The Best Things to See and Do in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is home to both architectural wonders and natural idylls
Sri Lanka is home to both architectural wonders and natural idylls | © Suranga Weeratuna / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Jayani Senanayake
2 September 2021
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Sri Lanka is a beautiful island in the sun that’s flanked by golden beaches. In land, you’ll find scenic mountains, luscious rainforests, abundant wildlife, and a rich and vibrant culture. Here are the top things you absolutely must do while in the country.

Hit the beach

Natural Feature
Sri Lanka, Ceylon, Eastern Province, East Coast, Passekudah, Kalkudah beach, aerial view
© Tuul and Bruno Morandi / Alamy Stock Photo

Nothing should hold you back from these tropical slices of heaven: sandy beaches fringed with swaying coconut trees, while turquoise waves lap at your feet. Enjoy the fragrant sea breeze in your hair as you dip and dive in tropical waters. Alternatively, simply lie at leisure on the soft, golden sand. Head south towards Galle, Hikkaduwa and Mirissa for a more vibrant beach life while, north-east, the likes of Passikudah, Arugam Bay and Trincomalee have plenty of isolated beaches to revel in.

See the local wildlife

Park, Natural Feature
Portrait of an alert macaque monkey, Yala National Park, Sri Lanka, Asia
© Cultura Creative RF / Alamy Stock Photo
Sri Lanka boasts a stupendous wildlife population. Venture into the wilds where Sri Lankan leopards, majestic elephants and colourful birds roam free. Yala and Wilpattu sanctuaries are the best places to encounter wildlife at close range. while Kumana and the Muthurajawela marshlands are well-known for their vibrant birdlife.

Visit a rainforest

Park, Natural Feature

If you fancy a leisurely trek through the jungle, Sri Lanka offers you plenty of opportunities within pristine rainforests. A good place to start is the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a Unesco World Heritage Site. It’s an intriguing experience where you can bear witness to rare plants, plentiful birdlife and freely roaming animals.

Explore the 8th Wonder of the World

Natural Feature, Forest
Sri Lanka, Ceylon, North Central Province, Sigiriya Lion Rock fortress, UNESCO world heritage site, aerial view
© Tuul and Bruno Morandi / Alamy Stock Photo
Sigiriya, an ancient rock fortress located in the Matale district, is truly a marvellous sight. It was built between 477 and 495 CE by King Kashyapa, the illegitimate son of King Dhatusena who usurped his throne after killing him. As a result, this fortress and pleasure palace strategically resides on top of the Sigiriya rock, out of fear of the rightful heir, Moggallana, returning. The most remarkable feature is perhaps the giant paws of the lion that you go through to enter the palace. Thanks to such magnificence, Sigiriya has been named as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Visit the Dutch Fort

Ruins, Architectural Landmark
Yet another Unesco World Heritage site, the Galle Dutch Fort is an extraordinary archaeological site. Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and fortified by the Dutch, it’s not just a historical monument, but also a buzzing cultural hotspot. There are beautiful villas, cobblestoned roads and ancient churches; plus, many literary and art festivals take place within the walls.

Frolic with the elephants

Zoo
A herd of Sri Lankan Elephants near Kegalle in Central Province, Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) is one of three recogniz
© John Crux / Alamy Stock Photo
If you want to see hundreds of majestic elephants in one place, the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is the place to go. It’s here that orphaned and injured elephants are raised by caring humans. The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage even allows you to bottle-feed small orphans who are desperate for some affection.

Whitewater rafting

Sports Center

If you’re up for some adventure, head towards Kithulgala for whitewater rafting. This particular spot in the Kelani River offers you grade three rapids and is ideal for both beginners and intermediates. Located at the very heart of nature, your senses will be soothed by serene bird calls and that mysterious music of the forest as you row by. The best time for whitewater rafting is from April to November.

Whale- and dolphin-watching

Natural Feature

Get onboard a satisfying cruise to witness magnificent whales and mischievous dolphins at play. February, March and December are the best months to embark, with cruises largely stretching between Mirissa and Galle. While friendly dolphins will definitely come out to say hello, you will also be able to catch a glimpse of the blue whale, Bryde’s whale, killer whale and pilot whale during this tour.

Visit the Temple of the Tooth

Buddhist Temple, Shrine
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, evening light Kandy, Central Province, Sri Lanka
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

The Temple of the Tooth Relic is most definitely the heart of Sri Lankan Buddhism. It’s considered the most sacred of religious sites and thousands of pilgrims visit every day. A remarkable feature is the Kandy Esela Perehara, a grand procession of elephants, dancers and drummers that takes place in July and August each year.

Visit the tea country

Natural Feature

Acres and acres of tea spread across the rolling hills of the central region, a must-see for all of you who visit the island. Cascading waterfalls and tea pluckers clad in vibrant cloths dot the mountainsides as they pluck, making for a truly memorable sight.

These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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