The Kandy Rundown
A parade of fine destinations strewn across South Asia mix spiritual heritage with gorgeous scenery. Indeed, picturesque pilgrimage sites have a long history on the Indian subcontinent. Few, however, combine nature and holiness with the kind of genteel poise so resonant in one of Sri Lanka’s predominant tourist hot spots. The “Sacred City of Kandy”, as the UNESCO World Heritage inscription affirms, was the last capital of the ancient rulers of Sri Lanka, patrons of a venerable culture that spans more than 2,500 years.
The history of the Central Province city of 110,000 people mirrors that of other independent kingdoms throughout South Asia, which one by one, fell under the yoke of colonial rule. Kandy is a notable case, however, in that for hundreds of years, the local sovereigns kept first the Portuguese and then the Dutch, at bay. The British finally broke the grip of Sinhala dominion in the early 19th Century and, over time, brought the usual bellwethers of highlands colonial rule, from tea plantations to hill station estates.
The ensemble of Kandy’s ancient monuments, however, is spectacularly intact. Temples, shrines, royal palaces and pinnacles of Sinhalese design grace the compact cityscape and together, offer a cultural panorama without peer in dynamic Sri Lanka.
Kandy’s Top 10
10. Kandy Garrison Cemetery dates back to 1817 and is wonderfully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
5. National Museum of Kandy is a first-rate repository of precious objects, artefacts and relevant historic documents.
9. Udawattakelle Sanctuary is a lush grove of titanic trees, magnificent bird life, macaques, boars, deer and a colourful cast of rare, endemic creatures.
4. Hantata Estate Tea Museum offers a peerless look into the cultivation history of the foremost crop and is wholly contained inside a superb plantation factory and house.
8. Asgiriya Maha Vihara is the temple home for a vital order of monks, the most senior of whom manage the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.
3. Royal Botanical Garden is on the outskirts of Kandy, in nearby Peradeniya, but well worth the trip. The marvellous attraction welcomes close to 1.5 million visitors every year.
7. Malwatte Maha Vihara is Kandy’s other monastic chapter of note and a co-guardian of the Tooth Relic.
2. Lankatilaka Temple is one of the most important archetypes of traditional Sinhalese architecture left in Sri Lanka.
6. Muttiah Muralitharan International Cricket Stadium was expressly built as a premier host oval for the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup. The stadium holds 35,000 fans.
1. Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is Kandy’s unquestionable prime tourism and spiritual pilgrimage magnet. Sri Dalada Maligawa, as the temple is locally known, is universally venerated for the relic of the tooth of Buddha. The sanctuary and temple form the bedrock of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage inscription.
- Temple of the Tooth – The most sacred Buddhist temple built in the 16th century where one of Buddha’s teeth is preserved.
- Council Chamber – Located within an old palace buildings near the Temple of the Tooth, it was built in 1784 and is unique example of wooden architecture of the Kandyan period.
- Gadaladeniya Temple – This 14th-century temple built on a rock exemplifies South Indian architecture.
- Embekke Temples – This 14th-century shrine dedicated to God Kataragama is known mainly for its wooden carvings.
- Hindu Shrines – Adjacent to the Temple of the Tooth are Hindu shrines dedicated to the gods Vishnu and Natha and goddess Patthini.
Kandy Art & Culture
- Kandayan Art Association – The best of Sri Lankan arts and crafts can be found here.
- Kundasale – This village, about 4km from Kandy, has local craftsmen seen engaged in their work.
- Bougan Villa – Set in the hill country near Kandy, this villa gives a true insight into a typical Sri Lankan village.
- Lankatilaka Temple – Magnificent building amid a scenic location atop a rock houses fine paintings.
- Malwaththa and Asgiri Temples – Contain fine painted murals of Buddhist stories.
- Station Road Market – This is the biggest market in the city, where you can find everything.
- Kandy City Centre – This is the island’s biggest mall, with six floors of shops and entertainment.
- Kandyan Art Association and Cultural Centre – The best place to purchase local lacquer work, brassware and other craft items.
- Cargills Food City – This is the shop for groceries and prepackaged meals.
- Upali Jayakodi – Find the original batik designs at this shop.
Gay & Lesbian Kandy
- Le Garage – This nightclub rocks at weekends with superb music.
- The Pub – Located in central Kandy, it offers decent food along with two good bars.
