really is an interesting story and the entire temple and the surrounding area is a fantastic monument.
Because of its central location and railway links, Kandy is a natural staging post for visitors in Sri Lanka. From Kandy, holiday makers are easily able to travel north to the Culture Triangle, or south down down to Ella and the National Parks.
In terms of general vibe: it’s a town that’s very much set out for tourists, both from abroad and local visitors. There’s many shops, restaurants, activities and quirky little hang out spots to discover.
We liked it, and spent most of our time there walking around to the various surrounding temples, trekking paths, lots to do and plenty of places to eat and have a drink. Bare in mind It’s a fairly big city, so getting around does often involve tuk tuks, although if you’re like us and like exploring, it’s possible to walk to the majority of places.
If you’re travelling through Sri Lanka you simply have to go to Kandy. You don’t really have a choice. - it might not be as beautiful as the mountain town of Ella, or as chilled as the coastal regions, but what it lacks in character it makes up for in functionality and stature.
Travelling Sri Lanka, you will most likely need to pass through or near Kandy anyway, so you might as well check it out.
We spent 4 days in Kandy, with 1 day visiting the Culture Triangle a few hours drive north of the city.
In those 4 days we walked a lot (!) and below have put together a list of things we think you should see, eat and anything else we think you might find useful:
Home to a tooth relic from Buddha. The site is a huge temple built for worshippers around the main shrine (pictured below).
We spent around 4 hours at the site and adjacent buildings. You have to take your shoes off, which was a little uncomfortable in the heat as that floor gets hot! but we managed it by quickly tiptoeing through the heat into the shaded areas.
Beware of the monkeys. They’ll steal your crisps and be sure to dress modestly as it is a functioning temple.
The temple of the tooth. The tooth is in this shrine.
On the walk to the Temple of the Sacred tooth is Kandy lake. It’s a huge lake in the middle of Kandy that you can actually walk around if you fancy a stroll.
We did just that, and although it means you’re walking beside main roads for parts of the walk, it was nice to get away from the crowds.
And we saw a crocodile! (i think it was a crocodile, it looked like a huge lizard. or a baby Godzilla.
Simona posing like a 80 year old housekeeper from Alabama here
Lizard, Crocodile or baby Godzilla?
Lovely plants and some peace and quiet from the noise of the city.
They call this the White Buddha Statue, and it’s situated on top of a hill that overlooks Kandy. A bit like Rio and the Jesus statue.
We really enjoyed the walk up to the statue, it was nice and quiet without many people or cars whizzing past. At the statue again you need to dress modestly and pay a small entrance fee.
The statue is impressive, but the best part is the view of Kandy. You can see the entire city from statue and it’s quite an awesome sight.
Here is the White Buddha statue and me. I’m so cool.
Views from the hill en route to the statue
Ok, I was debating on whether to put this in or not as I thought it was terrible. However, we decided that we couldn’t make a list of things to do in Kandy without including the Culture Show at the local community centre.
It goes on for just over an hour and you’re treated to a spectacle of dance, rope flinging and spinning plate balancing. It kind of goes with the territory of being in Kandy, you can’t leave the city without having seen the show. It’s like having and English Breakfast and not ordering beans. The beans aren’t the best things on the plate, they’re not even that nice, but without them can you really say you’re eating a full English? No.
Go see the show. You will regret it, but you’ll feel a strange contentment knowing you did Kandy right.
fascinating stuff this Culture show
We cannot recommend this place enough. You must go there, especially if like Simona you are a plant powered vegan. Even if you’re not, the food is bonkers good.
Try everything! It’s not a restaurant as such, more of a hole in the wall style takeaway food counter with some outside seating. They don’t have an extensive menu, but what do they have is amazing.
After you’ve eaten YOU MUST HAVE THE SOYA ICE CREAM for desert. It’s not even a recommendation, we demand you have it. By far the best vegan ice cream we’ve had anywhere in the world! Not an exaggeration.
Look at her happy little face with her soy ice creams
I’ve had dosa’s before in London so I knew exactly what to expect, but this was Simona’s first time trying the South Indian pancake and I believe she uttered the words “mind blown”.
Bajali Dosa has a very local vibe to it and sell all types of dosa’s at very budget friendly prices.
The standard dosa is the masala dosa which is about 50p and comes with a collection of dips, but you could get other fillings including cheese, garlic, chocolate and chickpeas.
Simona meet dosa.
We found this place quite difficult to locate, as its a little out the way of the main town. It’s a very laid back - backpacker/hostel styled chill out eatery.
That staff were cool and chatty and enjoyed meeting other travellers there.
cool graffiti, man. Hipsters Hideout
On one of the side roads outside the Temple of the tooth is the Empire Cafe. The perfect place for that elusive decent coffee, which believe me, is difficult to find in Sri Lanka.
Ha! I put this on the list because if you’re heading to Kandy you’ll probably end up here because it promises cuisines from all around the world. We had dinner here one night and it wasn’t great if i’m honest. However, the reason I put it on this list is because of its extensive menu. They do everything!
The reason why they’re called Global kitchen is because they make food from all around the world to cater for tourists….from all around the world.
This was our first experience of staying in a family guest house and not only was the apartment huge with amazing mountain views, the family who own the place are just the nicest and most helpful people. Wonderful food too and they helped us arrange our day tour to the Culture Triangle. Please stay here, you won’t regret it. Only downside is that it’s a short walk into town and a little secluded, but well worth it.
Check out there Instagram page here
Huge Balcony. Kandy Jungle View
Huge Breakfast at Kandy Jungle View
And the Kandy Jungle View
The only bad experiences we had was dining at one of the roof top restaurants - Licensed to Grill.
I ordered a chicken wrap and I regretted it as soon as we sat down and I noticed the levels of cleanliness.
The other was at Global Kitchen when i ordered a slice of cake for dessert and they MICROWAVED it to an inch of it’s life. (Yes, I know you just read them in the recommendations bit above).
Hotel Casamara has a rooftop bar which was completely empty when we turned up for a few drinks one night. We didn’t mind, the beer was nice and chilled and views were great - overlooking the streets below and with the White Buddha looking down at us from the hills.
Only issue was one of the Hotel’s staff decided to stand with us all through our time there, showing us card tricks and giving us riddles (which I totally solved every time btw). He then proceeded to tell us how sad his life is and how he doesn’t make much money, before trying to sell his services as a tour guide. It was just a little unpleasant and a bit uncomfortable.
And that’s my last little negative thing about Kandy, the unavoidable desperation of the people trying to sell their services. We were in Kandy only 6 months since the Easter Bombings in 2019, and with the industry still recovering people have become a little pushy when selling. You can forgive them for trying, it is their livelihood after all which had been ripped away from them by the actions of a few deluded numpties.
Just be prepared for it and generally being firm (yet still polite) did the trick. They’re generally a polite bunch the Sri Lankans, and really aren’t trying to offend.
Well that’s our Travel Guide of Kandy. We really hope our experience could be of some help to you.
If you have any questions, or feedback please leave them in the comments section below.
Touch down in Colombo, Sri Lanka and head towards upcountry and on your way back visit the southern coast and return to Colombo in a week.