Sri Lanka has picture-perfect beaches, delicious food, serene mountains, rich culture, and amazing wildlife hotspots. The pearl of the Indian Ocean, also known as Paradise Island, is small, yet super-diverse – offering a wide variety of things to do in Sri Lanka, making it a favorite destination amongst most travelers. And of course, this means that there is going to be a whole list of things that you will miss when you leave the country.
Beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka
If you are a beach person, Sri Lanka is the place to be. Although monsoons dominate during some months of the year, east, south, or west, there is always a good location to get some sun, surf, and tan in this beautiful island nation.
South Coast – Bentota is famous for its turquoise blue waters of the Indian Ocean and the water sports industry while Galle and Unawatuna have clear, swim safe waters. Further into the south are the beaches of Mirissa and Tangalle that have recently become popular amongst tourists and locals.
West Coast – Negombo is a friendly town with golden sand beaches and is very close to the Bandaranaike International Airport. A couple of hours ahead on the west coast is the gorgeous Kalpitiya beach, famous for kite surfing and camping on the beach.
East Coast – known as one of the best surfing destinations in Asia, the Arugam Bay beach is a must-visit, along with the white sand and swim safe beach of Passikudah. The hidden gems on the east coast beaches have only been accessible after the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka.
Northern Coast – Jaffna and Mannar in the North are peaceful beach destinations if you want to steer away from the crowd.
Serene Mountains in Sri Lanka
Adam’s Peak in Nuwara Eliya is a popular mountain in Sri Lanka due to the religious significance it holds. Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and Muslims believe in the sacred footprint that is found at the summit. Apart from that, the sunrise views from the top – watching the sky turn from black to grey, and into a range of colorful hues as the sun makes its way into the sky is simply breathtaking! The climb takes about 3-4 hours and is recommended only for the healthy and fit travelers.
Ella is a small and beautiful village in the hill country that has recently made its way to the list of best things to do in Sri Lanka. Wake up a couple of hours before sunrise and make your way to the top of Ella Rock for stunning views through the Ella Gap – which, on a clear day can show you the waters of the southern coast!
Unique wildlife in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is blessed with a wonderful variety of wildlife including elephants, leopards, sloth bears, buffalos, and deer. With over 26 national parks in Sri Lanka, there are plenty of opportunities to get up-close-and-personal with the wildlife. Yala national park, Udawalawe national park, and those in Minneriya and Wilpattu are a few popular ones amongst tourists.
In addition to the land animals, the Kalpitiya coast in the west is popular for blue dolphins while the southern coast of Mirissa is known as a whale-watching destination. With animals all over the country, Sri Lanka is probably the best country in Asia to observe such a wide variety of species.
Authentic food in Sri Lanka
Rice is the staple food in Sri Lanka, making Rice and Curry a traditional lunch or dinner time menu. This meal involves a bowl of rice, accompanied by a meat curry, a couple of vegetable curries, and a green leafy sambol (salad). The highlight here is that the curries are cooked in delicious Sri Lankan spices and coconut milk. Lamprais is another rice and curry style meal wrapped and baked in a banana tree leaf for additional flavor.
In addition to that, Sri Lanka is famous for:
- Kottu roti: a fusion of chopped wheat flour flatbread, sautéed vegetables, Lankan spices, and a meat curry; everything mixed into one whole delicious dish!
- String hoppers: a rice noodle dish woven into a flat disc-like shape. Accompanied with a coconut milk based gravy, and a spicy coconut sambol, string hoppers are a traditional breakfast or dinner meal in Sri Lankan homes.
- Hoppers: bowl-shaped pancakes made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk. Served with a spicy onion sambol, dhal, and/or a meat curry, hoppers should be a must-try food in Sri Lanka.
Cultural heritage in Sri Lanka
A visit to the ancient city of Anuradhapura will show you around some of the oldest temples, Buddha statues and Stupas in Sri Lanka. The Abhayagiri Dagoba should be on your things to do in Sri Lanka list when in Anuradhapura along with the oldest living Sacred Bo Tree, also known as the Sri Maha Bodhi.
In Dambulla, the Golden Cave Temples are a unique attraction highlighted by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. This cave monastery is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka with gorgeous mural paintings and about 150 statues created inside the caves.
Kandy is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, mostly because it is home to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. The significance of protecting the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha brings Buddhist followers from across the world to visit this Temple. Tourists also like to visit during the Morning Prayer times to obtain blessings from the Buddhist monks as they begin another day of sightseeing in Sri Lanka.
The Kandasamy Kovil in Trincomalee is one of Sri Lanka’s five Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. This esteemed temple at the top of a rocky outcrop is an ancient place of worship constructed in 1952.
Historical adventures in Sri Lanka
The city of Polonnaruwa – the second capital of Sri Lanka, after Anuradhapura, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over 800 years ago, it was a thriving commercial and religious center, remnants of which are still preserved to date. The massive Buddha sculptures at Gal Vihara and the ruins at the Quadrangle are just a couple of archaeological treasures that must be visited.
Sigiriya Lion’s Rock – climb this natural phenomenon: an enormous square-shaped rock (200m high), at the top of which you will find remnants of a cleverly built fortress by one of the ancient Kings of Sri Lanka. On the way to the top, don’t forget to explore the beautifully engraved frescoes and ancient paintings.
Similar to the Lion’s Rock in Sigiriya, on a smaller scale is the Yapahuwa Rock Fortress, at the top of which you will find the remnants of a Buddhist Stupa, a Bodhi tree, and a rock cave used as shelter by the Buddhist monks. At the base of the rock are a couple of caves – one is a shrine and one has some interesting inscriptions that historians would love to explore.
Galle Fort – explore the remnants of an 18th-century construction by the Dutch, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, this was a headquarters for the Dutch which is now transformed into trendy cafes and restaurants.
If your holiday in Sri Lanka is restricted in terms of duration, the National Museum in Colombo must be on your things to do in Sri Lanka list. Dominated by features of Italian architecture, this museum covers a plethora of artifacts representing Sri Lanka’s history and natural heritage.
Must things to do in Sri Lanka
- While in Colombo, hop on a tuk-tuk and drive around town. Whether it is for your shopping needs, or just to take a city tour, tuk tuks are a fun way to explore Colombo!
- Nine arches bridge – a great piece of architecture hidden between lush green tea fields and bamboo forests.
- Diyaluma Falls – the second highest waterfall in Sri Lanka, 220m in height is an easy but not obvious path to the top. But once at the summit, you can enjoy swimming in different levels of natural pools. This is a recently discovered attraction, so you should have it on your must things to do in Sri Lanka list.
- Swing at the Instagram-worthy palm trees along the coast of Sri Lanka. Popular ones are located on the Dalawalla Beach in front of Dream Cabana and in Dickwella, both on the southern coast of Sri Lanka.
- The train ride from Kandy-Ella, one of the most scenic in the world, is a must on the things to do in Sri Lanka list. The seven-hour journey is best observed by hanging on the open doorway or in a reserved observation carrier.
- To explore the lush green tea plantations, take a tour of the different viewpoints, factories, and the Ramboda waterfall. Pick one tea factory for a tea plucking and tasting experience.
- Unique about Sri Lankan wildlife is that you don’t have to go into a national park to see wild elephants. They usually pass the main road during the early morning or late afternoon.
- World’s End viewpoint at the end of the nature trail at Horton Plains National Park is a view that must not be missed!
So make sure you plan your holiday accordingly so you have plenty of time to cover all these things to do in Sri Lanka, and also to spend extra time indulging with the stunning beauty of Mother Nature.