1. Rent and drive a tuk tuk
Our experience of hiring and renting a tuk tuk was hands down the best thing to do in Sri Lanka.
We chose to hire out our tuk tuk shortly after arriving in Colombo and used it for our entire 4 week journey around Sri Lanka.
It is what enabled us to see and do everything we wanted and to discover so many off-the-beaten-path adventures that we wouldn't have found otherwise.
In fact, we ended up visiting more than a dozen different towns and cities across Sri Lanka, and you can learn more about the route we took here.
If you are at all interested in the idea of hiring your own tuk tuk and going on such a unique adventure, then I strongly recommend it (to save money, check out our 5% TukTuk Rental discount code).
The article below is an in-depth account of our tuk tuk experience and how you can go about joining in on the fun.
2. Sample the Kothu Rotti
We tried all sorts of food on our 4 week backpacking trip across Sri Lanka, but by far our most favourite meal was Kothu Rotti.
There’s a good chance you’ve tried something similar before when eating Indian cuisine.
But Kothu Rotti is fundamentally different to other rottis you may have had.
And this is because it comes sliced and chopped in a bowl, served with all kinds of different meat options.
My favorite Kothu Rotti came from a restaurant in Ella called 360 Ella.
Simply put, it’s so tasty and affordable that I couldn't help but add trying it to my list of the top things to do in Sri Lanka!
Why not try a street food walking tour in Colombo to really sample all the best Sri Lankan food! Book your tour here.
3. Spend time enjoying the sunsets
Sri Lanka is quickly becoming one of the world’s premier honeymoon destinations.
And one of the reasons for this are the breathtaking sunsets you get to experience almost every single evening.
When you are up in the hilly country places like Ella and Nuwara Eliya, you won't get to see these as much.
However, all around the coast, and in particular areas like Trincomalee and Mirissa, the sunsets are astounding.
They are amongst the most enjoyable things to see in Sri Lanka, so take time to relax in the evenings and make the most of them.
4. Ride the train from Kandy to Ella
Once again, this is something that we didn't get to do during our time in Sri Lanka.
Not that I feel upset, as we managed to take much of the same route by tuk tuk so still got to see all of the same breathtaking sites that the train ride offers.
However, if you've spent even just a few minutes searching around for the best things to do in Sri Lanka, you will have easily have already came across this train ride.
Many consider it to be the most famous train ride in the world, seeing as it offers so many picturesque photo opportunities.
It takes you up into the rolling hill country of Sri Lanka and, on the way you pass by endless tea plantations and rolling mountains.
Trains operate all across Sri Lanka and you can enjoy many other enjoyable rides at very affordable rates.
However, the Kandy to Ella route is by far the most travelled and most famous.
Don’t forget to book your train from Kandy to Ella in advance, especially during peak season as it can sell out due to its popularity! You can book your train direct on 12Go Asia right here.
5. Join in with a local game of cricket
Cricket is by far the most popular game played in Sri Lanka.
Everyone and their nan seems to own a cricket bat and you’ll see matches being played all over the place.
This includes on the beach, in parks and even in the middle of the road.
I’m not a big fan of cricket but a couple times I couldn’t help but join in and try and catch someone out.
As mentioned earlier, everyone in Sri Lanka is incredibly friendly and most would be more than happy for some foreigners to join in and play.
6. Go surfing!
Arguably one of the most fun things to do in Sri Lanka is to go surfing!
I suppose this comes down to how much you love watersports, but Sri Lanka is very famous for its surfing opportunities.
So much so that Red Bull host their annual Ride My Wave contest there.
Depending on which time of the year you go, you will need to check out the best spots to visit in Sri Lanka for surfing.
However, you should find that there is something for all kinds of surfers available all year round.
Arugam Bay seems to have become the most famous surf spots in the country and there is an incredibly chilled out vibe there that makes this a surfer’s paradise.
Once again, I’ve put together a guide on the best places to surf in Sri Lanka, and you can read more by clicking the link to the article below.
You can actually book 2 hour surf lessons online here. These are in Weligama, which is between Mirissa and Galle and the best place to learn how to surf due to the awesome beginner waves. Book it here.
7. Relax on the beach
Though there is so much to see and do on your Sri Lanka bucket list, don’t forget to take your time and relax every now and then.
In particular, on one of their many beaches, which are the perfect spots to relax and unwind with a good book while you work on your tan.
In my opinion, most of the best beaches in Sri Lanka are on the south coast around Mirissa and Unawatuna.
But with that being said, the beaches in Trincomalee and Arugam Bay are equally as stunning and peaceful.
So, why not take time to just visit them all, like we did?!
8. Dine out every night!
In the end, we found that one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka is to enjoy the low costs of eating and dine out every night.
