There are a lot of places to visit in Sri Lanka. This small country that was devastated by civil war for more than 25 years has a lot to offer to those who make it their holiday destination. More than that, it has a very strong identity, with people who are proud of their culture and heritage, and who are incredibly kind and welcoming.

I visited between August and September and was impressed with the vegetation: this is by far the greenest place I have ever visited. I am quite sure that whoever said the word “tropical” for the first time had Sri Lanka in mind.

In this post, I highlight some of the unmissable places to visit in Sri Lanka and share some tips to make the most of this incredible country.

tourist attractions in Sri Lanka

Tuc tucs are good to reach all the various places

Table of Contents

The Nicest Places To Visit In Sri Lanka

Negombo

Of all the places to visit in Sri Lanka, Negombo is the one closest to Colombo international Airport so it makes sense to stop there for a night or two to rest after a long haul flight.

Negombo is home to some of the best known Sri Lanka beaches, where it is pleasant to go for a walk. Furthermore, if visiting markets is one of the most interesting things to do in Sri Lanka, Negombo fish market makes for an interesting stop.

Here are some more tour ideas for Negombo:

Other than that, the city definitely isn’t the most interesting one in the country: there are more beautiful places to visit in the country.

Where to sleep in Negombo

Negombo has a wide selection of places to stay, for any budget. House of Dilly is a good budget guest house a bit off the centre. Rooms are on the small side, but clean; the included breakfast is very filling and the owner very kind. Check here for current rates and here for reviews

If enjoying Sri Lanka beaches is the main purpose of the trip, then Jetwing Beach is the place to stay in Negombo and one of the best places to stay in Sri Lanka altogether. Its main perk is the swimming pool, which makes any swimmer like myself drool: it’s a whopping 100 meters long. Check here for current rates and here for reviews

How to get to Negombo

Negombo is well connected with the rest of the country and it’s the closest city to the international airport, also sometimes known as the Bandaranaik Airport. A tuc tuc ride from the airport to the centre of town shouldn’t cost more than 1000 Rupees, for a ride of around 20 to 30 minutes. If you’d rather book a private hotel transfer, you can always try this one. 

Alternatively, you can opt for a bus. You can book it here.

Galle Face Green

Galle Face Green is one of the nicest places to hang out in Colombo

Colombo

It generally makes sense to start visiting a country from its capital. Colombo qualifies as the capital of Sri Lanka, except it actually isn’t! In fact, the capital is Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte – of which honestly not many people outside of Sri Lanka have ever even heard for.

Colombo isn’t your typically pretty city. I wouldn’t recommend spending more than a day there, and not at the price of missing other destinations in the country. But if you have time, certainly take advantage of it.

Sri Lanka’s biggest city has a lot of construction work going on. To be fair there has been a lot of improvement, and there are a couple of interesting temples and landmarks you may want to see. Make sure to visit Gangaramaya, which is Colombo’s most important Buddhist temple (you can get in for 300 Rupees, which is about $3 USD) and the Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devashtanam.

Beira Lake and Colombo Lotus Tower are two of the most famous landmarks. I haven’t gone up the tower, so I can’t really comment on the views.

The Independence Memorial Hall is a nice place to hang out – you’ll find a small crowd of locals, and it’s a nice place for photographs. Finally, make sure to go to Galle Face Green – Colombo’s waterfront is where the locals go for a walk, to swim in the ocean and to enjoy local snacks and street food.

The best way to get around Colombo is by taxi or tuk tuk. I actually recommend doing a guided tour so that you don’t have to worry about transportation and guides. You can book your tour here.

Where to sleep in Colombo

There are many good hotels in Colombo, and as it usually happens in Sri Lanka, all of them have at least one on-site restaurant. Cinnamon Lakeside has spacious rooms, a gorgeous pool, and beautiful views of the lake and the Lotus Tower. There are a couple of on-site restaurants (one is Thai), a sports bar and a cocktail bar. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews

How to get to Colombo

Colombo is the best connected city in Sri Lanka, and you can easily reach it from pretty much anywhere. From the airport, you can opt for a private transfer which you can book here for just $5 USD.

Silver Temple

Ridee Viharaya is gorgeous and lesser visited

Ridee Viharaya Temple (Ridigama)

Known as the Silver Temple, Ridee Viharaya is one of the most unique temples (and one of the less touristy) you may come across in Sri Lanka. It was built in the 2nd century BCE as a sign of gratitude for finding the silver needed to complete the great stupa of Ruwanwelisaya, in Anuradhapura. It is completely carved in the rock.

Practical information

The temple is located around 18 km north of Kurunegala, and 95 km from Colombo. There is an entry fee of 200 Rupees (around $1 USD) to visit the temple. There is a nearby pilgrim rest – a sort of modest but welcoming and clean hostel.

Pigeon Island

Pigeon Island can be easily visited from Trincomalee

Trincomalee

Blessed with long sandy beaches and various Hindu temples, Trincomalee is a pleasant place to visit. Located on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, it’s a good location to relax for a few days.

