One of the holiest places for Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Kandy is a hillside sleepy lake town that is on everyone’s while travelling in the country. Here is your guide to Kandy – the holiest city of Ceylon, where we tell you, why everyone comes to Kandy and what we think of it.
- Where to Stay
- How to reach Kandy.
- Why is Kandy famous among all types of tourists
- Best restaurant and cafe
- Things to do here.
- Tooth Relic Temple.
Staying in Kandy
The lake city view is fantastic. However, the room with this view comes with a price. Since it is the 2nd most visited city in Sri Lanka, you can imagine the high prices. So the price you pay for a decent room in Kandy may get you a mid-luxury space in Ella or Hikkaduwa.
We stayed at Sevana City Hotel, and I don’t recommend it. The only good thing about the hotel is it was 600m from the Tooth relic temple. Unfortunately, because of The last-minute change in the plan of coming to Kandy from Ella, we had to book whatever was available. The reviews are good online, but we feel it is not worth the money.
The reception area looked promising, but not the rooms. The third floors rooms without the elevators to reach, tiny room, plywood partition between our room and the next ( WE COULD HEAR THE NOISE CLEARLY FROM THE ADJACENT ROOM), water leaking through AC – the defect list longer than this. Unless you go to the terrace (without a lift in 2019), you have the view of a dingy neighbourhood. This is not worth 50 USD/night.
How to reach Kandy
- Nearest airport – Colombo international airport-100km.
- Nearest railway station– The railway station is 250m away from the Tooth Relic temple. Many bloggers describe the Kandy-Ella train journey as the most scenic train route. So Kandy is well connected through trains from Colombo and Northern Sri Lanka too.
- Bus – Nuwara Eliya to Kandy is a beautiful windy road with rolling hills and tea estates. If you have road sickness on windy roads, I suggest you go by private taxi.
- We came to Kandy by the red bus paying 250LKR or 1.5 USD for one person – The bus with route number 10 travels runs from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy Goodshed bus stop. Routemaster to know the bus routes.
- Tuk-tuks are the best option to get to the city from the bus station.
Backpackers to Organised tours, why does everyone love Kandy
Before deciding what to do in Kandy, know that it is full of tourists. Out of all the other towns we visited in Sri Lanka, this city was more crowded. No travel agency will ever leave Kandy out of their Itinerary. So, you will see more tourists in Kandy than you see in Ella or Mirissa.
Why everyone loves Kandy?
There are plenty of reasons for Kandy to be flooded with tourists -The tooth relic temple is the holiest place for Buddhists in Sri Lanka. | Ella to Kandy train route is supposed to be one of the best in the world with its scenic beauty. So expect lots of backpackers here. | 2hr journey from Colombo and Nuwara Eliya – makes it a perfect day trip for locals and tourists | Indiana Jones – temple of doom was filmed here! There are Botanical gardens and an elephant sanctuary nearby . Everywhere we walked, and nagging sellers/travel agents stopped us to sell something.
The good news is that Kandy has managed to keep a bit of its “Old Town charm” at a few parts of the town – This is the part we loved most in Kandy. What I wasn’t so happy about was its traffic. Thank god, it is not as bad as Colombo, but the lake city isn’t peaceful. Most streets are manicured to suit tourists at most places l ike Bangkok or Phi -Phi. We were overwhelmed with Kandy’s touristy vibe, especially after coming from a tranquil town like Ella.
I wished we had skipped Kandy and visited any other holy place like Polonnaruwa. I hope, over-tourism is controlled here so that the city breathes better.
Best places to eat in Kandy
Not having done much homework on Kandy, we were not too specific about what we saw and what we ate. However, while walking to the temple in Kandy, it reminded me of the Travel-Xp channel’s episode of Traveling around Sri Lanka showing a Dosa place- Balaji Dosai.
Being south Indians, the craving for Dosa runs in our blood. We usually avoid Indian restaurants outside India; what is the fun of eating the same dishes, right? But the aroma of Ghee Dosa outside the restaurant pulled us inside. Quick service, spacious and undoubtedly neat and Delicious Dosa- worth the wait. BEWARE OF THE FAKE BRANCHES – there was one more Balaji Dosai in Peradeniya road near our hotel. Unfortunately, the Dosa in this fake branch tasted terrible, and the chutney was stale.
