Tour guide to Kandy Sri Lanka !
Kandy, a UNESCO world heritage site, was the seat of the last Sri Lankan kingdom. As the cultural capital of the island, it is popularly referred to as “Maha Nuwara”, meaning “The Great City”. If you want to have a taste of Sri Lankan royalty, this is where you will find it.
The name Kandy is derived from the Sinhalese word “Kanda”, meaning a hill. Located at the foothills of the central highlands on the banks of the Mahaweli Ganga, Sri Lanka’s largest river, Kandy forms the Southern tip of the cultural triangle. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988, Kandy has become over the years a major tourist destination for those in search of an authentic experience of yesteryear Sri Lanka. Visitors are also treated to a cultural immersion thanks to the temples, arts and architecture of Kandy.
The city is considered sacred to Buddhists who flock here especially during the world-famous multi-coloured Esala Perehera (“Feast of the Tooth”) cultural processions during which a multitude of dancers and musicians accompany a parade of beautifully decorated elephants.
How to get to Kandy Sri Lanka and how to move in and around
You can reach Kandy from Colombo by train (the journey two and a half hours if you catch the Intercity Express) or by bus (it takes around 3 hours). By car, it takes less than 3 hours. A quicker option would be to take the seaplane from Colombo.
Once in Kandy, you can visit many places on foot. If you are travelling with young children, it is better to catch a tuk-tuk especially during the hot season.
If you wish to get to other places of interest in Sri Lanka from Kandy, there are buses available to almost all popular destinations. Buses leave from the bus stand close to the railway station.
If you are visiting Kandy during the Esala Perehera festival, prices of hotels and guesthouses are higher than usual. Rooms are also hard to secure especially close to the festival dates. It is hence advisable to reserve your hotel rooms immediately after reserving your air tickets.
Kandy Tourism Information Centre
For all queries, you can contact the Kandy Tourism Information Centre:
Kandy City Centre
5 Sri Dalada Veediya
& +94 81 222 2661 / 1912
Top tourist attractions in Kandy in Sri Lanka
This is THE ultimate tourism feature in July or August. The days of the feast change each year and if you are absolutely keen on being there, book your plane tickets after checking the exact dates. You will then have to check and book your rooms in Kandy.
Esala Perehera is a choreographed procession of devotees, elephants and artists that D.H. Lawrence once described as a “perpetual fire-laughing motion among the slow shuffle of elephants.”
Esala Perehera starts with the planting of the “Kapa”, a ceremony during which a blessed jackfruit tree is cut into four sections and planted in the enclosure of the four temples dedicated to the four guardian Hindu deities: Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini. After this ceremony, the Perehera is conducted in the form of a procession for the next ten evenings in succession over a pre-determined route along the main streets of Kandy.
During the first five nights, the "Devale Perehera" take place within the premises of the four “Devales” (shrines) during which the priest of each “Devale” performs the rites accompanied by musicians, drummers, flag and canopy bearers, spearman and the Ran Ayudha, the sacred insignia of the Gods.
On the sixth night, the “Kumbal Perehera” begins and goes on for five days. The relic casket, which is a substitute for the Tooth Relic, is placed inside the ransivige affixed to the Maligawa Elephant, a colourfully decorated adult male elephant.
Whip-crackers and fireball acrobats clear the path and open the route. The Peramuna Rala (Front Official) rides the first elephant, followed by Kandyan drummers and dancers who in turn are followed by other elephants and a long procession of musicians, dancers and flag bearers. A group of singers dressed in white costumes announce the arrival of the Maligawa Tusker carrying the Sacred Tooth Relic.
The next five nights are dedicated to the “Randoli Perehera”, Randoli being the name of palanquins on which the queens of Kandy travelled.
After five nights of Randoli Perehera, the festival ends with the “Diya Kepeema”, the water-cutting ceremony, during which a priest enters the Mahaweli Ganga River and symbolically “cuts” the waters with a sword, to release symbolically the water necessary for the coming year.
The Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa)
Located in the royal palace complex of the former King of Kandy, this temple built in the early eighteenth century is the hallmark of any visit in Kandy. It is known to house the relic of the tooth of the Buddha. Since ancient times, the relic has constantly played a major role in the history of the island because it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country. It is partly due to the temple that Kandy was listed as a UNESCO heritage site.