The city’s main attraction is Fort Frederick, a fortification originally built by the Portuguese and then taken over by the Dutch and the British. You can still walk around the area, though most of it is still used for military purposes – there you’ll also be able to spot many spotted dears, who live in the center of town seemingly undisturbed.

Walking up from the fort, you can get to Koneswaram Temple and Pathirakali Amman, two colorful Hindu temples, next to which you’ll find Swami Rock and Lover’s Leap, from where you can enjoy fabulous views of the ocean.

Other attractions include the British War Cemetery and the hot springs.

Yet, the best thing to do in Trincomalee is spending a day snorkeling or diving in Pigeon Island, a small island off Nilaweli Beach. It’s a National Park, and there is a $30 USD to access (plus the cost of the boat to get there), but the marine life is fantastic. You’ll have a chance to swim with sea turtles, lots of colorful fish and to even spot small sharks.

Where to sleep in Trincomalee

There are various good in Trincomalee, for any taste and budget.

Trinco Blue by Cinnamon is a large resort by the beach with a nice swimming pool and two restaurants. Rooms are spacious, many have direct access to the beach. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.

Rest Way Inn is a budget friendly option. It’s not far from the center of town, so you can easily walk around for dinner. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.

How to get to Trincomalee

You can easily get to Trincomalee from Colombo by train. The ride lasts around 4 hours and the train leaves from Colombo Fort Station. Alternatively, you there are buses leaving every 30 minutes from Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal. You can get your tickets in advance here.

Anuradhapura is among the nicest places to visit in Sri Lanka

Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is so unique that it has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The entrance ticket to the Anuradhapura archaeological site costs around 3850 Rupees ($25 US dollars) – a bit overpriced considering the actual cost of living in the country. The site is quite spread out and the best way to visit it is either by contracting a tuc tuc for the day (and in this case, haggling the price is one of the things to do in Sri Lanka), or by bike. Bikes can be rented for around 700 to 800 Rupees at various shops near the entrance of the site. You can also book a private cycling tour of Anuradhapura. 

It takes around 6 hours to visit the various places of interest in Anuradhapura. After that, one inevitably gets exhausted with the heat and humidity. The site is definitely one of the most important tourist attractions in Sri Lanka, but what makes it worth visiting is the large presence of locals who, completely dressed in white (the color of prayer in Buddhism), pray in the temples.

As there are various temples in Anuradhapura, it’s important to dress appropriately. Shoulders and legs should be covered when entering the temples, and shoes removed – this is the case all the holy places to see in Sri Lanka.

Read my post A Great Guide To Anuradhapura Sri Lanka.” To find out more about the holy sites of Sri Lanka, read my post “Sri Lanka: Ancient Cities, Holy Places And Wild Nature.”

places to visit in Sri Lanka

Other than the temples, the city of Anuradhapura isn’t among the top tourist attractions in Sri Lanka

Where to sleep in Anuradhapura

Aside from the beautiful archaeological site, Anuradhapura city isn’t really that interesting. However, as with the rest of tourist attractions in Sri Lanka, there is a decent selection of places to stay.

Unable to find the place I had actually booked, I eventually found a room at N & L Holiday Resort. Located a bit off the centre of town, it turned out to be a very good guest house. Rooms are large, the location is very quiet, and the wife of the owner cooks a really good curry for a more than reasonable price (one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka is eating curry, even better if home cooked). Check here for current rates and here for reviews

Travelers with a higher budget can opt to stay at The Sanctuary.

How to get to Anuradhapura

As with all the major tourist attractions in Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura is well connected. In order to get there from Negombo, take a bus to Kurunegala, then change and take a bus to Anuradhapura. The trip can last anything between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the traffic and on the frequency of the buses. The overall journey shouldn’t cost more than 400 Rupees.

If you’re coming from Colombo, you could also do a day tour to Anuradhapura. There’s also a day tour that leaves from Kandy.

Dambulla Rock Cave Temple

Dambulla Rock Cave Temple is one of the unmissable places to visit

Dambulla

The Royal Rock Temple of Dambulla is one of the most famous places to visit in Sri Lanka. It is a large and incredibly well preserved cave temple located on a rock that rises at 160 meters above the surrounding plains. There’s a total of 5 caves containing statues and paintings in the protected area, though apparently there’s many more caves in the vicinity.

Although the Royal Rock Temple is one of the best known tourist attractions in Sri Lanka, not to mention one of the most holy places in the country, I hardly think it is worth the 1500 Rupees ($10 USD) entry fee. To be fair, the best part for me is the view from the top. 

You can always book a specific tour to the Dambulla Cave Temple here.

One of the things to do in Sri Lanka when visiting temples and holy places is dressing appropriately (covering shoes and legs) and removing shoes. The same goes for Dambulla. Shoes can be left on the shelf by the entrance for a fee. I put mine in the backpack I was carrying.

