Sri Lanka is one of my absolute favourite countries, in part due to the huge variety of things to do in Sri Lanka from hiking through tea plantations to spotting leopards on safari or snorkelling with turtles off the picture-perfect beaches in the south.
But it’s more than just the cool things to do in Sri Lanka. It’s the warm hearted, friendly locals who can’t do enough to welcome you into their beautiful country.
It’s the heady smell of incense lingering in the air. The flashes of colour everywhere you go be it a lady wearing a colourful sari or a bright coloured tuk-tuk flying past, honking its horn. It’s the delicious food and the wonderful scenery.
Sri Lanka has won my heart and I’m sure it will win yours too.
Hopefully, I have persuaded you to visit already and now you might be wondering what are the best things to do in Sri Lanka when you visit?
Well don’t worry, I’ve gotcha there. Here is a MAMMOTH list of the 55 best things to do in Sri Lanka no matter what your preferences or your budget are. From free things to do to activities for foodies or outdoorsy types, you are bound to find some awesome activities in Sri Lanka to add to your perfect Sri Lanka itinerary!
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So let’s crack on and talk about the best things to do in Sri Lanka…
What you can expect from this article...
- 1 Things to Do in Sri Lanka
- 1.1 Things to do in Sri Lanka for culture vultures
- 1.2 Things to do in Sri Lanka for nature lovers
- 1.3 Things to do in Sri Lanka for Foodies
- 1.4 Things to do in Sri Lanka for beach bums
- 1.5 Things to do in Sri Lanka for wildlife lovers
- 1.6 Relaxing things to do in Sri Lanka
- 1.7 Fun things to do in Sri Lanka
- 1.8 Take an Organised Tour in Sri Lanka
- 1.9 Free things to do in Sri Lanka
- 2 Where to stay in Sri Lanka
- 3 How to get around
- 4 When is the best time to visit
- 5 Further Reading…
Things to Do in Sri Lanka
Things to do in Sri Lanka for culture vultures
1 / Visit Dambulla cave temple. Have you ever visited a temple inside a cave?! If not, now is your chance! there are several caves to wander through where you can admire giant reclining Buddha statues, shrines and wall paintings.
Top tip | take a pair of socks as you will have to take your shoes off and it gets hot walking on the granite outside the caves!
2/ Visit The Temple of the Sacred Tooth. One of the most important temples in Sri Lanka. It is believed that whoever possesses the relic tooth, can govern the lands!
3/ Climb to the top of Sigiriya. If you are feeling energetic, climb the 1200 steps to the top of this impressive rock fortress where the views are just magnificent. Sunset from here would be breathtaking!
4/ Take a city tour in Colombo. I wouldn’t recommend spending too long in Colombo as most of the best things to do in Sri Lanka are to be found in more rural areas! But there are a few places of interest such as Independence Square and Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque.
5/ Explore Negombo’s canals. The canals in Negombo are where you will get to see what life in Sri Lanka for the fishermen looks like. See them weighing in huge fish, painting their boats and repairing their fishing lines. Then proceed into the mangroves where you may spot plenty of birds and even a few cheeky monkeys!
6/ Watch a dance performance in Kandy. See drumming, dancing and even fire eating at the Lake House in Kandy. The dramatic show culminates with a display of walking on fire… Yikes!
7/ Explore the tea plantations. When you think of Sri Lanka, one of the first things that probably pops into your mind is tea plantations. Visiting a tea plantation is one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka. Learn how the tea leaves are picked and processed and then sample different varieties of tea at a tea tasting session.
8/ Experience a homestay. There’s no better way to learn about the local community than completely immersing yourself in it by staying with a local family. The homestay at Tamarind Gardens comes highly recommended. Not only are the family lovely, the food delicious, the scenery pretty but they are also doing so many positive projects within the community. The money from your stay will go a long way towards helping the community run their sustainable social enterprises.
9/ See the stilt fishermen. Due to Sri Lanka’s ferocious waves, many fishermen will sit on stilts to be able to fish safely on the shores of Sri Lanka. Though these days it is more for the benefit of tourists, it’s still interesting to observe the way fishing was done in Sri Lanka.
10/ Visit Hindu temples in Jaffna. If you get chance to go all the way North, Jaffna has some of the most colourful impressive hindu temples to admire.
11/ Support a local charity. Sthree gift shop and cafe is a social enterprise designed to help women in need and anyone with learning difficulties set up their own creative businesses. So earn yourself some good karma and pop along to get your Sri Lankan souvenirs here!
12/ Visit Polonnaruwa – Hire bikes to cycle this ancient city of Polonnaruwa, exploring temples ruins and taking a step back in time.
