No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without a visit to Kandy — the cultural center of Sri Lanka. Along with a vibrant city feel, you also will have access to world-famous religious sites, delicious food, royal gardens, and really interesting cultural experiences that you won’t find anywhere else in Sri Lanka. Here are the top eight things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka!
To be perfectly honest, I put most of my focus into planning other aspects of my trip to Sri Lanka — the jungles, the beaches, the safaris — and didn’t have very high expectations for this city destination. But I was surprised at how much I loved Kandy, and I wish I had given myself more time to explore and see all the beautiful sites, wander the streets, hike the surrounding mountains, and enjoy the food and religious culture!
You’ll want at least two full days to explore Kandy, although three would be better depending on what activities interested you. Be sure to schedule some of the activities on this list into your Kandy itinerary!
1) Take a Walking Tour of Kandy
Kandy is considered the cultural capital of Sri Lanka and it’s a really lovely, interesting city to explore. Get oriented to the city by taking a walking tour of Kandy.
Or to spice things up a bit (pun intended), try a street food tour which will allow you to experience Sri Lankan culture and Kandy city life through your taste buds. Most food tours will take you to local markets, introduce you to significant landmarks, engage you in conversations with locals, teach you about history and religious/family culture surrounding food, and allow you to taste a handful of local specialties.
2) Visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
Visiting the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is one of the most popular things to do in Kandy, and you won’t want to miss it! This white-walled, gilded-roof temple houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic: the tooth of Buddha. Although you won’t be able to see the tooth (it’s kept in gold stupa-shaped basket), you will be able to wander through the giant complex of several small temples, shrines, and museums.
Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds, and wear temple-appropriate clothing. Entry is 1000Rs (10 USD).
3) Stroll Through the Kandy Royal Botanic Garden
The Kandy Royal Botanic Garden is the largest and most impressive botanic garden in Sri Lanka and you can easily spend a few hours wandering around here. They once were reserved exclusively for Kandy royalty, but thankfully now us commoners can visit as well. The grounds are massive, with 60 hectares of orchids, royal palms, and other beautiful flowers and trees, including the famous giant Javan fig tree. You’ll also find fruit bats and monkeys.
There are a couple of restaurants/cafes in the area but they’re mediocre and overpriced, so bringing some snacks with you for a picnic is a better option.
The gardens are 6km from central Kandy and can be accessed by taking the bus (line 644) from Kandy’s clock tower or a tuk-tuk. Entrance costs 1500Rs (15 USD) which is a bit steep, but if you have a few hours to enjoy it, it’s worth the price.
4) Visit one of Kandy’s Museums
Especially on a hot day, a visit to one of Kandy’s museums is a great way to spend some time. The World Buddhist Museum is free with your Tooth Relic Temple admission, so hang on to that ticket!
For some background on Kandyan royalty, palace life, and other aspects of historic Kandy culture, check out the National Museum of Kandy, which houses an impressive 4,000 artifacts mainly from the Kandyan period (1592-1815 AD), although is a bit underwhelming compared to The World Buddhist Museum.
If you’ve got some more time to kill, as well as a keen interest in Sri Lankan tea, check out the Ceylon Tea Museum, located in an old tea factory and detailing the production and history of tea in Sri Lanka.
5) Take a cooking class
I’m still dreaming about some of the curries and roti and samosas I ate while in Sri Lanka. The cuisine takes inspiration from Thai and Indian dishes but still has its own unique flavors and techniques of preparation. If you love it as much as I do (or just are curious), consider taking a cooking class while in Sri Lanka.
Kandy is a great destination for a cooking class because it is, after all, the cultural center of the country. You can find some highly rated cooking classes through Airbnb Experiences, including classes taught by 5-star chefs and government-licensed cooking teachers. It’s a great way to directly support local entrepreneurs and to also get a unique taste (again with these puns) of Sri Lankan culture!
For 15 USD off your first Airbnb Experience booking, click here!
6) See a Kandyan Cultural Dance
The Kandy Lake Club is the most popular place to go for a cultural dance show. This venue brings all of the traditional types of Sri Lankan dance to one stage, included fire walkers which you probably won’t find anywhere else in the country. Dances are traditionally performed only to percussion, while the performers wear elaborate costumes and headdresses and sing lyrics about the animals that each performance depicts.
The shows start at 5:30 every night and last a little over an hour. Tickets cost 1250Rs (12.50 USD) and can be booked online or at the door.
7) Check out the View from the Big Buddha
Perched on a hill overlooking Kandy is a giant white Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. Bahirawa Kanda hill (or “gnome mountain” or “devil’s hill”) has some dark legends behind, involving the sacrifice of virgins to appease the evil “gnome” who inhabited the hill.
Now, it’s home to the Sri Maha Bodhi Viharaya Temple which is open for worshipers or tourists, and sits next to the 88-meter high statue — which is one of the tallest Buddha statues in Sri Lanka.
8) Ride on the famous Ella Train
You won’t want to leave Sri Lanka without taking a ride on the iconic blue Ella Train, which zips across historic stone bridges, through sprawling lush green hills, and along jaw-dropping cliff-sides. It can be a chaotic experience to say the least, but being able to sit in the open train doors with your feet dangling outside and the wind whipping in your face is truly an unforgettable experience and one of the best things to do in Kandy.
It’s not only an incredibly scenic ride, but it’s also efficient and economical! You can either take the train to Kandy from Nuwara Eliya or Ella, or from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya or Ella. Each leg is about 3-4 hours long (so 7 hours total), and the entire trip from Kandy to Ella costs less than 1.50 USD.
9) Watch Sunset at a Hillside Bar
Of course every perfect day in Sri Lanka ends with a tropical sunset.
Kandy’s mountainous terrain means that the city has some great sunset viewpoints on its surrounding hills from which you can watch an amazing sunset. Slightly Chilled Lounge (with a more casual vibe) and Bommu Bar Lounge (with a more modern/stylish vibe plus swimming pool), located on the roof of the OZO Kandy Hotel, are two good options to grab a bite or cocktail at the end of the day. The food and drinks are perfectly fine, but it’s their seriously epic sunset views over the city that really steal the show.
Where to Eat
One of my favorite things to do in Kandy? Eat. Here are some of the best restaurants in Kandy:
Theva Cuisine: located at The Theva Residency Hotel, with incredible sunset views and a really impressive menu of Sri Lankan dishes with a modern, fine-dining spin
Villa Rosa Restaurant: excellent curries in a beautiful setting
Worldspice: lots of different counters serving food from all over the world: Sri Lankan, Italian, Thai, Chinese, Indian, and more!
Ceylon Tea Cabin: great teas, crepes, and people-watching
Sala Thai: authentic Thai food
I was surprised at how much I ended up loving Kandy and wish I had spent more time exploring this fun and vibrant city. There is so much to do in Kandy, so make sure you give yourself enough time to soak in all the amazing experiences available — from cultural tours, to royal gardens, to tasty cuisine, to world-famous temples, and of course a few unforgettable sunsets!
For more information on traveling in Sri Lanka, check out these posts:
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Have any questions about visiting Kandy, Sri Lanka? Let me know in the comments!
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