25 Unforgettable Things to do in Sri Lanka – The Ultimate Bucket List!
Sri Lanka was simply unforgettable. This small but beautiful country is now one of the top tourist destinations in the world, and after visiting myself, I can totally see why. There are simply so many beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka.
The food is amazing, the people are friendly, the scenery is breathtaking and it’s cheap. The list simply goes on and on.
Although there are literally endless things to do in Sri Lanka, there were a few moments and activities that simply took my breath away and made my trip to Sri Lanka simply unforgettable.
Here’s my list of all the most unforgettable, and things to do in Sri Lanka.
25 Amazing Things to do in Sri Lanka
1. Explore the vast tea plantations
|Location:||Ella, Haputale, Nuwara Eliya and in |
|Rating:||5/5 – The tea fields around Sri Lanka are |
Sri Lanka is world-famous for tea. In the high mountain area of the cultural triangle, tea grows on every hillside. It’s not only a great place to try the freshest and cheapest tea in the world but the views are simply stunning.
There are plenty of places to wander tea fields with some of the most popular places being Ella, Nuwara Eliya, and Haputale. In these stunning towns, you can sleep among the tea fields and enjoy spectacular views from dawn till dusk.
Some of the best places to stay for views of the tea fields in each city are:
The hotels above are very popular so be sure to book them in advance as they book up fast!
2. Watch the trains pass by Nine Arch Bridge
|Location:||Ella, Sri Lanka|
|Price:||Free to visit|
|Rating:||5/5 – It really is such a beautiful place!|
Few places in Sri Lanka are as popular as the Nine Arch Bridge in Ella. To some, the large crowds are off-putting, however, coming from me (a hater of large over touristic places) it’s still so worth a visit!
It’s just that beautiful! If you do want to avoid most of the larger crowds then sunrise is the best time to visit. If you get there before 6:15 am you can just catch the first train passing by, and if you stay until 6:45 am you’ll get to see the famous blue passenger train!
The best way to catch the early trains is to stay somewhere close to the bridge. Some of the closest hotels to the Nine Arch Bridge are:
These hotels are some of the first to book up in Ella so be sure to get in early!
3. Eat a home-cooked meal at a guesthouse
|Location:||Most guesthouses will cook for you|
|Price:||Around 500 – 900 Rupees|
|Rating:||5/5 – If you love curry then you’ll |
love Sri Lankan food!
One of my favorite parts about traveling Sri Lanka was the food. It’s colorful, it’s tasty and it’s dirt cheap! But the best part?
Sri Lankans eat a majority vegetarian diet that consists of lentils, beets, mango, coconut, and peppers (capsicum if you’re from Australia like me!)
I didn’t try a meal in Sri Lanka I didn’t like but the best place to eat was by far at the local guest houses.
We paid on average 600 rupees ($3.50 USD) each for a spread of around 5 to 6 curries with rice, poppadums, and unlimited tea! The meals are freshly prepared and by staying and eating at local guest houses you’re directly supporting the local communities and small businesses!
Some of my favorite guest houses in Sri Lanka were:
4. Take a cooking class
|Price:||1,400 to 2,000 Rupees|
|Rating:||5/5 – The food is amazing so why not learn |
to cook it!
While we’re on the topic of food, we may as well talk about the next best thing to eating Sri Lankan food – and that’s cooking it! Honestly, it’s one of the best things I did in Sri Lanka and something that surprised me the most was how simple their food is to cook!
Our cooking lesson went for around 2 hours and in that time we cooked five different vegetarian dishes. Cooking classes vary in price depending on your choice of meat/vegetarian and how many curries you cook. However, anything around the 2,000 Rupees ($11.30 USD) mark is a good price.
I did my cooking class at a Hotel in Ella. The lady there charged only 1,400 rupees and I really enjoyed my stay. The only downside to the place is it’s a little out of Ella town center.
5. Hike to Adams Peak
|Location:||Dalhousie is the closest city|
|Price:||Free to climb|
|Rating:||4/5 – If you’re up for the climb the views are rewarding|
Adam’s Peak is arguably one of the most important places to the Sri Lankan people. For them, it’s a pilgrimage of high religious significance. For many tourists like me, it’s not about religious significance but more about the breathtaking views!