13/ Visit Anuradhapura, Anther ancient city – in fact, Sri Lanka’s first capital city – which you can explore on foot. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site and the stupa Rywanwelisaya is one of the tallest monuments in the world!
14/ Take a village tour. There are many options to visit villages all over Sri Lanka where you can learn about local life, the farming industry and you may even get a little cooking lesson from some locals!
15/ Visit Galle. Explore the 18th-century Dutch fort where the old buildings have now been converted into a plethora of gift shops, jewellers and galleries. Galle is home to some of the best restaurants in Sri Lanka and is a great place to shop for souvenirs.
Things to do in Sri Lanka for nature lovers
16/ Climb Little Adams Peak. Named after its big sister hike ‘Adams peak,’ Little Adams peak is a great option for a shorter hike which is easily accessible for most people and does not require a guide. It’s a short hike, only 30-40 minutes each way and you will be rewarded with some fantastic mountain views.
17/ Climb Ella Rock. For similar views but a more challenging, longer hike, Ella should be your hike of choice from Ella. The last section can be quite a scramble and you will need to take a guide.
18/ Hike in Hortons Plain. The scenery in Hortons Plains is unlike any I saw anywhere else in Sri Lanka. In fact, it actually reminded me of Scotland! Especially when I went to find the toilets only to see a stag blocking my path! It’s also a lot cooler here due to altitude so it’s a refreshing walk which is easy enough that most people could enjoy it.
19/ Climb Pidurangala Rock. To get the best view of Sigiriya rock (mentioned further down) you should climb Pidurangala Rock where you can look directly across to see the beautiful Sigiriya rock fortress. Consider visiting for sunrise.
20/ Enjoy the scenery on a train journey from Kandy to Ella. If hiking is not your thing but you still want to see beautiful scenery then you can’t miss the train journey from Kandy to Ella (or vice versa.) This iconic train journey is well known for being one of the best in the world with the most beautiful scenery!
21/ Visit Nine arch bridge. See the train tracks from a different angle by visiting the very beautiful Nine Arch Bridge. Time it so that you’ll get to see the iconic blue train passing through!
22/ Hike Diyaluma Falls. The 2nd highest waterfall in Sri Lanka makes for a great day of hiking and relaxing in the various pools and swimming spots along the way.
23/ Take a pilgrimage to Adams peak. If you have a full day, you can do the hike to Adams Peak which will take 5-7 hours. It is considered to be a place of religious significance in several religions and so it is a popular place for religious pilgrimages.
Things to do in Sri Lanka for Foodies
24/ Try the incredible Sri Lankan curries. You may order a simple chicken curry and rice. But what you will get is an absolute feast comprised of about 8 dishes including pumpkins curries, dhal, spiced aubergine, shredded coconut, spicey green beans, poppadoms, rice and the original curry that you thought you were ordering.
25/ Eat chocolate banana rotis. This is the ultimate naughty treat in Sri Lanka. Oozing with all things delicious, these sweet treats are like a meal in themselves.
26/ Visit a spice plantation. Learn how Sri Lanka’s huge variety of herbs and spices are used both in cooking and medicines and learn why the use of some of these spices keeps Sri Lankans healthy as well as well fed.
27/ Take a cooking class. You will see these in most towns and cities popular with tourists. Learn how to make delicious Sri Lankan curries, rotis and desserts such as banana fritters. Then go home and impress your friends back home by hosting a Sri Lankan banquet!
28/ Drink a cocktail on a beach at sunset. Sri Lanka has stunning sunsets where the sky turns ablaze in red, pink and purple light. What better way to enjoy the sunset than to sit on a beach and sip a delicious cocktail at a beach bar?
29/ Eat seafood in Mirissa. If you head to Mirissa’s main beach in the evening, you will find it lit up with candle lights where restaurants spill out onto the beach. Many of these restaurants specialise in delicious seafood where you can choose your own fish before it is cooked.
30/ Explore the fish market in Negombo. Watch as the men carry the fish in from the boats and the women lay them out to dry in the sun on the beach and then witness the chaos of the fish markets as fishermen jostle to sell their wares.
31/ Eat at Trendy Aloha. One of the best places I ate and also with a very cool surfy vibe. Sit on a bar stool looking out across to the beach and definitely have a banana milkshake – mine was delicious.
Things to do in Sri Lanka for beach bums
32/ Visit Dalawella beach. Dalawella beach is the most picture perfect beach I visited in my time in Sri Lanka. Emerald water with a lagoon for safe swimming, soft white sand and sloping palm trees like it’s straight out of a travel magazine.
