The small tropical destination of Sri Lanka has everything that a backpacker’s heart desires – affordable accommodations, cheap travel, abundant street food and a myriad of off-beat locations to visit.

Here’s a list of attractions and things to do in Sri Lanka that will give you a truly wholesome experience if you are backpacking through the country.

1. Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, Colombo 


Situated around 7 km from Colombo, this temple is said to have been hallowed post a visit by  Buddha himself. The temple features a reclining statue of Buddha, along with many paintings depicting important events from his life. The temple also houses a gem-studded throne on which Buddha is believed to have sat and preached his teachings.  Entry to the temple is free for locals and foreigners alike.

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Opening Hours: 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Reaching there: The temple is easily accessible by tuk-tuks, buses, and taxis from Colombo. 

2. Malwatta Monastery, Kandy


While large hordes of tourists flock to the popular  Tooth Relic Temple in Kandy, many parts of this little town are still left comparatively undiscovered. If you are visiting the Temple complex, you must make the most of your time by visiting the Malwatta Monastery opposite the lake. The highlight of the monastery is the stylish museum laden with historical artefacts. You’ll also   find monks who offer f to show you around the museum, stupas, and the ceremonial hall.

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Getting there: Take a tuk-tuk for 2 kilometres from Kandy Railway station to the Temple of Tooth Relic and walk across the lake to the monastery.

3. Ella Rock, Ella

Shrouded in a layer of mist, Ella Rock is famous for hiking and camping and offers a panoramic view of the entire area. The hike is tough in certain parts and takes you along a rickety bridge, railway tracks, fields of chilli, tomato, eucalyptus, lemongrass, banana, avocado, jackfruit,and even tea plantations. Go as early in the day as you can for a comfortable round trip that takes around 3-4 hours.

Ithaka’s Pro Tip: Beware of scams where locals show you the wrong direction to the rock and then ask for money to guide you on the correct path.

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Getting there: The journey between Ella and Kandy by train is stunning and is possibly the best way to get to Ella. From Ella or Kithalella, walk up the tracks till you reach the signboards marking Ella Rock.


4. Adam’s Peak, Ella


Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada) is about 7000 feet high and has a sacred footprint rock formation close to its summit. The climb to the peak can be challenging and is usually only recommended for people with good stamina. But the stunning view from the top is sure to make up for that slight ache in your legs, we promise! 

Start your hike at night to reach the summit just below the temple by morning. January and February are the busiest times owing to pilgrimages so you’ll find a large number  of people hiking the route at the same time. 

Ithaka’s Pro Tip: Make sure that your itinerary is not too strenuous for the next couple of days after your hike to Adam’s peak.

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Getting there: The easiest way to get to Adam’s peak is from Maskeliya and Delhous,  which are easily accessible by buses and trains.

5. Demodara Nine Arch Bridge, Ella  


The Demodara Nine Arch Bridge or Bridge in the Sky is a picturesque 30-meter long stone structure built by the British. Located between Ella and Demodara station, the bridge is part of one of the most scenic train rides in the world. What makes visiting this bridge even better, is that you’re also allowed to walk on it. 

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Getting there: The easiest way to reach the bridge is by walking along the tracks from Ella Town. You can follow the road towards Little Adam’s peak and follow signposts from there.

6. Galle Fort Town


One of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Galle Fort Town is filled with homes, shops, and hotels built by the Portuguese and Dutch. Today, a lot of the homes have been refurbished into boutique hotels and guest houses. At its easternmost point, there is also a charming lighthouse shining brightly into the night. This is a great place to mingle with the locals and fly kites with them, watch the sunset from the promenade, and walk the cobbled streets. The colonial vibe of the town with its inviting restaurants makes it a great place to stay overnight.

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Getting there: Galle Fort is around 126 km from Colombo and is easily reachable by taxi, train and frequent buses. 

7. Dambatenne Tea Factory, Haputale


Located on a hill next to Haputale, the Dambatenne tea factory was built in the 19th century and interestingly still uses much of the original machinery. If you want to see what goes into making the perfect cup of tea, take a free tour of the tea plantations, tea processing,  production factories, and end with a sample cup of piping hot tea. You can also purchase packets of fresh tea here. If you’d like to stay for longer, you can also wander along plantation trails all by yourself.

Opt for Haputale instead of the more touristy hills of Nuwara Eliya and you’ll find yourself away from the typical tourist hordes. 

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Opening Hours: 8 am – 5 pm

Getting there: Take a bus from Haputale that takes about 20 minutes to reach Dambatenne Estate.

