The cultural capital of the country, Kandy is set almost slap bang in the center of Sri Lanka and was once home to the island nation’s kings and queens of old. As it was only conquered by the British in 1815, the city still proudly showcases its rich history and heritage, with lots of wonderful palaces and temples found around town. Of these, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is undoubtedly the most impressive tourist attraction and is counted among the most sacred Buddhist sites on Earth.
Set among rolling hills covered in lush forests, Kandy is centered around a lovely lake of the same name. While the scenery in and around Kandy is spectacular, the city itself also makes for a fine sight, as beautiful Kandyan architecture lies side by side with colonial-era buildings.
Once a year, the city hosts the magnificent Esala Perahera festival; this really is one of the best things to do in Kandy, as its rich history and culture come alive before your eyes.
12. New Ranweli Spice Garden
As Sri Lanka is famed for its spices, it is well worth heading to New Ranweli Spice Garden to smell, taste, and learn all about the amazing plants that have had such a profound impact on the island’s history. Set in a very peaceful and pleasant place on the outskirts of Kandy, the garden is lovely to wander around, with the smell of various spices wafting through the air.
As well as learning how cocoa, peppercorns, and vanilla are grown, you can also sample these tasty spices or buy some in the shop to take home with you.
11. World Buddhist Museum
Set within the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic complex, this fantastic museum documents the expansion and history of Buddhism around the globe. Located in the city’s former High Court building that dates to Victorian times, its large collection has lots of interesting photos and displays for you to peruse, as well as models, statues, and paintings.
These tell you the story of the Buddha, as well as the different belief systems and forms of worship in countries as varied as India, Japan, and Afghanistan. Well worth visiting, the World Buddhist Museum and its informative yet interesting exhibits will help you to better understand and appreciate the incredible temple it is connected to.
10. St Paul’s Church
Built by the British between 1843 and 1852, St Paul’s Church was once used by the colonial troops garrisoned nearby. Somewhat fittingly, its rusty-red crenelated tower rises dramatically into the sky, both imposing and impregnable at the same time. It looks more like part of a castle than a church.
While its interior is quite austere, there are some delightful scenes of the Bible on the walls, as well as some fine stained-glass windows. Neo-Gothic in style, the Garrison Church, as it is often nicknamed, is one of the city’s most recognizable remnants of British colonial rule and is located right in the center of town.
9. Royal Palace of Kandy
Now home to the brilliant National Museum of Kandy, the Royal Palace is where the Sinhalese monarchs of times gone by used to reside until the British conquered the kingdom in 1815. Dating to 1634, the palace complex features some magnificent Kandyan architecture, with lots of impressive pavilions, halls, and temples scattered around its grounds.
Besides the amazing buildings on show, there are loads of fantastic artifacts and exhibitions for you to peruse that date both to the Kandian era and colonial times. Lying between Udawattakele Forest Reserve and Kandy Lake, with the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic right next to it, the Royal Palace of Kandy is one of the best places to learn more about the nation’s captivating culture, history, and heritage.
8. Perahera Festival
A phenomenal event to witness, the Festival of the Tooth (as Esala Perahera is also known) takes place every July or August and is a must-see if you’re in town. Over the course of two or so weeks, a whole host of processions and parades take place. These honor the Sacred Tooth Relic for which the city is so renowned.
With lots of astonishing cultural dances and fire performances to check out, as well as parades of elephants dressed in religious garments, Perahera Festival promises to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
7. Ceylon Tea Museum
Another of the nation’s most important products, the Ceylon Tea Museum takes you on a riveting journey through the history of Sri Lankan tea. Set in the Hanthana Tea Factory, which was built in 1925, the museum has lots of interesting exhibits for you to peruse on the cultivation of tea plants, the machinery and utensils used to harvest them, and famous tea pioneers.
After learning all there is to know about the process and history behind it, you can sample some of the country’s brews yourself in its charming little tea-room.
6. Lankatilaka Temple
Located just half an hour’s drive to the southwest of the city, Lankatilaka Temple is home to some utterly brilliant Sinhalese architecture and artworks and is definitely worth checking out if you have the chance. Built atop a natural rock some time in the 14th century, the temple’s sparkling white walls are beautifully embellished and adorned with statues and bas-reliefs.
Inside is just as beguiling, with Kandyan era paintings and sculptures covering the walls and ceiling. Spanning three stories, the splendid Lankatilaka Temple is one of the finest examples of Gampola-era architecture around.
5. Kandy Lake
Lying right at the heart of the city, Kandy Lake is human-made and was created all the way back in 1807 by its then ruler Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. Surrounded by trees, with the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic lying on its shores, the lake paints a very pretty picture and is a great place to go for a stroll.
Numerous myths and legends swirl around the lake, with the small island at its center said to be connected to the Royal Palace by way of an underwater tunnel. As the story goes, the king and his harem would use it when they went bathing in the lake.
4. Sri Maha Bodhi Viharaya
As it is home to one of the largest and most beautiful statues of the Buddha in Sri Lanka, the Sri Maha Bodhi Viharaya temple is one of Kandy’s most popular tourist attractions. Set among the wooded hills that lie just to the west to the city center, the temple’s scenic setting makes it the perfect place to go if you want to escape from Kandy’s hustle and bustle for a bit.
Towering to over 26 meters, the dazzlingly white statue depicts the Buddha in a meditation pose and is the undoubted star of the show. One of the most photographed monuments in Kandy, Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue lies at the top of a long flight of stairs and can be seen poking its head above the surrounding treetops from many points in the city.
3. British Garrison Cemetery
Nestled away on the outskirts of Udawattakele Forest Reserve overlooking Kandy Lake, the British Garrison Cemetery is still caringly tended to to this day. Its manicured grounds are dotted with tombs, headstones, and small obelisks. Used between 1817 and 1873, it is here that the British dead were buried, with many of the men, women, and children having succumbed to either cholera or malaria.
Despite its rather somber atmosphere, the cemetery is set in a very pretty spot and is well worth stopping by for the insight it offers up into the city and country’s colonial past.
2. Udawattakele Forest Reserve
Covering the hillside overlooking both the Royal Palace of Kandy and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, it is in Udawattakele that kings and queens of years gone by used to go for a stroll and immerse themselves in nature. Now a forest reserve, the park is home to lots of wonderful fauna and flora, with a number of lovely paths and trails snaking their way through the dense undergrowth.
Besides the brightly-colored birds that flock overheard, from time to time, you can also spot pangolins, macaques, and civets hidden away among the foliage. Popular with locals and tourists alike, the delightful nature and stunning scenery on show in Udawattakele Forest Reserve makes it a marvelous place to visit.
1. Temple of the Tooth
One of the most sacred sites in the whole of Sri Lanka, the Temple of the Tooth is home to one of Buddhism’s most revered relics – a tooth from the Buddha himself. The resplendent golden-roofed temple is a fitting location for such an important relic. Although you can’t actually see it for yourself, the ornate gold casket in which it is enclosed already makes for an impressive sight.
The reverent atmosphere makes the temple a special place to visit, and rituals are performed here thrice daily. While the tooth is believed to have been brought to the island in the third century, the gorgeous temple and shrine were built many centuries later. Part of the Royal Palace, the Temple of the Tooth is the most important and popular sight in town and shouldn’t be missed out on when exploring Kandy’s many delights.