It’s also home to the famous palm tree rope swing featured on many Instagram accounts and having a go on this swing is a popular thing to do in Sri Lanka. Spend a few days staying in a beach hut on the beach, falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves and waking up to sunrise on your veranda.
This was my absolute favourite beach in Sri Lanka.
33/ Sneak off to Secret beach in Mirissa. Ok, so it’s not really a secret these days but it does still attract fewer tourists as you have to put a bit of effort into getting there. When I say effort I mean a 5-minute tuk-tuk ride followed by a 10 minute downhill walk. Life is tough in Sri Lanka… But seriously, this beach is gorgeous. And a lot more peaceful than the main beach!
34/ Learn to surf in Weligama. Weligama is one of those perfect surf beaches which caters for all levels of surfer from absolute beginner to seasoned pro’s. The waves vary in size as you walk along the long sandy beach so as you graduate from beginner surf school, you can try your hand at some bigger waves.
35/ Practise yoga in Arugam Bay. Also a popular destination for surfers, this is a beach town with a bit of a hippy vibe, perfect for whiling away a week or so in paradise.
36/ Visit Coconut Tree Hill point. This is one of the most famous viewpoints in Sri Lanka and rightly so – it really is beautiful! Just take care standing under all of those coconut trees…
Things to do in Sri Lanka for wildlife lovers
37/ Go whale watching in Mirissa. See the mighty blue whales which grow up to a staggering 30 metres in length – that’s the size of a double-decker bus! Whale watching in Mirissa is one of the best places in the world to see Blue Whales and one of the most popular things to do in Mirissa.
38/ Spot leopards in Yala National Park. With the highest concentration of Leopards anywhere in the world, Yala National Park is one of the best places to spot these graceful big cats.
39/ See wild elephants in Minneriya National Park. See huge families of elephants at Minneriya national park. If you visit for the ‘elephant gathering’ in August, you may see hundreds of elephants as they gather at the watering hole in the dry season.
40/ See baby turtles at a turtle hatchery. Turtles are endangered species and as such there are many hatcheries in Sri Lanka which incubate the eggs and release the babies into the sea when they are a few days old increasing their chances of survival.
Top Tip | Before visiting these hatcheries, do your research and make sure it’s an ethical one that doesn’t allow flash photography or touching the turtles as they are vulnerable to disease and flashes startle them.
41/ See elephants get rehabilitated at Elephant Transit Home. If you don’t get time to visit Minneriya National Park then you could visit the elephants at Uduwalawe National park instead – widely known to be one of the best elephant safaris in Sri Lanka. They also have a rehabilitation centre, The Elephant Transit Home which you can visit after your morning safari.
42/ Snorkel with turtles. There are many turtles along the coast of Sri Lanka thanks to the conservation efforts to protect these endangered species. You can often snorkel with them. Dalawella beach is a great place to find them and is also a safe spot for swimming!
Relaxing things to do in Sri Lanka
43/ Try Ayurvedic massage. Ayurvedic massage includes the use of various herbs, spices and massage techniques to manage health conditions in a natural, holistic way. An ayurvedic full body massage usually involves using a lot of oils and traditional techniques and then lying inside a steam box (with your head poking out) to encourage the oil to permeate your skin. I certainly felt invigorated after my massage after feeling sluggish for days beforehand.
44/ Visit the botanical garden in Kandy. For a relaxing morning in Kandy, pop along to the beautiful Botanical gardens and spend a few hours admiring Sri Lanka’s flora and Fauna.
45/ Walk around Kandy lake. Kandy also has a beautiful man-made lake in the centre of the city which takes about 1 hour to traverse.
46/ Relax in Ella. Ella is a small town with plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars where you can relax. There are also several spas if you want to get a massage here. Most of the restaurants have bean bags for relaxing on so Ella makes a great place to stop for a few days to relax in the middle of your busy Sri Lanka itinerary!
47/ Take high tea at The Grand Hotel. Sitting in the manicured gardens of the posh Grand Hotel, you may well feel like you are taking high tea in the English Countryside rather than in Sri lanka!
48/ Shopping in Ella Town. Ella town is also not short of souvenir shops and art galleries and I enjoyed a morning browsing the shops. I stocked up on plenty of souvenirs like vintage postcards, incense and jewellery. I also found a clothes shop which I loved and spent WAY too much money there…
49/ Stay at Tangalle beach for a few days. Tangalle is one of the prettiest and one of the quietest beach towns in Sri Lanka so it may be worth having a few days here to properly chill out…
Fun things to do in Sri Lanka
50/ Try Glamping. If you like the idea of camping but aren’t sure if you fancy roughing it, glamping near Yala National Park is the perfect compromise! You get to sample the adventure without having to sleep on the floor! My tent at the Big Game Camp Yala had comfy beds, a fan and even a bathroom behind a little curtain. We even had a wifi tent!