It is so nice to travel and not have to worry about cooking for yourself once or twice a day.
And with so many restaurants to choose from and so much great food on offer, you really are spoiled for choice.
The country also has a nice mix of local cuisine and good old-fashioned junk food like burgers and chips for when you're feeling a little less adventurous!
9. Ride in a hot air balloon (Dambulla)
We discovered that, during our stay in Sigiriya, many tourists choose to hire out a hot air balloon which takes them high above both Dambulla and Sigiriya each evening.
From here, you will get to see either breathtaking sunsets or sunrises over the rolling countryside and infamous Lion Rock (Sigiriya Rock) and Pidurangala Rock (discussed more below).
We didn't get to do this ourselves, but heard amazing things about the experience.
It’s easily one of the most romantic things to do in Sri Lanka and, when we next visit I will definitely take the time to book into a hot air balloon ride.
10. Go on safari
Easily one of the most famous things to do in Sri Lanka is to go on safari.
The country boasts a number of different national parks, dotted all across; such as Yala, Wilpattu, Kaudulla and Minneriya.
So, regardless of whether you are visiting for 1 week or 2 months, you can almost guarantee that you will be near one or more safari parks at some point.
What’s also nice is that depending on which time of the year you choose to go, you could come across any number of different animals whilst out in the parks.
For example, we chose to do an overnight safari experience in Wilpattu National Park, shortly after arriving.
We went in October and, at that time of the year you are only supposed to see a few elephants and maybe a leopard.
We saw plenty of elephants which was great and also managed to spot an incredibly rare sloth bear on our way out of the park!
They are typically meant to be sleeping at that time of the year so seeing one was both a new experience and completely unexpected.
Next time we go, we hope to have better luck spotting ourselves a leopard!
11. Head out for a spot of shopping (Colombo)
In our opinion, there are very few things to do in Colombo, seeing as it’s a very built up and crowded city.
It’s such a stark contrast to the rest of the country and I would advise you to either avoid it altogether or get out within a day or two in order to make the most of much more rural parts of the country.
However, if you do find yourself there and are looking for stuff to do, then you can kill plenty of time by going shopping.
The city seems to be in some sort of industrial boom, so you'll discover new shopping malls dotting up all over the place.
As well as plenty of smaller shops and markets to pick up trinkets and souvenirs for when you arrive back home.
There are plenty of other great spots to pick up gifts, including better Sri Lanka tourist places like Anuradhapura, Unawatuna and Arugam Bay.
12. Visit the old submarine yard of the LTTE’s (Mullaitivu)
The tourism industry in Sri Lanka is still very much growing in all major cities.
This is because of the Sri Lankan civil war that only ended in 2008; meaning that each year the government is able to invest more money into improving the facilities and encouraging tourists to come back.
Well, if you’re interested in learning more about the civil war itself, then you should head up to the city of Mullaitivu which was a stronghold for the Tamil Tigers during the war.
Though there is not much else to do in Mullaitivu, it is still very interesting to head to the old submarine yard and look at the remnants of submarines they either finished or were still building at the time of their defeat.
In particular, the row of small submarines which served as models for future bigger builds.
13. Strap on your goggles and go snorkelling
Snorkeling is easily one of the top 5 things to do in Sri Lanka, simply because of how crystal clear the water is in so many areas.
We ended up seeing people snorkelling in almost all of the beachside areas we visited.
We even saw one person out completely on their own on a random stretch of beach on the drive past Hikkaduwa.
I’m not an expert on the best places to snorkel in Sri Lanka, so can't tell you exactly where to go.
However, I can say that you’ll find plenty of turtles along the south coast in Unawatuna; so this would be a good place to start!
This awesome tour will see you snorkelling with amazing turtles in Mirissa! It’s great value, and the turtles are really there, we saw them! Book your experience here for less than $20!
Coral Island in Trincomalee is also another awesome spot to snorkel for colourful fish and you can book a great value tour here too.
14. Watch local fishermen bring in the catch (Mullaitivu)
Also whilst in Mullaitivu, we discovered another one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka that we hadn't expected to find.
And that was watching the local fishermen bring in the catch at the end of the day.
We had just arrived back from the submarine yard when we saw a large group of people standing on the beach tugging on two incredibly long pieces of rope stretching off into the water.
We went closer and, for the next half hour, watched maybe a dozen men slowly draw in this rope while a herd of local kids and adults watched the spectacle.
We found out that, due to the serious economic underdevelopment in the area, this is how many families in Mullaitivu afford to live; they rely heavily on the dwindling catches that are drawn in each day.
You can see the same thing happen in different beaches across the country, but I just really enjoyed seeing the whole community coming together like that each and every day.