- City Bustand – You will have the chance to come across gay men after sunset.
- The Market – You may come across gay men from different walks of life.
- Kandy Lake – Gays discretely meet by Kandy Lake after the sunset.
- Peradeniya Botanical Gardens – This 14th-century picturesque garden is home to wide-ranging varieties of plant species.
- Weligama – A few hours drive from Kandy, this beach is draped in gorgeous golden sand.
- Kandy Elephant Orphanage – Kids will love the opportunity to bottle-feed baby elephants.
- Matara Fort – Matara, near Kandy, has distinct Portuguese colonial legacy.
- Udawatte Kele Royal Sanctuary – Home to a large varieties of birds, animals and insects.
- Mountain biking is quite popular in Kandy for its beautiful terrain.
- Golf fans will love Victoria International Golf and Country Resort in Kandy.
- Do not miss bird-watching opportunity at Horton Plains National Park.
- Horton Plains National Park and Hanthana Mountains offer excellent trekking opportunities
- Catch rugby or other sports like hockey, football, cricket and polo at several stadiums at Kandy.
One of Kandy’s fortes is ease of access. A curious and active person can conceivably, in clement weather, cover quite a bit of ground in the city on foot. Most of the popular landmarks reside within close proximity to each other and, indeed, the core part of the city is rather small. It behooves visitors, however, to look past central Kandy and explore the Central Highlands and Hill Country of Sri Lanka as a whole. This is where the island nation’s most precious assets unfurl, from pockets of brilliant biodiversity and awesome, photogenic scenery, to enclaves of indigenous culture.
Kandy Lake is a scenic epicentre of like in the Sacred City. The man-made body of water, dredged at the behest of King Sri Vikrama Rajasinha in 1807, lies at the heart of Kandy. According to local legend, the island in the middle of the lake was connected to the Royal Palace via secret tunnel.
As an indelible component of Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands, Horton Plains National Park has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010. Some 105 km south of Kandy in the upper saddle of the island, the remarkable protected area unfurls a panoply of wildlife and standout attractions like Baker’s Falls and the dramatic World’s End precipice.
Ratnapura is the tidy provincial capital of Sabaragamuwa Province and a worthwhile 135 km journey from Kandy. The allure is a singular gem trade which inordinately supports a local population of under 50,000 people.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve was Sri Lanka’s first natural UNESCO World Heritage inscription for good reason. The incomparable biosphere teems with rare fauna and flora not found anywhere else on the planet. Just mind the pit vipers.
Haputale is a high-altitude town that acts as a gateway point between Sri Lanka’s highlands and southern plains. Tea terraces, waterfalls and misty mountain scenery reward those who make the 120 km trip from Kandy.
Ella is an exquisite village in Uva province that marks the northeast terminus of a scenic drive from Haputale. A great base for trekking the highlands.
Samanalakanda, or Adam’s Peak, is a distinctive conical mountain in the Central Highlands that serves as a holy site for Sri Lanka’s Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. The best time to make the ascent is from December to May.
Kandy Eat & Drink
While not exactly profuse with choice, Kandy has a decent, if small, assortment of restaurants that cater to locals and tourists alike. Sri Lankan cuisine, itself a hodgepodge of various culinary influences, figures prominently of course, but Chinese, Indian, Thai and Western fare is ever-present as well. From unpretentious, casual, quasi-fast food dives to more upscale restaurants with prim service and a view, Kandy has enough variety to please.
Devon Restaurant (Dalada Vidiya Town Centre) is incessantly popular as a hassle-free spot to score good, affordable Sri Lankan and Western fare.
Kandy Muslim Hotel (Dalada Vidiya) is a restaurant, not a hotel, that cooks up terrific curries, samosas and naan.
White House Restaurant (Dalada Vidiya Town Centre) offers cheap, fast comfort dishes like fried rice and noodles.
Grand Indian (Grand Hotel Rd) wins consistent raves for its well-priced range of carefully-prepared Indian dishes.
Sharon Inn (59 Saranankara Rd) serves a solid buffet spread nightly.
The Pub (Dalada Vidiya) is where locals and tourists alike escape to for draughts and televised cricket.
Jade Green Tea Centre & Restaurant (Main St, Ella) is a notable bet in the pretty hill town of Ella.
Lyon Café (27 Peradeniya Rd W) is a bit of an institution in Kandy, with a predictable, but exceedingly popular, Chinese-Sri Lankan menu.
