Sri Lanka is a beautiful country off the west coast of India which completely stole my heart. There are so many amazing things to do in Sri Lanka, you may have a hard time deciding which of these 14 best things to do in Sri Lanka you’ll actually have time for!
We traveled to Sri Lanka for 10 days and it just wasn’t enough time!
If you’re wondering what to do in Sri Lanka, here’s the perfect Sri Lanka 10 day itinerary which you can use to find out everything you need to know about planning your trip to Sri Lanka.
In this post, I’ve collaborated with several travel bloggers to share the top 14 best things to do in Sri Lanka that you just can’t miss!
1. Climb up to the top of Sigiriya
One of the best things to do in Sri Lanka is visiting the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fortress was built on top of a massive rock that stands in the middle of a gorgeous landscape and from where the views are spectacular.
The site is famous for the frescoes and a mirror wall – a wall so polished that you can see your own reflection on it. Surrounding it, there is a lush and perfectly kept garden.
It costs $30 USD to get into Sigiriya. The price includes entry to the local museum. I recommend hiring a guide to take you around as the site is quite big and it is useful to get insightful information about its significance and value, and its most interesting places.
Not far from Sigiriya, you can find Pidurangala, a Buddhist temple carved in the rock and still in use. It costs $3 to get in and it takes about 30 minutes to hike all the way to the top – you have to dress modestly and wear hiking or at least running shoes, as the terrain tends to be uneven and muddy. From up there, you can get impressive views of Sigiriya.
~ Claudia from My Adventures Across the World
2. go on a safari
I was surprised when I started doing research on the best things to do in Sri Lanka for my trip, to find out that there are several places on this small island where you can do real jeep safaris and see elephants, leopards, exotic birds, and even crocodiles!
I always thought that I needed to go to Africa to do a safari, but if you can’t make it to Africa to see the big five, then doing a safari in Sri Lanka should be at the top of your must-do activities in Sri Lanka!
a. Udawalawe National Park Safari
Udawalawe National Park is in southern Sri Lanka, and a half-day or full-day safari is one of the highlights of a trip to this amazing country, you definitely can’t miss out on this experience!
The national park is well known for its many herds of majestic elephants roaming throughout the park, with the bonus of there being many other animals and birds to spot, including monkeys, buffalo, the elusive leopard, deer, with the odd eagle perched high in the trees.
You travel through the park in comfortable jeeps and the roads generally good to drive on with only a few bumpy sidetracks to traverse. The drivers are very conscious of animal welfare, and make sure they keep a reasonable distance from the animals at all times.
The process of organizing a safari is super easy. All accommodation in the area can organize a safari, or for the more independent, it is possible to turn up to the national park entrance gates early in the day and organize directly with drivers.
The cost for entering the national park is $15, with the price of hiring a jeep and driver starting from around $25 for the half day. Prices vary depending on the size of the jeep, the number of people on board, and whether a guide is included. ~ Markus from The Roaming Fork
b. Minneriya National Park
Minneriya National Park is a national park in central Sri Lanka which is known specifically for elephant safaris. If you would like to see elephants in their natural environment, this is the best place to visit in Sri Lanka.
The best way to experience this is via a tour with a guide on the back of an open jeep. In our experience, it is not hard to find elephants although getting away from all the other jeeps can be trickier. Thankfully, elephants are big and not hard to spot.
Minneriya National Park is right next door to Kaudella and you may visit one or both during your visit depending on where the elephants are currently located. Your guide will work this out for you.
The easiest way to visit Minneriya is with a tour from nearby Polonnaruwa which is about 45 minutes away. Tours run in the afternoon for the best viewing time and are easily booked from any guest house. ~ Sharon from Dive Into Malaysia
c. Yala National Park Safari
Taking a safari in Sri Lanka is one of the best things to do on the island, and if you only have time to do one then you should choose to visit Yala National Park.
In my opinion, Yala National Park is the best place to do your safari in Sri Lanka, because you have the highest chance of seeing one of the most elusive animals in the country – a leopard!
