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Sri Lanka is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world. This tiny island nation is only 9,833,517 sq km but it has a huge range of diverse landscapes to offer. I’m talking mountains and cliffs, hills filled with tea plantations, waterfalls, insane beaches and sunsets, and of course, temples.
All of this diversity and the seemingly endless list of things to see and do make planning your trip and finding the best places to visit in Sri Lanka a challenge.
After driving around Sri Lanka for a month in a tuk-tuk, we have carefully narrowed it down to the 23 best places to visit in Sri Lanka. Some of these places are well-known tourist destinations, while some are off-the-beaten-path. But the truth is, they are all destinations you simply must see with your own eyes.
My hope is that this blog will help you plan your own trip to Sri Lanka, narrowing down those “must-visit” destinations. So, without further ado, here are the 23 best places to visit in Sri Lanka!
Best Places to Visit in Sri Lanka
1. Maduru Oya National Park
Elephants, jungles, rivers, and insane sunsets are what you can expect to see in Madura Oya National Park.
Most people visit Yala National Park for an elephant safari while in Sri Lanka, however, if you want to go somewhere that is less touristic, then heading to Maduru Oya is a must!
Here, you don’t even have to go on a tour or safari to see elephants. All you need to do is simply drive through the national park on the public highway (B502). If you go at dusk, you are guaranteed to see some wild elephants without the crowds.
Honestly, when it comes to off-the-beaten-path national parks in Sri Lanka, Madura Oya is the place to go. The scenery mixed with all of the elephants easily makes it one of the most exciting places to visit in Sri Lanka!
To me, this is one off-the-beaten-path destination in Sri Lanka not to miss!
Hot tip: If you want to visit Maduru Oya National Park at sunset, it is best to find a place to stay nearby. We stayed at a beautiful guest house only minutes away from the B502 called Blue Lake Ridge, and we highly recommend it! It was super affordable and located right in nature with the kindest hosts. UPDATE: They are currently not excepting bookings but keep checking as Sri Lanka opens up.
2. Dambulla Cave Temples
If you’re only going to visit one temple in Sri Lanka, then it needs to be the Dambulla Cave Temples. Not only do these temples have religious and historical significance, but they are both beautiful and unique.
The Dambulla Cave Temples date back thousands of years and showcase a series of 5 temples carved into the side of a cliff face. Inside the temples, you will see hundreds of different Buddha statues as well as paintings on all of the walls. The detail is incredible and it is simply gorgeous.
But it isn’t just the inside of the temples that are beautiful.
The Dambulla Cave Temples are located 160m above the town of Dambulla. From the temples, the views are gorgeous and you can see the surrounding mountains in the horizon. Visiting at sunset is easily one of the best things to do in Dambulla.
Another cool addition to your visit is the monkeys. These cheeky guys hang around near the entrance. Although cute, be sure to pay a small fee to store your shoes (you can’t wear them in the temple) or you might lose them.
You can visit the Dambulla Cave Temples on your own and explore the caves independently. All you need to do is book accommodation in Dambulla or Sigiriya and then take a taxi or tuk-tuk to the temples. Or, if you want, you can visit the temples on a full-day cave and village tour for only $65 including transport!
The entrance to the Dambulla Cave Temples is 1,500 LKR (around $8 USD) and it’s open from 7 am to 7 pm with the ticket booth closing at 5 pm.
3. Little Adam’s Peak
For those who aren’t ambitious enough to tackle the real Adam’s Peak, Little Adams Peak in Ella is the perfect alternative.
The top of Little Adam’s Peak can be reached by walking from Ella in as little as an hour. From here, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the mountains rolling hills, Ravana Falls, the town of Ella, and of course, Ella Rock.
I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the views were, especially considering how easy the hike was! To reach the top of Little Adam’s Peak from Ella it takes around an hour, but if you want to shave some time off the hike then consider getting a tuk-tuk to the start of the trail at Ravana Zipline. From here, it’s only 20 minutes to the top.
Once you’re at the top you can then walk the ridgeline and explore. There are actually three peaks on Little Adam’s Peak and it takes around 30 minutes to reach the furthest one.
If you want a short hike with rewarding views then Little Adams Peak is perfect. It is free and easy to access. Just don’t forget your camera as you will definitely want to take some photos!
