I fell in love with the Sri Lankan city of Kandy within minutes of arriving. Yes it is a busy, traffic clogged Asian city but it somehow manages to retain its lush, green environment and bucket loads of laid-back charm. I’d like to share my favourite things to do in Kandy.
It is a Unesco World Heritage Site and, similarly to the historic Galle fortress, has many layers of history and attraction. It was a must-see on my itinerary for Sri Lanka. Here are my top five things to do in Kandy:
Visit the Temple of the Tooth
This has to be at the top of any list of things to do in Kandy and rightly so. The Sri Dalada Maligawa Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic Buddhist temple houses the Buddha’s tooth, which is said to be connected to the control of the country. Kandy was, after all, the capital of the last kings of Sri Lanka.
Take a wander through the royal palace complex before entering the temple and admiring the carvings and decorations that cover every surface. We visited on a Wednesday when there is an important ritual ceremony at 6.30 in the evening. After wandering around we found a small space to the side to sit and watch proceedings – there are offerings of flowers and food made upstairs and drumming rituals downstairs.
Wander through the Kandy Botanical Gardens
Even if you usually yawn at the thought of visiting a botanical garden you should make time for the Peradeniya Royal Botanic Garden in Kandy. The gardens were established by the British in 1843 with coffee and cinnamon plants, as well as specimens from Kew Garden in England.
But the origins go back to the 14th century when the royal court was held here by the Mahaweli River. The gardens are 147 acres of lawns, tropical flowers, exquisite orchids and palm tree avenues. There are over 4,000 plant species growing here and we spend a lovely morning wandering.
Walk around the Kandy Lake
Kiri Mahuda or the ‘Sea of Milk’ is the jewel in the heart of Kandy city. Following the path that runs all the way around Kandy Lake is a must while visiting this lovely town. Not only is it beautiful, this walk also offers opportunities for both people watching and wildlife spotting.
It is unexpectedly alive with all sorts of wildlife for all that it is in the middle of a busy city. We saw water monitors and terrapins, as well as many different birds – egrets, kingfishers, cormorants, ducks.
Dine at Helga’s Folly
We were looking for somewhere special to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Kandy and this is what popped up when did the usual searches. Helga de Silva Blow is a larger-than-life woman who runs this unique Kandy hotel created in the 1930s where the décor has to be seen to be believed. Have a look at Helga’s folly website, just to hear their rendition of the Owl and the Pussy Cat!
Celebrity visitors have flocked here over the decades, from Vivien Leigh and Mahatma Gandhi to the Stereophonics (who wrote a song “Madame Helga” inspired by their stay here). We only had dinner at Helga’s Folly but it was an unforgettable experience.
Get lost in Kandy
There are plenty of other museums and tourist attractions in Kandy but once I had done the above the main thing I enjoyed was just diving into the little back streets and wandering. Set off from the lakeshore near the Temple of the Tooth and get lost.
Getting lost among the street vendors and lorry drivers and experiencing the colours and textures, smells and sounds of this wonderful city.
So there you have it, my favourite experiences and things to do in Kandy – put them all on your travel bucket list right now!
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you visited Kandy in Sri Lanka? What things to do in Kandy do you recommend?