Sri Lanka is an incredibly impressive and versatile country. With breathtaking nature, green mountains, spectacular waterfalls and tea plantations, there is plenty to discover. The contrast between tropical beaches with its hot climate and the hills with its cool climate makes Sri Lanka a really interesting place to visit. If you want to know what to do in Sri Lanka we’ve listed 25 Sri Lanka highlights you definitely want to discover.
IndexWhat to do in Sri Lanka? A list of 25 top Highlights
Jump to highlight
- Take surf lessons in Sri Lanka
- Visit a National Park
- Dutch history in Galle
- Whale spotting in Mirissa
- Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth
- The Hill Country
- Amazing train routes in Sri Lanka
- Release baby turtles in Habraduwa
- Ella Rock or Little Adams Peak
- Climbing Adam’s peak
- Learn about Tea Plantations
- Visit a local market
- Adrenaline ride in the local bus
- Take a relaxing Ayuverda Treatment
- Bird spotting
- Kottu Rotti
- The fish market in Negombo
- Sigirya Rock view/climb
- Visit an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka
- Mountain Temple, Dambulla
- Relax on the beach
- Swim with sea turtles in Sri Lanka
- Horton Plains and World’s End
- Explore Koggala Lake by bicycle
At approximately the size of The Netherlands and Belgium together, Sri lanka it not very big. In a few weeks time you’ll have enough time to see a whole lot of the country. We listed 25 things to do in Sri Lanka which are definitely worth visiting during your visit to former Ceylon.
Take surf lessons in Sri Lanka
Want to learn to surf? Then Hikkaduwa is the place to go! This coastal town is easily reached by train from Colombo and is a really laid back surfer town. From cozy pubs and cheap hostels to surf schools wherever you look and of course the necessary high waves. Another option is Arugam Bay on the east coast.
Visit a National Park
The pristine nature makes Sri Lanka actually one big National Park with it’s unspoiled landscapes and wild animals. Of course it doesn’t work this way, so they made a few national parks worth visiting: Udawalawe National Park, Bundala National Park and Yala National Park are only a few of the parks that are worth a visit.
Dutch history in Galle
Galle is a coastal town in the south of the country and is reachable by train from Colombo. The train journey in itself is spectacular on itself. The train literally drives along the beach, so you will not get bored on the way. In Galle you can find a lot of Dutch history. The fort was initially built by the Portugese but later the Dutch improved the fort and built infrastructure and buildings. Because of these improvements the people living in the fort were unharmed by the 2004 tsunami. If only the poorer people living outside the fortress were as protected..
Whale spotting in Mirissa
Whales, wow! What an impressive animals! Want to see then up close? In Mirissa you’ll have the chance. Get up early in the morning to join a boat tour to spot them swim around Mirissa. We did not have to book a tour because in Galle we saw a whale with her young from our balcony at Rampart View Guesthouse in Galle but of course we didn’t see them up close as you would on a whale spotting tour.
Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth
Kandy is the second largest city of Sri Lanka. Kandy is located in the hills in central Sri Lanka. The city is known for several temples and the lake in the center, but the biggest attraction is the Temple of the Tooth. The temple supposedly houses relics of the Buddha. You might not expect it, but this temple is one of the holiest places in Buddhism. The temple is located near Lake Kandy and is also for tourists to visit. As a tourist, prepare to pay a disproportionately large fee to see the relics.
The Hill Country
The beaches of Sri Lanka are truly impressive, but don’t forget to travel inland to places like Kandy, Ella, Haputhale. The hills with its lower temperatures, mist and tea plantations make it a mystique place to visit.
Traveling by train in Sri Lanka
The Lonely Planet mentions it as well; In Sri Lanka you will find one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world and that’s not a lie. Train rides are one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka! Especially the journey from Ella to Kandy or vice versa is good! Beautiful views, deep gorges, waterfalls, picturesque villages, you will see it all. Travel by train in Sri Lanka is an adventure on itself! Get the local experience by travelling second or third class. Some trains have a so called ‘observation cart’ which is first class. This cart has big windows and it’s the last cart in the train. No need to book ahead. Just show up half an hour before the train arrives and buy a ticket at the booth. Lower class tickets cost almost nothing, while first class is between 5 and 10 euro.
Anuradhapura was once the capital of the country, but is now known as the historical capital. The city is full of temples and ruins. Anaradhapura is a part of Sri Lanka’s ‘cultural triangle’, together with, among others, Sigiriya.
Releasing baby turtles in Habraduwa
The Sri Lankan beaches are an important place for sea turtles. Thousands of turtles come ashore in Sri Lanka to lay eggs. Because a lot of eggs are poached or destroyed, the hachery in Habraduwa collects them to give them a comfortable place to hatch. Four days after hatching they are released. The hatchery is also a nursery and rehabilitation center for wounded turtles. When you visit them, you might get the chance to release turtles yourself, just like we did. Just ask, who knows it’s possible to set some baby turtles free. Keep in mind that the hatchery is entirely funded by donations.
