If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, you’re going to be spoiled for choice in this article.
Lush green landscapes, white sand beaches, and the most welcoming locals – Sri Lanka is without a doubt, a must-see destination for every type of traveler.
Not only home to elephants and ancient ruins, this island is also one of the best surfing playgrounds in the world.
Combined with lively cities and a vibrant wellness scene, you will be spoilt for choice deciding where to go in Sri Lanka.
It’s likely you’ll want to see everything, but … where should you start?
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After spending over 6 months exploring Asia, Sri Lanka still remains top of my list (I am even planning to return this year!).
With so much choice available on the ‘jewel of the Indian ocean’, it can be hard to choose which experiences are worth your time.
To make planning your Sri Lanka itinerary easy, we have compiled this guide to the 17 best places to visit in Sri Lanka.
So get your bucket list ready and let’s dive in:
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Start your adventure in Sri Lanka’s buzzing capital.
Formerly a historic east-west trade route, this city is rich with history. Spend a couple of days exploring the sights and introducing yourself to the local cuisine.
Galle Road is the place to sample traditional Indian sweets, while Nana’s offers the best local street food and beer. Or try the buffet at Kingsbury hotel, you don’t need to stay there to enjoy this feast.
If you’re looking for some Sri Lankan culture head to the capital’s National Museum to see weapons from Sri Lanka’s colonial period, as well as art from the ancient past.
Lounge on the benches in Viharamahadevi Park and enjoy the warm weather. Oh, and look out for snake charmers!
Trains from the capital run to most popular Sri Lanka tourist attractions.
Where to Stay in Colombo
- Top Choice: Marino Beach Colombo
- Mid-range Choice: Urban Bliss Studio
- Budget Choice: Bunkyard Bunkyard Hostels
2. Galle Fort
The city of Galle was Sri Lanka’s main spice trading port and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site, and one of the more popular things to do in Sri Lanka.
It is well worth exploring for the Dutch architecture and boutique cafes and hotels. Galle is surrounded by walls that can walk around.
Visit the lighthouse and see a beautiful view of the waves below.
Pro tip 1: Arrive for sunset and you won’t be disappointed.
Pro tip 2: Make sure to visit Galle’s fruit, spice and flower markets for an exciting sensory experience.
Where to stay in Galle
- Top Choice: The Heritage Hotel Galle Fort
- Mid-range Choice: Mango House
- Budget Choice: Brixia Cafe & Guest
The sleepy beach town of Unawatuna is perfect for lazy days, and should definitely make your list of places to visit in Sri Lanka.
Unawatuna is one of my favorite places in Sri Lanka due to it’s chilled out vibe and host of beachside restaurants.
Swim, snorkel, surf and soak up the sun on sandy beaches surrounded by palm trees. Unawatuna is also a great location to scuba dive as between October and April, there are clear waters allowing you to see all kinds of fish.
Other nearby tourist attractions include the Japanese Peace Pagoda and the Dalawella Beach Swing, as well as the quieter Mihiripenna Beach.
If you love animals, check out Sri Lanka’s only self-funding dog rescue center, for cute puppy overload!
There is a great backpacker scene in Unawatuna, with lots of hostels and partying if that is your thing, meaning some people get stuck here on the beaches here for much longer than intended. And, hey, you can always get a hostel job if the mood strikes!
Where to stay in Unawatuna
- Top Choice: Hotel Epic Retreat
- Mid-range Choice: Residence Kuruniyavilla
- Budget Choice: The Rockstel Unawatuna
4. Weligama Bay
Weligama means quite literally “sandy village”. Part beach resort, part fishing village, there is one thing that draws most of the visitors to this popular place to visit in Sri Lanka:
It is the perfect place for beginners to try their hand at riding the waves. Surf lessons and camps are widely available due to the regular whitewash throughout the year.
You can even hire a surfboard and go it alone!
If you prefer your adventures on land then rent a bicycle and cycle around the quaint town or take a visit to a Coconut plantation.
Where to stay in Weligama
5. Mirissa Beach
Mirissa is another of Sri Lanka’s gorgeous beach destinations. However, there is much more to this slice of paradise than pure rest and relaxation.
Going whale watching is one of the most popular things to do in Mirissa. If this activity is top of your bucket list, make sure to plan your trip between November and March, for the best chance of seeing the whales.
You can book whale watching online, to make you don’t miss out on this once in a lifetime experience.
If you love photographing amazing views, you can find them by exploring the private lighthouse beach or hiking Parrot Rock.
Mirissa is home to a lively social scene, with lots of good quality restaurants lining the beachfront. You can sample a fresh seafood platter and watch the sun go down over the bay.
