We have curated some key places in Kandy that we frequently visit and could be of interest during your stay.
Have an interesting place to add? Please contact us to let us know.
We don’t need to tell you about Kandy’s two main attractions – the Temple of the Tooth (Dalada Maligawa) and Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. But Kandy has a whole ot more to offer that you may not have heard about. It is a World Heritage City and worth spending some time exploring, not just passing through.
The Kandy Dance and Culture Shows take place every day early evening in various venues close to the Temple of the Tooth. Touts will try to tell you that the one they recommend (and get a commission from) is the best but they’re all pretty much the same, very exciting with drumming, dancing, acrobatics and fire walking. Performances last upwards of an hour so it will be well after dark before you get back to Jungle Tide. And you’ll have missed the last regular bus so don’t rely on that as a means of transport.
Kandy’s lake is an attraction in itself. Man-made, yes, but very old with shoals of fish, water birds, turtles and cabragoyas (water monitors) to look at. Just taking a walk around it is a lovely way to spend an hour or two. The downside is that the adjacent traffic is heavy and noisy except for the short stretch in front of the Temple of the Tooth where vehicles are prohibited. And/or you might want to take one of the motor boat trips on the lake from the jetty at the town end, quite near the Queens Hotel, not expensive and a different viewpoint on Kandy.
Another aquatic option is a river cruise on the Mahaweli Ganga. There are two we know of. One goes from the Cinnamon Citadel Hotel out of town by the river near Katugastota and needs to be booked through that hotel. The other, which is cheaper, goes from a bridge in Peradeniya and can be booked direct through us. On both tours you will see water birds and maybe water monitors as well as human life on and by the river.
Either as an alternative to visiting the Temple of the Tooth or afterwards, it’s well worth taking a walk up behind the temple complex where the roads are very quiet and you get elevated views over the temple, the lake and the city. Also up here are the Garrison Cemetery, where many of the early British settlers in the area are buried – nicely restored and with a very informative guide. Free, but please make a donation. There’s also the excellent Museum of World Buddhism and a gift shop associated with the temple.
At the far end of the lake and a longish walk uphill (so maybe get a tuk-tuk) is Helga’s Folly aka the Chalet Hotel – full of strange art and artefacts and pretty much unique among Sri Lanka’s many different styles of hotels and guest houses. As featured in the Stereophonics song “Madam Helga”. Non-residents are very welcome to go and have a drink and a good look round. If you don’t take drink or food there is a charge for just looking around. Helga’s is one of the places you can go for a swim if you want to cool off while in town; others are the Queens Hotel and the Hotel Suisse close to the lake.
Udawatta Kele Sanctuary brings nature almost into the heart of the otherwise noisy, congested and polluted city. It is the big area of trees you see up behind the Temple of the Tooth. The entrance is up a lane which leads off D S Senanayake Vidiya (Trincomalee Street) on the right. This is the road that runs away from the lake, starting between the Queens Hotel and the Temple of the Tooth.
Also up this road, on your right about half a kilometre from the lake, you will see the entrance gates to Trinity College. Go in and ask someone to show you the chapel. It’s at the back of the college buildings, quite a climb up a lot of steps, but is one of the hidden architectural gems of Kandy and indeed Sri Lanka, being an unusual but oddly successful blend of traditional English church architecture and Sri Lankan temple architecture. If there is no service on you can just walk in and have a good look around.
The Ceylon (Hanthana) Tea Museum is on the road to Jungle Tide, about halfway up from Kandy. It costs little to visit and because visitor numbers are low you’ll probably get a guide all to yourself. It’s very interesting. Although the Hanthana tea factory is now closed, there are other nearby tea factories you can visit, some of them free of charge.
There are two things to note about eating and drinking in Kandy. One is that there’s very little open in the evenings (though this is slowly improving); the other is that being the religious centre of the island alcohol is not as easily available as in other towns – though it is available except on Poya days and during the Perahera period. Here are just a few places we like, but do try others and if they’re good, tell us!
