Discover Kandy while you experience the magnificent celebration of history, religion and culture as the city pulsates to the sound of drum beats.Sheltered in a natural forest and meandering rivers, amidst hills and steep mountains of a plateau, sits the last stronghold of the last Sinhala kingdom of Sri Lanka, Kandy, radiates an old world charm steeped in rich history and heritage. It is the second largest city in Sri Lanka and is the portal to Sri Lanka’s breathtaking hill country. The city spreads across 27 square kilometres of lush valley, 465 metres above sea level, inside a broad loop of the Mahaweli River and 115 kilometres away from Colombo.
Kandy, steeped in tradition and history, holds in prestige in bearing the key to the centre and heritage of Buddhism for it is home to the Temple of the Tooth – Sri Dalada Maligawa, a golden shrine dedicated to the enshrinement of one of the most sacred relics of Buddha, the relic of his tooth hidden in a golden casket. 1988 saw its declaration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A city of harmony and culture, Kandy comes alive during the month of July or August as the Temple of the Tooth celebrates its annual street parade known as the Kandy Perahera, a time of jubilation with colour, dance, drums and bedecked majestic elephants. The sacred relic enshrined within a golden chest, gently carried on a magnificently dressed tusker, is the heart of the Perahera. This glorious, age-old procession is undeniably one of the most spectacular celebrations in Asia.
Kandy town is endlessly abuzz with frenzied activity. The railway station and the market are scenes of chaos mixed up in human dramatics. The town’s old charm is reflected by many of the colonial buildings and little shops that sit in anarchic fashion. It is here where many of Sri Lanka’s arts and crafts thrive, in particular the silver and brass crafts and gems. The market is the central core in the economic development and distribution for the tea-producing hill country.
A flight of steps leads to a 88 foot tall statue of Lord Buddha which sits amidst the gorgeous and scenic view of Kandy, known as the Bahirawakanda Vihara, also as the Big Buddha Statue.
The heart of Kandy city is the Kandy Lake, an artificial lake of beauty where time stands still. It was created by the last king of Kandy Kingdom, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe in 1807. A stroll by the lake is lovely and relaxing for one to experience, witnessing the serenity of the lake with the majestic Temple of the Tooth on the side.
On the outskirts of Kandy, is the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, now renamed as the Royal Botanical Gardens which is the largest botanical garden in Sri Lanka and one of the finest in Asia. It is located in Peradeniya which is 20 minutes away from Kandy. Stretching over 142 acres, it is believed to have attracted almost 2 million visitors every year. While it was formally established under British dominion in 1843, the park bears history dating back to the 14th century bound to the Kandyan Kingdom.
The Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) is open daily from 6am to 4pm. Entry fee is USD $17/- for Foreign Nationals. Modest dress with shoulders and knees covered and footwear will be required to be removed. Other places among the many historic sites are the Lankathilaka and Galadeniya temples and the Embekke Devalaya.
The Victoria Golf and Country Resort is located 40 minutes away from Kandy. The bus and train have services that would connect you to almost every corner of the country. Accommodation options comprise a range from luxury boutique hotels, mid-range hotels and budget guesthouses.
Embrace the personal charm of this ancient citadel with reflection to the lives of royal kings and British tea planters with experiences that are plenty; making your stay, a delightful retreat in the hill valleys.
History reveals that the original roots of charming Kandy was stemmed in the nearby city of Gampola which is 14 kilometres away from the city. Kandy was referred to as the Kingdom of Kandy back in the late 14th century, which served as the royal seat for the reigning King Wickramabahu and his successors. Kandy was originally named as Senkadagala Pura. The name ‘Kandy’ originated from the Portuguese word ‘Candea’ for ‘Kanda Uda Rata’ which means ‘Land on the Mountain’. The locals call it ‘Mahanuwara’ which means ‘Great City’. This great city gained ground as a fortified base to combat the colonial invaders since it is centrally located in the heart of the island, therefore providing a challenging task for any conquest. This enabled the development and enhancement of an independent kingdom by the last royal kings till the British successfully invaded it in 1815.
