If you’re planning a ‘bucket list’ holiday to Sri Lanka, we’ve handpicked some amazing things to do that provides you with a chance to see the authentic delights of this beautiful South Asian country. We take you behind the scenes to the Sri Lanka that tourists rarely see, giving you an up-close and personal experience of some of the most magical destinations and animals on the planet.
It provides a glorious tropical climate, some of the best beaches in the world, and incredible local cuisine; but there are so many more reasons to visit Sri Lanka!
Using our knowledge, familiarity and superlative local contacts, we can put together a Sri Lanka holiday that makes your dreams and travel goals real.
But for now, here are some of what we believe to be the most unmissable things to do in Sri Lanka.
Visit the Primate Center
Primates are a species that have enthralled and intrigued humans for centuries. If you’ve ever wanted a meaningful encounter with monkeys, then this is certainly one of the most important things to do in Sri Lanka.
A trip to the ‘lost city’ of Polonnaruwa offers the chance to see the oldest primate centre in Asia, to explore the work done there in the capable hands of guides who are also wildlife biologist researchers. The colony of highly intelligent and socially active primates roam freely here, under the protection of the Smithsonian Primate Research Center.
In fact, this ancient archaeological site, with its well-preserved ruins, is a wonderful Sri Lankan day trip in its own right.
Walking tour in Colombo
One of the best ways to experience the local heritage, culture and daily life when you visit Sri Lanka, is to take a guided walk around the architecturally blessed capital city.
You benefit from rich local knowledge and a myriad of unforgettable experiences on the Colombo Architecture & Pettah Market Walking Tour. With your safety and comfort always a high priority, of course.
The list of opportunities to stare – or take photographs – is too long for this article but includes Chatham Street’s famous ‘shop-houses' and a clock tower that is possibly the oldest in Asia and is connected to London’s Big Ben! You will also see grandiose colonial legacies, ornate religious shrines and statues, and many other buildings of interest in Colombo.
Or, if you want to explore Colombo in a relaxed fashion, why not jump on board a tuk-tuk, the quirky local transport for Sri Lanka.
Visit the Sapumal Art Foundation in Colombo
While in the Sri Lankan capital, it's recommended that you make time to visit this superbly curated art gallery, housed in the former home of artist Harry Pieris.
Some of the nation’s most important pieces are held in the Sapumal Art Foundation collection, including the work of globally renowned artists dating back over the last century, some of which were the leading lights in what has become known as the 43 Group.
Stroll through Kala Pola Art Market in Colombo
Another popular spot in Colombo, the Sunday Kala Pola Art Market offers visitors to Sri Lanka an opportunity to add a painting or sculpture to the list of wonderful things you bring home from this fabulous country in the Indian ocean.
You could wander for hours through the stalls displaying the work of local artists, which also give you a unique window into Sri Lanka’s heritage, culture, social life and landscape. It’s also a great chance to rub shoulders with Sri Lankan people, who also visit the art market to meet, eat and buy.
Visit Udawalawe elephant transit home
Wildlife encounter holidays often attract visitors to the stunning island of Sri Lanka. Particularly the “Ath Athuru Sevana” (which means Elephant Transit Home) at the Udawalawe National Park.
You have an incredible opportunity to observe the orphaned elephant calves, as they are nurtured ready for release back to the world. As they need to be fed in three hourly intervals, it is all hands-on deck with this Sri Lankan experience! You also see these noble animals roaming freely in a larger section of the Udawalawe National Park’s 33,000 hectares.
Explore Sam Popham Arboretum in Dambulla
Sri Lanka is globally respected as a biodiversity ‘hotspot’. Fortunately, a day trip to see the Sam Popham Arboretum in Dambulla provides Sri Lankan adventurers with a chance to get close to its splendours in one amazing location.
This includes a fascinating array of the country’s wildlife, as well as insects, trees and plants, all on one protected and easy to access site. This is the island’s only dry zone arboretum and a source of great pride to the Sri Lankan environmentalists.
Relax at Trincomalee Bay
No list of things to do in Sri Lanka would be complete without insights on where to go ‘off the beaten track’ and enjoy this country’s splendid coastline
Trincomalee Bay – on the East coast – is Asia’s largest natural harbour and a chance to chill in a lively beach bar or visit an ornate Hindu temple (Sri Pathrakali Amman Kovil).
However, it’s also close to some of Sri Lanka’s best and quietest beaches, and a great place to start walks to find the best, most secluded places to swim and snorkel in this tropical paradise.
At certain times of the year, it’s also the perfect place to go whale watching in Sri Lanka too!
Take the train to Ella
One of the most memorable train journeys in the world, and an iconic Sri Lankan adventure, involves journeying by rail from Kandy to Ella.
You could ride the railway respondent in First Class with air conditioning. However, we recommend you to enjoy an authentic Sri Lankan experience amidst its warm and friendly locals, hop into a second-class carriage.
Keep your camera ready and your eyes open as the scenery is not to be missed on every leg of this unforgettable train journey, which whisks you through the lush and ever-changing landscape of Sri Lanka.
Incidentally, if you visit Kandy, we recommend exploring the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, a fabulous temple in the royal palace complex. When you get to Ella, one of the best things to do there is take a short hiking tour of Ella Rock, an easy walk through superb Sri Lankan countryside.
Visit the Birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
A high majority of Sri Lankans follow the Buddhist faith, and this religion has been studied and practiced here for many centuries. Wherever you travel in Sri Lanka, you will see abundant evidence of how well protected and preserved the Buddhist Aryan culture is, including glorious temples and statues.