For lunch we sometimes just buy short eats from one of the many bakeries Kandy is famous for – the big ones such as Devon and Delight are on Dalada Vidiya but there are lots more in the side streets. You can eat in some of them if you don’t want to eat on the streets. Or you can get very cheap and filling ‘lunch packets’ (rice and curry) from the same places. If you want a nice place to sit down we can recommend a few. The Empire Cafe near the Temple of the Tooth has a brilliant menu and serves excellent non-alcoholic drinks but is not licensed, being so close to the temple. Another excellent but non-licensed place is the recently opened Global Kitchen on Kotugodela Vidiya, specialising in South Indian food but as the name suggests many other cuisines also. If you fancy a beer or other alcoholic beverage the best place in town is the Royal Bar on King Street. Draught or bottled beers, good snack food and all set in a shady ancient courtyard. The staff might try to persuade you to use their upstairs restaurant. Don’t let them! Also highly recommended is The Stags Head on the roof of The Casamara Hotel. There is also The Pub on Dalada Vidiya where you can sit on a balcony with a beer and watch the city go past. They also do food – our experience of that has been mixed.
Further out of town but worth a visit is the wonderful Slightly Chilled restaurant and bar (also called Bamboo Garden). Great, mainly Chinese, food, tremendous views over the lake and wonderful ambience, but it means walking past the temple then going up the main road you come to, heading uphill away from the lake and round a tight bend – you’ll then find it on your left up a short steep driveway. The bar at the Queens Hotel is very atmospheric but also cannot these days serve alcohol to non-residents as it is close to the temple. But still a great place to drop in for a lime soda or other non-alcoholic drink. Further out on the other side of the lake the almost equally old Hotel Suisse does lunches and is licensed for non-residents. Finding the bar/restaurant isn’t easy as the Suisse is a huge rambling place.
If you choose to eat out in Kandy in the evenings there aren’t many places to choose from. Slightly Chilled is open until fairly late if you don’t mind the walk or a tuk-tuk ride and the view over the lake at night is possibly even better than in the day. Sri Ram’s is an established vegetarian curry place on Colombo Street which has consistently been good value for many years. Before we had Jungle Tide to come home to we often ate at the Flower Song which has renamed itself Jasmine Song and moved a bit nearer to town on Kotugodella Vidiya. It certainly used to be a pretty decent Chinese place (not licensed) and hopefully still is, but we’ve no recent experience. Up on the top floor of the Kandy City Centre (KCC) shopping mall is World Spice – a very modern kind of eating place where you get in with a swipe card which you are given and use this to order from various food and drink ‘islands’ representing different world cuisines, then pay for everything before they let you out again. It’s open all day and late, but not licensed for alcohol.
A couple of places you might want to pop into just for a mid-morning drink are Deli France on Dalada Vidiya (expensive but very good if you’re a coffee & cakes person) and the Roots juice bar on the bottom floor of KCC, also accessed from Dalada Vidiya. There’s also the recently opened Café Walk in the foyer of the KCC as you come in from the street, and up on the third floor is the Mlesna Tea Centre which is mainly a shop selling a huge range of teas and tea-related products but has a small tea-oriented café bit if tea tasting is your thing. On Temple Street close to the Empire café are two fairly newly opened coffee places. Natural Coffee is the only place outside the posher hotels where you can get really good coffee but it’s expensive. Café 7 nearby is cheaper but the quality is less good.
If you have kids (and possibly if you don’t) you might be tempted to try the Burger King on the top floor of KCC . There’s also a kids’ games and entertainment centre, Worldplay, including a mini-roller-coaster on the roof. Or Pizza Hut opposite the Queens Hotel – though they may find the toppings a bit unfamiliar! There’s also a Domino’s on Kotugodella Vidiya and a KFC next door to Cargills Food City.
First thing to say here is that there are lots of shops we don’t know about, so this is just an indication of a few we like. There will be lots of others so have a good look around and tell us about your discoveries.
Food and drink – there are two main supermarkets in town: Keells is on the bottom floor of KCC and Cargills Food City is close by, on Dalada Vidiya towards the lake. There’s not much to choose between them in terms of price, quality or availability. Both are poor at stock control so if you find an empty shelf in one of them you might have better luck in the other. If there are European or other groceries you find it hard to live without and don’t mind paying high Sri Lankan prices for we recommend Priya Stores, halfway up D S Senanayake Vidiya/Trincomalee Street on the left. It sells all kinds of interesting food and there are sometimes great bargains, too.
Kandy Market is not to be missed whether you’re looking for fruit, spices or for clothes and souvenirs, or just want to savour the mad atmosphere. It’s located at the bottom end of town, below the clock tower and quite close to the train and bus stations. The ground floor sells fruit, vegetables, spices also meat and fish (not for the faint-hearted!). Upstairs sells fabrics, clothing, leather goods etc.
