Sri Lanka, a land like no other, is known for its panoramic scenery, breathtaking beaches, exclusive wildlife, and not to mention, friendly population! Colombo, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Galle, Passikudah, Yala and Negombo are a few popular places to visit in Sri Lanka. Whether you are looking for a relaxed, romantic holiday, or an exciting, adventurous one, Sri Lanka has it all. When planning your trip, make sure to have at least two weeks in hand if you want to cover all major Sri Lanka tourist attractions. Hill country, beaches, wildlife and Lankan history is what a detailed tour of Sri Lanka will entail.
While the lowlands of Sri Lanka are quite sweaty due to the tropical weather, the highlands boast a consistently pleasant weather that turns into an autumn chill as night falls and as the elevation gets higher. Life amidst interweaving green mountains, magnificent waterfalls plunging over cliffs and an abundance of beautiful tea estates is what you will see when you look outside your window from Kandy, Nuwara Eliya or Ella.
Until the 19th century, there was not much of commercialization in the hill country of Sri Lanka. After the British stepped in, they explored these lands and realized that these valleys, along with the perfect rainfall and sunshine weather combination were ideal for cultivating aromatic teas. Hence the country began its tea production and soon became popular for its premium quality tea in the export market. With the initiation of this commercial line, Sri Lanka tourist attractions became popular in the hill country and the beauty of the natural environment attracted tourists to the upcountry towns time and again.
Kandy remains a legendary city in the list of places to visit in Sri Lanka. At present, it has developed into a busy yet romantic city that revolves around a picturesque lake. The kingdom of Kandy was attacked several times in the past by the Portuguese and the Dutch. Yet they held onto their independence strongly while other cities around the island were accepting defeat to the invading Europeans. This enduring position during colonial turbulence resulted in the city preserving several ancient traditions until they too surrendered to the British in 1815.
Today, Kandy is the second-largest city in the island and is known as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. At the centre of the city you will see a bunch of colonial-era buildings that retain its countrified charm along the busy roads of Kandy.
Seated on the bank of the lake at the eastern side of Kandy’s town center is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Being one of Sri Lanka’s most important Temple, the significance here, as its name suggests, is that it houses the relic of Lord Buddha’s tooth. Not only does this attract pilgrims from around the island but is a major Sri Lanka tourist attraction for visitors from all over the world.
Approximately 6kms southwest of Kandy, enveloped in the Mahaweli River lies the massive 60 hectare Royal Botanical Gardens. These botanical gardens are the finest of its kind and include over 4000 types of flora such as orchids, spices, palm trees and medicinal plants.
About a half hours drive west from Kandy center, you will reach the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage which is an interesting place to visit in Sri Lanka. Here you can experience the natural habitat of elephants. Around mid morning is a good time to visit and see the spectacular sight of about 80-100 elephants bathing and splashing and enjoying themselves in the river.
Explore Tourist Places to Visit Kandy.
Also known as the “city of lights”, Nuwara Eliya is a beautiful town located on a large, green valley amidst the hills. Stationed at over 6000 feet above sea level, not only is the town blessed with the chilliest climate in all of Sri Lanka, it is also an unmatchable sight of mountains, meadows and greenery. Developed in the 19th century British era, the city has a feel of an English country town.
Situated at the heart of the town is the 90 hectare Lake Gregory built by a British Governor in the 19th century. It was used for water sports and recreation then and still is used for the same purpose today.
A visit to the highest plateau in the island is a popular Sri Lanka tourist attraction. Here you will find a uniquely breathtaking view of grasslands mixed with patches of forests, high altitude vegetation and an ideal excursion for nature lovers, hikers and bird watchers. In addition to the popular leopards and samba deer, you will find over 400 species of birds and over 700 different types of flora in these grasslands.
If you are a fit and adventurous mountaineer, climb the 7000 foot high Adam’s peak and watch the sun rise from right next to your eyes!
Being surrounded by several tea estates in the hill country of Sri Lanka makes it impossible to avoid a visit to one of the tea factories for an exciting tea plucking experience and knowledge on the process of tea manufacturing.
Ella is a small village located high in the mountains and offers an amazing panoramic view of the hill country. A night or two at this relaxing Sri Lanka tourist attraction will definitely be worth it. Used as a base for most trekking expeditions, this town offers splendid views of the Ella Gap, Ravana Falls and the Little Adam’s Peak.
With approximately 1600kms of astonishing coastline that has a perfect combination of sun, sand and water, Sri Lanka is an ideal destination for beach lovers from all over the world. While some beaches on your list of places to visit in Sri Lanka are long and golden, some have soft, white sand. Some have the perfect winds for kitesurfing and some have the perfect waves for surfing on your surfboard. Some beaches may have a peaceful, relaxing atmosphere for a sun tan while others may be lively and full of people wanting to party on the beach!