15. Live like kings and queens!
There really are so many incredibly beautiful places in Sri Lanka, all totally affordable to travellers on all budgets!
Very few things are overpriced and seeing even the most touristic spots is incredibly affordable, especially when we compare it to other countries we’ve been to.
As such, you should make the most of your time in Sri Lanka by spending a little above the odds and getting to live like kings and queens.
For example, we chose to splash out a little bit more on our safari in Wilpattu National Park.
However, at less than $100 per person, though it is classed as luxury stay you get so much more for your money than anywhere else!
They took care of all costs associated with going on safari and organised the whole things themselves.
We then got to sleep in a quality glamping tent and enjoy a 5 star meal under the stars.
So make the most of how cheap the country still is and treat yourself to a few luxuries whilst there.
Especially if you are budget backpackers like us!
16. Take time to go hiking
One of the more challenging things to do in Sri Lanka would be to take on one of the many adventurous hiking opportunities on offer.
You’ll discover most of the big hikes up in the hillier towns and cities, such as Ella and Nuwara Eliya.
Here, you can choose from walks such as Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock in Ella. As well as Adam’s Rock and Horton’s Plains in Nuwara Eliya.
Some of these hikes are incredibly challenging and only really possible at certain times of the year.
For example, we were gutted to not be able to climb Adam's Peak at sunrise as it is supposed to offer some of the most breathtaking views anywhere in the country.
Sadly, in October time it is too dark and wet early in the mornings and the journey up isn't lit.
17. Venture to one of the small, offshore islands (Jaffna)
Most people choosing to visit Sri Lanka will head up into the middle of the country and then head south on their way back round to Colombo.
As such, very few people get the chance to see what’s on offer in Jaffna, which is the city that is right up in the north of Sri Lanka.
Making Jaffna one of the most untouched and undiscovered places to see in Sri Lanka.
Here, you can head off on a day trip to one of the small offshore islands.
There are a few to choose from, such as Neduntheevu and Kutch.
To learn more, I recommend checking out this article here.
18. Visit the spot where Buddha first landed in Sri Lanka (Anuradhapura)
Mihintale has to easily be one of the most fascinating and interesting places to visit in Sri Lanka, seeing as it is the spot upon which Buddha supposedly first landed in Sri Lanka.
It is a large rocky outcrop located about 30 minutes outside of Anuradhapura.
It is a part of a large complex that includes a few other temples and monuments that you pass as you ascend hundreds of steps up towards Mihintale.
The final climb involves walking up awkwardly cut steps in the rock face itself before you finally get to summit the rock and stare out for miles around in all directions.
The whole walk up can be quite challenging in the heat, but it’s more than worth it when you get to stand in such an important and breathtaking spot.
Just be sure to watch out for the monkeys as they will try to steal from you on the way up!
19. Discover the historical and cultural center of Sri Lanka (Anuradhapura)
Anuradhapura is widely considered to be the most culturally and historically significant area in Sri Lanka, seeing as it was once the ancient capital of the country.
It would take too long here to list all of the various stupas and temples that can be found in the city of Anuradhapura, but they take at least a day to visit them all!
For $25 you can purchase a UNESCO world heritage pass which gives you access to all of the various sites dotted around the city.
To find them all, I recommend getting yourself a map early on and planning your route. This is what we did as we used our own tuk tuk to get around.
Otherwise, you may find it easier to hire a tour guide for the day who can drive you around and show you all of Anuradhapura’s wonderful sites.
You can also opt to take a tour of all the best heritage sights and religious icons. This tour here is great value and highly rated.
Read Also: The 13 Best Places To Visit In Anuradhapura
20. Wander endlessly through gorgeous tea plantations (Nuwara Eliya)
Perhaps the most beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka are the rolling tea plantations that surround much of the hill country in and around Nuwara Eliya.
Tea was brought to the region decades ago, back when the British ruled over Sri Lanka.
During their reign and in the many years since tea plantations have continued to expand and play a massive role in helping support the local economy and encouraging Sri Lanka to thrive.
What’s so nice about the tea plantations is that many of them are open to the public and you are able to wander them either by yourself or as a part of a tour.
We found local Sri Lankan women working on the fields to be incredibly friendly and welcoming and many will offer to pose for a photo (for a small fee of course).
If you're looking for things to do in Sri Lanka and want to kill a bit of time, then I recommend heading off and getting lost for a few hours roaming around the plantations.
You can take a tour of one of the Tea Factories and plantation areas here in Ella.
21. Try out some exciting watersports
Aside from surfing and bodyboarding, another great thing to do in Sri Lanka in the sea is to try out some watersports.
