Best things to do in Sri Lanka
From culture and history, to wildlife and breathtaking scenery, Sri Lanka offers everything you could possibly want from a holiday. In fact, with so many unique places to visit and things to do, you might find that your biggest problem will be trying to squeeze everything into your itinerary!
If you’re not sure where to start your holiday planning in Sri Lanka, then you’re in the right place. Here’s a snapshot of the best things to do, see and experience during your travels.
1 – View jaw-dropping scenery everywhere you go
Sri Lanka is a lush green wonderland, home to some spectacular landscapes, especially in the hill country. Here, there is an abundance of hiking opportunities, including Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock, both of which will reward all of the efforts you put into the climb with an unparalleled view at the end. Alternatively, if relaxation is more your style, you can choose to simply enjoy the view from your hotel balcony, taking in the scenery around you with a good book in hand. In Ella, many of the hotels are built high up in the hillside, overlooking the incredible Ella Gap. The danger is that you may end up so enamoured with the sight that the thought of leaving the hotel at all becomes a hardship!
One iconic attraction in Sri Lanka that you’re sure to want to add to your itinerary is the hike to World’s End. Dramatic in name, dramatic in nature, World’s End lies in Horton Plains National Park and is a sheer cliff drop of 4,000 feet. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to look out at that view and feel like you really are at the edge of the earth.
2 – Ride the most scenic stretch of railway line in the world
Another highlight of any trip to Sri Lanka is a ride on the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella through the aforementioned hill country. Not only is the train journey a chance to mingle with Sri Lankans, but it’s another opportunity to take in the pristine surroundings. As the tea plantations whizz past the window, you’ll soon understand why this stretch of the railway line is often referred to as the most scenic in the world.
Something else that makes this journey unique is the opportunity to experience train travel in a different way. You’ll notice people hanging out of the doorways and windows all along the train, as in the second and third classes there are no closed carriages. This means you need to shun the first-class air-conditioned carriage to get the best experience (and the best photographs!).
3 – Witness a unique Buddhist ceremony
The religious ceremony of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy is something that really has to be experienced, rather than described (but we’ll give it a go!). Imagine what seems like the entire population of Kandy in a room, trying to catch a glimpse of a tiny gold box, and you have an idea of what the viewing ceremony is like. While that might not sound like much fun, this is a very special experience to be a part of and something that is completely unlike anything else you’re ever likely to experience.
For that alone, it’s an essential cultural activity to add to your itinerary and will leave you feeling like you’ve really experienced an important part of Sri Lankan culture.
4 – See some of the rarest animals on Earth
Sri Lanka is a country that will delight wildlife enthusiasts. Even those who don’t consider themselves big wildlife fans couldn’t fail to be impressed by the sight of hundreds of elephants roaming only metres away from your jeep whilst on safari in Minneriya National Park. If you’re not elephant-mad, there are plenty of other specimens to thrill you, including crocodiles, eagles, monitor lizards, wild boar and buffalo, all of which you might spot on safari in Yala National Park.
As for the rarer appearances, if you’re lucky you may spy a sleepy sloth bear emerging from the bushes, or even an elusive leopard. Yala contains the highest density of wild leopards in the world, so taking a safari there is statistically your best chance at ever seeing one. Then there are the animals you can see without even stepping foot into a jeep. Out and about on your day-to-day travels in Sri Lanka, you will soon come to know (and be wary of) the cheeky monkeys that run riot in most areas. Whilst snorkelling off the beach in Trincomalee there’s a good chance you’ll spot a turtle or two.
5 – Relax on unspoilt beaches and explore an underwater paradise
Many of Sri Lanka’s beaches are largely unspoilt, and if you’re smart about it you can almost entirely avoid other people. For example, many tourists will stay in Unawatuna for their beach time. Instead, why not take a tuk-tuk just 15 minutes down the road where you’ll find a quiet beach with pristine sand and almost nobody else around?
Whilst there are so many other incredible things to do in Sri Lanka (that going for the sole purpose of a beach holiday might seem a waste), it is the perfect way to end an adventurous 2-week itinerary. There are plenty of watersports on offer to keep the more energetic traveller entertained and for the rest of us, we might like to enjoy a gentle snorkel with a turtle over the stunning coral reefs- bliss!
6 – Get to know the people of Sri Lanka
Our Travel Specialists often reminisce about their time spent in Sri Lanka; recounting stories of the welcoming locals they met along the way; whether it was helping them out with directions, chatting about politics (and cricket!) or enquiring about life in the UK. Travelling by train offers a really rewarding opportunity to mingle with your fellow passengers, whereas opting to dine at hole-in-the-wall eateries always provides the chance to try out your local lingo. Oh, and on the coast, you’ll likely see fisherman dragging huge nets of fish at the end of the day; with a flash of a smile, don’t be surprised they invite you over to check out their catch of the day!
7 – Climb Adam’s Peak for sunrise
The tough climb to Adam’s Peak in central Sri Lanka to witness the magical sunrise and views deserves a special mention and shouldn’t be missed. Known for the Sri Pada, or sacred footprint located at the top, it is special to the Sri Lankan’s as it is believed to hold the footprint of Buddha in the Buddhist tradition, Shiva for the Hindus and Adam for the Christians. At a height of 2,243 metres, after 5,500 steps (around 2.5 – 3.5 hours) you’ll reach the top where a Buddhist shrine sits. Truly the most stunning and magical sunrise I’ve experienced to date!
8 – Eat authentic Sri Lankan grub on a homestay
A cultural homestay is a really authentic way to experience daily life in Sri Lanka. With our At Home in the Curry Kitchen trip, you’ll not only do exactly that but also discover and learn the secrets of traditional Sri Lankan cuisine. You’ll visit the local markets and fully prepare and cook the selection of dishes with your homestay owner; you’ll be leaving with an arsenal of new sub-continent curries and dishes to cook at home. It’s an experience that will let you gain a deeper understanding of Sri Lanka’s past, and how their recent events of civil war and the 2004 tsunami have made the Sri Lankan’s such a resilient and spirited group
For even more Sri Lanka travel tips, head to our travel guide below.
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From 15 days / 14 nights (flexible)
Sri Lanka, Colombo - Negombo - Wilpattu National Park - Ancient Capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa - Outskirts of Kandy - Ella - Sinharaja Rainforest - Mirissa - Colombo