How To Do Kandy In A Day – What You Must See


Kandy which almost sounds like a deliciously spelled Candy is at the heart of Sri Lanka – literally. This is where Sri Lanka’s world-famous central highlands begin. This is where the last king lived and ruled. Kandy is where the most revered spot in Sri Lanka lives – its most prized possession – The Tooth Relic of Buddha. In fact, once you have paid your respects at the temple of Tooth Relic, nothing else matters.

Kandy - on the banks of Mahaweli River
Kandy – on the banks of the Mahaweli River

I have been there twice – once way back in 2005 and then again, this year in the summer. So, I guess it is time, I take you on a virtual journey that you can do in a day.

Things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka

If you just have one day to spend here – this is what must see before you leave the city.

Arthur’s Seat, Kandy

View of Kandy City from Arthur's Seat
View of Kandy City from Arthur’s Seat

Start your day by having the best view of the city that has lovely waterbody at its center. There is, of course, Mahaweli River that I would take you to in a while. Arthur’s seat is a high point that you can take a car to. Get down and stand on the viewing platform. You would see a water tank surrounded by lovely structures with red slanted roofs, all of these surrounded by lush green trees.

Bang opposite the Arthur Seat viewpoint, on the opposite side of the lake, is a structure in white – this is the temple of Tooth Relic. It is a great place to get a bird’s eye view of this temple. The one on the edge of the water reflects beautifully in the water. The rest of Kandy is in the surrounding hills. If you look intently, you would see white stupas peeping from the hills.

I suggest early morning at this point as it would get too hot and the views are just a great place to start your day. I was there around 6:30 AM.

Temple of Tooth Relic, Kandy

Temple of Tooth Relic
Temple of Tooth Relic

The Temple of Tooth Relic or Sri Dalada Maligawa is at the heart of Kandy city and Sri Lanka. It is the most revered temple, and why not, for this houses the only relic of Buddha that Sri Lanka has. I had an opportunity to see this Tooth Relic when it was in Bodh Gaya for an occasion. It was just a serendipitous moment.

Moat outside the Temple of Tooth Relic
Moat outside the Temple of Tooth Relic

The Temple of Tooth Relic is housed in a former palace of the King of Kandy. You can see this when you see the pristine white building surrounded by a wide moat. There is a colorful circular roof on top as you enter the temple depicting the elephant processions.

Painted wooden panels at Temple of Tooth Relic - Kandy
Painted wooden panels at Temple of Tooth Relic

Elephant Tusks

The main temple has many elephant tusks standing in front of it like guardians. The temple was closed when I visited but a cloth painting of the Tooth Relic casket hung in front of it in bright red color. Behind it is a silver door. The Tooth Relic has a long history in Sri Lanka – it is where the power of Sri Lanka is. So it gets the maximum security along with respect and devotion. The Tooth Relic chamber has lovely painted panels in wood depicting various auspicious signs of Buddhism and the stories from Buddhism.

On the upper floor, there is a wooden palace-like structure. Here I saw the devotees who mostly wear white offering flowers. There is a lovely painting of princess Hemamala and her husband Prince Dantha bringing the Tooth Relic to Sri Lanka.

A hall that narrates the story of Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka
A hall that narrates the story of Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka

After the main temple, there is a long narrow corridor with a brilliant golden Buddha image at one end. The long walls are full of the story of the Tooth Relic. From the time it came to Sri Lanka, where all it has traveled. It was at Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa before it reached Kandy. I would not be surprised if battles were fought for this Tooth Relic. At the back of the temple, the tall carved stone frame is beautiful.

Princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha carrying the Tooth Relic
Princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha carrying the Tooth Relic

Museums at Tooth Relic Temple

There are two museums in the Tooth Relic temple premises – that take you through the journey of Sri Lanka artifacts. There is a large wooden pavilion that may have been a council hall at some point in time. The carvings on the top of the pillars are worth watching. There is an open-air museum with sculptures excavated from the temple and around. Not many of them are in good condition but they do give you an idea of the art forms prevalent in Sri Lanka. Common motifs include elephants and a Devi sitting on a formation made by other women.

Vishnu Temple - Temple of Tooth Relic Complex
Vishnu Temple – Temple of Tooth Relic Complex

There are many other smaller temples dedicated to Buddhist and Hindu deities. The biggest temple that is across the road, though still a part of the Tooth Relic temple complex, is dedicated to Vishnu. I saw a curious circular formation on the ground that no one could explain to me. Of course, I had a language barrier to cross too.

You need a minimum of 2 hours at the Temple of Tooth Relic. If you are a deep traveler, you can spend a day here exploring all the museums and temples in this complex.

Ticket – 1500 SLR

Boat Ride on Mahaweli River

Sri Lankan Fisherman on Mahaweli River
Sri Lankan Fisherman on Mahaweli River

I was staying at Cinnamon Citadel which is located right on the banks of River Mahaveli. From here I took a boat ride on the river. It was quite an experience!

When I boarded the boat, I expected nothing but some time spent with nature. The river looks green from the reflection of all the greenery on its banks. In between the Gulmohar trees shined bright with their orange color and that too reflected in the waters of Mahaveli. But, when are journeys without their share of surprises?

Water Monitor & Turtle on Mahaweli River
Water Monitor & Turtle on Mahaweli River

On the other bank of Mahaweli, I met several water monitor lizards. Some of them were lazing on the banks – after a good swim. Some were just coming out. It was fascinating to watch the Water Monitor Lizards so close to their natural habitat. Later I would see some of them at Galle too.

