I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled to Sri Lanka four times in the past two years and still can’t believe how special this country is. The rest of the world is finally paying notice to this small, tropical South Asian island as the list of beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka gets longer by the day. From elephant safaris and whale watching to untouched beaches and ancient temples, here’s a quick guide to the best places to visit in Sri Lanka.
Places To Visit in Sri Lanka Video
Top 17 Places To Visit in Sri Lanka
17. Rooftop bars in Colombo
While Colombo might not be the biggest, best-known city in Asia, it is home to some killer rooftop bars! Most are located on the top floor of Colombo’s most luxurious hotels such as Movenpick Colombo and Jetwing Colombo Seven. Think infinity pools that light up at night, 360-degree views, amazing cocktails and restaurants with views to rival any city in Asia.
While not a rooftop bar, the bar at the historic Mount Lavinia Hotel has the best beach views in the city, surrounded by palm trees and large gardens. Staying in Colombo for a few days? Check out these fun things to do!
16. Swimming in Diyaluma Falls
One of the highest waterfalls in Sri Lanka and definitely one of the most spectacular, Diyaluma Falls is definitely one fo the most beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka.
Situated just an hour south of Ella, a popular backpacking town, you can stay in nearby Koslanda Living Heritage Eco-Resort while you spend your days swimming in rivers, discovering hidden waterfalls and of course hiking up to both the lower and upper levels of Diyaluma Falls.
15. The Spectacular Ramboda Falls
This waterfall is very accessible and is easy to walk down from the road. Situated right next to the Ramboda Falls Hotel, you can actually eat lunch in their buffer restaurant while taking in spectacular views of the falls and the nearby, equally impressive, Puna Falls across the valley.
14. “Litte England” in Nuwara Eliya
Close by to Ramboda Falls is, in my opinion, one of the prettiest places to visit in Sri Lanka. The town Nuwara Eliya has retained its Colonial charm, and many of the buildings are just as they were over 100 years ago. It’s also the top tea-producing region in the country and home to the famous Pedro Tea Estate. From here you can walk to Lovers Leap, a pretty waterfall accessible only by foot.
In Nuwara Eliya you can do a tuk-tuk tour of the plantations, stay in a charming colonial-style hotel, check out Victoria Park and the race track or just relax it one of the coolest, high altitude destinations in the country.
13. Leopard watch in Yala National Park
For the rest of my life I will never forget the first time I set eyes on a baby elephant, mother by its side, rolling in the mud and splashing water in the air inside Yala National Park. I’ll never forget our quest to find a leopard at 6 o clock in the morning, the silence maintained when we sensed animals were near and the excitement every time we turned a corner and saw another herd of elephants. I’ll never forget the excitement of eating dinner al fresco next to a crocodile-filled lake in Cinnamon Yala Wild Hotel, a hotel that warns guests to look out for wild pigs and elephants on their nightly walk back to their villas! Home to the highest concentration of leopards anywhere in the world, Yala National Park is one of the must-visit places to visit in Sri Lanka. While you can also find leopards in Wilpattu National Park, Yala is probably the most famous.
12. Taste the past in Galle
Galle is a city in the southwest of Sri Lanka most famous for its fort, which was first built in 1588 and later fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century. There is a lot of history and stories to be found here and Galle Fort itself is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka – with spectacular views from the fort walls out at the bay. One of the most fun things to do here, besides walking around the walls, is to watch locals doing death-defying stunts as they dive off the walls into the choppy waters. Galle Fort feels a bit like traveling back in time, as the old town (which is confined within the fort walls) filled with quaint little houses with old Portuguese colonial architecture, as well as cute art and craft stores around every corner. This place has a crazy amount of charm and it’s worth sticking around for at least a day or two. For more fun things to see and do in Galle, read my Galle travel guide.
11. Relax on Pasikudah Beach
If you are looking to find an untouched beach with very few tourists around, with mile upon mile of soft, white sand and palm tree lined shore, Pasikudah on the East Coast is the place to go. One of the best beaches in Sri Lanka, this totally unspoiled paradise is also home to some incredible hotel choices with panoramic views from each hotel room to the beach or hotels the size of a small ocean. I loved how this beach had more locals than tourists, with big groups of young kids and school children laughing and splashing around in the water.
There’s also a massive coconut plantation which you can visit and a beautiful little fishing village on the beach. the fishermen are so friendly posing for photos and showing you what fish they caught that morning. They carry the fish in traditional baskets and it’s fun to watch them head out fishing in their colourful wooden boats. Don’t know what to wear? Here’s a great beach packing list!
STAY: Sunrise by Jetwing – home to the second longest swimming pool in Sri Lanka!
10. Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo
Many people skip Colombo choosing to head straight for the beaches or mountains, but if you give it a chance there are some nice places to visit in the city – especially if you’re a culture vulture! This Buddhist temples is one of the most important temples in Colombo and demonstrates an eclectic mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture. It’s worth the visit alone just to admire the incredible collection of relics housed there form around the world.
