The Ultimate Itinerary for Sri Lanka + Tips

Creating an itinerary for Sri Lanka can be quite challenging. This incredibly beautiful island offers so many amazing destinations to choose from. We’ve visited Sri Lanka four times in recent years and have seen almost everything. To help you get started, we’ve mapped out the ultimate itinerary based on all those experiences, allowing you to make a diverse journey in two to four weeks. We’ve also written separate articles with tips for each destination on this itinerary, making planning your trip to Sri Lanka a breeze!

Transportation for this Sri Lanka itinerary

Sri Lanka is roughly the size of the Netherlands and Belgium combined. The distances are not too far, so you rarely have to travel long distances. Public transportation is very well organized and inexpensive. There are many good train connections, and buses run between all places. Private transport is also possible and affordable. All of this makes Sri Lanka a perfect country for a road trip.

Traveling by Train and Bus in Sri Lanka

The cheapest way to travel around is by public transport, which consists of a network of buses and trains. Train tickets can be purchased at all train stations and do not need to be reserved in advance except for the popular train journey between Kandy and Ella. There is first, second, and third class, and you can also purchase a ‘reserved seat’ ticket for an extra fee.You also don’t need to reserve the bus in advance, and they run on all routes. There are red buses and white buses. The red buses are government-operated, and the white buses are operated by commercial carriers. However, there’s not much difference, so it’s easiest to take the first bus that comes along. For an hour’s bus ride, you’ll pay about €0.70. However, you may have to stand for a while until people get off, so it’s wise to travel outside peak hours. Also, not all destinations have direct buses, so you may have to transfer sometimes.

Traveling by Private Transport in Sri Lanka

If you prefer more comfort and faster travel throughout Sri Lanka, private transport is the best option. You can hire a driver for the entire trip, but in our opinion, this is not recommended because you often stay longer at a destination, and you still have to pay the driver. Also, the driver will arrange everything for you, from hotels to activities, and then get a commission on them, resulting in overpayments. It’s better to arrange a taxi from your hotel to your next destination, and usually, a 3-hour ride will cost you less than €50. So, you don’t need to arrange this in advance because there’s always a taxi available.

Tip: Taxi drivers at the airport often quote outrageous prices, and after your flight, you probably don’t feel like negotiating right away. Therefore, it’s advisable to arrange a pickup in advance to start your journey relaxed. This way, you’ll save money and hassle. Someone will be waiting for you with a name sign, and you can hop in right away to head to your hotel. You can book your pickup here.

How Many Weeks Do You Need for the Sri Lanka Itinerary?

If you intend to complete the entire itinerary, you’ll need approximately three weeks. Although it may seem like many destinations, the distances are quite manageable, allowing you to see a lot. Of course, this depends on your travel pace, but considering all the activities, this timeframe is a good estimate.

Shortening the itinerary: If you have less time available, you’ll need to trim down the itinerary a bit. For instance, you could skip Anuradhapura, Wilpattu, and Sigiriya. You could also opt to visit only one beach destination. Finally, you could skip Nuwara Eliya as it’s similar to Ella. You may visit fewer places, but you’ll still have a fantastic and diverse journey.


Upon arrival at Colombo Airport, it’s best to take a taxi straight to Negombo. The distance from the airport to Negombo is the same as to Colombo, so there’s no difference in travel time. We recommend Negombo because it’s a more pleasant city than Colombo. It’s quieter and has a cozier atmosphere. Here, you can unwind from your flight and get acquainted with Sri Lanka in a relaxed manner. Curious about what to do? Check out our tips for Negombo.

Starting your Sri Lanka journey right: The best tip for Negombo is to stay at Serendib Village. This delightful hotel features a pool, lovely rooms, and a great breakfast by the canal. It’s the perfect place to kickstart (and end) your journey and treat yourself to some affordable luxury. Book as soon as possible because this is one of the most popular hotels and tends to fill up early. So, it’s wise to make a reservation for the first and last nights of your trip right after booking your flights. When you book here, you can cancel for free up to 24 hours in advance. Handy in case your travel plans change.


