Things to do in Sri Lanka

Despite its modest size, Sri Lanka guarantees visitors won’t get bored with its spice-laden cuisines, beautiful sandy beaches, mountains covered in jungles, and an abundance of wildlife in its natural habitats. Here are 18 of the top things to do in Sri Lanka, ranging from amazing train trips and fine eating across the nation’s capital, Colombo, to world-class surfing and stylish coastal cafes in the southern region.

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Top things to do in Sri Lanka

Here are 18 of the top things to do in Sri Lanka, ranging from amazing train trips and fine eating across the nation’s capital, Colombo, to world-class surfing and stylish coastal cafes in the southern region.

  • Take in little Adam’s peak at sunrise
  • Visit Bundala National ParkVisit Ganduwa Island
  • Visit Bundala National Park
  • Ascend Pidurangala
  • Visit the isolated Kalpitiya Peninsula
  • Make camp in the highlands of Haputale
  • Travel from Colombo via train
  • Savor Sri Lankan rice and curry
  • Visit Wilpattu National Park
  • Take in the world’s largest gathering of wild Asian elephants
  • Visit Unawatuna
  • Get to know the indigenous people of Sri Lanka
  • Sample some street cuisine, kottu roti
  • Stroll through the peculiar alleyways of Galle Fort
  • Ride the waves at the first female-run surf club in Sri Lanka
  • Ride around the Polonnaruwa old kingdom
  • Spend time in a treehouse to get in touch with nature
  • Enjoy a hopper snack

1. Take in Little Adam’s Peak at sunrise.

Exploring the hill country resort of Ella is one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka, especially among foreign travelers. Little Adam’s Peak is a well-liked, short trip for visitors to Ella, the popular tourist destination. In order to catch the sunrise from the peak, begin your hour-long climb early in the morning when it is still dark outside. If they still have more to hike, they can walk Ella Rock and take a path that leads to Nine Arch Bridge. It should not be mistaken for Adam’s Peak. Climbing Adams peak is also a very popular things to do in Sri Lanka for buddhist devotees. This holy mountain next to Hatton that requires a strenuous 5000-step climb.

The city of Ella is a relaxed environment. Travelers should immerse themselves in the cafe atmosphere at a local cafe, even if many choose to remain outside of town. Fans of adventure can go ziplining. Although Ella is deserving of all the attention, Ohiya, Idalgashinna, Haputale, and Wellawaya are additional charming mountain towns that are well worth a visit.

2. Visit Ganduwa Island to experience the greatest cinnamon on the planet.

Venturing on a Sri Lanka boat tour is one of the popular things to do in Sri Lanka. There are many places where travellers can engage in a slow travel on Sri Lankan waterways. Some of the most popular palces for Sri Lanka boat tours are Bentota river, Madu river, Negombo lagoon and Muthurajawela.

Some of the best cinnamon in the world is grown in southern Sri Lanka; it’s a sweeter, lighter kind than what’s grown in Vietnam and Indonesia. Travelers can take a boat to Ganduwa Island on Koggala Lake, which is located just south of Galle, and learn about the highly valued Ceylon cinnamon.

Here, peelers who have been in the family for generations carefully shave tiny layers of the inner bark of the tree to produce cinnamon quills. For roughly US$2, you may purchase them along with tiny sachets of cinnamon oil and powder. After that, the boat transports the passengers to a few more islands. As you head off, pick up a glass of fresh mangrove apple (kirala) juice from a local vendor on the jetty.

3. Visit Bundala National Park to observe birds

Wildlife watching is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka. There are many wildlife parks in Sri Lanka for travellers to choose from for their safaris, such as Bundala, Udawalae and Yala. In the southern part of the nation, Bundala National Park is a Ramsar-recognized wetland that is home to about 200 species of migratory and native birds. The park comes alive with brahminy kites, hundreds of storks, families of whistling wild ducks, Asian green bee-eaters, dancing peacocks, and resting crocodiles during the three- to four hour bird-watching tours, which begin at 6 a.m. In the afternoon, among the Weera, Neem, and Palu trees, walk wild Asian elephants, spotted deer, and wild boar.

Planning advice: Make reservations for a 4WD safari with a tour operator to increase your chances of seeing wildlife. In Bundala Junction, look for offices right outside the park.

