Given the small size of the teardrop-shaped country, Sri Lanka has lots of diversity. And a large number of unique experiences to offer! Having traveled and written about the country extensively, it’s finally time to make a round-up with this list of twelve best things to do in Sri Lanka. Make sure to tick off at least a couple of these experiences to make the most of your Sri Lanka journey!
1. Watch the sunset from the beach
Whether you are staying at Hikkaduwa, Mirissa, Unawatuna, Tangalle or practically any beach along the south-east coast in the summer, stick around long enough for a spectacular sunset. Watch the sky transform to soft flamingo and peach pink into an explosion of color with light yellow, orange, blue and grey. Combine that with the sound of the Indian ocean and the view of palm tree silhouettes and well as black birds in the sky, and you have a sunset to remember.
2. Swim in a waterfall
With lush, mountainous jungle all around, Sri Lanka has lots of waterfalls to discover and to swim in. While some attract lots of tourists, other waterfalls go relatively unnoticed. Visit the Diyaluma waterfall as a day trip from Ella for an adventurous experience; from hiking under the hot sun to cooling down in the waterfall, and enjoying stunning vistas from a great height. By far one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka.
3. Eat like a local
That means; try all the delicious food Sri Lanka is rich! From coconut curries to freshly grilled sea-food, devilled dishes, and finger-licking honey pancakes. Don’t miss out on the street food while you’re at it; sweet roti’s, savory hoppers, and a variety of vadai’s and samosas will treat your taste-buds. Even writing about it makes me long for those dishes again! In need of more Sri Lanka food inspiration?! Check out this blog about the best things to eat in Sri Lanka.
4. Go on safari to see elephants and other wildlife
For sure one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka that I regret missing out on; a jungle safari. With over 20 national parks spread around the island, you’re never far from this unique experience. While Yala national park is most visited for elephants, slot-bears and even leopards, Bundala national park is a haven for birdwatching. Think about pink flamingos, crocodiles and again, elephants. Other popular parks include Udawalawe, Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks. Not sure where to go? This article, written by Rough Guides will be helpful in planning your trip.
5. Watch the sunset over Lion Rock in Sigiriya
Definitely one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka; climb Pidurangula rock and watch the sunset over the famous Lion Rock. The grand feeling when you arrive atop of the large rock formation, overlooking endless stretches of green jungle. Together with the prestige Lion Rock, and far away mountains against a colored sky is just mesmerizing. Plan ahead though, cause you don’t want to miss the sunset waiting in line to climb the last narrow stretch up.
6. Visit places of ancient civilization
Arguably one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka is to visit places of ancient civilization. Rich in numbers, Sri Lanka has several remarkable places of historical interest. Including, but not limited to the ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya, the sacred cities of Kandy and Anuradhapura and the Golden Temple of Dambulla. All sites are UNESCO listed as world heritage, and that might explain the steep entrance fees to most places. My curiosity almost won over the entrance fees, but in the end, I only visited the Dambulla Cave Temple. Yet, I would have loved to see the frescoes and ancient Persian-style gardens in Sigiriya, or the places of worship in Polonnaruwa if my budget allowed it.
7. Take the train from Kandy to Ella
The mesmerizing train journey from Kandy to Ella is certainly one of Sri Lanka’s highlights and one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka to many! Follow dozens of tourists and locals to the railways, and get ready to be carried along endless fields of tea, remote villages, forests, waterfalls, and jungle. Read this guide to prepare yourself for the best experience possible. Believe me, it pays off!
8. Experience cool climate in Nuwara Eliya & Learn about tea
Tucked away in the high, hilly tea-estate region of Sri Lanka, Nuwara Eliya is a must visit for anyone looking for a cool experience. Located at almost 1900 meter, the climate is generally moist and notably cooler than lower parts of the country. Providing excellent conditions for tea to grow. Surrounded by Sri Lanka’s finest tea fields, you shouldn’t miss a visit to a nearby tea factory. Blue Fields Tea Factory gave an exceptional free tour, and I’ve heard good stories about the Heritance Tea Factory as well. For inspiration about planning your amazing day trip, read this article.
9. Visit the nine-arch bridge in Ella
Another highlight in this list of best things to do in Sri Lanka; walking on the railway track to visit the Demodara Nine Arch Bridge in Ella. Famed for the stunning architecture, together with lush green scenery this place has quickly become one of Sri Lanka’s most Instagrammable places. But don’t just go to Ella to see this bridge. The lovely, laid-back backpackers town has lots more in store to keep you occupied for at least a couple of days. Read this blog post about Eight Top Experiences in Ella and see which activities fit your travel needs best.
10. Rent a tuk-tuk and drive around the island yourself!
For sure one of the most adventurous ways to drive around the island yourself is by renting your own tuk-tuk. Explore the country from a unique angle, cross beautiful landscapes and villages by yourself and even pick-up passengers if you fancy! Becoming increasingly popular among tourists, tuk-tuk rentals are keen to help you get all the needed documents like a temporary Sri Lankan Driver’s license and insurance. And with prices reported between 10-15 dollars a day, it’s also an affordable way to explore the county on your own terms.
11. Wander around Galle Fort
Another personal favorite of best things to do in Sri Lanka; spend a day wandering around historical Galle Fort. Previously occupied by different European rulers, Galle Fort has a remarkable mix of European architecture and South Asian traditions. Walk on the old fort walls, gaze at Dutch colonial churches, and see the iconic lighthouse. Additionally, shop in some of the lovely specialty stores and gaze at the overall architecture and accommodations. Also, stay long enough to watch a spectacular sunset from the fortress walls! Possibly with some home-made ice-cream from Isle of Gelato as you go!
12. Swim in the azure blue waters of Nilaveli beach
Last, but certainly not least on this list of best things to do in Sri Lanka; swim in the azure blue waters of Nilaveli beach. Off all the beaches I visited in Sri Lanka, this beach by far left the best impression; white, sandy beach, blue waters, a burning hot sun, and only little tourists. Moreover, lots of local life is happening around here. Giving the unique opportunity to meet some of the kindest people I’ve come across in this county. Besides swimming, relaxing and enjoying the beach life, try renting a scooter. And roam around the northern part of the island for another day well spent.
That’s it! A long list with the twelve best experiences in Sri Lanka. What is your favorite experience in Sri Lanka? Or do you think something is missing? Let me know through the comment section below :)!