As soon as the sun sets, Mirissa’s nightlife scene takes over. Restaurants transform into nightclubs and if you love to dance, you will have found your haven.
New years eve parties on the beach are legendary among travelers.
Where to stay in Mirissa
- Top Choice: Best Inn Villa Mirissa
- Mid-range Choice: Bon Accord Mirissa
- Budget Choice: Hostel First Mirissa
6. Talalla Beach
Want to explore one of Sri Lanka’s hidden gems?
Talalla beach is less frequented by tourists and is a peaceful place to enjoy the Indian ocean.
It has a thriving wellness scene and is the perfect place to practice yoga and try a traditional Sri Lankan Ayurvedic massage.
Where to stay in Talalla
7. Yala National Park
Welcome to the jungle, where you can see wildlife up close.
Yala National Park is an experience you must not miss during your time in Sri Lanka.
Home to 44 varieties of mammals, including elephants, deers, bears and leopards, Yala National Park is the second most popular national park in the country.
Yala National Park is also one of the few places in the world that offers the chance to see the majestic leopard in its natural habitat.
Yala National Park closes for 8 weeks, starting at the beginning of September, so please bear this in mind while planning your Sri Lanka itinerary.
Where to stay in Yala
- Top Choice: Leopard Trails Yala
- Mid-range Choice: Nil Sisila Beach Resort Yala
- Budget Choice: Tissa Rainbow Guest & Yala safari
8. Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe National Park is the place to visit for guaranteed elephant sightings.
Unlike Yala National Park, Udawalawe remains open all year round so it is ideal for those seeking the safari experience.
Seeing animals in the wild is so much better than going to one of the many elephant orphanages that exist in Sri Lanka. Watching baby elephants play, inches from our jeep is something I will never forget.
Although elephants may be the star of the show, you can also see monkeys, water buffalo, crocodiles, lizards and countless species of birds.
Where to stay in Udawalawe
Ella is one of the most popular places to visit in Sri Lanka.
It’s so popular that many tourists head straight to Ella from Colombo and we can’t blame them.
Ella is a small mountain village east of Colombo, in Sri Lanka’s Uva Province. Situated in Sri Lanka’s green highlands, if you love nature, there are so many things to do here.
Visitors flock to see mountains, waterfalls and the region’s tea plantations.
Ella is a breath of fresh air, with a cooler climate than Sri Lanka’s south coast. Spend a few days hiking, exploring or just basking in Ella’s peaceful charm.
Ella has views aplenty! Marvel at the Nine Arch Bridge and scale Ella Rock for scenery that will take your breath away.
Sri Lanka is, of course, a tea country and nowhere is this more evident than in Ella. As a stereotypical Brit, I was very excited about this. You can visit one of the tea plantations, a journey in a Tuk Tuk that will take you even higher up into the misty mountains.
Or for yet another fantastic view, you can sit in Lipton’s seat, where Sir Thomas Lipton (tea entrepreneur) would sit to taste all the best teas in the world.
The train to Ella from Kandy (or vice versa) is a top Sri Lanka tourist attraction in itself (you have probably seen pictures of people hanging out the door of the train with tropical landscapes in the background).
Although the scenery is beautiful, The Ella-Kandy train takes 7 hours and while to many, the views make this worth it, it is something to consider.
Evenings in Ella are not comparable to the wild nights on the south coast but there are many bars and restaurants on the main street. Cafe chill stays open after hours and is where you will find many travelers bonding over beers.
Where to stay in Ella
- Top Choice: Ella Red Rock
- Mid-range Choice: Bed and Breakfast Dimuthu
- Budget Choice: Hangover Hostels Ella
10. Nuwara Eliya
The highland community of Nuwara Eliya is nicknamed “Little England” as it is where the British settlers used to spend their leisure time.
Due to the elevation, the Nuwara Eliya is much colder than other parts in Sri Lanka and is actually the leading producer of European vegetables for the rest of the island.
Take a trip to Adma Agro Farm to eat fresh Strawberries with cream!
Sri Lanka’s colonial past is very present here, as tea estates surround the city for miles.
Nuwa Eliya’s lush green park was built in honor of Queen Victoria’s 60th Jubliee and is definitely worth a visit. Visit the Grand Hotel to sample a very English high tea.
Nuwara Eliya is also the closest city to Horton Plains which is the only national park in Sri Lanka you can discover on foot, not from inside a jeep.
You can take a tuk-tuk from the city to hike to World’s End. Make sure you get to the park before 10 am so the clouds won’t block the iconic views of one of the top places to visit in Sri Lanka.
Where to stay in Nuwara Eliya
Kandy is UNESCO-listed, the second-largest city the country, and definitely one of the top places to visit in Sri Lanka.
