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TOP-10 Best things to do in Sri Lanka

Discover the top 10 things to do in Sri Lanka, from exploring ancient ruins to witnessing wildlife and surfing the best waves in South Asia.

Sri Lanka, situated south of India, is a highly diverse country that offers a lot to its visitors. It's famous for its beautiful beaches, rich history, and abundant natural beauty. There's something for everyone in Sri Lanka! In April 2024, we spent a whole month exploring all the natural and cultural attractions of the country. Staying for such a long period allowed us to understand local life better and uncover many popular as well as hidden gems that Sri Lanka has to offer. Here are the top 10 things to do in Sri Lanka.

IS SRI LANKA GOOD FOR PHOTOGRAPHY: See our Gallery from Sri Lanka

Ancient Fortress of Sigiriya with Pidurangala Rock visible in the background.
Ancient Fortress of Sigiriya with Pidurangala Rock visible in the background.

Visit Sigiriya - an iconic historical landmark of Sri Lanka

Sigiriya is an ancient fortress built atop a nearly 200-meter-high rock in the middle of the jungle by King Kashyapa (AD 477–495) for his new capital. Sigiriya is also called the Lion's Rock because its entrance leads through a sculpted in stone lion's mouth. These ruins have some truly extraordinary features, including wall fortifications, landscaped gardens, pools, and a monastery. Visiting this unique landmark is one thing, but seeing the broad landscape with Sigiriya at its center is a truly unique view. You can experience it by hiking up a short trail to the top of Pidurangala Rock, a popular viewpoint among tourists and locals.

Take a stroll around Sri Lanka's center highlands tea plantations

Sri Lanka's central highlands have the perfect climate and temperatures to grow some of the best tea in the world. Tea production in Sri Lanka began in the 1800s under British rule, when Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, was a British colony. Since then, tea production continues today with little change, sticking to the traditional methods. The primary type of tea from Sri Lanka is orthodox black tea, though you can also find green and variety of speciality teas in smaller amounts. The largest areas with tea plantations are located around the towns Nuwara Eliya and Ella in the central region of Sri Lanka. By visiting these towns, you can sign up at your chosen hotel for a tour to the factory or explore the tea plantations on your own.

The Nine Arches Bridge

The Nine Arches Bridge is the top attraction of Ella. It's located just a few minutes away from the center of the town, which makes it very convenient for a quick visit. You can observe the bridge from viewpoints on either side, take a steep walk down under it, or even walk on it when the train drives through. The Nine Arches Bridge is one of the most recognisable locations in Sri Lanka and attracts lots of visitors every day, so the best time to visit would be during the early morning hours.

Take the scenic train ride between Ella and Kandy

Sri Lanka's blue train has been attracting attention for a long time, and it's not without reason. The train ride between Ella and Kandy goes through Sri Lanka's central highlands, filled with tea plantations, with truly remarkable views. What adds to the experience is that the iconic blue train has open doors from which you can enjoy the ride, sitting on the stairs or even leaning out. Taking this train was something I wouldn't want to miss during my visit to Sri Lanka.

Buduruwagala Temple, with seven buddhist figures sculpted in a tall rock wall.
Buduruwagala Temple, with seven buddhist figures sculpted in a tall rock wall.

Sri Lanka Temples

Sri Lankans are very spiritual people with a rich Hindu heritage. During your visit to Sri Lanka, you shouldn't miss making a visit to one of the country's many unique temples. Visitors to Buddhist temples must obey a dress code which includes wearing clothes that cover your knees and arms. During our stay in Sri Lanka, we visited a few of the most characteristic temples, but the one that impressed us the most was Buduruwagala, with seven Buddhist figures sculpted in a tall rock wall, the tallest one measuring above 15 meters. When seeing such a unique view, you can right away feel that you're in a special place.