The other bit of town we love to wander around is the maze of small lanes off Yatinuwara Vidiya which is the first big road on the left as you walk up Dalada Vidiya from the clock tower. You may not buy anything but it’s the kind of place you never know what you’ll come across. If you want to buy alcohol in Kandy you have to look hard and be prepared to suffer! The easiest place to find is round the back of Food City (Cargill’s) – go down the ramp towards the car park, turn right around the back of the store into the goods entrance and tuk-tuk parking area and you’ll find a horrible cavern with metal grilles and various alcoholics hanging around. You can buy alcohol here but if you want wine, ask them to let you backstage to see what they’ve got and what it costs – labels are impossible to read from the customer’s side of the counter. There are other places, often tucked away down side streets and alleys. But if you can get your alcohol outside the city centre that will be a more civilised experience (and for wine, much cheaper). Near Kandy (a tuk-tuk ride away) the best places are the wine shop in the Royal Mall shopping centre on the new (main) Peradeniya Road or the wine and beer shop which forms part of Arpico supermarket on the Old Peradeniya Road. So combining a trip to Peradeniya with buying alcohol is perhaps a good idea!
Clothes, fabrics, gems, antiques and souvenirs – by contrast Kandy has lots of these kinds of shopping opportunities, depending on what you want and your budget. Upstairs in Kandy Market sells cheap clothes and other goods if you’re happy to haggle about prices. Fashion Bug is another good cheapie place on Dalada Vidiya. There are several more up-market clothes shops in KCC including Cotton Collection which we really like. Odel (which trades under the horrible name of Luv-SL) has a shop in KCC and a branch in the arcade which fronts the Queens Hotel. We know three great places in town for wonderful fabrics. Selyn is on Temple Street close to the Empire; Sunimal is on the corner of D S Senanayake Vidiya (Trincomalee Street) and King Street, almost opposite the Royal Bar. They also have a bigger shop on the Old Peradeniya Road. Our favourite fabrics shop is City Tex on Kotugodella Vidiya, opposite the big red and white mosque. A small, ordinary shop front leads you into an emporium which stretches back a very long way – we have yet to reach the far end. They sell everything and are completely un-touristy. We even managed to get lengths of tartan there for a Burns Night celebration.
There are certainly lots of gem and antiques shops of all kinds ranging from up-market, modern ones in KCC to curious little places on the side streets – have a look around. If you’re as ignorant as we are but still interested in buying you could try Hemachandra. They are long-established and have shops in KCC and by the Queens Hotel but if you have time go out to their big showroom on Peradeniya Road where you’ll be shown interesting videos about gem mining and production (free). Generally, buying gems in Sri Lanka is a risky business unless you know the trade well. Laksala is the state-owned souvenir/tourist goods outlet and the Kandy branch is situated by the lake near the top entrance to KCC. It operates on a fair trade basis and sells good quality products but their selection doesn’t move much with the times and the whole place is a bit old-fashioned – but nice in its way.
There are various post offices but the easiest one to use is on the bottom level of KCC, near to the Roots juice bar. Go to the booth on the right as you face it. The one on the left seems to have no function except to refer customers to the other booth! There is a post box carefully concealed in a concrete pillar nearby.
ATMs are everywhere. Some are easier to use for foreigners than others, so if one mystifies you, just try a different one – or go into the bank and ask for help. Just about every local bank has a branch on the bottom level of KCC. But HSBC is a bit out of the centre, at the far end of Kotugodella Vidiya. Not worth using unless you have an account with them.
There is a modern Tourist Information Centre and Tourist Police office in a prominent building close to the clock tower.
The only foreign government with a full presence in Kandy is the Indian High Commission. Unless you’re Indian you will need to go to Colombo to access services from your government, although there is a British Honorary Consul based in Kandy who can advise UK citizens. You will also need to visit Colombo if you need to extend your visa. Ask us for details.
If you need medical help in an emergency or quickly you will need to go to Kandy General Hospital which is at the bottom (city) end of the road from Jungle Tide. There is now an island-wide ambulance service (dial 1990) which guarantees to get to you in under 30 minutes and take you to hospital. If it’s something you can plan ahead for it’s better to go to one of the private hospitals. Private health care costs are low and medical standards are very good in the private hospitals although the buildings and facilities could sometimes do with modernising and cheering up. We can recommend a good dentist should you need one.