Sri Lanka isn’t just a small island nation braving waters of the Indian Ocean. It’s a country with rich history, beautiful beaches, remarkable wildlife, magnificent temples and stunning landscapes. Parippus and Kottu Roti dominate palates, Dutch forts and colonial buildings dot landscapes, brilliant gemstones, fragrant Ceylon tea, ancient ruins, magical stories and so much more await you in Sri Lanka.

With tourists flocking to this beautiful country in larger flocks every day, here’s our list of the best places you absolutely shouldn’t miss out on, while in Sri Lanka.

1. Galle Dutch Fort, Galle

Galle is a fortified city located on the south-west point of Colombo. The city is home to the famous Dutch Fort declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, first established in the early sixteenth century. While the city saw the transfer of power through many colonial hands; from the Portuguese to the Dutch to the British and finally back to the people, this fort city continued to stand tall through centuries of war and transformation.

The fort also houses a beautiful, reformed Dutch Church that goes back to the 18th century and the Galle Fort Lighthouse, together making for some beautiful pictures. You’ll find quaint cafes, shops selling local handicrafts, narrow picturesque lanes, museums and colonial buildings that promise a satisfying stroll through the city. The fort is also blessed by a natural harbor overlooking the Indian Ocean so make sure you catch the stunning sunset from the top of the fort!

This is box title
How to get there: Situated 150 km from Colombo, you can reach this place by a direct train, bus or taxi.

2. Polonnaruwa

Situated over 200 km away from the city of Colombo, Polonnaruwa was once a thriving religious and trading hub. Home to various archaeological sites, this city is full of ancient temple ruins, statues and tombs dating back 800 years. This town has a vibrant history, culture and professes stories of the ancient past, making it a must visit for history buffs.

The archaeological site called the Quadrangle is a hot favorite among tourists. The place owes its name to a collection of ruins sitting on a raised platform surrounded by a wall and probably has the most concentrated collection of ruins in the city.

The best way to explore the city is on foot or on a bicycle. People usually make day trips from Dambulla or Sigiriya, but there’s decent accommodation available in here too. There are various elephant national parks close to the city so if you’re lucky enough you might just spot a few during your visit. However, make sure these are ethical establishments, if you’re visiting any.

This is box title
How to get there: There are 2 direct trains every day from Colombo and direct buses running to and fro, although taxis are more comfortable.

3. Sigiriya

A 5-hour drive from Colombo, Sigiriya is a small city steeped in rich culture and perched on the plains of central Sri Lanka. This city is perhaps known best for the Sigiriya Rock in its heart of hearts. Also known as Lion’s rock, this archaeological wonder was once home to a royal palace built on top of the rock, the ruins of which can still be found on your way up.

The plateau you come across, right before you reach the top, is adorned by a lion’s statue that was once said to be a part of the gateway to the palace. You’ll also find ruins of water reservoirs on this plateau that were somewhat a technological wonder ahead of their times.

Sigiriya is also home to the Pidurangala rock situated right opposite the Sigiriya rock and is well worth a climb to the top. You’ll find some of the most visually pleasing sights from the top, especially of the Sigiriya rock in all its glory.

This is box title
How to get there: Sigiriya is more than 200 km from Colombo and can be reached by buses (Colombo – Dambulla – Sigiriya) or by trains (Colombo – Habarana – cab to Sigiriya) and will take you anywhere from 7 to 8 hours depending on the mode of transport. A direct taxi will reach in less than 4 hours.

4. Dambulla Cave Temple, Dambulla

Dambulla is a small town located just 20 km from Sigiriya and 148 km from Colombo.

This city is characterized by the Dambulla Cave Temple which is the largest and the best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. Declared a World Heritage Site, this complex houses a few temples, with over 150 stunning statues of Buddha, along with wall paintings and carvings. The history of this temple goes back to over 2000 years as legend would have it. If only the walls could speak!

The cave temple provides some of the most breathtaking views of the green landscapes around, along with that of the Sigiriya rock some distance away.

This is box title
How to get there: There are direct buses running from Colombo that take around 5 hours to reach.

5. Trincomalee (Recommended)

Situated in the South-East Province of Sri Lanka, this culturally abundant city just recently cropped up on tourist maps only after the end of the long sustaining civil war. And thank god for that because this city is one of the most beautiful cities in Sri Lanka. You’ll find a mix of some of the best beaches here (Nilaveli, Pigeon Island, Marble and Upaveli) along with temples (Koneswaram, Pathirakali, Gokanna) and historical landmarks.

The Swami Rock cliff is a popular vantage point for blue whale watching and the Gokannna temple provides beautiful panoramic views of the city. The Marble and the Nilaveli beach are some of the most stunning beaches you’ll ever see – complete with soft golden sand and turquoise blue water, while the Pigeon Island is a popular spot for snorkeling and scuba diving amidst rich marine life and is perfect for a day trip.

Built in the year 1624, Fort Fredrick in Trincomalee is another hot tourist attraction and is known to have been built from the debris of the Koneswaram Temple.

This is box title
How to get there: Situated 265 km from Colombo, there are direct trains, buses and flights running from Colombo daily.

6. Kandy

Kandy is a city situated less than 150 km from Colombo and is surrounded by mountains on all sides owing to which the climate is quite pleasant.

The main attraction in the city is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, a Buddhist temple known to house the relic of the tooth of Buddha. The room housing the relic is open to devotees during prayers and 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 situated right beside the Temple of the Sacred Relic and is good for long strolls with loved ones.

This is box title
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 absolutely be a part of your itinerary while here. You can choose to swim in the natural pools and enjoy the most out of your trip here.

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 definitely remember for the rest of your life. There’s also Ella rock that takes around 2 hours to hike to, for people interested in a more difficult climb. Getting to the top is truly an accomplishment and the views from the top are definitely worth it.

Ithaka pro tip: 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 are just some of the selling points for this beach. 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. You’ll make 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.

Pro tip: The whale watching season is Mirissa is from November to April so make sure you plan your trip accordingly.

This is box title
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 in the midst of 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 which 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 though 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.

This is box title
How to get there: There are direct buses and trains from Kandy and Colombo which take anywhere from 4 to 7 hours. We’d 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 other animals like elephants, sloth bears, wild water buffaloes etc which you can spot on a safari.

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 look at Sri Lanka’s wildlife and forests and promise you wouldn’t regret it!

This is box title
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.

This is box title
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.

This is box title
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.

This is box title
How to get there: Hop on a tuk-tuk from Unawatuna.

14. Udawalawe National Park

Sri Lanka is home to some of the most diverse National Parks and this one’s no different. 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.

The Free Trip Planning App for Thailand!

Highest Rated Travel Planning App on Android & iOS

If you want to avoid reading hundreds of articles like these to plan your trip, download Ithaka.

It is a fun way to discover Thailand and plan your entire trip by talking to someone who’s already been there and done that!

From helping you discover the coolest destinations to recommending activities, your travel buddy on Ithaka will help you plan your entire trip.

Download the App Now:

Image result for play store image Image result for app store image .png

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