Kandy Budget Travel Guide
Kandy Budget Travel Guide
Kandy, the second largest city in Sri Lanka, was the last capital of the ancient kings and sits at an elevation of 500m. Kandy sits in the Kandy plateau, an area that crosses vast areas of tea plantations. Kandy is most known as the home of the Temple of the Tooth relic which is one of the most sacred places of workshop in the Buddhist world. It was declared a world heritage site in 1988.
Today Kandy is a major transport hub of the island with its near central location. Motorways and railway lines join from every direction. Kandy is the start of the most scenic railway line in Sri Lanka, a line which runs to Ella passing stunning scenery and acres of tea plantations.
Getting to Kandy
Located 110km to the east of Colombo, Kandy is easy to get to. Trains and buses run directly from Colombo as well as other towns multiple times each day and there is a well made road connecting Kandy with the west coast of Sri Lanka.
Bus – Bus routes throughout Sri Lanka connect most major towns and Kandy is no exception with regular buses running to and from this huge city. Buses are a cheap form of transport but they can be a little packed so it’s a good idea to start at the initial point of the bus to give yourself the best chance of a seat. Buses in Sri Lanka are generally not the most comfortable buses however they do form a cheap and relatively efficient way to travel.
Train – There is an extensive train network throughout Sri Lanka. Trains to Kandy depart regularly from Colombo Fort and take under 3 hours. The trains are very cheap but can be full so try to get 2nd class seats where possible. From Kandy trains go north to Jaffna or east to Ella which is famed for its stunning scenery as it climbs through tea plantations into the mountains.
Taxi/Car/Tuk Tuk – all of these forms of transport are available to travel to Kandy however you have to negotiate prices with the driver. Expect to pay around 8500 rupee.
Getting around Kandy
Walking – Kandy is relatively compact and situated alongside a large lake making it the perfect place to explore on foot. The town centre consisting of a large modern shopping centre, fantastic markets and many blocks of more traditional shops is on flat land and is easy to navigate on foot. Most of the city sites including the large Buddha and the temple of the tooth can be accessed by foot but you will need alternate transport for visiting the royal botanic gardens. While the immediate city is located on flat land, as soon as you are a few blocks away Kandy gets very steep so it’s a great workout for your legs.
Tuk Tuk – There are Tuk Tuks everywhere. Expect to bargain with the drivers. You should be able to get the price down to 30-50 rupees per kilometre. Be prepared to walk away if you are not happy with the price and you will see another 10 Tuk Tuks within seconds. Ensure you agree the price before you get in the tuk tuk.
Bus – Local buses service the area around Kandy and can be a great way to get in and out of the city. Most guesthouses in Kandy are located a few kilometres out of the city and there is only limited accommodation in the city centre. For just 15rupees you can pick up a bus on most main roads heading into town. It’s a great transport system and your guesthouse will be able to give you more details. To take a bus you just need to wave it down and then hop on. It improves your chances of the bus stopping for you if you are at a recognised bus stop which are marked by a blue bus sign on a pole. In addition to the driver there is a second person onboard who handles the tickets. Do not worry about finding the ticket person as they will eventually find you. Have a small note ready to go. Fares for buses are very low and change based on distance. If you are only gong a few kilometres you can expect to pay no more than 15 rupees. Be ready to tell the ticket person your destination and they will then ensure you get out at the right stop. Be careful getting on and off buses as the drivers barely stop and you are largely expected to jump on/off whilst it is still moving.
Things to See and Do
Kandy is a beautiful city located in the highlands of central Sri Lanka. There is plenty to do in Kandy and while it is great to see the main attractions it is also one of those cities where you can easily spend a day just wandering the city and the lake. Our suggested things to see and do are listed below.
Temple of the Tooth – Sri Dalada Magligawa
This is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Kandy. The temple of the tooth is a Buddhist Temple that is located on the site of the royal palace of the former kingdom of Kandy. Inside the temple is a relic of the tooth of buddha although you can’t actually see the tooth. The temple is just one building on the larger complex that includes a museum.
