Exploring the sacred city of Kandy

(Last Updated On: June 20, 2022)

The sacred city of Kandy is the second largest in Sri Lanka, behind the capital Colombo. From an ancient indigenous kingdom to a British colonial outpost Kandy has a long and rich history.

Kandy City Lake
Kandy City Lake

The UNESCO World Heritage city has had its fair share of the limelight. It was used predominantly for filming Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and has also hosted matches at the 1996 and 2011 Cricket World Cup.

So whether nature or culture is your fancy, Kandy has something to entice every explorer.

What to do

Kandy and the sprawling jungle of the surrounding hill country region is home to numerous national parks and natural wonders. To the south of the region lies the Uda Walawe and Horton Plains national parks which are the best opportunities to see wild elephants in the region.

In the south-west corner, next to the Horton Plains, is Adam’s Peak, a sacred mountain that hosts a curious depression at its summit. Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians have all laid claim to its origins, although these claims are based on legends rather than truths. The ascent is general made by night, meaning that you reach the summit to catch glorious views over the valley upon sunrise.

Whilst these parks are quite a way out of Kandy, they are well worth a daytrip, particularly for those who are planning an extended stay in the country.

For culture vultures

The Temple of the Tooth, Kandy
The Temple of the Tooth, Kandy


Temple of the Tooth is one of the holiest shrines in the Buddhist world. The temple is said to hold a tooth relic belonging to the spiritual leader Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. The ancient artefact was brought to the island in the fourth century and has been kept in Kandy for almost 500 years.

The beautiful white stone temple was constructed in the 17th century and is a located as part of the expansive royal palace complex. Inside the temple a lavish display of paintings and elaborate golden elephant heads flank the passageways. Over the main shrine an ornate canopy of flowers hangs over the main shrine, which is guarded by a protective golden fence.

The temple can become quite crowded so make sure that you get there early to beat the queues.

What to eat

Rice and curry is the staple of the Sri Lankan diet, however curries in the country are more similar to Thai dishes, rather than curries found in neighbouring India.  Coconut, chillies and other spices make up the base of a good Sri Lankan curry, with locals preferring something that gives a fiery kick.

For those searching for something a little closer to an Indian curry, devilled dishes are popular meat dishes served in a spicy sauce with onions and chilli, usually washed down with a couple of beers.

Hoppers, a small bowl-shaped pancake, offer an interesting breakfast option. These batter cases are often filled with yoghurt and honey, or served as an accompaniment to a curry.

What to drink

Local brands Olé, Lion and Elephant offer an eclectic range of colonial style soft drinks, such as ginger beer and cream soda, but recognised international brands can also be widely found.

For those looking for an alcoholic tipple, lager is the island’s staple drink, with Lion Lager the most popular brand. Arrack is the island’s national spirit, distilled from fermented coconut flowers. With a distinct flavour, somewhere between a whisky and a rum, arrack is usually drunk neat or mixed with lemonade or coke, although it is often used in cocktails in many tourist bars.

Moment you’ll never forget

Kandy Temple & dancers, Sri Lanka
Kandy Temple & dancers, Sri Lanka

The Kandy Esala Perahera is one of Asia’s most spectacular festivals. Bright and colourful the celebrations date back to the arrival of the tooth relic in Sri Lanka in the fourth century.

Festivities for the 10-day event begin with the Kap tree planting ceremony. Parades are held every evening through the city’s streets, gradually getting bigger and noisier as the festival reaches a crescendo.

The final procession (perahera) is a sea of activity, colour and noise. Elephants, drummers, dancers and acrobats all take centre stage in a performance so large that at times it feels like the whole city is taking part. The highlight of the great parade is the arrival of the tooth relic, which is carried on the back of an elephant through the packed streets.

The festival is brought to a close the morning after the great parade with the water-cutting ceremony. A local priest wades out into the Mahaweli River and slices through the water with a sword. This ritual is believed to protect against drought and divide the pure from the impure.

Whether it is the culture or the partying that particularly grasps you about the Esala Perahera, you are guaranteed to be swept along in the atmosphere.

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