Top 5 things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Once the glorious capital of the Hill Country, a mighty kingdom that stood strong against foreign powers for centuries, the proud protector of the sacred tooth relic of the Lord Buddha; Kandy is the crown jewel that adorns the lofty hills of Sri Lanka’s central highlands.

Visit beautiful temples in Kandy

1. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

sri dalada maligawa kandy
Sri Dalada Maligawa temple complex. The Paththirippuwa (Octagonal pavilion) is at the center

History and importance

The icon of Kandy, the temple of the tooth relic or “Dalada Maligawa” as pronounced in Sinhala enshrines the relic of the tooth of Lord Buddha.

Revered by Buddhists all over the world this temple holds a special place in their hearts. This temple complex is recognised for its unique architecture and masterful interior designs.

According to the historical records, King Vimaladharmasuriya I built a 03 storey shrine near the royal palace to enshrine the sacred tooth relic (1593 – 1603). However, this building is no longer there today.

What you see today is an evolution of a three storey building built by King Weera Parakrama Narendrasinghe (1707 – 1739). The Paththirippuwa (Octagonal pavilion) was added later by King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe (1798 -1815).

chamber of the sacred tooth relic
Left: Chamber that enshrines the Tooth relic | Right: Arched entrance to the temple complex. Click to enlarge.

The temple complex comprises of several buildings such as Magulmaduwa (Audience Hall), Pattirippuwa (Octagonal pavilion), Handun Kunama (Chamber of the tooth relic), Temple of the tooth museum, The Royal Palace and International Buddhist Museum. The sacred tooth relic is enshrined in a small room on the upper floor in front of an altar used for flower offerings.

It is safely enclosed in a bullet-proof glass chamber and 07 caskets. Opening all these caskets happens rarely and 03 of these caskets are locked and keys are safeguarded by the guardians of the sacred tooth relic.

Essential information to visitors

  • Opening hours: 05:30 am – 08.00 pm
  • Entrance fee: LKR 1,500 (free for children)
  • Accessibility: Disabled travellers can use the elevator to worship the temple of tooth. Additionally, there are battery-powered vehicles to facilitate such visitors.
  • Thewawa times/ceremony  : 5:30 am, 09:00 am and 6:30 pm
  • Dress code
    Your legs and arms must be covered. Please don’t wear shorts and sleeveless tops. A sarong may come in handy in case you need to cover-up. White is the preferred colour to wear, dark and bright colours are not recommended.
  • Do you need a guide?
    Once you purchased the ticket you’ll be provided with the access to the official Wi-Fi network of the temple. This will enable you to use interactive voice guide which is available in multiple languages. However, if you were to opt for a guide please be-aware there are scammers hanging around the premises, hence ask your host for a reliable guide.

What is Thewawa? : Thewawa is a ritual service carried out daily at above mentioned times. These services are ceremoniously held and worshippers can take a glance at the casket containing the tooth relic at this time. However, the sacred tool relic is never exposed to the public.

Did you know? Temple of the tooth is the first eco-religious site in the world. Polythene usage is minimized here. Please keep in mind. ( Source )

2. Bahirawakanda Buddha Statue

Video Courtesy: Poorna Yapa via Chasing the Bliss

This large sitting Buddha statue can be seen from almost anywhere in the Kandy town. It is located just 1.7 km from the Temple of the sacred tooth (Maligawa) in an area called Asgiriya.

You can easily hire a tuk-tuk to visit the temple due to the close proximity to the town. There are no buses operating on this route. ( Location )

Some information for visitors

  • Height: 88 feet
  • Founder: Ven. Ampitiye Dammarama Thero
  • Opened to the public: 1993
  • Entrance fee: LKR 250
  • Visiting time: 05:30 am to 09:00 pm
  • Any Tips? Visit early to avoid scorching heat at the top. It goes without saying that you must be properly dressed as suited for a temple visit.

Did you know? The mountain this statue is located is called Bahirawakanda (600m). It is named after a devil named “Bahirawa”. This area said to have been used to sacrifice virgin girls in the age of kings to appease the devil. The sacrifices, however, ended up after a ranked officer for the king finally murdered the culprit behind the scheme who turned out to be a counsellor to the king himself.

