Things To Do In Sri Lanka Overview
Situated along the southwestern line from the Bay of Bengal and amidst the crashing turquoise waves of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a tropical paradise of beautiful forests, gushing wildlife, mesmerizing waterfalls, and sunny beaches.
There are so many things to do in Sri Lanka being an island that has so much to offer with so many world-famous beaches, colourful cultural events and traditions, overflowing waterways and jungles with life pulsating through every stream and tree.
With hundreds of rivers rising up to give birth to several picturesque waterfalls, lagoons and reservoirs and having a diverse landscape that consists of mountains, plains, and canyons, things to do in Sri Lanka are numerous. This guide tells you about 15 awesome things to do in Sri Lanka, with the activities ranging from hikes, treks, explorations and many more.
We have chosen the most 15 things to do in Sri Lanka by considering so many factors such as ease of access and the Sri Lankan uniqueness and the rich culture and history of the island.
All the places and activities we describe here in the list of 15 things to do in Sri Lanka are very easy to access through any public or private transportation option, even though they are scattered all over the country with some of them being on the hill country among the mist and the cold, while some being on the sunny coastal area and the rest being on the warm plains of the dry zone.
Having considered all the important factors when choosing, you will be able to experience the entire Sri Lankan holiday experience without missing anything through this comprehensive guide to 15 things to do in Sri Lanka.
1. Picturesque Hike on Punchi Sri Padaya | Little Adams Peak
At the top of our list of 15 things to do in Sri Lanka, is the hike to Little Adams Peak. The Little Adams Peak, or Mini Adam’s Peak, is named after one of the holiest places in Sri Lanka, the Adams Peak, which is situated in the districts of Ratnapura and Nuwara Eliya, due to its shape.
The Adams Peak is much bigger and offers one of the most challenging hikes in the island, whereas the hike to Little Adams Peak is more of a leisurely and easy climb, offering breathtaking panoramas and stunning views of the misty hills of Sri Lanka.
It is located just a few miles away from the Ella town, in the Uva province, which has become of the most visited travel destinations in the world because of this famous hike. There are two entrances to the famous hiking trail, one hitting the main road near a small resort and another through the famous 98 Acres resort.
The trail is marked with sign boards all the way up to the mountain, so it is easy to find and even easier to walk in. The path winds upwards through beautiful and lush tea plantations where you will likely meet tea picking ladies with smiles on their faces greeting you all throughout your way.
The trail will take you up to 1141 meters above sea level, although you won’t feel it because the trailhead already begins at a high elevation. As you reach the end of the hiking trail, you will be greeted by the most stunning views of the mountains you will ever see, and you will surely regret it if you forgot your camera and camera and gear.
The panoramas and the views you capture from here will be memories of a lifetime.
2 .Take the Train from Kandy to Ella
The train ride from Kandy to Ella, or vise-versa, is considered to be one of the most scenic, beautiful and epic train journeys in the whole world, and it takes the second spot on our guide to 15 things to do in Sri Lanka.
This classic 6-7 hour ride on the Sri Lankan railways is one of the most memorable trips you will ever take in your life, due to the picture-perfect landscapes, villages and mountains you will be riding through.
The Sri Lankan railway was built by the British in 1864 during the colonization as a method to transport tea and coffee from the central hill country regions to the capital city of Colombo. The railways and the trains are still the ancient ones used during those times, adding an old-world charm to the entire journey, although a few newer trains are functioning now.
The train is the cheapest way to travel in Sri Lanka, and it is pretty easy to obtain tickets either at the train stations themselves, or online. The breathtaking views on both sides of the train are unmistakable throughout this stunning journey.
The train winds through tea-plantation mountains, making its way through small farms and villages where local children wave at you and run after the train. The spectacular sceneries continuously change all throughout the journey; one minute you are looking at a mountain covered with a thick forest, and the next minute you are looking at a grass plain with wildflowers blooming here and there.
The best way to travel is while sitting on a carriage’s open doorway while being careful at the same time, gazing towards the beautiful landscapes while the train runs through villages, forests and bridges with eerily sharp drop-offs.
3. Walk Through Lipton’s Tea Plantation
Ceylon Tea is considered one of the best teas in the world, right from when it was introduced in 1824 to modern times and an activity related to this famous beverage has also made it to the list of awesome things to do in Sri Lanka.