In areas like Trincomalee and Unawatuna, you’ll come across tour companies offering loads of different sports, such as deep sea fishing, lagoon kayaking and even white water rafting further inland near Kitulgala.
Hikkaduwa is another popular spot, as that whole southeastern corner of Sri Lanka seems to be a little more built up and geared towards modern tourist activities like high-adrenaline watersports.
Thrill seekers will love this Jet Ski Experience in Bentota, which is actually well priced compared to the rest of the world! Book it here.
22. Feed wild elephants in the middle of the road (Kataragama)
On the drive round from Arugam Bay to Mirissa, we decided to take a road that cuts down close to the Yala National Park on the way to Kataragama.
On that road, you’ll discover one of the most unexpected and exciting things to see in Sri Lanka …
Wild elephants blocking the road!
I think we saw 3 in total, and they are clearly very well versed at their trade!
Most days, the same elephants find their spots and harass all vehicles coming by, in the hope of receiving a tasty treat or two!
This was so much fun to do in our own tuk tuk as we literally had no idea what to expect and were on the lookout for miles, trying to spot the elephants.
As it turns out, they are impossible to miss, as they block the entire road and hold up cars going by.
We stopped by each one and got some photos, whilst others arriving stopped to give them some snacks.
The road ended up getting pretty narrow as we tried to squeeze past them and twice we had to race by as quick as we could, as a large trunk entered the tuk tuk in search of some hidden goodies we must have been hiding!
This is easily one of my fondest memories from our Sri Lanka trip.
23. Learn about Sri Lanka’s rich and vivid history
There’s no exact rule on where to go in Sri Lanka in order to learn about their rich and rather recent violent history.
They had a civil war that raged for more than 2 decades and which only ended back in 2008.
Much of the northeast of the country is still economically deprived and very much recovering after the devastating loss of lives and housing in the war.
We tried to be very tentative when broaching the subject with locals, but most were more than happy to share their stories and experiences and educate us on what went on.
Especially in Mullaitivu and Trincomalee, where we had the chance to speak to families who are both Tamil and Sinhalese (both sides of the war).
What I found to be a real shame is that there are no real museums in the country where you can go to and learn more about it; like you would find in countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam.
But if you do get the chance to speak to anyone involved, then be very respectful and take time to learn what these incredibly brave and resilient people have been through in recent years.
We found Sri Lankans to be amongst the nicest people we have met anywhere in the world, and I’m still shocked that a war could even take place in such a country.
24. Go whale watching (Trincomalee)
Whale watching is one of the most popular activities in Trincomalee, but one you can only do at certain times of the year.
Once again, it seems that by visiting in October this is another Sri Lanka activity we missed out on!
But, alas, we shall return and see it for ourselves one day.
To go whale watching in Trincomalee, you should visit between May and September.
In the months of November to April, you should also have success whale watching on the south coast in Mirissa.
For whale watching in Mirissa, I would opt for this great value tour and for whale watching in Trincomalee, I would opt for this tour. Either location, whale watching is one of the cool things to do in Sri Lanka!
25. Climb Lion Rock and Pidurangala Rock (Sigiriya)
Sigiriya is one of my favourite stops in Sri Lanka and is also one of the most desirable Sri Lanka honeymoon places.
And arguably the biggest reason for this is are the two incredibly random, yet astounding crops of rock sitting in the middle of the countryside …
Lion Rock and Pidurangala Rock.
It turns out that these are two large pieces of molten rock left over from when a volcano would have erupted thousands of years ago.
Since then, they have served as a home for royalty and have now become one of the biggest tourist attractions in Sri Lanka.
We were fortunate enough to stay in the honeymoon suite at Cassandra Culture Resort, which boasted epic views out over the surrounding landscape, all the way to each rock.
And on our first morning there, we decided to ascend Lion Rock fortress and take in the breathtaking views it allows.
Seriously, if you visit Sri Lanka, then do not miss out on seeing these two rocks.
26. Learn how to scuba dive (Trincomalee)
Regardless of whether you are an experienced scuba diver or have never even qualified, Sri Lanka is the perfect place to give it a go!
First off, it is incredibly cheap; with many schools in Trincomalee offering to fully train and qualify you over a 3 day period for around $250.
Here, you’ll find a number of schools offering excursions almost every day, and they typically take you out to somewhere called Pigeon Island which is famed as one of the best snorkeling and scuba diving spots anywhere in Sri Lanka.
Read Also: 12 Perfect Places To Visit In Trincomalee
27. Try bodyboarding, if surfing's not for you
If surfing is a bit too strenuous for you, then there’s no reason why you can't give bodyboarding a go!
This is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka for families of all ages, and there seemed to be dozens of kids in Mirissa out bodyboarding when we were there.