The unmistakable British mark on the city is clearly reflected in its infrastructure and architecture. Many schools still carry the British names and the notable Queen’s Hotel was previously used as the governor’s residence. The reassignment and re-employment of Kandyan paddy farmers for the cultivation of tea and coffee yielded a gifted tea trade for the British which remained as a lifelong heritage of renowned tea for Sri Lanka, positioning it among the top in the world of tea. The British inaugurated and established a valuable public transportation system, the railways, the sole purpose in facilitating the distribution and logistics of tea, thereby enabling reach to every corner in the island.
Although enriched with a historical heritage in sheltering the sacred Temple of the Tooth and being the centre of Buddhism, Kandy evolves with the ever changing world, yet retains its charm and unique legacy.
How to Get There
Being a centrally located city, Kandy can easily be accessed from all regions of the island. It is also the mid-point of entry to the hill country. Kandy can be reached by train, bus, air or car. Booking reservations and car rental arrangements can be arranged by our tour consultants at Epic Sri Lanka Holidays.
By Rail – Travelling to Kandy from Colombo by train is the most favoured option since it is comfortable, cheap and is certainly an adventure. The journey is spectacular with gorgeous and breathtaking sceneries along the way. It is also a great opportunity to sit among the local people and familiarise with the country and culture. Many trains operate daily from Colombo. Early mornings are available from both destinations. Travel time is approximately 2.5 hours.
There are different types of trains you can get from Colombo Fort station – Intercity, Express trains and Colombo Commuter. The Intercity trains are the fastest. Reservations are needed for Intercity trains which gives you reserved seats.
By Bus – Many buses commute between Colombo and Kandy several times daily through day and night. More buses are in operation during the Perahera period. Public and Private Buses start from the Central Bus Stand in Pettah, Colombo. The intercity air-conditioned bus is another option for a more comfortable journey. The journey takes almost 3 hours.
By Air – Cinnamon Air, Sri Lanka’s domestic carrier operates flights from Water’s Edge, Battaramulla which is a 20 minute drive from Colombo City to Kandy. Upon arrival in Kandy, it touches down in the Polgolla Reservoir which is about 6 kilometres from the city of Kandy. Although it is an expensive option, it is certainly the fastest and has the most scenic view from the skies. It operates twice daily.
By Road – whether you decide to drive, taxi or rent a car, road travel can be the most common option. You can take the A01 route which is the Kandy road and it takes approximately 3-4 hours. Alternative route is to take the E03 (Colombo-Katunayake Expressway) and as you get off the expressway, head on to Kurunegala passing the Katunayake airport which then proceeds to Kandy.
Epic Sri Lanka Holidays tour consultants can make arrangements for taxi hire or car rental for your own convenience.
From Trincomalee – There are no direct train rides from Trincomalee to Kandy but there are plenty of buses running throughout the day daily from the main bus stand in Trincomalee. However, it is much recommended to travel by car since its hassle free and a direct drive to Kandy. You can either hire a taxi or rent a car with driver in which tour consultants can make arrangements for you.
From Sigiriya – Apart from driving to Kandy from Sigiriya by either car rental or taxi services which can be arranged for you by our tour consultants at Epic Sri Lanka Holidays, there are direct ordinary buses that leave Sigiriya for Kandy once daily at 06:30am. Alternatively, a tuk-tuk ride to Dambulla which is approximately 20 minutes away, can get you on direct buses to Kandy.
From Nuwara Eliya – There are express trains from Nanu Oya in Nuwara Eliya that operate 4 times daily to Kandy. The train journey gives beautiful views of the scenic hilly landscapes in Sri Lanka. Travel time is 3.5 – 4 hours. Tickets can be booked in advance to reserve good seats. Alternative options are to travel by bus and car. There are air-conditioned Intercity buses from Nuwara Eliya via Hatton to Kandy which would take approximately 4 hours. Car drive would take roughly 2.5 hours.
