25 Amazing Things To Do In Sri Lanka
Wondering what to do in Sri Lanka? Here are my top picks for the best things to do in Sri Lanka with tips to make the best of your trip.
Enjoy unspoiled beaches
Sri Lanka is sprinkled with beautiful beaches along the coast. While the South Coast beaches are great from December to April, the East coast shines during April and August.
There you’ll find dreamy bungalows, long lines of coconut trees, vibrant underwater life, and exciting outdoor activities.
Read more: Best time to visit Sri Lanka.
We visited several beaches on our trip, and our favorites are Trincommale, Tangalle, Hiriketiya, Mirissa, and Hikkaduwa.
Whether you’re traveling solo, with a significant other, or with friends and family, there are plenty of beautiful beaches for everyone in Sri Lanka.
Have you ever thought of driving a tuk-tuk by yourself? You can do it here in Sri Lanka. It’s a fun and fascinating experience.
For those who aren’t familiar, a tuk-tuk is an open-air vehicle with an engine and three wheels. In Sri Lanka, you can see tuk-tuks everywhere, and tuk-tuks can travel at 40km/hr as a maximum.
With a self-driving tuk-tuk, you can explore off the beaten paths and avoid the hectic public transport. You can book your tuk-tuk on tuktukrental.com with coupon code “expatolife” for a discount.
See wild elephants
Sri Lanka is one of the best countries to see wildlife in Asia, and you can find great herds of elephants here. There are about 7,000 elephants in the country, and each herd has about 12-20 individuals or more.
We had never seen elephants in the wild before Sri Lanka, and it was a fascinating experience. We first saw elephants walking on the street, and we then went on safari tours to see more.
I recommend seeing elephants in the wild, not in an orphanage. The best places to see elephants are Minneriya national park (famous for The Gathering), Udawalawe National Park, and Kaudulla.
Join food tour
Joining a food tour is an excellent introduction to Sri Lankan cuisine.
While sampling delicious local dishes, you can also learn about the history, culture, and architecture. It’s also a great way to meet other travelers and get personalized travel tips.
Climb Sigiriya Lion Rock
Conquering thousands of Sigiriya’s steep stairs overlooking the majestic green Matale region is one of our favorite experiences in Sri Lanka.
The admission is quite high, about 35 USD but worth it. You can hire tour guides to narrate, guide, take photos and support you when tired.
This place has a lot of squirrels and monkeys climbing cliffs. I find them cute and not disturbing, but you should look after your belongings in case the monkeys get them.
Visit ancient Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura is an excellent place to visit for history lovers. This ancient city was the first capital of Sri Lanka, playing an important cultural and religious role.
Biking through Anuradhapura’s ancient city, you can see enormous dagobas (stupas) and crumbling monasteries and ruins. You can also spot one of the world’s oldest trees, the Sri Maha Bodhi (more than two thousand years old).
Explore Polonnaruwa’s ancient city
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the rocky mountains of Sigiriya, and the sacred city of Anuradhapura are considered the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka.
Polonnaruwa was Sri Lanka’s capital in the 11th century. You’ll find hundreds of ancient structures in the archaeological park, including temples, statues, stupas, and tombs.
See Dambulla cave temple.
Dambulla Cave Temple or Golden Temple is the country’s largest and best-preserved cave temple. A UNESCO-recognized landmark in 1991, it has five caves, which contain Buddha statues and murals with themes related to Buddha and his life.
It took us about half an hour to climb the stairs to reach the temple and an hour to explore around. The ticket is 2000 rupees per person.
Read more: Check my Dambulla temple guide for more information.
Visit Yala national park.
Located southeast of Sri Lanka, Yala is the most famous national park in Sri Lanka. It’s home to many animals such as leopards, bears, elephants, and crocodiles. There are also more than 200 species of birds.
The ideal way to visit Yala national park is to join a tour or a safari. You can stay in the nearby town Tissa and take a tour from there.
Visit the Dutch colonial town of Galle.
Galle Fort is one of our favorite places to visit in Sri Lanka.
In the 17th century, the Dutch built this fortress to fight the natives and the disputes between the French and Portuguese colonial groups.
The fortress was built of granite and coral reefs under the sea. Inside the fort are countless colonial-style houses with red-tiled roofs overlooking the shores of Galle Bay.
Take the Kandy to Ella train.
