Best Things To Do in Sri Lanka

Best Things To Do in Sri Lanka

11 of the Best Things To Do in Sri Lanka

PUBLISHED ONJanuary 2, 2024

Small as it may be, Sri Lanka boasts a diverse range of attractions, activities and experiences that make it an ideal destination for travelers.

From beautiful beaches to ancient ruins, and bustling markets to national parks, the country offers something for everyone. Here are some of the best things to do in Sri Lanka:

1. Soak in the sun at Sri Lanka's Stunning Beaches

Home to more than 18 marked sandy beaches, Sri Lanka is a paradise for beach lovers. Each beach town carries its unique charm and attractions. One notable example is the Dalawella Beach, well-known for its iconic rope swing which attracts numerous Instagram enthusiasts seeking that perfect sunset shot.

The country's sprawling coastline and tropical beaches provide the perfect setting for a variety of water sports, leisurely strolls, sunbathing, or simply witnessing the enchanting marine life.

Whether you're an adventurous traveler or a relaxant seeker, the beaches of Sri Lanka offer a serene getaway with a touch of exotic beauty.

2. Explore the Wild Side at National Parks

If wildlife and nature are your calling, then Sri Lanka's National Parks are a must-see. Experience the thrill of spotting wild elephants, water buffalos, and a wide variety of birds in their natural habitat in these parks:

  • Yala National Park
  • Minneriya National Park
  • Udawalawe National Park
  • Kaudulla National Park
  • Kumana National Park
  • Gal Oya National Park

The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is another star attraction, especially for those interested in Asian elephants and conservation efforts. Here, you can witness the gentle giants being looked after and cared for by dedicated caretakers.

3. Discover History at Ancient Ruins

Unveil the stories of Sri Lanka's royal past by exploring the ancient cities that are dotted across the country.

Embark on a journey to UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, and Dambulla, which stand as testament to the ancient civilization's engineering prowess and artistic ingenuity. From beautiful temples to regal palaces, these cities offer a fascinating glimpse into the country's rich cultural history.

Among the most popular spots is the Dambulla Cave Temple, a Buddhist temple that is an absolute marvel with its impressive cave temples adorned with intricate murals and statues of Lord Buddha.

These ancient ruins are not just relics of the past, but vibrant chapters of history that still resonate in these Asian cities.

4. Experience Local Culture at Bustling Markets

For a taste of local life in Sri Lanka, immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the myriad bustling markets dotting the country. Begin your journey in the heart of Colombo City where the Pettah Market pulses with energy. Consider a Private Guided City Tour or rent a car to navigate the maze-like streets lined with stalls. Here, vendors offer a plethora of items, from fresh produce to exquisite fabrics and intricately crafted handicrafts.

Next, head to Kandy, a city radiant with cultural richness. Don't miss the lively street market in the vicinity of the iconic Temple of Tooth. The Kandy Lake is another must-see in this area. If you have the opportunity and time, consider an excursion from Kandy to Ella, a journey that unveils the panoramic beauty of Sri Lanka's landscapes.

Moreover, enrich your visit to Kandy with lunch by savoring the local gastronomy. The markets are not just about shopping; they're perfect hotspots for interacting with locals, gaining insight into their culture and way of life, and taking home unique souvenirs.

5. Indulge in Mouth-Watering Cuisine

No visit to a foreign country is complete without indulging in its local cuisine, and Sri Lanka is no exception. Sri Lankan food is a flavorful explosion of spices and aromas that would leave any food lover in awe.

The popular street food includes the likes of kottu rotti, a stir-fry dish made with godhamba roti and vegetables, or fish ambul thiyal, a tangy, peppery dish.

Equally as tantalizing is the country's tea culture. With a variety of types of tea produced from locally grown tea leaves, savoring a cup of Ceylon tea is a quintessential Sri Lankan experience not to be missed.

6. Watch Whales and Dolphins in Mirissa

The best time to visit Sri Lanka is when the seas off Mirissa are teeming with the majestic blue whales and playful dolphins. This typically happens between November and April, making it an ideal period for whale watching.

