Thinking of travelling to Sri Lanka? Here’s a 14-day itinerary for a tropical getaway to the spice island. Relax on the best beaches and take day trips to Buddhist and Hindu temples, forest reserves, tea estates and more.
In Sri Lanka, most locals speak English, so it’s easy to get around. If you’d rather let someone else do the planning – and a local do the guiding – join our epic 12-day trip, which includes leisurely train journeys, off-road adventures, wildlife watching, home-cooking classes and white-water rafting, among other immersive activities. However, if you’d prefer to tackle the spice island solo, here’s what we recommend you do on a two-week schedule.
Just a few kilometres north of the international airport in Colombo is the beach town of Negombo. Take it easy for a couple of days on the sprawling beaches or by the pool of your hotel. Negombo is home to a very friendly and bustling fishing community. While there, visit the Dutch Canal, also called the Hamilton Canal, which used to be part of the colonial spice route used by the Dutch East India Company. The canal connects the coast with the Negombo Lagoon and can be visited on foot or by boat. It’s a great look into old colonial Sri Lanka living.
For a few days, you should go inland and experience the ancient culture of Sri Lanka. The Cultural Triangle is an area in the Central Highlands that includes the ancient temples of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, as well as the mountain city of Kandy. From Negombo you can either drive to the Cultural Triangle or take a train from Colombo Fort. Start at Anuradhapura, the ancient temple that houses a sacred Bodhi tree and a gorgeous white stupa. Pilgrims from all over the island flock to this temple during the Poya full moon holidays for celebrations. Afterwards make your way to Sigiriya, the Lion Rock. Climb the steps to visit the ruins of an old fort and castle.
Spend your fourth day in Kandy, the second largest city in Sri Lanka. Take a stroll around the lake and visit the Temple of the Tooth, where one of Buddha’s teeth is kept. Have a meal at the Empire Cafe and go for a walk in Udawattakele forest or the Commonwealth Cemetery. This area of the island is a bit cooler than the coast, so you might need a light sweater in the evening.
Take the early train from Kandy to Nanu Oya and experience one of the most scenic train rides of your life. If you’d like to travel in the comfortable first class carriage, make sure to buy your ticket one or two days before the day you plan to travel. Otherwise you can get a second or third class ticket, according to your need for adventure or comfort. From Nanu Oya station, take a short ride to Nuwara Eliya and visit some tea plantations. Visit a tea factory to learn about all the variations of leaves produced in Sri Lanka, specially the world famous silver tips.
Nights and early mornings can get quite cool in Nuwara Eliya. There’s nothing better than a warm cup of tea while enjoying the views of the foggy mountains.
After the highlands, make your way down south for some more epic beaches. Kalutara beach is perfect for long relaxing strolls. Sunsets are particularly beautiful and shouldn’t be missed. The Kalutara area is home of the famous mangosteen fruit. Try a few while lounging on the beach chairs of your hotel. Stay overnight at the Anantara Kalutara Resort and lounge by the pool and snack bar.
For a little cultural getaway, visit the centre of town and see the Gangatilake Stupa, buy some local basketry and eat more mangosteen! Take an afternoon to discover Richmond Castle, a hidden gem of Sri Lanka.
Move a little further south to famous Bentota. Set in a little bay, the ocean in Bentota is perfect for all sorts of water sports like surfing and windsurfing. Have a relaxing day on the shore and then take a 10-minute taxi ride to the Brief Gardens. Sandwiched between paddy fields and coconut plantations, the Brief Gardens are home to the former residence of Bevis Bawa, brother of architect Geoffrey Bawa. The gardens surrounding the house are open to the public and definitely worth a visit.
Enjoy a king prawn curry or fresh seafood meal at one of the beachside restaurants and some cocktails at sunset. If you want to take a break from the beach, why not take a day trip to Sinharaja Forest Reserve. This southernmost reserve is home to lush rainforest with some great hiking trails and plenty of endemic species of birds, amphibians and insects. We recommend a luxury stay at Centara Ceysands Resort or Citrus Waskaduwa for easy access to the beach.
One more beach stop down the road is Hikkaduwa, famed for its diving spots that are good for beginners or expert. Hikkaduwa is also a favourite with surfers and stilt fishermen; you’ll always catch a glimpse of both in the early morning. This place is busier than other areas of Sri Lanka, but isn’t to be missed.
Looking for a day away from the beach? Take a day trip to the Galle Fort to see the Dutch ramparts and the quaint town that still stands there, now a tourist hot spot. Have an Italian ice cream while strolling the little streets and visit the Old Dutch Hospital for a cup of tea or a cocktail.
Spend the night at the Aditya Boutique Hotel, right by the beach, just 10 minutes away from the nightlife in the centre of Hikkaduwa.
Board the train at Hikkaduwa station and head back to Colombo for your final two days. The Sri Lanka capital is a pleasant city in which to spend 48 hours, visiting Buddhist and Hindu temples or shopping for souvenirs, such as cinnamon toothpicks and handwoven sarongs. Take a stroll around Beira lake and check out Gangaramaya Vihara Temple. Have lunch at the Barefoot Garden Cafe and shop for beautiful handwoven linens. To round off your trip, treat yourself to a stay at the stately Galle Face Hotel or the Marino Beach Colombo with its rooftop infinity pool, and have dinner at the trophy-toting Ministry of Crab restaurant.
On your last day in town, drop by the National Museum and take a walk around Viharamahadevi Park. And if you’re on the hunt for souvenirs, be sure to visit Paradise Road for some beautiful hand-painted mugs to take home.
Want to get fast-tracked to all the best places to visit in Sri Lanka? Leave the details to us and join our carefully curated 12-day tour of the island, with a local guide leading the way,