Visiting the Royal Rock Temple doesn’t take more than a couple of hours, and it can be done en route from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya. Once in Dambulla bus station, take a tuc tuc to the entrance of the Royal Rock Temple. It is only a 5 minutes ride and shouldn’t cost more than 200 Rupees. Remember to haggle the price: it is one of the things to do in Sri Lanka. Luggage can be left at the shop for just 100 Rupees.

If you are keen on exploring Dambulla a bit more in depth, you may opt for a tour. Here are some good options:

Where to sleep in Dambulla

The best place to stay in Dambulla is by and large Jetwing Lake. It features gorgeous rooms decorated in traditional local style, facing a beautiful lake and park. There is a 72 meters long pool, a spa where you can get treatments for a real steal, a buffet restaurant and even a Chinese restaurant. The atmosphere is incredibly relaxing. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews

How to get to Dambulla

Dambulla is very well connected to most cities in Sri Lanka. There are direct buses from Kandy, Colombo and even Anuradhapura to Dambulla, costing only 200 Rupees.

Kaudulla National Park

One of the many elephants in Kaudulla National Park

Kaudulla National Park

Kaudulla National Park is home to some of the largest elephant gatherings in the world, and – together with Minneriya – the best place to admire elephants in Sri Lanka. Safaris usually last in the range of 2 to 3 hours. Jeeps can only drive along the tracks, and the fact safaris are so inexpensive in Sri Lanka means that there will be a lot of jeeps and a lot of people all pushing to view elephants.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The fee to get in is the same as that of other national parks in Sri Lanka – $25 USD. To this you have to add the rental of a jeep with a driver for the duration of the safari – around 6000 Rupees.

How to get to Kaudulla National Park

Kaudulla National Park is at about one and a half hour drive from Dambulla. The best way to get there is by private car.

Sri Lanka

Lush and green – the words that best define Sri Lanka

Sigiriya 

At around 20 km from Dambulla, there’s Sigiriya, perhaps the most famous attraction in Sri Lanka. Upon entering the site, the view of the rock of Sigiriya in the distance is truly marvelous. The rock fortress is located on the top of a hill, which (as it usually is the case in Sri Lanka) is surrounded by lush vegetation. The view from the fortress is breathtaking.

The entrance fee to Sigiriya is 4620 Rupees ($30 USD). It’s actually quite expensive but worth investing in it, and if possible to even hire a guide to make the most of it. From Dambulla, you can book this tour to Sigiriya and it’ll also include Polonnaruwa.

Pidurangala

It is the less famous places to visit that you are likely to enjoy the most, such as Pidurangala, another rock fortress not far from Sigiriya. It only costs 500 Sri Lankan Rupees (around $3 USD) to get in, and there’s hardly any visitors.

From the entrance, it is a steady 30 minutes of uphill walking (or rather, hiking: do make sure to wear shoes!) to get to the top, from which there’s the most impressive view which goes all the way to Sigiriya. One of the best things to do in Sri Lanka is actually admiring the sunset from Pidurangala.

Here are some tour options for exploring the area:

If you’re staying in other areas, there are also some day tour options: 

Make sure to read my post A Guide To The Things To Do In Sigiriya Sri Lanka.”

things to do in Sri Lanka

Sigiriya as seen from Pigurangala

Where to sleep near Sigiriya

Among the greatest things to do in Sri Lanka there’s staying in places that are fully immersed in nature and that are environmentally friendly. Back of Beyond Dehigaha Ela is at about 30 minutes drive from Sigiriya, and one of the most unique hotels I have ever stayed at. I stayed first in a tree house, and then in a boulder cottage. Both rooms were stylish, cozy and fun to sleep in. Check here for current rates and here for reviews

Back of Beyond Pidurangala is located closer to the famous Sri Lanka attractions, but just as beautiful. As both places are quite isolated, meals are available there for a very reasonable price. There’s a good selection of local and international cuisine – trying local food is one of the things to do in Sri Lanka! Check here for current rates and here for reviews

How to get Sigiriya and Pidurangala

Once in Dambulla, hop on a bus to Sigiriya which shouldn’t cost more than 100 Rupees. Alternatively, tuc tucs should cost around 1000 – but keep in mind that one of the things to do in Sri Lanka before getting on a tuc tuc is haggling the prices.

places to visit in Sri Lanka

Lankathilaka is one of the nicest temples in Sri Lanka – and there’s virtually no tourists

Kandy and its surroundings

Kandy is thought to be one of the nicest places to visit in Sri Lanka.I spent 3 nights there, exploring the city (which is ok) and the surroundings (which are absolutely gorgeous). It is an interesting city, though there’s a lot of traffic and pollution. The main points of interest are Kandy Lake, which is an artificial lake build in 1807 and where locals love going for walks; a nice market that sells local produce and souvenirs; and the nearby tea factories.

You can always book an afternoon city tour or a full-day tour of Kandy for a more guided experience. I also like this private local food tour that includes 10 tastings around Kandy.

However, the main attraction in Kandy is the Temple of the Tooth Relic, considered one of the holiest Buddhist temples.