Tea was introduced to Sri Lanka during the British colonization and it has not died through all these years and still remains to be one of the main export items on the island. As the tea plantations grew, it has created a whole new culture, as well as all new traditions and social groups that are yet to be witnessed in the upper hills of this beautiful island.
Lipton tea plantation in Haputale, is one of the largest and the most famous tea estates in the country and Lipton tea is a staple item in the cupboards of most families around the world. Walking through the beautiful, picturesque trail that winds up through the tea plantations to the place where Sir Lipton used to sit and look at his tea empire, the Lipton Seat, is a must-have trek when you are in Sri Lanka.
It is pretty easy to get to the trailhead from Haputale by taking a bus to the Dambetenna Tea Factory. From there, a beautiful walk through endless rows of tea bushes that shine in every hue of green imaginable starts.
The beautifully leveled tea plantations are dotted with tea picking ladies, who always wear a smile on their face. The trail ends at the famous viewpoint of Lipton Seat, offering panoramic views all the way to the southern sea on a clear day. It is said that 5 provinces of Sri Lanka can be seen from here when there is no mist, so make sure to visit on a clear day.
4. Go on Safari at Kaudulla and Yala National Parks
Sri Lanka, being one of the top 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world, is home to many national parks, scattered in all the areas of the country, and visiting at least one of them remains one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka. From being small and being home to such a high concentration of flora and fauna, you can find a national part to visit in almost every province in the country.
To get the true tropical experience, Sri Lankan wild safaris are world-famous one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka. Every year, wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world fly to Sri Lanka to witness the amazement of wild elephants in their natural habitat as well as to photograph one or two elusive leopards and to watch the vast range of birds that have made this country their home.
Of all the national parks in Sri Lanka, Kaudulla and Yala National Parks remains at the top of the safari lists offering many experiences to the wide-eyed nature lover. Kaudulla National Park, is home to a high concentration of wild elephants as well as other mammals such as leopards, sloth bears and wild boars.
Kaudulla lake is one of the best spots in Sri Lanka to observe large herds of elephants who come to drink and feed. Yala National Park is the second largest national park in the country and has many entrances and offers so many safari options such as early morning safaris and evening safaris.
It consists of many ecosystems, especially dry evergreen forests, and has the highest population of leopards in the world. Spotting a leopard licking its paws while sprawling on a tree branch or watching a baby elephant run after its mother’s feet will surely make your vacation in Sri Lanka the memory of a lifetime.
5. Catch a Wave at Hikkaduwa or Arugam Bay
Surfing through the crashing waves is one of the most iconic things to do in Sri Lanka and it is not just one location there is for you to surf. Among the many beaches that surround the country with their graceful golden sands and palm trees that forever lean towards the sea, Sri Lanka offers many locations that to grab a board and catch a wave in, amidst the clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean.
Because of its unique location on the southwest of the Bay of Bengal, Sri Lanka offers few of the best beaches in the world to be surfed in, attracting surfers of all levels and colours from everywhere in the world.
Whereas southern beaches such as Weligama and Hiriketiya are perfect for the beginner surfer, waves at Hikkaduwa and Arugam Bay are world-famous among the more daring surfers, with the latter being known as one of the 10 best surfing spots in the entire world.
Visiting Hikkaduwa is one of the famous things to do in Sri Lanka. Hikkaduwa is a tourist location in the south of Sri Lanka and it offers so many options for the brown-skinned surfer. It is a popular town among both locals and foreigners, and salty haired, tanned surfers who walk the beaches with a surfboard tucked under their arm are unmistakable in November to March, which is the south coast surf season.
Arugam Bay, located on the eastern coastline of the island, attracts so many professional surfers from around the world in the surfing season, which is from June until August. It is the most popular destination for surfers and offers more challenging and daring waves to glide through.
6. Swing into the Sunset on the Rope Swing at Dalawella
The soft golden sands and the crystal-clear turquoise waters that sparkle from the golden light of the sun is an unmissable allure that attracts tourists to Sri Lanka like moths to a flame.
Being a tropical island with a coastline that spreads over 1340km, the southern beaches of Sri Lanka are especially famous for sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling and diving, with the promise of witnessing an exotic range of corals and colourful marine lives as well.