Don’t forget to book your accommodation in Ella to avoid missing out on the best places to stay!
4. Liptons Seat
One of the most beautiful places I visited in Sri Lanka was Lipton’s Seat. The morning we visited, we got up very early so we could visit the viewpoint during sunrise, and it was stunning!
Liptons Seat is a viewpoint up above all of the tea fields not too far from the town of Haputale. Back in the day, Thomas Lipton (founder of Lipton Tea) would come here to enjoy the views over the tea fields. Although the company Lipton no longer owns the tea fields or factory here (although they are a buyer), Liptons Seat still remains and you too can enjoy the views.
My best advice for visiting Lipton Seat is to get up early and get a tuk-tuk up to the viewpoint for sunrise. The gated area opens at 6 am so arriving right at 6 is a great idea. From Ella, Liptons Seat is about an hour’s drive, and from Haputale, it takes 45 minutes.
After sunrise, we drove through all of the tea fields on the way to Dambatenne Tea Factory. You can choose to drive this route or walk as it is only 7 km to the tea factory and it’s all downhill through the tea fields.
Entry to Lipton’s Seat costs 500 LKR per person, and an extra 100 LKR per tuk-tuk or 250 LKR per vehicle/car. If you don’t want the hassle of organizing everything yourself, this particular tour will drive you to Liptons Seat from Ella and also tour you through Dambatenne Tea Factory.
5. Pidurangala Rock
Pidurangala Rock sits across from Sigiriya Rock Fortress. It is only 1 meter lower than Sirgirya Rock so it offers the same panoramic views.
However, I actually think that Pidurangala Rock has BETTER views than Sigiriya rock simply because from Pidurangala Rock, you get views of Sigiriya Rock in the distance.
The best time to visit is around sunset, not only because it’s cooler, but the views are much better.
The walk up Pidurangala Rock takes around 30 to 40 minutes and costs 500 LKR (much cheaper than Sigiriya Rock) to enter. There are strict requirements for clothing so be sure to cover your knees and shoulders.
6. Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Sigiriya Rock is one of the most popular places to visit in all of Sri Lanka. In fact, many visitors make the trip to Sigiriya purely to see this ancient fortress.
King Kashyapa chose the rock back in 477 AD to be his new capital. He built the palace on Sigiriya Rock, and about halfway up, he also built an enormous lion used as a gateway. The entire structure is very impressive, and before climbing the rock, I recommend you visit the museum below to read up on the area.
I myself compare Sigiriya Rock to places such as Machu Picchu simply because of the huge effort that would be needed to construct such a large palace on a free-standing rock.
It takes around 2 hours to climb Sigiriya Rock if you take your time and enjoy the views. However, some people do take longer, especially if you’re visiting during the hottest part of the day (there are 1,200 steps.)
The entrance fee to Sigiriya Rock is $30 USD and includes a visit to the museum. If you want a guide, this organized tour is a great option. That way you’ll learn a lot about the ruins and not just see them.
7. Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe National Park is home to one of the densest populations of elephants in Sri Lanka. On almost every single safari in the park, you’ll see many different elephants. On my safari through Udawalawe, I must have spotted around 20 elephants including two small babies with their mother. It was a surreal experience and one I recommend to everyone!
Aside from elephants I also saw monkeys, water buffalo, lizards, crocodiles, and peacocks. So overall, it’s a great place to visit if you love wildlife.
Half-day tours through the park cost around $15 USD for two people in a jeep on average. You can book on the day but to secure a jeep it’s best to book in advance (especially during busy times!) You can also do tours to the park from Galle, Mirissa, and Nuwara Eliya.
8. Adams Peak
Adam’s Peak is arguably one of the most important cultural places to the Sri Lankan people. To them, it’s a pilgrimage of high religious significance and it’s quickly become a must-see among visitors.
However, it’s not about the religious significance for many tourists like myself, but more about the breathtaking views and walking with the Sri Lankan people.
The hike to Adam’s Peak is most commonly done in the early hours of the morning in order to reach the summit for sunrise. However, Adam’s Peak is not for the faint-hearted and does climb a whopping 1,000 meters in elevation. The actual Peak sits at 2,243 meters above sea level and the hike takes around 4 to 6 hours to complete in total.