Daily worship is conducted in the inner chamber of the temple. The rituals are performed three times daily: at dawn, before noon and in the evenings (the timings keep changing but your hotel or guest house will be able to inform you correctly). Dress properly to enter the temple complex (paid entrance but the ticket for foreign tourists comes with a small DVD and guide). You will have to leave your footwear in one of the stalls outside. If you want to offer flowers, there are quite many shops selling them just before you enter the complex.
The complex consists of many buildings to visit: the Vahahitina Maligawa sanctuary, the Alut Maligawa (sort of Hall of Buddhas), the Sri Dalada Museum, the Mangul Maduwa (Audience Hall) and the Raja Tusker Museum dedicated to a male elephant that carried the relic for quite many years.
Vahahitina Maligawa sanctuary
Situated at the centre of a paved courtyard, the sanctuary contains one of the most precious relics for Buddhists: the tooth of the Buddha, the Enlightened One, that is said to have been saved from the flames of a funeral pyre.
If you wish to get close to the glass case where it is housed, be sure to form the queue from the ground floor.
Do not forget to admire the paintings on the pillars on the ground floor that date back to the seventeenth century. Do not expect to see the tooth itself as it is housed in a series of 7 golden boxes, one within the other, to form the shape of a dagoba.
The constant stream of devotees and the fervour is awesome but if you wish to avoid the rush, you should opt for the morning worship (around 5:30 a.m.)
Alut Maligawa and Sri Dalada Museum
On the other side of the sanctuary, is a three-storeyed building that houses the Alut Maligawa on the ground floor and the Sri Dalada Museum on the upper floors.
The Alut Maligawa contains numerous paintings depicting the history of the tooth relic and its arrival on the island. In the centre is a Thai Buddha surrounded by numerous other Buddha statues offered by the faithful.
The Sri Dalada Museum is dedicated to objects related to the temple and the region including a plan of the Kandy Palace. Also on exhibition are photos depicting the attack against the temple by the LTTE in 1998 and fragments of frescoes destroyed during the attack. If you visit the museum, make sure you set aside enough time to visit both the upper floors.
Mangul Maduwa (Audience Hall)
To the left of the sanctuary is the Audience Hall that is supported by the 64 beautifully carved wooden pillars. Works on the hall began in 1783 but were never completed. It was here that the last King of Kandy held his evening court. It was here that the chiefs of Kandy signed their act of rendition to the British crown in 1815.
International Buddhist Museum
Situated behind the Audience Hall (separate ticket required), the collection housed on two floors offers precious and precise information for visitors wishing to delve deeper into the roots of Buddhism and Buddhist practices in various Asian countries. The collections from 17 Asian countries are to be admired here.
This pavilion is dedicated to Raja, a majestic tusker that carried the Tooth Relic during the Esala procession for numerous years. On its death in 1988 at the age of 84, it received a State funeral and was declared a National Treasure. Raja now stands behind a large glass window and many locals come here to catch a glimpse of the sacred animal.
Kandy National Museum
The museum is situated adjacent to the Tooth Temple in an ancient palace dating back to the 17th century that once used to lodge the royal concubines. Towards the end of the kingdom, the King’s younger brother occupied the palace.
his museum houses one of the most extraordinary collections of Sri Lankan palm leaf manuscripts and writing instruments. The Artistic and Historic Section holds a varied collection of wooden sculptures from the 19th century. Other galleries contain a paraphernalia of objects both for daily use and/or of artistic value: engravings, weapons, ceremonial objects, wooden games, masks, funeral urns, silver and ivory objects, costumes, etc. Upon our last visit, we found that the museum deserved to be refreshed in order to do justice to the interesting collection it holds.
This large artificial lake created in 1807 by the last King of Kandy, Wickrama Rajasinghe, is worth a stroll. The shaded pathway, popular with the locals, offers a surprisingly calm getaway from the bustle of the city especially after a day’s visiting. A drink or a snack at the many restaurants around the lake can be refreshing for them too. If you are approached by intrusive people who try to sell you diverse objects, just ignore them.