My best piece of advice would be to take a 12-hour safari (unless you have young kids or you suffer from problems with your back and won’t be able to sit in the bumpy jeep for that long).
With the extra hours, your experienced driver is able to spend more time finding and waiting in the perfect locations. We saw so many jeeps come to the area we were waiting in and leave after 5 minutes because they had to rush around the rest of the park.
Our patience was hugely rewarded as a beautiful leopard walked out from the bush and across the road in front of our car. It was such an intense moment and we would have missed it if our guide had felt like there was no time to wait!
The 12-hour safaris are not cheap, but if there is one thing I would recommend saving your money for, it would be this.
Your driver will pick you up from your hotel, provide you with plenty of local knowledge about the park and the animals, serve you an amazing authentic lunch spread and drop you back off at your hotel.
Even if you don’t spot a leopard (they are wild animals after all and don’t live on a tourist schedule!), there are plenty of elephants, buffalo, peacocks, monkeys, and sloth bears to keep an eye out for too!
3. Whale Watching in Mirissa
One of the ultimate things to do in Sri Lanka that you can’t miss is whale and dolphin watching in Mirissa. Blue whales (the biggest animals in the world) are most often spotted during Whale watching.
If you’re lucky, you can also see sperm whales, fin whales, Bryde’s whales, short-finned whales, dolphins and rarely killer whales and whale shark.
If you’re wondering about the animals’ welfare don’t be alarmed because international whale watching rules are followed and there is always a safe distance maintained to protect whales during whale watching.
In addition, when approaching any dolphins or whale, the boats always reduce their speed and stop the engine if the animals come to close to the boats.
The Whale watching season in Mirissa is from November to April when the Ocean is calm, and the whales migrate from Southern Hemisphere to Northern Hemisphere. May to October is off-season when the Ocean is rough, and chances of spotting whales are very low. During the offseason, the boat rides are not as smooth and the chances of getting seasickness are also high. Keep this in mind when you book your trip to Sri Lanka if this is high on your list of “must-do” activities in Sri Lanka.
Prices differ from website to website but usually, they charge in between $20-$30 USD per person. The boats start at 7 am and morning tea and breakfast are usually given in the boat itself. You need to reach the boats early to grab the front seats as it’s on a first-come-first-service basis. ~ Anwesha from Going Places with Anwesha
4. You must try the local food
The foods of Sri Lanka are flavorful, spicy and even colorful, using a variety of local and fresh ingredients that tantalize and excite the taste buds. You can find spicy to your flavor or more simply prepared dishes that are comfort friendly.
Top picks for local foods that you should try include the following: curry in coconut-like vegetable dishes like Elabatu Pahi, cashew, and pea curry or delicious dhal curry. Seafood dishes are very popular like the Fish Ambul Thiyal – a sour fish curry stew, Kool seafood broth mixed with fish, shrimp and crab with spinach and tamarind, and the popular spicy Sri Lankan crab curry that is to die for.
Sri Lankan breads or grains that are used for everything to spoon up those yummy curries including Appam (like a hopper), Pittu rice with shredded coconut and roti a very popular flatbread used for everything.
Local drinks are also covering a range of easy to more locally produced alcohol. This includes the thirst-quenching coconuts, refreshing ginger beer or the popular Lion Beer and Arrak (A fermented coconut drink made with coconut flowers and sometimes mixed with ginger beer as a cocktail).
For more inspiration, check out this post on the top 10 Sri Lankan dishes here for more local food, drinks, and snacks to look out for and enjoy. ~ Noel from Travel Photo Discovery
5. Explore the Galle Face Green
A visit to Sri Lanka’s capital would not be complete without spending at least a few hours strolling along the stretch of expansive grass and ocean known as Galle Face Green.
The oceanside promenade is vibrant and buzzing all day long with a mix of locals and tourists snacking at one of the street stalls, flying kites or just watching the strong waves pound on the shore.
