Trust and fall into the welcoming arms of Sri Lanka famed for its pristine beaches, the growing surf scenes, wild elephants and turtles, panoramic train journeys, flavourful tea and a lasting touch of the colonial era. After its rough history of colonial rule and civil war, Sri Lanka today has worked incredibly hard to earn its title as the best country to visit in 2019 (by Lonely Planet). From charming temples to scrumptious, carb-rich street food, Sri Lanka is bound to blow your mind away every step of the way! We are all halfway done with 2019 already, and if you haven’t yet, it is time to turn things around.
Wondering what to do in Sri Lanka? Treat yourself to a fortnight of peace, quiet, comfort food, culture and adventure all in one place – Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean. These are a selection of eccentric options when it comes to Sri Lanka best places for the travel bug in you!
18 Awesome places to visit and things to do in Sri Lanka
- Tea estate trails
- Aluvihara Cave temple
- Surfing and scuba diving
- Nuwara eliya – Little England
- Visit the rock fortress – Sigiriya
- Hike the Adam’s peak
- Ramayan trail
- Kandy to Ella train ride
- Whale watching
- Elephants in the wild
- Hot air balloon
- Snorkeling in Hikkaduwa
- Pigeon island national park
- Turtle Hatchery
- Annual kite festival
- Vesak Poya – Buddhist festival
- Spice garden and farm visits
- Take the cooking classes
1.Tea Estate Trails
Sri Lanka attracts tea lovers first and foremost, for its finest quality and variety of tea. The top places to make the most of tea trails in Sri Lanka are Kandy, Bogawantalawa valley and Nuwara Eliya. The capital city Colombo also boasts of a green carpet of tea estates. This has been rated one of the top things to do in Colombo.
You can pre-book tours with a tea plantation where they will take you through each step and tell you in detail about their production processes. From the fields where it is first plucked, and then to the factory where it is further processed in different ways, learn it all! The trails also offer tasting sessions and the chance for you to buy some fresh packs of tea for folks back home! Is this the best gift or what?
Travel Tip: Remember Lipton’s Tea? Well, Sir Thomas Lipton, the founder, has a tea estate in Bogawantalawa Valley and they offer tea trails and stay options too!
2. Aluvihara Cave Temple
Among the popular things to do in Sri Lanka, this temple is revered for its cultural and historical significance among the Buddhists. This temple is located 30km away from Kandy and is now the site of pilgrimage with several statues and antiques gifted by neighbouring Buddhist countries.
It is iconic among the Buddhists because it is believed that the monks wrote the Tripitakas (Tri meaning “Three” and Pitaka meaning “basket”) in this very cave. What’s fascinating is that the temple has been traced back to the 3rd century BC to the rule of King Devanampiyatissa.
3. Surfing and Scuba Diving
Let the real adventures begin with Surfing and Scuba Diving in Sri Lanka! However, there are a few favourites we have heard about over the past few years – Arugam Bay, Weligama Beach, Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna.
Out of all the things to do in Colombo, it is one of the prime spots to go Scuba Diving. Most tourists end up in Colombo first, and other locations for water sports are quite far away. This makes Colombo a favourite place for adventure sports. Some of the gorgeous spots are – Car-wreck, Tug-wreck, Medhufaru, Para Gala, Battery Barge, Barracuda Reef and the like. As the weather conditions are extremely different in each part of Sri Lanka, we recommend preliminary checks while you plan your visit.
Travel Tip: Weligama is famed to have good weather and waves almost throughout the year. This is the most sought after for beginners and intermediate!
4. Nuwara Eliya – Little England
Nuwara Eliya is often referred to as Little English, for the genteel, British-village vibe it carries. Adding to it, are the colonial style bungalows, gardens and hotels built by the British. This used to be the go-to place for the English tea estate owners back in the days! For a few nights’ peace and quiet after you have checked off all the popular things to do, Nuwara Eliya is the right place to be!
Still hunting for the best things to do in Sri Lanka? Indulge in Brit ways of life, as you take a sip of that aromatic tea, playing a bit of golf and gaze dreamily at the beauty surrounding you.
5. Sigiriya Rock Fortress
This popular site is one of the seven top World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka and dates way back to the 5th Century BC. It has been discovered that the Sigiriya rock plateau emerged out of the magma of an extinct volcano so many centuries ago. This ancient fortress has been a monastery and also the home of a 5th Century King.