Kandy is famous for its lake, built-in 1807 by the last ancient ruler of the city. In the middle of the lake, there is a small island that was once used by the emperor’s harem!
Religious sites are what brings people to Kandy. The Big Buddha on the hill can be seen from every point in Kandy and the Big Buddha lights up at night.
Head to the top of the Big Buddha hill for panoramic views of the city below.
While you’re in Kandy you can’t miss the Temple of the Tooth. Legend has it, the Temple of the Tooth is home to the left upper canine of Buddha himself!
Where to stay in Kandy
- Top Choice: The Radh Hotel
- Mid-range Choice: Notting Hill Country House
- Budget Choice: Jungle Villa Kandy
12. Adam’s Peak
One of the most adventurous things to do in Sri Lanka is climbing Adam’s Peak.
Around 20,000 pilgrims walk the steep trail at night in order to see the sunrise from the peak.
Adam’s Peak has spiritual significance for Muslims, Hindus, and Christians throughout Sri Lanka. Some believe it was Adam’s first step after being exiled from the Garden of Eden.
You will even see children and locals as old as 80 make the climb. Standing at 2,243 meters, the hike can take between 2-4 hours, however, no technical climbing or equipment is required.
As well as a gorgeous sunrise, climbers will be greeted by thousands of butterflies that inhabit the area. The best time to climb Adam’s Peak is between the dryer months of January- May.
Avoid the weekend and full moon for fewer crowds. Otherwise, you may have to wait in line to reach the peak. Despite the crowds, it’s a great hike for nature lovers.
The closest town to stay in is Dalhousie, but you can also travel from Ella or Nuwara Eliya.
Where to stay in Dalhousie
- Top Choice: Manuel Manor
- Mid-range Choice: Queensark Guest House
- Budget Choice: Grand Adam’s Peak Dormitory
Sigiriya Rock or Lion Rock is the 8th wonder of the world.
No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without discovering the Sigiriya rock fortress, palace ruins, and gardens.
At 200 meters high, the Sigiriya rock fortress takes around an hour to climb Lion Rock, head there in the morning to avoid the midday heat.
Pidurangala rock is also a great hike and the top is the perfect place to take photos of Sigiriya Rock.
Once you’ve paid your $30 entrance fee, you also gain access to the Sigiriya Museum which has an impressive collection of prehistoric artifacts.
If you still haven’t seen enough Sri Lankan temples, then there are plenty of day trips you can take from Sigiriya.
Visit The Dambulla cave temples or the quieter town of Polonnaruwa and spend a day cycling around the ruins of an ancient city.
You’ll understand why a visit to the Sigiriya rock fortress is without a doubt one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka.
Where to stay in Sigiriya
- Top Choice: Roo Mansala Boutique Villas
- Mid-range Choice: Chena Huts Eco Resort
- Budget Choice: Manju Homestay
Northern Sri Lanka does not always make it into most traveler’s itineraries, as Sri Lanka tourism generally is concentrated on other parts of the island.
But the region is strikingly different from the well-trodden path of the south.
However, Jaffna has an authentic charm of its own and here is why you shouldn’t skip it.
Jaffna has a strong Hindu culture and is reminiscent of southern India, which means colorful temples, lively markets and great cuisine. Learn to make the famous Jaffna Mutton curry and Pittu with a local cooking experience.
The city was once a battleground during Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war. You can still see crumbling buildings that were once extravagant structures.
Despite Jaffna’s complicated past, now is a good time to visit for a raw experience. As expected in Sri Lanka, the locals are friendly and keen to tell you stories of their lives.
As investment in the region increases, more tourists will flock to this hidden gem.
If you are looking for a destination in Sri Lanka that is off the beaten path, Jaffna is it.
Go soon before all this changes!
Where to stay in Jaffna
15. Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay is a surfers paradise, which means it has amazing waves, laid back beaches, and epic parties.
If you are an experienced surfer, you will love spending days riding the waves of Arugam Bay and nearby surf spot Peanut Farm.
Are you completely new to surfing?
Well Whisky Point is only a 15-minute drive from the bay and it is better for beginners, you won’t struggle to find a teacher there.
Bonus tip: stay at Whisky Point after dark on a Friday night for a great party.
Rent a scooter to explore the nearby areas. Take a drive down to Panama Tank, also known as Crocodile Point, for beautiful views of the landscape as well as it’s inhabitants.
Surf season runs from June – September and everything shuts down around October, so if you are traveling at a different time of year, it might be better to head over to Mirissa or Weligama.
