Kandy: An Introduction
The ancient city of Kandy was founded in 1357, and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. It was independent Sri Lanka's capital from 1592 until the British took over during the 19th century, and is set deep within a steep green valley, with pastures and woodland running down towards the city and the picturesque lake.
Famed as the home of Buddha’s tooth, which is housed within the impressive Temple of the Tooth Relic (or 'Sri Dalada Maligawa'), Kandy hosts the most important festival in Sri Lanka's calendar; the Esala Perahera, a Buddhist celebration held every August, when Tooth-related artefacts are paraded around town on decorated elephants.
Much of Kandy's immediate valley-side is lush and uncongested, which is pretty good going, considering this is Sri Lanka's 2nd largest city. The beautiful surrounding countryside makes for excellent light trekking, or even just gentle meandering.
Strolling the city itself is equally pleasant. Kandyian cuisine is quite distinctive, with popular dishes like sour fish curry served, alongside Sri Lankan favourites like short eats, in Kandy's numerous good cafes and small restaurants. Sweetmeats are traditionally eaten during the festivals, and are a delicious highlight in their own right. The restaurants, along with the bars scattered through the city centre, offer the ideal opportunity to mix with the locals.
In addition to a bustling central market and good antique shopping, one of the city’s key highlights is the delightful Royal Botanical Gardens, styled on London’s Kew and certainly worth at least half a day of any casual nature lover’s time.
Close by there are spice gardens to visit and gem museums, although in both cases our experience has been a little disappointing, due to the rather 'hard sell' approach by the local staff that accompany you during your visit. The elephant orphanage at Pinnawala, an hour’s drive from the city centre, is popular with many visitors to the region and can easily be factored into your day's itinerary, or makes a convenient stop en route to Colombo.
Many of the hotels and residences that we recommend are located on the steep valley sides around the city, usually little more than 5 or 10 minutes tuk-tuk drive (always select one with a sturdy motor!) from the city centre. Or you may prefer to stay in a plantation house on one of the region's famed tea estates.
Vibrant and steeped in history. Allow Kandy an extra day before you head into the hills.