20 Best Things To Do In Sri Lanka in 2024

Bradley Williams
Written By:
Bradley Williams
Last Updated:
January 18, 2024
After a month travelling around the country, we discovered so many incredible things to do in Sri Lanka that I thought it only right to share the best 20!
exploring Sri Lanka

Out of the dozens of countries we have now visited, Sri Lanka is up there in the top 5.

Though it is a comparatively small country, there are so many incredible things to do in Sri Lanka, making it well suited to all kinds of travellers.

And as budget backpackers, we particularly liked how nothing is too expensive to see and do.

Below, you’ll discover my epic list of the most exciting and adventurous things to do in Sri Lanka.

None of them will break the bank and almost all will leave you with fond, lifelong memories of this truly spectacular country.

So, without further ado, let’s get stuck in...

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1. Rent and drive a tuk tuk

driving our tuk tuka cross sri lanka
Driving in our trusted tuk tuk named "Abigail"

Our experience of hiring and renting a tuk tuk was hands down the best thing to do in Sri Lanka.

We chose to hire 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.

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?

I have long said that riding mopeds is my favourite activity from our 3 month backpacking trip around Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos and the same goes for Sri Lanka!

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.

2. Enjoy the local cuisine

Sri Lankan cuisine

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.

And with so many restaurants to choose from and so much great food on offer, you really are spoiled for choice.

The food in Sri Lanka really is delicious, with popular dishes including fish ambul thiyal, egg hoppers, and dhal curry.

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 trying it is one 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!

Alternatively, you could book this street food tour by tuk tuk. It lasts for 4-5 hours and your local guide will take you to all the best foodie spots.

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!

3. Relax on the beach and enjoy the sunsets

sunrise places to visit in sri lanka
Going for a romantic sunset stroll in Unawatuna

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.

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 (and another great opportunity for sunset watching).

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.

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!

Read Also: Our 3 Week Sri Lanka Itinerary: The Best Places To Visit

4. Ride the train from Kandy to Ella

Kandy to Ella train, Sri Lanka

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 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'll 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. Go surfing!

surfing in sri lanka

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 spot in the country and there is an incredibly chilled out vibe here 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.

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.

We did, of course, give it a go ourselves and I think I’m just as bad at that as I am surfing!

Read Also: The Hottest Surf Spots In Sri Lanka [+Common Faqs]

You can actually book 2 hour surf lessons online here. These are in Weligama, which is between Mirissa and Galle and is the best place to learn how to surf due to the area's awesome beginner waves.

6. Go on safari

sloth bear in sri lanka
Spotting Sloth Bears in Wilpattu National Park

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!

For those who don't wish to stay overnight, you can easily book a safari drive from Trincomalee. This tour includes round-trip transfers from your hotel, an English-speaking guide, breakfast, and snacks.

Read Also: Booking A Sri Lanka Safari? Everything You Need To Know!

7. Discover the historical and cultural center of Sri Lanka (Anuradhapura)

Mihintale in Anuradhapura
The view from atop Mihintale

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.

Another highlight of this area is Mihintale, seeing as it is the spot upon which Buddha supposedly first landed in Sri Lanka. This large rocky outcrop is 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!

You can also opt to take a tour of all the best heritage sights and religious icons.

This private tour here is great value and highly rated. You'll get to visit all the the famous Polonnaruwa Ruins, including King Parakramabahu's Royal Palace. Hotel pick-up and drop-off from Anuradhapura is also included.

Read Also: The Best Places To Visit In Anuradhapura

8. Take time to go hiking

little adams peak in Ella
The view from Little Adam's Peak in Ella

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.

If you're short of time, this Ella private tour includes a hike up to Ella Rock, and you'll visit nearby attractions too. It includes lunch and refreshments, as well as round-trip transfers and bottled drinking water.

Read Also: Backpacking Sri Lanka: A Ridiculously In-depth Guide!

9. Look out for marine life

blue whale

Thanks to Sri Lanka's location, its waters are teeming with wildlife. You'll find everything from whales and sharks to turtles off the coast! 

Whale watching is one of the most popular activities in the country, but one you can only do at certain times of the year.

Mirissa (from November to April) and Trincomalee (May to September) are the two best spots for this activity.

