The Best Places to Visit in Sri Lanka That Aren't Colombo
Colombo may be the capital, but if you want to see true Sri Lankan beauty, you'll have to venture outside the city limits | © Terry Mathews / Alamy Stock Photo
The island of Sri Lanka has a lot to offer. You arrive at Bandaranaike Airport in Colombo and can either spend a couple of days in the city before going exploring, or head straight off to another part of the island. No matter which you’re craving, take a look at some of the best places to visit outside of the capital and how to get to them.
The Elephant Stables, Kandy
Courtesy of The Elephant Stables / Booking.com
The second-largest city in Sri Lanka is nestled in the highlands and has plenty of history on offer. After all, Kandy was the royal centre for the original Kandyan kings and queens. Memorable things to do in Kandy are visiting the Temple of the Tooth, taking a walk around the lake, having a meal at Helga’s Folly, or grabbing a coffee at the Empire Cafe. A favourite hotel in the area is Elephant Stables. You can now visit Kandy with Culture Trip as part of our specially curated small-group Sri Lanka tour.
Ruins, Architectural Landmark
© agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
The southern city of Galle
is best known for the Galle Fort: the walled-in part of the city with Dutch colonial buildings and thick ramparts holding off the sea. It also features as one of the many fantastic destinations on Culture Trip’s specially curated 12-day Sri Lanka trip
. Galle Fort has history, boutique hotels
and quaint coffee shops. Not far away are the beaches of Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa. There is a train
that goes along the coast from Colombo to Galle and there’s also a highway if you choose to drive.
Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Courtesy of Oliver Förstner / Alamy Stock Photo
Tangalle is a beach town to the east of Galle with amazing beaches and beautiful hotels. There’s a large rock outcrop with small sandy beaches dotted between the rocks. The hotels in Tangalle have great views and are surrounded by coconut tree plantations. The local fishermen still use the enclosed bay reef for their daily catch. To get to Tangalle, you can go by car or plane to Hambantota.
Courtesy of Maciej Bledowski / Alamy Stock Photo
Mirissa is another coastal town well-known for the whales that migrate in the waters off the coast. Whale-watching is done from boats; it’s not recommended to snorkel or swim close to them. The Mirissa beach is a crescent-moon shape of sand, lined with trees that hide the fact that there are guest houses all around. To get to Mirissa, you can go by car from either Galle or Tangalle.
The Cultural Triangle
Park, Natural Feature
© Tillman Schlageter / Alamy Stock Photo
In the central highlands is the Cultural Triangle, an area full of historic and religious remains. The main attractions are the temples of Anuradhapura and Polonaruwa, the rock top fortress of Sigiriya, and the cave temple at Dambulla. A must-visit is the Minneriya National Park, where elephants roam freely. There are some off-the-beaten-track temples and areas in the Cultural Triangle as well if you like to beat the crowds. To get to the area you can go by car or by train to Anuradhapura.
Forest, Natural Feature
Courtesy of Geogphotos / Alamy Stock Photo
Up in the highlands is the city of Nuwara Eliya. Surrounded by tea plantations and misty fog early in the mornings, this mountain town used to be the holiday getaway for the British colonial settlers in Colombo. The architecture is reminiscent of British styles and the gardens are lovely. The lake in the middle of town has a great park around it and there are little boats to take you around. Nuwara Eliya is great for escaping the heat of the coast. To get to Nuwara Eliya you can go by car or by train from Kandy. The train from Colombo arrives in Kandy and you change trains there to go up higher into the mountains.
Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
© Oliver Förstner / Alamy Stock Photo
Ella is a mountain town full of hiking trails and waterfalls. The Demodara Nine Arch Bridge is very close by, a great little walk from town. Tea plantations and deep mountain valleys surround Ella. To get to Ella, you can go by car or by train from Kandy. Ella is on the same train route as Nuwara Eliya. The train ride from Ella to Nuwara Eliya is incredibly scenic and definitely the most beautiful in Sri Lanka.
© Steve Lennie / Alamy Stock Photo
At the northernmost tip of Sri Lanka is the city of Jaffna, home to the Tamils. Most of the city was destroyed during the war and is only now being rebuilt, recently opening up to tourism. To get to Jaffna, you can take a train, a long car ride or fly with Cinnamon Air.
These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.