Best Places To Visit in Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful and culturally rich places on the planet. It’s one of my personal favourites of the 50+ countries we’ve visited and I can’t recommend it highly enough for your long-term travel or holiday vacation. This post deals with best places to visit in Sri Lanka, the best attractions and historic sites. We have a Sri Lanka travel home page that can help you with all aspects of travel in Sri Lanka including health, visas, practicalities and so on (click through on the link above) this post is just about places to see and to visit.

One of you, our readers, asked me to write this post for them. I don’t mind doing this at all, so if you have any questions please leave a comment.

Suzy wanted to know which attractions in Sri Lanka I’d recommend for her active family. I know most of the island pretty well, Sri Lanka is one of our favourite places to visit, so Suzy, just for you, here are our best places to visit in Sri Lanka, in no particular order.

I’m not going to give you a run-down on all the beach towns down the west to the south coast, they all have their pluses and minuses, this post is just about the big attractions. We have a separate post on beaches in Sri Lanka. One of our recent travel videos will play below, you might see somewhere cool and get to know us and our website a little better.

Places to Visit in Sri Lanka

These are the big sites and our personal best places to visit in Sri Lanka. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Best places to visit in Sri Lanka Elephants

Places To Visit in Sri Lanka, Cultural Highlights


Kandy Sri Lanka. The Temple of the Tooth.
The sacred Temple of the Tooth stands at one end of Kandy Lake. There is an admission fee and a dress code. The Kandy Devales – temples – are nearby as is the British Garrison Cemetery and some good shopping opportunities.

You can keep yourself busy in Kandy for a week easily, or just fly through for the Temple of the Tooth. There are loads of things to do here and they’re in these posts Things To Do in Kandy and Not Visiting The Temple of The Tooth? Try the Free Devales.

Places To Visit in Sri Lanka, Historic

 Sigyria (Lion Rock)

Best places to visit in Sri Lanka sygiria lion rock
Sigiriya or Sinhagiri is a huge rock monolith in central Sri Lanka, topped with ancient fortifications, sometimes called the 8th wonder of the world, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sri Lanka.

Sigyria is magnificent. A formidable rock topped with an ancient palace towers 200m above the surrounding landscape. Visitors climb precarious stairs past the ancient frescos of dancing-girls before finally mounting the iconic lion paw stairway to the highest point.

It’s a wonderful day out, I liked it so much I’ve been three times , but we didn’t take the kids last time.

There were 3 reasons: it’s a bit of a hike north of Kandy, it’s not far from Dambulla and if you had a driver or took a tour you could do both in one day, but public transport wouldn’t really allow that.

Secondly the admission charges are on the high side and my third reason, bizarrely, is the hornets.

Sigyria has a reputation for large aggressive Asian hornets that can attack in large numbers if disturbed, so much so that they rent out anti-hornet suits. My kids are not quiet and don’t move slowly, they’re guaranteed to wind up even the most laid-back hornet, so last year we gave it a miss.

The following year we took them and nobody was stung by hornets, you can read our post on Sigyria with family here

Polonnaruwa, Ancient City

The ancient city of Pollonaruwa is another UNESCO world heritage site, it lies 83 Km north-east of Kandy as the crow flies. We’ve never been to this one, I’ll let you know what it’s like when we do.

Anuradhapura, Ancient City

places to visit in sri lanka history pollonaruwa

Slightly further away from Kandy and almost due north is Sri Lanka’s other ancient city Anuradhapura. We visited in 2016 and it was a huge highlight for me and, interestingly, for the children. They got a real buzz out of seeing Buddha’s 2000-year-old tree.

Tuk-tuk drivers can take you on a tour that doesn’t involve a hefty admission charge, instead, your money will go to your driver. You can buy a combined ticket for the ancient cities and Sigyria that gives you a big saving. Children are either free or pay half price for all the above attractions. You can read all about our tour of Anuradhapura and prices at the time of our visit, here.


gall sri lanka good place to visit
Galle, outside the fort there are some wonderful markets to explore. Fishermen selling their catch just outside galle fort.

