21 Things to Do in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, often called the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean," is a treasure trove of natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture. With a wink to various travel modes – tuk-tuks, trains, and more – every twist and turn brings a new delight. We spent 15 days exploring this marvellous Island and gathered a playbook jam-packed with things to do in Sri Lanka and a little extra spice for those wanting more. Pack your enthusiasm because Sri Lanka's charm is ready to dazzle you. From the bustling streets of Colombo to the serene beaches of Unawatuna, here are 21 things to do in Sri Lanka that will make your trip truly unforgettable.
Best things to do in Sri Lanka:
1. Explore the Beaches of Negombo
Start your journey in Negombo, a coastal city known for its pristine beaches and vibrant fishing community. Take a leisurely stroll along the sandy shores, watch local fishermen haul in their catch, and enjoy fresh seafood at beachside restaurants.
2. Explore Kandy's Serene Lake
Wander alongside the tranquil expanse of Kandy Lake, celebrated as the very essence and core of the city due to its central positioning and undeniable charm. Nestled within the lake's centre lies a petite islet adorned with a scattering of palm trees – an image emblematic of Kandy and a subject frequently gracing postcards.
3. Explore Kandy's Botanical Haven
Immerse yourself in the allure of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kandy, a favoured gathering spot for people of all ages, especially during weekends. Renowned for its extensive collection of over 4,000 plant and tree species, this oasis is just a 15-minute drive to the west of Kandy, providing a delightful escape from the urban bustle. Meander through the vast expanse of the garden, perhaps with a towel in hand, allowing you to recline on the grass or enjoy a refreshing drink at one of the charming cafes. While the entrance fee of 2,000 LKR (approximately 10 USD) might seem a bit steep, it proves its worth, especially if you plan to luxuriate for a few hours amidst this botanical paradise.
4. Visit the Sacred Tooth Relic Temple
Nestled in the heart of Kandy, the Sacred Tooth Relic Temple, also referred to as Sri Dalada Maligawa, stands resplendent with its glistening golden roof. Schedule an early-morning excursion to avoid the bustling crowds and marvel at the venerated tooth relic of Buddha – yes, the authentic whiff of Buddha himself! Elaborate measures are taken to safeguard this precious tooth, nestled within a series of ornate golden caskets adorned with exquisite jewels. A visit to this temple is an essential Kandy experience, not solely for its religious significance as a paramount Buddhist sanctuary but also the captivating allure of its interior.
5. Ascend the Heights to Witness the Kandy Buddha Monument
You can make your way uphill to encounter the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Monument, proudly holding the title of Sri Lanka's most giant Buddha statue. Rising to an impressive height of 88 feet, this majestic figure is cityscape vistatledced amidst the hill summits that overlook Kandy, casting its presence against the backdrop of the Knuckles mountain range. Accessing the pinnacle is a breeze, either by car or motorbike, and a brief ascent up a flight of stairs will yield the reward of a sweeping, panoramic vista of the cityscape.
6. Climb Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Lion Rock, situated in Sigiriya, is an iconic emblem of the nation. This colossal natural creation emerges from the level terrain, commanding a presence over lush woodlands and expanses dotted with elephants. Cresting the 200-meter square-formed rock reveals vestiges of an age-old palace, embellished gardens, and a trail adorned with intricate rock drawings. Notably, Lion Rock claims its spot among Sri Lanka's esteemed UNESCO World Heritage sites, further solidifying its place on your Sri Lankan journey.
7. Embark on the Kandy to Ella Train Journey
Return to Kandy for an enchanting expedition aboard Sri Lanka's most picturesque train ride. This extensive rail adventure is a must-do on any Sri Lanka itinerary, guiding you through breathtaking undulating hillscapes, rainforests, and verdant tea estates. Lean out from the carriage door, the wind tousling your hair, as the temperature gradually drops while ascending into the mist-shrouded heights of Sri Lanka's elevated lands. Secure your Kandy Train Tickets here and partake in this unforgettable experience.
