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25 Unforgettable Things to do in Sri Lanka – The Ultimate Bucket List!

Udawalawe National Park is one of the best places to see elephants

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

Tea plantations around Sri Lanka
The beautiful tea feilds of Sri Lanka!
Location:Ella, Haputale, Nuwara Eliya and in
between!
Price:Free
Rating:5/5 – The tea fields around Sri Lanka are
a must-visit!

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:

Ella

Haputale

Nuwara Eliya

Tea fields near Nuwara Eliya

Favorite hotels in Nuwara Eliya

Glenfalls Rest

Hilldale Retreat

The Ramp

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

Nine Arch Bridge Ella is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka
Watching the 6:45 am train on the Nine Arch Bridge in Ella
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!

Why?

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!


Related Read:   15 Best Things to do in Ella, Sri Lanka

3. Eat a home-cooked meal at a guesthouse

Eating home cooked Sri Lankan Food!
Doesn’t that look delicious?! All of this for only a couple of dollars!
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?

It’s healthy!

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

Learning to cook in Sri Lanka!
Location:Anywhere
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

Adams Peak, Sri Lanka at sunrise
That’s a lot of stairs!
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.

If you would like more information on Adam’s peak, check out this great article by the Yoga Nomads or click here to view a huge range of Adam’s Peak tours.

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

train from kandy to ella
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

Udawalawe National Park is one of the best places to see elephants
We weren’t lucky enough to see a leopard…but we did see lots of elephants!
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

Secret Beach in Mirissa is the best beach to relax at in Sri Lanka
Location:Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Price:Free
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

Large male elephant in Udawalawe National Park
A close up of just one of the elephants we saw that day!
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
Lanka

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

Baby elephants getting fed at the elephant orphanage in Udawalawe
Little babies getting fed!
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

swimming with the turtles in hikkaduwa
Location:Hikkaduwa and Polhena Beach are great spots
Price:Free
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.

Related Read:   17 Awesome Things to do in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

12. Visit a turtle hatchery

turtle hatchery Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Waiting patiently for the little turtles to start their life in the ocean!
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

Whale watching in Nilaveli Beach
A humpback whale breaching in Sri Lanka
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.

You can browse a range of whale watching tours in Mirissa, Hikkaduwa or Trincomalee here!


14. Explore Sigiriya Rock Fortress

hotel sigiriya
Sigiriya Rock from the Sigiriya Hotel!
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.

You can browse hotels in Sigiriya here, however my recomedation is to stay at Hotel Sigiriya – its easily the best hotel in town!


15. Sip the finest local tea at the Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya

The food at the grand hotel high tea in 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!

Related Read:   21 Incredible Places to Visit in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

16. Learn to surf

Bailey surfing in Sri Lanka
Bailey catching some big waves!
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

maduru oya National Park is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka
This photo was taken from the side of the highway!
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.

Related Read:   The Truth About Travelling Sri Lanka in a Tuk-tuk

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

sunrise at litpons seat sri lanka
Sunrise at Lipton Seat was one to remember!
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.

If you want more info check out our Lipton Seat guide, or, just book one of these tours from all over Sri Lanka and let someone else do the hard work while you just enjoy the views!

Related Read:   14 Best Things to do in Haputale, Sri Lanka

19. Snorkel at one of Sri Lanka’s only marine national park, Pigeon Island

pigeon island near trincomalee, Sri Lanka
This place gets busy but it’s for a good reason!
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
beautiful!

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

driving our tuk tuk around Sri Lanka was the most unique thing we did!
Just another stunning place we parked up and explored!
Location:Anywhere
Price:$16 – $20 USD per day
Rating:4/5 – I personally loved it, but some may find it a little
overwhelming.

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!

Related Read:   Guide to Renting a Tuk-Tuk in Sri Lanka

21. Watch baby turtles being released

Watching turtles hatch on the beach in Mirissa
Location:All over Sri Lanka
Price:Free
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

Watching a magical sunset over Sigiriya Rock from Pidurangala Rock
The view of Sigiriya Rock in the distance is so cool!
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!

You can do tours to Pidurangala Rock and Sigiriya Rock from Colombo, Kandy, and Negambo. Alternatively, you can stay in Sigiriya and visit on your own!


23. Go on an overnight safari

Overnight safari in Sri Lanka
Sunset is the best time to see elephants and on an overnight safari, you’ll get plenty of chances to see them!
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

Dambulla Cave Temples in Dambulla, Sri Lanka
The inside of just one of the Dambulla Cave Temples
Location:Dambulla
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

Rose Quartz Mountain near Dambulla Sri Lanka
Look at all that Rose Quartz!
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.

-Daniel

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