Legend states that when buddha was cremated after his death his remains were disturbed amongst the different realms of worship. Of all of the remains of Buddha it is said that his four canines were the holiest of all and one of his canines has ended up at the temple of the tooth. The tooth is set behind a door that is made of ivory and inside the tooth rests on a gemstone studded gold case.
The complex itself will take many hours to see as you wander the museum and view the intricate buildings and exquisite artwork. You can visit the temple at any time of day however for an extra special experience try to be there at 6:30pm when a nightly ceremony takes place.
Entry is 1500 rupees and you must have your shoulders covered. In addition both men and women must cover their legs. Stalls outside the temple sell and rent sarongs which you can wrap around your lower half should you be wearing shorts.
The statue, sometimes know as the big buddha, was built in 1972 and sits on-top a small hill just 2km from the temple of the tooth. This 88 foot high white statue is of Buddha set in the Nirvana pose and can be seen from just about any spot in Kandy. Bahirawa Kanda is the biggest Buddha statue in Sri Lanka.
Entry is 250 rupees and visitors can climb to near the top for panoramic views of Kandy. When I say near I mean that you can’t reach the top level as it is blocked off so after about 3 stories of stairs you find yourself viewing the city from what is essentially Buddhas armpit!
You can visit at any time and while most people visit in the day to get panoramic views back over the city and lake, at night it is also a spectacular view.
As an active religious site you will need to ensure you remove your hat and that your shoulders and knees are covered. Unlike the temple of the tooth you do not need to cover your entire legs but your shorts must easily cover your knees.
The market in Kandy is one of the best in the country in our opinion. Spilt across a couple of city blocks and housed in multiple buildings this market has just about everything you can think of. The main market is housed in a two storey building has a fruit and vegetable section, an extensive fish and meat section and plenty of gift and trinket shops. Across the road you will find a clothing market although be aware the vendors in this area can be pretty pushy so be prepared to bargain hard and walk away if you are not 100% happy.
Amongst the market you will find small food stands selling coffee and short eat type snacks. The best time to visit is in the morning or an a Saturday when the market is packed with locals going about their business. Be sure to pick up some of the amazing fresh fruit and vegetables.
Peradeniya Royal Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanic gardens are the largest of their type in Sri Lanka and cover an area of over 140 acres. Located 7km south of Kandy and easily accessible by both train and bus these gardens are home to over 4000 species of plants. Highlights of the gardens include a large section of giant bamboo, a fig tree that has roots which have spread out to an area of over 18000 square metres and double coconut palms which produce the largest seeds on earth and have fruit that takes five years to mature.
The gardens also have an extensive lawn area which is a great place for a picnic. There is a suspension bridge over the river at the eastern edge of the gardens and the area is also home to lots of monkeys. One of the interesting things in the gardens is the special trees planted by visitors included queens, Russian kings and even an astronaut.
Entrance fee for foreigners is 1500 rupees and it is somewhere you can spend a few hours.
To get there jump on any bus heading south and there is a bus stop right outside the entrance to the gardens. The bus fare is 40 rupees and buses pass through ever few minutes. The train runs less regularly and costs 20 rupees.
Kandy lake also known as Kiri Muhuda which means Sea of Milk is located right in the heart of the town. The lake was built in 1807 by King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe and sits right next to the Temple of the Tooth. There is a small island in the middle of the lake which was said to be used by the King for bathing and was connected to the palace by a secret tunnel.
The lake has a circumference of 3.21k and at its deepest is 18.5m deep.. It is a great spot to take a stroll or a jog and there is a footpath that goes around the entire lake. As you walk around the lake you will see heaps of wildlife including giant lizards, plenty of birds and fish and even the occasional turtle. It’s an easy and flat walk however be aware that a main road runs along next the footpath so there is a bit of traffic noise.