3. Gadoladeniya Temple

Built in 1344 AD this historically significant temple is located in Pilimathalawa, Some 13 km off Kandy town and just 01 km off Colombo – Kandy main road. ( Google Maps )

What to see?

  • Ancient south Indian architecture and built of mostly stone.
  • Ancient frescos and sitting Buddha statues in shrine rooms.
  • Stone carvings and inscriptions.
  • Stupas built according to a structure called Vijayothpaya.

The usual pagoda in Sri Lanka has 4 Buddha statues placed within small shrine rooms around the stupa. But in Gadoladeniya, shrine rooms were constructed out of stone around the base of the stupa and 04 satellite stupas were built upon these shrine rooms.

Some information for visitors

  • Opening hours: 8:00 am – 06:00 am
  • Ticket price: LKR 300

4. Lankathilaka Temple

Another ancient temple built upon a rock bed alike Gadoladeniya. It is situated close to the Gadoladeniya and Embekke temple. You can cover these 03 temples in a single run and have plenty of time to visit the Peradeniya botanical garden as well.

The shortest route is to take the Gampola road off Peradeniya and proceed towards Udunuwara. ( Google Maps )

What is significant about this temple?

  • Built in the 14th century King Buwanekabahu assisted by a South Indian architect.
  • Has a Hindu section (front) and a Buddhist section (back)
  • Well preserved Gampola era arts and statues in the shrine room.
  • Ancient ivory tusks in the inner chamber are said to be 2000 years old.
  • Kandyan era artworks were influenced by both Buddhist and Hindu cultures.

Some information for visitors

  • Opening hours: 8:00 am – 06:00 am
  • Ticket price: LKR 300
  • Insider tip: Don’t forget to wear socks if you’re visiting in the afternoon as the stone can get pretty hot.

Fun Fact: This is the temple you see on the 500 rupees bill.

Hike up to the Hanthana mountain range

Video Courtesy: GoPlaces Sri Lanka

Some facts about the range

  • Number of peaks in the range: 07
  • Highest peak: Uura Kanda (1158 m/ 3800 ft)
  • The recommended time period to hike: Begin by 09:00 am – Descend by 03:00 pm
  • Difficulty level: Moderate

Up for some hiking experience while you’re absorbing all the culture and history in Kandy? Climbing Hanthana affords hikers spectacular views of the surrounding hill country and chance to see birds, and admire the vegetation in the region. I have included the general guidelines of the trail below but it’s recommended to accompany a guide.

There are several trailheads to summits but 4th mile post is frequently used. The trailhead is located about 05 km from Kandy and starts at the 4th mile bus stop. ( GPS 7.260622, 80.633227 ). There is a signpost to the right of the road so it is pretty hard to miss.

hanthana trail map
White line: The trek to the Hanthana range | Yellow line: The road from Kandy

If you’re using public transport, take the Uduwela-Kandy (655) bus which leaves Kandy bus stand near the clock tower at 07:00 am. It’ll only take ½ hrs to reach the starting point.

Covering the full range may take the entire day depending on the weather. (Misty conditions make it difficult to trek).

There are telecommunications installed on first and second peaks hence the trek is clear till 02nd peak. If you’re pressed for time, end your hike at the second peak. Which will only take 02-03 hrs.

The trail traverses whole range and ends in Sarasavigama (12km from Kandy). The last bus from there to Kandy leaves at 05:00 pm. Mind you, public transport is never reliable hence better to make backup plans for transport.

Tips for the Hike

  • Start as early as possible.
  • Carry at least 02 L of water since there are hardly any water sources available in summits.
  • Leech protection is required in the rainy season.
  • Leopards are said to roam the area but encounters are pretty rare.
  • The trail can be covered by vegetation after the 02nd peak.
  • Wear long sleeves and trousers to protect from thorny bushes.
  • Climbing to the summit of Uragala (Ura Ketu Gala) is challenging due to the dangerous rocky slope.

Did you know? Hanthana range is situated close to the University of Peradeniya. Its undergraduates conquer Hanthana range as a part of their initiation.

