Situated in a geographic center of Sri Lanka, Kandy is a place you can hardly miss if you come for the first time. The most common route for travelers forms a circle that starts in Colombo area where the international airport is, covers Kandy, Ella, national parks in the east, and then proceeds to the south coast of Sri Lanka where all the beautiful beaches are.
Kandy city is an important stop from a cultural perspective as it is a UNESCO listed site that houses many Buddhist temples and relics. It’s known as a cultural capital of Sri Lanka and is visited by millions of tourists and pilgrims every year.
From this post, you’ll get the idea of what to do in Kandy in one day: the most interesting things, beautiful places, and important sites that make the essence of Sri Lankan culture. More than enough things to do for a short one-day Kandy trip before you go see the elephants and such!
One-Day Trip Tours From Colombo
If your trip to Sri Lanka is very time-limited, your best option may be to visit Kandy on a day trip from Colombo. Here are some short tour options that cover the distance and the most important landmarks for first-timers:
Map Of Things To Do In Kandy In One Day
1. Visit White Buddha temple in Bahirawakanda
No matter at which point of planning your Sri Lankan trip you are at now, you surely have seen someone’s picture on these red stairs at least once! Right?
Sri Maha Bodhi Viharaya temple is an iconic landmark in Kandy many people overlook. I list it first as it impressed me the most even though it’s not a famous touristic spot. In fact, there were very few people there at the time of our visit – nothing compared to the famous Temple of the Tooth that I’ll tell you about in a bit.
Located in Bahirawakanda, this temple is famous for one of the biggest Buddha statues in Sri Lanka. The height of it is 26.83 m (88 ft) and it depicts Buddha in a calm meditation pose. There is a handful of giant Buddhas spread out across the country and you can see pictures of some of them inside the temple with their names and locations.
On the temple territory, you’ll find a small shop where you can buy Buddhist souvenirs and even a traditional orange robe as a gift for one of the monks.
You can feel the sacredness of this place right away and the views from the top are incredible!
Hint: If you are interested in visiting more temples, type ‘Kandy viharaya’ in Google Maps and you’ll find plenty of them around Kandy Lake. Vihara or viharaya is a Sanskrit word for a Buddhist temple.
2. Stroll around Royal Botanical Gardens
Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya is one of the most beautiful places we visited in Sri Lanka!
On a wide territory of 147 acres they have more than 4000 species of plants. There are tons of unique trees we’ve never seen before and at least three alleys with different kinds of palm trees to make that perfect tropical photo!
Personally, I’m not much into flowers, but I was impressed by the forest of giant bamboo trees.
Prepare to spend at least two hours in the gardens: you can stretch it up to four if you don’t rush and spend some time relaxing on the grass in a shade of palms like many people do. You’ll get a map with your ticket so you can choose your garden itinerary to cover the things you are most interested in. Or just wander in circles to see everything!
3. Embrace the sacredness of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
Locally called Sri Dalada Maligawa, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is one of the most popular and well-known places in Sri Lanka. It’s one of the many Sri Lankan UNESCO World Heritage Sites as it’s where they keep the famous relic of the tooth of the Buddha.
Hundreds of citizens and foreigners visit this temple every day to worship the relic. There is a high level of security at the entrance since temple suffered from bombing in 1998. You’ll also have to be barefoot to go inside and there are some holy things you aren’t allowed to make photos of.
Tip: Make sure to have something to cover your knees and shoulders before going to this temple, or you won’t get in! Andrew was wearing ripped jeans and had to rent a sarong from a lotus seller near the entrance.
Close to the entrance you can buy some lotus flowers, which is a popular form of offering in Buddhist temples. You’ll see lots of these flowers inside as well as people praying all over the temple, so be quiet and respectful as you look around.
4. Learn about Ayurveda in Kandy Spice Garden
Kandy Spice Garden is a wonderful place where you can learn about different spices and plants that are used in Ayurvedic treatments.
If you haven’t heard about Ayurveda, it’s an alternative medicine system that is based on natural remedies. It has been practiced in Eastern countries for many centuries and is still very popular today.
This particular garden is free to enter! We were welcomed at the entrance by a Sri Lankan woman who works there and she gave us a free tour around the premises. She walked us through the garden, gave us to try some cinnamon tea and natural depilation cream (that one works wonders, by the way, it was even a bit scary), and showed us many plants that they grow with explanations for which illnesses each one is used.
We learned that black, white, and green pepper grows on the same tree! We saw giant lemons and red bananas, and some rare important plants they don’t even export because of how little they can grow.
There is a small factory where they make are the pills and balms they then sell in their shop, and we were able to see some of the processes inside.
We loved the tour and gave our guide a tip in the end, but she seemed to not expect it. In fact, we had to chase her to tip after she finished the tour and kindly left us be.
It was nice to visit such place in the land where the Ayurvedic medicine originated. They seem to really know their stuff!
5. Watch a cultural dance show
Kandy is the only place where you can see the traditional Kandyan dance.
There are three official spots in the city where you can see the performance, that slightly differ in time but are the same in substance. You can consult with your driver or your local homestay owner on the best way to fit it into your schedule, or you can book tickets in advance from the official venues.
We spent a little bit more time in the Botanical Gardens than we anticipated and ended up watching the show not in the place we planned. Good thing our driver knew all the venues and their showtime!