Scenic Railway Line
Sri Lanka’s train network was built by the British in the 1860s as a way of transporting tea to the coast for loading onto ships. While many of the lines cross some amazing scenery the very best in the country is the section of track between Ella and Kandy. This 135km section of track starts at Kandy slowing ascending as it climbs through dense agriculture up into tea plantation country. You will see old tea factories, still used today and waterfalls as well as vegetables and fruits being grown on every available piece of land. The train also passes through a large swath of national park with dense gum forest and a few cheeky monkeys that watch the train go by. In the last part of the trip the view really opens up to a breathtaking expanse of valleys and towns.
A word of warning though the majority of the trains are old and so the ride is very bumpy and rather loud. 2nd and 3rd class carriages are open which, to be honest, is a blessing as its nice to be able to walk around and watch the world go by from the doors. 1st class is air conditioned so it is normally closed up. The seven hour train ride is like going back in time. Each station you pass looks like it has come out of a 1950’s movies as the station masters stand in a crisp white uniform blowing a whistle while train drivers passes their train track tokens to ensure that only one train is on any section of track at one time.
While your bones may rattle and your ears may ring for a while this is a journey not to be missed. And did I mention it is incredibly cheap, far cheaper even than a public bus.
The trick with tickets is to buy them on the day. Tickets can be purchased at the railway station one hour before the train leaves. Try and get 2nd class if possible but 3rd class is also fine. You may find yourself standing for the first 30mins or so of the ride but as people get off at the many stations the train soon empties out and you will easily find a seat.
You can book both 2nd class and 3rd class ahead of time however the price almost doubles for reservations such as these so we tend to risk it and purchase the on the day. And to be honest hanging out in 2nd and 3rd class is a lot of fun as you will find yourself chatting to both tourists and locals in no time.
There is a constant flow of people walking through the train selling snacks and drinks which tend to be about twice what you would pay on the street and there is also a small restaurant cart between the 2nd and 3rd class carriages where you can pick up drinks and snacks. The selection on the train however is limited so we do suggest bringing food and drinks for the 7 hour journey. It is also a good idea to bring your own toilet paper.
All in all it is a trip not to be missed.
Kandy View Point
Located high above Kandy lake, on its eastern side, sits the Kandy View Point. Popular with tourists both on foot and as part of tour groups this view point provides an excellent view back over the lake and across the town. From here you get a great view of the Temple of the Tooth and the Big Buddha up on the hill. It is only about a ten minute walk from the lake and 15 mins from the middle of Kandy. The walk is not very strenuous and you will be rewarded with great views. Be warned there are lots of monkeys that hang around the view point and they are not afraid of humans. In fact they will get very close to you in search of any food you may have so keep an eye out.
Kandy view point is free.
Located on the western side of the lake about 150m from the rear entrance of the Temple of the Tooth is the British Garrison Cemetery. Established in 1817, following the British capture of Kandy the cemetery contains 195 graves with the most common cause of death being tropical diseases. It was formally closed in 1873 however special permission was given to some relatives of those interned to be buried there and the last burial took place in 1951.
It is free to visit the Garrison cemetery however donations are accepted. To find it go to the rear of the Temple of the Tooth and you will see signs next to the museum pointing you up the hill.
One of the best things about travel is getting to experience local food. Sri Lanka excels in that it has an incredibly tasty and fresh local cuisine. Not only is the food amazing but if you eat local you will also save yourself a lot of money. The blend of spices in Sri Lanka are like nothing else. Everything has powerful flavours and you will never get a meal that doesn’t feel like the flavour has smacked you in the face.
Kandy was a real winner on the food scene. It not only had heaps of places to eat it also had reasonable prices and a lot of variety. Competition was fierce and after walking around the city it wasn’t hard to find some great food at very reasonable prices.
Check out the food section below to see some of our favourites.
Where to eat?