Owing to its resemblance to a lion, the term Sigiriya comes from the word Sinhagri which means Lion Rock. The most stunning features of this abandoned rock fortress are frescoes from the time of King Kasyapa’s reign, a mirror wall and inscriptions created by visitors and poets from centuries ago.
As an archaeologically important site, the region of Sigiriya has shown immensely peculiar traits of ancient urban planning, architecture, water engineering, arts and horticulture! We vote for Sigiriya as one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka.
6. Adam’s Peak
Adam’s Peak is the most popular choice of treks available out of all things to do in Sri Lanka. It has especially been in pursuit of after for its diverse religious significance dating back centuries. Wondering why this Peak attracts pilgrims? Well, there is a huge footprint at the top about which each religion has a story to tell. It is acknowledged as Adam’s Peak in the belief that this is the place where Adam first set foot on Earth.
The Hindus naturally believe it is Lord Shiva’s footprint. To such a degree, this site has been sacred since the 8th Century. The pilgrim and tourist season are usually from December to May. Whether you are a believer or not, this hike is spectacular and one of the craziest things to do in Sri Lanka!
7. Ramayana Trail
Do you consider yourself a fanatic of Hindu Mythology? Do you love hearing about the mighty tales of Ramayana and Mahabharat? If not all the stories, we are all secretly fond of the much-heard tales of Lord Ram and Ravana. This legend is one of the most important scriptures in Hinduism. Given Sri Lanka’s appearance in this mythical tale of Ram vs Ravana, Lanka is yet another place of pilgrimage for Hindus.
Ramayana Tours are organised by many companies and agencies to satiate both the curious and the pious! This trail generally takes groups to temples, caves, falls, and other locations that hold religious significance. Some of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka are covered in this tour as well – Kandy, Trincomalee, Nuwara Eliya, Ramboda, Ella, etc.
8. Kandy to Ella Train Ride
The world’s most scenic train journey, you ask? We vote for Kandy to Ella! Allow yourself this once in a blue moon chance of raw beauty, mountains, plantations and lush green views all around and take this seven-hour journey! This has been the highlight of many travellers who have visited rated this train ride as one of the trendy things to do in Sri Lanka.
At the intermediate stops, you will find lots of local food options to try as sellers hurry inside the cabins while the train is halted. If you find yourself way too early at the train station, fret not!
Did you know: The Railways in Sri Lanka was built by the British in 1864 to transport tea and coffee to Colombo. The aim was to make international shipping easier and faster.
9. Dolphin or Whale Watching
Tourists typically commence Whale watching tours off the southern coast of Sri Lanka. One of the ideal points for whale watching is in Mirissa Beach and for Dolphin watching, Kalpitiya.
If you have always dreamed of adoring dolphins and whales in their natural habitat, this is a must-visit! We advise you to wear comfortable clothing, do a weather check and take precautions for seasickness. These tours are nearly half a day long, considering travel to and from the main location. Lastly, don’t forget carrying a camera to capture the beauty of these sea creatures and suggest this experience to friends and family as one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka!
10. Elephants In The Wild
Do you find yourself glued to the internet watching cute videos of Elephants? Have you always dreamed of bonding with Elephants in their natural habitat? You’re in luck! Sri Lanka is home to the most adorable Elephants! Out of all the things to do in Sri Lanka, Elephant watching is a must!
You can normally find them in umpteen National Parks in Sri Lanka – Yala National Park, Minneriya National Park and Kaudulla National Park are a few top picks. The best way to go, is to sign up for a Wild Safari Tour at these national parks to see more of Sri Lanka’s fauna.
11. Hot Air Ballooning
After hopping on and off at all these amazing places, are you wondering what to do in Sri Lanka? Sign yourself up for the ride of a lifetime! Lift off and drift over the scenic countryside of Sri Lanka fraught with towering mountains and bright green pastures. It is not every morning that you get a chance to view mankind’s creations from a bird’s eye view!
If this experience is your priority, the best time to visit Sri Lanka for Hot Air Ballooning is between November and May. This is when the weather conditions are at its best. This one of the most sought after things to do in Sri Lanka, especially in the Dambulla region.
12. Snorkelling in Hikkaduwa
The months from March to May is the best time to go adventure sporting in Sri Lanka. If you have gone Snorkelling before in places like Thailand, it is time for you to test the Sri Lankan waters this time!
The best places Snorkelling tours are offered in Hikkaduwa, Weligama and Kirinda. Prep yourself to take a long look at what living under water looks like, with stunning coral reefs, tropical fishes, historical wrecks, and a wide variety of sea creatures.