8. Hike to the Little Adam’s Peak
While Little Adam’s Peak may boast a more diminutive stature compared to its larger counterpart, Adam’s Peak, its magnificence remains unparalleled. Embark on an awe-inspiring trek through pristine natural landscapes, traversing local villages, verdant tea plantations, and expanses of swaying grass fields. Reaching the summit engenders a sensation beyond compare – an opportunity to embrace the extraordinary panoramic vistas and bask in the illusion of reigning over the world from atop!
9. Stroll Beside the Tracks of Nine Arch Bridge in Ella
Ella's Nine Arch Bridge is an icon, renowned globally for its captivating beauty and definitely one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka. This remarkable bridge soars 25 meters into the sky, spanning 91 meters in length – a true colossal marvel. Situated a short distance from Ella Town, along the pathway leading to Little Adam’s Peak, it remains concealed amidst the lush emerald hills, often enveloped by the embrace of drifting clouds.
10. Experience the Tranquility of Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya, often referred to as "Little England," is a hill station known for its picturesque landscapes and cool climate. Enjoy a stroll through tea plantations, visit a tea factory to learn about the tea-making process, and take in the breathtaking views from Gregory Lake.
11. Witness Sea Turtles at Rekawa
Visit Rekawa, a secluded beach known for its sea turtle conservation efforts. Join a night-time expedition to witness the nesting and hatching of sea turtles—an awe-inspiring experience that connects you with nature's wonders.
12. Visit the Coconut Tree Hill
Coconut Tree Hill stands as a premier Instagram-worthy location in Sri Lanka and a highlight of Mirissa's attractions. Within a mere 15-minute stroll from Mirissa Beach, this secluded coconut plantation presents some of the region's most exceptional vistas. Upon ascending the hill's summit, the promontory extends before you, unveiling awe-inspiring perspectives across the sea, framed by the graceful curvature of numerous swaying palm trees. For optimal experience, we suggest visiting at sunrise, capturing photographs in the tranquil ambiance of fewer fellow admirers.
13. Marvel at Whales in Mirissa (Optional: If season permits)
Mirissa stands as a prime locale for witnessing the migration of whales, a spectacle that graces its waters from November to March. The region also boasts some of Sri Lanka's most breathtaking sunsets, perfectly complemented by sunset whale-watching excursions.
14. Discover Tranquility at Koggala Lake
Situated just a brief 15-minute tuk-tuk ride away from Galle Fort, Koggala Lake stretches out as a spacious and serene body of water. While most travelers gravitate towards Sri Lanka's southern coast for its sun and sand, the proximity of Koggala Lake provides a delightful respite from the beach scene. The lake's vast expanse harbors numerous islands, each with its own appeal waiting to be explored. Among them, one island hosts a captivating ancient temple, while another invites visitors to a cinnamon plantation with a tourist-friendly orientation. You can visit the lake on your own (walking tour around the lake) or on a boat tour (1.5 hours for 4000 rupees), alternatively you can stay right in the heart of the lake. We truly recommend Tri Koggala, a wonderful hotel where you can enjoy sunrise and sunsets overlooking the lake and cinnamon plantations.
15. Relax on the Shores of Unawatuna
Unwind on the beautiful beaches of Unawatuna, where palm trees sway in the breeze and turquoise waters beckon. Engage in water sports, explore coral reefs, or simply bask in the sun.
16. Wijaya Beach: Exquisite Shoreline
Among all the captivating beaches that have graced our Sri Lankan journey, none have captured our hearts quite like Wijaya Beach in Unawatuna. This mesmerizing expanse of pristine white sand is embraced by cascading palm trees and caressed by the translucent embrace of the ocean. It truly presents itself as a pocket of paradise. The presence of sizable boulders and a natural coral reef forms a delightful aquatic haven, perfect for leisurely swims. Following a splendid day of beachside relaxation, venture to one of the adjacent beach bars or restaurants. Indulge in a delectable meal while savoring the spectacle of the sun gracefully descending beyond the horizon.
17. Discover history in the Galle Fort Area
Explore the historic Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to colonial times. Walk along the cobblestone streets, admire the Dutch architecture, and shop for souvenirs in charming boutiques.
18. Indulge in Culinary Delights
Throughout your journey, savor the flavors of Sri Lankan cuisine. Don't miss out on trying local dishes such as rice and curry, hoppers, and delicious seafood specialties.
