Sri Lanka is a destination for the adventurous.
Explore its lush tea plantations, swim underneath waterfalls, relax on remote beaches, wander around ancient temples, and spot jaw-dropping wildlife.
Recently, I had the opportunity to discover the best things to do in Sri Lanka. Over 12-days, I traversed the country, visiting the top attractions and discovering the fascinating history and culture behind this island nation.
If you’re planning a trip or the country is on your radar, here are the best places to visit in Sri Lanka for an unforgettable trip.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Colombo is the capital city of Sri Lanka and the starting point for your adventure in the country.
While most travelers tend to leave the city as quickly as possible, it’s worth spending at least 24-hours here before moving on.
For history lovers, the city is full of museums and temples that can help you connect to Sri Lankan culture.
The Red Mosque.
It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in the city with its candy-cane red and white strips. Located in one of the oldest parts of Colombo, the mosque’s interior is equally spectacular.
Tip: Cover your hair, arms, and legs if you want to explore the mosque. It’s a place of worship and a sign of respect to cover up.
Sri Lanka is more than breathtaking beaches and incredible architecture. It’s also an outstanding wildlife destination.
Head to Hurulu Eco Park in Habarana and go on a safari in the biosphere reserve. It’s home to the Sri Lankan elephant and allows you to get up close with these magnificent animals.
Tip: I highly recommend going on the evening tour to increase your chances of seeing large numbers of elephants.
Step back into time and visit Anuradhapura. It’s an ancient city in Sri Lanka, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on Earth.
Spend a day or two here and explore the ruins of the Sinhala civilization. Walk past crumbling temples, pools, and statues and visit the famous Sri Maha Bodhi tree.
What makes it so special?
It’s believed to be the world’s oldest living tree planted by a human.
With the complex’s holy places still in use, you might glimpse traditional ceremonies and experience an ancient part of Sri Lanka first-hand.
Lion Rock in Sigiriya
No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without visiting Lion Rock in Sigiriya. It’s one of the most famous landmarks in the country and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What makes the rock so important?
Besides being a natural phenomenon, the enormous 200-meter rock is the former fortress of King Kassapa, built over 1,500 years ago. On the top, you’ll find a swimming pool, a palace, murals, and gardens.
Tip: Climb Lion Rock as early as possible to watch the sunrise and avoid the heat.
Visit Sera Ella in Pitawala village. The cascade is a beautiful part of central Sri Lanka and the subject of many poems.
But there’s more to the site than its natural beauty.
For the adventurous, you can make the treacherous trek behind the waterfall. Here, you’ll find a hidden cave to explore.
Flanked by awe-inspiring mountain ranges and emerald tea plantations, Kandy is the second-largest city in Sri Lanka.
Only 3-hours from Colombo, it’s a beautiful part of the country and a must-visit for travelers who want to dive into Sri Lanka’s history and culture.
Your first stop? The Temple of the Tooth aka Sri Dalada Maligawa.
It’s an ancient Buddhist Temple in the heart of Kandy and is home to the legendary tooth relic of Buddha!
While you don’t actually see the tooth (it’s kept inside a series of six gold caskets), the temple is still worth the visit. You can easily spend an hour or two exploring the main temple and the smaller temples, shrines, and museums.
Next on your Kandy itinerary is a traditional Kandyan dance performance. According to local lore, the origins of the dance lies in an exorcism ritual.
Initially performed by Indian shamans, it was adopted by the locals who identified with the Temple of the Tooth and played an important role in the yearly Dalada Perahera procession.
Other Kandy highlights:
- National Museum of Kandy
- Kandy Lake
- Udawatta Kele Sanctuary
- Kandy Buddha Statue
- The Botanical Garden of Kandy
Nuwara Eliya (also known as Little England) is famous for her lush green tea plantations, waterfalls, beautiful viewpoints, and unusual wildlife. Situated 6,183 feet above sea level, the climate here is unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka, making it the perfect spot for harvesting tea.
If you find yourself in the area, schedule a plantation tour. For less than $10, you can hop into a tuk-tuk and go on a full-day trip. Witness the manufacturing process of Ceylon Tea and sip on an unblended cup before the tea leaves are sent off to Colombo and shipped around the world.
Fun Fact: Nuwara Eliya is the birthplace of Lipton Tea!
Itching for a beach vacation?
You can’t go wrong with a stay in Mirissa, Sri Lanka. It’s one of the country’s most popular beach towns and is home to spectacular beaches, excellent surfing conditions, and waters teeming with marine life.
I’d recommend spending at least 3 to 4 days here to soak up the laid-back vibe, try out the delicious food from the beachside restaurants, and tick off items from your bucket list.
Some of the best things to do in Mirissa are:
- Visit Secret Beach: A small secluded beach with fewer beach bums than the main beach.
- Parrot Rock: A beautiful viewpoint in front of Mirissa Beach. Come here for sunset or sunrise, but check the tides as you can only cross during low tide.
- Whale watching: If you’re visiting Sri Lanka between November and March, you can see the annual whale migration. Join a tour and head out into the Indian Ocean, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see whales, dolphins, and turtles.
Plan Your Trip to Sri Lanka
Is Sri Lanka on your bucket list?
What places are you itching to explore and add to your itinerary?
Let me know in the comments below.