It costs 1500 Rupees ($10 USD) to visit the Temple of the Tooth Relic. Appropriate clothing is required and it is better to avoid the puja (prayer) times (5:30 to 6:45; 9:30 to 11:00 am, and 6:30 to 8:00 pm). I didn’t know that there’d be a prayer at mid morning too, and found ourselves pushed and pulled by the praying crowd to the point that we hardly enjoyed what is meant to be one of the best tourist attractions in Sri Lanka.

More than the actual city of Kandy, I enjoyed the temples and villages not far from the city. So much so, that I came to the conclusion that it is the lesser known tourist attractions in Sri Lanka that are worth seeing.

Easy to reach via public transportation (bus 644 leaves from the bus terminal) there’s the beautiful, small temple of Embekke Dewalaya. It costs 300 Rupees to get in. Even during the hours of puja, the atmosphere is not nearly as hectic as that of the Temple of the Tooth Relic. It’s so peaceful there that it quickly becomes one of my favorite places to see in Sri Lanka, especially as it is mostly locals there.

At around 4 km from Embekka Dewalaya, there’s another gorgeous temple, located on top of a hill. It is called Lankathilaka and visitors only have to pay if they want to visit the tiny interior. The walk there may have been quite pleasant, were it not for the incessant rain that forced me to hop on a tuc tuc. A quick reminder that one of the most important things to do in Sri Lanka is to always carry an umbrella.

If you book this Historical Temples tour, it will take you to Gadaladeniya, Lankatilaka Temple, and Emebekke Devala. 

To read more about Kandy and the rest of the Hill Country, check out my posts A Complete Guide To Kandy, Sri Lanka” and “A Journey Across The Hill Country.”

For more Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, head over to my post A Guide To The Most Unique Buddhist Temples In Sri Lanka.”

places to visit in Sri Lanka

Talking to the locals is one of the nicest things to do in Sri Lanka

Where to sleep in Kandy

There are many accommodation options in Kandy. I opted to stay at Old Town Hotel, a nice guest house with large, comfortable rooms and modern bathrooms. A scrumptious breakfast is included in the price of the room, and for a small additional fee the owners will prepare a delicious home cooked meal. Check here for current rates and here for reviews

How to get to Kandy

Kandy is one of the main cities of the Hill Country. It’s easy to get there by public transportation from literally anywhere.

To check out the prices and timetable and to book trains from Colombo, click here.

To book trains from Nuwara Eliya click here.

To book trains from Ella click here.

tourist attractions in Sri Lanka

Gal Oya is one of the nicest places to visit in Sri Lanka to appreciate its nature

Gal Oya National Park

All the nicest places to visit in Sri Lanka are natural sites, and possibly off the main tourist path. Gal Oya National Park is where to go in Sri Lanka to see elephants and a multitude of other animals in their natural environment and in the most responsible way.

Going on a safari to admire local wildlife is one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka. Gal Oya can be visited on either a jeep or a boat safari. I did a boat safari that departed from Gal Oya Lodge before the break of dawn and costed around $60 USD, including transportation to the park, the entry fee, the boat and a delicious breakfast which we ate in the middle of nature.

Other than the park, the area around Gal Oya is gorgeous to explore. There is a beautiful lagoon, a few houses in the countryside, an indigenous communities (one of the last ones in the country). The complete lack of phone reception makes it the perfect place to disconnect from internet and social media.

Here’s why Gal Oya is the responsible tourism hot spot of Sri Lanka.

Where to stay near Gal Oya National Park

One of the nicest things to do in Sri Lanka is staying at unique hotels that are completely immersed in nature. Gal Oya Lodge is the only place available near Gal Oya National Park. It’s not cheap, but it is worth every penny and it makes the trip worth it. The lodge is 100% sustainable, it is completely immersed in nature, and there’s local naturalists and guides. The on site restaurants serves delicious food. Check here for rates and here for reviews

How to get to Gal Oya Lodge

Gal Oya National Park and Gal Oya Lodge are some of the most isolated places in Sri Lanka, but they are worth the effort of going. In order to get there from Kandy, take the bus to Ampara via Bibile, and ask the driver to stop when near Gal Oya Lodge (it’s a good idea to make someone from the Lodge talk to the driver).

Yala National Park

An evidently distressed elephant in Yala National Park

Yala National Park

Yala National Park is one of the most famous places to visit in Sri Lanka for its unique wildlife. It is said that it is home to many elephants and to a very high population of leopards. Pity that most people get to see none of it.

I honestly don’t really recommend going – not unless you work hard to be the first to get in as this is the only way you may be able to avoid the hordes of visitors and to see a bit of wildlife.

The issue with Yala – and with other national parks in Sri Lanka – is that they are very cheap to get in (only $25 USD for the whole day). The park is huge, but only a couple of sectors can be visited, which means that all jeeps (too many for the area) concentrate themselves in one small area.

