We love Sri Lanka. It was one of those countries that we actually felt sad leaving. There are so many things to do in Sri Lanka and during our four different visits there, we’ve managed to see a lot.
While visiting this beautiful island located off the southern coast of India, we enjoyed the warm Sri Lankan hospitality, had awesome wildlife encounters, and enjoyed some much-needed time on the beach.
Things to do in Sri Lanka
This Sri Lanka travel guide will help you plan the perfect trip for when you travel to Sri Lanka.
1. Go Surfing
Sri Lanka is a beginner surfers paradise. Hikkaduwa on Sri Lanka’s southwest coast is the popular spot where we tried surfing. The sandy break cushions your fall and the waves are not the gigantic intimidating pipes seen in Hawaii or Australia.
Even expert surfers can enjoy themselves in Sri Lanka though. On the west coast, there is a popular beach that offers bigger and better waves called Aragum Bay. This is where you’ll find a lot of surfers hanging out waiting to catch a wave.
The season is different than Hikkaduwa’s however, so make sure to check when surfing on the west coast is popular.
2. Visit Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Visiting Sigiriya Rock Fortress is probably the most famous thing to do in Sri Lanka. The important archeological site is very impressive. Gracing the covers of many Sri Lankan Guide books, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Sri Lanka’s most recognizable sites.
It is also set in a beautiful location of Sri Lanka. Surrounded by jungle, villages, and farmland, Sigiriya Rock is a location set back in time. Monkeys play on the trails and crocodiles dwell in its moat. The entry price is steep, but it is a beautiful view with an impressive museum as well.
Hiking to the top of Sigiriya Rock is a treat offering views of the surrounding jungle. It takes about an hour to get to the top of Sigiriya Rock and it is hot. Try to go in the morning for cooler temperatures. If you love history and archeology, Sigiriya is for you. Want a resource for Sri Lanka travel? Buy your Lonely Planet Travel Guide
3. Go on Safari in Yala National Park
Yala National Park is one of the few places in the world that you can see a leopard. I put Yala up there as one of our top things to do in Sri Lanka. We had so much fun looking at all the wildlife and four-wheeling through the park in our safari truck. Hanging out and making new friends was part of the fun!
Yala National Park is an incredible reserve in Southern Sri Lanka filled with wildlife. Leopards, sun bears, elephants, peacocks, monkeys, jackals, crocodiles, and monitor lizards to name a few.
You won’t be disappointed on a jeep safari and it is the best place in the world to spot leopards! Even if you don’t see a leopard, you will see a beautiful landscape and an abundance of wild animals.
However, chances are pretty good that you will see a leopard and prices are so reasonable, that even if you don’t, you can try to see one again on another safari.
- See our full safari: Sri Lanka Safari and The Best of Yala National Park
We stayed at Cinnamon Wild at the Yala National Park gates. It is pure luxury and you feel as if you are staying within the park with wildlife roaming freely. Check Prices and Reviews on TripAdvisor or Booking.com
4. Join the Adam’s Peak Pilgrimage
In my opinion, the top attraction of Sri Lanka is Adam’s Peak. Our climb to the top of Adam’s Peak at sunrise was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had in the country. Adam’s Peak is Sri Lanka’s most sacred site and you can join thousands of pilgrims from December to April as they pay homage to the first place that Adam stepped foot on earth when he was cast down from Heaven.
It is a climb that doesn’t require any technical skill, but it is a workout. You will feel a great sense of accomplishment taking part in this spiritual journey. Adam’s Peak is by far our top recommendation of things that you should make sure to do when visiting the country. This climb is what drew us to visit Sri Lanka in the first place.
- Read about our full experience at: Adam’s Peak Pilgrimage – A Sacred Climb in Sri Lanka
5. Ride the Train
One of the things you must things to do in Sri Lanka is to ride the trains. Sri Lankan trains are like stepping back in time. They chug slowly along through hills and valleys. It is the slow journey that makes it special.
Looking out over the mountains and tea plantations rival any view in the world and the people that you meet on the train will be remembered forever. So if you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka make sure this makes your to do list and take the time to travel by train. It will be an experience you will remember and cherish forever.
A top train journey in Sri Lanka is to Ella. When you take this train you will cross the famous Nine Arch Bridge that has become Instafamous in recent years with backpackers taking Instagram worthy photos of the historic landmark.
6. Sip Tea in Nuwara Eliya
Sri Lanka is one of the most important tea producers in the world and its hill country is stunning. Colonial towns dot the landscape surrounded by tea plantations. One of the best places to sip tea is in the town of Nuwara Eliya.
The vegetation is lush and green and the rolling hills make for an awesome site. Pretend you are in jolly old England for a few days. Stay in old plantation homes, drink tea and eat baked goods.