4. Ascend Pidurangala to witness the jungle sunrise.

Visiting iconic Sigiriya rok fortress is one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka. Therefore, a large number of travellers take part in the trip to sigiriya. A vacation to Sri Lanka would not be complete without seeing the Sigiriya, a gigantic rock stronghold near the enormous rock Pidurangala that has frescos, water gardens, and the remains of an ancient palace. For those who like to see the sunset before the ticket office shuts at 6pm, pack your hiking shoes and trek up Pidurangala before 5am to witness the dawn.

Planning advice: This 45-minute hike has an admission fee of $30 USD. From the summit, you can see the magnificent Sigiriya rock, formed like a lion and encircled by man-made lakes and lush woods. You’ll be passing through a Buddhist temple on your way to the summit, so bring a shawl or sarong to protect yourself.

5. Visit the isolated Kalpitiya Peninsula and go kitesurfing.

The northwestern coast of Sri Lanka provides some of the world’s best kitesurfing conditions thanks to its abundance of flatwater lagoons and constant wind. The less visited Kalpitiya Peninsula, which is still relatively unknown to many foreign visitors, is located 3.5 hours’ drive north of Colombo. Numerous wild donkeys can be seen wandering across vast grasslands in the area, which also has little fishing villages and sandy beaches.

Visit Kite Center Sri Lanka at Kappalady on the Indian Ocean to take kitesurfing instruction from local experts. For more experienced kiteboarders, the kite school may organize kitesurfing safaris (tours) to neighboring locations like Donkey Point, Dutch Bay, and Vella Island. Kayaking through the lagoons and taking an ethical dolphin-watching excursion, where hundreds of spinner dolphins swim in enormous groups, are two other things to do in Kappalady. Reputable operators will only rent out tiny boats, stay out of the pods, and refrain from giving the animals any food. In Kappalady, there are also a few places to stay by the beach.

6. Make camp in the highlands of Haputale

Exploring Haputale is another popular things to do in Sri Lanka similar to exploring Ella. The foggy highlands of Haputale, filled with tea plantations and freezing streams, are an hour’s drive from Ella by bus. Choose to stay in a family-run campground in the area, like the Dias family’s Eco Lodge Haputale. They will bring you through a tea garden to their campground, which consists of multiple tents with a dining area that overlooks the Haputale mountains and a tiny kitchen, after you’ve had a few cups of sugary milk tea at their house. The best part of a visit here is witnessing the sunrise while waking up to the sound of chirping.

7. Travel from Colombo via train

Experiencing Sri Lanka through train travel is an absolute must. Take the train from Colombo to Ella, which also crosses the Instagram-famous Nine Arch Bridge, for vistas of the mountains mixed with tea gardens, railway stations dating back to the British colonial era, and gushing water bodies. The route is traversed by a number of trains, but because it’s well-liked by tourists, be sure to reserve your tickets in advance.

Don’t, however, stop there. For vistas of the Indian Ocean and swaying palms, take a coastal train from Colombo that heads south towards Galle. After that, take a train north to Jaffna. As you pass Anuradhapura, the scenery changes to palmyra palms, bushes, and arid soil in place of the verdant rice fields and coconut trees.

Planning tip: There are lots of vendors on the trains, in addition to local families, tourists, and everyday commuters, offering tea cups, instant coffee, fresh fruits dusted with chili, roasted peanuts, yogurt, and even cellphone top-up cards.

8. Savor the Sri Lankan rice and curry

Sampling delicious Sri Lanka rie and curry is one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan rice and curry are in high demand among the foreign travellers and are hardly found on menus in most countries around the world. However, this is about to change. Visit one of the local restaurants in Colombo, Kandy or on the beach, for a classy sample in Colombo.

Planning tip: If you’re in the north of the nation, you have to eat the spicy, pungent Jaffna crab curry at Cosy Restaurant, which is located close to the Jaffna Railway Station.

9. Visit Wilpattu National Park to search for the elusive Sri Lankan leopard.

Wildlife watching at Wilpattu national park is one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka. See the endangered Sri Lankan leopard is the primary reason for most tourists to Yala National Park. Nevertheless, congestion is frequent, and safari 4WDs have a history of frightening off wildlife.

Make reservations with a responsible operator and travel to the northwest of the island’s Wilpattu National Park for a better and more ethical safari experience. Although their guides don’t pursue potential sightings, they do switch off their cars’ engines when they get close to any animals. Moreover, they will whisper close to any sighting to avoid upsetting the animals. The park is home to Asian elephants, sloth bears, and bark deer in their natural habitats, in addition to leopards.