Kandyan performance takes up to an hour and costs about $10-$15 depending on the current currency rates.
6. Please your eyes with the views of Kandy Lake
Kandy lake is an artificial lake in the middle of Kandy that makes a big portion of the city’s landscape.
You can see it from every high point and most of the local attractions are situated somewhere near the lake.
Peacefully strolling alongside the Kandy lake is a pleasant experience in the always-warm Sri Lankan climate!
You may see some locals swimming and bathing in their clothes, but I wouldn’t even wet my toes in that water, as it looked quite dirty. I guess local standards are lower than mine. Oh well, it’s a nice place to walk anyway!
7. Spend your evening cooking with a local family
This was definitely a highlight of our trip!
Every country’s cuisine is unique, and Sri Lanka is no exception. I look for local cooking classes online before every trip we make, as cooking together with a local family is something you can’t experience anywhere else.
The known staple of Sri Lankan food is rice and curry, but it’s how they cook it what matters. On this particular cooking class in Kandy we learned a ton about spices and vegetables they use, and cooked more than ten different curries!
They picked us up at the hotel, took us to a local market to buy ingredients together (which was another cool cultural experience by itself!), and then brought us to their home for the private class. We were engaged in all the processes: from scraping a coconut to making coconut milk with our bare hands. They taught us how to put the correct amount of each of a dozen spices into every dish, and we deep fried papadams together.
We ate as much as we could in the end, and the food was amazing!
Cooking class is really something I recommend to everyone who is interested in local culture and food traditions.
All-Inclusive Tours around Kandy
If guided tours are your thing, here are some options for a day tour around Kandy.
With a guide, you don’t need to care about anything. They pick you up at your accommodation (or at the station if you arrive to Kandy in the morning) and bring you back in the end of the day. Usually, there is a fully-planned program with the most popular attractions, most likely different combinations of places from my list. They provide an air-conditioned vehicle and an English-speaking guide that tells you many things you wouldn’t learn on your own. In many cases, tickets to all the places are also included in the tour price.
How to get around Kandy
While some of the listed activities are close to one another, you don’t want to spend half of your limited time walking between them. Believe me, you’ll get enough walking time if you just visit all the listed places! Peradeniya Botanical Gardens alone can offer you up to four hours of strolling if you aren’t in a rush.
Here are your options to get around in Kandy:
- Hire a driver for the whole duration of your trip or the main part of it that is stuffed with activities.
This is what we did, although we didn’t plan it. The rental company approached us at the airport and we were able to negotiate a good price. It appeared to be one of the best decisions we made, especially when we realized how crazy traffic in Sri Lanka is.
- Hire a taxi or a tuk-tuk driver for a day.
You can totally do it when you are in Kandy already. Tuk-tuks are on every corner and each of them will be happy to spend the day with you taking you anywhere you want, instead of looking for new passengers every ten minutes. Make sure to agree on the final price in advance, but don’t pay the full price until your agreed day schedule is finished.
- Rent a scooter or a tuk-tuk to drive yourself.
If you have an appropriate driver’s license, you can rent a scooter or even a tuk-tuk for however long you need. I’ve heard about some people driving scooters without a license, but you can get in trouble if you get caught.
This choice probably gives you the best freedom of movement. You won’t need to discuss every next destination with your driver, but you’ll need to figure out the location of every place by yourself.
- Jump in a tuk-tuk for longer distances and walk the shorter ones.
This might be your best bet if you don’t mind walking a lot or travel on a budget. Spice Garden is somewhat close to the Botanical Gardens, and almost everything else is spread around the Kandy Lake. You’ll surely spend more time and will see fewer things in one day than you would with a vehicle, but it’ll save you some money.
- Try Uber or PickMe.
PickMe is a local taxi app in Sri Lanka which is basically the same as Uber. They are both much cheaper than a tuk-tuk, but because of this very reason, there aren’t many cars in Kandy. Tuk-tuks dominate in touristic areas and can get really aggressive with PickMe or Uber drivers to scare them away. Nevertheless, you might still get lucky and find one around when you need a ride.
Where to stay in Kandy if you decide to spend the night
There is plenty to do in Kandy and you might not wanna stuff all of these activities in one day. Rushing through the Botanical Gardens and quickly glimpsing at every temple before proceeding to the next is not how Sri Lanka should be experienced.
To feel the vibes of Sri Lankan cultural capital, you need to pause and let yourself enjoy everything.
Although it’s possible to fit it all into one day, I wouldn’t recommend it. We spent three days in Kandy and it felt just about right. I’d say you need at least two days to see everything and get the impression of Kandy. This way you can appreciate the views, feel the spiritual energy of sacred places, and pay attention to the Ayurvedic guide without thinking about the next point of your plan.
Here are some good options where you can stay for a night or two in Kandy:
What To Do In Kandy In One Day – Conclusion
Kandy is an interesting city from a cultural perspective, but it requires more than one day and is not at the top of the best experiences we had in Sri Lanka.
If you are really short on time, maybe skip Kandy altogether. Go on a safari to the national park, see the waterfalls and Nine Arch Bridge in Ella, or explore the beautiful beaches southern Sri Lanka has to offer.
Anyway, the choice is yours! Everyone’s journey is different and you might like Kandy much more than we did! I hope this guide answered you question and you have enough ideas on what to do in Kandy in one day. Happy travels!