Beruwala Eating House
Beruwala is located within the heart of the city a few blocks from the lake. This super tasty local eatery is very traditional serving rice and curry for lunch and fried rice and kottu for dinner. The meals are huge and the prices are super low. They have a range of short eats and breads that you can order in addition to your meal. The menu and prices are clearly displayed on the wall and when you walk in they will tell you which wall menu is active, i,e the rice and curry is only for lunchtime. We went here multiple times as the food was always fresh and very tasty. One night we got a full fried rice and we couldn’t eat it between the two of us, all that for 200 rupees. We also really liked the vegetable rice and curry for lunch at 120 rupees which included a huge plate of rice and four different and very tasty curries. We also tried a Kottu one night which was 150 rupees and not only was it super tasty but it was enough to feed an army.
Quite simply this is the single best place we found in Kandy and is a must go for anyone who loves local food and great prices. Check out the giant super tasty fried rice below!
You will find this eating house on Senanayake Veediya in the centre of Kandy.
The Devon foodcourt, located in the heart of Kandy, is super popular with locals. It has a huge bakery section where you can pick up all sorts of tasty snacks and treats as well as an underground sit down area where you can have a more substantial meal. Although it does do some western favourites stick to the local foods and try the rice and curry or byriani. They also do takeaway rice and curry lunch packs starting at just 120 rupees. Along with the main location near Kandy City Centre Devon branded shops are located all over Kandy.
You can find Devon Foodcourt outside Kandy City Centre just down the hill from the KFC.
True Sri Lankan Taste – Hela Bojun
These food halls are a great spot for visitors. It is a small eating area that is surrounded by multiple ladies selling freshly made Sri Lankan foods. Found all over Sri Lanka these food courts were founded with two intentions. Firstly promoting local produce and secondly empowering women. The first one is the Kandy one and the idea is that it sells fresh and healthy food an concessionary rates. Women involved in the program are trained in hospitality, customer care, hygiene and finance. They are provided with the space and the training and they have total care of the bills and costs of raw materials. The women take all of the profits made.
You will find all sorts of tasty treats here and find enough for a full meal. The best bit is that each stall only does one or two things so everything is freshly cooked and you can see it being made in front of you. The names and prices are also clearly displayed and it is very very cheap. It’s a great place to try a wide variety of Sri Lankan foods without have to order huge amounts. Some of our favourites include the vadai, the string hoppers and the pittu’s. There is also a fresh juice and soy milk section as well as sweets and teas.
True Sri Lankan Taste is located in a large shed like structure outside of the Kandy City Centre across the road from the lack. It is in the building next door to Laksala on the Kandy-Jaffna hwy.
This Juice and ice cream bar is often packed with locals. And they sure do know how to pick them. This place sells juices, milkshakes and other tasty treats all for very reasonable prices. Our favourite was the fruit salad and ice cream which turned out be a huge container of freshly chopped fruit topped with tasty vanilla ice cream. This was the perfect afternoon treat and the owners were super friendly.
You can find this place on Colombo street in the city centre.
Balaji Dosai is a Kandy chain of Dosai restaurant that has fantastic Dosai at reasonably prices. The restaurants are extremely clean and all of the food is cooked to order. You can get a Dosai for under 200 rupees and it comes with three curries. The Dosai are huge and there are plenty of other snacks you can order to go with them. The menus are in English and the price is clearly displayed. This restaurant is frequented by both locals and tourists. Try the Dosai stuffed with potato masala or the onion uttapam, pictured below.
You can find Balaji Dosai at 3 Senanayake Veediya (across the road from Pizza Hut and Temple of the Tooth)
Kandyan Muslim Hotel
This hotel is slightly more expensive than other places however the food is really tasty and the premises is very clean. You will also find relatively efficient table service here so if you are after a good sit down local meal then this is the place to go. They have some great short eats you can try and the breads are cooked fresh. Our fav was the egg biriyani for 150 rupees.
You will find this Hotel on Ward St, Kandy.
Dotted around town and especially in the early evening you will find multiple carts selling small fried snacks. They have all types of tasty things to try including egg and vegetable samosas. They great thing is that they are the perfect snack size and are very cheap, prices often start at just 10 rupees. Be sure you check the price before ordering if there is no sign.