The hike is best done in the early hours of the mooring in order to reach the summit for sunrise. Adam’s Peak is not for the faint-hearted and does climb a whopping 1,000 m in elevation. The actual peak sits at 2,243 m above sea level and takes around 5 -7 hours to complete in total.
You can book accomodation near Adams Peak so you don’t have to travel far early in the morning. Alternitivly, book one of the tours above from anywhere in Sri Lanka!
6. Ride the train from Ella to Kandy
|Location:||Ella or Kandy|
|Price:||Starts at 150 Rupees|
|Rating:||5/5 – One of the most breathtaking train |
rides in the world
The train from Ella to Kandy was voted one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. This 6-hour train ride travels through some of the most stunning areas of Sri Lanka, winding its way through the sprawling tea plantations in the cultural center.
It’s one of the best and most popular things to do in Sri Lanka and is a must-do in my eyes!
The train does need to be booked in advance if you want first or second class tickets especially during peak season (December to March). You can book your tickets here on 12go to secure your spot, however, I found them overpriced.
Alternatively, you can pay this company to buy your ticket for you in advance. They can then drop the ticket to you or arrange pickup at the train station. Viator is a trusted tour provider so this would be my recommendation.
7. Spot leopards in Yala National Park
|Location:||Yala National Park|
|Price:||Highly dependent on where you leave from|
|Rating:||4/5 – It’s not my favorite national park but if you want to |
see a leopard, it’s one of the best options
Leopards are one of the rarest animals in Sri Lanka and spotting one is on just about on everyone’s bucket list. Unfortunately for me, I never did get to see one, however, it’s always worth a try!
One of the best places to see a leopard is in Yala National Park. Yala National Park is easily one of Sri Lanka’s most popular parks and rightly so. It’s not only home to these rare wildcats but it’s also home to elephants, monkeys, water buffalo, crocodiles and much more.
There are lots of different safaris great for spotting leopards, but your best chances are on a two-night safari. This way you can get far away from the crowds that often scare the cats off. That doesn’t mean you won’t see one on a day trip, it’s just much less likely!
8. Relax at Secret Beach in Mirissa
|Location:||Mirissa, Sri Lanka|
|Rating:||4/5 – One of the best beaches in Sri Lanka|
Secret Beach is easily one of my favorite beaches in Sri Lanka. Although not so secret anymore, this stunning secluded bay is hands down worth a visit and one of the best things to do in Mirissa. From Mirissa, the beach is only a 5-minute tuk-tuk ride away and all of the local drivers know the spot.
Once there, you can sit back on one of the lounge chairs or find yourself a nice bit of beach to lay down. At the beach, there is a small restaurant that sells both food and drinks. Be sure to allow yourself at least half a day to truly enjoy this “hidden” gem!
9. Go on safari in Udawalawe National Park
|Location:||Udawalawe, Sri Lanka|
|Price:||5,500-11,000 Rupees per person depending |
on your group size and negotiation skills
|Rating:||4/5 – One of the easiest places to see elephants in Sri |
Yala National Park is great for spotting leopards but if you want a guarantee of seeing elephants you’d best jump on a safari through Udawalawe National Park.
Udawalwe 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. Aside from elephants I also saw monkeys, water buffalo, lizards, crocodiles, and peacocks.
Half-day tours through the park cost around $100 USD for two people in a jeep on average. You can book on the day but to secure a jeep its best to book in advance especially during busy times!
10. Visit a real baby elephant orphanage
|Location:||Udawalawe, Sri Lanka|
|Price:||500 Rupees entrance fee per person|
|Rating:||5/5 – Literally the cutest thing ever!|
If you’ve made it to Udawalawe for a safari there’s one other elephant encounter you simply can’t miss, and that’s a visit to the Elephant Orphanage.
The Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe is one of the real orphanages in Sri Lanka that actually looks after baby elephants and releases them into the wild.
Entrance to the orphanage is only 500 rupees and it goes directly to feeding the elephants. There are four times a day they do a feeding and this is when you can come and watch the little baby elephants eat. You can’t play with them, touch them nor even get close to them. They’re wild elephants and they want to keep them that way!