Jeep drivers are keen on receiving tips from tourists, which means that – thinking that the more wildlife tourists get to see, the heftier tips they are likely to pay – they will literally race to the park to always be the first in line at a sighting. They will drive recklessly, pass other jeeps, and get way too close to animals even when they appear in evident distress.

This is disrespectful to the animals who – when feeling in danger – may even attack the cars (I saw such a scene myself, and it left a terribly sour taste in my mouth), and to the tourists sitting in the car, whose lives may be in danger too.

TIP: Make sure you strongly stress to the driver and guide that you won’t stand such kind of behavior, and that they should drive in a safe manner and keep a safe distance from the animals.

Practical Information

Yala National Park opens at 6:00 am and you’ll find a line to get the tickets, so plan to be there no later than 5:00 am if you are keen to be the first one getting in.

The entry fee is $25 USD which you’ll have to pay in local currency and according to the day’s exchange rate. A jeep for the day costs 6000 Rupees, to be shared among the various people in the group. The driver isn’t a guide – really. Some of them are better at spotting animals than others, but they are by no means rangers or trackers.

The closest town to Yala is Tissamaharama, which is where you’ll find the largest selection of budget accommodation options. If you want to stay closer to the park, the best option is Jetwing Yala, which offers comfortable rooms in a nature setting.

things to do in Sri Lanka

Tea plantations are a must see

Nuwara Eliya

Known as Little England, Nuwara Eliya is among the places to visit in Sri Lanka to appreciate the tea culture of the country and to enjoy the weather, which is much milder compared to the rest of Sri Lanka.

Nuwara Eliya’s nickname is due to the Victorian style architecture which can be seen in many buildings, not to mention in the beautiful Victoria Park. It is however the incessant rain and the cool nights that, more than the architecture, remind me of England.

If one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka is visiting tea plantations and tea factories, Nuwara Eliya is the best place to do that. Pedro Estate is close to the city and it’s a lovely place to experience the whole process of the production of tea, from the picking of the leaves to the packaging.

Nature is among the best tourist attractions in Sri Lanka, and this is the case even in Nuwara Eliya where there’s a thick cloud forest that deserves to be visited.

Finally, Nuwara Eliya Bale Bazaar is a good market where to spend a couple of hours shopping. Prices are so good that this should be considered one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka. Goods to look for (here but also in the rest of the country) are: good spices and tea for a real steal; excellent quality coconut oil; nice textiles and branded items right out of the factory for a fraction of their price.

For more tours for Nuwara Eliya, check these:

Read more about Nuwara Eliya in my post A Complete Guide to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka.”

places to visit in Sri Lanka

The Hill Country is a stunner

Where to sleep in Nuwara Eliya

One of the reasons that makes Nuwara Eliya one of the places to visit in Sri Lanka is the Victorian style architecture, a good example of which can be found in the Oatlands by Jetwing hotel, a small boutique hotel that only has 4 lovely, cozy rooms located in a picturesque cottage. Check here for current rates and here for reviews

The adjacent St. Andrew’s is a larger hotel, with gorgeous interiors. Check here for current rates and here for reviews

How to get to Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya can be easily reached by bus from Kandy (the ride lasts about 3 hours) or from Colombo (book your ride here). Alternatively, Nanu Oya railway station is at around 9 km from Nuwara Eliya and connected to Kandy and Ella. Although trains are incredibly slow in Sri Lanka, the scenery is so beautiful that getting the train across the Hill Country may well be one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka.

You can get train tickets to travel from Kandy to Nanu Oya here.

If you book this one, it will go through Ella to Ohiya.

Sri Lanka

Rural Sri Lanka is by far my favorite

Wellawaya

At around 45 minutes drive from the more famous Ella, Wellawaya hardly makes the list of places to visit. I ended up there as I decided to skip Yala National Park. I wanted to get off the beaten path, and I surely did.

Wellawaya is a fabulous destination to enjoy all the nicest things to do in Sri Lanka. Nature is fantastic here, with some gorgeous waterfalls (we visited Elle Wala); a hardly known Buddhist temple carved in the rock, called Buduruwagala; lots of wildlife, including flying squirrels and owls; and a lovely rural community.

Here’s a post about Sri Lanka off the beaten path

Where to stay in Wellawaya

Tourism is still developing in Wellawaya, which means that there are less accommodation options than in the rest of the country. In a way, it is a blessing, as there’s none of the crowds that at times make it impossible to enjoy tourist attractions in Sri Lanka.

I stayed at Jetwing Kuduruketha and truly enjoyed our time there. It is completely immersed in nature, and it is run in an eco-friendly way. All bungalows have a gorgeous view, and the onsite restaurant serves excellent food. To top this off, yoga classes and Ayurvedic treatments are offered – one of the things to do in Sri Lanka to completely switch off from the stresses of modern life. Check here for current rates and here for reviews

How to get to Wellawaya

Wellawaya can be easily reached by bus from Ella. The bus stop is located a bit outside the center of Ella, on the main road. It takes around 45 minutes to get there.