Asian Elephants are best spotted in Minneriya National Park
Asian Elephants are best spotted in Minneriya National Park

Go on a Safari Tour in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an island with rich wildlife, with 28 national parks scattered throughout the country, providing scientific, educational and recreational opportunities to visitors. Sri Lanka is well known for its large population of Asian Elephants, which are best spotted in Minneriya National Park. Each year, during the dry season, large numbers of elephants gather on the grasslands next to a large lake, reaching as many as 400 (in 2017) at its peak, from August to September.

Sri Lanka boasts a high number of endemic species, animals, and plants found nowhere else on Earth, making this island a fantastic place for observing wildlife. Another rare animal found only in Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan Leopard. With no competition from other large big cats, the leopards found in Sri Lanka have become the largest leopards in the world. Spotting a leopard is very rare, but we were able to see even four of them during our Safari Tour in Yala National Park, the most visited and second-largest national park in Sri Lanka.

Go Surfing in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a year-round surfing destination, with some of the best waves in South Asia. During the months of November to April, the best area of the country for surfing is the southwest coastline, known for lots of great surf spots with waves suitable for anyone from beginners to pros. During the months of May to October, the best part of the country is the east coast, with Arugam Bay being the main surf area at this time of year. We decided to stay in Weligama, which with its 2-kilometer-long beach has been called the best surfing spot for beginner surfers. After surfing every day for two weeks straight, I can surely confirm that this beach isn't only for beginners, but it's a fantastic place that can allow you to get comfortable on the board before taking on more challenging breaks.

Whale Watching in Mirissa Sri Lanka

Whale watching is another unique activity you can do in Sri Lanka. The majority of tour operators start their trips from Mirissa Beach. Seeing wild animals in their natural habitat is a truly remarkable experience. During our tour, we quickly spotted a Fin Whale, which we followed for the next couple of minutes. Every five minutes, the whale would pop up its blowhole, and we could see its dorsal fin. Unfortunately, we couldn't see much more as that whale preferred to be mostly deep underwater. However, later during the tour, we spotted a huge pod of around 500 spinner dolphins hunting fish around fishermen's boats. The dolphins were playful and swam a lot around our boat, jumping from the water and spinning, which was amazing to watch. Other sea animals that are possible to be seen during whale watching are Blue whales, sperm whales, Bryde's whales, short-finned whales, dolphins, and occasionally killer whales and whale sharks.

Silent Beach, Sri Lanka

Explore Sri Lanka Beaches and find your Paradise

Sri Lanka's coast is filled with beautiful golden sand beaches adorned with palm trees and clear blue water. Although many of the beaches are already quite commercialised, and even though still beautiful, you will find there tons of tourists, beach chairs, and bars. These beaches are very enjoyable for spending the whole day, but don't hold yourself back from searching for a hidden paradise. We drove along the southwest coast to find the best beaches in Sri Lanka, and our favorites ended up being Silent Beach, Hiriketiya Beach, Mirissa Beach, and Vijaya Beach.

New-born turtle on its way to the ocean

Make a visit to Turtle Hatchery in Sri Lanka

There are several turtle hatcheries you can visit in Sri Lanka, all on the southeast coast. Visiting a turtle hatchery is a great way to get a close-up view of sea turtles. During our visit to Mahamodara Hatchery, we saw lots of sea turtles, from baby one-day-old turtles to big and yearly turtles. Unfortunately, most of the grown-up turtles in the hatcheries are disabled, sick, or injured due to unsustainable fishing or genetic defects. Turtle eggs are also a delicacy not only for wild animals but also for Sri Lankan villagers. Mahamodara Hatchery uses its funds to buy out found eggs and collect them, allowing them to hatch. After making a donation, we were allowed to release one of the newly hatched turtles into the ocean.

See our other articles about Sri Lanka

In April 2024, we spent a full month exploring all the natural and cultural sights of Sri Lanka. Staying for such a long time enabled us to gain a deeper understanding of local life and discover many popular as well as overlooked places that Sri Lanka has to offer. Check out our other articles about Sri Lanka and plan your own trip using all the tips and recommendations we've gathered on our blog.



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