Day excursions are a great way to tick places off your bucket list when traveling on a predetermined schedule, and each day counts. Sri Lanka offers a multitude of choices when it comes to this. Kandy, for instance, is a pretty awesome base for making some stunning day trips.

Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka, after the capital Colombo. It is mounted atop a plateau caped by towering mountains and magnificent tea plantations. To quote Lonely Planet, “Here’s a city that looks good even when it’s raining”. Sitting just a two-hour drive from Colombo, Kandy has plenty to keep you engaged for a couple of days. Making day trips from here can be a very pleasant experience, and quite convenient too.

Here are the top day trips that we recommend you treat yourself to while visiting Kandy.


1. Sigiriya

If ancient ruins of bygone empires and stunning views are your thing, then a day trip to Sigiriya should top your list. The sprawling remains of an ancient city sit on top of a monolithic rock that towers over its surroundings. Crumbling fortifications make way for panoramic views of the beautiful Sri Lankan countryside all around. A word of caution: if you’re making your way to Sigiriya from Kandy, stone staircases and cliffs on the path up to the ancient city can be fairly steep in certain parts and require a decent level of fitness. That said, the view, the secret ancient frescoes, and the intricate carvings make it worth the while.


Even from the plains, the looming rock face of Sigiriya is breathtaking. Climbing to the summit brings you to an even more impressive sight – the ruins of an ancient fortified city overlooking the stunning countryside. The ruins of water gardens, palaces, and baths give us a glimpse of what life was like during King Kashypa’s reign in the 5th century.


Many tour operators in Kandy offer organized day trips, with hotel pick-ups, taking away the hassle of negotiating with the chaotic public transport. Touring parties depart Kandy around 8 a.m. and return around 6 p.m. A lunch and a stop at Dambulla Cave Temples are included as well. Tours start from 35 USD /2500 INR /6500 LKR.

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How To Get There: A return journey by taxi costs around 4500 INR, while the bus journey costs 215 INR.


2. Kitulgala

Considering an adventure day trip? Pick Kitulgala. Yes, this destination has the potential to become your adventure base-camp in Sri Lanka! It’s a little slice of heaven and we mean it. Whitewater rafting or flat water kayaking across the river Kelani will lend the right kind of recreational value to your vacation, with a sprinkling of thrill here, a dash of adrenaline there and a whole lot of teamwork. Kitulgala is a small town lying right in the middle of Sri Lanka’s wet rainforest zone. It receives a colossal amount of rainfall, courtesy its two monsoons.


If you’re traveling with a group, book yourself a whitewater rafting expedition on the Kelani. Families can try the less risky flatwater rafting in shallower branches of the Kelani, with kids in tow. While whitewater rafting can be intimidating for the untrained, modern rafts, safety gear, and professional instructors make it a very safe sport. A distance of 5 km will be covered while you chase a total of 9 rapids.


Rent a mountain bike or take a jungle walk along a forest trail that leads you to a waterfall. And if you fancy bathing in charming little streams, jump right in, it’s safe! For the robust at heart, a waterfall jump or a round of abseiling will only add to your feathered cap.


Concrete ruins of the bridge featured in the 1957 flick, ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ still remains across the Kelani. A trek to the prehistoric Belilena caves, where 12,000 year old skeletal remains of the prehistoric ‘Balangoda man’ (Homo sapiens Balangodensis) were excavated, can be made by culture/history junkies.

Don’t forget to feast on a very inviting spread of Sri Lankan food packed with local flavors!

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How To Get There: Kitulgala can be reached in a couple of hours from Kandy via the Colombo-Kandy Road. The quickest way would be to travel by car, which can be hired for around 4600-5500 INR.


3. Nuwara Eliya 

Nuwara Eliya, tucked amidst the hilly Lankan slopes, is worth a visit for its quaint, post-colonial feel and breathtaking scenic beauty. Take a quick reading detour to find out what we know about this quiet child, Nuwara Eliya.


4. Horton Plains

Horton Plains might be at a few hours distance from Kandy but, we kid you not, it is quite literally where the world ends! The Horton plains plateau comes to a sudden end and plunges deep into a death drop of 880 meters, making it one of the most shell shocking ends to a trek. The overall distance is close to 10 km as the trail loops Baker’s Fall and makes it back to the entrance. The Horton plains lend a gently rolling finish to a mountain massif with a crisscross of shallow streams and channels.


What we’ve previously described as the World’s End, is the 880 meters deep escarpment which along with the Baker’s fall are the two absolute highlights of this region. At the southern end of the montane massif, Horton Plains exhibit the climate of wet montane grassland. If you love nature’s furry friends, the wildlife here will definitely excite you, and for the uninitiated, it is right here that the slender loris was discovered in the year 1937. Whether the day is clear or misty, from atop what is rightly called ‘World’s End’, the views of Sri Lanka’s southern coastline can be quite inspiring. A snap of this sheer fall is exactly what your Instagram stories needed.

You can also take the short hike up to the Bambarakanda Waterfall or take your kids for a lazy stroll across the sculpted grounds of the Hakgala Botanical Gardens.

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How To Get There: You can drive a hired car or take a taxi costing anywhere between 800 to 3000 INR for close to two hours, or take the train for the slightly longer but cost effective journey.


5. Knuckles Range

Spend the day hiking up to the Knuckles Mountains, which was likely named after human knuckles that the range resembles. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the knuckles mountain range  and the adjoining landscape has been blessed with diverse natural wonders. A thickly forested sweep of land surrounded by 34 mountain peaks and a pattern of streams and cascading waterfalls, all 234 square kilometers of it displays a rare and exclusive brand of Sri Lankan natural beauty.


Considered the toughest hiking experience in Sri Lanka, this protected reserve mandates a guide with every hiking group. Add to that the 34 varied trails to choose from, some circling hidden villages, some meandering past beautiful waterfalls while others grant you fleeting glimpses of rare animals zooming past.


While Dothalugala is a nature trail up the Dothalugala Mountain, the Nitro trails take you straight down to the Nitro caves which are home to bats that number in the hundreds. Mini World’s End offers a toned down version of the dramatic World’s End experience in Horton with its massive cliff, and the Duwili Ella trail takes you to a hidden waterfall! When you’re taking a breather, stroll past the lazy village homes to soak in the vibe.

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How To Get There: From Kandy, busses travel to Hunnasigiriya till 3 in the afternoon. Privately hired cars are also a good option, costing a little over 3000 INR.

For the culture/history enthusiast, Sigiriya will give you a taste of the bygone while all you nature lovers can find inner peace in Nuwara. If you’re into water sports, Kitulgala should be the choice you make. Hikers can feel a bit spoilt for choice between Horton and Knuckles range. And there you go: armed with your very own inventory, choose the best day trip and make your Sri Lankan holiday really shine.