However, to truly see firsthand the impact and spiritual power of Buddhism, it’s recommended that you add a visit to Mihintale to your list of things to do in Sri Lanka. According to legend, this is where Buddhism began in this part of Asia. Pilgrims from all over the globe travel to Mihinate’s collection of shrines and climb the 1,840 steps that take you to the highest point to meditate and enjoy mind-blowing panoramic views.
Cycle through UNESCO Anuradhapura with a local guide
One of the best ways to see Sri Lanka’s rich biodiversity and breathtaking scenery is by bicycle!
On our tailor-made holidays to Asia’s Indian Ocean ‘pearl’, you could join a local guide to cycle this UNESCO protected location.
Anuradhapura is a vast and magical ancient city, featuring the most superbly displayed archaeology sites in Sri Lanka. You can also ride through iconic paddy field and tea plantations, around ‘secret’ Sri Lankan villages and visit the largest Buddhist monument in the world, Abayagiri Dagoba.
Visit Ritigala Monastery
To explore the deeply spiritual side of Asia, one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka is head to the Ritigala Monastery.
Having a chance to bask in views of the 3776-acre Ritigala mountain range is in itself an unforgettable experience. Myths and legends echo around its ancient peaks, forests and monasteries. Exploring the ancient Buddhist Ritigala Monastery gives you a chance to journey back in time to the first century BCE on your Sri Lankan adventure holiday.
Learn to Surf
Sri Lankan beaches are not only perfect for relaxing in secluded tropical locations, but they also offer some of the best surfing in Asia.
The southern coast of the island is particularly popular for tourists and locals seeking to ride the waves and learn to surf.
Your self-created holiday itinerary to Sri Lanka could include joining surf camps on the beach or enjoying day trips to take part in water sports in idyllic locations. You will always benefit from expert help, a hot sun, crystal clear waters and the promise of marine life encounters!
We take care of the details, ensuring you can learn to surf in Sri Lanka as a beginner or enjoy safe adventures in the best places for advanced surfers in this glorious tropical country.
Visit a Tea Factory
Sri Lanka is one of the planet’s most significant tea exporters, thanks to its fertile and lush topography and superb climate. This makes tea plantations one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, as they are firmly woven into the country’s social history and demography.
However, one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka if you love to explore history (or drink tea) is to visit a tea factory. Not least as many rely on traditional methods handed down over many generations, and use antique machinery, to produce the perfect, delicious brew. You can also learn the best way to enjoy Sri tea!
No wonder ‘tea tourism’ is one of the many facets of Sri Lankan adventure holidays.
Also, a top attraction in Sri Lanka’s tea country hills is Nuwara Eliya, a city which offers the stunning Hakgala Botanical Gardens.
Hot air ballooning in the Cultural Triangle
If you want to make memories to last a lifetime in Sri Lanka, then why not add a hot air balloon experience to your personalised itinerary.
This ‘out of this world’ adventure is particularly popular amidst the ancient and mysterious features of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. Here you will glide through the air, drinking in sights that have lasted for thousands of years, including mystical temples, rock fortresses, ancient battlegrounds and the nation’s abundant natural beauty.
We arrange hot air ballooning in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle with the best operators and guides, and you will often enjoy fine champagne on your once-in-a-lifetime adventure amongst the wispy clouds.
See wildlife at Wilpattu Park
Some of the most popular places to visit in Sri Lanka that involve wildlife encounters can become relatively crowded in the height of the season.
We know where to go for Sri Lankan safari adventures which are much quieter and increase your chances to see endangered species and wonderful beasts native to the island.
This includes Wilpattu Park, which offers one of the best natural world safaris in Asia. It holds some incredible and unmissable ecological features, including "Willus", which are carved depressions in the sand that pool rainwater.
As with all aspects of your bespoke Sri Lankan holiday, your visit to Walpattu Park will have every detail pre-arranged, including superb safari accommodation and camps, and the services of a knowledgeable guide.
You can expect to see leopards, elephants, crocodiles, bears and reptiles – as well as colourful tropical birds – on an authentic Sri Lankan safari adventure booked through us.
Explore the UNESCO Sigiriya Rock Fortress
This ancient fortress is understandably a protected world heritage site. It sits proudly at the summit of a 180m granite peak - 'Lion's Rock' – and provides incredible views across its jungle home.
The rock face has been described as a gigantic picture gallery and the fortress is a mind-boggling piece of first-century urban life.
It’s recommended that your day trip to this area includes a visit to The Gardens of the Sigiriya city, among the world’s oldest landscaped areas.
Climb Adam’s Peak
If walking on the wild side and in remote locations is appealing to you, why not book a hike up Adam's Peak (2,243 m). This conical mountain in central Sri Lanka is also known as Sri Pada (sacred footprint).
It also happens to be the perfect place to see a sunrise in Sri Lanka, so you may have a chance to do a night climb on this wondrous adventure holiday.
What’s your dream holiday in Sri Lanka?
Travelling to Sri Lanka – the 'Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ – with us, offers you a wonderful life-affirming adventure holiday. Your stay and all its glorious detail will be tailored specifically for you, offering a treasure chest of experiences and memories.
Your holiday includes never-to-be-forgotten sights, smells, sounds and tastes, including breathtaking visits to the Sri Lankan coast, nature parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
These are just some of the memorable and magical things to do in Sri Lanka. To add these to your tailor-made holiday itinerary, get in touch. However, we would love to hear your ideas for what makes a perfect Sri Lankan holiday itinerary, too.