The 14 Best Sights and Activities in Sri Lanka

The attractions of Sri Lanka offer a beautiful blend of nature and culture. You can enjoy stunning hikes, go on safari, or surf, as well as learn to make a delicious curry or delve deeper into history in one of the ancient temple cities. Sri Lanka boasts dozens of attractions, but here are the top 14 activities you definitely shouldn’t miss. Want to experience all these attractions? You can follow our travel route for Sri Lanka to visit all these places.

Visit the Fish Market in Negombo

We kick off this list of attractions in Sri Lanka with an authentic spot you can’t skip in Negombo: the fish market. There are two different markets; the wet market and the dry market. At the wet market, fishermen come ashore with their catch, while at the dry market, fish are left to dry on the beach.

The wet market is the largest and most renowned market to visit. Fishermen boats arrive well before sunrise to display their day’s catch for sale. The market starts around 04:00 and ends in the morning around 07:30. The best time to visit the fish market is around 06:00. So, you’ll have to rise early, but it’s definitely impressive to see. At the fish market, you’ll immediately get a taste of real Sri Lankan life, likely experiencing your first culture shock. You can then visit the dry market.

Experience the Famous Train Journey in Sri Lanka

The train journey from Kandy to Ella in Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful train rides in the world and is therefore an activity you can’t miss. The journey takes about 7 hours and takes you through green hills with tea plantations, waterfalls, and the most impressive views. The train moves slowly and stops dozens of times at small mountain villages. The doors and windows are open throughout the journey, and it’s fantastic to sit in the doorway to enjoy the view. Read all about this train journey in advance in our article with tips for the train journey from Kandy to Ella.

Immerse Yourself in Culture in Kandy

Located over 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Colombo, the city of Kandy is home to many cultural attractions and activities. This is an important religious city and is also known as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. Here you’ll find the Temple of the Tooth, named for housing a tooth relic of Buddha. As such, it’s a significant pilgrimage site for the Buddhist population. A ritual is held here in the morning at 09:30 and in the evening at 18:30. Accompanied by traditional musicians, a curtain is drawn behind which lies a beautiful golden door. This is the entrance to the chamber housing the tooth relic of Buddha. During this ceremony, people enter the room with boxes and crates to perform a ritual, unfortunately not accessible to the public. Kandy is also renowned for its cultural dance performances, where walking on hot coals will surely leave you in awe.

Learn Sri Lankan Cooking at a Local Family Home

Would you like to experience an authentic activity while supporting a local family? Then book Kumara and Thanuja’s Sri Lankan cooking class. They welcome you into their home in the beautiful Sigiriya, where they teach you how to cook a delicious Sri Lankan meal. Kumara and Thanuja are incredibly hospitable and make you feel right at home. With great pleasure, they’ll teach you all about Sri Lankan cuisine and culture. This way, you’ll learn to prepare the tastiest curries, enjoy a feast, and support a family that could really use your help. And don’t forget to send Kumara our regards!

Spotting Leopards in One of the Wildlife Parks

Sri Lanka is home to various wildlife parks, with Yala National Park in the south and Wilpattu National Park in the north being the most famous. Both parks offer a great chance to spot leopards. Wilpattu National Park is much less crowded than Yala National Park, making a visit a bit more authentic. Due to its vegetation, you might have slightly less chance of encountering a leopard here. Fortunately, both parks offer plenty more to see; from elephants to bears, and from crocodiles to monkeys.

Ultimate Relaxation on Sri Lanka’s Beaches

Of course, your journey through Sri Lanka wouldn’t be complete without a visit to its paradisiacal beaches. There are plenty of options when it comes to beach destinations, but our favorites are Ahangama and Hiriketiya. Here, you can enjoy a few days soaking up the sun, sea, and sand. Relax with your feet in the sand with a cocktail at one of the cozy beach bars, or grab your surfboard and conquer the waves. In the evenings, there’s always somewhere to find some fun, and there are plenty of activities to enjoy in the area.

