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Seema Malaka temple on Beira Lake, Sri Lanka

Things to do in  Sri Lanka

Beaches, highlands, and history in one

Lapped by the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka belies its teardrop shape by keeping all types of travelers happy. Measuring 268 by 139 miles (431 by 224 kilometers), its rich landscapes and history add dimensions absent in most sun-and-sand boltholes. Beyond its beaches, natural wonders, historical treasures, and vibrant cities beckon, from the capital of Colombo to Kandy, Galle, and up-and-coming Trincomalee. In between monsoons, visitors check off a long list of things to do, from elephant-spotting safaris to savoring spicy cuisine and exploring UNESCO-listed relics, tea plantations, and mountain trails.

Top 15 attractions in Sri Lanka

Galle Fort

Built by the Portuguese, the 16th-century Galle Fort occupies a promontory in Sri Lanka’s south-coast city of Galle. Developed into a walled town by the Dutch in the 17th century before the British arrived in 1796, the UNESCO-listed fort boasts cobbled streets and European- and Asian-style buildings enclosed by sea walls.More

Gangaramaya Temple

Situated near Beira Lake in central Colombo, Gangaramaya Temple is one of the city’s largest and oldest Buddhist temple complexes. Established in 1885 and composed of pagodas, courtyards, and shrines, it’s best-known for its beautiful lake temple (Seema Malaka), which stands on stone pillars above the waters and is reached via a walkway.More

Galle Face Green

Fringing a stretch of Colombo’s southern coastline, Galle Face Green is the city’s largest open space, composed of 12-acre (5-hectare) lawns overlooked by the colonial-era Galle Face Hotel. The green, which is flanked by a promenade and narrow beach, is a popular spot for strolling, picnicking, and kite flying.More

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa)

Tucked into Kandy’s historical Royal Palace complex, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is one of Sri Lanka’s top attractions. The 18th-century Buddhist temple, part of what was once Kandy’s royal court, is revered for housing a tooth reputed to have belonged to Buddha himself, with pilgrims and tourists flocking to it as a result.More

Udawalawe National Park

Located in southern Sri Lanka, Udawalawe National Park is the island’s 6th-largest reserve, created in 1972 to house wildlife displaced by the building of the Udawalawe Reservoir. Spot animals such as elephant, buffalo, deer, crocodiles, leopards, and exotic birdlife among the park’s 119 square miles (308 square kilometers).More

Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Looming 656 feet (200 meters) above central Sri Lanka, the UNESCO-protected Sigiriya Rock Fortress is a sheer volcanic outcrop crowned by a ruined fortress. Come to admire its wall frescoes, and experience the relics and bird’s-eye views at the summit.More

Galle Lighthouse

Rising from Galle Fort’s ramparts on Sri Lanka’s southwest coast, the Galle Lighthouse is one of the UNESCO-protected fort’s most photogenic spots. Built by the British in 1939 to replace an earlier light station, this functioning, 86.9-foot (26.5-meter lighthouse is the island’s oldest and a must-see for fort visitors.More

Colombo National Museum

Founded in 1877, the Colombo National Museum in central Colombo chronicles the history and cultural heritage of Sri Lanka. Also called the Sri Lankan National Museum, the institution occupies a 19th-century Italianate-style building and attracts visitors eager to view its wide collection of treasures.More

Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project

Situated in Kosgoda on Sri Lanka’s southwest coast, the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project works to protect endangered sea turtles by conserving nesting sites and providing a hatchery for rescued eggs. Visitors can tour the small, beachside facility to see the turtles, learn about their lifecycle, and discover the project’s work.More

Gregory Lake

Nestled in the town of Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka’s hill and tea country, Gregory Lake was built as a reservoir in 1873 by the island’s British Governor, Sir William Gregory. Framed by mist-swathed hills, the lake and its park offers visitors plenty of activities, from watersports to footpaths and cycling trails.More

Independence Square

In the heart of the city’s prestigious 07 district and framed by palm-lined gardens, Independence Square is one of Colombo’s signature sights. The centerpiece of the square is Independence Memorial Hall, a stone monument that commemorates Sri Lanka’s independence from Britain in 1948.More

Leisure World Water Park

Leisure World Water Park combines waterslides with rides and kid-friendly attractions for the ultimate day of fun in Sri Lanka. The first park of its kind in the country, Leisure World is a must-visit destination for thrill seekers and families alike.More