One of such world-famous beaches in Sri Lanka is Unawatuna, which is located near the ancient city of Galle in the south of Sri Lanka, although Unawatuna beach is one of the best beaches in the world, an instagrammable spot just off the coast of Unawatuna, on a beach called Dalawella, is becoming one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka and most-Instagrammed locations on the island, due to a simple rope swing.
It takes around two hours to get to Dalawella beach from Colombo and it is pretty easy to find as it is located just near the popular town of Unawatuna. The rope swing, which has been set by locals in front of a small beach house, has made it a social media hotspot and has become a must-do activity for all the Instagrammers and bloggers who come to visit Sri Lanka from all over the world.
The owners of the beach house charge a small fee for a swing in the rope swing, but it is nothing compared to all the classic shots you will be able to capture from there. The swing is perfect during a beautiful sunset and you will truly feel you are swinging into the golden sun itself.
7. Trek to the Top of Diyaluma Falls
Diyaluma Falls is the second highest waterfall in Sri Lanka and is situated in the Uva province, near a quaint little village called Koslanda.
Situated on the Sri Lankan hill country, Diyaluma offers one of the most adventures and scenic treks and is one of the most exciting things to do in Sri Lanka, filled with beautiful, panoramic views as well as some of the best natural infinity pools in the entire world at the end of the path.
Diyaluma is a gushing 220-meter waterfall that falls sharply off a solid rock and the hike has become the latest trill in Sri Lanka and the naturals pools at the top have become one of the most-photographed locations on social media. The path to upper Diyaluma is laid through grasslands quintessentially lush tea plantations so that you will not feel even a bit tired when you are marveling at the beauty of the country.
There are two trails that will take you to the top of Diyaluma Falls. One is from the upper side from Poonagala junction, which is a few kilometers away from Ella town and makes sure that you ask locals or tuk-tuk drivers for directions. All of them should be able to give you directions since it has become a very famous hike and one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka.
After you leave the main road, it will be about a 30-minute walk downhill through grasslands to get to the natural pools on top of Diyaluma and this is the place to get some amazing photographs to take home with you. The alternative trail is from the village of Koslanda and it is a climb uphill, so it is tricky and a bit challenging than the main trail.
8. Visit the Nine Arch Bridge
The world-famous Nine Arch bridge of Sri Lanka is one of the most photographed spots in the entire world. It has become famous due to its unique construction method and the beautiful shape, along with the stunning sceneries and the environment surrounding it.
This beautiful bridge is situated in Demodara, just a few miles away from the famous tourist destination of Ella town in the Badulla district, and is one of the most famous attractions in the country, both for tourists and locals alike. The bridge is made in nine beautiful arches for the train to run on top of them, and this is one of the most picturesque moments you will ever see.
The bridge is especially unique because it does not contain any metal or metal works in the construction and is only made of rocks, bricks and cement. It is said that all the metal materials to be used were reassigned to military purposes during World War I and it is said to be the reason for the bridge being made only from rocks, bricks and cement.
There are many pathways to go down to the Nine Arch bridge from Ella, which you will be able to find after traveling a few kilometers along the Ella-Ballaketuwa road.
All the surrounding hills are covered with small cafes and inns providing good vantage points and decks to view the train running on the stunning nine arches, but going down to the top of the bridge and leaning out to the sheer drop has become one of the most famous things to do in Sri Lanka. You will be able to capture some beautiful photographs from the Nine Arch bridge.
9. Visit Riverston on the Knuckles Mountain Range
Knuckles mountain range is a biodiversity hotspot when it comes to Sri Lanka and a visit to the mountain range is one of the most picturesque things to do in Sri Lanka.
The knuckles mountain range has obtained its name because the mountains look like the knuckles of a clenched human fist when seen from some areas of the country, and the name was said to be assigned by early British surveyors, although the local people still call it ‘Dumbara’ meaning ‘the mist-covered mountain’.
The mountain range consists of several high peaks, some of which are among the highest mountains in Sri Lanka and is extremely unique because all the climatic zones in the country can be experienced when going through the mountain range. At lower levels, it consists of shrubs and bushes but as it goes higher, there are several cloud forest areas that are rich in flora and fauna.