It’s a great cause to support and the best place to see up to 50 baby elephants at once!
11. Swim with massive sea turtles
|Location:||Hikkaduwa and Polhena Beach are great spots|
|Rating:||5/5 – Arguably the best free activity on this list!|
If you’re like me and love turtles then you’re in for a treat on your holiday through Sri Lanka! Throughout the country, there are many opportunities to swim with and view turtles.
There are two places in Sri Lanka that offer the best chances to see them in the wild. They are Hikkaduwa Beach and Polhena Beach just south of Mirissa. At both these beaches, you can swim from the shore and literally get within meters of huge sea turtles.
12. Visit a turtle hatchery
|Location:||Between Galle and Mirissa there is a few|
|Price:||Around 500 rupees entrance fee or donation|
|Rating:||4/5 – Not as good as seeing them in the wild but a |
great cause to support
If swimming with turtles is a little scary for you or you’d just love to support a good cause, then I highly recommend visiting a turtle hatchery. In Sri Lanka turtle eggs are highly sort after by poachers and as such, the eggs need to be protected.
Turtle hatcheries are the perfect place for the young turtles to hatch in a safe pace and then be released. At the hatcheries, you can not only learn and see baby turtles but also see rescued turtles who are being nursed back to good health before being released back into the wild.
There are hatcheries throughout the southwest coast near Hikkaduwa, Mirissa, Unawatuna, and Galle. Entrance is usually by donation and goes directly to funding the projects.
13. Spot the largest animal to ever live on a whale watching tour
|Location:||Mirissa, Hikkaduwa, or Trincomalee are popular spots|
|Price:||Around $60 USD for a 3-hour trip|
|Rating:||5/5 – A must-do if your visiting in the right season|
I bet you’re thinking…more wildlife…really?? Well, Sri Lanka hasn’t become one of my all-time favorite countries to visit for no reason, and yes, there’s plenty more wildlife to see!
Our next wildlife encounter is likely the most impressive in the country – the Blue Whale. These guys are the largest living creature to ever roam the planet and can grow to a whopping 100 ft! And as you may have guessed, Sri Lanka is one of, if not the best place in the world to see them.
This is honestly an opportunity you can’t pass on providing you’re in Sri Lanka during the right time of year.
On the west coast, during the months of December to April is when the whales are around with April being the best month. On the east coast, the season begins in July and runs until September.
Of course, you won’t just spot blue whales and many of the sightseeing tours also look for pods of dolphins, humpback whales, sperm whales and more!
The best places to do tours is in Mirissa and Hikkaduwa on the southwest coastline, and Trincomalee on the east coast.
14. Explore Sigiriya Rock Fortress
|Location:||Sigiriya, Sri Lanka|
|Price:||$25 USD entrance fee|
|Rating:||4/5 – Voted the 8th Wonder of the World by UNESCO|
Sri Lanka is home to many ancient ruins but few are as impressive as Sigiriya Rock (aka Lion Rock.) This massive rock reaches just over 200m in height and was one of the most important urban planning sites of the first millennium.
The history and legend behind the rock and the city that surrounded it goes much deeper than this, and the best way to learn about it is in Sigiriya.
Entrance to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress isn’t cheap and costs $25 USD, however considering its significance, it’s totally worth it!
Sigiriya Rock is located in the town of Sigiriya. Visiting the ancient city is easily the most popular thing to do in Sigiriya however, there are plenty of other attractions to see too.
15. Sip the finest local tea at the Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya
|Location:||Nuwara Eliya at the Grand Hotel|
|Price:||1,500 Rupees per person|
|Rating:||4/5 – The best place to try fine local |
tea in Sri Lanka
The Grand Hotel high tea in Nuwara Eliya is easily one of the finest afternoon teas in Sri Lanka and a really good place to try a selection of high-quality teas prepared by professionals.
In all honesty, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it as much as I did. Despite feeling a little too fancy for me, I had a great time and drank way too much tea!