The Empire Cafe
This was an accidental visit. Unaware of its existence, we happened to spot an old building right next to the tooth temple exit. Old buildings always attract me! Seeing the board Empire cafe – we entered. The classy chic interiors with the combination of pink, turquoise and white created a cosy-classy ambience. The UN conserved building of 1890’s time houses a mid-range cafe. From the American breakfast to the traditional rice and curry – food for all throughout the day. THE BEST PLACE TO AVOID CROWD and sip some fruit shakes with Lankan tastes like COCONUT + TREACLE + BANANA-( made with Buffalo milk and curd)
Things to do in Kandy
What we did – Walking around Kandy lake | Red Mosque | Tooth Relic temple
Other things you can add on to if you are in Kandy for more than a day – Botanical Garden | Visit the Mask-making workshop | Visit the Rope bridge ( it is a steel bridge now, a tuk-tuk driver told) location of Indiana jones- the temple off doom | Watch Kandy cultural show in the evening. You must be prepared to face big tourist groups here – All these places are beautiful, hence the huge crowd.
What we did –
Near the lake
The lake was under restoration when we went. So you can enjoy sunsets sitting beside the lakes or stroll across the streets for tea and some tropical smoothies in fancy cafes.
The Red Mosque
This mosque stands out near the lake and tooth relic temple in Senanayake veediya, surrounded by commercial buildings. Visitors are allowed inside during non-prayer hours.
Temple of Tooth Relic
One of the holiest places in Sri Lanka and an example of traditional Kandyan Architecture. Be there at 6 PM to witness the main mystical rituals with lots of lotus and Diyas inside the temple.
Tooth Relic Temple
Know Before you go
- Dress code – Cover knees and shoulders. The temple authority is super strict about the dress code for visitors. Read our post “What to wear in Sri Lanka” to learn more.
- The entry fee was 1000LKR or 6.5USD/person for foreigners. Payable in cash LKR only
- Temple visitor hours – 5.30 AM to 8 PM.
- How many hours to spend at Kandy Tooth Relic temple– We spent around 3hours, including watching the main Pooja at 6 PM. Though the temple was filled with devotees and visitors, it was peaceful. You can find a corner either inside or outside the temple to zone yourself out.
- Photography is not allowed inside. It makes total sense- An active temple where monks and disciples from all around the world come to teach and be taught. So we can’t be annoying tourists clicking unlimited photos of them for Instagram sake.
What is the story behind “Tooth Relic.”
Hiring a guide is possible at the entrance. But you will be rushed inside the temple as they want to be done with you ASAP and catch hold of another tourist. We saw this happening with some Western tourists, and they had a big argument near the Mantap. But not knowing its history is a sin. So for people like you and me, there is a vast hall with hundreds of framed paintings on the wall narrating the story of the Origin of the temple.
The history dates back to the 4th Century AD. After the death of Lord Gauthama Budha, his body was burnt on pyres of Sandalwood in North East India. A female disciple of him picked a remaining tooth from the ashes and handed it over to a king in India. He built a temple for it and preserved it until a war for Buddha’s sacred Tooth began. In the struggle of preserving it from “Non-Buddhist” kings, it was brought to Madhurai in India and then to Ceylon. After getting handed over to many kings in Polonnaruwa and Anuradha Pura in Sri Lanka, the sacred Tooth finally found its forever place in the hills of Kandy when the Portuguese destroyed a temple in 1600.
What we see today at Kandy is not the old original temple. It has been damaged and bombed several times during the Civil wars. But the temple has been restored the same way, standing elegant.
After the entrance gate, the first thing you see is an octagonal moat with roof tiled and walls painted in white on the water. The women devotees wearing white Kandyan saree, men in white Sarong carry lotus, and other flowers walk quietly, whispering the chants.
Follow the crowd, especially the Sri-Lankan group with flowers in their hands. For sure, they will be going to the main sanctuary. Everywhere signages narrate the history and stories. You will be asked to remove your footwear (socks not allowed). From there, the holy sanctuary filled with fragrance, coloured flags and hummings of Buddhist chants is all yours and other devotees. Trust me; the rhythmic Buddhist chants are hypnotising. Choose a spot near Local devotees or Asian disciples (they wear white pants and loose cotton shirts). Sit next to them without disturbing them. Their chants will transpose you into the spiritual world.
If you are there to enjoy the architectural beauty, quietly walk around to see the wooden structures. The wooden trusses to wooden staircases are beautifully detailed and carved, reminding you of the Padmanabhapuram palace of Kerala.
The first floor is where you find the sacred “Tooth relic” Devotees offer lotus flowers. Unfortunately, you can not see the Tooth exact; the inner sanctum is accessible for Monks only and not meant for tourist selfies.
Outside the main sanctuary, there are many pavilions that were part of the ancient palace complex. It is nice to see Travellers from other parts of the world wearing Kandyan saree, holding Diyas to offer it. It is fascinating to see travellers like this embracing local culture for whatever reason it may be.
What do you think of Kandy? Let us know in the comment section below.