Riverston is one of the most popular hiking locations within the Knuckles mountain range. There are several ways to get there, but the easiest and the fastest way is via Matale through Rattota, where beautiful sceneries and unspoiled jungles await your arrival. You can either drive up to the mountains or hike up on foot with your camera, which will be one of the most scenic tours you will take when you are vacationing top things to do in Sri Lanka.
There are many beautiful hotels set up on the mountains where you have the option to stay overnight and in the early mornings, you will be mesmerized by the beautiful sunrises atop misty hills. There are several picturesque waterfalls, plains and eerily sharp drop-offs, where you can capture some beautiful shots which will remind you of the dark misty hills of Sri Lanka whenever you look at them.
10. Visit the Village of Vedda at Dambana
A visit related to discovering the ancient Sri Lankan heritage has also taken a place in our guide to 15 things to do in Sri Lanka. Dambana is a small village in the beautiful district of Badulla, located almost 300 kilometers away from the commercial capital of Colombo, is a lesser-known and not-so-popular area in the country, but is extremely important to the history and culture of Sri Lanka.
It is the refuge of Vedda community, the indigenous people of Sri Lanka, and they still maintain their own language, culture and traditions in their small jungle village. You can immerse yourself into the Vedda lifestyle, which is extremely rural and ancient, while at the same time guarding their traditions fiercely.
Vedda people are said to be descendants of the country’s original inhabitants and the village of Dambana has become their primary resting. Once a large community, now it has shrunken to a few hundred people because of the urbanization, who still guard their principles and ways of life respectfully.
Upon visiting the village, there are many activities you can do. You can visit the Dambana museum, where you will be able to find many materials, paintings and carvings that witness their unique lifestyle as well as instruments and goods used by them to this day.
You will need to obtain approval from the Vedda chief to participate in some of their activities and tribal rituals, as well as to incorporate yourself into their lifestyle. Once this approval from the chief is obtained, you will be able to join the Vedda people in their day-to-day activities.
You will be able to accompany them and watch them on their hunts as they hunt for their primary source of meat from small animals using their hand-made weapons such as bows and arrows as well as watch them set traps for animals.
You can also join them for their home-cooked meals, which will introduce a whole new set of flavours to you and during the nights, you can dance to their tribal dances around a fire without a care in the world and it will surely be one of the most remarkable experiences you will ever have.
11. Get a Tattoo in Galle
Getting a tattoo in a foreign country may seem like a risky thing to do, but it is one of the most exciting things to do in Sri Lanka. Having an economy that relies immensely on tourism, tattoo parlors are not rare on this small island.
Especially in tourism centered coastal towns such as Negombo or Galle, getting a tattoo from a Sri Lankan tattoo artist is particularly popular among those who come to get the full experience of Sri Lanka.
In Galle, there are many talented tattoo artists you can choose from and their talents are unmistakable given their experience and knowledge.
Surely it can be considered a risky thing to do in a country you can have a vacation in, but these tattoo parlors are clean and well-maintained and you will not have to worry about a thing once you step inside one of them.
Galle is especially famous for getting tattoos because of its surfing and sunbathing beaches, and the tattoo artists in Galle are very friendly and attentive.
You can choose from a wide range of patterns that are unique to Sri Lanka, such as a traditional ‘Wes’ mask or a gushing wave and a leopard tattoo on your bicep or a wild elephant tattoo on your arm will make your vacation in this perfect tropical paradise a truly unforgettable one.
12. Explore a Colourful Local Flea Market
Sri Lanka, being a tropical country near the equator, is home to so many vegetation and colourful fruits which grow splendidly in many areas of the country. Sri Lankan flea markets are the best place to buy fresh vegetables and exotic fruits if you are looking for fresh ingredients for your diet or you are planning to try your hand at Sri Lankan cuisine yourself.
Exploring a flea market is sure to be one of the most unforgettable things to do in Sri Lanka. There are so many flea markets all over the country and you will be able to find a market in almost any of the towns and villages, no matter how small or rural, because buying fresh produce at flea markets is the most sought-after way of shopping in Sri Lankan households.
Among these many markets, Pettah market and Good market in Colombo, market at Jaffna, Kandy market and the main fish market in Negombo are famous. You will not find many tourists in the flea markets since it is not a very popular thing to do, but if you are looking to immerse yourself into the Sri Lankan lifestyle, exploring a flea market is a one of top things to do in Sri Lanka activity.
