Sri Lanka isn’t just a small island nation, sitting pretty, surrounded by the Indian Ocean. This tropical nation boasts of a rich history – think forts and colonial buildings that bear influences of the Portuguese, Dutch, and even the British. It has numerous beautiful beaches and picturesque landscapes that make for picture perfect postcards, remarkable wildlife, magnificent temples and ruins, and of course, delectable food -like the Parippus and Kottu that dominate palates

All in all, a traveller’s haven, Sri Lanka has plenty to offer. And to make sure you don’t miss out on anything significant, we’ve drawn up a list of the 14 best destinations to visit here. So, go on and read some, to know more: 


1.  Old town of Galle and its fortifications, Galle 


Sitting approximately 120 kilometers away from Colombo, along the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka, is the fortified city of Galle. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Galle was first walled by the Portuguese upon their arrival in the early 16th century. Later, with the power shifting into the hands of the Dutch, the city was further fortified and stronger walls were built along the entire coastline. Galle finally went into the hands of the British and stayed with them till the end of colonisation in the 20th century. Since then, the town has only grown in terms of its offerings of rich history, culture and architecture. 


Soak in the feel of the town, with its beautiful blend of buildings that have incorporated English architecture so seamlessly, with a hint of their own culture. Do visit some of the noteworthy structures and buildings here. Some of them include the famous Dutch Reformed Church, which has stood here since the 17th century, the New Orient Hotel, the Old Dutch Government House, the National Maritime Museum, the Lighthouse and Clocktower.   Explore the picturesque lanes that are dotted with quaint cafes and shops selling local handicrafts that promise a satisfying visit here. Finally, do make sure to catch a glimpse of the stunning sunset from the fort. It’s a must-do when here. 

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How to get there: You can reach this place by a direct train, bus or taxi.


2. The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, Polonnaruwa


Situated over 200 km away from Colombo, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa was established by the Chola dynasty. Home to the kings, it was the second capital of Sri Lanka, after the destruction of Anuradhapura. Polonnaruwa  brims with tales of a city that was once a thriving religious and trading hub. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, explore the monumental ruins here that have stood here since the time of the ancient Brahmanical and Buddhist kings (read Cholas and then the renowned king, Parakramabahu I).

Make sure to visit Quadrangle – an archeological site favourite among tourists. A treasure trove, the site boasts of the largest concentration of relics. They sit here on a raised platform, encircled by a wall. The best way to experience all this, would be either on foot or on a bicycle.

If it’s more than history you seek, then you can also consider visiting an elephant national park. There are many such parks around the city. However, do make sure these are ethical establishments. 

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How to get there: There are 2 direct trains and busses that run every day from Colombo.  You can also consider taking a taxi, which will be more comfortable.

Ithaka’s Pro Tip: Instead of making this a day trip, you can consider spending a night here. Polonnaruwa has plenty of options for accommodation.


3. The Ancient City of Sigiriya, North Central Province

Rising 180 meters above the surrounding plain, perched atop the summit of a steep hillock in central Sri Lanka, is the ancient town of Sigiriya. Established by Sinhalese King Kashyapa I during the 5th century, the site was chosen by him to build a formidable fortress. Sigiriya continued to be his stronghold throughout his reign, which unfortunately didn’t last too long. Post his death the site came to be frequented by Buddhist monks and soon turned into a pilgrimage site. 




Over the years, Sigiriya earned the name of the Lion Rock or Lion Mountain. This owing to the monumental lion shaped palace that the King had commissioned. Even today, visitors who ascend through the paws of the lion to reach the top can see these. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sigiriya was a fortress cum palace and the ruins of many of the age old structures can be seen to date. Look out for the beautiful frescos (artwork on the walls) of Apsaras, the Lion Gate and the three gardens. The view from atop the hillock too is breathtaking. 

If you’re up for a hike, consider heading atop the Pidurangala rock, which sits right opposite the Sigiriya rock. From here you can get a beautiful view of the famous Sigiriya rock in all its glory.

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How to get there: Sigiriya is 180 kms is from Colombo and can be reached by buses (Colombo – Dambulla – Sigiriya) or by trains (Colombo – Habarana – cab to Sigiriya). The travel time with these modes can be anywhere between 7-8 hours.  Hiring a taxi will definitely help save time. Duration by cab – 4 hours.


