13 Unmissable things to do in Sri Lanka | Complete Guide


The beautiful country of Sri Lanka has so much to offer. From charming elephants of Polonnaruwa, to the iconic ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya, to the beautiful tea gardens of Nuwara Eliya, to the stunning coastal stretch of Bentota, to the gigantic wildlife reserve of Yala, it has something for everyone. Plus its super cheap! Here is the list of the best things to do in Sri Lanka.


1. Climb the Sigiriya Rock

  • Sigiriya rock(or lion rock), is an ancient fortress built on a top of massive rock in the town of Sigiriya. This UNESCO World Heritage site is considered one of the unofficial wonders of the world. There are two best things about this site. The views and the history.
  • Here’s the history: A srilankan king named Kashyapa selected this site for the fortress and capital back in 447 AD. His massive fortress was built on the top of the rock. After his death, this fortress was abandoned. It was again used as a Buddhist monastery till 14th century. Today, it contains the ancient ruins of the fortress.
  • There is only one way to reach the top: climbing 1200 steps. It is a hour hike. You can admire the beautiful views and the ancient remains on your way to the top. The rock top contains fascinating ancient ruins of the fortress. And obviously, breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. The view from the top is unbelievable.
Panorama of Sigirya Rock
Photo by Egle Sidaraviciute on Unsplash

2. Elephant interaction at Pinnawala

  • You may have seen  a lot of elephants in your life, but have you interacted with one? If you haven’t, this is the perfect place to start. The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is home to numerous orphaned elephants. The government owned shelter takes care of these elephants. This facility offers you to bathe, feed or pat these elephants which is a very unique experience.
Photo of elephant at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Photo by Alan J. Hendry on Unsplash

3. Elephant safari

  • Srilanka is home to numerous national parks offering stunning safaris to admire a herd of elephants in the wild. The two most famous out of them is Minneriya national park and Kaudulla National Park.
  • Both are really good but we will recommend going to Kaudulla. This is because Minneriya has become very touristy over the years so you will see a lot of jeeps with your’s. When on an elephant safari, you want to admire the animal in peace and take a lot of photographs right? That is why Kaudulla. It is not as famous as Minneriya right now and solve the same purpose.
Close up photo of an elephant in Minneriya National Park
Photo by Jessica Knowlden on Unsplash

4. Tea plucking and tasting tour in Nuwara Eliya

  • Nuwara Eliya is probably the most beautiful city in Srilanka. It is located in the midst of beautiful mountains containing endless tea gardens. As srilankan’s say it, Nuwara Eliya is god’s own country.
  • Srilanka is one of the largest exporter of tea in the world and it all comes from here. You can do the very interesting tea plucking and tasting tour. In this tour, they first take you the actual tea gardens in actual uniforms and make you understand how the professional tea pluckers actually do it. Then you can try plucking on your own. Then they explain you the whole process of tea leaves processing to make the actual tea. And then you can taste the varieties of tea.
  • The best tour is organised Heritance Tea Factory hotel, which is also one of the best hotels to stay in Nuwara Eliya.
Tea Plucking and Tasting tour in Heritance Tea Factory
Photo by Parth Lohia on Unwind

5. Whale Watching

  • You can go on a whale watching tour from the coastal town of Mirissa. The tour duration is anywhere between 3-4 hours. They take you to deep seas where you basically wait for the whale to come up to the surface.
  • The boat wobbles a lot due to the high tides in deep seas. If you have sea sickness, either don’t go or expect to vomit numerous times. I personally did this tour and didn’t enjoy it very much as i have sea sickness. You will have to basically sit 3-4 hours in a wobbling boat to see probably 5-6 glimpses of the upper part of the whale. On a lucky day, you can even see almost the whole whale.
Whale coming out of water during whale watching
Photo by Todd Cravens on Unsplash

6. Coconut Tree Hill

Coconut hill is a beautiful cliff with abundance of palm trees overlooking the ocean. It is a 10-15 min walk from the Mirissa beach. This is probably one of the most instagrammed spots in Srilanka. Just sitting here and looking the endless sea is a great feeling. There is no entrance to this place.