Ella Rock and Little Adams Peak in Ella
If you’re a hiker, Ella is definitely a place for you. Ella Rock is Ella’s highest point and quite a climb. If you are a beginner than don’t fear.. Little Adams Peak is for you. In less than an hour you’ll reach to top. From here you have a great view of Ella and Ella Rock.
Climbing Adam’s Peak
Adam’s Peak, also known as Sri Pada, is one of the best known sights in Sri Lanka. The mountain is a holy place in Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. Yearly, thousands of pilgrims climb the stairs to the top. Reaching the top takes a few hours and on the way refreshments are sold. It’s located in the south of the hill country.
Learn about Tea Plantations
Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, is famous worldwide for its delicious tea, so the tea plamtations are a must of you’e visiting Sri Lanka. Pedro Tea Estate, in Nuware Eliya, The Hill Country is the best known tea plantation.
Visit a local market
Visiting local markets is one of the best things you can do if you want to see the local life. It’s also a great place to take awesome pictures! We visited one in Kandy and in Haburabuwa.
Adrenaline ride in the local bus
The train, although crowded, puts your mind at rest when gazing out the window. The bus, however, is a totally different story. There are two bus companies. The ‘blue buses’ and the ‘red buses’. The bus that arrives first at the bus stop will pick up the passengers and thus earn the money. That’s right! It’s a race! Everyone we talked to has the same opinion about the situation.. It’s lunacy! It’s exciting to take a ride just for the experience. Don’t expect the bus driver to get to a full stop; jump in when it rolls slow enough to jump in. Passengers at the door will help you and your bags get in in time.
Take a relaxing Ayuverda Treatment
Take a break from all the impressions in Sri Lanka and take an Ayurveda treatment. A treatment that uses oils and herbs in and on the body to create a balance. An age-old method that makes you feel relaxed. Something you should absolutely do in Sri Lanka to escape the chaos and hustle and bustle.
Nowhere in Asia we saw so many beautiful birds. In all colors of the rainbow. Take your binoculars out and watch them with your own eyes.
Eat one of Sri Lanka’s most famous dishes: Kottu Rotti
Our favorite dish in Sri Lanka. Kottu Rotti. This dish will take you for a few rupees at almost every street restaurant. Delicious! What is it? Rotti (pancakes) cut into pieces in the pan with herbs, vegetables and egg. The Tamil brought the dish over from southern India.
The fish market in Negombo
Every morning at 6 o’clock in Negombo, the fishermen leave in their boats to earn their bread and butter. If you’re not an early bird (like us), walking around the fish market during the afternoon is also a fun, although smelly, thing to do.
Sigirya Rock view/climb
Sigirya Rock is one of the best known attractions in Sri Lanka, located in the ‘cultural triangle’. It’s a decent climb which takes about two hours (if not too busy). From the rock you have a spectacular view.
Visit an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka
Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage is Sri Lanka’s best known elephant orphanage. Baby elephants who lost their parents are nurtured and rehabilitated in the orphanage. The nursery is almost entirely run by volunteers. Almost one hundred elephants are being nurtured and rehabilitated in Pinnawela.
Mountain Temple, Dambulla
North of Kandy you will find the largest golden Buddha statue in the world at the mountain temple in Dambulla. The complex consists of over 80 caves, but the main holy rooms are spread over five caves. Also in the rest of the country you can admire numerous beautiful temples.
Relax on the beach
You might almost forget it, but Sri Lanka is also a great place to relax on the sand while getting. From luxurious beaches at resorts, to surfer beaches with backpackers. Sri Lanka has it.
Swim with sea turtles in Sri Lanka
Even though we tried several times in Mirissa, we didn’t see any turtles while snorkeling. Although we didn’t see them, they’re definitely there! The most well known places for swimming with turtles are Hikkaduwa and Mirissa.
Horton Plains and World’s End
Here you’ll witness nature in Sri Lanka. It’s truly phenomenal. The tour takes about three hours and World’s End is the only National Park in Sri Lanka to explore without a guide. You’ll wander around by yourself on foot.
Explore Koggala Lake by bicycle
Koggala lake is a good place to spot birds, visit a temple and immerse yourself in all the beautiful scenery. Rice fields, cinnamon plantations, water buffaloes, birds and, of course Koggala lake. Rent a bicycle to drive around the lake in a few hours and you’ll have a unique experience.
Have you visited any of these highlights as well? What did you think was the best thing to do in Sri Lanka?
Read more about Sri Lanka:
- Traveling to Sri Lanka: All you need to know to prepare your trip
- Sri Lanka on a budget
- 9 reasons to put Sri Lanka on your bucket list