Kandy is Sri Lanka's second biggest city, so if you come thinking it will be like one of the small hill country towns you will be in for a bit of a shock. Pretty much everyone passes through Kandy on their way to visiting the Hill Country and Tea Plantations, and it's a good place to break your journey.
Whilst it won't be the highlight of your trip to Sri Lanka, there's plenty of things to keep you busy while you wait for the train to Nuwara Eliya and beyond.
Here's some of the best things to do in Kandy.
1. Temple of the Tooth
One of the holiest places in Buddhism, the Temple of the Tooth is the "must-do attraction" in Kandy. It is home to one of the Buddha's teeth, a relic left from his trip to Sri Lanka. But don't expect to actually see the tooth itself, it has been encased in a golden shrine which you can see from a distance every evening from 6.30pm. This ceremony is full of loud music and has a buzz about the place (but you'll also be surrounded by a million other people!).
To see the tooth you must form a long queue which snakes around the building, you shuffle along until you reach the opening where you are given approximately two seconds to sneak a peek, before the monks move you on. You can bring an offering if you wish. Lotus flowers are sold everywhere in and around the temple.
The complex is pretty big and the temple is nice enough, but it won't blow you away. Make sure you cover your knees and shoulders (this also applies to men) as otherwise you can't get in. Entry to the Temple is a hefty 1,500 Rupees per person ($10 USD).
Overall we think the ceremony is the most interesting part to observe and that's the bit we won't forget. Try to time your visit to coincide.
Getting there - The Temple of the Tooth is in the centre of Kandy, so is pretty easy to get to.
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2. Kandy Viewpoint at sunset
This viewpoint on the side of one of the hills offers a pleasant view of Kandy at sunset. You look out to the Big Buddha in the distance and the lake directly in front of you. It's the prettiest view we saw in Kandy, especially at golden hour, and the city looks much better from above than it does at ground level.
Whilst it's pleasant, the viewpoint is a platform at the side of the road, so it's a place to come and look and take some photos, but not sit and relax.
Getting there - The viewpoint is alongside a road with no footpath, so it's best to get a tuk-tuk. Use the app Pick Me or hail a tuk-tuk from town for about 100 -200 Rupees (about $1-1.50 USD).
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3. Cultural Dance
Probably the best thing to do in Kandy, the cultural dances give an insight into the ancient traditions of Sri Lanka. The costumes are elaborate and we liked the fact that you get a sheet explaining the significance of each of the dances, this really added to the experience.
One of them is even still thought to be successful in treating psychiatric conditions today! The dances were varied and some included acrobatics and fire eating.
We went to the Kandy Lake Club (there are two other venues but I'm not sure there is much to choose between them) where you sit in an old theatre. There were plenty of seats empty in low season but in high season you might want to arrive a little early (the show starts at 5pm sharp). It's a nice way to spend an evening and entry is 1,000 Rupees per person ($7.50 USD).
Getting there - The Kandy Lake Club is set up on a hill above the town centre and requires a tuk-tuk to visit easily. This should only cost 100-200 Rupees ($1 - 1.50 USD).
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4. Big Buddha (Bahirawakanda Vihara)
You've probably seen bigger and more impressive Buddhas elsewhere, but the one in Kandy is set on top of a hill and offers interesting enough views. We wouldn't say it's something you must-do if you are short for time, but if this is your first trip to Asia (and you haven't seen a Buddha stupa before) then definitely check it out.
Women must have covered legs, if you don't have anything they will lend you a sarong for free. We could take or leave the Buddha but did enjoy sitting on the steps and looking out to the city.
Getting there - The road to the Big Buddha is steep and windy. Ask a tuk-tuk to take you to Bahirawakanda Buddha and it will cost about 200 rupees ($1.50 USD).
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5. Do a good deed and get a great coffee in the process
Buono is probably the best coffee shop we've been to in the whole of Sri Lanka and it also supports the local community. Tucked away behind the railway station, Buono offers tea, coffees, burgers and a few other snacks.
We found the coffee was really good and we loved the Kiri Pani (curd, honey and banana). The smoothies and donuts were also very tasty.
It is also for a really good cause, helping children in poverty through support and education. Spending a bit of money here will help the side of life in Sri Lanka tourists often don't see. It's really cheap which we couldn't understand for the quality. A pot of tea was only 50 rupees (40c USD)!
Getting there - Take a tuk-tuk to the Lamagaraya Road by the railway station. From here there's plenty of signs into the building.
6. Kandy lake
The lake in Kandy is a pleasant place for a stroll and at night offers some nice reflections with the street lights and the city.
However it has a very busy road that surrounds it, so your peace and tranquility will come to an abrupt end once the car horns and diesel engines get going. The quietest section is by the Temple of the Tooth.
7. Get the train to Nuwara Eliya and beyond
The main reason many people go to Kandy is to start a trip to the hill country and going by train is by far the best way to do it. A highlight in itself, the train ride is through spectacular scenery and known as the most beautiful train journey in Sri Lanka.
Top tip: On the train to Nuwara Eliya sit on the right hand side of the train. The views are far more spectacular, with forest, tea plantations and huge open views. It really is a train journey you will never forget. After Nuwara Eliya we think the views are better on the left.
Where to stay in Kandy
The biggest problem with accommodation in Kandy is the noise. The roads are busy most of the day, so getting a hotel or guesthouse in the centre of town will leave you sleep deprived.
Our Pick - Richmond House
This is why the Richmond House is a great choice. It's set in the hillside away from the main roads and is really quiet. It is decorated in an old colonial style and is clean, comfortable and great value. It also has great views. We really enjoyed our stay here!
Luxury - Theva Residency
If you have a bigger budget we'd recommend taking a look at the Theva Residency. This hotel is further from the city centre but set in lush grounds, with an amazing infinity pool. We heard a lot of good things about this hotel.
Budget - Sevana City Hotel
We didn't book our hotel in advance and if Richmond House had been too expensive the Sevana City Hotel was our next choice. The hotel gets great reviews for clean, comfortable and affordable rooms.
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Are you planning a trip to Kandy? Have you been and think we missed somewhere? Let us know in the comments below!
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