Sri Lanka is a country that is up and coming as far as tourism goes. For a long time, the country was not frequented by foreigners due to civil conflict. Nowadays, more and more people are arriving to discover its amazing jungles, pristine beaches, impressive wildlife, and eclectic port cities. For such a small country, there are so many things to do in Sri Lanka. Here are some highlights from our Sri Lanka trip that hopefully will inspire your next adventure.
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There are enough places to visit in Sri Lanka to easily keep you busy for a month. In this post, we’ll highlight the main Sri Lanka destinations that you can’t miss on your next visit.
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Top Places To Visit In Sri Lanka
Galle And Unawatuna
Located on the southwest tip of the island, the city of Galle is one of the most beautiful in all of Sri Lanka. Its funky mix of Dutch, Portuguese, and British influences can be found all over the city, from the famous fort to other stately buildings around town.
Exploring Galle Fort in Sri Lanka
While in Galle, make sure to take a tour of the fort and walk along the tall walls for lovely views of the Indian Ocean. Afterward, spend some time walking the city, shopping, and eating at the markets along the way.
Right to the south of Galle, you’ll find Unawatuna, a beautiful beach area that backpackers have grown to love. While there, you can surf, swim, or scuba dive, as well as test out the famous rope swing that has quickly become one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka.
Visit Sri Lanka’s National Parks
The national parks in Sri Lanka are some of the best places to see some of the country’s amazing wildlife and undisturbed natural beauty. There are several national parks in Sri Lanka, and here are some of the best ones.
Yala National Park
One of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka if you’re interested in seeing wild animals, Yala National Park is an oasis for nature lovers. You’ll find this massive wildlife reserve in the southeastern tip of the island. It’s a great place to go on a wildlife safari to see lots of birds, crocodiles, bears, Sri Lankan leopards, and elephants.
You can visit all year round and find lots of animals out and about. Hire a guide to take you through the park for the best experience.
If you’re planning on seeing animals while in Sri Lanka, make sure to research the ethics of each place before visiting. Yala National Park does a great job with conservation and animal well-being, while other more famous places (such as Pinnawala) do not. Research your wildlife tourist attractions in Sri Lanka ahead of time and make sure to make a responsible choice.
Udawalawe National Park
Located about an hour from the south coast of Sri Lanka, Udawalawe is a great place to watch wild elephants and other wildlife in a preserved habitat. This park was established in 1972 in an effort to protect wildlife from poaching and encroachment from the ever-growing cattle industry. Udawalawe also serves as a catchment area for the Udawalawe Reservoir, an essential water source for this part of Sri Lanka.
You’ll have to arrange for a safari to tour Udawalawe National Park, and there are plenty of operators parked outside the entrance available to visitors. It’s best to do a bit of research beforehand to make sure you go with a reputable, ethical safari guide, and there are plenty in the area.
Horton Plains National Park
If you prefer the freedom of walking about at your own pace instead of a guided safari, Horton Plains National Park might be better suited for you. The Horton Plains area is part of the central highlands of Sri Lanka and is located about 20 km south of Nuwara Eliya.
Horton Plains has several hiking trails that wind over a plateau covered by rugged rock formations, lakes, and waterfalls. This is a great place for birdwatching, but the biggest attraction is known as World’s End, a dramatic escarpment that plunges 900 metres at the edge of the plateau.
Adam’s Peak is definitely one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. It is famous for its Sri Pada, or sacred footprint, which is said to be at the top of the mountain. The footprint is rumoured to be that of different prophets in multiple different religions. Needless to say, countless legends surround the mountain.
For many, the hike to the top is a pilgrimage and spiritual experience. If you want to climb Adam’s Peak, you’ll have your choice of six different trails. A round trip will take you between four and six hours to complete. It is a fairly strenuous hike, and while no mountaineering equipment is necessary, you do need to be in good physical shape to complete the climb.
If you’re not up for climbing the entirety of Adam’s Peak, opt for Little Adam’s Peak, a much easier day hike. Either way, they’re both worthwhile Sri Lanka tourist places.
READ NEXT: Guide to Climbing Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka
Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second-largest city, with lots to be discovered. Located right in the middle of the country, you’ll find lots of places to explore while visiting the city.
Kandy has some fantastic temples that are not to be missed. The Temple of the Tooth is perhaps the most famous one, with both monks and tourists alike spending a lot of time there. If you want to visit a less popular temple, head to a nearby hilltop to see the Gadaladeniya Temple. Not only will you have the place to yourself, but you’ll get a stunning view over Kandy as well.
When you’ve finished visiting the temples, make sure to enjoy Kandy’s green spaces. Kandy Lake and the botanical gardens are two awesome places to enjoy nature within the city.
Train Ride To Ella
Undoubtedly one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka, this train ride has become one of the country’s top tourist attractions. You’ll pass over the famous Nine Arch Bridge and through rolling tea plantations for about six or seven hours between Kandy and Ella. The ride is absolutely stunning.
Make sure to book yourself either a second or third-class ticket. First-class cars are air-conditioned, so you won’t be able to open the doors or windows to take photographs. The price starts at around $2.50 for a one-way ticket, but they sell out quickly. Your best bet might be to purchase tickets online ahead of time. Fees bring the ticket price up to $5.00, but it’s still worth it.
Nuwara Eliya is a small, peaceful town in the middle of Sri Lanka’s tea plantations. It’s a wonderful place for nature lovers to not only visit some beautiful gardens and farms but also to experience the rural lifestyle in Sri Lanka.
Beyond the tea plantations, two of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka’s town of Nuwara Eliya are the Lovers Leap waterfall and Galway’s Land National Park. At the waterfall, you’ll find some of the best views in town, and at the national park, you’ll have the chance to spot some rare species of birds.