Shopping in Kandy is generally popular for gems, jewellery and antiques. For Antiques, you can visit Waruna Antiques on Peradeniya Road. Colombo Street in the town centre has many gem arcades and jewellery stores. The Kandy Market Hall is a hub where tea, spices, batiks and souvenirs would interest every tourist.
Kandy Perahara: Every year, during the month of August, Kandy’s moment of glory takes centre place when the grand spectacle of the Esala Perahera journeys through the city streets. The Lord Buddha is revered in a festivity of colour, tradition, culture, music and dance for ten days and nights revelling around a magnificent elephant carrying the tooth relic of Buddha in a golden casket. It is renowned as one of the greatest parades in Asia.
Since Kandy is situated at a higher elevation than Colombo, its climate is much milder and cooler but warmer than other towns in the upper hill country. The best time to visit Kandy is during the months of December and May. October is usually the wettest month.
Food & Drink
The food of Kandy is very traditional since it stems from earlier generations and cultures of the villages. Traditional rice and curry is the main. Speciality is given to a dish called Fish Ambul Thiyal which means sour fish pot roast, a delectable curry made with spices and tamarind or garcinia paste (Goraka in Sinhala) which gives the sour flavour to the dish. In most villages, lunch is served in cane baskets with the curries wrapped in banana leaves. Well known sweetmeats are Kavum, Kokis and asmi which are generously prepared for special occasions like the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.
There are many eateries and roadside cafes in the heart of the city. Most popular is the Bake House which is well recommended for their savoury short eats and pastries. The History Restaurant has an interior filled with monochromatic pictures of Old Kandy and its history and it serves both Sri Lankan and Western cuisine. The Kandy Muslim Hotel is a small and lively eatery offering the best of traditional and hearty Sri Lankan cuisine offering food, from plate-sized naans and extremely spicy curries to tasty samosas and delicious koththu roti.
Popular mention is of the Empire Cafe, owned by the Kandy House, which was opened in the old Empire building and it serves fresh coffee, selected teas and snacks. For Chinese cuisine, Flower Song serves food which is catered more for the Sri Lankan palate. A popular tourist hangout is The Pub which is situated on top of Bake House and it serves a variety of western food.
However for those who indulge in Fine Dining there are many places to suit their palate. A heritage property as of Queen’s Hotel which is in the middle of the city along the Kandy Lake, serves some fine dining buffet style dishes at their main restaurant. Helga’s Folly is an artistic boutique hotel that offers home cooked fusion cuisine which can be served according to the guest’s tastes and preferences. Bookings in advance are required. The Kandy House reflects a beautiful and immaculately styled boutique hotel which was an ancestral mansion that has been refurbished. It is situated very close to Kandy town and has very traditional interiors with antique furniture and pictures of Kandyan history. It serves Sri Lankan and fusion cuisine and advance bookings are required. Another gorgeous boutique property is the Theva Residency situated in the peaceful Hantane Mountain range with breathtaking views of Kandy. They offer an interesting range of cuisines including Sri Lankan, Middle Eastern, and Western cuisine.
The Temple of the Tooth – Kandy’s pride and prestige, the Temple of the Tooth – Sri Dalada Maligawa is the city’s most sacred and vital attraction. Its significance reflects to the legacy of the tooth relic of Lord Buddha being encased in a golden chest.
Kandy Esala Perahera – Kandy welcomes thousands of people in celebration paying homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic during the month of July or August. This perahera procession is held in commemoration of the first teaching given by Lord Buddha after he had gained enlightenment. Music, colour, pomp and pageantry adorn every corner of Kandy. It lasts for ten days and nights prior to the Esala Poya day. This spectacular, age-old procession is one of the oldest and most grand pageants in Asia.
Royal Palace of Kandy – The Royal Palace of Kandy, a remaining part of history dating back to the 1400s is hidden among the valleys of the city symbolizing the realm of the last Kandyan King, Wickrama Rajasinghe.