It doesn’t get any more civilized than this. Don’t miss going to Ella and Nuwara Eliya to see the tea plantations of Sri Lanka. Exploring the scenery of the hills is a must-do when visit visiting Sri Lanka. It’s absolutely beautiful and you feel as if you are in another world.
7. Go to Udawalawe National Park
Sri Lanka is filled with national parks and trekking through Uda Walawe is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the towns. What is special about this park however is the Elephant Transfer Home an orphanage and rehabilitation centre for orphaned and injured elephants supported by the Born Free Foundation.
You can watch elephants being fed, but unlike the Pinawale Orphanage, the ETH cares only for the elephants well being. They have as little interaction with humans as possible.
So far 65 elephants have been rehabilitated and let back into the wild. If you have your heart set on seeing and helping elephants, we suggest going to Udawalwe over the other Elephant Rehabilitation Centres. They are doing a great job.
8. Royal Palace of Kandy
Kandy was the former capital of Sri Lanka and was the residence of Sri Lankan Monarchy until 1815. Kandy is one of Sri Lanka’s 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is definitely worth spending some time to explore.
Take a tour of the complex to see the king and queen’s palace, the temple of the tooth, and the royal court. Be sure to dress respectfully as it is a holy temple so cover your shoulders and knees.
22. Temple of the Sacred Tooth
Located in the Royal Palace of Kandy, the temple of The Temple of the Sacred Tooth houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist Relic. If you have climbed to Adam’s Peak you will have already been to where Buddha first stepped foot on earth, and now if you go to the golden roofed temple you will be in the presence of the sacred tooth relic of Buddha.
The Sacred Tooth Relic is the only remains of Guatama Buddha who died in 543 BC. After he was cremated, the tooth was the last remains and is housed in the Royal palace in The Temple of the Tooth.
9. Una Watuna
Many people travel to Sri Lanka for its beaches and Una Watuna is one of the most popular. It is a beach town in the south of Sri Lanka. What makes it special is the fact that the highway bypasses the town making walking through the narrow lanes easy and free from traffic.
There are picturesque beaches and it is here that you can see fishermen still fishing from stilts. The Sri Lankan stilt fishermen are one of the country’s most iconic symbols.
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa is Sri Lanka’s second oldest kingdom dating back to 1070. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and people still inhabit the land all around it.
It’s in great shape with many monuments still standing. It’s not as large as many of the other ruins we visited around Asia, but it is a fascinating walk through time.
11. Hike to Pidurangala Rock
We enjoyed hiking Pidurangala Rock to see Sigiriya Rock at sunset more than actually visiting Sigiriya Rock. It is a great sunset hike that takes you up a mountain adjacent to Sigiriya, offering amazing views of the giant rock.
The hike takes about 30 minutes to get to the top of Pidurangala Rock and you pass ancient monasteries and tombs as you make your way to the top of Pidurangala rock. The views are out of this world and offer the best views of Sigiriya Rock Fort without having to take a helicopter tour. (which we also highly recommend)
- Watch our full video of our Pidurangala Climb
12. Chill Out at Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay was one of our favorite places to chill out in Sri Lanka. It has that old-time backpackers feel where you can chill on a hammock, drink cheap whiskey and get to know the locals. It’s also a surfing mecca. Hikkaduwa was where we learned, but Aragum Bay is where the serious surfers stop.
If you have never surfed before Sri Lanka is the place to do it. It is very easy to learn here and the conditions are perfect for the first-timer. So if you are looking for something to do in Sri Lanka, give surfing a try!
13. Huluru Eco Park
Huluru Eco Park is another excellent place to view wildlife in Sri Lanka. Hire a truck and go on safari to see the best of Sri Lankan wildlife. We saw elephants and monkeys and what makes this park special, is that you can get out of the jeep and hike up to a high lookout.
Designated a biosphere reserve in 1977, Huluru Eco Park is an important habitat for Sri Lanka’s Elephants.
14. Visit a Turtle Hatchery
Our next suggestion for things to do in Sri Lana is to visit a Turtle hatchery. Turtles are under great threat due to fishing, pollution, habitat loss, and hunting. Turtle Hatcheries are doing their best to keep the turtle numbers alive and well. One of the best is The Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery. He loves turtles and lets them into the ocean nightly.
You can even take part in their release if you go at sunset. A person can’t go to Sri Lanka without visiting a turtle hatchery. It is a right of passage of visiting the country.
15. Hike to Ella Rock
The town of Ella feels more like an English Country village than a South Asian community. Complete with red phone booths, a horse track, and even fine white-glove dining you feel as if you are in Little Britain rather than Sri Lanka.