As an alternative, birdwatchers should visit Kumana National Park, which is located in Yala’s eastern region. With any luck, you might even spot a leopard curled up on a jagged rock.

10. Take in the world’s largest gathering of wild Asian elephants

An estimated 4,000 wild Asian elephants can be found in Sri Lanka; these animals are best viewed in the national parks that make up the nation. Herds of wild Asian elephants congregate in Kaudulla and Minneriya National Parks’ enormous reservoirs during the dry months of July through September to graze on grass, take baths, and play with one another. Elephants hide in the surrounding jungles on hot days, but they slowly come out around 4 p.m. This is your chance to witness the world’s greatest gathering of wild elephants—thousands of them lounging around the lakes.

A helpful travel suggestion is to avoid areas that house elephants in captivity, with the exception of Udawalawe’s Elephant Transit Home. This halfway house, which is managed by the government’s wildlife department and receives funding from the Born Free Foundation, takes in injured or abandoned elephant calves and releases them back into the wild after they have healed.

11. Visit Unawatuna and enjiy the sea.

Beach hopping is one of the most exiting and loved things to do in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka harbours many dozens of coastal villages that can be suitable for beach holidays. Unawatuna, is among the best beaches for beach holidays. This year round holiday destination offers pristin beaches and sandy beaches with wide range of accommodation fascilities.

12. Get to know the indigenous people of Sri Lanka.

Learnign the culture of Sri Lanakn aborigines is not very popular things to do in Sri Lanka. Only a fraction of travellers engage in the opportunity to visit dambana, where the aborigines of Sri Lanka are living. The native inhabitants of Sri Lanka are known as the Vedda. Their numbers have decreased over time as a result of migration, habitat loss, and absorption into the country’s predominant Sinhala-Buddhist culture. Originally, they lived in forests. Some Vedda families are now dispersed over the island in small groups, but they are still able to maintain their traditional customs, language, and cuisine in places like Dambana, an indigenous village and museum in the southern region of Maduru Oya National Park.

Planning advice: Go east to Gal Oya to visit the Vedda’s old caverns and hunting grounds with guided tours for a more immersive experience. To arrange moral meetings, Wild Glamping Gal Oya collaborates closely with the Vedda community.

13. Sample some street cuisine, kottu roti.

Eating Kottu can be a very exiting things to do in Sri Lanka. Kottu roti embodies Sri Lanka unlike any other dish. This well-known street dish consists of leftover roti (flatbread), eggs, fresh veggies, and your choice of meat or seafood. It’s high in carbohydrates. When combined, placed on a metal griddle, and cut into small pieces with two metal blades, the unique sound of metal on metal can frequently be heard from a distance of several hundred feet. You can find kottu roti all around the island, but in Colombo, try it at Hotel de Pilawoos or Hotel de Plaza (note: Sri Lankan eateries go by the term “hotels” a lot).

Planning advice: Beware of being duped by any Pilawoos or Hotel de Plaza, as there are other shady establishments using the same name. The authentic establishments may be found on Galle Road in Colombo 03. Get yours with an iced glass of Milo, a well-known chocolate malt beverage that pairs well with a hot kottu.

14. Stroll through the peculiar alleyways of Galle Fort

Learnign the rich historical past of Sri Lanka is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka. Ther are many placesw, where the travellers can see ancient monuments. Galle Fort is one of the popular site that showcases the remnants of colonial history of sri Lanka.

A unique blend of Portuguese, Dutch, and British architectural styles, Galle Fort is encircled by spas, five-star hotels, ice cream shops, souvenir shops, and gem boutiques. Arrive as the Fort lanes gradually open in the morning. First stop: National Tea Rooms, the oldest cafe still standing in Galle Fort and owned by a welcoming Sri Lankan family since 1932, serves you a delicious Sri Lankan breakfast.

At Stick No Bills, you may purchase retro maps, tuk-tuks, and postcards featuring quirky Sri Lankan designs. Don’t miss Church Street Social’s spicy black pork curry for lunch. Especially around sunset, the view from the ramparts is not to be missed.

15. Ride the waves at the first female-run surf club in Sri Lanka

Beach hopping is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka and Arugambay is one of the most popular beach holday destination on the island. However, aurgambay is also popular for surfing in Sri Lanka. On the east coast, surfers of all skill levels go to Arugam Bay. This curly, ocher sand beach comes alive at night with parties, alcohol, and live music from April to August. Arugam Bay Girls Surf Club, the first all-women club in Sri Lanka, offers swimming, surfing, and yoga lessons to the local community. It also boasts a laid-back surf culture.