Adams Peak is usually visited from Kandy, and tours leave early in the morning. However, you can also hike Adams Peak from Colombo and Nuwara Eliya. Tours include transport to and from Adam’s Peak as well as a local guide.
9. Fort Frederick
Fort Frederick is a famous fort in Trincomalee on Sri Lanka’s east coast. The Fort is built on the edge of a peninsula and offers views of Trincomalee and Uppuveli Beach. The water is bright blue and the huge bay is beautiful.
When you visit the fort you can check out a couple of different viewpoints including one from Gokanna Raja Maha Viharaya. Here, you climb a few stairs up to a large Buddha statue and can peer over the fort’s wall at the views.
Another option within the fort is to visit Koneshwaram Temple. The temple is a beautiful place to visit in itself, but on the walk there you will pass many little restaurants. These restaurants all have balconies out the back that offer incredible views. I recommend visiting one of these restaurants and getting fresh fruit juice while taking in the views!
Another cool addition is the wildlife. We got to see lots of deer (yes, real deer) in the fort and even a monkey. So, be sure to keep a lookout when you visit!
10. Nilaveli Beach
Here you can swim, relax in the sand, or even go snorkeling. It’s a stunning area any beach lover will be impressed with.
One of the things that make Nilaveli Beach so beautiful is that it is not very developed or busy. There are very few beachfront restaurants meaning the beach isn’t cluttered with chairs and tables like many of the more popular beaches in Sri Lanka.
You can visit Nilaveli on a day trip from Trincomalee or choose to spend the night. There are plenty of amazing guesthouses in Nilaveli to choose from so you can spend as long as you’d like in this tiny beach paradise!
11. Secret Beach
Another beach that I think is one of the most gorgeous in Sri Lanka is “Secret Beach.” Secret Beach was once a beach that very few knew about. However, as soon as tourists discovered how gorgeous this little beach bay was, the word got out. It has since become one of the most popular places to visit in Sri Lanka!
Secret Beach is located in Mirissa and can be reached by walking or with a tuk-tuk.
Once you arrive at Secret Beach you will see the beautiful ocean and a small calm bay. The little beach is sheltered by rocks making the water calm and perfect for swimming. It is shallow and calm enough to just lay in and relax.
The town of Mirissa (where Secret Beach is located) is a wonderful place to spend a few days! I recommend booking a hotel or guest house and staying a while!
If you’re a budget traveler, then the Green Garden Guesthouse is a great choice with the nicest host and central location (this is where we stayed!) For those who like a bit of luxury, Number One is sure to impress with its incredible views and pool!
12. Pigeon Island
Okay, so you now know about some of Sri Lanka’s best national parks on land, but are you aware Sri Lanka has a stunning marine national park called Pigeon Island? Both the island and the waters around the island are protected, but it’s what’s in the water that most come to see!
Turtles, sharks, and beautifully colored corals are just some of the things you’ve got to look forward to. Yep, that’s right, you can swim with sharks here!
The island is located off the coast of Trincomalee and Nilaveli – two very popular tourist destinations in Sri Lanka. Entrance to the park includes a national park fee so expect to pay around 8,000 LKR for two people.
13. Knuckles Mountain Range
The Knuckles Mountain Range is a very scenic mountainous area in central Sri Lanka. The range can be reached in only an hour or so drive from Kandy. Once here, you can choose to go on a scenic drive and take in the views or tackle one of the many hikes in the area.
We drove into the Knuckles and then went on a short hike called “Mini World’s End.” Exploring the Knuckles means you will see lots of lush forests as well as enjoy views of the surrounding lakes and mountains.
For those who really want to tackle some longer hikes in the Knuckles, consider doing the Nitro Caves hike or the Duwili Ella trail.
You can easily explore the Knuckles on your own if you have your own transport. Otherwise, there are plenty of day tours from Kandy including this one particular full-day tour that includes lunch!
14. Bambarakanda Falls
Bambarakana Falls is Sri Lanka’s tallest waterfall and definitely a place to check out if you want to see one massive (and breathtaking) waterfall. The waterfall is located within the Horton Plains National Park but on the southern side meaning it is best accessed from Haputale (rather than Nuwara Eliya like most of the other parts of the national park.)