We did, of course, give it a go ourselves and I think I’m just as bad at that as I am surfing!
Though for 300 rupees an hour, there’s no reason why you can't at least try out your bodyboarding skills.
28. Go on your own tuk tuk safari (Arugam Bay)
One of the most unique things to do in Sri Lanka is to go on your own tuk tuk safari.
However, for this you will, of course, need your own tuk tuk!
Also, there's not much info online, but we found out about it when renting our tuk tuk in Colombo.
Basically, when you're in Arugam Bay, you have the chance to gonna safari tour of the Yala National Park.
You're fully able to drive your own vehicle inside of part of the park, so you can drive for about an hour inside of the park, before you either have to go further in on an organised tour or turn around and go back.
You can drive as far as the Kumana National Park entrance.
However, this still offers plenty of chance to see the animals living in the park.
Most notably elephants, wild deer, water buffalo and maybe even a leopard … if you’re lucky!
Here’s the route to take:
29. Hire a moped when out and about exploring
If you’re not too keen on hiring a tuk tuk to get around Sri Lanka, then why not hire out a moped when out and about exploring each location?
It’s easily one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka as the roads are very safe and it’s such a buzz.
Just be sure to check your moped carefully before signing any paperwork and heading out for the day.
To help you out, here’s a scooter checklist post I wrote after our experiences in Southeast Asia.
30. Wander slowly through the Royal Botanical Gardens (Kandy)
The Royal Botanical Gardens in Kandy are easily one of the most beautiful places in Sri Lanka, especially compared to the noise and pollution of the city it’s located in!
The gardens have been there for more than 250 years and in that time they have grown to include an incredibly diverse array of flowers and trees.
Though Cazzy and I aren’t particularly into our plants and flowers, it’s hard not to be impressed by the colourful displays you’ll find all across the park.
As per our typical luck, after just half an hour of arriving, we were caught by a sudden and rather lengthy storm.
However, this is pretty typical in Sri Lanka and after a while we were able to continue our journey around the park, albeit a little bit wetter!
31. Visit the Temple of the Tooth (Kandy)
The Temple of the Tooth is another sacred thing to do in Sri Lanka and one that you can easily fit in after your trip to the Royal Botanical Gardens.
Before visiting, I recommend you do a little bit of research about the Temple of the Tooth, and as always Wikipedia is pretty helpful!
As the story goes, over 2500 years ago, when Buddha was cremated, one canine tooth was retrieved from the ashes.
It has since been guarded closely and has served a crucial role in helping to decide who governed the once ruling capital of Kandy.
You can opt for a Kandy City day tour to see all the best spots Kandy has to offer without the hassle of navigating from one to the other. Book this one here.
32. Wonder at the detail of Cave Temple (Dambulla)
One of the best places in Sri Lanka for seeing religious sites is Dambulla.
Or, more specifically, visiting Cave Temple.
The area is made up of around 5 temples, each of which is filled with a number of expertly carved Buddha statues.
The walls and ceilings of the temples have also been carved and decorated and it’s a wonderful site to see.
As you might imagine, it is an incredibly sacred Buddhist location, so gets very busy all year round.
33. Take a jet ski out onto Gregory Lake (Nuwara Eliya)
It’s hard to deny that Nuwara Eliya is amongst the best cities in Sri Lanka and, in my humble opinion, I think it’s the best!
There are so many things to see and do all around the city and, due to the colder and rainier climate, is very similar to England.
Which is just one of the reasons why it’s called Little England!
Well, one of the most surprising things to do in Nuwara Eliya is to go jet skiing out on the famous Gregory Lake.
This large open lake is located inside of the city and there are opportunities to hire out all kinds of water sporting activities from spots all around the lake.
If jet skiing isn't your thing, then you can hire a swan, a speedboat or even a kayak.
34. Head to one of Asia’s oldest golf courses (Nuwara Eliya)
If you’re a golfing fan, then one of the top things to do on your journey around Sri Lanka would be to stop off in Nuwara Eliya for a round of golf!
The course itself dates back to the late 1800s, meaning it's one of the oldest courses anywhere in Asia.
And don't worry, you don't have to haul a set of clubs and golfing gear with you all around Sri Lanka.
You can rent everything you need from the club, and it all adds up to be surprisingly cheap.
The total comes to around 8400 rupees which, compared to a round back in the UK, is very good value!
If you’re interested, it is aptly named the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club.
35. Visit a tea factory (Nuwara Eliya)
The wonderful thing about Nuwara Eliya is that, not only are there acres upon acres of stunning tea plantations to enjoy, there are also a whole bunch of tea factories for you to visit.