Head to the corner of De Soyza lane and the A9 and most afternoons you will find a 10 rupee cart with delicious small snacks
Royal Food Court
The Royal Food Court is a takeaway shop but don’t let that put you off. It has an amazing menu and you can see heaps of people in the kitchen at all times preparing fresh and tasty food. They do multiple mixed boxes where you get a couple of different things and the prices are very good. We loved the vegetable fried rice and the vegetable noodles which also came with chilli sauce and both were only 150 rupees for a huge serving
Royal Food Court can be found at 385 Katugastota Road.
Where to stay?
Kandy has plenty of accommodation options which are largely made up of small guesthouses in the areas surrounding the town. There are only a few hotels and guesthouses located right in the city however you will pay a premium and I suggest it is worth staying a kilometre or two out of town as you will get amazing value and find it much quieter. It is also a nice town to walk around so a gentle walk through the backstreets or along the lake to the city is a great way to start the day. The buses in Kandy are also incredibly frequent and very cheap so if you find yourself staying a little out of town rest assured cheap and efficient public transport is normally only metres away. We found two places that are great to stay in Kandy and provide great value. One is a homestay which is up in the hills about 3 km from the town and the other is a small hotel near the lake about 1.5km from town. If you are after the more personal experience of staying at a guesthouse that is run by a local family then Alex’s homestay is for you but if you prefer a simple but basic hotel then Kandy Waters is the one to pick. To be honest we loved them both but if we stayed again it would probably be Kandy Waters for us. Read more about them below.
Located 3km from the city centre on the top of a ridge is this fantastic homestay. It has three rooms which have been built on top of the families two storey house. The three rooms are very modern and have comfortable beds with private bathrooms. Most of the rooms have air-conditioning which works well and is quiet and all three rooms have a fantastic little balcony where you can sit and watch the world go by across the tree tops. There is a bit of a walk up hill to get to the guesthouse but the view from your balcony makes it worthwhile.
The bathrooms are modern and have a totally enclosed shower with good hot water although it could do with a little more pressure. The hosts are incredibly friendly and provide you with lots of great information about how to get around and what to do. They also welcome you with fresh tea and biscuits. While we did not have breakfast here we understand it is 350rupees and is amazing.
The only problem we had was that the wifi was very limited and although it worked the first day after that it crawled to a grinding halt which meant we could not even check emails. With this exception this guesthouse was amazing and we wouldn’t hesitate to go back. At $15USD a night this homestay was good value and a very comfortable place to stay.
Kandy Waters Hotel
If you are looking for cheap, clean and modern accommodation with air conditioning and lightning fast wifi then this is the place for you. Located 1.5km outside the city near the lake this place really surprised us and we loved our double room with private bathroom. We were amazed how much value it provided. The room was compact yet clean and the linen and mattress were very comfortable. The bathroom was modern and had an enclosed shower which had good hot water although as many places in Sri Lanka it could have done with a bit more pressure. The wifi in the hotel was lightning fast and allowed us to upload videos in minutes. The hotel is across the road from a school so you do hear the children from about 7am but it would not be loud enough to wake most people up. For just $14.50 USD a night this place is amazing value.
Kandy is a great town often overlooked by travellers. While there are only a handful of tourist type sites do not make the mistake of missing this town. The second largest town in Sri Lanka has a lot to offer and it is also nice to be a in a slightly cooler mountain environment as a change from the hotter coastal regions of Sri Lanka.
Check out what we got up to in our visits to Kandy in the three Vlogs below.
Follow our Sri Lanka Vlog Series here –Leavetoroam Youtube
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Looking for accommodation online? Use this link and you will get $15 back after your first stay. https://www.booking.com/s/35_6/kelinu61
Check out our first Kandy roaming update here Kandy and Ella Roaming Update
And, our second Roaming Update here Kandy for the Cricket