Relax in the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Garden

peradeniya royal botanical garden
Well manicured flowery lanes in Peradeniya botanical garden

Without a doubt the royalty of all the botanical gardens in Sri Lanka. Adorned with an exquisite collection of flowers, herbals and endemic plants, this 147-acre park is located just 05 km from Kandy surrounded by gracious Mahaweli River. The garden was around since the times of King Wickramabahu III (1371 AD) which was used by royalty as their natural retreat.

The English government in the early 1800s made it an official botanical garden and developed it to a safe haven to rare and endemic plants. It is currently governed by Department of National Botanic Gardens.

Getting here is easy. Take any bus running toward Peradeniya (Panideniya, Gampola, Pilimathalawa, Kadugannawa etc…).

Please note that these buses start from Torrington Bus station ( Google maps ). You have to get off at Peradeniya Hospital bus stop. The entrance is right opposite the hospital.

Some useful facts

  • Area: 147 Acres
  • Elevation: 460m
  • Cultivated plant species: 4,000
  • Annual visitors: 1.2 M
  • The Largest and the oldest of the 5 botanical gardens in Sri Lanka

What to see?

  • Orchid house and gardens – An exotic collection of orchids including the largest one in the world
  • Fernery – Hundreds of indigenous and exotic ferns.
  • The giant Java willow tree at the Great Lawn
  • A Lake filled with Nympahe plants (Water Lilies)
  • Spice Garden
  • Cactus House
  • Double Coconut trees
  • Flower garden and Flowering trees.
  • Bamboo Collection – The giant bamboos of Burma.
  • A long and narrow suspension bridge over Mahaweli river

Essential Information

  • Opening hours : 7:30 am – 05:30 pm (Daily)
  • Entrance fee (Foreign visitors) :
    • Adults (Over 12 yrs) : LKR 1,500
    • Kids (Below 12 yrs): LKR 750
    • University students: LKR 1,000 (Must produce proof)
    • There is a discount for SAARC passports, please ask for it.

Frequently asked questions

  • Are plants available to buy? No, Plants are not for sale within the garden premises.
  • Is there a restaurant inside? Yes, a Café and Restaurant is available but it is better to bring your own food and drinks. You can have a picnic under a cool shade. Be sure to safeguard food from aggressive monkeys.
  • How long does it take? Walking the entire park can take a whole day but you should be prepared to spend at least 02-03 hrs inside.
  • Are there buggies available? Yes, for an extra fee.
  • Do I need a guide? Not necessary. The plants have name boards for identification and paths are well marked. Plus you’ll get a plan of the garden with the tickets.

Strolling in Udawatte Kele forest reserve

udawatta kele sanctuary forest
A tranquil moment under the forest canopy |  Photo by Torie

If you glance over the Temple of the sacred tooth building complex, you’ll see a dense forest cover spreading towards the hills. It is none other than Udawatte Kele sanctuary (Udawattekele Royal Forest). Spanning for 275 acres makes it larger than the Peradeniya botanical garden.

Unlike Peradeniya gardens, this is a natural bio-diversity hotspot which is mainly a dense forest containing endemic tree species and home to a fabulous collection of birds, endemic reptiles and mammals.

Entrance to the reserve can be accessed by following the D.S Senanayake Veediya (The main road right in front of the Temple of the Tooth) and turning right to Sri Dalada Thapowana Vihara rd.

Walk straight about 500m until you reach the Thapowana Aramaya Temple. The entrance is to the right side of the temple. ( Directions )

Some useful facts about the forest reserve

  • It is said that King Sena Sammatha Wickramabahu (1473-1511) built his palace in the forest and it was then known as “Udawasala”.
  • The forest was used as a place for recreation/resting place for the royal family and to supply food for the elephants of the palace. The Royal pond they used still exists.
  • A point called “Kodimale Kanda” (548m) was used to hoist the National flag on special occasions.
  • Governor Robert Horton built “Lady Horton Road” named after his wife in 1837.
  • It was declared as Reserve Forest in 1856
  • In 1938, the government declared the forest a National Sanctuary.
  • The current governing body of the forest is the Department of Wildlife Conservation.

What is so special about it?

  • A tranquil forest canopy to escape the heat and chaos of Kandy CBD.
  • Perfect for morning/evening strolls and cycling.
  • A haven for Birdwatchers and biodiversity enthusiasts.
  •  Affords panoramic views of the Kandy city.