After driving through a very bumpy road in the forest, you will then have to walk for about 15 minutes to reach the falls. There is a viewing platform where you will be able to see just how large this 263m tall waterfall is!
This area of the national park is free to visit (yay!) but there is a small fee of 150 rupees to visit the waterfall. To me, this is the best waterfall to visit in Sri Lanka.
15. Nine Arche Bridge
The Nine Arch Bridge is one of the most photographed places in Sri Lanka – but that’s because it is just so beautiful! The bridge towers above a gorge full of tea fields and makes for the perfect place to visit in Sri Lanka to take your next favorite travel photo.
If you want to see a train drive by you’ll have to visit during specific times based on the train schedule. I recommend going early in the morning as there are two trains that pass by at around 6:15 am and 6:45 am each morning (double-check this with your hotel before you leave as the train schedule can change seasonally).
Ella is easily one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka and the Nine Arches Bridge is just one of the many things to do in Ella! Be sure to spend a couple of days there and book awesome accommodation in advance to avoid missing out!
16. World’s End Lookout
The World’s End hike is one of the most famous hikes in Sri Lanka. This short 9.5 km-long loop trail brings you up to an edge of a cliff where it literally appears as you’ve come to the end of the world! In fact, on a clear day, you can see over all of the mountains all the way to the ocean!
The World’s End hike is located in Horton Plains National Park. It is best accessed from Nuwara Eliya and lots of transport and tours depart daily. You’ll need to leave first thing in the morning so be sure to spend the night before in Nuwara Eliya.
Entrance to the park does cost $30 USD so you’ll need to budget for that too. In fact, it’s one of the reasons few do the hike – but that keeps the trail free of crowds!
Browse all of the awesome accommodation in Nuwara Eliya and book in advance!
17. Rose Quartz Mountain
Many tourists don’t know about the Rose Quartz Mountain in Sri Lanka, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure why. To me, it was a highlight during my travels in Sri Lanka and one of my personal favorite places.
Located about 40 minutes from the city of Dambulla, Rose Quartz Mountain is the largest mountain made entirely of Rose quartz in all of Southeast Asia. Here you will climb the mountain and underneath your feet is not dirt or rock, but rose quartz – it’s amazing!
The views from the top are of many lakes and mountains nearby, but to me, the best part of the mountain is seeing the dusty pink hue from the Rose Quartz. It is really unique but also stunning and a place I would highly recommend you visit while in Sri Lanka.
it costs 5 USD to climb Rose Quartz Mountain and the walk-up only takes around 20 minutes.
18. Galle Fort
On Sri Lanka’s southern coast you can visit Galle Fort. Here, you can explore this historical fort and take in views of the ocean at the same time.
Galle Fort was built by the Portuguese in 1588 to protect Sri Lanka from unwanted ocean encounters. Evidence of battle is found throughout the fort and the Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, a visit to Galle Fort means strolling along the walls, checking out the ocean, wandering the many streets within the fort, eating at cute cafes, or even visiting the fort museum. It is a great way to spend a couple of hours learning a little bit about Sri Lanka’s history in such a picturesque location.
Galle city is a beautiful place to stay in Sri Lanka, in fact, it is a top tourist destination FULL of amazing hotels right on the water! Browse all of the beautiful hotels available in Galle here!
19. Train from Ella to Kandy
The train ride from Ella to Kandy has become famous because of how scenic it is! This route is not only a practical way of transport for travelers but also one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka. From the train window, you will be able to take in some of the beautiful landscapes of Sri Lanka including mountains, gorges, and tea fields.
The train ride takes about 4 hours, however, you can also do the ride between Ella and Haptuale which is much shorter and is said to be the most scenic portion of the journey anyway.
Ticket prices differentiate depending on what class of ticket you buy. Just be aware that during peak season the tickets for first and second class often sell out so consider buying yours in advance for this route!
20. Coconut Tree Hill
Thanks to Instagram, Coconut Tree Hill has become one of the most famous places to visit in all of Sri Lanka! This means that when you go there, chances are there will be many others also trying to get their perfect “Insta snap”.
I visited Coconut Tree Hill twice, once in the afternoon and once first thing in the morning. If you want to avoid the crowds, then make sure you go in the morning! Although we weren’t the only ones there, there were only a couple of other tourists.