Planning tip: For a post-surf pick-me-up, try the delectable Sri Lankan roti that are packed with chocolate, banana, chicken, cheese, and vegetables from the beach shacks that line the beachfront.

16. Ride around the Polonnaruwa old kingdom

From 1070 until 1232, Polonnaruwa served as Sri Lanka’s second capital when Anuradhapura fell, and its ruins are currently recognized as a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Vatadage, a circular relic house featuring a big Buddha statue, is not to be missed. After that, take a bike tour of the historic city and stop by the historic Royal Palace.

Additional striking artifacts from the archaeology are the standing Buddha in Lankatilaka Vihara and the granite-carved Buddha statues in Gal Vihara. Because the old kingdom was subject to multiple South Indian invasions during the time, you may detect the impact of South India in some of the remnants.

Planning advice: Get here early in the morning to avoid the intense heat and to have the entire amazing archaeological park to yourself. On weekends, during school breaks, and during full moons, crowds of people visit the Polonnaruwa ruins.

17. Spend time in a treehouse to get in touch with nature.

Sleeping in a treehouse is an experience that nature lovers will cherish. It is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanak for nature lovers. Situated atop a wooden platform, these dwellings are encircled by the neighboring jungle. If you don’t mind spending time with monkeys and lizards, reserve a treehouse at Back of Beyond in Sigiriya.

Tangalle, in Sri Lanka’s extreme south, features a mixture of rocky sandy beaches, lagoons, and shrublands. Jaywa Lanka has a treehouse here, close to the mangroves; the only sounds around you are the twittering of birds and the soft murmur of breaking waves. Occasionally, wild peacocks may stop by to try to win over their peahens.

18. Enjoy a hopper snack

Eating local delicious food is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka. If there’s one dish you should taste before you depart Sri Lanka, it’s hoppers (appam in Tamil; aappa in Sinhala), which are rice flour pancakes shaped like bowls. Plain hoppers are served with curries or a spicy sambal (chile sauce) called lunu miris, which is made with onions and dried red chili. The hoppers have crispy edges and fluffy centers.

When you enter a street joint in the evening, plain hoppers with an egg on top are frequently served. For some exquisite Sri Lankan cuisine, visit Palmyrah Restaurant in the Renuka Hotel in Colombo. The evening menu include savory and sweet hoppers with milk or jaggery. Alternatively, try some hoppers from Aunty Radhika in the Wellawatta neighborhood if you don’t mind standing in line. Go beside the bank on WA Silva Mawatha and you’ll come upon this little yet well-liked hopper stand.

19. Climb Sigiriya rock

Dating back to the fifth century AD, this rock-top stronghold is one of Sri Lanka’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It has served as both a Buddhist monastery and a royal palace in its past, thus the atmosphere is more spiritual than militaristic.
Visitors can witness some of the best specimens of South Asian apsara painting—known as the Sigiriya ladies—while descending the ancient rock. This area of original paintings, which was originally estimated to be 150 meters long by 40 meters high, is much less than these sensual works of art.
In addition to being home to some of the world’s oldest landscaped gardens, Sigiriya is recognized as one of the most significant urban planning initiatives of the first century. Keep an eye out for the mirror wall as well, a polished masonry wall so good the monarch could see his reflection in it. The best advice is to arrive early to avoid the crowds and the heat of the day.

20. Witness great gathering

Elephants may be found all over Sri Lanka, where they can be seen leading the Esala Perahera procession in Kandy, laboring on tea plantations, and running amok in national parks.
The Udawalawe National Park presents one of your best opportunities to witness elephants in their natural habitat. This park, which was established to safeguard the watershed of the massive Udawalawe Reservoir, is home to over 400 pachyderms and features large areas of grassland, scrub jungle, and riverine forest. It is also among Sri Lanka’s top locations for birdwatching.
In addition to having fewer tourists than many other parks, Gal Oya National Park provides a distinctive experience. The largest body of water in Sri Lanka, Senanayake Samudra Lake, is where the elephants typically swim, and you may go on a boat safari to watch them.
And to witness “the great Gathering,” when hundreds of pachyderms congregate around water during the dry season (June/July to September), which is home to the greatest gathering of Asian elephants in the world.