Kataragama Devalaya – Kataragama Devalaya is one of the Hatara Devale in Kandy, in which the other three being the Natha, Vishnu and Patini. These four Devalayas have a long affiliation with the Royal Palace and the Temple of Tooth Relic and has been revered by Buddhists and Hindus. The temple is dedicated to the deity of Kataragama who is one of the popular deities of Sri Lanka since he is believed to be able to grant wishes
Lankatilaka Temple – The Lankatilaka Temple or the Blue Temple was established during the Gampola era under the realm of King Bhuvanekabahu IV. It was built with beautiful Sinhalese architecture. Dedicated to many deities, apart from Lord Buddha, they are Vishnu, Saman, Vibhishna, Ganapathi, Skandhakumara and Kumara Bandara.
Gadaladeniya Temple – Believed to be one of the wonderful constructions of Buddhist Temple Architecture, the Gadaladeniya Temple is situated in Pilimathalawa, Kandy and was built during the kingdom of Gampola by King Bhuvanekabahu IV in 1344 AD. It was built with inspiration from South Indian architecture.
Embekke Devalaya – The Embekke Devalaya is renowned for its fine wood carvings that have been considered the best in the country. It is located in the Udunuwara area in Kandy and was built by King Wickramabahu IV during the Gampola Kingdom. This devale was dedicated to the worship of Mahasen who was believed to be the God of Kataragama.
Royal Botanical Gardens – The Royal Botanical Garden has a renowned history as the beginning of this garden dates back to 1371 during the time of the ruling Sinhalese Royals. It is famous for its rich diversity of orchids for it is home to more than 4000 species of plants which are orchid species, medicinal plants and palm trees.
Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue – Sitting majestically 88 feet high on top of a hill, crowning Kandy is a white colossal statue of Buddha named as Bahirawakanda Vihara. Climbing the numerous steps to the top gives one a sense of peace, serenity and harmony; and a stunning and gorgeous panoramic view of charming Kandy.
National Museum of Kandy – Explore the heritage of Sri Lanka through seeing various items of the past such as ancient moonstones, ola leaf manuscripts, different sizes of pots and statues. There are loads of royal relics, scepters, thrones, swords, weapons, jewellery, tools and coins. Most of the items belong to the Kandyan and post-British colonial eras.
Kandy Garrison Cemetery – This cemetery houses the remains of over 150 people who were buried in the early 19th century. The well maintained grounds and tombstones provide an escape away from the busy temple and give a glimpse into Sri Lanka’s colonial past.
International Buddhist Museum – The International Buddhist Museum, also known as the World Buddhism Museum is stationed inside a building which was the former high court and houses a comprehensive research and study of Buddhism stretching over the entire world of Asia. There are segregated chambers having information for almost 16 countries.
Kandy Lake – A centrepiece of Kandy, a place where time stands still and was originally called Kiri Muhuda or Milky Sea, the lake was built in 1807 by the last king of Sri Lanka and Kandy, King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha, an artificial construction epitomising a part which represents the final Sri Lankan kingdom.
Udawattakele Forest Reserve – Nestled in the heart of Kandy and surrounded by a busy city close to the Temple of the Tooth is the Udawattakele Forest Reserve. It was originally a pleasure garden used by earlier Kandyan Royals, but today it is an abundant, rich and luscious rainforest. The sanctuary is a birder’s paradise providing all options for activities that can be experienced in the forest such as jungle trekking, bird watching and walking.
Kandyan Dancing and Cultural Shows – Kandyan dancing plays an important role in the culture of Sri Lanka and is one of the most revered features of the Perahera and has gained recognition as the National Dance of Sri Lanka. Watch the Kandy Cultural show and get captivated through connecting your imaginative mind to their tribal roots and feel its pulse and rhythm.
Kandy Market Hall – The Kandy Market Hall is a hidden gem with so many offers on bargain from varieties such as batiks, wooden sculptures, souvenirs and clothes. A market full of life and hustle bustle, it showcases the local life since the locals visit to buy their daily produce which is available on the ground floor whereas the upper floor has all other commodities for the avid shopper.
Victoria Golf & Country Resort – Revered as one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, the Victoria Golf and Country Resort is one of the major attractions in the mid country. It’s 18 hole, 6,933 yard and 73 Par championship golf course goes international standards and offers the most picturesque scenery and striking views of nature.