Galle is wonderful. It’s not just about historic Galle Fort, the beautiful colonial buildings and the fancy little boutique hotels and coffee shops that have sprung up within its walls. Try to get over to the town for the markets and walk along the waterfront to see the fishermen selling their catch.

There are a couple of free museums within the fort walls that are worth a look.

To find out more, see our post on things to do in Galle or visit this post about a lovely jungle villa very near Galle.


dambulla best places sri lanka
The Dambulla cave temples, again, one of the most popular places to visit in Sri Lanka.

This one I’ve been to 3 times and yes, we took the kids. Admission charges are lower, it’s well worth seeing for the amazing cave temples and Buddhas and it’s also a lovely walk up the hill with plenty of wildlife to spot.

Other than the ubiquitous monkeys, we saw a giant tree squirrel, a very cool animal indeed. I have a whole post about Dambulla and getting there from Kandy. We also have a post about the experience of staying in the Cultural Triangle in an eco-hotel ideally located for both Dambulla and Sigiriya.

Places To Visit in Sri Lanka – Wildlife and Nature

Pinewalla Elephant Orphanage

places to visit in sri lanka wildlife pinewalla
Pinewalla elephant orphanage, Sri Lanka.

This has to be THE place to take the kids in Sri Lanka, yet my two still haven’t been. Just circumstance and lack of funds. The image at the top of the page shows the elephants taking their daily bath, be sure to catch the elephant walk down to the river.

I’ve read various reports on elephant cruelty at Pinewalla, I’ve never seen any evidence of this. I’ve ridden elephants many times, we had an elephant at our wedding in Sri Lanka, they’re my favourite animal (I also have a zoology degree) and if there was any abuse I’d be the first to shout about it. This book is a great source of elephant information.

Mirissa for Beach and Whale Watching

best places to visit in sri lanka mirissa
Mirissa makes a lovely place for a beach holiday in Sri Lamka, but here you also get the opportunity to see blue whales.

There was no way we could miss this!

Mirissa is possibly the best place in the world to see blue whales, a creature I never dreamed I’d ever see. We had a wonderful day out, it cost us around $100 total and we’d do it all again.

There is a whole post dedicated to whale watching in Mirissa, we also recommend this little town as a lovely place to stay, it’s my favourite.

Adam’s Peak

Adam’s Peak is also known as Sri Pada and is Sri Lanka’s holy mountain.

I’ve wanted to climb Adam’s Peak since my very first visit and never have. I’m quite annoyed with myself about this one.

It’s a pilgrimage site and a lot of steps are involved. We had heavy rain in 2014, that changed our mind about going, but one day I have to do this walk.

Ella for Little Adam’s Peak, Tea Plantations and Ella Gap

Staying in Ella was a wonderful break after the heat of the coast, it was cool and refreshing, good walking weather. There is plenty of exploring to be done up here among the tea plantations. I have two posts dedicated to Ella, Little Adam’s Peak and Exploring Ella on Foot.

Nuwara Eliya

We passed through Nuwara Eliya on the train from Ella to Kandy but decided not to stop. It’s billed as “Little England” for its cool hill country climate and colonial architecture. Maybe next time.

Turtle Hatcheries

wildlife places to visit sri lanka turtles
There are plenty of opportunities to see turtles all around Sri Lanka.

The jury is out on the ecological and ethical impact of the many turtle hatcheries that have sprung up around Sri Lanka. They try to increase survival rates for the 5 species of magnificent sea turtle that visit Sri Lanka’s coastline. I would encourage you to do your own research on the facility you plan to visit.

We have visited a small free-to-enter turtle hatchery on Mirissa beach and a touchingly family run place just north of Hikkaduwa near the Tsunami Memorial.  The Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project is highly recommended and is the one all the tuk-tuk drivers will want to take you to, I visited this one in 1998, it was excellent and we plan to go back next year. You can get involved in nocturnal turtle release via this hatchery.

Try walking along the beaches after dark, you may spot a female laying, I did once. Be sure to stand well back and not interfere, it’s a magical experience.