You can channel your inner Mary Poppins and purchase your own kite from one of the vendors (yes, there are kites for adults too). It’s a beautiful sight to see the parents teaching their children this new skill then watching all the neon characters flapping in the wind.
It’s a nice break from the smartphone obsessed modern culture. Evening is a particularly great time to visit Galle Face Green as all the best street food vendors come out and there is a sudden olfactory explosion.
Nana’s has been around for ages and you may even find yourself chatting to one of the locals while snacking on your Sri Lankan treats. One tip, always ask the price for food beforehand as the friendly vendors are known to hike up prices for foreigners without saying anything.
And don’t forget to pop into Galle Face Hotel, the most awarded heritage hotel in Sri Lanka with a rich history for a more refined end to your evening at their Traveller’s Bar. ~ Cal from Once in a Lifetime Media
6. Little Adam’s Peak
Little Adam’s Peak is a mountain just outside the town of Ella, in Sri Lanka. Hiking Little Adam’s Peak is a must-do in Sri Lanka for any nature, hiking and outdoors lovers traveling to Sri Lanka.
The hike up Little Adam’s Peak only takes around 45 minutes, depending on where in Ella you’re setting off from, but you will be rewarded with some incredible 360 views over the surrounding mountain and hilltops.
You can easily hike up Little Adam’s Peak alone, the trail is well beaten and well-marked, with signs along the way. There is no entry fee. I recommend doing the hike at sunrise, both because you will have a beautiful golden light over the hills, but also to avoid the scorching Sri Lankan heat that you get during the day.
You can pair your hike to Little Adam’s Peak with a visit to the famous Nine Arch Bridge in Ella. From Little Adam’s Peak, there is a much shorter direct trail, which also has better views than going through the town of Ella. ~ Greta from Greta’s Travels
7. Visit Lipton’s Seat
Sri Lanka seems to be all about the views and one of the most spectacular in central Sri Lanka is historic Lipton’s Seat. Located just 27 kilometers from the town of Ella, Lipton’s Seat is the top place in Sri Lanka for sweeping panoramas, verdant tea plantations, leisurely hiking and Sir Thomas Lipton’s very own tea factory which is still in operation today.
The perfect day trip for lovers of views, tea, and history, Lipton’s Seat is a stunning viewpoint set atop the highland hills overlooking the Dambatenne Tea Estate. Named after the famous tea baron himself, Lipton’s Seat sits at a lofty 1970 meters (6463 feet) above sea level, with views looking out over the vast tea plantations of the region.
Hike the winding trails through the tea plantations, or take a local tuk-tuk to the summit to enjoy a sublime cup of Sri Lankan tea at the rustic viewpoint café.
Visit early in the morning to witness magnificent sunrises and local tea-pickers at work. And if you can’t get enough tea, pop into the Dambathenna Tea Factory for an interesting overview of the whole tea production process. Entrance to Lipton’s Seat costs a mere LKR 100 (USD $0.60) per person. ~ Marie from A Life Without Borders
8. Visit Ella 9 Arch bridge (Demodara Bridge)
One of the iconic things to do in Sri Lanka is to visit the gorgeous Demodara bridge. This bridge is also called the “9 Arch bridge” because of the gorgeous arches that help it traverse across a valley.
Located in the beautiful hilly town of Ella, the bridge is a short trek away from the main road. Most people head out to it and hope to catch a glimpse of the train puffing along the tracks.
It is a peaceful place to visit though nowadays it does get flooded with tourists. The best time to visit it is early morning when it isn’t too hot. You could either choose to walk all the way to it from the village or to rent a bike and make it one stop on your day in the city.
If you do choose to ride a bike and you are not a local, then make sure that you apply for a temporary driving permit which is essential for driving on the Sri Lankan roads as a foreigner. ~ Penny from GlobeTrove
9. Train Ride from Kandy to Ella
There are so many amazing things to do in Sri Lanka, including one of the most scenic train journeys in the world. Trains are not only a comfortable, easy and extremely cheap way to travel around the country, but they also provide some of the most spectacular views you can get.
