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Interested in taking a Sri Lanka holiday? Find out which locations and famous attractions to visit during your trip.
With its golden beaches, safari opportunities, lush countryside and welcoming locals, it's easy to see why Sri Lanka has become such a popular holiday destination. The country is also rich in historical sites, with stunning temples and atmospheric colonial fortresses, plus an impressive eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. For wildlife lovers, Sri Lanka has an array of beautiful National Parks, that are home to thousands of elephants and even the elusive Sri Lankan leopard. There’s also tropical rainforests and verdant tea plantations in the highlands that offer trekkers multiple opportunities. For foodies, Sri Lanka has a unique array of delights, with must-tries including hoppers (crispy, bowl-shaped pancakes), various mouth-watering curries and coconut sambol (a spicy side served with most meals). If you are on a tour in Sri Lanka, you can expect to sample varying cuisine in different parts of the country, with fresh seafood curries by the coast and succulent mutton or vegetable curries favoured in the highlands. It’s also not uncommon to have large breakfasts served to you in Sri Lankan hotels, with egg hoppers, curry, chicken and pancakes often served with an array of spicy sides. Sri Lankan deserts draw inspiration from Indian cuisine, often using exotic spices such as cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. In fact, Sri Lanka has become renowned for its fantastic cuisine with spice tours becoming increasingly popular with tourists, alongside the traditional tea plantation tour.
The country is surprisingly easy to travel around with legendary trains that offer breathtakingly beautiful scenery, and modern roads between major cities. However, many visitors opt to go on a package tour in Sri Lanka, as there are so many fantastic options available that offer great value. Popular routes usually include all the major sites and cities, with various different itineraries available. It can also take the stress out of organising independent travel and ensures that none of the major sites are missed.
Sri Lanka has also recently become a popular choice for solo travellers who usually opt to take an organised tour. A predominantly Buddhist country, Sri Lanka is renowned for being safe for both male and female solo travellers. English is often widely spoken in major cities and at tourist sites and hotels, however, it can be less common in the rural areas so an English-speaking guide can be very useful. A package solo holiday in Sri Lanka makes travel even easier for singles, usually offering an English speaking guide and providing the opportunity to meet locals and other tourists.
The beachside capital of Sri Lanka makes a great start to a journey through the country and is situated just 20 miles from the airport.A diverse city, you’ll find stunning colonial architecture tucked away down palm-tree-lined boulevards, glistening skyscrapers overlooking the coast and vast five-star resorts with endless amenities. There are also plenty of attractions to keep you busy for a few days with various landmarks, museums and religious shrines to explore.
In the evening, Galle Face Green in Colombo, which offers fantastic views of the Indian Ocean, is a great place to wander around and enjoy the sunset. Located beside the beach, the area is awash with locals flying kites, bustling markets and food stalls selling mouth-watering seafood. Surrounding the area, you’ll find large luxury hotels and upmarket malls.
This grand, colonial building boasts a large 9th century Buddha in its entrance, and galleries dating all the way back to 1877. Founded by Sir William Henry Gregory, the British Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the time, the museum boasts a diverse selection of artwork and relics from Sri Lanka’s ancient past, including a collection of swords and guns. There’s also an impressive royal throne that belonged to Vimaladharmasurya II, the King of Kandy in the late 17th century.
A thirty-minute drive north of Colombo and just 10 kilometres from the airport, sits Negombo, another great starting point for any Sri Lanka holiday. This friendly beach town has a wide array of hotels ranging from budget hostels to vast five-star complexes, many of which sit right beside the coast. Negombo’s vast beach is pretty impressive, with golden sands and exotic foliage, which makes for a lovely way to while away an afternoon. Negombo also boasts a great array of cafes and restaurants close to the beach.
Located in the centre of the country, the lakeside city of Kandy is surrounded by lush hills and feels a world away from the modern cityscape in Colombo. The city has colourful, colonial houses and hotels that often offer guests rooftop access, with far-reaching views across the mountains. As well as the scenic lake which makes for a lovely stroll, Kandy also boasts plenty of tourist attractions with religious sites, plus gardens and sanctuaries that showcase the city’s stunning natural scenery.
Situated in Kandy, this popular attraction (boasting a TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Award) is one of Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist temples and is renowned for containing the tooth of Buddha (although you don’t actually get to see it). Once inside the golden-roofed temple, tourists can visit the room containing the tooth which is kept in a gold casket case. The rest of the grand temple is also well worth exploring and the complex also has a series of smaller temples, museums and shrines.
Once reserved for and exclusive to Kandyan royalty, these popular gardens are situated in Peradeniya, just six kilometres from the centre of Kandy. Spanning 60 acres, the gardens are home to a fantastic collection of orchids and some impressive trees: including a 40-metre-high Burma bamboo and a mammoth Java fig tree. The gardens also have an impressive selection of wildlife, including hundreds of monkeys and fruit bats.
About 60 miles north of Kandy, sits one of Sri Lanka’s most iconic sights – the incredible Sigiriya, known locally as ‘Lion Rock’.This ancient rock fortress with near-vertical walls that rise almost 200 metres from the ground attracts visitors from all around the world and boasts UNESCO status.
After climbing a series of steep staircases, during which you pass interesting carvings in the rock, visitors are rewarded with the fantastic summit – containing both the ruins of an ancient civilisation and incredible views. The vistas are particularly stunning at sunrise and sunset, and a visit during this time avoids the peak heat of the day. Expect plenty of photo opportunities from both the top of the rock and in the surrounding gardens, and some energetic visitors opt to climb the adjacent Pidurangala Rock, which offers up spectacular views of Sigiriya.