Visit a Tea Plantation – Kandy, the birthplace of Ceylon Tea is the administrative capital for tea production since ancient times and has tea plantations that have flourished over the years, thus rapidly increasing the production of tea even after Sri Lanka’s independence thereby making the country among the top tea producers in the world. Visit a plantation and feel the life of a tea picker and the factory to learn how tea is manufactured.
Ceylon Tea Museum – The Ceylon Tea Museum in Hanthana is an interesting place to learn the history of Ceylon Tea. The museum has four floors with exhibits of old items and machinery on the ground floor and the second floor consists of a library and an auditorium which gives audio visual presentations.
Sri Lanka Gems – Sri Lanka, famed to being the isle of Gems has many gems and jewellery available in retail shops in Kandy. Visit the gem shops and be amazed by the collection of beautiful gemstones that have been cut and polished from the rough stones to the beautiful eyes that would glisten from a distance, especially the royal blue sapphire that made Sri Lanka proud when a gemstone was gifted to the Queen of England in 1981 and when Prince Charles had made it into an engagement ring proposing to Lady Diana Spencer.
Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage – Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage is a home for many elephant orphans that have been either lost from their mother or have been separated from the herd or found crippled in the wild. An interesting place seeing large groups of elephants in a natural habitat is what makes Pinnawela extra special and popular among tourists.
Spice Gardens – Visit a spice garden to discover the different types of herbs and spices of Sri Lanka’s pride, its uses and benefits. Learn how the spices are produced from its growing methods to its harvest. Try out amazing meals prepared with the spices that you would love to taste. Opportunities for purchase on various products made with the spices are available which can be either natural cosmetics or traditional herbal remedies.
Bambaragala Rajamaha Viharaya – A forgotten site steeped in history and religion is the Bambaragala Rajamaha Viharaya. A rock cave temple that was built to house many Buddha statues and was used as a retreat for many monks during ancient times. It has murals of art that have remained vibrant and beautiful.
Knuckles Mountain Range – Resembling a set of knuckles in a clenched fist makes this range of mountains a thing of natural beauty. Renowned for its rich biodiversity and great environmental sources of water and wildlife, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Knuckles Mountain Range is Sri Lanka’s major eco-tourist attraction. A popular hiking spot for the adventurous.
Hanthana Mountain Range – The Hanthana mountain range area was declared as an environmental protection area in February 2010. Every hiker can enjoy beautiful gorgeous views of the surrounding lands and of Kandy city from the highest peak. While trekking through the mountain hills, the best place to visit is the Hanthana Viharaya, a temple that dates back to the Kandyan Kingdom era.
Bird Watching in Kandy – Bird watching is extremely popular at the Udawattakele Forest Reserve. Since it is an eco-tourist site, it has an exclusive collection of avifauna and is one of the beautiful bird sanctuaries in Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is a great place to explore the bird life of approximately 80 species of birds that inhabit the sanctuary. Polwaththa is also Kandy’s secret place for serious bird watchers who are looking for birds in Kandy. It has been named as one of the top 2 destinations for bird watching in the Kandy region by one Sri Lanka’s leading birding experts.
Hiking and Trekking in Kandy – Hiking and Trekking in Kandy takes you on exploration trails of the beautiful Knuckles and Hanthana Mountain Ranges. The Knuckles range is an untouched zone with many forests, biodiversity of flora and fauna and gorgeous natural beauty with many trekking opportunities making the serious hiker or trekker choices of different trek routes. Trekking through Hanthana Mountain Range is an ideal excursion for bird watching and it also takes you through tea estates and a footpath which leads to Kandy.
Yoga, Ayurveda & Spa in Kandy – Planning on leaving the world behind to relax and rejuvenate, then Kandy has many Sri Lanka Ayurveda retreats, in particular the Santani Resort & Spa. Equipped with holistic treatments and wellness programs in Ayurveda, detoxification, yoga and spa, they can help you rejuvenate back into life refreshed and sound. Yoga has been a spiritual practice that has been around since ancient times and had originated in India.