The train ride from Kandy to Ella is definitely one of the best and has been on the list of top things to do in Sri Lanka for good reason. The Kandy to Ella train goes straight through the heart of Sri Lanka‘s tea country. It passes by old colonial train stations and green rolling hills dotted with tea plantations.
The trip takes around 7 hours in total, but time flies by with such beautiful views.
You can travel straight from Kandy to Ella or make one of the interesting stops on the way. You can get out in Hatton to climb Adams peak (the big one, not in Ella) or in Nuwara Eliya to visit one of the tea plantations or in Haputale to see an old colonial hill station. ~ Ellis from Backpack Adventures
10. Visit Beautiful Tangalle and south beaches
One of the most amazing things to do in Sri Lanka is to explore beautiful virgin beaches of the South Coast. In order to do that, you need to hire a car with a driver or if you feel courageous you can rent a car. In our experience, driving in Sri Lanka wasn’t dangerous or hard.
The most beautiful beach we found in Sri Lanka was located near Ananya Resort – a small affordable 12-room boutique resort. In order to get there, you need to drive to Tangalle, then go off the road and drive on an unpaved road for about 20 minutes until you reach a dead end. The beaches are so virgin, that you can see a lot of wild animals, but don’t worry, they aren’t dangerous.
You can also drive to Tangalle – a bigger and more developed town, and the beaches here are stunning with palm trees and white sand. Nearby, there is another fabulous beach called Hiriketiya beach and it’s totally worth a drive.
There are so many great beaches in the south it just makes sense to drive around the South Coast of Sri Lanka and find your favorite. ~ Liza from Tripsget Travel Blog
11. Kandy and the Temple of the Tooth
Most travelers visit the Lion Rock (i.e. Sigiriya) when they are in Sri Lanka, and they also visit Kandy because the city is a great destination that takes on the journey on a scenic train ride to Ella.
Before hopping on a train, spend a day or two and soak in the colonial vibe in Kandy. The city was the last capital of the ancient kings’ era of Sri Lanka, as well as the hub of the British ruling during the colonial time.
The streets are still filled with historic British-style buildings, restaurants, and shops that take to back to the 1900 period. Take a walk along the Kandy Lake and venture to some local bakeries and cafes.
The Temple of the Tooth is the most important landmark in Kandy. Every day the Buddhist temple is packed with local worshippers and the religious, hoping to see the tooth relic of the Buddha.
The door to the relic and casket opens at a very specific time every day – and once the doors are open, worshippers flood into the temple and there will be a long queue for those who wish to see the casket; it is a unique experience and definitely one of the must-do things while you are in Sri Lanka. ~ Kenny from Knycx Journeying
12. Visit Galle a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Old town Galle is a walled city reminiscent of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial occupation in Sri Lanka. Galle Fort on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its European architecture, infused with South Asian influence. It’s definitely really cool to see these cultures mix together and makes this city one of the must-see places in Sri Lanka.
A visit to the Galle Fort will take you to preserved colonial structures, historical buildings, and museums. Some of the old buildings have been converted into boutique hotels, stylish shops, and chic restaurants. Among the iconic structures within the Galle Fort are the Galle Lighthouse, Clock Tower and the Fort Wall.
Walk at the top of the Fort Wall along the seaside to see beautiful views of the historic city on one side and the southwest coast of Sri Lanka on the other. The best time to come up the Fort Wall is right before sunset. Choose a good spot where you can sit, relax and watch a stunning sunset.
Galle is best explored on foot. Walk through Galle Fort’s streets at least for a day to get the most out of this heritage site. There is something for you in Galle, whether you like historic sites or whether you’re in for some trendy trip. ~Jing Calonge from Finding Jing
13. Food so good, it’s mentioned twice!
The food of Sri Lanka is reason enough by itself to visit the country. It starts with breakfast – and once you’ve tasted hoppers with coconut sambal and dhal you’ll be sold on the food of Sri Lanka.