Gem Museum

Situated in central Colombo in the prestigious Cinnamon Gardens neighborhood, the Gem Museum is a 4th-generation family-owned gemstone and jewelry store with an adjoining small museum. Displays showcase many of Sri Lanka’s gemstones, from topaz and blue sapphires to rubies, moonstones, tourmaline, quartz, and alexandrite.More

Alagalla Mountain Range

Running west of Kandy, the Alagalla Mountain Range is located deep in Sri Lanka’s heartland. At its northern end is Alagalla Mountain, a 3,740-foot (1,140-meter) peak that draws hikers eager to stand on its summit, the potato-shaped rock that gives it the nickname Potato Mountain and commands magnificent panoramic views.More
Natha Devale

Natha Devale

One of four devales (temples) in Kandy’s Royal Palace compound, the Buddhist Natha Devale stands at the front of the royal complex. Associated with the palace’s Temple of the Tooth and believed to be Kandy’s oldest temple, this 14th-century shrine was built by King Vikramabahu III and attracts both Buddhist and Hindu followers.More
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All about Sri Lanka

When to visit

Visiting Sri Lanka means navigating its two monsoons. Aim for December–March to avoid the monsoon in the west and southwest; and March–September to circumvent the northern and eastern monsoon. These dry seasons bring blue skies and average year-round temperatures of 85°F (30°C)—albeit with the ever-present risk of rain—although the uplands are always cooler. If you’re visiting Kandy, consider going in late July and August, when the city’s Festival of the Tooth heralds colorful street processions.

Getting around

Sri Lanka’s public transport can be slow and unreliable, and the island’s challenging roads can make self-driving difficult, so most travelers choose the relatively inexpensive option of hiring a car and driver. That said, it’s worth considering using the public buses that run between the key cities—although journeys can be bumpy and time-consuming. The train ride between Colombo, Kandy, and hill country hot spots like Ella is also regarded as a must-do for the spectacular scenery on route.

Traveler tips

Going by rail from Colombo into Sri Lanka’s highlands is a fantastic way to see the island’s lush landscapes, tea plantations, and rural villages. If you’re on a schedule, it’s worth making ticket reservations in advance as leaving things to the day itself could mean missing out. Once you’re booked and at the station, ask the staff or other travelers where your assigned carriage will stop on the platform so you can avoid the crowded rush when your train pulls in.

People Also Ask

What is Sri Lanka best known for?

Sri Lanka is famed for the palm-fringed beaches that embroider its coastline and draw sun-and-sand loving travelers. It’s also celebrated for its verdant highlands, UNESCO-listed wonders, flavorful cuisine, and atmospheric cities; from its capital, Colombo, to charming old Galle and Kandy, home to the sacred Buddhist Temple of the Tooth.

What is there to do in Sri Lanka?

Plenty. Many tourists are content to simply laze on the beach, but history, culture, adventure, and nature buffs are also well-catered for. Activities include climbing the UNESCO-protected Sigiriya Rock, exploring Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth, roaming tea estates and ancient ruins, and viewing wild elephants, leopards, and birds on safaris.

Is 7 days enough for Sri Lanka?

Yes, a week lets you combine a few days on the beach with some day trips to Sri Lankan highlights like Sigiriya Rock, colonial-era Galle Fort, and Kandy. However, to experience more of the island’s rain forest-coated hill country, tea estates, and wildlife-filled national parks, plan on 10 days or two weeks.

Is Sri Lanka cheap to visit?

Yes, Sri Lanka is one of Asia’s most affordable destinations. Access to most beaches is free, entry to attractions like ancient ruins and national parks is cheap, and eating out and hiring a car and driver are reasonably priced. If you want a luxury vacation, however, upscale hotels and luxury experiences abound.

Is Sri Lanka a safe destination?

Generally, yes. Violent crime against travelers is rare, although it’s advisable to avoid street demonstrations, which can occur. Thefts and fraud have been reported in tourist resorts, so like anywhere, you should stay vigilant. There have been instances of drinks being spiked, so take care not to accept drinks from strangers.

Do they speak English in Sri Lanka?

Yes. While Sinhala and Tamil are Sri Lanka’s official languages, around a quarter of citizens are fluent in English, probably due to the island’s time as a British colony from 1815 to 1948. English is also widely used in business and tourism, so most staff members at hotels and restaurants speak it.


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