If you want to see a lot of Sri Lanka independently, Kandy is the best base. This former medieval kingdom (founded by King Sena Sammatha Vikramabahu who reigned 1474-1511 after moving his capital there from Gampola) is blessed not only with the sacred Temple of the Tooth (dating from 1592), but also with an easy-going ambience, a lake, a nature reserve and lots to see, and is ideally located for making day trips to other parts of Sri Lanka, whether by train, bus or hired vehicle.
Day trips from Kandy can be made to the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa and also to the Dambulla Cave Temple and the former rock citadel of Sigiriya. There are several wildlife sanctuaries within easy reach, as well as the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, and the two botanical gardens (Peradeniya and Hakgala near Nuwara Eliya) and the forests and tea gardens of the hill country.
Kandy is within easy reach by road to the east coast resorts of Trincomalee, Passikudah and Arugam Bay, popular during April to October when the sea is calmer and the climate better. It’s possible to journey to the south coast too and then up through the west coast resorts to Colombo.
A popular time to visit is during the annual 10-night perahera (a procession of elephants, dancers, jugglers, acrobats and whip-crackers) in honour of the Sacred Tooth, culminating on the night of the full moon; this year that’s on Sunday 10 August.
There is a fascinating, and little visited shrine quite unlike the conventional temples in Sri Lanka, within easy reach of Kandy off the Pilimatalawa Road. Built during the reign (1357-1374) of King Vikramabahu III, this consists of three open-sided pavilions, the main one being the Hall of Drummers.
Embekke, Hall of rummers