Kandy - Sri Lanka

The last capital of the ancient kings’ era of Sri Lanka, this colourful city offers a wealth of cultural and culinary options. Imogen Lepere tours its tea plantations and treasures

Travel Time 13hrs 10min

Why go?

At sunrise, this mystical city in Sri Lanka’s tea country is often entirely concealed beneath a shroud of mist. But as the sun creeps higher, colonial houses, domed palaces and graceful gardens gradually come into focus. Sri Lanka’s own Shangri-La, its forested hilltop location in the heart of the country protected it from invading Europeans for hundreds of years as region after region fell around it. Indeed, the remnants of one Portuguese army were sent back to Colombo with one eye for every five men, a clear message from this hill kingdom that it was serious about its independence. Although it did finally succumb to the British in 1815, it is still a stronghold of Sinhalese culture and so has a very different feel from the rest of the country. January is dry season – a great time for strolling around Kiri Muhuda Lake and sipping milky Ceylon tea in open-air cafés.

What to do

On a quiet stretch of water, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the world. Follow the smell of incense into the gilded hall, where you’ll see a golden casket that conceals a tooth believed to have belonged to Buddha himself. The National Museum provides a heady taste of pre-European Sinhalese life. Look out for exquisite jewels that once belonged to the royal concubines and intricate executioners’ swords. Pick up some fried dhal cakes at the Bake House on the Dalada Veediya and catch a tuk-tuk to the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens. Once the playground of Kandyan royalty, these 60ha of rare orchids and fragrant spice groves are an atmospheric place for a picnic. Keep your eyes peeled for flying foxes and monkeys as dusk falls. Just 6km from the city centre, Hanthana is a working tea plantation best explored on a bicycle tour with a guide. You’ll see sari-clad pickers toiling among emerald terraces and finish with a cuppa in the Ceylon Tea Museum’s historic tea rooms.

Where to stay

Just 10 minutes from the city centre, the Elephant Stables 00 94 112 821 515, blends colonial charm and contemporary design. Enjoy views of the Knuckles Mountains as you float in its infinity pool. For great value and a central location, stay at Queen’s Hotel 00 94 812 233 026, http://www.queenshotel.Ik – a grand dame perched daintily beside the lake. A 20-minute drive into the hills takes you to the Kandy House00 94 81 492 1394, – home of Sri Lanka’s last king. It’s now a boutique dream set in a lush jungle noisy with bulbuls and babblers. On the outskirts of town, Helga’s Folly 00 94 814 474314, is where a colonial tea party meets Alice in Wonderland. Run by Helga de Silva, the last in a long line of Dutch eccentrics, the decor is as colourful as she is.

Where to eat and drink

While you will find all the king coconuts, curries and spices you’d expect here, more familiar vegetables such as carrots, cauliflowers and runner beans reflect the city’s 133 years under British occupation. The Central Market pulses with energy, as vendors hawk everything from jackfruit to Maldive fish (cured tuna). The nearby White House 00 94 812 232 765, http://www.whitehouse.Ik does a mean line in lamprais, curry, rice and boiled eggs wrapped in banana leaves. The Dalada Veediya is lined with authentic cafés including Maladine 00 94 814 939 399, where you can watch kottu roti (strips of flatbread with chicken and vegetables) being scrambled on an enormous griddle. The veranda restaurant at The Kandy House 00 94 814 921 394, offers an elegant take on classic Sri Lankan flavours, while The Tree of Life Nature Resort 00 94 81 2499 777, is the place to sample traditional breakfast hoppers (pancakes).

Time running out?

Don’t miss a local Kandyan dancing and drumming performance, complete with acrobatics and fire-walking. This ancient art form is a key part of festivals, including the famous Esala Perahera, held every July-August. http://www.kandylakeclubdance....


Travel Information

Travel Information

Currency is the Sri Lankan rupee (LKR). Time is 5.5 hours ahead of GMT. Flight time from the UK to Colombo is 10.5 hours. Intercity trains to Kandy take 2.5 hours (from £1pp), and a taxi takes around 3 hours (from £36). http://www.colomboairporttaxi....

Getting There

SriLankan Airlines flies from Heathrow to Colombo.

Jet Airways fly the same route via Mumbai.


Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau has a website packed with advice to help you get the most out of your trip.

Average daily temperatures and rainfall

Min Temp191820212121212120202019
Max Temp283031313028282829292828

Get Premium access to all the latest content online

Subscribe and view full print editions online... Subscribe