Snorkelling in the Indian Ocean is something all adventure buffs crave to do and we believe it is surely one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka!
13. Pigeon Island National Park
Pigeon Island National Park is an amazing marine national park located near Nilaveli. From a sanctuary since 1963 to recently renamed as a national park, this island was used as a shooting range back in the colonial period. The Pigeon Island beach houses a vast population of coral reefs that also attracts over a hundred species of coral reef fishes. Most tourists end up here for Snorkelling or Speedboat rides, owing to its clear waters and a vast variety of species.
14. Turtle Hatchery
Our next suggestion on this list of things to do in Sri Lanka is to visit a Turtle Hatchery. The hacheries are devoted to protecting and conserving turtles, to prevent their extinction. Turtle Hatcheries in Kosgoda, Hikkaduwa and Habaraduwa are doing amazing work to keep them alive and well! Turtle eggs were collected and sold to people a while back, but the Sri Lankans took the first step to put an end to this illegal trade.
Now, passionate teams at these hatcheries feed and protect these little creatures for nearly 4 years before letting them go to live on. Here, you can find different species of turtles like Leatherback, Olive Ridley and Green turtles.
15. Annual Kite Festival
Kite flying is a core part of Sri Lanka’s culture and tradition. Given the amazing weather for most parts of the year, kite flying is a super fun way to beat the boredom! History tells us China introduced South Asian countries to kite flying, and first started making kites as early as 1000BC or even before that.
Lankans’ creativity goes all the way when it comes to the size, shape and design of kites. Each year the festival hosts a massive crowd of over thousands of people waiting to witness the colourful skies and participate in Kite competitions. If you are looking for the best time to visit Sri Lanka, it is during the Kite Festival out of all the things to do in Sri Lanka.
16. Vesak Poya – Buddhist Festival
Sri Lanka has many public holidays as there are 4 main religions coexisting in the land – Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. One can imagine, there is a lot to celebrate like in India! Their most exciting festival is on every full moon day (also a public holiday) which is called Poya.
All Poya days are indeed special, but the main one is called Vesak Poya celebrated in the month of May. It is believed that Buddha took birth and died on this full moon day. Banks, Government offices, bars, etc. do not function on Poya days. Meat and alcohol are unavailable on these days. Amidst the chanting, fasting, dress codes, and carnivals across the country, Poya festival is a highlight. Partaking in this Buddhist festival is one of the most amazing things to do in Sri Lanka!
17. Spice Gardens and Farm Visits
For all the eco travellers who love to explore the land by learning about its agricultural practices, farm visits are one way to go when in Sri Lanka! Escape into the countryside, on a farm surrounded by greenery, flowers, fruits and produce. Adding to your local rural experience is the loving cattle and amiable farmers ever-ready to host you.
Sometimes, a successful internet detox is a must while travelling. We recommend you put your phones away, lend a hand to the farmers, indulge in freshly plucked fruits and vegetables to make your own meals!
To point to a few exotic experiences, take a look at the Nutmeg Village and New Ranweli Spice Gardens near Kandy, Ranweli Spice Garden and Arunalu Spice Garden in Matale. This village, by its name, is immensely popular for nutmeg production along with other spices. The traveller community votes for this as one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka. What about you?
18. Cooking Classes
Sri Lanka for food lovers is heaven on Earth, indeed! If you are one of those travellers who seek to understand a country through its delicious food culture, you are in for a treat wayfarer! Cooking classes are in vogue across the globe, and most definitely one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka, like many other countries, has had the influence of several kingdoms and traders who have set foot in their land.
As a treasure trove of freshly available seafood, their iconic dishes are a bit of both meaty and vegetarian. A true traveller must learn the country’s cuisine. So, go on now, give the cooking classes a shot and learn a thing or two. When you head back home and your family asks you to prove your worth, this is your chance to blow them away Masterchef-style!
Further Read: 15 Best International Trips Under 50000 Rupees
Sri Lanka hit an all-time high of 2.1 million tourist influx in the year 2018 and is riding the waves to nearly double the number by 2020. Lying in the region of rich historical lands like South East Asia and India, Sri Lanka’s culture, food and history truly make it as alluring as ever. Undeniably a food lover’s haven, What makes the experience even better is the incredibly easy, cheap and accessible means of transport across the well-connected cities in the country. Now is the best time to be there and explore to your heart’s content! It will most definitely be one of those places you will yearn to come back to!