Panorama of Coconut Tree Hill in Mirissa
Photo by Dinuka Lankaloka on Unsplash

7. Spot a leopard at Yala National Park

  • Yala is a gigantic national park in Srilanka. It contains many aquatic birds and Srilankan elephants. It  is mainly famous for containing one of largest densities of leopards in the world. On a Yala safari, there is a very high probability of spotting a leopard.
  • There are various accommodations inside the Yala National Park. You can easily stay here for a night or two, take safaris and relax.
Leopard in Yala National Park
Photo by Geoff Brooks on Unsplash

8. Palm Tree Rope Swing at Dalawella Beach

  • The beautiful Dalawella beach is home to golden sands, clear waters and charming palm rope swing. In all honesty, swinging on this rope at sunset is one of the best thing to do in Srilanka. You will feel like you left all your worries behind! Plus, you will get a Instagram picture worth a thousand likes.
  • To add to the beauty and charm of the place, you will find few Stilt fishermen at sunset. Stilt fishing is an ancient style of fishing. Overall, it gets you fish and is also very eye pleasing!
Palm Rope Swing on sunset at Dalawella Beach

9. Dambulla Cave Temple

  • This place is for the history buffs. This cave temple dates back to the 1st century BCE, just imagine! There are numerous caves in the area in which this temple is located. Out of these caves, 5 caves contain the statues of many gods and goddesses, Srilankan kings and Gautam Buddha. There are painting on the walls which again dates back to the 1st century BCE. So fascinating!
  • To add to the fascination, this site is also home to skeletons which are around 2700 years old.
Inside view of Dambulla Cave Temple
Photo by Teseum on flickr(https://flic.kr/p/XbhLmX)

10. Hike to the little Adam’s Peak

  • This is 45 mins hike from the town of Ella. The latter is a beautiful small town situated in the mountains.
  • The hike takes you through beautiful tea gardens and mountain scenery. There are numerous viewpoints worth thousand of Instagram photos. The final destinations, the little Adam’s peak provides unbelievable views of the surrounding mountains. There is no entrance fees for this.
Sunrise at Little Adam's Peak in Ella
Photo by Egle Sidaraviciute on Unsplash

11. Nine Arch Bridge

  • This is beautiful looking railway bridge and the most famous site in Ella. This bridge stands in a area surrounded by forests and tea gardens. So to get to the bridge, you walk through a beautiful trail through the forest. The bridge offers beautiful scenery from both from it and below it. You can soak in the spectacular views sitting on the railing of it. And then you can come down to the foot of it and take photos with the beautiful arches and surrounding mountains.
  • This also has no entrance fees.
Panorama of Nine Arch Brodge in Ella
Photo by Nick Zaleski on Unsplash

12. Galle Fort and Lighthouse

  • The city of Galle has a very fascinating history. It was ruled by the British, Dutch and the Portuguese at different points. The city is located around a huge ancient fort which overlooks the sea. This fort is around 430 years old and as mentioned ruled by several countries. It contains a church, mosque, a beautiful lighthouse and clock tower overlooking the sea, a market with pretty quaint shops and cafes and a lot more. The whole fort is surrounded by fortified walls at various levels.
  • Overall, the whole area will take you back to the colonial period and you will feel you are in a separate world. If you enjoy roaming around charming old cities, this definitely unmissable.
Aerial view of Galle Fort and Lighthouse
Photo by Oliver Frsh on Unsplash

13. Ambuluwawa Biodiversity Complex

  • Ambuluwawa Complex is a towering 3500 feet building in Gampola town. It is surrounded by stunning scenery which can be viewed from the numerous viewpoints in the tower.
  • To reach the tower, you need to reach to the tower’s checkpoint which is around 15-20 mins drive from the Gampola city center. From this checkpoint, there is another 15-20 steep drive to the tower entrance which located at the top of Ambuluwawa mountain. You will have to hire a tuk-tuk from this point to reach the tower which are readily available. Car is not allowed because of the road being very steep. The other option is to walk, which can take you about an hour to reach.
  • To climb the tower, you will have to climb individual floors via steps. There is no lift or cable car. Almost each floor has a 360° balcony or window looking out the spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. This balconies gets smaller as you climb higher.
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