The best part is that you do not have to fret about whether the weather will let you enjoy the Lankan beaches because if it is rainy on one coastline, the other side of the island is sure to boast perfect weather for beach enjoyment. Southwest monsoons make the east coast beaches such as Passikudah and Arugam Bay ideal for fun. The north east monsoons make the southern coastline such as Galle, Tangalle, Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa, Bentota and Mirissa perfect for a beach holiday.
Arugam Bay & Passikudah
Starting from Arugam Bay, the eastern beaches stretch for about 275kms north along the coastline. Along this coast you will find wide stretches of sand and miles of clear, shallow water that is ideal for swimming. Deep natural harbours, still lagoons, pretty bays and coves, and beautiful underwater coral reefs are some of the major Sri Lanka tourist attractions along the south eastern beaches of Arugam Bay and Pasikudah.
Trincomalee is a harbor port city located 250 kms from Colombo. At one time, Trincomalee harbor was an important destination for sea traders and has been visited by many travelers such as Marco Polo. Uppuveli, Nilaveli, Marble Beach and the Dutch Bay are the famous beaches on the eastern coast of Trincomalee. While some of these beaches are more ideal for strolling and surfing, swimming is possible too. Scuba diving, fishing and whale watching are added activities that one can enjoy on these beaches.
Negombo & Chilaw
Located in close proximity to the Bandaranaike International Airport and just about 35kms north of the busy city of Colombo, is the city of Negombo, known for its sandy beaches and massive fishing industry. With hotels and restaurants to suit every budget, make Negombo a sure stop place to visit in Sri Lanka and enjoy the friendly life in Negombo while adoring the traditional canoes and wooden boats that go past the beaches every single day. In Negombo you can also explore the remnants of the Dutch rule, enjoy some bird watching and meet the age old fisherman at daily fish auctions.
About an hour’s drive from Negombo is the romantic beach of Chilaw that is popular for its crabs, coconuts, authentic Sri Lankan curry and its beautiful sea pearls.
Unawatuna, Tangalle, Galle, Hikkaduwa, Bentota, Mirissa
These are the popular southern coastal beaches that begin from Mt. Lavinia (suburbs of Colombo) and curve south along the coastline up to the city of Hambantota. The fastest route to get to the south from Colombo is the southern expressway that cuts down half the time taken when compared to the alternative Galle Road.
The beaches in the southern coast are sandier than the western ones and do not drop deep into the sea, hence are ideal for indulging in swimming, snorkeling, surfing and other exciting water sports. In addition to the beaches, cities like Galle are popular Sri Lanka tourist attractions for their historical heritage. The drive along the southern coast also involves other activities such as batik factories, turtle hatcheries, stilt fishing, local temples and tasting fruits from the roadside.
Also known as the “Gold Coast”, the south of Colombo not only boasts the best beaches but also has the most developed and top notch boutique hotels and resorts. Memorable beach holidays in Sri Lanka come with charming locations, state of the art accommodation, high quality service, and great food, all at reasonable rates. In addition to luxury and comfort with the five star amenities during your stay, you can experience adventure, nightlife and international cuisines. Adventurous water sports include canoeing, boating, sailing, snorkeling, deep sea fishing, deep sea diving, river cruises, whale watching, water gymnastics, water polo, banana boat riding and jet skiing.
Whether you are looking for wildlife in terms of plants or in terms of animals, Sri Lanka boasts of one of the finest wildlife experiences in all of South Asia. Compared to the size of the island, the variety of bio diverse species that belong here are immense. Even if you are a visitor with minor interests in wildlife, you will be amazed at the massive groups of elephants, whales, dolphins, leopards, birds and fish that you see exhibited in many of the National Parks in Sri Lanka. For one who is fond of wildlife, these are the places to visit in Sri Lanka for an ultimate wildlife experience.
Yala National Park
Located in the south eastern region of the island, this is the second largest, yet most visited National Park in Sri Lanka. The entrance to the park is from the city of Tissamaharama where a tracker is given to all entering vehicles along with detailed information for way-finding around the park. On your jeep safari to Yala National Park, you will see colorful storks, dozing crocodiles, fantailed peacocks, hanging monkeys, elephants wandering around and of course the popular leopard. The rich birdlife at Yala National Park includes about 130 species of birds. The park also provides for camping opportunities amidst the wildlife.