The afternoon tea costs 1,500 Rupees per person and comes with three large plungers of tea per person as well as a range of fine finger foods. If you’re in Nuwara Eliya during your Sri Lanka trip then this is easily one of the best things to do there!
16. Learn to surf
|Location:||All over Sri Lanka|
|Price:||Around $14 USD per lesson|
|Rating:||4/5 – If you’ve ever wanted to give it a go, Sri Lanka is a |
cheap place to learn
Sri Lanka is an awesome place to learn to surf! With a seemingly endless coastline, cheap board rentals, lessons, and waves perfect for all levels there’s never been a better time to learn than on your trip in Sri Lanka.
Surfing in Sri Lanka is best on the west coast between the months of January to April and the east coast between May and July when surfs at its best. However, if you’re just learning then you can surf almost any time of year!
One of the best learner beaches is Weligama Beach on the west coast. It’s only a short drive from Mirissa and well worth checking out if you to want to learn to surf.
17. Spot wild elephants from the B502 Highway in Maduru Oya National Park
|Location:||Maduru Oya NP on the B502 Highway|
|Price:||Free to drive through the national park on the highway|
|Rating:||5/5 – I saw tons of elephants and had the most genuine |
encounters on this road!
This is not your average thing to do in Sri Lanka nor is it a popular one. In fact, many of you probably haven’t heard of Maduru Oya National Park, however, if you truly want to see wild elephants you really should visit!
The unique thing about Maduru Oya is that there’s actually a public road (the B502) that runs through the middle of the national park. From this road at both sunrise and around sunset you can spot wild elephants. Because it’s a public road it’s also completely free – other than your driver of course.
We spent two nights at a beautiful lodge called the Blue Lake Ridge and spent our mornings and afternoons watching actual wild elephants. It’s the only hotel out there but it’s so beautifully located you won’t regret spending a night or two (like we did!)
The reason I say “actual” wild elephants is because the elephants in the other parks are so used to humans they’re almost tame. However, the elephants here will charge you and must be watched from afar (trust us, our tuk-tuk got chased).
This is a very off-the-beaten-path experience but it’s the best encounter we had with elephants in Sri Lanka. This will be hard to do without a driver or your own transport (we had our tuk-tuk) so keep that in mind when planning your Sri Lanka trip.
You can also do safaris in the park and it’s much less visited than others so you’ll be sure to get a better experience!
18. Spend a sunrise at Lipton Seat
|Location:||Dambatenne (but tours run from Ella and Haputale)|
|Price:||150 rupees entrance fee|
|Rating:||5/5 – My favorite viewpoint in Sri Lanka|
I loved Adam’s Peak and I really enjoyed Worlds End, however, my favorite viewpoint in Sri Lanka was Lipton Seat. Situated high above the tea fields of Dambatenne, this viewpoint requires no hiking, and instead, you can take the access road right to the top.
The best time to visit is of course sunrise with taxi’s and tours leaving from both Ella and Haputale daily. The trick to Lipton Seat is the visit early in the morning, before the Daily fog sets in.
19. Snorkel at one of Sri Lanka’s only marine national park, Pigeon Island
|Location:||Trincomalee, Sri Lanka|
|Price:||8,000 Rupees for two people and a boat|
|Rating:||3.5/5 – I really enjoyed the island but overtourism is |
killing it. I personally wouldn’t go again, but it is very
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!
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 rupees for two people.
You can choose from a range of tours and secure your spot on a boat online in advance!
20. Drive a tuk-tuk like a local
|Price:||$16 – $20 USD per day|
|Rating:||4/5 – I personally loved it, but some may find it a little |
By far the most unique (and sometimes challenging) things I did in Sri Lanka was drive a tuk-tuk around for 30 days. Instead of catching buses or paying for taxis we cruised the coast and climbed the mountains in our own tuk-tuk.
The idea first came to us after seeing something online and once we thought about it we simply had to do it! A tuk-tuk isn’t cheap and costs between $16 and $20 USD per day. But when you add up taxi costs and the time lost catching buses it isn’t that bad. Plus, it’s a really cool way to travel!
After completing a month in our tuk-tuk I can’t recommend it enough. Don’t get me wrong driving at first can be a little crazy, but once you get the hang of it, it’s amazing!