It’s hard to recommend any exact one, and we chose to first stop off at a factory on our journey from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya.
We were able to go for a short walk around some of the fields and then take a look inside the factory and watch everyone going about their work.
Many of the factories seem to be incredibly old and look as if they've never been renovated since they were first built.
At the more tourist-oriented factories you will also find cafes and restaurants.
Our one had exactly this and for less than $0.50 we enjoyed a cup of fresh tea each as we savoured the extraordinary views the cafe offered.
Many also have gift shops where you can pick up a whole variety of different types of tea to take home with you.
One factory I recommend you visit is Mlesna Tea Castle which, as you might imagine, is a castle replica built with views of Devon Falls.
36. How about a day at the races? (Nuwara Eliya)
One of the more unique things to do on your Sri Lanka sightseeing trip would be to visit the Royal Turf Club, located in Nuwara Eliya.
Sadly for us, there were no races on as it’s the wrong time of the year, but if you visit in the summer months then you can spend a day at the races, just like you would back in the UK.
It really does add to the incredibly British charm of the city and, even with the race season over, you’ll still see horses roaming about town at all hours of the day!
Strangely enough, many owners just seem to tie their horses to a tree right next to the main road for hours on end.
37. Marvel at the beauty of Nine Arch Bridge (Ella)
The infamous Nine Arch Bridge in Ella is easily one of the top 10 places to visit in Sri Lanka.
It has become a truly iconic spot to visit and for obvious reasons.
The old-fashioned stone bridge is located in one of the most picturesque spots around Ella and offers breathtaking photos at all hours of the day.
I recommend doing what we did and heading up just after sunrise.
That way, you get to experience the bridge and snap as many photos as you want, well before it becomes overcrowded with other visitors.
Ask in town beforehand to find out when the first train is expected to arrive, so you can get some cool shots of it as it passes by.
You can take a tour of the Nine Arch Bridge and 2 of Ellas other great sights with this tour, it’s perfect if you’re a solo traveller, or simply like to take tours! Don’t miss out on the Nine Arch Bridge either way as it’s really one of the most interesting things to do in Sri Lanka. Book it here.
38. Partake in a spot of yoga
No Sri Lanka trip would be complete without a spot of yoga!
The gorgeous sunrises and sunsets are the perfect backdrop to an early morning or late evening yoga session.
We saw plenty of people doing exactly this, especially in the seaside towns such as Arugam Bay, Trincomalee and Mirissa.
I’m sure you could find a number of yoga retreats located all across Sri Lanka if you are that way inclined.
39. Take time to explore all the waterfalls (Nuwara Eliya)
As you’ll see in the article below, Nuwara Eliya is surrounded by many of the best waterfalls you’ll find anywhere in Sri Lanka.
As such, it is entirely possible to spend a whole day just going on a waterfall tour of Nuwara Eliya.
Many are located outside of the main city, about half an hour's drive away.
But on the way, you get to pass through all of the surrounding hill country and tea plantations.
As such, it is a truly spectacular day out.
40. Head out for a night on the town (Ella)
It seems as if Ella is one of the most up and coming Sri Lanka holiday destinations.
All around the region you will find brand new hotels and hostels being built and, what’s unique about Ella is the modern strip of restaurants and bars in the town centre.
You will struggle to find places to head out drinking in Sri Lanka and, in my opinion, Ella is a great place to let loose and enjoy a night out.
They have modern restaurants all along the strip, many of which offer live music and 2-for-1 drink deals late into the night.
The best place we found was Ella Spice which also offers a pool table.
41. Take a cooking class
You’ll find the opportunity to do a cooking class in many locations all across Sri Lanka.
They are well known for their diverse use of herbs and spices and, if you’re able to learn how to make Kottu Rotti, then it's well worth it for that alone!
Perhaps one of the best cooking classes we come across was the one being offered by Ella Spice Garden.
So, if you’re left wondering what to do in Sri Lanka and have nothing else planned, then book on for a cooking class and learn to cook like the locals do!
You can actually book your cooking experience with Ella Spice Garden online to reserve a spot! It’s less than $20 so definitely one of the best activities to do in Sri Lanka if on a budget. Book it here!
42. Capture stunning photographs
Here’s something you can do in Sri Lanka, everywhere you go!
Other than Colombo, everywhere we visited in Sri Lanka seemed to offer endless photo opportunities.
So make sure you take some good quality camera equipment with you and spend some time capturing the perfect shots.
For busy tourist spots like Lion Rock in Sigiriya and the Nine Arch Bridge in Ella, I recommend getting up early and trying to be the first ones there.