To make the most of your time in tea country, consider joining a guided tour that will take you to the scenic spots in the area while handling all of the logistics. This private tour includes a visit to Ramboda Waterfalls and Bhakta Hanuman Temple, then a tour of a tea plantation followed by lunch and a guided walk through historic Nuwara Eliya with stops at Gregory Lake and Victoria Park.
Explore Ancient Sites In Sri Lanka
There are centuries upon centuries of history in Sri Lanka, and ancient ruins can be found all throughout the country. We couldn’t visit all of them, but here are some that made it on the itinerary.
Yapahuwa Rock Fortress
This dramatic stronghold dates back to the 13th century, when it served as the capital of Sri Lanka for a little while. Located about 2.5 hours northeast of Colombo, this is a popular tourist attraction, and it is said that the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha was found here.
To get to the iconic stone staircase and ruins of an ancient temple, you’ll have to hike up some pretty steep steps to the top of a 90-metre rocky outcrop. For the best photos with minimal crowds, head to the top early in the morning, then tour the museum and cave temple at the ground level of the complex.
Dambulla Cave Temple
This beautiful monastery is the biggest, best preserved cave temple complex in the country. Located in central Sri Lanka, the Dambulla Cave Temple is an active Buddhist site that has been inhabited by monks for over 1,700 years. Spread over five caves, the monastery is filled with ornate Buddha states, murals, and artifacts dating back centuries.
The journey to the cave temple requires a bit of a hike. Over 300 stairs will take you to the site, and there are several stopping points along the way where you can take in stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Remember that this is an active Buddhist spiritual centre – take care to observe any rules for entering the temple.
Sigiriya Rock is a famous archaeological site located about two hours north of Kandy and is one of the most unique things to do in Sri Lanka. The ruins of the ancient city that can be seen there are from a fifth-century city and attract many visitors. Many refer to this UNESCO World Heritage Site as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
If you’re visiting Sigiriya, make sure to arrive at the fortress early in the morning to beat the crowds. The climb to the top is steep, but when you make it up, you’ll be surrounded by stunning views of lush jungle in all directions.
When you’re done visiting Sigiriya Rock itself, make sure to explore the surrounding gardens and the nearby Pidurangala Rock.
All visitors to Sri Lanka will inevitably spend a little time in the capital city of Sri Lanka as that’s where the airport is located. Many people write Colombo off as simply a city for transit, but there is actually quite a lot to explore within its borders.
While you’re in Colombo, visit the Gangaramaya Temple, a well-known Buddhist house of worship right in the city centre. You’ll also want to visit Colombo’s fort, where you’ll find more Dutch influence that remains in Sri Lanka. Although Colombo might not make everyone’s list of places to visit in Sri Lanka, we think that a visit is well warranted.
Essential Sri Lanka Travel Tips
Where To Stay In Sri Lanka
- Galle and Unawatuna: The Kaju Green Ecolodge in Unawatuna is a contemporary and beautiful hotel just outside of town. Their stunning pool and outdoor terrace are the best features.
- Yala National Park: Located along the border of Yala National Park is Mahoora, an eco-friendly safari-style camp that provides a glamping experience. Mahoora also guides activities like night walks, cooking lessons, and jungle dining.
- Adam’s Peak: The Pine Trees Homestay is simple and elegant and tucked right into the hills behind Adam’s Peak.
- Kandy: Perched on a hill overlooking the city, Fox Kandy is a sustainable luxury resort that offers top-of-the-line amenities and world-class hospitality. The concierge service is highly knowledgeable and will arrange a customized tour during your visit.
- Ella: The Ella Ecolodge is a gorgeous wooden treehouse structure surrounded by green. It’s right along the Ella railway and has pristine mountain views.
- Nuwara Eliya: Hidden away from the busy touristy spots, Hilldale Retreat is a boutique hotel focused on providing exceptional service. Rooms have private balconies with amazing views, and there is an onsite spa and wellness centre.
- Sigiriya Rock: The Green Edge Residences hotel near Sigiriya Rock is surrounded by a lush and beautiful garden. Its location is excellent.
- Colombo: The Colombo Court Hotel is a perfect place to relax and enjoy after your trip to Sri Lanka. The beautiful pool and classy designs of the hotel will be the perfect place to wind down.
Try Sri Lankan Food
When visiting Sri Lanka, food options will be varied, and don’t be afraid to try local specialties. Traditional Sri Lankan food has a reputation for being spicy, but there are plenty of flavourful dishes that won’t burn your tastebuds off. To get the full culinary experience, consider a guided street food tour in Colombo. This way, you’ll get to learn about Sri Lankan culture and try popular local dishes without worrying about logistics or choosing a spot to check out.
How To Get To And Around Sri Lanka
To get to Sri Lanka, you’ll need to fly into the main airport in Katunayake to the north of Colombo. Flights are generally consistent throughout the year.
Within the country, the best way to travel is by train. Both locals and tourists alike take the famous and scenic Sri Lanka train rides through the lush green landscape. Trains are affordable, can be relatively comfortable, and are our favourite mode of transportation in Sri Lanka.
For most visitors, a visa is required to travel to Sri Lanka. You’ll need to apply online via this link and wait to be approved. It’s good practice to apply at least a week before your Sri Lanka holiday. The visa will be valid for 30 days and will cost you about $50 USD unless you are a permanent resident of a SAARC Country.
Although this country has previously not been on every traveler’s radar, tourism in Sri Lanka is on the rise. There are so many amazing places to visit in Sri Lanka, and by visiting sustainably, you can really help the local communities while on your trip.
Although recent events in Sri Lanka might discourage tourists from visiting, the country remains one of the friendly locals and peaceful lands despite isolated acts of violence. We highly recommend you add this incredible country to your bucket list.