For whale watching in Mirissa, I would opt for this great value tour. On this tour, you'll be out on the water for hours and it's an ethical experience, as the company doesn't disturb the whales (or any other marine life). Insurance is provided and you'll have breakfast included.

No matter which location you choose, whale watching is one of the cool things to do in Sri Lanka!

Swimming with wild turtles in Unawatuna is another activity you'll want to include on your itinerary.

All along that coast, there are hundreds of thousands of turtles that are born and then live 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.

Read Also: Amazing Things To Do In Unawatuna

10. Climb Lion Rock and Pidurangala Rock (Sigiriya)

Sunrise over Lion Rock in Sigiriya
The spectacular sunrise view from our balcony

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 offers.

Seriously, if you visit Sri Lanka, then do not miss out on seeing these two rocks.

If you're not planning to stay here, opt for this Sigiriya Rock tour from Colombo. As well as visiting the iconic Lion Rock, you'll spend some time in a traditional village. This tour includes entrance fees, lunch, transport, and an English-speaking guide.

Read Also: Top Things To Do In Sigiriya - A Complete Travel Guide

11. Spend time in Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya tea fields

Nuwara Eliya is perhaps one of the most beautiful places in Sri Lanka, and there's a lot to do here.

The rolling tea plantations that surround much of this charming town are certainly a highlight, and many of them are open to the public.

You're able to wander them either by yourself or as a part of a tour, where you'll learn all about how these plantations support the local economy and help the country to thrive.

Tea was brought to the region decades ago, back when the British ruled over Sri Lanka, and is still a huge part of Sri Lankan life today.

As such, there are plenty of tea factories that you can visit too, some of which offer cafes, restaurants, and gift shops.

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.

Speaking of waterfalls in Nuwara Eliya, there are some beautiful ones that you can visit! These include Lovers Leap Waterfall, Ramboda Falls, and Glen Falls.

Many are located outside of the main city, about half an hour's drive away, so it's possible to spend an entire day chasing waterfalls in this area.

There are so many other great things to do in Nuwara Eliya too (also known as 'Little England).

Here, you can enjoy watersport activities on Gregory Lake (including jet skiing), or spend a day at the races (at the Royal Turf Club).

You can also enjoy a round of golf at one of Asia's oldest golf courses. The Nuwara Eliya Golf Club dates back to the late 1800s, and you can rent everything you need from the club. It all adds up to be surprisingly cheap too.

Read Also: The Best Things To Do In Nuwara Eliya [With Directions!]

12. Learn about Sri Lanka’s rich and vivid history

Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
Trincomalee is a great place to learn about Sri Lanka's 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.

13. 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.

Read Also: Our Incredible Wilpattu National Park Safari (Less Than $100!)

14. Explore the mountain town of Ella

Ella, Sri Lanka

Ella is one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka for so many reasons, but thanks to its beauty and variety of things to do.

First of all, there's the infamous Nine Arch Bridge.

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.

This awesome Ella tour includes a visit to the Nine Arch Bridge, as well as Ella Rock and Little Adams Peak.

Taking a cooking class is another top activity that's offered in Ella, as you'll learn how to make traditional Sri Lankan dishes.

Perhaps one of the best cooking classes we come across was the one being offered by Ella Spice Garden. Here, you will learn how to make traditional Sri Lankan dishes, visit on organic garden to see what spices are used, and then of course, eat the food after! 

As Ella is one of the most up and coming Sri Lanka holiday destinations, it's a great place to have a night out on the town.

Here, you'll find a seemingly endless amount of hotels, hostels, restaurants, and bars, so you'll be spoilt for choice. Many of these offer live music and 2-for-1 drink deals late into the night (we found Ella Spice to be the best as it also offers a pool table).

Read Also: Incredible Things To Do In Ella (Sri Lanka) A Complete Guide

15. Strap on your goggles and go snorkelling

marine life in Sri Lanka

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!

Alternatively, you could learn to scuba dive in Sri Lanka (specifically 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.

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 another awesome spot to snorkel for colourful fish and you can book a great value tour here too.

Read Also: The Perfect Places To Visit In Trincomalee

16. Spend time in Kandy

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy is another popular spot. It's a pilgrimage site and you'll find plenty of cultural attractions to visit in this area (as well as non-cultural attractions).