After a day in Negombo, kick off your Sri Lanka adventure with a journey to the ancient capital, Anuradhapura. Here, you’ll find dozens of massive ancient stupas and other sacred structures. Hop aboard a colorful tuk-tuk for a day exploring the highlights and learning all about the island’s rich history. Besides history, you’ll likely learn a lot about the unique culture. So, it’s a perfect destination to start your journey. Anuradhapura is similar to the temple city of Polonnaruwa, but we prefer Anuradhapura because you can easily combine it with the sacred mountain, Mihintale. This is a very special place for Buddhists as Buddhism in Sri Lanka began here. Check out our tips for Anuradhapura and Mihintale.
Travel time Negombo to Anuradhapura: 4 hours by bus

Day Trip: Wilpattu National Park

Sri Lanka is a land full of diversity, and you’ll experience this firsthand when you visit the nearby Wilpattu National Park after a day of temple hopping. This is the largest national park in the country and home to many animals. Sri Lanka is the best country in Asia for leopard sightings, and in Wilpattu National Park, you have a great chance of encountering these majestic creatures. This natural reserve is less crowded than the more famous Yala National Park, and that has its advantages. The nature is pristine, there’s no jeep traffic jams, and you can spot many animals. So, grab your camera and binoculars, get ready for a bumpy day, and an unforgettable experience. Check out our tips for Wilpattu National Park.


You may know Sigiriya from the ‘Lion Rock,’ listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Lion Rock is a massive volcanic plug from a dormant volcano. Atop this rock once stood the palace of a king who -according to stories- enjoyed a lavish life with many women here. At the summit of the Lion Rock, you can find remnants of this royal palace from the 5th century. You can climb the Lion Rock or opt to climb the nearby Pidurangala Rock. From there, you’ll have a magnificent view of Lion Rock. Learn about the differences between these two rocks in the article with our tips for Sigiriya.

Travel time from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya: 1 hour by bus to Dambulla. From Dambulla, 30 minutes by tuktuk or bus to Sigiriya. Total travel time: 1.5 hours


Kandy is the starting point for the famous train journey from Kandy to Ella. This 7-hour train ride takes you through the mountains of Sri Lanka. The views are amazing, ranging from green hills filled with tea plantations to waterfalls and small villages. Kandy is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, so be sure to spend a day exploring before hopping on the train to Ella. Visit the botanical garden, the Temple of the Tooth, and catch a traditional dance performance. A stroll around the lake and a visit to the market are also must-dos. Check out our tips for Kandy and our tips for the train journey from Kandy to Ella.
Travel time from Sigiriya to Kandy: 30 minutes by tuktuk or bus to Dambulla. From Dambulla, 2.5 hours by bus to Kandy. Total travel time: 3 hours

Optional: Nuwara Eliya

If you have enough time for your journey through Sri Lanka, you can split the train journey from Kandy to Ella in half and stay one or two nights in beautiful Nuwara Eliya. This place resembles a British village with its colonial buildings and neatly maintained English gardens, remnants of the British colonial period in the 19th century. That’s why Nuwara Eliya is also called ‘Little England.’ The town is located in the highlands, where it’s often cooler than the rest of Sri Lanka. This region has the perfect climate for growing tea, and you’ll find endless rolling hills with green tea plantations in the area. The surroundings aren’t just tea plantations; from Nuwara Eliya, you can also visit some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Sri Lanka. Check out our tips for Nuwara Eliya.
Travel time from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya: 4 hours by train