It’s a great place to make a base for a few days to explore. One of the best hikes in Sri Lanka is the hike to Ella Rock. The Hiking Trail to Ella is a must-do when visiting the area. The popular trek here is Ella Rock located 5km outside of town. It offers great panoramic views of the hill country and tea terraces and is a good day trip if you are up for a steep and challenging hike.
Other Things to do in Ella
- Climb Little Adam’s Peak
- Hike to the Nine Arch Bridge
- Hike out to Diyaluma falls
- Explore the Tea Plantations
16. Anuradhapura Sri Lanka
What I love when I travel to Sri Lanka is how modern civilization lives in harmony with its ancient past. Anuradhapura is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka that is the capital of the North Central Province. It was also the capital of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka.
Its ruins are well- preserved and a visit is a good way to learn about ancient Sri Lanka civilization.
17. See the Cliff Divers of Galle
Galle is located on the southern tip of Sri Lanka. Galle is one of Sri Lanka’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Galle is a picturesque city surrounded by a wall built by the Dutch in the 17th Century.
Take a walk around the city to explore the colonial buildings. Colonial customs are still strong in Galle and you can have afternoon tea at one of the high-end hotels. If you are lucky, you may see some locals cliff diving from the high walls.
18. Farm Visit
Cinnamon Wild hosts a farm visit to help keep farm animals safe from leopards, which in turn saves the leopards of Sri Lanka. They provide fences and safety for the cattle so that leopards do not snatch the calves.
In the past when leopards killed the livestock, farmers would retaliate and kill the leopards. Now that they have fences and are secure from the leopards, they can thrive and co-exist in the wild. A farm visit is a wonderful way to learn and understand what it is like to live in rural Sri Lanka.
19. Spend Time in Colombo – The Capital of Sri Lanka
Colombo is a bustling city filled with luxury hotels and the Capital City of Sri Lanka. We stayed at the Cinnamon Grand. A luxurious hotel in the heart of downtown.
Colombo has come a long way since we first visited in 2010. It now is a bustling city with fine dining, nightclubs, rooftop patios, and cafes. Our favorite rooftop bar was at the Cinnamon Red Boutique Hotel.
Things to do in Colombo
- National Museum
- Gangaramaya Temple
- Simamalaka Shrine on Beira Lake
- Get lost in the streets of Pettah
- Explore Colombo’s Colonial Buildings
20. Kaudulla National Park
There are 26 national parks in Sri Lanka and chances are you will see elephants. But when you visit Kaudulla National Park, you will literally see hundreds of elephants.
Kaudulla National Park is different from the other parks as this one seems to be solely dedicated to herds of elephants. We were surrounded by elephants on every side, but it was this elephant that took a keen interest in our jeep and slowly inched towards us that caught our attention.
21. Minneriya National Park
If you still want more elephants, Minneriya National Park is a far more popular spot to see them than Kaudulla. But you will see more tourists.
It is the largest known gathering of Asian elephants in the world and taking a private jeep safari is the best way to get up close and personal with these majestic creatures.
23. Get to know the locals
Nothing feels better than being invited to someone’s house for dinner. The Sri Lankan people are a giving bunch. They are the friendliest people we have met in all our travels and we made great friends with our Tuk Tuk driver Ajith and his family.
What a wonderful experience getting a glimpse of local life in the country. If you are privileged enough to be invited to dinner, take it. It is a heartwarming evening filled with genuine hospitality. The Sri Lankan people are some of the friendliest people in the world.
24. Laze on the Beach
A trip to Sri Lanka wouldn’t be complete without visiting a beach! Sri Lanka has some great beach life and there are several beaches to choose from around the country. Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, and Kosgoda are some popular beaches, but you can find secluded beaches all along Sri Lanka’s coast.
Some are eroding away, but others are pristine. Rent a bicycle or motorbike and get out there to explore the island. The beaches are the number one reason why people come to Sri Lanka and once you see them, you can understand why.
Watch our video to immerse in Sri Lanka Travel
Sri Lanka has everything that a traveler could possibly want. Adventure, spirituality, fine beaches, and nightlife. A vacation to this destination will never disappoint.
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Read More about Sri Lanka Travel
- Sri Lanka Safari and Luxury in the heart of the Jungle
- Sri Lanka Safari – The Best of Yala National Park
- Discover the Beauty of Sri Lanka in Photos
- Climb Adam’s Peak – Sri Lanka’s Sacred Pilgrimage
- Hikkaduwa Beach Sri Lanka – Surf, Sand & Shopping
- The Human Elephant Conflict in Asia
- Train Travel in Sri Lanka
Cinnamon Hotels has resorts throughout the country that are close to several of the tops sights. To find their locations and prices visit CinnamonHotels.com