Bahiwara Kanda Statue
Any visitor to Kandy will notice this Buddha statue that overlooks Kandy city. You can reach it either on foot (45 minute walk) or by tuk-tuk (15 minutes). The meagre entrance fee gives you the chance of a spectacular view of the town. The whole area is tranquil especially early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
The name “Bahirawa Kanda” means “Gnome Mountain” as a local legend has it that the mountain used to be inhabited by the Lord of the gnomes, "Bahirawa Deviyo”.
Commonwealth War Cemetery
This is well-maintained cemetery situated on Dewani Rajasinghe Mawatha that contains the remains of brave young men from different countries who perished on this island. It is a peaceful place surrounded by lush greenery that transports the visitor to the trying times of the Second World War and offers a reflective view of the nearby river.
British Garrison Cemetery
Situated just behind the Temple of the Tooth, this compact cemetery contains the remains of nearly 150 British soldiers who died in the early nineteenth century. A curator is always present there and offers valuable information to the rare tourists who venture here.
Adjacent to the Temple of the Tooth, this relatively small museum situated on King’s Street contains many artefacts from the period of the kings of Kandy. The building used to be part of the royal palace where the King received foreign dignitaries.
A choice of appealing places to visit when you venture outside Kandy for just a few hours
Half-day excursion to three temples
The half-day trip to the three temples about 12 km west of Kandy is very easy to do if you have a car or if you hire a tuk-tuk. All three of them are situated not far from each other and route from Kandy is very picturesque. It is better to do the visit in the order given below:
This temple, built on a hill in 1344 by King Wickramabahu, is all in stone and boasts of a South Indian architecture and beautiful paintings. The Hindu influence is quite evident with statues representing Krishna and Shiva. Inside, a big Buddha in meditation is to be admired.
This temple dating back to the 14th century and was built on top of a rock called Panhalgala. It offers panoramic views of the surrounding hills and rice fields. The temple is made of bricks and its architecture is typically Sri Lankan with white walls and tiled roofs. There are two entrances to the temple, one leading to a Hindu temple and the other leading into a Buddhist shrine. This harmonious melange is due to the fact that the King of Gampola was Buddhist and his wife, a Hindu. The interiors are truly pleasant to the eye, especially when the priests and devotees decorate the statues with flowers.
Before you arrive here, be prepared to take an authentic plunge into rural Sri Lanka as the road passes through paddy fields and small villages. The temple is made predominantly of wood and is characterized by beautiful engravings. The 32 pillars with beautiful carvings support a roof that leads to the sanctuary. Take time to carefully admire the different elements that master craftsmen created on the pillars: animals, mermaids, dancers, foliage, flowers, etc.
Ceylon Tea Museum
If you are not heading to the tea plantations in the hilly regions of the island but still want to have an insight on what used to be a tea factory, you can visit this museum situated in Hantana, atop a hill some three kilometres to the south of Kandy. The Museum introduces you to the world of tea on the four levels of the building: old machines and production tools on the ground floor, a library and an auditorium on the first floor, sale of different teas on the third floor and a restaurant offering panoramic views of Kandy and its surroundings on the last level. Paid entrance. Doors shut at 4:30 pm.
Pinnawela elephant orphanage
Around 35 kilometres form to the east of Kandy, on the route to Colombo on the A1 highway. You will have to turn northwards after about 30 km at Kegalle. The orphanage is quite a touristic place and hence can be crowded on some days. Pinnawala was started as an orphanage to baby elephants but has also served as a birthplace to some pachyderms. You can bottle-feed baby elephants here (for a fee, as in any tourist attraction) at regular timings or watch the elephants bathing in the nearby Maha Oya river. Some of them are orphans. Don't expect to ride any elephants here. If you love to see elephants only in the nature, choose to go to one of the many wildlife parks.
A trip to the orphanage can be combined with a visit to Gadaladeniya, Lankatilala and Embekke temples provided you have a whole day to spare.
Millennium Elephant Foundation
The foundation is situated midway between Kegalle and Pinnawala. It is smaller than the Pinnawala orphanage but offers two different attraction: you can get to ride an elephant in the green surroundings or bathe a tusker in the river that runs in the middle of the foundation. Adjacent to the foundation is a wonderful initiative called The Paper mill that sells products made of elephant dung.
The entry fee is lesser than at the Pinnawala orphanage and there are lesser number of visitors too.