19. Wander Through Colombo's Streets
Experience the bustling capital city of Colombo. Explore vibrant markets, modern shopping centers, and historical landmarks such as the Independence Memorial Hall and Gangaramaya Temple.
20. Explore Gangaramaya Temple
The largest Buddhist temple within the city, Gangaramaya Temple is a complex comprising numerous structures brimming with an extensive array of items. Despite its seemingly eclectic collection, the sheer multitude of Buddhas within is truly awe-inspiring – a congregation of Buddhas like none we've seen before. Amidst the temple's precincts, a captivating Bodhi tree thrives, intertwining with and enveloping the buildings, a reminder that the jungle is never too distant.
Embarking on a visit to this temple proves to be an incredibly rewarding endeavor, an experience that undoubtedly holds immense value
21. Stroll and Unwind in Viharamahadevi Park
Escape the urban heat by wandering through Viharamahadevi Park, the largest green space in Colombo. A welcome respite awaits within its boundaries. Directly opposite the gleaming Town Hall, this park hosts lively striped squirrels, vibrant parrots, and clusters of drowsy bats. If your schedule allows, grab a bite from a nearby supermarket or café, and relish it in the cool shade.
Navigating Your Sri Lanka Adventure
Arriving via international flights lands you at Colombo airport, which is actually closer to Negombo than Colombo itself. From here, opting for public transportation or arranging a driver pick-up for your onward journey is straightforward.
Getting Around Sri Lanka
- By Car
Opting for a hired driver in Sri Lanka is a popular and cost-effective choice. Typically priced around $50 per day, it grants you added itinerary flexibility and eases access to more remote locales that might otherwise pose a challenge.
- By Bus
Buses offer an economical option, with just a few dollars covering an entire day of travel. Be prepared for crowded buses where standing may be necessary. While air conditioning isn't common, you'll have the unique chance to enjoy local TV featuring Sri Lankan music videos.
- By Train
Train travel is a must in Sri Lanka, boasting some of the world's most stunning rail journeys. The exciting experience of hanging out the train door as tea plantations and rolling hills pass by has garnered global recognition. Second-class ticket prices range from $1.50 to $4. Occasionally, seating may run out, requiring standing or floor seating. Embrace the local custom and relish this captivating experience.
Optimal Time to Explore the island
Sri Lanka's appeal spans the year, each region having its distinct "best time to visit," ensuring the sun graces the island year-round. The best seasons by month and destination are as follows:
- North – May to September
- Center – January to April
- South – December to March
Even during the rainy season, a visit can be rewarding, with lower prices, fewer crowds, and lush natural beauty. Note, however, that rough waves might soil beaches during this period.
Securing a Sri Lanka Visa
A Sri Lanka visa is a prerequisite for entry. Fortunately, obtaining one is uncomplicated. Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months. Visa options include:
Online Visa: Apply online, preferably a few days before arrival. The ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) is usually approved within hours, costing $35 for a 30-day tourist visa.
Visa on Arrival: While a Visa on Arrival is possible, it's advisable to opt for the online ETA to avoid extra fees and lengthy queues.
Sri Lanka's Cost Breakdown
Transactions in Sri Lanka are conducted in Sri Lankan Rupees, with $1 equating to approximately 2 Sri Lanka Rupees. The country is generally budget-friendly, particularly in remote areas like the North and the center.
Lodging options vary, spanning from budget guesthouses to upscale beachfront hotels. Regardless of location, affordable and delectable street food and small restaurant options abound (a serving of local rice and curry often costs around $1-3 USD!).
Anticipate spending between $540 to $1600 USD per person weekly in Sri Lanka, contingent on factors such as accommodation, transportation, and activities. Flight costs are not included in this estimate.
Sri Lanka Adventure
A 2-week trip around Sri Lanka promises an unforgettable experience. Embrace
diverse landscapes, rich cultural encounters, and a deep connection to nature. From the pristine beaches of Negombo to the misty hills of Nuwara Eliya, each destination offers its own unique charm. Whether you're an adventure seeker, a history enthusiast, a wildlife lover, or simply in search of relaxation, Sri Lanka has something special to offer every traveler.