Taking the scenic train from Kandy to Ella is one of the most amazing things to do in Sri Lanka. Outside, the view of lush green tea hills stands out, and you can spot smiles from the locals.
Read more: A complete train travel guide in Sri Lanka.
See Little England
Located in the heart of the hill country, Nuwara Eliya is a charming colonial town. The town is known as Little England as it has several beautiful English-style houses and buildings.
Visit tea plantations
Surrounding Nuwara Eliya and the hill country are countless tea plantations.
Visiting a tea estate such as Damro Labookellie near Nuwara Eliya or the Lipton-built Dambatenne Tea Factory near Haputale and seeing how tea is produced is fascinating.
Wander Horton Plains & World’s End
About 32 km south of Nuwara Eliya in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, Horton Plains National Park is a beloved hiking destination.
You should start your hike early, ideally around 4:30 am to 5 am, as it’s the best time to go before the fog arrives. It takes about an hour to hike to World’s End across Hortons Plains, and the hike is about 9 km.
Try Rice and Curry
Rice and curry is undoubtedly the signature dish of Sri Lanka. We love it and try it everywhere we go.
Rice and curry dish usually includes a rice bowl and 5 to 8 side dishes. It’s traditionally served with coconut sambol, a mix of grated coconut, chili powder, onion, salt, and dried Maldive fish.
The typical curry sauce is made from coconut milk, chilies, and other spices such as curry leaves, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and garlic.
You can get chicken or fish curry, a serving of dhal with various vegetable dishes, including curried green beans, baby jackfruits, sweet potatoes, long beans, and stir-fried eggplants.
Join cooking class
Learning how to cook the local cuisines on your trip is an excellent idea. Many places offer Sinhalese cooking classes with a garden visit.
I find many cooking classes in Ella, and the prices start from $20 per person.
See the turtles
Not only famous for elephants and leopards, but Sri Lanka is also a great destination to see sea creatures such as turtles.
You can see turtles laying eggs on the shore of Rekawa beach or swimming near Hiriketiya’s Turtle beach.
Visit Sinharaja forest
Sinharaja Forest Reserve is an area of stunning and unspoiled rainforest in Sri Lanka. It’s home to rich and diverse habitats with rare mammals, birds, flora, and fauna.
Unlike other national parks, you can only visit the forest on foot with a ranger or a guide. A ticket price is 644/325 for adult/child and a compulsory guide per person from Rs 1000.
Relax with Ayurveda massage
Ayurveda is an ancient practice with more than 2500 years old history. The treatment includes using herbs, spices, and oils on the body to produce balance.
See Kandyan dance
Watching a Kandyan dance performance is one of the must-try experiences in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
The performance contains captivating costumes, fire-breathing acts, gyrating dance with drums, and especially the famous evil dance from the west coast.
You can see the dances at Kandyan Art Association & Cultural Centre or Kandy lake club. The performance is about 1 hour, and you can show up before 30 minutes to get a better seat.
Hike the Knuckles Range
Located near Kandy, the Knuckles Range is a hiker paradise. This mountain range consists of nine peaks, with the highest at 1895m high, offering excellent hiking trails and bird-watching opportunities.
I recommend hiring a guide and bringing packed lunch with anti-leech socks when hiking in this area. A day tour from Kandy would also be sufficient if you are not planning to trek for an entire day.
Knuckles Range is one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful areas.
Surf at Arugam Bay
Sri Lanka is a famous destination for surfing, and Arugam Bay is considered its best.
The ideal time to visit Arugam Bay is from April to September. During this time, you can find many surfers riding the waves.
If you visit Sri Lanka from December to March, the Southern beaches such as Hiriketiya or Weligama are great for surfing.
Visit the chaotic Pettah market.
A trip to the capital city, Colombo, wouldn’t be fulfilled without visiting the Pettah market. Thrilled, bewildered, and fascinating were what we felt on our visit there.
The market is filled with goods and chaos. There are many people shopping and shouting porters with lots of local short eats.
Climb Adam’s peak
Climbing Adam’s Peak is Sri Lanka’s ultimate pilgrimage. It’s known as a place where Adam first set foot after leaving heaven or where Buddha left his footprint before heading to paradise.
Go bird watching
Sri Lanka is also a great destination for bird-watching activities with more than 400 species of birds.
Some popular places for bird watching are Kumana National Park, Bundala National Park, Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary, Sinharaja Rain Forest, and Bodhinagala Forest Reserve.