Where to stay in Arugam Bay
- Top Choice: Hotel Blue Waters
- Mid-range Choice: Paradise Sand Beach
- Budget Choice: Little Lagoon Hostel
On the northeast coast of Sri Lanka lies Trincomalee.
Just like Jaffna, the city saw a lot of unrest during the civil war. However, now it functions as a laid back, less touristy alternative to Sri Lanka’s more popular tourist beaches.
Home to Tamil’s population, you will find lots of south Indian influence, in contrast with the Buddhist south.
You may visit for the white sands at the beautiful deserted beaches of Nilaveli and Uppuveli but you’ll stay as you fall in love with the character of the city.
Don’t miss out on Pigeon Island Snorkeling and a trip to Kanniya Hot Springs.
Where to stay in Trincomalee
The sacred city of Anuradhapura, was the first civilization to be built in Sri Lanka. The old part of the city now remains preserved as an archaeological park.
This UNESCO world heritage site is huge so you could quite easily spend all day exploring.
You can discover the park by bike or getting a local Tuk Tuk driver as a guide. As well as ruins, pools, stupas, and temples, you will find peacocks and monkeys roaming the park.
Don’t leave without seeing The Bodhi Tree Temple, the second most sacred place in Sri Lanka after Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth.
Where to stay in Anuradhapura
- Top Choice: Great Wall Tourist Rest
- Mid-range Choice: Belmond Lake Hotel
- udget Choice: Umaya Holiday Home
FAQs About Sri Lanka Travel
When is the best time to visit Sri Lanka?
As a tropical island with a varied climate, the best time to visit Sri Lanka really depends on what is on your Sri Lanka itinerary.
Sri Lanka’s west and south coast, including Galle and Colombo are ideal from October through to March. Although warm all year round, April- September is Monsoon season.
January-March is the best and most beautiful time to visit the central hills (Ella, Kandy, Ella), as these are the warmest months with less chance of rain. However, if you’re heading to the north (Jaffna, Anuradhapura) or the east coast (Trincomalee), (Arugam Bay) the opposite is true. The weather between February-April will be dry and pleasant.
Be sure to check out this packing list to make sure you’re prepared for every Sri Lanka climate.
Is Sri Lanka safe for tourists?
Yes, Sri Lanka is generally a safe country to travel.
However, as always when visiting somewhere unfamiliar ensure you take all the proper precautions. Obviously we can’t guarantee that anywhere is completely safe. But, this concern should not be enough to prevent your dream holiday.
Make you have had all the required vaccinations and have an insurance plan that covers your possessions and any activities you are planning to take part in on your trip. For example, not all plans cover activities such as surfing and scuba diving.
Pro tip: This site is a nifty search engine that lets you compare coverage and prices from hundreds of travel insurance companies.
As previously mentioned the locals are welcoming. Violence against foreigners is extremely rare in Sri Lanka, despite the 2019 attacks.
Many Srilankans livelihoods rely on tourism. However, the war did not end too long ago so be aware of political tensions.
You can check the up to date US travel advice for Sri Lanka here.
Theft does occur in major cities but the rates are much lower than in many other countries in Asia. Whereas muggings are basically unheard of. Women are advised to avoid walking alone on dark beaches late at night. With all that said, I have traveled to Sri Lanka extensively and never felt unsafe.
How much does it cost to travel in Sri Lanka?
You can adapt your trip to Sri Lanka to suit your budget. There is definitely a backpacker scene, with cheap food, easy public transport and hostels offering beds in dorms for around $9.
You could quite easily see most of Sri Lanka’s tourist attractions, while only spending $20-30 a day. However, for an extra $20 you could upgrade to private rooms, swap local beer for cocktails and enjoy a few western meals if you really wanted to.
Your biggest expenses will be the entrance to UNESCO heritage sites or national parks but considering they are probably the reason you hopped on the plane, just put away some extra money.
For those exploring the nearby countries, Sri Lanka is more expensive to travel than India but cheaper than Bali or Thailand.
READ NEXT: The 17 Best Places to Visit in Thailand
How long do you need to travel to Sri Lanka?
2 weeks is a good amount to get a taste of Sri Lanka, but you could spend months and still only scratch the surface since there are so many things to do in Sri Lanka.
My advice would be to pick no more than two regions, based on your interests and when you are able to visit.
From surfing, hiking, and yoga to ancient ruins and wild nature, this beautiful tropical island should not be skipped.
That’s it for this list of the 17 best places to visit in Sri Lanka!
What do you think are the best places to visit in Sri Lanka? Have we missed any? Scroll down and leave a comment!
And before you go, check out these other helpful articles to help you plan your travels:
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- The Best Umbrellas for Travel (5 Top Picks)