9. Backpacker heaven at Unawatuna
With pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and a great choice of small guest houses and water sports operators, Unawatuna Beach in Sri Lanka is a firm favourite with backpackers. See Unawatuna, a locally operated company owned by Darshana, can help you make the most of your trip here, showing you best spots to surf, where to buy the best ice cream and other necessities. Darshana can also take you out on an authentic chance to explore the locality, including sunset fishing trips, snorkelling on a glass bottom boat, tuk tuk trips to temples and surf lessons. Looking for more adventure? Why not check out Kerala, India.
8. Temple of the Tooth, Kandy
The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy is rated as one of the top attractions in the country and is by far on of the most beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka. The temple is famous for housing Buddha’s sacred tooth relic and known to be one of the most sacred Buddhist temples in the world. If you visit in July, you can witness the Kandy Esala Perahera, one of the oldest and grandest of all Buddhist festivals in the world. The Temple of the Tooth itself is a magnificent temple, best visited at night when it is all lit up with thousands of fairy lights.
7. Go surfing in Weligama
In English Weligama translates to “Sandy Village” which sums up this beautiful bay in the South of Sri Lanka perfectly. Weligama, and nearby Midigama, is one of the best places in Sri Lanka to go surfing thanks to perfect waves sets and a long, untouched coastline. Beaches here are a little more wild than on the East coast, whcih only adds to the charm of the area. It’s also famous for the fishermen who stand on stilts in the water, and are probably some of the most photographed people in Sri Lanka! Weligama is also home to the Cape Weligama Hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels in the country with the most beautiful half moon swimming pool, perched on a hill and overlooking the ocean.
6. Spiritual awakening at Adam’s Peak
If you are looking to mix culture with a little hiking while in Sri Lanka, then climbing up Adam’s Peak, a 2,000 metre plus conical mountain located in the hill country is a must! Most people try to climb this peak for sunrise, to be rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and to do what many other religious pilgrims have done before them. The mountain is most famous for the footprint-like hollow at the top, which pilgrims from various religions all claim to have some significance to their God. Miss Tourist has a great post about how to climb the mountain, so check it out if you need further guidance.
5. Elephant heaven at Minneriya National Park
Doing an elephant safari in Minneriya National Park was the highlight of my trip to Sri Lanka, and I know going here will probably be one of yours too! What could possibly beat driving through a vast National Park, through a forrest and past a lake, only to come face to face with a herd of over 100 Asian Elephants, including mama’s and babies walking side by side! I’m not exaggerating when I say you might see over 200 elephants in just a short 3 hours safari – this place really is extraordinary.
It’s best to visit early in the morning or in the late afternoon, just before sunset, when the golden light turns the park a beautiful shade of orange and all the elephants start making their way down to the lake to drink and bathe.
4. Mirissa for whale watching
Did you know you can go whale watching off the east coast of Sri Lanka? While most people head to Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, you can actually see these incredible creatures off the coast of this small, south Asian island! You can spot Bryde’s whales, Sperm whales, Fin whales, sometimes Killer whales, as well as whale sharks and pods of dolphins. It’s one of the only places in the world where Blue whales get unbelievably close to the mainland, due to unusually deep waters on the east coast of the island. The beaches in Mirissa are also unspoiled and you won’t come across too many other tourists meaning you will often have an entire stretch of beach to yourself!
3. Hatton Tea Plantations
One of the things Sri Lanka is most famous for around the world is it’s high quality tea and beautiful tea plantations around the country. The tea hills are vast and there are many places you can go to to experience tea-picking and escape the hot and humid weather of the lowlands. I personally loved visiting the tea plantations in Hatton, which are a little less touristy than other regions but just as beautiful. Witnessing a sunrise or sunset over one of Sri Lanka’s tea plantations is an experience that will remain etched on your memory forever.
The beautiful tea plantations in Hatton are by far one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka – especially if you book yourself into a luxury, colonial-style bungalow complete with panoramic views of the tea fields! You can also visit the tea plantations in Nuwara Eliya, one of the coolest places to visit in Sri Lanka.
2. Hiking in Knuckles Mountain Range
The Knuckles Mountain Range is one of the lesser known places to visit in Sri Lanka, a factor that makes hiking here all the more special. You will be lucky if you come across even one other tourist, with most people visiting the area locals who consider this their little hidden gem. The views are beyond spectacular driving up through the mountains, past smaller hills, waterfalls, rivers and even tea plantations. It can get very windy up here but the hiking is out of this world and the views will honestly make you realise why Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
1. Be overwhelmed at Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress smack bang in the middle of the country and is one of the best known attractions in Sri Lanka. Located near the town of Dambulla, this towering rocky outcrop is one of the most recognised places in Sri Lanka and is somewhere everyone who travels to Sri Lanka needs to visit! The top of the rock was chosen by King Kasyapa to build his capital in the 5th century, and the place at the top (which is now in ruins) remains one of the biggest architectural feats in the country. Sigiriya is one of the most dramatic sights you will ever lay your eyes on, with near-vertical walls stretching up into the sky. Be prepared to be overwhelmed by both the top and the bottom! If you’re staying here for a night or two, be sure to read my post about the top things to do in Sigiriya!
Check into Water Garden Sigiriya, located nearby, one of the newest and most luxurious hotels in Sri Lanka with uninterrupted views of Sigiriya from its infinity pool!