4. Dambulla Cave Temple, Dambulla


The town of Dambulla is characterized by the Dambulla Cave Temple, also known as the Golden Cave Temple – one of the largest and the best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dambulla Cave Temple stands roughly 160 meters above the surrounding plains and houses five separate caves. Each of these display over 150 awe-inspiring statues of Buddha, along with wall paintings and carvings. Dating back twenty two centuries, the pilgrimage site was first established by the Sinhalese King Valagamba. The gilding and further additions were made by later rulers. 


The cave temple provides some of the most breathtaking views of the verdant landscapes around. You can even spot the Sigiriya rock at some distance from here. 

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How to get there: Dambulla is located just 17 km from Sigiriya and 150 km from Colombo. There are direct buses from Colombo, which can get you there in 5 hours.

Ithaka’s Pro Tip: Cover this place when visiting Sigiriya. 


5. Trincomalee


Located on the eastern coast of the island, this culturally and historically rich city has only recently made it on to tourist maps.  Boasting one of the finest-deep-natural harbours, Trincomalee is dotted with picture perfect beaches and numerous historical sites and temples.

Beaches like Marble and Nilaveli offer stunning vistas – complete with soft golden sand and turquoise blue water. If you plan to go diving, then consider visiting Uppuveli and Nilaveli, which are close by. Pigeon Island, a marine park is also famous for snorkeling and scuba diving amidst rich marine life. The Swami Rock is ideal for those in the mood for some whale spotting. –  it also happens to be the world’s most renowned vantage point for blue whale watching. 

Temples like Gokanna, Koneswaram, and Patrekali are a must visit. Some of these even find a mention in the ancient Hindu texts. Trincomalee is also home to a famous 17th century fort, Fort Fredrick. The fort is known to have been built from the debris of the legendary Koneswaram Temple. And though the list of things to do here can go on, do make time to visit the Kanniya Hot Springs. 

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How to get there: There are direct trains, buses, and flights running between Trincomalee and Colombo.


6. Kandy

Nestled amidst misty mountains, sits the pretty city of Kandy, which is famous for being blessed with beautiful weather.


The main attraction in the city is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, a Buddhist temple, which as the name suggests is known to house the relic of the tooth of Buddha. The room housing it is open to devotees during prayers.  The relic is kept in a small enclosed stupa. The main temple complex also houses museums, shrines, and a few smaller temples.

Another famous attraction is the Kandy lake, which sits right beside this temple.  The place is ideal for soaking up the stunning vista, and for getting some great insta worthy pictures.

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How to get there: There are direct trains and buses running from Colombo that take around 4 to 6 hours.


7. Ella

This little town is situated in the central hills of Sri Lanka and is a green, lush paradise offering mountain hikes, tea plantations and stunning waterfalls to visit. The climate here in the hills is a lot colder and several times more pleasant than the rest of Sri Lanka.


Ella is famous for its tea plantations so make sure you visit one of the many in this town. The Diyaluma Falls located in Ella is known to be the second-highest fall in Sri Lanka and must be a part of your itinerary. You can choose to swim in the natural pools and make the most out of your trip.

Adventure seekers can choose to hike up Little Adam’s Peak (45 minutes from Ella) which takes around 15-30 minutes to climb. The view of the valley from up top is stunning, something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. There’s also Ella rock that takes around 2 hours to hike to. It is perfect for people interested in a more difficult climb. Getting to the top is truly an accomplishment and the views from there are rewarding.

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How to get there: Take a direct train from Colombo or Kandy to Ella. This 4-hour train journey is one of the most scenic journeys in Sri Lanka and is world famous for the views.


8. Mirissa Beach, Mirissa

This beautiful beach situated on the Southern coast of Sri Lanka is hands down one of the best beaches in the country. This beach provides some of the most stunning sunsets in the country so make sure you spend a day (or two) witnessing this.


Golden sand, crystal blue water, and tall palm trees make this a must-visit for beach lovers. The shore is also lined with quaint beach cafes and shacks so make sure you stick around post-sun-down to experience one of the many beach parties. This is also a popular spot for dolphin and whale watching and you can book day boat tours in plenty. Get your cameras ready as you’ll be making memories of a lifetime!