Here are a few more of our favourite photo spots in Sri Lanka:
- The tea plantations in Nuwara Eliya
- The Dalanwala Rope Swing in Unawatuna
- Coconut Island in Mirissa
43. Party on the beach with fellow backpackers
As mentioned above, Sri Lanka is anything but a party capital for backpackers.
However, this doesn’t mean there's nowhere to unwind and let loose.
Some of the best areas to go drinking include Mirissa, Ella and, best of all, Arugam Bay!
Arugam Bay has a large surfing community and a large strip filled with bars, clubs and restaurants.
Arguably the best one to go to is Mambos which is an epic beachside open bar/club.
We were lucky enough to visit during the last Saturday night event of the season, and were not disappointed!
Our night here turned out to be one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka and by far our best night spent anywhere in the country.
44. Try glamping in Sri Lanka
One of the more unique things to do in Sri Lanka is to go glamping.
We chose to combine glamping alongside our safari and booked a nights stay at Big Game Camp in Wilpattu.
As a part of this experience, not only did we have our own tent and safari, but also a 5 course meal under the stars and large breakfast in the morning.
The tent itself was anything but basic and came complete with a double bed and private bathroom.
45. Visit the Elephant Transit Home (Mirissa)
The Elephant Transit Home, located just outside of Mirissa, is one of the must-see places in Sri Lanka.
It’s ideally located so that, even if you're not heading right down to the south coast, you can still visit it if you’re passing through areas like Ella.
Here, you’ll find loads of elephants, including either babies or those that have been injured out in the wild.
We’re not big fans of ordinary zoos, but the elephant transit home is exactly what it says on the tin.
It’s a place that takes in and cares for elephants in need before eventually releasing them back into the wild.
46. Take long, romantic walks along the beach
Though this might sound a bit corny, taking walks along the beach is great for you couples out there looking for romantic things to do in Sri Lanka.
As long as you're not in the middle of a monsoon season, evenings in Sri Lanka tend to be very calm and peaceful, making for the perfect conditions to stroll along the beach.
During the day is just as nice, though it can get very hot!
47. Visit the Dog Care Clinic (Unawatuna)
One of the most underrated things to do in Sri Lanka is to visit the Dog Care Clinic that is located in Unawatuna in southern Sri Lanka.
By far the biggest thing I dislike about Sri Lanka is the serious stray dog problem that they have. You will see stray dogs everywhere you go all across the country and it is heartbreaking to see the condition that they are in.
We frequently saw groups of young puppies, all abandoned and without mothers.
Many of which suffered from serious health problems, such as mange and being covered in tics.
Well, the Dog Care Clinic in Unawatuna was the only place we came across which seemed to be trying to do something about it.
You can walk around the centre, getting to meet all of the dogs they are currently caring for long-term and learning all of the local projects they undertake every single day.
Which includes neutering hundreds of dogs each week!
The people running it really are incredible and, more surprisingly, almost the entire operation is funded by just one person; the German lady who founded the centre.
48. Go swimming with sea turtles (Unawatuna)
Another one of my top 10 things to do in Sri Lanka is to go swimming with wild turtles in Unawatuna.
All along that coast, there are hundreds of thousands of turtles that are born and that live in the shores close to land.
When in Unawatuna, head to a beach called Dellawalla.
Here, there is a part of the ocean protected by a reef in a sort of cove.
It’s the perfect place for turtles to live and there are a few very large ones that spend their days swimming around all of the fascinated tourists.
It might take a while to spot one, but just keep your eyes peeled on the surface of the water where they occasionally come up to for air.
They really are very big and I was actually quite shocked when one first swam by me.
But don’t worry, they are harmless creatures that are well used to sharing their home with onlooking humans.
49. Warm your heart at a turtle hatchery/sanctuary
When you’re done swimming with the turtles, you can learn much more about these fascinating creatures at one of the many turtle rescue sanctuaries that are located all along the coast.
We stopped at a random one on our final day in Sri Lanka when driving up from Unawatuna to Colombo.
As you pass through Hikkaduwa and along the coast, you’ll see a number of turtles sanctuaries.
Inside, you get the chance to meet the people running it and learn more about turtles of all ages and types and why the sanctuaries are so important.
They care for young and disabled turtles that need a bit of a helping hand before eventually being released back into the wild.
They are very cheap to visit and well worth it!
50. Be fascinated by stilt fishing
There are a few different places to go in Sri Lanka to see stilt fishing, most of which are along the southern coast.
Smaller seaside towns such as Kathaluwa and Koggala still have a number of local stilt fishermen going about their trade on a daily basis.
You can either turn up and watch or instead book onto a tour from a more popular town you might be staying in, such as Unawatuna or Mirissa.
It really is an incredibly skillful job that they have, one which requires the sort of balance and patience which I certainly do not have!
