I am not going to beat about the bush: Kandy – even though Sri Lanka‘s “cultural capital” – was probably the biggest dirthole of a city I have ever been to. But I still managed to make the most out of my two days there by spending two nights in detox heaven.
Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second largest city and was the last capital for the former kings. Home to one of Sri Lanka’s most sacred sites, the city, which is sourrounded by the hills of the Kandy Plateau, is a UNESCO world heritage site.
So this all does not sound so bad and when I finally managed to say goodbye to the awesome waves of the south coast, I knew I had to go there and see for myself.
One of the best parts of Kandy was probably getting there by train. I drove up all the way from Galle to Kandy via Colombo, and it was stunning to see the landscapes change, as you drive from the coast up the hills. I already mentioned here and here that riding the open-door trains through the fascinating Sri Lankan landscapes and meeting so, so many kind locals is one of my favourite souvenirs from this magical island.
Once I arrived in Kandy, I made up my mind quite quickly: Even though there is a pretty temple next to a lake in the city center, I found the city too ugly, too dirty and too crowded. I also found that tuktuk drivers, vendors etc. were even more aggressive/annoying in trying to rip you off than in the smaller towns. Having to pay a big, fat extra tourist price at all the sight was very unpleasant as well. Add a fair amount of street harassment (even by a group of teenage boys – something I had no encountered in the south) to that and you have got all the ingredients to get me in a bad mood.
Nevertheless, I ended up quite enjoying my stay in Kandy, thanks to some much needed alone-time filled with books, tea and fresh fruit.
Things to do in Kandy
In order to make Kandy bearable, you actually have to get out of Kandy. It is surrounded by beautiful hills and tea plantations – perfect for a little bit of hiking and exploring.
Cylon Tea Museum
I love, love, love tea and Sri Lanka being one of the world’s main tea producers, I knew I had to explore as many tea-related sites and activities as possible.
So luckily, Kandy is home to Sri Lanka’s very own Cylon Tea Museum. The museum is located in an old tea factory up the hill in the middle of the tea plantations that surround Kandy.
You can walk all the way up from downtown Kandy, which will take about two hours. Not a super challenging hike – if it weren’t for the heat. The scenery is very nice though, with the curvy street making its way up through the tea plantations. And if you are lucky, you might see some monkeys on the way. But if you are lazy, just take a tuktuk and walk back down instead.
Just don’t expect anything fancy from the museum: You get a tour around the old manufacturing site, with a local lady dressed in a pretty Sari explaining how tea is made. You can explore the other two floors on your own, reading your way through the old info boards on the history of tea in and its impact on Sri Lanka. The museum is super simple, but kind of cute and I liked it anyways. And after you learnt all about tea, you get a free pot of fresh Cylon on the top floor, where you can also learn more about the health benefits of tea and the different regions in which Cylon brew is grown.
Enjoying a quiet night in at Eagle’s Rest Homestay
I am so, so glad that I booked a guesthouse outside the city center. Eagle’s Rest is a homestay located about 3km from downtown Kandy, up the hill leading to the Cylon Tea Museum.
I was given a very warm welcome by the lady of the house, who immediately made me feel at home before showing me to my room. The room was probably the cleanest, most spacious and most tasteful room I have slept in during my whole stay in Sri Lanka.
And the best past: My room had a spacious private balcony with the most breathtaking views over Kandy, the surrounding hills and the tea plantations. I had some fruit and tea there to rest after the long journey and had a hard time motivating myself to walk back downtown for some sightseeing.
Breakfast was just as perfect, with a ton of fresh fruit (banana, watermelon, papaya…), homemade juice, tea, bread, different jams… Dinner costs extra, but since Kandy doesn’t really have any nice options for eating out, I ate there both nights anyways and it was super yummy.
I do not really recommend Kandy to other travellers – especially if you are on a tight schedule. However, I did enjoy my quiet time in Eagle’s Rest so much that I would not want to miss those two days.
Just make absolutely sure to book one the deluxe rooms, as this will give you access to your picture perfect private balcony with one of the most stunning views in all Sri Lanka.
Things not to do in Kandy
Visiting the Temple of the Tooth Relic
So, apparently Buddha came to Sri Lanka and lost one of his teeth. This sacred national treasure is conserved in a beautiful temple in downtown Kandy – probably the city’s biggest (and only) tourist attraction.
Bad news is, you can not even see the tooth, as it is not on display in order to protect it. (And even if you could: It would still be nothing more than an old freaking tooth.) Instead, you get to fight your way through the hopelessly overcrowded temple, which makes it almost impossible to appreciate the beauty of this place. Bonus: You get to pay a super special tourist price. Entrance for locals and Buddhists is free, whereas foreigners pay around 10USD. This is a lot of money for Sri Lanka, so this is definitely not cool!
You can also visit the World Buddhist Museum, located inside the temple walls, and find out more on how Buddhism is practiced in different countries. While this sounds kind of interesting, I really wasn’t keen on paying the exaggerated tourist price once more and opted for a walk back home up the hills instead.
Luckily, I was right in time for sunset and the view from my balcony made up for all the disappointments of downtown Kandy. I stayed in both nights, enjoying the delicious dinner at my guesthouse, before retiring to my room for some cosy reading and writing on my wonderful balcony.
Lesson learnt: Sri Lankan cities are really not worth your time. I only heard super negative things about Colombo from really everybody I know who has been there, which is why I decided to not even set foot there. And from what I saw just driving from the airport to the train station, I am glad I didn’t. Unfortunately, I was equally disappointed by Kandy. Sri Lanka has so many great things to offer – but cities are just not one of them. So don’t waste your time and just enjoy the beautiful beaches, national parks, rain forests, tea plantations, temples etc. to the fullest!