Things You Just Can't Skip if You're Visiting Sri Lanka

Join a local train crossing the Nine Arches Demodara Bridge to gain insight into the unique beauty of Sri Lanka
Join a local train crossing the Nine Arches Demodara Bridge to gain insight into the unique beauty of Sri Lanka | © Phongsaya Limpakhom / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Orana Velarde
Sri Lanka Hub Writer10 September 2021

If you’re looking to plan a trip to Sri Lanka, look no further. From hiking mountains to eating unique cuisine, there are plenty of things to do in this beautiful country. Most importantly, dig deep into the culture and experience the laidback Sri Lankan lifestyle.

Want to join like-minded travellers? Now you can book a place to discover ancient temples and get up close to the wildlife on TRIPS by Culture Trip’s epic 10-day adventure.
When visiting Sri Lanka, try not to skip on the capital Colombo. There are plenty of things to do in the city, but it’s only a little taste of what the island has to offer. Despite all the hardships Sri Lankan people have endured, the locals are more than happy to host travellers on their island of serendipity. It’s best to take your time and experience it from coast to coast, from hot beaches to cold misty mountains.

Sri Lanka is full of experiences for every kind of traveller – and you can now visit with Culture Trip on our specially curated 12-day Sri Lanka adventure, led by our local insider.

Climb to the Top of Sigiriya

Sigiriya is a rock outcrop in the middle of the dry Sri Lankan forest in the Central Province. On top of the rock are the remains of an ancient fortress and around it are gardens and pools decorating the base – leading visitors to a set of stone stairs that reach a plateau where a lion’s paws open up to another metal staircase to climb all the way up to the fortress. Soak up the views surrounding the Sigiriya and if decide to hike it, halfway up the rock, there are wall paintings of beautiful Sri Lankan women.

A stunning view of the Lion Rock at sunset in Sigiriya | © Travel Wild / Alamy Stock Photo

Have an Ayurvedic Experience

Ayurveda is the natural medicine of excellence in Sri Lanka and India. Aromatherapy, herbal remedies and oil massage are all part of the Ayurvedic healing process. In the highlands of Sri Lanka, there’s an Ayurvedic paradise called Santani where visitors can have a full body and mind experience. The Santani Wellness retreats are blissful getaways with days full of yoga, meditation and Ayurvedic healing.

If you want to have an Ayurvedic experience in Colombo, visit Kemara and check out their Ayurvedic detox and massage programs. Kemara also does a retreat for a detox program, so if you’re staying in Colombo for longer, you can get their month-long juice cleanses and meal replacements for a full body detox.

A morning yoga class at Santani Wellness Resort | © agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

Visit a Tea Plantation

Sri Lanka and tea are synonymous. The Central Highlands of the island are called tea country where rolling tea plantations are spotted with waterfalls and groups of women plucking leaves to take to the tea factories at the top of the hills.

The best way to visit a tea plantation is to stay overnight in one of the boutique hotels like Ceylon Tea Trails. Learn about the different kinds of tea by visiting a factory and tasting all the varieties – which you can do as part of Culture Trip’s epic small group Sri Lanka tour. Drive along the roads in tea country and see how the pluckers have collection stations where the tea is weighed and taken to the factories.

A group of locals working on a tea plantation in the hills | © Tuul and Bruno Morandi / Alamy Stock Photo

Ride the Train Through the Hill Country

Train rides are not only for commuting – the train running through the hill country of Sri Lanka is one of those memorable rides that you’ll never forget. Up and down mountains, through plenty of tunnels, in between ancient eucalyptus trees and through the mist. Bliss.

The train ride to Nuwara Eliya is one nobody should miss when visiting Sri Lanka – which is why it’s included as part of our 12-day trip through the island. Get your ticket on the same day you wish to travel to ensure you get the right one. Ask a couple of people to confirm the platform that the train will depart from – and be mindful of the open doors.

The blue train runs from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy past the tea plantations | © Melinda Nagy / Alamy Stock Photo

Catch a Cricket Match

Cricket is the national sport of Sri Lanka and is also a loved sport by lots of other nationalities. So, why not catch a cricket match while on the island? There are always tournaments and games going on – some local, some international. Check out the Sri Lankan cricket website for up-to-date information if you’d like to watch a match. Besides professional cricket, you can catch local kids playing cricket on just about any open green space.

Cricket is a national sport in Sri Lanka | © Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

Visit the Buddhist Temples and the Hindu Kovils

All around Sri Lanka, there are plenty of Buddhist temples and Hindu Kovils to be visited. Some memorable Buddhist temples are the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, the Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo and the Dambulla Cave Temple in the Cultural Triangle.

The unmissable Hindu Kovils are the Sri Muthu Mariamman Temple in Matale and the Nallur Kandaswamy in Jaffna. If visiting a temple, be sure to wear appropriate attire. Some temples require white clothing, others require men enter shirtless. Ask the locals first and take the opportunity to make a connection.

The ancient Temple of the Tooth | © Vito Arcomano / Alamy Stock Photo

Stay Overnight in a National Park

There are over 15 national parks in Sri Lanka so why not stay overnight in one? The most memorable parks are Yala, Gal Oya, Minneriya and Wilpattu. These parks are great for elephant watching and leopard spotting. There are some hotels in Yala National Park like Wildcoast Lodge Yala, where visitors can rest in style. Another option is to camp overnight in Gal Oya or Wilpattu to experience elephant safaris and dine under the stars.

An elephant walks past Elephant Rock in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka | © Lookinglost / Alamy Stock Photo

Experience a Poya Ritual

Every full moon in Sri Lanka is a public holiday. Full moons are called Poya and every single one of them is a celebration inside Buddhist temples. Some full moons are a bit more important than others, like Vesak Poya which is celebrated as the Festival of Lights. Esala Poya is celebrated with the Kandy Perahera and the Poson Poya festival in the rocky outcrop of Mihintale.

Traditional prayer ceremonies are common | © ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Eat a Sri Lankan Breakfast

The Sri Lankan breakfast is one of the best in the world. It consists of a delicious spread of roti, hoppers – bowl-shaped pancakes – or red rice surrounded by curries, sambals, dahl and vegetable sides. Try eating Sri Lankan breakfast with your right hand as the locals do. Accompany the feast with a fresh Thambili (king coconut juice) and start a day of exploring on the right note.

A traditional Sri Lankan breakfast is served with egg hoppers | © BlueOrangeStudio / Alamy Stock Photo

Learn How to Drape a Saree or Sarong

Women in Sri Lanka wear beautifully draped sarees and men wear colourful sarongs on a daily basis. Putting on a saree is an art in itself. Sri Lankan women wear drape sarees in the classic Indian Nivi drape and the Kandyan style with a pleated tail pinned over the shoulder.

Sarees are a common form of dress in Sri Lanka | © Ian Trower / Alamy Stock Photo

Have a Meal with a Sri Lankan Family

There is no better way to know a place and its people than to share a meal with a local family. The easiest way to do that is to spend the night at a homestay. While there, why not have a conversation, learn to wobble your head Sri Lankan-style, eat with your hands and put on a sarong? Immerse yourself in this unique culture and truly appreciate your surroundings.

What better way to spend time with a local Sri Lankan family than over a meal | © Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

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