Explore the Historic City of Anuradhapura

In Anuradhapura, you delve into Sri Lanka’s rich history. This sacred city was the first capital of Sri Lanka, and for centuries, they built gigantic stupas, dagobas, and temples here. There’s no shortage of beautiful sights here! Together with Dambulla and Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura is part of the so-called ‘cultural triangle’. These were important capitals in Sri Lanka’s former kingdoms. Because these places are quite similar, it’s best to visit one of these cities. In our opinion, Anuradhapura is the best choice, partly because you can also visit nearby Mihintale. Mihintale is where Buddhism originated in Sri Lanka.

Stay in a Unique Accommodation Surrounded by Nature

Most Asian countries are known for offering affordable accommodation by Western standards, and Sri Lanka is no exception. Here, you can stay in unique locations with stunning views or with a hospitable family for a reasonable price. We provide you with the necessary inspiration and best hidden gems, such as a cool treehouse in the jungle or a lodge overlooking a beach full of palm trees and the Indian Ocean. Check out the 10 most unique accommodations in Sri Lanka.

Visit Tea Plantations and Waterfalls in the Highlands of Sri Lanka

The highlands of Sri Lanka are often much cooler than the rest of the country. This region has the perfect climate for growing tea, and you’ll find endless rolling hills with green tea plantations here. Nuwara Eliya and Ella are both popular bases for exploring the highlands, where you’ll find not only many tea plantations but also the most beautiful viewpoints and waterfalls in Sri Lanka.

Climb Lion Rock in Sigiriya

Lion Rock in Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a particularly beautiful natural phenomenon to see. This unique rock rises straight above the flat landscape. Between 477 and 495 AD, the palace of the then-king Kassapa stood atop this 200-meter-high rock (650 feet). According to many researchers, King Kassapa had many adventures with women here. This boss even had a swimming pool built on top of the lion’s rock. This theory is reinforced by the restored murals of semi-nude women.

If you’re less interested in the remnants on Lion Rock and mainly want to enjoy a beautiful view, it’s actually an even better idea to climb Pidurangala Rock and enjoy a stunning sunrise there. Not only is the entrance fee considerably lower, but you also get a fantastic view of the famous Lion Rock, rising beautifully from the jungle in the distance.

Stroll through the Dutch Fortress City of Galle

Your cultural journey through Sri Lanka is not complete without a visit to Galle. Not many people know that Sri Lanka was once a Dutch colony. In the 17th century, the Dutch VOC built their fort in Galle on the Sri Lankan coastline, which was later taken over by the British. The 2004 tsunami heavily impacted Sri Lanka, but Galle Fort withstood this natural disaster thanks to its high city walls. UNESCO has declared Galle Fort a World Heritage Site, keeping the old streets as beautiful as they have always been. Nowadays, the fort has been transformed into a cozy town with charming shops, restaurants, and several beautiful attractions inside.

Walk across the Nine Arch Bridge in Ella

Most likely the most photographed spot in all of Sri Lanka is the stunning Nine Arch Bridge in the mountain village of Ella. The bridge was built during the British colonial period and is surrounded by green tea plantations and banana trees. What makes this bridge unique is that it was entirely built with stones, bricks, and cement in 1921, without a single piece of steel. It’s definitely the most beautiful spot to photograph the Sri Lankan train. Almost every hour, a train passes by, which you can hear coming from afar. Even though you won’t be the only one coming here for a nice photo, you can’t leave Sri Lanka without seeing this photogenic spot in real life. Can’t get enough of the view? At The Cabin Ella, you’ll stay in a bungalow with a balcony overlooking the famous bridge.

Visit the Cave Temples in Dambulla

A half-hour drive from Sigiriya, you’ll find the town of Dambulla. Here, you’ll find the best-preserved cave temple complex in all of Sri Lanka, built around a large granite mountain. The large golden Buddha statue of the Golden Temple marks the entrance to this complex, but even more impressive is the Cave Temple located a bit higher up. From the outside, it’s already a sight to behold with the white gates against the dark gray mountain. But when you step inside, you’ll be amazed by the size of these natural spaces and the large number of Buddha statues and murals. At the entrance of the Golden Temple, you’ll also find a small museum. It’s not as impressive as the temples themselves, but it’s nice to stop by here if you want to learn about the ancient remnants.

The Ultimate Travel Route to Visit All These Attractions in Sri Lanka

If you have about two to three weeks, you can check off all these attractions and activities in Sri Lanka. With our travel route for Sri Lanka, you can plan your own trip and visit the most beautiful destinations in the country!