A view of little Adam's Peak

A view of little Adam’s Peak

Ella

It’s easy to see why Ella is a favorite of tourists. Though the city itself is nothing special, the surroundings are simply gorgeous! Once a quiet village, Ella is now the hiking capital of Sri Lanka. From there, you can easily hike Adam’s Peak or – for a less challenging experience – Little Adam’s Peak, whose trail goes through the tea estates of 98 Acres and affords breathtaking views.

Another famous attraction in Ella is Nine Arch Bridge, and it is completely free to access (you may have to pay for a tuk tuk to get to the trail). The trail to get to the best viewpoint is a bit outside of town. It goes down the hill and along the train tracks for a while before getting to a fantastic spot where you can wait for the train to arrive while sipping a fresh coconut.

TIP: Make sure to check the train timetable and plan your visit to Nine Arch Bridge around that for a truly beautiful photo opportunity.

Last, but definitely not least, not far from Ella there are some gorgeous waterfalls. The most beautiful one is Diyaluma, which is easily visible from the road.

Where to stay in Ella

98 Acres is by far the best resort in Ella, with gorgeous bungalows each with their own plunge pool, and fantastic views of the valley. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews

For a more budget friendly option, Will Guest Homestay will be perfect. It has plain but clean rooms, all with a view. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews

How to get to Ella

Ella is very well connected to the Hill Country of Sri Lanka by train, with direct connections to Kandy and Nanu Oya, right outside Nuwara Eliya. You have to book the train in advance, especially if you want a first class ticket. You can book it here

places to visit in Sri Lanka

Blue beach is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka

Nilwella

In search for the best beaches in Sri Lanka, I ended up in Nilwella, located right between the bigger Tangalle and Dikwella. It’s a small fishing community where life goes on at an incredibly slow pace.

Nilwella is one of the nicest places to visit in Sri Lanka for anybody who is looking to relax listening to the sound of waves. Come to think of it, surfing is one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka and Nilwella has some beaches that are perfect for that. There’s also a lovely local market with lots of fresh produce.

Among the best beaches in Sri Lanka that are located close to Nilwella, there’s Blue Beach, and the nearby Blue Beach Island – which actually is a tiny isthmus, with really inviting water; Parewella, which is closer to Tangalle and 100% local; and Blow Hole.

Where to sleep in Nilwella

There are various acommodation options in Nilwella. I opted to stay at Vattersgarden Isolabella, a beautiful property right by Blue Beach Island, to which there’s direct access. One of the things to do in Sri Lanka is enjoying ayurvedic treatments and these are on offer at Vattersgarten too.

How to get to Nilwella

Nilwella is located right between Tangalle and Dikwella. Any bus going towards Matara and onto Mirissa and Galle (some of the best known places to visit in Sri Lanka) are bound to stop on the way. Alternatively, take a bus to Tangalle and from there one heading to Dikwella. Either way, ask the bus driver to be dropped off at the junction to Nilwella and from there take a tuc tuc.

blue whales Mirissa

A blue whale shows her tail in Mirissa

Mirissa

Mirissa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sri Lanka. Most people head there because it is a prime location for whale watching, which is best enjoyed from November to April.

Whale watching cruises cost around $50 USD. They usually leave from the harbor at around 7:00 am, and they may last anything from 3 to 6 hours, depending on how long it takes to spot the blue whales.

Contrary to other animal viewing activities in Sri Lanka, whale watching in Mirissa is run in a completely responsible way, with priority being given to the well being of the animals.

You can book your cruise locally, or – if you are short on time – opt to book online here

Mirissa is also famous for the stilt fishermen. This traditional activity has long ceased to be practiced – the stilt fishermen you see nowadays are literally models who pose for photos in exchange for money. There are signs on the beach indicating where you’ll find them – as if it where a shop – and men aggressively running to collect money as soon as you get off the car and take out your camera.

I won’t encourage you to take photos – rumor has it that there is a criminal organization behind the stilt fishermen, with the money often going toward buying alcohol and drugs rather than feeding families.

Where to sleep in Mirissa

There are a lot of good places to stay in Mirissa. Bon Accord is a nice budget guest house with plain but clean rooms. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.

For a fancier place look for Sri Sharavi Beach Villas. The Signature Suites are huge and they have direct access to the beach. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.

How to get to Mirissa

Mirissa is well connected to the rest of Sri Lanka and can be easily reached by bus. Just hop on any of the buses along the road that connect Tangalle to Galle, they all go through Mirissa.

Weligama Beach

Weligama Beach

Weligama

If you want to learn how to surf, Weligama is one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. The beach is simply gorgeous – long, sandy, lined with beautiful palm trees. It gets good waves on a regular basis and the sea is nice and warm, perfect for surfing. It’s also a great place to admire sunset!

Where to sleep in Weligama

There are some excellent places to stay in Weligama. Weligama Bay Marriott Resort And Spa has comfortable, large rooms all facing the ocean. There is a very large pool, a fantastic buffet restaurant, a bar and direct access to the beach. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.