8. Mihintale, Anuradhapura


The Mihintale temple is known as the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The Ambasthale Dagoba (stupa) has beautiful views from atop the hill and needs you to climb steep steps to reach there.

The Mahaseya Dagoba gives panoramic vistas of the entire site, making it a great spot to soakin the view. From here you can also spot Dagobas lined all the way to Anuradhapura. It is also a good spot to see the sunset, though watch out for the monkeys.

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Getting there: Take a bus from the Anuradha new bus stand to Mihintale and walk about 500 metres to the temple.

Ithaka’s Pro Tip: You will be asked to take your shoes off at the main entrance, so we recommend you wear thick socks to protect your feet from the gritty stones and heat.

9. Pidurangala Rock, Sigiriya


Sigiriya is home to the famous Sigiriya rock, but the steep entry pass costs about LKR 4500 (Rs 1800 or US$ 30). Instead, hiking up the Pidurangala Rock situated just opposite the Lion Rock at LKR 500 (Rs 200 or US$ 3) will give you the same view of the jungle vistas as the summit of Sigiriya will. Moreover, from Pidurangala rock, you can also get a beautiful view of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress itself, which beats the view from the latter. The hike takes about 40 minutes and gives you a panoramic view of the countryside.

Ithaka’s Pro Tip: It’s best to go in the wee hours and reach the top in time for sunrise. The entrance to Pidurangala Rock is through a temple, so ensure you are dressed appropriately. 

10. Mannar Island


This magical little island of Mannar is situated in the northern province of Sri Lanka, and fortunately remains untouched even today..  Characterized by ancient baobab trees, white sandy beaches, and colonial structures, this little island makes for the perfect getaway, far from the bustle of the rest of the country. 

The colonial Mannar Fort, complete with a Dutch era lighthouse stands tall in the heart of the island and is a must visit. Apart from this, Adam’s Bridge or Rama’s Bridge in Mannar holds significant mythological value and is said to have connected Sri Lanka to India centuries ago. 

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Getting there: Situated 254 kms from Colombo, there are regular buses and trains ferrying to this little northern town. 

11. Mirissa Beach


If you are headed to Sri Lanka anytime between November and April, you have a chance of spotting  the majestic blue whales. Head out early in the morning to the docks to get the boat that will take you into the sea. u Soon enough you’ll start spotting pods of dolphins swimming about next to your boat. And just about then you’ll find a whale leap out of the water, giving you just enough time to take a picture or two.

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Getting there: Take a train from Colombo Fort Station to Weligama Station and then take a bus to ride 7 kilometres to Mirissa.

12. Euphoria Spice and Herbal, Matale 


Try your hand at Sri Lankan cooking at the Euphoria Spice and Herbal. It’s a wonderful experience introducing you to not only cooking but also to Ayurveda in general. At the Euphoria Spice and Herbal, experts will take you through a spice and Ayurveda tour for free, highlighting the benefits of each spice and herb and its importance in our lives.

You also get to witness the chef as he prepares delectable food. The ingredients are always super fresh and everything is grown organically. You can even opt for a traditional Sri Lankan lunch made from the same ingredients, making the entire experience truly wholesome.

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Getting there: You can take a bus from Kandy railway station towards Dambulla that will drop you to Euphoria.

13. Dambulla Royal Cave Temple (Popular)


The largest and best-preserved cave temple in all of Sri Lanka, the Dambulla Royal Cave Temple holds 153 statues of Buddha in different poses along with statues of Lord Vishnu, Ganesh, and those of ancient kings. These temples date back to the first century. Thanks to the granite rock and limited sunlight within the caves, most of them have managed to stay well preserved. 

The entry fee is of LKR 1500 (Rs 600 or US$ 8.5) but is worth the buck. 

Ithaka’s Pro tip: Go early in the morning to avoid the crowd and beware of the monkeys.

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Getting there: Take a bus from Sigiriya main road to Dambulla bus terminus and take a 15 minute walk to the temple.

14. Arugam Bay 


Located on Sri Lanka’s south-east coast, Arugam Bay is one of Sri Lanka’s hot surfing destinations. It is a fishing village with a population of a few hundred. It is also home to international surfing tournaments. The beach is surfable from April to October, with the peak season being July and August. As one of the least polluted and populated beaches in Sri Lanka, it also makes the beach perfect for swimming.

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Getting there: Take a direct bus from Colombo Main Bus Terminal to Pottuvil Bus Station which will take you about 8 hours. From there, take a 10 minute tuk-tuk drive to Arugam Bay.