Coconut Tree Hill is just outside of Mirissa and can be reached with a tuk-tuk to get to the hill’s base. From the road, you must walk uphill for 5 minutes to reach this famous palm tree viewpoint!
Located in Sri Lanka’s cultural center, Kandy is a city that many tourists visit. Kandy used to be the capital city of the Sri Lankan royal dynasty and holds much cultural significance.
One of the most popular things to do in Kandy is to visit the National Museum of Kandy. This museum tells the story of the region and its people with unique exhibits.
No visit to Kandy would be complete without checking out the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. This temple holds the relic of the tooth of Buddha and is a World Heritage Site.
Although Kandy is a large city, it shouldn’t be avoided by visitors (like Colombo often is.)
22. Arugam Bay
On Sri Lanka’s eastern coast, Arugam Bay is one of the most popular places to visit among surfers and beach lovers. Known mainly as a backpacker haven, Arugam Bay is home to stunning beaches, coconut palms, and gentle waves.
Visiting Arugam Bay is all about relaxation, yoga, and of course, surfing. Both beginner and intermediate surfers will love Arugam Bay, and there are plenty of places to rent boards or enjoy a surf lesson.
Enjoy the cheap accommodation, food, and endless beach days with a visit to one of my favorite beach towns in Sri Lanka!
23. Marble Beach
And last, but definitely not least, is Marble Beach. To me, Marble beach is the best beach in all of Sri Lanka simply because it is that breathtaking! The sand is fine and white, and the water is calm. Visiting Marble Beach is a serene experience and it really is a true beach paradise.
From Trincomalee, Marble Beach is about a 30-minute drive. There is a free beach area you can enjoy, or you can visit the Ralla Restaurant and buy something there in order to gain access to their exclusive section of the beach.
This section is larger than the public area and less crowded so I recommend taking advantage of this and just buying a bite to eat (the food is good and actually very reasonably priced!)
Getting Around Sri Lanka
To visit all of the best places in Sri Lanka, you’re going to need a mode of transport. You have a few choices when it comes to getting around Sri Lanka:
Rent a Tuk-tuk
Easily the most popular (and most fun) way to travel around Sri Lanka. We actually rented a tuk-tuk on our trip and absolutely loved it! Tuk-tuks are easy to drive, cheap to rent, and the freedom that comes with your own wheels is unmatched.
If you do decide to rent a tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka, be sure to go with a reputable company that provides quality tuk-tuks, such as Tuktuk Rental (who we rented from.) These guys not only offer an amazing service, but their tuk-tuks are actually rented from local families, providing income for the local community.
If you decide to rent from Tuktuk Rental, be sure to use the coupon code ‘DEST‘ for 5% off!
For more info, read our blog: The Truth about Renting a Tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka.
Hire a Driver
If you’re only planning on going to a couple of destinations, then a private driver is not a bad idea. In the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle, your driver can take you to your next destination. All you have to do is sit back and relax!
You can hire highly-rated drivers in advance to pick you up right from the airport when you arrive in Sri Lanka. This driver will take you to your hotel in Mirissa, Galle, Bentota, or Unawatuna. Whereas, this driver will take you to Kandy.
Of course, every time you want to change destinations you will have to arrange for another driver (unless you book this driver who will drive you around for an entire week). Car transfer can easily be organized through your hotel.
Take Public Transport
This is a choice I only recommend for those on a very tight budget and with plenty of time. Public transport is everywhere in Sri Lanka in the form of public buses and trains. It is also very cheap, costing less than a couple of dollars per journey.
However, it isn’t the most comfortable way to travel. The buses don’t have air conditioning and neither do many train services. They can also be slow-moving, stopping every couple of minutes to pick up more passengers.
With that said, public transport is popular with budget backpackers, and it is mostly safe. This is one way to travel for those who want to get around as the locals do!
Before you go…
If you explore even just a couple of the amazing places I mentioned above, I promise you’ll understand why I think Sri Lanka is such a top tourist destination!
I hope you enjoy this stunning country as much as I did and my blog on the best places to visit in Sri Lanka has helped you plan your own trip!
If you want some more travel advice about Sri Lanka, browse all of our Sri Lanka blogs. Some, in particular, you might enjoy are:
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