Ten miles south-west of Sigiriya sits the town of Dambulla, famous for it’s Cave Temple, (also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla and Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple) which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. This sacred pilgrimage and cave monastery dating all the way back to the 3rd century BCE has been immaculately preserved and is the largest of its kind in all of Sri Lanka. The caves boast five sections and the insides are covered with fascinating Buddhist mural paintings, plus a total of 157 statues. Inside, you’ll also discover multiple Buddhas, with one giant golden Buddha of particular importance, who is laid down inside cave number two. Prepared to be wowed by the sheer scale of this statue that is multiple centuries old.
Situated in Central Sri Lanka, about 120 miles south of Dambulla, the mountain of Adam’s Peak sits at an impressive 2,243 metres tall and contains a rock formation near the summit, said to be Buddha’s footprint. The seven-kilometre hike up the mountain is moderately tough but a popular trek amongst both tourists and locals. Best climbed at night to avoid the heat, the trek is around two to four hours long, but during really busy periods it can take longer due to the crowds. Arriving at the summit at sunrise offers incredibly beautiful views and on a clear day, Colombo (40 miles away) can easily be seen. During the pilgrimage season (December to May) the hike can become busy, however, on the plus side it’s incredibly atmospheric and the route is illuminated by sparking lights leading the way.
Located in Ella, about 80 miles south-east of Kandy, Little Adam’s Peak offers a less challenging hike for tourists wishing to enjoy mountain views. Named after it’s big brother, the mountain is around half the size of Adam’s Peak and stands at 1,141 metres tall. The path can still be steep in parts however, so sturdy walking boots are recommended. On the way up (and down) you will pass the beautiful 98 Acres Resort where you can opt to enjoy refreshments. Expect wonderful photo opportunities at the summit of Little Adam’s Peak with views over lush hilltops and tea plantations.
Located in the north of Sri Lanka on the east coast, Trincomalee (also known as Trinco) is renowned for having one of the world’s finest natural harbours. As well as it’s a fantastic location close to an array of stunning beaches, the Old Town of Trincomalee is a charming stop, with old colonial architecture and the wonderful Kandasamy Kovil– a beautiful Hindu temple. For beach lovers, the nearby Trincomalee Town Beach is a great way to while away an afternoon. Alternatively, a short distance away from the town centre, visitors can enjoy a collection of stunning beaches. Marble beach, Uppuveli beach and Arisimale Beach are just some of the beaches that are incredibly beautiful. Due to its wide choice of fantastic beaches, it’s unsurprising that Trincomalee is a popular choice amongst tourists on a beach holiday in Sri Lanka, and can often be one of the stops on a Sri Lanka beach tour.
Located on the south tip of the island of Sri Lanka, Mirissa is also a must-see for beach lovers. With a stunning crescent beach, a fantastic range of accommodation and simple, seafood restaurants it’s a fantastic choice for those looking for idyllic beach scenery. Mirissa is also one of the best places in Sri Lanka to spot whales and dolphins, with whale watching tours a popular choice amongst visitors, and whale sightings extremely common. Snorkelling and scuba diving are also popular amongst watersport enthusiasts and Mirissa is known for its fantastic sea life. Another popular excursion is Coconut Tree Hill which involves a long walk to the end of Mirissa beach and a small climb up a footpath. At the top of Coconut Tree Hill, the views are stunning - with far-reaching vistas across the ocean.
Another of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this historic city is a beautiful place to explore by foot with its impressive Dutch-colonial architecture, stylish restaurants, grand mansions and ancient churches. The highlight is Galle Fort, one of the largest remaining fortresses in Asia that was built by European occupiers. Built by the Dutch in 1663, the Fort located beside the ocean makes for a lovely walk and also boasts the famous Galle Fort Lighthouse, which offers fantastic photo opportunities.
This huge area of dry woodland and open grass contains a vast array of wildlife, including a high leopard density that makes it extremely popular tourists. During a safari in Yala National Park, you can also expect to see herds of elephants and a wide range of birds – the park is home to 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species. Other mammals include spotted deer, wild boar, buffaloes, langur monkeys, sloth bears, jackals, mongooses, porcupines, wild cats, as well as plenty of crocodiles. Yala National Park is located in the far south-eastern region of Sri Lanka and is a popular (but intense) day tour, as well a longer safari for visitors staying in Yala.
Located more centrally than Yala National Park, the smaller Udawalawe National Park is a must for elephant lovers, and is often described as the best location in the world to see them in the wild. In fact, the park boasts such a large density of elephants, that sightings are almost guaranteed, and often the elephants will come extremely close to the vehicle. Aside from the main draw of the elephants, the park is also great for bird-spotters with a huge, diverse range that includes kingfishers, eagles, cuckoos, pelicans and more.
The capital city of the North Central Province and one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals, Anuradhapura is famous for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sinhala civilisation. Sitting around 40 miles north of Dambulla, Anuradhapura is a pleasant town and attracts a wealth of tourists keen to visit the ruins, which boast UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Easily explored over the course of a day, the ruins comprise of crumbling monasteries, temples and palaces that date back hundreds of years. The most important of the relics is Ruwanwelisaya, an impressive temple that is a major place of worship in Sri Lanka, and was built by King Dutugemunu in around 140 BC. Other sites include Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya, constructed by King Devanpiyatissa in the 3rd Century BC and Sri Maha Bodhi, which was built around the same time. Time allowing, it’s also worth taking a stroll around the outskirts of the complex where there is lush scenery offering fantastic views of the ruins from afar.