Flower Song Restaurant (137 Castle Hill St) could be the most popular joint in Kandy, with a menu of Chinese staples and cheap, cold beer.
History Restaurant (27A Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha E) is more about ambiance and Kandy Lake scenery than food, which runs the gamut from Thai to Indian.
Esala Perahera is the undeniable number one event in Kandy. The “Festival of the Tooth” centres on, of course, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and takes place in either July or August. Uniquely Sri Lankan, the event features elephants festooned with colourful costumes, lively processions and days and nights of drumming, music and Buddhist rituals.
Cricket is the national passion of Sri Lanka and has two crucial homes in Kandy in Asgiriya International Stadium and Muttiah Muralitharan International Cricket Stadium.
Nilambe meditation centre, not far from Kandy, offers ashram-like repose, yoga, vegetarian and spiritual nourishment in a rustic, get-back-to-nature setting.
Kandyan Art Association & Cultural Centre puts on regular performances of dance, music and theatre and displays expertly-made handicrafts.
Nature trails proliferate in and around Kandy and range from simple strolls to more invigorating treks deep into the highlands.
The Victoria Golf & Country Resort maintains one of the best 18-hole courses in South Asia and a smart, plush clubhouse with beautiful views of the countryside.
Vesak, rather informally known as “Buddha’s Birthday”, is celebrated with verve every year in Kandy. The important Buddhist holiday falls in April or May.
When To Go
The cooler climes of hill country Sri Lanka have drawn appreciative visitors for some time. While still firmly ensconced within the island’s tropical belt, Kandy’s verdant, highland environs make for decidedly more comfortable conditions than, say, urban Colombo.
That aside, monsoon season can wreak havoc from May through July, as well as the months of December and January. Conditions can be rough and unpleasant throughout these periods and, as such, not amenable for tourism.
The best time to visit Kandy is between monsoon seasons, from March to the middle of May, when the only bothers are a little rain and some humidity. Temperatures, for the most part, run between 73°F (23°C) and 86°F (30°C).
What To Miss
Various “spice gardens” in and around Kandy have a reputation as tourist traps but do hold some inherent fascination for some. Exercise the utmost prudence if you visit to avoid the usual “look at this, now come tour the gift shop” racket.
Kandyan dance is an elegant artform but much less so in the opportunistic presence of a coach bus convoy brimming with hordes of photo-snapping tourists. Try to arrange a more intimate performance, if you can.
Souvenir and curio shops abound in Kandy and though worthwhile finds are spottily on offer, many carry little more than tacky, counterfeit stuff. As always, you get what you pay for and, moreover, a little honest, local counsel helps a great deal for anyone with specific items in mind.
The Bahiravokanda Vihara is a long, uphill and viewless walk for what is, in essence, a massive, concrete Buddha sculpture. Understandably, not everyone’s cup of tea as a result.
Rail travel in Sri Lanka is exceptionally scenic, with few finer examples than the route from Colombo to Kandy. A first class ticket is well worth the extra expense.
If you fly in to Sri Lanka, as most do, you can hire a taxi from Bandaranaike International Airport for the three hour trip to Kandy. Likewise, private cars and coach buses ferry tourists quite regularly to the Sacred City from Colombo. The traffic-choked journey, in stark contrast to Kandy itself, is infamously disorderly and turbulent.
Three-wheel tuk-tuks provide quick and efficient transport within Kandy but with a compact, easily traversable city plan, enthusiastic pedestrians have it good.
The city of Kandy is a veritable gem in Sri Lanka and was the capital of the last independent kingdom on the island nation. Near the geographic heart of the country, Kandy is home to spectacular scenery and has a population that trails only the national capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo. For visitors to Kandy today, the principal allure of the city is as a place of Theravada Buddhist pilgrimage.
The Sacred City of Kandy then, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. A basis for inscription was the city's peerless place as a focal point of Sinhala culture for more than 2,500 years. Another rationale behind the UNESCO endorsement was the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Known also as Sri Dalada Maligawa, the sacred temple is one of the most important holy sites in Buddhism. Other points of interest in Kandy include the Royal Palace, Royal Botanical Garden and Lankatilaka Temple.
Attractions & Activities
Restaurants & Nightlife
Kandy has a tropical climate, with heavy rain in April, May, October and November and temperatures between 23°C and 32°C for the year.
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