Add string hoppers and egg hoppers to your list of breakfast items to eat and you’ll be feeling very local. It’s curries that Sri Lanka is famous for – with a national dish called simply “rice and curry” it is hardly surprising.
But rice and Curry isn’t as simple as it sounds. In Sri Lanka Rice and Curry means a selection of curries and side dishes. You don’t just choose a type of curry, you ask for dinner and your dinner includes a variety of dishes.
These might be cucumber salad, dhal, eggplant or brinjal curry, banana flower curry, pumpkin curry. Sri Lankan rice and curry aren’t served hot, it’s more room temperature and its also not generally spicy, if you want more spice, then you’ll be offered spice on the side to add to your taste.
The best place to eat in Sri Lanka?
Without a doubt, I’d recommend staying in homestays and taking breakfast and dinner from your host. You may even be able to take a cooking lesson from them (as we did). It is simply an awesome way to not just eat the food of the country, but also learn about the techniques and culture of it too.
We sincerely loved the food of Sri Lanka – exploring the varieties of curry that we ate at lunch and dinner. We enjoyed immensely the interactions with people throughout the country, from Jaffna in the north to Mirissa in the south.
~ Sarah Carter from ASocialNomad
14. Cooking Class in Ella, Sri Lanka
While you may not think about this as one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka, you should reconsider. Since my partner loves cooking, we always try cooking classes when we travel.
During our stay in Ella, we were looking for the cooking class options. It seems like the cooking class by Ella Spice Garden was recommended by several bloggers. Depending on the seasons, the class can happen for dinner or lunchtime (or both).
It takes about three hours. It costs LKR 2000 (11 USD) per person, which includes several vegetarian dishes. We started our class with a walk in the spice garden so we can learn about the different spices available in Sri Lanka.
Then we started cooking and we learned how to cook potato curry, garlic curry, dhal curry, papadam, and coconut sambal. Our teacher was hilarious, patient and very helpful.
At the end of the class, we could keep our little cookbook which is great if you’re planning on cooking these dishes at home. To book this cooking class, you must head to the Ella Spice Garden and pay there.
Ideally, you need to book in advance. You won’t be able to book online or over the phone. That said, as soon as you arrive in Ella, you should head there to book your spot. We loved our experience, and more importantly, we loved the food. It was our first time trying garlic curry which is usually cooked on special occasions (such as weddings).
15. Visit Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of Sri Lanka‘s “Cultural Triangle”, a series of historical and archaeological sites that also includes Anuradhapura, Dambulla and Sigiriya. What you will see here is the remains of what was once a royal capital, including many temples, tombs and Buddha statues. Most of the buildings date from the 12th century.
The ruins are quite spread out within a large archaeological park, so the best way to visit is by renting a bicycle in Kaduruwela, a town about four kilometers away where most of the facilities are found.
Since there are no real restaurants to speak of inside the park, you may want to ask your guesthouse or homestay to make you a packed lunch of simple Sri Lankan food. Two areas of the park that you definitely shouldn’t miss are the Sacred Quadrangle, with its beautiful carvings, and the Rock Temple, with its three giant Buddha statues.
It takes about three hours to get to Polonnaruwa by bus from Kandy, or one hour from Dambulla. Entry for foreigners from non-SAARC countries costs 4500 Sri Lankan rupees, equivalent to about US$ 25. Tickets are sold at the museum, so be sure to purchase one there before continuing to the site.
~ Wendy from the Nomadic Vegan
For such a small island, Sri Lanka is packed with lots of awesome things to do and see. It’s easy to get around, many people speak English and they are some of the most friendly people in the world!
You won’t break the bank either because it’s one of the most affordable travel destinations.
As always, don’t forget to check the visa requirements for your country and get travel insurance before your trip!
World Nomads will give you the most coverage for the cheapest cost so you won’t have to worry about lost or stolen luggage or any dental/medical emergencies that may happen while abroad. I always use them whenever I travel!
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