The largest city in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country and a UNESCO world heritage site, Kandy, Sri Lanka boasts stunning colonial architecture and several sacred Buddha sites. About a 3-hour train ride from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, Kandy is accessible to travelers of all ages and backgrounds, and its stunning (very Jungle Book) design can enchant young backpackers or family travelers alike.
Our comprehensive Sri Lanka travel itinerary is essential for any Sri Lanka trip planning!
On our 10-city, 8-day adventure through Sri Lanka, we were able to spend a full day in Kandy, exploring a few of the pursuits the scenic city has to offer (video of our day above!). Since we had already done a fair bit of traveling before arriving in Kandy, we enjoyed a relaxing day strolling through the marvelous city’s center. As we learned, Kandy is one of those cities well-suited for brief exploration, as you can easily fill a day with activities a few blocks away from each other.
Here are 5 things to do in a day to optimize your time in Kandy!
1. Browse the Markets
A few blocks from Kandy Lake (starting on the same side of the street as the Food City supermarket), you’ll find some of Kandy’s markets, stocked from floor to shack-roof with a medley of clothing both trendy and traditional, scarves shaded every hue, linen-everything—and yes, the hecklers that come with bargain-hunting. It’s worth it, though! Before you go to the market, make sure to check out Foodie Souvenirs to Bring Back from Sri Lanka. We snagged several bags of Sri Lankan spice tea with cardamom pods and other spices added for a fraction of the cost it would be at spice gardens (which are pretty much universally rip-offs, by the way), and a few adorable printed lounge pants. Plus, it’s a great location to fulfill the second item on our list…
You can’t leave Sri Lanka without a Safari in Yala National Park!
2. Eat Cheap Food
Another bonus for visiting the markets is scoring some authentic, dirt cheap and delicious food. If you walk through the maze of vendors, you’ll come across a few hole-in-the-wall food venues loaded with locals (typically men in sarongs) feasting on some piping hot plates. At one such eatery, we scored a plate of rice and curry (with a free refill) for 60 Sri Lankan rupees/$0.41 USD for two people! It was scrumptious, and by far the cheapest meal we’ve ever had (yes, cheaper than Thailand!). Besides the food itself, the venture is worth it for the cultural experience—eating a plate of rice and curry with your hands surrounded by sarong-clad Sri Lankan men doing the same. As they say, when in Rome!
3. Take a Stroll Around Kandy Lake
Known locally by the name Bogambara, Kandy Lake is the city center’s anchor, the aesthetic epicenter of its colonial architecture.
Digest the cheapest meal of your life from the market while strolling along its edges, watching children feed the birds, taking in the scenery, and maybe picking up some sliced mango from a vendor to snack on. If the weather’s nice, you can even opt for a peaceful boat ride on the lake.
You’ll also love this beautiful Secret Beach in Mirissa, Sri Lanka!
Feeling a climb? How about up the Lion Rock of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka!
4. Watch the Traditional Dances
After some R&R by the lake, you might want to watch a traditional dance show at one of the nearby halls. The show will likely feature a variety of styles of Sri Lankan dance, but the style native to the hill country and Kandy is known as Uda Rata Natum. No matter the style, the dances are a spectacle of elaborate and stunning costumes, acrobatics, symbolism, and even fire-walking. There are several ways to buy a ticket, but the best method is to ask your hotel ahead of time (if you’re staying in the general region of Kandy Lake). If they don’t sell them, there will most likely know someone nearby who does.
5. Visit the Temple of the Tooth
Arguably the main tourist draw to Kandy, the Temple of the Tooth, or Sri Dalada Maligawa, holds the relic of the tooth of the Buddha, making it one of the most sacred places of worship in the Buddhist world.
While you probably won’t be able to see the tooth itself, you can stretch to view the casket it is contained in with hundreds of other pilgrims. The temple itself is worth it for sheer aesthetic overload—vibrant colors, fragrant flowers and ornate designs line the walls and ceilings.
It’s best to align your visit with one of the puja ceremonies throughout the day. A rich cultural experience (yes, we saw more Sri Lankans there than westerners, although there were certainly plenty of westerners) lush with tradition, rhythm, and ritual, the puja ceremonies bring the caskets holding the tooth relic out for the public’s eyes, set to the sound of traditional drums and horns.
Make sure to check out the Dambulla Elephant Trash Dump!
Held every day at 5:30 am, 9:30am and 6:30 pm, the puja ceremonies may be more crowded than other times of the day at the temple, but it’s worth it! And make sure you’re dressed appropriately! As with all temples in Sri Lanka, you shouldn’t wear anything shorter than the knee (especially the ladies), and your shoulders should be covered. A scarf, sarong, or pashmina are great items to pack for just the purpose!
Where to Stay in Kandy Sri Lanka
Looking for the best Sri Lanka hotels on a budget? During our time in Kandy Sri Lanka, we lodged at the Lakshmi Guesthouse. The room was small but comfortable, with a private bathroom. While the hotel was close enough to Kandy Lake, we’d recommend booking early to try to find a closer hotel, if that’s your preference.
A delightful city to spend a day in Sri Lanka, Kandy (otherwise known as Senkadagalapura) can provide the perfect backdrop for those brag-worthy wanderlust-inspiring photos you’ll want to take. And whatever your next Sri Lankan venture after Kandy may be—perhaps braving the 7-hour train ride through the lush tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya to Ella (often referred to as the world’s most beautiful train journey), or maybe a shoot in the other direction to visit the famous sites in Dambulla and Sigiriya—you’ll be glad you had some time to frolic in the architectural dream of the Sacred City of Kandy!
Looking for a place to stay in Kandy? Check out this list of recommended Sri Lankan Accommodation!
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What’s your favorite thing to do in Kandy?
Let us know in a comment below!