For a more budget friendly place, go to Tinara River Inn. Rooms are cozy and comfortable, located around a lush garden. Some of them face the river. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.

How to get to Weligama

Weligama can be easily reached on a tuk tuk ride from Mirissa.

Galle

Of all the places to visit in Sri Lanka, Galle is the one you are bound to enjoy the most. The Old Town is a a series of narrow, cobbled alleys; well preserved colonial buildings; and the gorgeous Galle Fort with the beautiful lighthouse and Clock Tower. It’s easy to see why the Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Among the nicest things to do in Sri Lanka there’s taking a stroll along Galle Fort to admire the mighty power of the sea; and observing the youths playing joyfully in the water. The view of the sunset from the wall is splendid.

Here are some nice tours around Galle:

Galle has an incredible offer of good restaurants and coffee shops – it looks like all the ones that I haven’t been able to find in the rest of the country are concentrated in one city; and fabulous shopping opportunities, with great art galleries, souvenirs and clothing stores. By the look of it, it is quite obvious that Galle is one of the best known tourist attractions in Sri Lanka.

Check out my posts Everything You Should Know Before Backpacking Sri Lanka” and A Complete Guide To Galle, Sri Lanka” and find out why Galle should be the last stop on a trip to Sri Lanka. 

tourist attractions in Sri Lanka

Among the top things to to in Sri Lanka, there renting a lovely villa with a pool

Where to sleep in Galle

Being one of the most famous places to visit in Sri Lanka, Galle is packed with accommodation options for any budget. There’s plenty of good boutique hotels in the Old Town; some hostels and a lot of family run guest houses. I stayed at Richmond Hill Villa, which has a great quality / price ratio and whose owners went above and beyond to meet my needs. But it is a good walk from the Old Town. Check here for current rates and here for reviews

Galle Heritage Villa by Jetwing is an excellent place to stay in Old Town. Check here for current rates and here for reviews

Otherwise, the best place to treat oneself when in Galle is staying at one of the incredible luxury villas at its outskirts. It may well be one of the nicest things to do in Sri Lanka. I treated myself to the marvelous Villa Sepalika, where we had a gorgeous colonial style villa with beautifully decorated rooms, a lush garden, a pool and even a butler to ourselves. Check here for current rates and here for reviews

How to get to Galle

As one of the unmissable places to visit in Sri Lanka, Galle has direct connections by bus or train to Colombo and to a range of other destinations such as Matara, Kandy (though the trip lasts around 10 hours) and others around the country.

You can book a private transfer from Colombo to Galle here or here

Galle is well connected to other locations in Sri Lanka by bus.

For direct bus rides from Colombo, click here.

Some cities also have day tours out to Galle:

Lunuganga

Geoffrey Bawa’s Lunuganga property is absolutely stunning

Bentota

Bentota isn’t on many people’s radar when they go to Sri Lanka. Those who go remain positively surprised by the offer of attractions.

The main thing to do in Bentota is visiting the turtle hatchery. It’s a place that rescues turtles or their eggs and protects them and reinserts them in their natural environment. Another thing to do is a cruise along the river.

But in all honesty, if your time is limited skip everything and head directly to Lunuganga to visit Geoffrey Bawa’s house. He was the most prominent architect of Sri Lanka, with a vision for embedding his creations in the surrounding nature. His property gives an aura of peace and relaxation. It’s an absolutely fantastic place and during the visit you’ll get the chance to learn a lot about Bawa’s life and career, as well as the history of the country.

Where to sleep in Bentota

The best place to sleep in Bentota is Paradise Road The Villa. It features beautifully decorated room, a lush garden and a fantastic pool. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.

For a more budget friendly option, go to Bentota Orchid House. Rooms are small and plain, but clean, and the owners very friendly. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.  

How to get to Bentota

Bentota can be easily reached from Galle via public transportation or shuttle bus. Buses leave regularly from Galle main bus terminal.

places to visit in Sri Lanka

Elle Wala waterfalls is one of the places to visit in Sri Lanka

Useful Information To Plan Your Sri Lanka

When To Visit Sri Lanka

Asking about the best time to visit Sri Lanka means asking the trickiest question of all. I don’t think I can answer that. Sri Lanka has two different monsoon seasons, and for those who are not accustomed to them it is hard to sort them out. In other words, no matter when you go you are bound to get some level of rain. I went in September, and it rained quite a bit. I went again between October and November, and it rained a lot.

Getting A Visa For Sri Lanka

Visa on arrivals are available in Sri Lanka, but it is much better and faster to actually apply to get a visa online. Specialized agencies such as iVisa can help with the application process. Tourist and Business ETA allow a maximum stay of 30 days and a double entry in the country.

Make sure to check whether you need a visa as Sri Lanka has waived the visa requirement for many countries such as the US, Canada, Israel and EU countries. You still have to apply to get through customs, but you won’t have to pay.