Sinharaja Rain Forest is a UNESCO world heritage site and spans an area of 18900 hectares of tropical lowland rainforest. Located in the southern province of Sabaragamuwa, this rainforest has two main nature trails that begin at the same point but lead to two different peaks. Both are equally enjoyable for nature lovers. The forest has an abundance of tall green trees growing close together, small streams of clear water wear the water animals reside and a canopy of woods where the bird species are seen. The frequently seen animals here are some very unique ones including the giant squirrel, jungle squirrel, purple faced monkey, macaque and badger mongoose.
Wilpattu National Park
This is the largest wildlife sanctuary in Sri Lanka and is a major Sri Lanka tourist attraction. Wilpattu National Park is made up of a unique complex of over 50 wetlands known as “villu’s”. In addition to these, you will find varying natural habitats such as rocky outcrops, open grasslands, scrublands, dense forests, and coastal belts to provide for the wide variety of species that live here. The biggest attractions at Wilpattu are the leopards, sloth bears, asian elephants, spotted deer, barking deer, water buffalos, crocodiles, jackals, wild pig and samba.
Sri Lanka owns a great history that dates back to over 2500 years and is proud to have many ruins preserved till date as proof of the country’s long history. At every stop on your places to visit in Sri Lanka, you will find amazing ruins and monuments that will add value to your memorable holiday.
For history lovers, a holiday in Sri Lanka has many enjoyable activities such as observing beautiful frescoes, learning about ancient Sri Lankan architecture and engineering, visiting holy sanctuaries and ancient Temples and exploring historical ruins. A few cities hold major significance in terms of preservation of Sri Lankan history:
This historical city was the first capital of Sri Lanka and was founded by a King’s minister during the 4th century B.C. The Sacred Bo Tree in Anuradhapura, also known as the Sri Maha Bodhi is the most popular historical Sri Lanka tourist attraction here. Additionally, the city is home to magnificient Dagobas (Temples) such as Ruwanweli, Lankarama, Jetavana, Abhayagiri, and Mirisaweti. An ancient Temple known for its beautiful stone carvings is the Isurumuniya while the Samadhi Buddha Statue is an exhibit of excellent sculpture work. Many Kings ruled in this ancient city of Anuradhapura which is now named as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Another UNESCO world heritage site is the fortress of Sigiriya. On top of the Lion’s Rock is a palace built by one of the ancient Kings of Sri Lanka. During your climb you will see well preserved frescoes engraved into the rock a Lion’s Paw which is the entrance to the palace. Once you reach the top you have a breathtaking view of the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka (Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Dambulla) as well as the remnants of the ancient Palace.
Polonnaruwa is the second largest kingdom of Sri Lanka. Till today, this ancient city is known as one of the best planned archealogical relic sites in the country that stood as testimony against the discipline and greatness of the first rulers of the kingdom of ancient Sri Lanka. The popular Sri Lanka tourist attractions here are the Lankathilaka Temple and a massive stone statue of Lord Buddha.
Dambulla should be on your list of places to visit in Sri Lanka as it is an important location for Buddhist pilgrimages and tourists. It is home to the largest cave complex in the country. Enclosed within a 160m high rock, the cave temple consists of several statues and paintings that depict the religion of Buddhism in a very basic level and can awe a viewer at first sight. With 153 Buddha statues in this cave complex, it is named a UNESCO world heritage site.
Shopping & Nightlife in Sri Lanka
Colombo has the most westernized shopping and night life environment in all of Sri Lanka. This includes modern shopping malls, bustling markets, designer boutiques, cinemas, roadside restaurants, fine dining restaurants, clubs and much more. The Pettah Bazaar is the most commercialized area where you would find almost anything and everything. Apart from Colombo, almost every town around the island has its own markets that sell daily essentials as well as other items such as clay pots, hand-woven fabrics and traditional dresses.
Galle and Ambalangoda are popular for antique purchases while Negombo is known for its gem stones. While driving around Sri Lanka, you will find shops that cater to the sale of special items such as handicrafts, straw hats, authentic Lankan spices and items made of ceramic, wood, clay and cane. Fabrics such as cotton, batik, fine lace and silks are also popular in busy cities like Colombo and Kandy.
Sri Lanka is the perfect location for tourists looking for a holiday full of fun and adventure while at the same time being laid back and relaxed for spending quality time with their loved ones. Tourists from UAE, UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Dubai, China and many other countries would love spending a week or two exploring the beautiful places in Sri Lanka. Our team of expert travel consultants can help build a suitable itinerary for visitors based on their interests and budgetary needs.
Looking for a comprehensive holiday guide? Read our Sri Lanka Travel Guide which includes best tourist attractions, travel tips and many more.