You will be able to meet so many locals who come to shop and the local vendors will prove to be very friendly when selling you produce. Bargaining is very famous in these markets, so try some bargaining with the vendors when buying.
A single exploration through a flea market will introduce you to so many vegetables, root vegetables, leafy greens and fruits which you have never seen before. Flea markets are usually very noisy and crowded, but the authentic Sri Lankan lifestyle will surely make an impact on you and a one to remember.
13. Drive to the top of Pidurutalagala Mountain
Pidurutalagala, meaning ‘straw laden rock’ or known as Mount Pedro in English, is the highest mountain in Sri Lanka. Towering at 2524 meters above the sea level, it is situated in the Central province of Sri Lanka, north-east to the beautiful and famous tourist destination town, Nuwara Eliya.
Pidurutalagala is the only ultra prominent peak on the island, and it is one of the 1515 ultra prominent peaks in the world. This tallest mountain in Sri Lanka is surrounded by a protected forest reserve, and it is one of the richest biodiversity locations in the country, although people are restricted from entering there because the summit is a high-security zone, housing the communication array of the Sri Lankan Government and the Armed Forces.
Pidurutalagala mountain is not always open to the public, but at certain times of the year, you can get passes to drive to the top of the mountain without an issue. Even though this is one of the most scenic drives and is one of the most exciting things to do in Sri Lanka, trekking is strictly prohibited, so driving up is the only way to get there.
The drive is extremely scenic with so many panoramic views and halfway upwards, you can see the entire high mountain range of Sri Lanka, with the beautiful Adams Peak in the middle.
When you reach the top of the peak, you can find the ‘Trig Point’ set by the Survey Department marking the highest point of the island. You can see the Nuwara Eliya town below and all the way to the clear blue sea from here, so make sure to make the journey on a clear day, as the weather is extremely unpredictable
14. Climb the Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Sigiriya rock fortress, located in the district of Matale, near the town of Dambulla, is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site and is also considered the 8th Wonder in the World.
It is a massive bible-shaped rock, nearly 200 meters high, surrounded by highly elaborate and imaginative parks, reservoirs and water-retaining structures, featuring highly sophisticated hydraulic systems, built hundreds of years ago, some of which still function. The rock was made into a fortress and a pleasure palace by the ancient Sri Lankan King Kashyapa during his reign.
It is still considered to be an archeological and engineering wonder, depicting the highly advanced technical knowledge of ancient Sri Lankans, which can easily match modern-day engineering techniques.
Apart from being a wondrous archeological feat, Sigiriya rock fortress was also built to be a pleasure palace by the ancient king. It still contains the ruins of the upper palace, built on top of the flat rock, along with a terrace in the middle level of the rock with a mirror wall and frescoes.
These paintings are considered to be the earliest surviving pictorial arts of Sri Lanka and you can amaze at their still-bright colours and lines. The view is stunning from the top of the rock and you can capture some beautiful photographs and watch a beautiful sunset from the top marveling at the golden sky.
Sigiriya reservoir and village are also great places for little excursions upon visiting the Sigiriya fortress. Minneriya and Kaudulla national parks are pretty close by, and you can arrange to go on wildlife safaris since there are many locals who offer this facility in the area.
15. Explore the City of Colombo
The bustling city of Colombo is the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, and is the closest city to the Bandaranaike International Airport. Colombo is the city with the highest population in Sri Lanka and it is a very colourful city with so many attractions such as shopping malls, restaurants, cafes, historical buildings and museums.
Lately, Colombo is changing immensely with new roads and skyscrapers being built, several classy hotels and cafes popping up, new shopping malls being established and a new harbour being built. Colombo is divided into 13 geographical areas.
There are several exciting places to visit once you are in Colombo and one of them is the National Museum which habours many valuable historical items of Sri Lanka. There are several beautiful colonial buildings you can find in the Pettah area which you can explore as well as the crowded streets of the Pettah market.
Gangaramaya Temple and the adjoining Beira Lake is the perfect location to observe the colours of Buddhism and the Old Dutch Hospital consists of several cafes and restaurants where you can grab a drink. The newly established shopping malls carry many international brands and you can shop to your heart’s content.
Make sure that you visit the narrow beach at Galle Face Green in a tuk-tuk and grab various kinds of street food from vendors at night to enjoy the truest Sri Lankan experience to the fullest.
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