First of all, there's the Temple of the Tooth, one of Sri Lanka's most important cultural sites.

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 (If you enjoy this location, we'd also recommend visiting the Cave Temple in Dambulla).

The Royal Botanical Gardens are another highlight. This place is incredibly beautiful, 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.

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. Popular attractions you'll visit include the Sacred Temple of the Tooth, Ambuluwaawa Tower and Nelligala Temple.

Read Also: 2 Days In Kandy: Brilliant Places To Visit In Kandy Sri Lanka

17. Visit an animal sanctuary or two

visiting turtle hatchery in sri lanka

Firstly, there are several great turtle rescue sanctuaries found along the coast. These places care for young and disabled turtles who need a helping hand before eventually being released back into the wild.

As you pass through Hikkaduwa and along the coast, you’ll see a number of these turtles sanctuaries.

They are very cheap to visit, and inside you'll get to meet the people running them, and learn all about the different turtle species found here, along with the threats they are facing.

Another must-visit is The Elephant Transit Home, which is located just outside of Mirissa.

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.

Finally, there's the Dog Care Clinic which is located in Unawatuna.

By far my dislike about Sri Lanka is the serious stray dog problem that they have. Many of these dogs are in heartbreaking condition too, suffering from serious health problems, such as mange and being covered in tics.

Luckily, this clinic is trying to do something about it. The entire operation is funded by just one person (the German lady who founded the centre).

Here, you can walk around the centre, meet the dogs, and learn about the local projects that this clinic is undertaking, including neutering hundreds of dogs each week!

Sri Lanka is home to some fantastic animal sanctuaries, but always do your research to check before you visit, to ensure they're ethical.

18. Enjoy some of the more unique experiences in Sri Lanka

tuk tuk in Sri Lanka

As well as the standard things to do in Sri Lanka, there are some more unique activities on offer.

One of these is going on a hot air balloon ride, which will take you high above Dambulla and Sigiriya.

From here, you will get to see either breathtaking sunsets or sunrises over the rolling countryside and the infamous Lion Rock (Sigiriya Rock) and Pidurangala Rock.

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 a hot air balloon ride.

Another of the most unique things to do in Sri Lanka is go on a tuk-tuk safari. However, for this you will, of course, need your own tuk tuk!

Basically, when you're in Arugam Bay, you have the chance to go on a safari tour of Yala National Park, where you can drive your own vehicle inside of part of the park.

You can drive as far as the Kumana National Park entrance (you'll then have to go on an organised tour or turn around and go back).

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!

19. Explore Mullaitivu

submarine base in mullaitivu

The tourism industry in Sri Lanka is still very much growing in all major cities, because of the Sri Lankan civil war that only ended in 2008.

Well, if you’re interested in learning more about the civil war itself, then you should head up to the city of Mullaitivu.

It was a stronghold for the Tamil Tigers during the war and while here, you can visit the old submarine yard of the LTTE’s. You can look at the remnants of submarines that were either finished or were being built at the time of their defeat (in particular, the row of small submarines which served as models for future bigger builds).

While in the city, take some time to watch the local fisherman bring in their catch at the end of the day as well.

It's amazing to watch the whole community come together to help (and watch), as they slowly draw in the rope from the water.

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.

Read Also: The Top Things To Do In Mullaitivu (With Maps And Pictures!)

20. Live like kings and queens!

sloth bear in Wilpattu National Park

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 in Wilpattu National Park, and combine glamping with our safari experience.

However, at less than $100 per person, though it is classed as a 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!

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 we'd recommend you visit…

  • Colombo
  • Negombo
  • Wilpattu
  • Anuradhapura
  • Jaffna
  • Mullaitivu
  • Trincomalee
  • Sigiriya
  • Dambulla
  • Kandy
  • Nuwara Eliya
  • Ella
  • Arugam Bay
  • Kataragama
  • Mirissa
  • Unawatuna
  • Galle
  • Hikkaduwa

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 the country; 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 over 15 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.

Rounding off

So there you have it, my epic list of the 20 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!

Here are some other guides you may find helpful:

- What To Pack For Sri Lanka: Epic 63 Piece Packing List!

- Travelling Sri Lanka With Type 1 Diabetes

- Best Honeymoon Hotels In Sri Lanka

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