Sri Lanka is a tropical paradise island located southeast of India. With pristine beaches around the perimeter and enchanting mountains in the center, this diverse country offers a wide range of adventures. Safaris, surfing, hiking, or sunbathing, this country offers activities for every type of traveler.
There are some amazing places to visit in Sri Lanka, so let’s review some of the top destinations and what makes them special.
Arriving in Sri Lanka
When arriving in Sri Lanka, the airport is actually in Negombo about 40 minutes north of Colombo, so don’t get confused since the airport is commonly referred to as Colombo International Airport (CMB). Getting to the center from the airport, you’ll find multiple options such as an express train to Fort Train station or a bus to Pettah (costing approx. 3$). There are options such as Taxi and Uber (costing around 9$ to Pettah, Colombo) as well at a reasonable price.
Colombo is the capital city of Sri Lanka. With heavy traffic and crowded streets, most people avoid Colombo and take off straight to other parts of the country, but there are some amazing places here to experience. Below are some recommendations for places to visit, but it’s also nice to simply walk around and soak in the bustling culture.
- National Museum
- Gangaramaya Temple
- Beira Lake
- Galle Face Green
- Pettah Market
- Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque
This walled city is a unique mixture of European architecture and local Sri Lanka culture. There’s a big fort that surrounds the town of Galle which is preserved as a world-famous UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1505, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to settle here. They built an initial smaller fort, but in 1640 the Dutch invaded and built a more secure fort. The Dutch established a city within the fort which is still thriving today.
With plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops, you can easily spend a few hours walking around the streets of Galle Fort.
Weligama, Mirissa, Hiriketiya
If surfing is your thing, these beach towns in the south are where you will want to be. The streets in these towns are lined with surf schools and cheap eats. This is where people go for a surf, eat, sleep, repeat.
Yala National Park
This is your chance to get an up close and personal experience with some exotic wildlife on safari. Lookout for some elephants, crocodiles, boar, buffalo, birds you didn’t even know existed, and if you’re lucky, you may even spot one of the rare leopards this region is famous for.
This park is unique since it’s one of the only National Parks in Sri Lanka that meet the ocean so there’s a beautiful beach where sometimes animals come to roam in the sand.
This is the most famous surf town on the east coast. With nice beaches and many surf spots, people travel from all over the world to ride these waves. Some nice spots to check out are; Main Point, Whiskey Point, Elephant Rock, and Peanut Farm. These are the popular surf spots, but even if you don’t want to go surfing, these are still beautiful beaches worth visiting.
Now we’re getting into the mountain range. If you’re interested in hiking there are a few amazing trails to explore. Ella Rock is an excellent viewpoint.
To reach Ella Rock, you need to hike through the forest for about an hour. If you’re not much into hiking but also want to see a nice viewpoint, the alternative is Little Adam’s Peak. You can get a ride to the trailhead then it’s an easy walk only about 15 minutes to reach Little Adam’s Peak viewpoint.
Nine Arch Bridge in Ella
Another must-visit location in Ella is the Nine Arch Bridge. Surrounded by lush greenery and tea plants, this 30-meter high stone bridge is a fascinating piece of architecture.
One of the most unique cities in Sri Lanka, Nuwara Eliya, is located up in the mountains so the temperature is a bit cooler than the rest of the country. This is where many of the British settled during their time here, so much of the architecture resembles Old English design.
Photos: Streets of Nuwara Eliya
Things to do around Nuwara Eliya include:
- Gregory Lake: a man-made lake in the center of town where you can take a boat out and enjoy some peaceful time
- Victoria Park: an excellent place for a refreshing walk. This park spans 27 acres and is filled with foriegn plants and flowers. Keep an eye out for some native birds flying around
- Bale Bazaar: This market is filled with friendly locals selling everything from fresh fruits to winter coats. Take a stroll around and feel free to support the locals by purchasing some goods here
- Waterfalls: Ramboda Falls & Bomburella Falls
- Tea Plantations: Outside of Nuwara Eliya, the area is surrounded by vast tea plantations. Many tea plantations offer tours to explain how tea is processed and have fresh tea tastings
- Horton Plains: A national park with a very popular hike to a place called World’s End. The hike takes about 2.5 hours and it’s not difficult at all. The view at World’s End is outstanding, but it is important to note the rather high entrance fee to Horton Plains of $30-40 per person
Monkeys in the Jungle near Ramboda Falls
As the second-largest city after Colombo, Kandy is a busy, yet the cultural center of Sri Lanka. Here you will find the most highly regarded temple in the country called the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic which is believed to hold a tooth from Buddha. Since this is a very religious place, you need to dress appropriately. It’s required to wear clothes that cover your legs and shoulders or you will not be allowed to enter.
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
One of the most popular things in Kandy is to depart taking the famous blue train through the mountains. The route runs from Kandy to Ella and vice versa, also stopping at many places like Nuwara Eliya along the way. It’s considered one of the most beautiful trains rides in the world as it passes through lush green landscapes filled with tea plantations and stunning mountain views.
Sigiriya is an ancient city most known for Lion Rock. This impressive rock is a UNESCO world heritage site and Sri Lankans consider this place as the Eighth wonder of the world.
Lion Rock Sigiriya
The entrance fee to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress is around $30 USD. It’s definitely an amazing site to experience as you can explore the gardens and even walk up to the top of the rock where there are remains of an ancient fortress.
Steve Yalo top of Sigiriya Ancient Palace
If you’re not willing to pay the $30 entrance fee, an alternative is the nearby Pidurangala Rock. For a $3 USD entrance fee, you can hike to the top for a nice view of Sigiriya Rock. Or if you’re feeling up to it, why not both?
This is a lovely little beach town on the East coast. Typically fewer tourists visit here compared to the south, so it’s a bit more of a local experience. The most popular things to do around Trincomalee are whale watching, snorkeling, scuba diving, boat tours, and relaxing on the beach.
Best spots to visit include:
- Nilaveli Beach
- Fort Frederik
- Koneswaram Temple
- Pigeon Island (great area for snorkeling)
The northern tip of Sri Lanka is a region not many tourists visit, so this is an area filled with the authentic local culture. From colorful Hindu temples to local markets and a historic fort, this city is for travelers interested in getting a real local experience.
Steve Yalo posing with a local while shopping in Jaffna
Here are some key places to visit and things to do in Jaffna:
- Jaffna Fort
- Wander the streets and local markets
- Delft Island
- Naguleswaram temple
- Keerimalai pool
Boat to Delft Island
(Keerimalai Naguleswaram Kovil) Naguleswaram temple
1 month recommended Itinerary
Colombo → Galle → Weligama → Hiriketiya → Yala National Park → Arugam Bay → Ella → Nuwara Eliya → Kandy → Sigiriya → Trincomalee → Jaffna → Colombo
2 week recommended Itinerary
Colombo → Galle → Weligama → Yala National Park → Ella → Nuwara Eliya → Kandy → Sigiriya → Colombo
1 week recommended Itinerary
Colombo → Galle → Yala National Park → Ella → Nuwara Eliya → Colombo
Negombo → Weligama → Hiriketiya → Arugam Bay → Negombo
Tell us which was your favorite place!
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