Currency In Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan Rupee is the official currency of the country and the one accepted at all tourist attractions in Sri Lanka. There’s ATMs in all cities, and much less in the smaller villages. Keep in mind that some cards don’t work, so having two different ones belonging to two different circuits may be a good idea.

Only the best hotels in the country take payments with credit cards. Otherwise, cash is used. It is possible to exchange Euro and US dollars in banks and even in some shops. The exchange rate is around 181 Rupees for $1 USD; and 200 Rupees for €1 Euro.

things to do in Sri Lanka

One of the nicest things to do in Sri Lanka is meeting the locals

Safety and Scams In Sri Lanka

Safety is hardly an issue in Sri Lanka. People are incredibly friendly and helpful, even when they speak no English and even in the most remote locations.

I was never a victim of scams, though I immediately realized that haggling is one of the things to do in Sri Lanka. This applies to shopping in markets and as well as to tuc tucs and taxis.

Traveling Around Sri Lanka

Surprisingly enough, public transportation works quite well in Sri Lanka. Buses and trains may be old, slow, and crowded but they connect all the most important places to visit in Sri Lanka, and even the most remote ones; they are dirt cheap and they are very reliable. You can now even book your public transportation in Sri Lanka here.

Tuc tucs are pretty much everywhere, and they are cheap – provided one knows the charging system. Besides, one of the most fun things to do in Sri Lanka is riding a tuc tuc. After a week of traveling, a local couple warned me that tuc tuc normally charge around 100 Rupees for the first 2 km, and after that, something around 40 Rupees for km. We used our best haggling techniques to bring the prices down. Having a rough idea of the distance to cover helps with the haggling.

Taking a guided tour of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an easy enough country to travel around independently, especially given that the public transportation is – despite slow – cheap and efficient and connecting all the places to visit mentioned in this post. However, I can understand that you may not be a fan of planning, and that you may have limited time in Sri Lanka. If that is the case, you may want to leave the organization bits to the expert and just worry about packing.

G Adventures has several good tours you can consider.

Wi-Fi In Sri Lanka

Hotels and guest houses in Sri Lanka provide wi-fi, though the speed is decent at best. Some places are so isolated that there no phone reception at all. Tourists can buy local SIM cards with data plans for very convenient prices. It’s a good way to stay online and to use Google Maps to calculate distances and traveling times (especially when having to haggle with tuc tuc drivers).

Shopping In Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka isn’t exactly shopping paradise (aside for Galle!), yet the local markets are among the nicest tourist attractions in Sri Lanka and they have a good variety of things to buy. Spices and pure coconut oil can be found for very cheap prices. Shop owners often try to push the awful elephant pants, while there’s much nicer clothes to buy. Always haggle prices.

tourist attractions in Sri Lanka

Markets are among the places to visit in Sri Lanka

People in Sri Lanka

One of the nicest things to do in Sri Lanka is meeting the locals. People there are always friendly, kind and generally helpful, despite the language barrier.

Responsible Tourism In Sri Lanka

The use of animals in tourist attractions in Sri Lanka is unfortunately still quite common, and tourism is impacting Sri Lanka wildlife. I saw dancing monkeys in Anuradhapura; charmed snakes in Galle, and people riding chained elephants in various places in the country. These poor animals are tortured to be trained, and live a miserable life.

One of the most important things to do in Sri Lanka in order to stop the explotation of animals for entertainment is to refrain from taking part in such activities: guides, owners of guest houses and tuc tuc drivers will often try to sell “elephant safaris” but a firm now it the only way to answer.

There are lots of stray animals in Sri Lanka – cats, but especially dogs. One of the nicest things to do in Sri Lanka in order to help is supporting one of the local organizations that fend for the animals and help in their sterilization. There’s a few of them that take donations. One of them, Embark, has a lovely shop in Galle where all profits go to the support of animals.

Make sure to read my post The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler.”

Eating And Drinking In Sri Lanka

I am not a fan of spicy food, and though most people say that one of the nicest things to do in Sri Lanka is eating, I had a really hard time finding food I could enjoy. At times I was so desperate for something mild that I bought avocado, bread and tomatoes and just ate a sandwich.

All the best places to visit in Sri Lanka have a decent selection of restaurants, though the budget ones are also extremely low quality. Guest houses are good places to try local food: owners usually offer to prepare meals and they also have a selection of vegetarian options. String hoppers and chicken curry are among the dishes to try in Sri Lanka.

Beer would be good in Sri Lanka, were it not for the fact that it is hardly served cold. Lemonade, on the other hand, is incredibly refreshing.

Hygienic Conditions And Pollution In Sri Lanka

After having visited India, I was prepared for the worst in Sri Lanka. To be honest though, Sri Lanka isn’t nearly as dirty and polluted as India. Tourist places are pretty much spotless.

On the other hand, there’s quite a bit of garbage even on some of the best beaches. It’s a real pity and I hope authorities intervene to clean them up.

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Discover the best places to visit in Sri Lanka - via @clautavani

 

 

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