Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka and, while you only need a couple of days to complete your check list, there are many beautiful sights to see and places to explore.
How to get to Kandy from Colombo
It is just a three-hour drive from Colombo or four or five hours on a train – this is one of the unusual things about Sri Lanka, trains take longer. This is because the routes wind slowly, often up through hills, with more stops that you are usually expecting.
Where to stay in Kandy
There is decadence in every detail of the Theva Residency, from the obvious features such as the jacuzzi making up the centre piece of my room, to the infinity pool and jacuzzi surrounded by sun beds overlooking the hills of Kandy. Alongside the smaller, subtle hints of luxury such as slippers that feel like pillows beneath your feet and the spectacular 3D Sri Lankan paintings adorning the walls.
It is a very short drive out of the city centre, idyllically located two kilometres away in the Hantana hills which surround Kandy, with views overlooking the city and hills beyond. Read my full review here.
What to see in Kandy
The first thing you should do, early in the morning before it gets too hot, is walk to the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue.
When I was researching, I was convinced it was a long, hard walk uphill by the way people stressed to leave early, but it isn’t. In the high heat it is simply unpleasant, and perhaps in certain times of year it is best to get there early to avoid the crowds.
You do have to remove your shoes – take socks if it is hot because the stones may be uncomfortable. I read to tip the man you leave your shoes with to make sure they stay there, but I think that is unnecessary and sensationalist. If you’re that worried, take a bag and put them in there.
Next on the agenda should be a walk around the lake, if you’re lucky you’ll see monkeys in the trees and without a doubt you will see a few water monitor lizards sleeping in the sun.
What to do in Kandy
On your way around the lake you will pass the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Sri Dalada Maligawa. It is housed in the royal palace of the former king of Kandy and it is believed whoever holds the relic holds governance of the country. Rituals are performed three times a day, with a bathing of the relic on holy water on Wednesdays. As with many places you go in Sri Lanka, beware of “guides”. You never need them.
Next on your walk around the lake you will pass the Kandyan Art Association and Cultural Centre. Here you will see people making arts and crafts – one man quickly engraved an elephant onto metal, completely freehand, and simply asked for a little money of my choosing in return for it. It sits fondly in my purse window. While you are here you can book tickets for the daily show of Kandyan dancing, which takes place every evening. If you book ahead they will reserve front row seats for you.
Day trips from Kandy
From Kandy you can easily access a few other attractions. There is the Peradeniya Botanic Garden around 5 kilometres outside of Kandy. It is huge, with parks and walkways, altogether having 4,000 species of plants – it is most famous for its orchids. You can hire a tuk tuk, or if you’re on a budget just find head to the bus station (follow the road on the right of the station).
There is also the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, but I have to say my visit here made me feel very uncomfortable throughout. We had decided against going, worrying that it was cruel. However, my other half has a Sri Lankan friend who encouraged us to visit and after reading this, I decided to go and check it out for myself. We should have considered how different an experience it is visiting as tourists. I felt like we were being harassed for money from the moment we got there until the moment we left — read why I don’t recommend it here.
If you are going to go out of Kandy, it is worth hiring a tuk tuk (6,000 LKR, £29/$39) or a car (8,000 LKR £39/52). It will take you wherever you want to go all day, so you can do both the gardens and the orphanage (if you decide to go) and stop at a couple of tea factories.
I would avoid going to a herbal garden in Kandy if you are going to other places, I visited one near Galle that was much better with more reasonable prices.
Where to eat in Kandy
Theva Residency has a wonderful restaurant which provides a variety of world foods. The lunch and dinner menu combined is an endless offering, but the prices are definitely higher than you might expect. If you’re on a budget this could be a rare night of luxury…
Balaji Dosai was my favourite place to eat in Kandy. It looks like an old, slightly decrepit kabab shop, but it produces the most delicious food. It has a small and simple menu made up mostly of dosia, a type of pancake that is often stuffed – my favourite was the masala potatoes inside. It is insanely cheap, feeding two for a couple of pounds.
Nightlife in Kandy – where to drink
HQ provides pub garden vibes. Inside is fairly simply place to have a drink, but outside the tables sit in rows. There was one other woman there with friends, also tourists, and a lot of Sri Lankan men, and I felt perfectly comfortable.
Lots of places will charge tourists high prices, but here they have a menu and it is all good value. You can even buy a bottle of liquor and mixers to go with it and settle in for the night!