Offering a unique and thrilling spectacle, Sri Lanka's southern coastline is known to be one of the best places in the world to spot blue whales and sperm whales in their natural habitat.

Tour operators offer whale watching tours, complete with expert guidance and safety measures, enabling you to witness these magnificent creatures up close.

7. Climb Adam's Peak for Breathtaking Views

If you are someone who enjoys a challenging hike with a rewarding payoff, then Adam's Peak is the place for you. Known locally as Sri Pada, this 2,243m high mountain is a spiritual place of pilgrimage for Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and Muslims alike.

However, it has also become a popular tourist attraction, for the peak offers some of the most spectacular views you will ever see. As you ascend, breathtaking panoramic views of the jungle unfold beneath you, and the higher you climb, the more stunning the vista becomes.

Sigiriya Rock is another major attraction that offers beautiful views with a historical twist. From its summit, the panoramic views of the jungle and the surrounding countryside are simply awe-inspiring.

As you climb Adam's Peak and reach the top, you will be greeted with a 360-degree view of the entire country, a sight that is worth every step of the journey.

8. Visit Tea Plantation in Ella and Nuwara Eliya

Tea lovers, rejoice! Sri Lanka's hill country is a paradise for tea enthusiasts. Take a tour of the renowned tea plantations in Ella and Nuwara Eliya, and witness firsthand the process of picking, drying, and rolling tea leaves that make Ceylon tea famous worldwide.

The picturesque scenery of lush green hills adorned with neat rows of tea plants is reason enough to visit. But the experience is elevated even further when you get to taste freshly brewed, high-quality Ceylon tea straight from the source.

Don't forget to bring home some tea as souvenirs for your loved ones or yourself.

9. Turtle Hatcheries and Conservation Efforts

Sri Lanka is home to five out of the seven species of sea turtles in the world, making it an important location for marine conservation efforts. One way to support these efforts is by visiting turtle hatcheries that aim to protect these endangered creatures and release them back into the wild.

The most popular hatchery is located in the city of Kosgoda, where you can learn about these gentle giants and even participate in releasing baby turtles into the ocean. These hatcheries also offer a chance to see adult sea turtles up close, adding an unforgettable element to your trip.

This experience not only supports conservation efforts but also allows you to witness first-hand the importance of preserving marine ecosystems.

10. Experience Night Life in Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay, located on the east coast of Sri Lanka, is a popular destination for surfers and beach lovers. But this coastal town has more to offer than just sun, sand, and waves.

As the sun goes down, Arugam Bay transforms into a vibrant hub with live music, bustling bars and restaurants offering delicious seafood dishes. It's the perfect place to let loose, dance the night away or simply relax and enjoy a drink while listening to the sound of crashing waves.

For those looking for a more laid-back experience, stargazing on the beach is a must-do activity in Arugam Bay. With minimal light pollution, the night sky offers a spectacular view of constellations and shooting stars.

11. Explore the Bustling Capital City of Colombo

No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without a visit to its lively capital city, Colombo. Home to a blend of modern and colonial architecture, vibrant markets, and bustling streets, Colombo offers a cultural experience like no other.

Start your day by visiting the iconic Gangaramaya Temple, followed by a walk around the scenic Viharamahadevi Park.

For some retail therapy, head to Pettah market, where you can find everything from traditional handicrafts to trendy clothes at bargain prices. End your day with a delicious seafood dinner at one of the many restaurants along Galle Face Green, watching the sunset over the Indian Ocean.

Closing Thoughts

From the best places to visit in Sri Lanka to authentic dishes to try and unique experiences to be had, this country offers something for every type of traveler. Make sure to bring your international driving permit/license if you plan to rent a car and explore the country at your own pace.

Ask for a driving guide from your car rental service provider to ensure a smooth and safe journey.

I hope this guide has given you some insights into the top things to do in Sri Lanka and inspired you to plan your trip soon.

Happy travels!

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