Did you know? This was a significant place in the founding of Kandy city. There was a hermit named ‘Senkanda’ who meditated in ‘Senkandalena’ cave shelter in this forest. He was the one who asked king Wickramabahu (1371) to establish Kandyan kingdom. The new kingdom was then named as ‘Senkadagalapura’.

What are the important things to see?

  • Lady Horton road – Ideal for bird watching.
  • Royal Pond – Where the royals bathed.
  • Giant Bamboo – An introduced bamboo species which can attain a diameter of 35 cm.
  • German temple and Senanayake hermitage – Meditation centers built around caves.
  • Senkada Caves – Where the hermit “Senkada” lived.
  • Giant Liana – A 200 – 300 years old liana that spread over 02 hectares.
  • Ironwood Forest
  • Kodimale (Flag point) – The Highest point of the forest.

Essential information and tips for visitors

  • Opening hours: 06:00 am to 06:00 pm (Everyday)
  • Ticket Prices:
    • Adult: LKR 650
    • Child: LKR 375
  • Leeches are rampant in rainy seasons.
  • Safeguard food items from aggressive monkeys. Scare them off with a stick but don’t hit them.
  • There are meditating monks inside the forest hence keep your voices low.
  • Even though there is a path leading to the Garrison Cemetery within the forest, it is blocked from accessing.
  • Walking trails have signposts, therefore no guide is needed. Although if you’re a solo female traveller, it is recommended you accompany someone.

Visit Museums in Kandy

international Buddhist museum kandy
The Museum of world Buddhism. A must visit.

Tooth Relic Museum (Sri Dalada Museum)

  • Location: New shrine room building. The entrance can be reached via the rear exit of the ground-floor shrine room.
  • Exhibits: Artefacts related to The Tooth relic and offerings. The museum contains a silk footprint of Buddha which had been offered by a Thai monk in the 18th century.
  • Opening Hours: 06:30 AM to 07:30 PM
  • Entrance Fee: Covered by the main temple ticket

Old Royal Palace ( Archaeological Museum)

  • Location: Walk past the Audience Hall, turn left and then right. Right next to the Raja Tusker Museum.
  • Exhibits: The museum building is the former palace of King Vimaladharma Sooriya (1591-1604). Contains unearthed pots, carved stones and old wooden pillars.
  • Opening Hours: 08:00 AM to 04:30 PM (Except Tuesday)
  • Entrance Fee: Covered by the main temple ticket

Raja Tusker Museum

  • Location: Walk past the Audience Hall, turn left and then right.
  • Exhibits: Stuffed remains of “Raja”. The famous tusker who carried the Tooth Relic casket in Kandy Esala perehera for 50 years.
  • Opening Hours: 08:30 AM to 04:30 PM
  • Entrance Fee: Covered by the main temple ticket

The Museum of World Buddhism

  • Location: The entrance located to the rear of Audience Hall.
  • Exhibits: The museum is housed in the former High Court building. A rich collection of various artefacts related to Buddhism from all over Asia. It houses a souvenir shop as well.
  • Opening Hours: 08:00 AM to 07:00 PM
  • Entrance Fee: Covered by the main temple ticket

Kandy National Museum

  • Location: Go down the road from the World Buddhist Museum. It is located right next to the Middle Palace.
  • Exhibits: The museum is housed in the former Queen’s Palace. Contains traditional Kandyan artefacts, local arts and crafts, The crown of King Rajasinghe II, Water clocks, old jewellery, fabrics, weaponry, lacquer-ware. For me personally, this is the most worthwhile museum to visit.
  • Opening Hours: 09:00 AM to 05:00 PM (Tuesday to Saturday)
  • Entrance Fee: LKR 600
kandy museums locations
Locations of the above-mentioned Museums relative to the Kandy Temple Complex (via Google maps)

Conclusion

We hope you’ve got the information you were looking for and enjoyed the article. If it didn’t meet your need or you want to share your experiences in Kandy (good or bad), do leave us a comment and we’ll get back to you.

While you’re here, check out our in-depth guide to Kandy too.

Hope you’ll have a pleasant time in Sri Lanka.

Text and photos are available under the Creative Commons Non-Derivations and Non-Commercial license

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