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.
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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.
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 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.
While in Galle, make sure to take a tour of the fort and walk along the tall walls for lovely views of the sea. 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.
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, 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.
Adam’s Peak is definitely one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. It is famous for it’s Sri Pada, or sacred footprint, that 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.
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 is only around $2.50 for a one-way ticket.
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 the 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.
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 that can be seen there are from a fifth-century city and attract many visitors. Many refer to it 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 center. 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: Right in the center of Yala National Park sits the Eco Island Sri Lanka Tented Safari Camp, a rustic and adventurous choice.
- Adam’s Peak: The Pine Trees Homestay is simple and elegant and tucked right into the hills behind Adam’s Peak.
- Kandy: Just outside the city, the Kandy Victoria Eco Resort is an elegant and modern option that offers incredible views of the surrounding tea plantations.
- 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: In Nuwara Eliya, the Eco Villa might stand out for looking quite futuristic, but it’s eco-friendly practices make it one of the best places to stay in Sri Lanka.
- 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 around Sri Lanka. The beautiful pool and classy designs of the hotel will be the perfect place to wind down.
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 were our favourite mode of transportation in Sri Lanka.
For most visitors, a visa is required to travel in 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 in advance. The visa will be valid for 30 days and will cost you between $20 and $35 USD.
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.