10 Things Not to Miss in Sri Lanka
Featured destinations: Sri Lanka, Colombo
Published 14 July 2016
Palm-fringed beaches, tranquil bays, timeless ruins and rolling tea plantations; Sri Lanka’s diverse terrain is awe-inspiring. Famed for its ancient Buddhist ruins and sacred cities, this island is bursting with leafy boulevards and colonial architecture. Whether stretching out on the beautiful beaches of Bentota or exploring the cultural capital of Kandy, there is so much to see and do here – and we haven’t even mentioned the rich melting pot of cuisines yet.
Here’s a taste of what not to miss in Sri Lanka:
Celebrate Sri Lankan culture in Colombo
Sri Lanka’s bustling capital is bursting with galleries, museums and stylish restaurants. Peruse the old quarters, where hidden treasures include superb local food, distinctive shops and vibrant cafes. Cool off at Leisure World Water Park, take in the sights onboard a trishaw, indulge in seafood on the golden sands of Mount Lavinia Beach, or sample the lively nightlife. Around three hours’ drive away is the cultural city of Kandy and the Temple of the Tooth, home to the country’s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha.
Climb to the top of Adam’s Peak
Soaring 7,359ft into the sky, this holy mountain is revered by Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike. Famous for the Sri Pada, a sacred footprint in rock formation near the summit, it is possible to scale Adam’s Peak and you can take your pick from six trails. The best time to set off is at night; by reaching the summit at dawn, you’ll be rewarded with golden-hued views of the island, as well as the mysterious shadow of the peak – a spooky apparition that appears to hang suspended in mid-air in front of the mountain during a crisp sunrise.
Soak up the history in Galle
Picture sandy shores, colonial charm and a UNESCO World Heritage protected fort – this is Galle, one of the largest cities in Sri Lanka. Peruse the 18th-century Dutch walled town, which is filled with boutiques, grand colonial houses and sandy beaches. Or hop aboard a tuk tuk and enjoy the wondrous sights of historical buildings, vintage cars, the towering lighthouse and the sparkling sea.
Wildlife watch in Yala National Park
Imagine monkeys swinging through the trees, leopards prowling around and elephants roaming amongst lush jungle; Sri Lanka’s second biggest national park is home to nearly 130,000 hectares of land, 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species. From grassy plains and dense forest to scrubland and a spectacular coastline, this expansive park is the perfect place to spot the “Big Four” of Sri Lankan wildlife – elephants, sloth bears, wild buffalo and the elusive leopard.
Check out the ruins at Sigiriya
Among the destination’s most iconic sights, the rocky outcrop of Sigiriya rises from the central plains towards a flat-topped summit, which contains the ruins of an ancient civilisation. Built 1,600 years ago under the rule of Kassapa, one of Sri Lanka’s most infamous kings, you will have to climb staircases attached to walls to reach the top, passing a lion’s paws carved from rock on your way - part of the original entrance which required visitors to step through the open mouth of a lion. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Sigiriya is surrounded by jungle, and along the way you can enter a sheltered pocket of rock, home to frescoes known as the ‘Heavenly Maidens’ of Sigiriya. On the summit, the foundations of the palace can still be seen, along with the bathing pools.
Chill out on Bentota’s beaches
If you fancy a break from all that sightseeing, Bentota is the perfect place to unwind. Around 80km south of Colombo, this paradise is home to unspoilt sands and lush forest. Stretch out on the golden beach, or take a walk through the landscaped gardens and try to spot a variety of wildlife, from tree frogs to crocodiles. The tranquil Bentota Ganga is a haven for water sports lovers, while those who prefer a gentler pace can opt for a peaceful boat trip along the river.
Browse the spice bazaars in Pettah
Shopaholics and foodies need look no further than the bazaar district of Pettah; one of the best places to get a real flavour of life in Sri Lanka. Breathe in the intoxicating scents emanating from the food market as you wind your way through the stalls. Sri Lanka is among the original spice islands and powerful flavours pack a punch here. The staple dish of rice and curry is brought to life with coconut milk, cinnamon, and chillies. Be warned, the Pettah does get very crowded, but it’s worth it for the huge chunks of fresh fruit alone. Ask the vendors to sprinkle some chilli powder onto your hunk of pineapple – the perfect snack to munch on as you peruse the wares.
Tour the ruined cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa
These twinned tourist hotspots should be firmly on your ‘must-do’ list. The sprawling complex of Anuradhapura contains all sorts of archaeological wonders, from ancient pools to crumbling temples, which were built during the city’s thousand years of rule over Sri Lanka. Today, a number of the sites are still in use as holy temples. Around two hour’s drive away, you will find the archaeological treasures of Polonnaruwa, the town where kings ruled the central plains of Sri Lanka 800 years ago. It is best to see these cities on different days if you can, to experience all they have to offer.
Have a cup of tea at a tea plantation
Sri Lanka’s tea industry dates back 150 years and your visit to this destination wouldn’t be complete without exploring a plantation. As many as 28 different grades of Ceylon tea are produced at plantations across the island. Nuwara Eliya is renowned for its fine quality brews, and among the most popular is the whole-leaf orange pekoe. Tour the tea plantations and sip on a cuppa or two on one of our tailor-made Sri Lanka Journeys.
Spot whales and dolphins in Mirissa
If you are visiting between November and April, don’t miss the chance to spot these magnificent mammals. Hop aboard a boat tour from the small town of Mirissa, on the south coast, and set sail across the Indian Ocean. If you’re lucky, you’ll see blue whales, bottlenose dolphins and turtles. Occasionally, killer whales even make a starring appearance, slicing through the calm waters and leaping up to greet you; an unforgettable experience.
If you'd like to experience Sri Lanka for yourself, take a look at our Sri Lanka Journeys, or chat to your Expert to create your own tailior-made Sri Lanka holiday.