We rented out tuk-tuk from Tuktuk Rental and can honestly recommend them! They take the stress out of it and look after you the entire way! If you do choose them, use the code DEST to get 5% off your rental price!
21. Watch baby turtles being released
|Location:||All over Sri Lanka|
|Rating:||4/5 – If you haven’t seen it before you’ll love it!|
Remember when I said baby turtles had to be protected in Sri Lanka? Well, not all of them are guarded in a hatchery and instead, some are guarded on the beach.
In Hikkaduwa, Mirissa, Polhena, and many more beaches around Sri Lanka, baby turtles hatch regularly on the beach and are released by the lifeguards who protect them.
We were lucky enough to see them being released on a few occasions with one of the best moments on Mirissa Beach! Here, about halfway down the beach at the lifeguard tower, we saw around 100 babies taking their first steps and eventually their first swim!
Of course, not every day will you see them but be sure to keep an eye out or ask a local!
22. Hike to the top of Pidurangala Rock
|Location:||Sigiriya, Sri Lanka|
|Price:||500 Rupees entrance fee|
|Rating:||4/5 – I much preferred this viewpoint over Sigiriya Rock|
Sigiriya Rock usually takes most of the spotlight in Sigiriya, but did you know you can climb another rock only 3 ft. shorter than Sigiriya Rock for a fraction of the price?
But the best part?
Pidurangala rock sits directly opposite Sigiriya Rock and gives you the best seat in the house to watch the sunset. Climbing Pidurangala Rock only takes around 20-minutes and entrance is a mere 500 rupees ($2.84 USD!)
It’s also far less busy and for many, it’s the cheaper alternative to hiking Sigiriya Rock. Of course, Pidurangala rock doesn’t have the ancient ruins, but if history’s not your thing it may not matter!
23. Go on an overnight safari
|Location:||Yala and Udalwalawe are the most common, but most |
national parks have them
|Price:||Highly depending on the tour|
|Rating:||5/5 – Without a doubt the best way to experience a safari|
A safari in any national park will be an unforgettable experience, but without a doubt, the best way to experience any national park in Sri Lanka is on an overnight, or multi-day safari.
On these safaris, you’ll see more, experience more, and have a very unique experience compared to most travelers.
Imagine spending the nights completely surrounded by nature and your days spotting all the animals you came here to see.
An overnight safari is easily one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka, so why come all this way to only half do it!
Check out some great multi-day safaris...
24. Wander the Dambulla Cave Temples
|Price:||1,500 Rupees entrance fee|
|Rating:||3.5/5 – I personally loved the temples but if you’re not |
into ancient ruins, you may not like them as much as I did
One of the most important temples to the Sri Lankan people is the Dambulla Cave Temples. Visiting the temples was a rewarding experience and although not the greatest thing I did in Sri Lanka, it was very heartwarming and a privilege to walk among such an important part of the Sri Lankan culture.
I highly recommend reading up on the Dambulla caves before you visit so that you can truly appreciate them!
Entrance to the caves isn’t cheap and does cost 1,500 rupees, however, it’s the best things to do in Dambulla and worth every penny!
25. Hike the largest Rose Quartz in Asia
|Location:||About 30 minutes from Dambulla|
|Price:||500 Rupees entrance fee|
|Rating:||4/5 – I really couldn’t believe this is so unheard of, its a |
very unique experience!
I’m going to finish this list with one of the least known things to do in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is home to the largest Rose Quartz Crystal in Asia. But the best part? You can hike it for only 500 rupees! How cool is that!
It’s located in Jathika Namal Uyana reserve near the city of Dambulla which alone is worth a visit. The chance to walk among this giant piece of crystal is one you really shouldn’t miss.
The rock itself shines a light shade of pink and from the top the views of the surrounding area are breathtaking. When Bailey and I went we were the only people there which was crazy in my opinion! If you visit Sigiriya or Dambulla this is really a must-do!
There you go! 25 amazing things to do in Sri Lanka. This list is the reason I loved my trip so much and thinking back, it’s crazy how many amazing moments there are to be had in such a small country.
August 8, 2019