Also, make sure you find your way to the Secret Beach located just a short walk away from the Main Mirissa Beach. While not such a secret anymore, this beach offers a little more seclusion and good snorkeling spots.

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How to get there: Get a train from Colombo to Matara (7km from Mirissa) and then take a tuk-tuk to Mirissa.


9. Nuwara Eliya

This little town amid the hills in Sri Lanka is a hot tourist attraction in the country. Famous for its numerous tea plantations, you can visit one of the lush green farms, go on a tea factory tour and buy some delicious tea for back home, right at the factories!


You can take a walk on the Moon Plains or take a boat ride across the Gregory Lake or even visit the colonial post office in the middle of the city. The city is populated with winter markets that offer some super affordable winter clothes, locally made and sourced.



A trip to Nuwara Eliya would be incomplete without a visit to the Horton Plains National Park, home to more than 750 different species of plants and over 150 wild animals. The biggest attraction inside is the World’s End hike where the plateau suddenly ends in front of a deep plunge of over 800 meters. The view from the end of the plateau is breathtaking and a memory you’ll never forget.

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How to get there: There are direct buses and trains from Kandy and Colombo which take anywhere from 4 to 7 hours. We recommend taking the scenic train ride from Kandy to Ella that passes Nuwara Eliya.


10. Yala National Park


When you think of Sri Lanka, you think of National Parks with their remarkable wildlife. The Yala National Park is the second-largest National Park in the country housing more than 215 species of birds, the highest density of leopards, and animals like elephants, sloth bears, wild water buffaloes etc., which you can spot during a safari trip.

This National Park also has a beautiful beach, one of the best in the country with clearest waters. Swimming isn’t allowed though, owing to the rough and choppy waves.

Visit this park to get a glimpse at Sri Lanka’s wildlife and forests. This experience is bound to leave you mesmerized!

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How to get there: Take a direct bus from Colombo going to Tangalle and step down at Yala on the way. The journey will take more than 7 hours one way.


11. Beira Lake, Colombo


This is the biggest and the most beautiful lake in the capital city of Colombo and is accessible from all areas of the city. The Beira Lake is famous for paddle boating and you can spot ducks and other birds in the Lake.

The Seema Malakaya temple is situated in the middle of the Lake on top of 3 linked platforms rising out of the waters. This is a famous Buddhist temple that houses a shrine, Buddha statues and a Bodhiya tree in the premises. It is perfect for some calm and serenity while offering prayers.

The Lover’s Island is also a famous attraction by the Lake and is perfect for couples looking to spend some quality time. This place is lined with trees, wooden benches, and beautiful pathways and can be accessed by a string bridge decorated with stunning lights.

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How to get there: Can be accessed by tuk-tuks, taxis, and buses throughout the city.


12. Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery, Kosgoda



A short distance from Bentota, this sea turtle hatchery is located in the town of Kosgoda on the Southern coast of Sri Lanka. Dedicated to nursing injured sea turtles, this hatchery also nurtures endangered species in its premises. They also run informative programs and tours for visitors, a great way to gain deeper knowledge about the sea- turtles.

If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to release the baby turtles into the ocean, a beautiful experience to be a part of.

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How to get there: Take a direct bus from Colombo to Bentota and then hop on a tuk-tuk to the Hatchery.


13. Wijaya Beach, Unawatuna


This is an offbeat beach located 15 minutes away from Unawatuna and is frequented by backpackers. The clear water and calm shores offer exciting opportunities for a swim, while the abundant marine life makes for a great snorkeling experience. More often than not, you’ll spot a sea-turtle swimming past you underwater, no kidding!

You’ll also find some good restaurants by the sea serving amazing sea-food while the sunbeds outside make for a perfect sunset-watching spot over a chilled beer.

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How to get there: Hop on a tuk-tuk from Unawatuna.


14. Udawalawe National Park



Home to more than 250 Sri Lankan elephants, this park is a great place to spot one, while on your safari. Other wildlife includes leopards, sambar deer, axis deer, grey langur and water buffaloes amongst others.
It also houses the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home known to care for abandoned elephant calves. It’s a great place to guarantee an elephant sighting and do your bit to nurture them.

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How to get there: Take a bus from Colombo to Udawalawe junction (6 hrs).

Inspired? So what are you waiting for? Book your trip to Sri Lanka with Ithaka and embark on a journey of a lifetime.

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