Bible Rock, also known as Batalegala, owes its name to its rectangular form. This impressive rock near Aranayake can be seen from Kaduganna Pass on the A1 highway that runs from Kandy to Colombo. From afar, Bible Rock looks very much similar to Sigiriya.
Kandy in Sri Lanka has the best beaches
Peradeniya Botanical Garden
Peradeniya is Sri Lanka’s largest garden, covering an area of over 60 hectares. The garden is beautifully landscaped and sits just outside Kandy. Its imposing alleys and secret alcoves offer a lush, serene and colourful place to visit at any time of the day.
The garden's history dates back to 1371 when King Wickramabahu III ascended the throne and kept court at Peradeniya near the Mahaweli River.
There are some 4000 different species of plants at Peradeniya Gardens. Over 10000 trees including the massive 40-metre tall Burmese Giant Bamboo, the absolutely sensational century-old giant Javanese fig tree that covers an area of over 1800 square meters, over 200 types of palm trees flanking all the alleys, an exquisite orchid collection housed in a well-kept orchid house (try spotting the white orchid with an intricate and beautiful little dove seated inside).
A wonderful Japanese garden, a scenic spice garden, a lush fernery, an education centre and a cactus house are sure to surprise the visitor.
The garden is also home to a very large colony of bats hanging upside down from tall trees. School children often on a school outing will greet you with great smile whilst shy couples under umbrellas tend to avoid the crowds.
To cap it all, trees planted by Queen Elizabeth II, Marshal Tito, Yuri Gagarin and the likes are to be spotted here.
Admire wildlife birds safari and natural parks in Kandy in Sri Lanka
Udawatte Kele Sanctuary
This sanctuary is just a stone's throw away from the city and is very suitable for a family visit. Children and adults are sure to admire both the flora and the umpteen number of winged creatures that dwell in this sanctuary. You might be surprised by such a change from the bustle of Kandy in just a few minutes of travel time. Kids love its lush grounds full of common and not-so-common birds in this tropical paradise. The signposts ensure that you're never lost and the entrance fee is quite low (under $5 during our visit).
Keep children occupied during travel to Kandy Sri Lanka
Boat-riding on Kandy Lake
For a small fee, you can take a 15-minute boat ride on this serene lake.
Shopping for Buddhas on Colombo Street
There is a line of stores on this street that sell all kinds of objects to decorate temples.
Visit a Spice garden
Almost every route to and from Kandy has a good selection of spice gardens to be visited. If you choose to go the one of them, you must make best of your time by visiting the garden. Some of them sells spices at their shops and even have massage parlours for ayurvedic massages. The multi-lingual tour guide assigned to you is there to answer all your questions about spices. Some guides are too keen to take you quickly to the boutique and encourage you to buy all sorts of products.
Great things to see in Kandy Sri Lanka
There are many places to go to if you wish to be treated to Kandyan music and dance plus fire walking. You can try the YMBA Hall on Rajaphilla Mawata or at the Kandyan Art Association on Sangaraja Mawatha.
There are a multitude of jewellers who sell quality gems if you wish to take home traditional or modern gold ornaments. There are a few shops run by people who are not traditional jewellers and who are out to con tourists. A good way to avoid such shops is to refuse to be taken to a shop by someone who you do not know. If you are staying in a family guesthouse, ask the landlady where the family goes to shop for jewellery. Otherwise, select a shop where you see locals buying.
Men can have shirts and trousers tailor-made to fit them in a day. For women, it is better to shop for a sari. The blouse that goes with the sari can be tailor-made for you in a day.
Gifts & souvenirs
Kandy is famous for its gift shops. We recommend Laksala situated on the lakefront for handcrafted souvenirs. You can also buy spices from the different stalls in the market or at any supermarket.
Ayurveda & Meditation centres
All around Kandy, there is a good selection of ayurvedic centres that offer various types of treatment. These treatments, including massages, are particularly helpful for stress-related and chronic conditions.
A treatment is usually decided after a consultation with a qualified ayurvedic physician who establishes a tailor-made programme.
If your aim is to obtain a general rejuvenation or beauty care, most centres offer a programme similar to ones you will find in wellness centres.
Since Ayurveda also aims at purifying the body, these centres offer full board and lodge most of the time, meaning you get a balanced diet with organic ingredients.