Once the capital of the ancient Kings, today Kandy is a popular destination for travellers visiting Sri Lanka's stunning hill country. If you're heading up to see the tea plantations, colonial hill stations and plains, then make sure you allow a day to explore the country's most important cultural and religious centre. Explore the historical streets, walk around the lake, and pop into a temple to pay homage to a rather important tooth!
Temple of the Tooth
Sri Dalada Maligawa, or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, is a complex of temples and museums in the heart of Kandy. With striking red roofs and white stone walls, it's an important pilgrimage site and the centre of Buddhist faith in the country. It's also supposedly home to one of the Buddha's teeth, a symbol of power and authority - traditionally the holder of this tooth would govern Sri Lanka. As well as religious followers, tourists are also allowed to enter the complex and walk around with the devotees. You're even able to gaze upon the golden casket containing the tooth!
If you're in Kandy during July or August you'll get to experience one of the most famous Buddhist festivals in the world. Dating back to the 18th century, the Esala Perahera is a 10 day torchlight parade through the streets of Kandy to honour the sacred tooth. It's a spectacular sight, with elephants, drummers, entertainers and dignitaries all taking part.
Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens
Just a few kilometers outside Kandy, the Royal Botanical Gardens are the largest in Sri Lanka. Thanks to the Mediterranean climate in this region there are more than 4000 species of plants to discover, with popular areas including an orchid house, fernery and spice garden, not to mention the lake, lawns and palm avenues. There's also an impressive collection of giant bamboo and a hot cactus house. The royal gardens date back to the 14th century, and today they're open every day of the year. Definitely something you shouldn't miss on your visit to Kandy.
Walk around the lake
It does get quite hot in Kandy, so walking along the lake shore is a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Known as the 'Sea of Milk', this artificial lake was built by the last king of Sri Lanka to compliment the beauty of the temple complex. Kandy Lake is one of the most popular sights in Sri Lanka, and a walk by the water makes a welcome respite from the bustle of the city. In the centre of the lake you'll spot a small island, which used to be home to the emperor's harem. It was later taken over by the British who used to store ammunition there.
Take in a Kandyan Dance Show
If you want to learn a little more about culture in Kandy, head to one of the many drum and dance shows in town for an intense and energetic display. The dancers wear colourful costumes and the drummers beat an often frenzied rhythm to accompany the different 'stories' being told, including the famous 'Devil' dances which originate on the western coast of Sri Lanka. These iconic dances were originally performed in an all-night ceremony to honour the gods, but today visitors can enjoy them at a more respectable hour of the day!
Visit a Tea Plantation
If you're heading deeper into hill country, perhaps to Nuwara Eliya or Hatton, then you'll be seeing tea plantations in abundance. However if you're just passing through on a flying visit you can easily visit a tea plantation whilst staying in Kandy. Just outside the city is Giragama Tea Factory and Plantation, one of the oldest in the country. Whilst visiting here you can learn how tea is produced and harvested, as well as sampling the final result of course. Walk through the lush green tea bushes and pop into the tea museum before you leave.
Have dinner at Helga's Folly
Just a 15 minute stroll from the centre of Kandy, overlooking the jungle, lake and mountains, is another kingdom entirely. It's called Helga's Folly, and if you like blending a little bit of bonkers with tasty grub and a convivial atmosphere, then make sure you dine here before leaving town. Creatively decorated by owner Helga de Silva who grew up surrounded by colonial teapots, marxist revolutions and Hollywood gossip, the result is a splendid tropical hideaway with more than a touch of whimsy. Crammed with candelabra, antique furniture and gilt-edged mirrors, this explosion of colour and merriment has to be seen to be believed. The food isn't bad either, with something different on the menu each evening, ranging from fish poached in tea and tamarind rice, to chicken in rum and peppered tuna. Delicious! If you do decide to dine here you'll be in good company. Apparently past patrons include the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, Sir Alec Guinness and Vivian Leigh. Oh, and Ghandi.