Yala National Park

Sorry to say, we still haven’t been here. It’s quite a trek down to the south-eastern end of Sri Lanka ( 220 Km from Colombo) and it’s a fairly costly excursion to make, last time we were there at the “wrong” time of year ( Sept-Nov). We will most certainly be visiting soon.

Here you will find the highest leopard concentration in the world although chances of seeing a big cat are still relatively slim. You can also spot wild elephants, deer, crocodiles and boar.

Places To Visit in Sri Lanka – Off The Beaten Track


best places in Sri Lanka Jaffna north Sri Lanka
In North Sri Lanka, be certain to visit Jaffna.

Jaffna was a massive highlight of our 2016 month in Sri Lanka. It’s very different to southern tourist Sri Lanka and a little tricky to get to, but we loved it.

Our full Jaffna guide is here. There are some really significant temples to see in the far north and plenty of history. Culturally Jaffna is quite different and it’s less developed, but that will probably change.

There’s So Much More to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is far more than the sum of her big attractions. The joy for me lies in just being there, wandering, exploring, using her trains and buses and interacting with the wonderful Sri Lankan people. Check out our photo gallery below, we like to add some personal photos to prove we’ve been there and keep it real.

There are some attractions not on my list. The 2nd big national park, Wilpattu in the north-west along with the collection of smaller parks that litter the island could well be worth a look but we haven’t been so can’t comment.

Wherever you go you will find things to do and places to visit, I’d actually suggest going easy on the big draws and just getting to know Sri Lanka instead, less rush, more knowledge. It’s how we like to do things

Find more Sri Lanka travel information on our Sri Lanka Travel Page or see the related posts below. We talk about the why and how of visiting Sri Lanka for families, kids, singles and couples, we don’t discriminate and everything is based on personal opinion and experiences. Hope you find our best places to visit in Sri Lanka post useful, I know a lot of Sri Lankan kids visit this page to cheat on essay assignments. They search “essay on a place I’d like to visit in Sri Lanka, 50 words” I can see you! You’ll find loads more on places to see and attractions to visit as a tourist or traveller in Sri Lanka on our site.

If you'd like to hire a car during your stay, use this car rental comparison tool to find the best deal!

We also suggest you take a look at this company to get a quote for all kinds of the more tricky adventure or extended travel insurance.

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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

25 thoughts on “Best Places To Visit in Sri Lanka”

  1. Very Informative & useful post about best places in sri lanka.
    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Hi! Thank you for that nice blog about the Sri Lanka! Your blog is probably one of the most detailed one I’ve ever read! Thanks!

  3. Anyone who is a Bird lover you can visit Diyasaru Park in Thalawathugoda which is very closed to Colombo, simply during your transit stayover in Colombo you can visit this Birds sanctuary.

  4. I really like to share your all these images which look very attractive and cool. I also spent a good quality time at Adam’s Peak with my beloved and came back with smiley faces.

  5. You have a very informative site 🙂
    We have described our trip to Sri Lanka – Circular tour of the former Ceylon

  6. Being an Indian, I have never really been too drawn towards Sri Lanka. However, my husband has always been keen. The amount of love and passion with which you have written about this country somehow made me feel like I should visit the country. Thanks for a great post. I am finally considering Sri Lanka! My husband will be so happy! 🙂

  7. So glad I have found this blog.

    We are considering a trip to Sri Lanka in January 2018.

    Unfortunately, we will only have 2 weeks, which means it will be a bit of a whirlwind.

    We love to include a wildlife adventure (went to Borneo last year and it was just superb) in our travels.

    Currently, looking at Mirissa (for the whale watching) and Yala (for the leopards). Also, thinking Galle looks wonderful and maybe the temple caves (sorry…can’t recall where they were).

    If you only had 2 weeks to travel, what would you recommend or prioritise?

    Thanks so much!


    • Depends on budget and the age of your kids Amanda. Also your style, we loved Jaffna, but most tourists wouldn’t bother trekking up there. Also is this a 1 off? We’ve spent months and months there, but if this is to be your only visit you’ll want to see as much as possible. Kandy is a must see and try to ride a train through the hill country, Galle is lovely, I haven’t been to Yala but I’ve hear good and bad reports, over-run with tourists sort of thing. Anuradhapura is my favourire of the ancient cities. If you go up to Dambulla for the cave temples you’re very near Sighyria and Anuradhapura isn’t much further. They are all north of Kandy, so makes sense to stop off there. You can travel south from Kandy to the coast, via Ella and the hills, by train.