51/ Take a tuk-tuk trip. Tuk-tuk trips are always fun, always bonkers! But its all part of the adventure! Its also a super cheap way to get about.
Top tip | Do not get tuk-tuks at nighttime in the central region. It’s always better to get taxis here as elephants occasionally appear on the roads and can be aggressive!
52/ Shop for saris. You can buy a sari really cheaply in Sri Lanka. I really wanted to get one and ran out of time before I left to go shopping! But if I get to go back to Sri Lanka again, I’m definitely coming home with a sari!
53/ Explore a market. There are markets all over Sri Lanka where you can test your bartering skills and buy yourselves some souvenirs.
Top Tip | Just remember whilst bartering is expected, the seller is running a business so aim to pay a fair price!
54/ Try Scuba diving. There are some great places to go scuba diving off the south coast of Sri Lanka and you can arrange scuba trips from most beach towns such as Mirissa and Unawatuna. If you don’t have your PADI yet then you could try an introductory dive.
55/ Try white water rafting. Whilst white water rafting isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Sri Lanka, there are opportunities for adrenaline junkies to get out on the rapids.
Take an Organised Tour in Sri Lanka
56/ Take a G Adventures Tour. I travelled Sri Lanka with G Adventures on their Sri Lanka encompassed tour which took place over 14 days and currently costs just $90 per day whilst it’s on sale. It was a great way to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time and it was a total luxury having everything organised for me! Most of the activities listed above were available on the tour I took – it’s one of the most varied and action-packed tours I’ve ever taken.
57/ Enjoy some rest and relaxation on a sailing trip. There are so many adventurous things to do in Sri Lanka that you miught just want some chill time towards the end of your trip. You could take an affordable sailing trip around some of the islands in the North of Sri Lanka or sail along the south coast stopping at all the best beach destinations. You could even end your Sri Lanka trip by popping over to the nearby Maldives and taking a sailing trip there as I did. It was pure bliss…
Free things to do in Sri Lanka
Plenty of the activities in Sri Lanka mentioned above are completely free so you don’t need to spend a fortune. Here’s a summary of the best free things to do in Sri Lanka…
- Take hikes in the National Parks
- Walk through tea plantations
- Do a free city tour
- Chill on the beach
- Snorkel off the beach
- Kandy to Ella Train journey (well it costs less than $2 for a ticket.)
- Explore the fish markets in Negombo
- Explore markets
- See Nine arch bridge
- Visit waterfalls
- Explore Galle
Where to stay in Sri Lanka
The below hotels are all places that I have personally stayed and recommend. They are all 3-4 stars (except for the homestay) and suitable for a mid-budget.
- Colombo: Hotel Sapphire
- Negombo: Beacon Beach Hotel
- Sigiriya: Fresco Water Villa
- Digana (rural Sri Lanka): Tamarind Homestay
- Nuwara Eliya: Hotel Jojos
- Kandy: Oak Ray Heritage Hotel
- Ella: Ella Gap Hotel
- Yala National Park: Big Game Camp Yala
- Mirissa: Mandara Resort
- Dalawella Beach: Galawatta Beach cabanas
How to get around
If you wish to travel independently, the best way to get around Sri Lanka is to hie a driver. Hotels all have accommodation for drivers and you can usually hire a driver for $50/day.
You could also travel by public transport such as buses and trains. This is more suitable if you have plenty of time as it can take longer to travel between places. 12GoAsia is a great site for finding your public transport options and booking trips.
Another cost-effective way to see Sri Lanka is on a group tour. The trip I took currently costs just $90 in the sale. You can check it out here.
When is the best time to visit
This all depends on where you are planning to visit in Sri Lanka. Most of the top things to do in Sri Lanka are in the central highlands, west and south coast. These places are best visited between December and march.
For the east coast the best weather is found between April and September.
Hopefully, this article about the best things to do in Sri Lanka has inspired your trip. The following articles may be useful for helping you to plan your trip to include the best places and activities in Sri Lanka.
- The Perfect 10 day Sri Lanka Itinerary
- Visiting Dalawella Beach near Unawatuna
- Visiting Secret Beach in Mirissa and how to find it.
- Whale Watching in Mirissa – the ultimate guide.
- Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka?
- 14 awesome things to do in Mirissa
- 12 of the very best beaches in Sri Lanka
** Pssst, this article may contain affiliate links. If you have no idea what this means, click here and everything will be explained!**
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