Read Also: 12 Amazing Things To Do In Unawatuna
Common FAQ when planning things do in Sri Lanka
What are the best places to visit in Sri Lanka?
With so many incredible things to see in Sri Lanka, it can be hard knowing exactly which places to visit and how to plan an itinerary.
Well, here is a list of all the places in Sri Lanka which covers all of the things to do listed above …
- Nuwara Eliya
- Arugam Bay
For a better idea of the best way to do Sri Lanka and which route to take, here is the 3 week Sri Lanka backpacking route that we chose to follow.
You will also find more information about possible itineraries on our ultimate Sri Lanka backpacking guide, which offers even more options depending on how long you have to spend there.
How do you get around Sri Lanka?
Getting around Sri Lanka is pretty straightforward and you have a few options to choose from. Including …
- Hiring your own tuk tuk - You can hire a tuk tuk from a few different companies in and around Colombo and Negombo. I highly recommend this above all other options as it gives you 100% flexibility and freedom to do all of the things in Sri Lanka that you wish to do. If you're a decent and confident driver, it’s also far safer than alternatives and you can read more about how to hire one here.
- Using taxis/uber - If you’ve only got a few places to visit, then it’s entirely possible to hire taxis, and sometimes Ubers, to take you to different destinations. Sure, it will work out more expensive but, because Sri Lanka isn't that big, most major cities and towns are just a few hours apart.
- Taking trains - Trains run all across Sri Lanka and most backpackers take at least a few train rides during their time in Sri Lanka; particularly from Kandy to Ella. We didn't use any trains ourselves so I can’t offer too much advice.The best way to book your train tickets in Sri Lanka is using 12Go Asia! It’s super convenient and gives you the best price. Check it out here.
- Using local buses - Local buses run between all towns and cities and are usually the cheapest way to get about. Again we didn't need to use any of these, but I can say that they are all very old and the drivers rarely seem to drive very sensibly!
- Hire a moped - If you’re out exploring one area for the day, then you should hire a moped (as long as you don't already have a tuk tuk of course!). These allow you to go anywhere you want and are incredibly good fun.
How long should you spend in Sri Lanka?
As long as you can!
Once you arrive, you won't want to leave and there’s plenty of adventurous things to do in Sri Lanka to last you for at least 3 or 4 weeks.
All I will say is that, if you are limited to just a week or 2, then be sure to plan out your trip as carefully as possible so as to fit in as much as you can whilst there.
How much does it cost to do most things in Sri Lanka?
As it turns out, and as you’ll see from the list above, there are so many free things to do in Sri Lanka, that you never have to worry about breaking the bank!
The rest are usually incredibly cheap, except for a few things that do cost a bit more; such as climbing Sigiriya Rock, going on safari and getting a day pass for Anuradhapura.
Other than that, you really do get what you pay for. Meaning you can choose to stay in pricier hotels if you like, but you really don't need to!
The same goes for eating out, as almost everywhere is very reasonably priced and offering great quality food.
Typical backpacking activities like surfing and hiking are all very cheap.
Is Sri Lanka safe to visit?
As of writing, Sri Lanka is very safe to visit.
There seems to have been a lot of turmoil in recent months and years about the ruling political party, but it doesn't seem to be anything too extreme.
It is certainly nothing like what went on during the Sri Lankan civil war that ended more than 10 years ago.
I can't remember meeting a single Sri Lankan who was anything but incredibly friendly and there seems to be little or no bad feelings coming from locals towards tourists.
As always, I recommend you carry out basic good travelling principles whilst in Sri Lanka, such as hiding valuables at all times and never going out on your own after dark.
As long as you are sensible, there's no reason why Sri Lanka wouldn't be a very safe country to visit.
When is the best time to visit Sri Lanka?
It really depends on what you are looking to do there.
For example, we visited in September/October and this turned out to be a great time for the weather. It was calm everywhere we went and sunny all around the coast.
However, it is also the season in which the tides change and so surfing was very average at best.
It also meant we were unable to go whale watching, which was a little annoying.
At the same time, however, you might not want to go in peak summer months as you’ll find that popular areas like Ella and Sri Lanka are very busy.
But at the minimum, try to base your itinerary around the revolving monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka.
In order to miss all monsoons, we chose to travel clockwise around the country, meaning we only caught a few rainy days at the end of our trip.
For a more detailed answer, here is a useful guide on Sri Lanka’s annual weather patterns.
So there you have it, my epic list of the 50 best things to do in Sri Lanka, based off our month spent backpacking through this gorgeous country.
If you have any more questions or suggestions on what to do in Sri Lanka, then please do let me know in the comments below.
I’d love to hear from you and would be happy to help wherever possible!