  8. Great list. Pretty much all you can visit in Sri Lanka. I have been to all those places and more and in fact I lived there for few years. I love the country and the people. I even had a chance to visit the northern part of the country such as jaffna and trincomele. In fact going there next year. In May for a kandian wedding.

  9. You defenitely hit all the main attractions in Sri Lanka. Did you have a chance to make it to the east coast that still needs to be discovered?

  10. Great blog! Quick question if you had a week and staying in bentota where would you choose to do daily excursions?

  11. A great post, well a great sub-blog (if that’s a word).
    We’re in the dreaming stage for a holiday at the end of this year.. dreaming as we’re very undecided where to go, and Sri Lanka is on the list.
    Do you think 5-6 weeks is long enough to get a taste of the real Sri Lanka? Others feel that 4 weeks is more than enough but we’d love to really experience the country.
    Our main concern with Sri Lanka is finding child – friendly food. Our kids will be 6, 4 and 2 then but aren’t overly fond of food that is very spicy.. is it possible to find enough food for them? (We prefer to eat local food).
    Thanks for all your helpful and informative posts!

    • Omelettes, french fries, milk shakes, noodles, roti, the kids will be fine! I’d say the longer you can stay the better, the more ground you’ll cover. I’ve spent over 10 weeks there and still not seen the north Jackie. My boys got used to curry for breakfast and now love it. ( you can have western style b’fast too, if you like)

      • Oh, that’s great – very reassuring to know that the kids won’t be limited to plain rice!! Ha!

        Wow, 10 weeks all up.. we may only manage a tiny speck then. Though, it’s better to see less ‘places’ and experience more. Well, that’s how we feel.

        Thanks so much for your helpfulness. It’s definitely moved Sri Lanka to the top of the list. Hubby’s grandfather was born & raised in Sri Lanka so we’re especially drawn to the country.

  12. These are awesome posts about Sri Lanka, thanks! I am currently planning a visit with our kids aged 11 and 13. Indeed very difficult to choose from all various places for first-time visitors, but I think (after reading your stories) we will not plan too much in advance. We have been to many Asian countries with our kids, but not yet to Sri Lanka. Earlier we thought about combining with Maldives, but because we ‘only’ have 3 weeks I think we will travel slowly from the triangle down south passing Ella. That train ride from Kandy to Ella sounds awesome! Also interesting to read that you loved Kandy while others really found it not worth spending more than 1 day. I think we both love the slow traveling and let serendipity provide us with unforgettable experiences…
    Thanks again

  13. Nice blog and fantastic pics!
    We went to Sri Lanka two years ago and we made preciouse friends wonderful places and fantastic and emotional people!!

    Mauro and Raffaella

  14. That is really a great list of things to do in Sri Lanka, Alyson! I personally have been to most of the places during the one month that I travelled around on the island. It was such a great place to visit! And if I could make a suggestion, I would also include the north with Jaffna in the list… 🙂

  15. You have me very excited! We have a one way ticket there in April. I am thinking it’s a good thing we haven’t booked the return yet as I keep reading about more amazing places that I want to visit. How long would you recommend? Given I get bored easily and don’t mine travelling fast.

    • Sri Lanka visas come in 2 flavours, 1 month and 3 months, the later being twice the price, so max of 1 month for you probably. Kids are free which is fabulous, the longer visa is twice the price. You could see all the sites in 3 weeks, but that wouldn’t be enjoyable to me you’d be ticking off sites rather than getting to know the island, plus it would be a very expensive trip. The quick way to do it is to pay for a driver/tour guide who will take you everywhere, but then you miss out on the trains, buses and gorgeous people. But that’s very easy to arrange, everyone will want to take you on a tour. I’ve spent 12 weeks of my life there and still only know about half the island. We’ll be there for a couple of months at least in February.


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