Ella is a small village nestled in the mountains of Sri Lanka and one of our favorite destinations on this Sri Lanka itinerary. The surroundings are stunning, with many viewpoints, waterfalls, and tea plantations to explore. This is definitely a place where you’ll want to linger for a while, especially because you can find beautiful accommodations with views of the valley and surrounding mountains. A visit to the famous Nine Arch Bridge is a must, and for those up for a challenge, there’s the hike to Ella Rock. Curious about what else there is to do? Check out our tips for Ella.
Travel time from Kandy to Ella: 7 hours by train
Travel time from Nuwara Eliya to Ella: 3 hours by train

Yala National Park / Tissamaharama

The journey continues south towards Tissamaharama, which everyone conveniently shortens to Tissa. From Tissa, you can visit Yala National Park, a natural area with diverse landscapes, flora, and fauna. In addition to the majestic leopards, you also have a good chance of spotting elephants, monkeys, bears, crocodiles, and many different birds. Be sure to also visit the lake near Tissa for a beautiful walk during sunset and keep an eye out for huge bats hanging upside down in the trees. Check out our tips for Tissamaharama and our tips for a safari through Yala National Park.
Travel time from Ella to Tissamaharama: 3 hours by bus


Hiriketiya Beach is one of the coolest beach destinations in Sri Lanka. This beach is located in the small village of Dikwella on the south coast of Sri Lanka and has created its own image over the years, making it more popular than Dikwella itself. Despite Hiriketiya Beach’s small size, it’s a popular spot for surfers and beach lovers looking for a lively atmosphere. Around ‘Hiri,’ as this place is affectionately shortened, you’ll find numerous good restaurants, cozy beach bars, surf schools, and great accommodations. After all the traveling, it’s wonderful to spend a few days here enjoying the sun, sea, beach, and palm trees. Check out our tips for Hiriketiya.
Travel time from Tissamaharama (Yala National Park) to Hiriketiya: 2 hours by bus

Skipped in this itinerary: Mirissa

In the south of Sri Lanka, there are many beach destinations, with Mirissa being one of the most famous. For years, we included this destination in the itinerary, but after our most recent trip, we decided to replace Mirissa with Ahangama. Not because Mirissa isn’t fun anymore, but because you probably have to make choices unless you have four weeks. Mirissa has become quite crowded, and Ahangama now has that nice atmosphere that Mirissa had before it got busier. Mirissa is still a nice and beautiful beach destination, but for that ultimate relaxed atmosphere, we recommend staying in Ahangama and visiting Mirissa as a day trip. Check out our tips for Mirissa.


Ahangama is a delightful upcoming beach destination and a must-stop during your tour of Sri Lanka. It offers fantastic surfing, lively parties, and despite being in its infancy in terms of tourism, there are dozens of excellent restaurants to discover. With the sea in your front yard and rice fields in your backyard, Ahangama has everything to offer for a delightful time. This is the perfect place to unwind a bit, especially nearing the end of your tour. Check out our tips for Ahangama.
Travel time from Hiriketiya to Ahangama: 1.5 hours by bus.


Your cultural journey through Sri Lanka is incomplete without visiting Galle. Not many people know that Sri Lanka was once a Dutch colony. In the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) built their fort in Galle on the Sri Lankan coastline, which was later taken over by the British. The tsunami of 2004 severely affected Sri Lanka, but Galle Fort stood firm against this natural disaster with its high city walls. Nowadays, the fort has been transformed into a charming town. You can visit Galle as a day trip from Ahangama or Mirissa, but it’s also enjoyable to stay overnight here to fully immerse yourself in the atmosphere, especially in the evening. Explore our tips for Galle.
Travel time from Ahangama to Galle: 40 minutes by bus.

Tip: Our favorite spots in Sri Lanka

During our travels through Sri Lanka, we always seek out unique accommodations. They don’t necessarily have to be expensive hotels; they just need to have something special that enhances your stay. Think of a beautiful boutique hotel with a fantastic view of the rice fields or a guesthouse run by a super hospitable family. We’ve compiled all these spots into one article featuring our favorite spots in Sri Lanka. These are all delightful accommodations that will make your trip extra special and where you’re guaranteed to have a great time.