A turtle was basking in the sun on a dry tree. One of the trees seemed to be reserved for the flying foxes for every inch of it was full of hanging birds. There were lots of birds flying around, but the trees around were too thick to let them capture.

I could see people taking out sand from the middle of the river. There were fishermen boating in their traditional way. They would show off their catch as we crossed paths.

After a long morning, it was time for lunch before I head out for exploring the rest of the places of interest.

Visit a Wood Workshop

Carved wood panels
Carved wood panels

Wood carving is one of the favorite art forms of Sri Lanka. You get lovely wood-carved masks. I always like to go behind the scenes for art forms. So, I visited a workshop where I saw the wood artifacts including some lovely furniture being carved. The carpenters took a piece of wood and converted it into a piece of art. They then used natural stone-based colors to add color and convert their artwork into masterpieces.

Sri Lankans also like to frame their driftwood artistically.

Read More – Best Sri Lanka Souvenirs to Buy

Visit a Gemstone Workshop

Gemstone workshop at Kandy - Sri Lanka
Gemstone workshop

In Kandy, I visited a Gemstone store that has a gemstone center. It takes you through the journey of gemstones right from the time they are mined. You walk through a mine look alike room and watch a film that explains to you how traditional mining is done in Sri Lanka. One can understand the tedious and long process that a stone goes through before it takes pride place in your jewelry.

You can see the gemstones being polished, cut, shaped, and framed. You will appreciate your gemstones much more after you have seen their journey. This also means that you would be more tempted to buy them as you know they are precious.

Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya

Bamboo Trees at Royal Botanical Gardens
Bamboo Trees at Royal Botanical Gardens

Now, this is the most scenic part of the trip. Ideally, I would have wanted to come here for a morning or evening walk but its timings ensure that you walk here during the day. So, I was here as I checked out post lunch and after visiting the markets. Incidentally, Royal Botanical Gardens also stand on the banks of the Mahaweli River.

These royal gardens date back to the late 14th CE when the kings of Kandy built them on the banks of the Mahaweli River. There was a temple also built inside. However, what you see today is primarily what was built by the British when they were ruling the country.

Hanging Bridge over Mahaveli River
Hanging Bridge over Mahaveli River

Spread across 150 acres or so, it is a sprawling garden to walk around. There are quite a few things that you can see, but what stands out for me are the following:

Things to observe at Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya

  • Bamboos – there are lots of Bamboo trees or paths lined with bamboo trees and the canopy they form. These are some of the thickest and loveliest bamboo you can see.
  • Walk across the Hanging Bridge on the Mahaweli River – At the far edge of the main gate is this fragile-looking bridge. It sways when you walk on it. Walking on it is Pure fun with a bit of thrill.
  • Open Circle – In the middle of the garden is a huge open circle surrounded by thick trees. With trees and water bodies all around birds can’t be far away. I saw thousands of them flying in the sky, playing around.
  • Tree lines paths – A walking path going around the garden is lined with tall trees and it is a very picturesque walk.
  • Curiously Shaped Trees – Almost everywhere you will find trees in curious shapes. It is fun to see how the trees choose to grow if they are not interrupted or guided.

These gardens here kept reminding me of the Singapore Botanic Gardens which are also a British Creation.

There are smaller gardens within this huge Royal Botanical Gardens like a Fernery. There is a small restaurant where you can get food and beverages.

The best way to discover and enjoy this garden is to follow the map that you get along with the ticket.

Ticket – 1500 SLR

By the time I finished these key attractions, it was dusk and time to say good Bye to the lovely city.

Travel Tips

Ornate Door at the Temple of Tooth Relic
Ornate Door at the Temple of Tooth Relic
  • It is a big town in Sri Lanka. It is well connected with all other parts of the country by road.
  • You can use a taxi or a bus or a train to reach it. Within the city, you can hire cabs or Tuk Tuks for traveling.
  • It gets a fair share of tourists and the city is well geared up for them.
  • The workshops I mentioned above are free but they are attached to shops that expect you to buy something in return.
  • There are ample hotels to choose from. I stayed at Cinnamon Citadel which is an old hotel on the banks of the river with lovely views of the river.
  • Do read about Travel Scams in Sri Lanka.


  1. What exactly do you mean by “The main temple has many elephant trunks standing in front of it like guardians”? Are there actually preserved elephant trunks propped up there?

  2. I was actually teaching my Thai school kids about the Temple of the tooth a while ago. Buddhism originated to Thailand from Sri Lanka and it’s kind of the birthplace of Theravada Buddhism, hence, a very important place. I’ve been wanting to visit it for some time and sometimes you can get really cheap flights from Bangkok. So it’s bound to happen one day! How are the taxi drivers there? Do they pull tricks on you?

  3. As weird as this may sound. The thing that made make up my mind to visit this place is the botanical garden. Everywhere I go I want to actuay visit one. I find them beautiful and peaceful. Lovely

  4. Thanks for all of your suggestions that is quite the packed day! I especially loved the gem stone and wood workshops! I don’t think I’ve seen those before. Also the Temple of Tooth is remarkable! There’s so much to see in Kandy hoping to visit in the future.

  5. I’d never even heard of this place until reading this post, so thanks for helping me discover a new place! Looks like a fantastic place with lots to do, especially if you are interested in learning/experiencing other cultures. Will definitely have to check this out if I’m ever in Sri Lanka.


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