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
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
Photo of Orana Velarde
Sri Lanka Hub Writer2 September 2021
View

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

48370762
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.

Galle

Ruins, Architectural Landmark
The old walled seaside town of Galle. Sri Lanka, South Coast
© 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.

Tangalle

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Tropical sandy beach with green trees by wooden fishing boats as the tide comes in
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.

Mirissa

Natural Feature
Several cars, bikes and people line the main street of Mirissa, with shopfronts on either side, and tall palms behind them
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
Giant red brick stupa of Abayagiri Monastery. Anuradhapura in cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
© 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.

Nuwara Eliya

Forest, Natural Feature
A tea estate in Nuwara Eliya, with a road running through it towards several houses; there are mountains in distance
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.

Ella

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Main Street in Ella, Sri Lanka
© 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.

Jaffna

Natural Feature
St. James Church (1861), Jaffna, 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.

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel – and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Epic Trips, Mini Trips and Sailing Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travellers and friends who want to explore the world together.

Epic Trips are deeply immersive 8 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and enough down time to really relax and soak it all in. Our Mini Trips are small and mighty - they squeeze all the excitement and authenticity of our longer Epic Trips into a manageable 3-5 day window. Our Sailing Trips invite you to spend a week experiencing the best of the sea and land in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm – and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Cookies Policy

We and our partners use cookies to better understand your needs, improve performance and provide you with personalised content and advertisements. To allow us to provide a better and more tailored experience please click "OK"