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15 Must-See Places in Sri Lanka

by Lisa Stentvedt
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The island of Sri Lanka is the place to go for unspoiled nature, friendly locals, colourful markets, and cities with lost of colonial history. I have visited the island several times now, and gotten to experience some absolute must-see places in Sri Lanka during my trips. If you are hoping to go to Sri Lanka (or you’re already planning a trip), don’t skip these mainly because they are considered main attractions. These are all bucket list-worthy places to see, and you don’t want to miss them!

Of course, if you want something more off the beaten path, head to my blog post covering some less common places to visit in Sri Lanka!

// Trip in collaboration with Sri Lanka Tourism,

Read before you go: the best places to stay in Sri Lanka!

must-see places in sri lanka, sigiriya rock
Sigiriya Rock is #5 on the list of must-see places in Sri Lanka.

15 Must-see Places in Sri Lanka

The island breathes aliveness and beauty, from the stunning white sand beaches to the deep blue oceans, the national parks where you can spot the largest mammals in the world, the ancient heritage sites and the pretty colonial towns. Sri Lanka has it all and much more, and below you’ll find the top 10 must-see places in Sri Lanka. Consider this your bucket list for the island!

Now, you have got your tickets booked but you are still wondering about what to see and where to go? The options seem endless as everything is amazing, and planning your Sri Lanka trip will be great fun. If you are looking for something specific, this Sri Lanka itinerary for the East Coast might be helpful for planning your trip. Whatever you decide to do, remember to check out the 15 activities I recommend below! Also, if you are heading to Sri Lanka anytime soon, you won’t want to miss this list of 50 travel tips for Sri Lanka!

#1 The Tea Plantations

The views of the endless, lush green tea plantations are truly stunning! Visit the tea plantation to learn all about these cups of hot goodness and try out some of the best ones. To get the most amazing views, head out early in the day before the landscape gets cloudy and misty. Another great way to see the tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya is by taking the train from Kandy to Ella, driving straight through the scenic landscape, taking your breath away in seconds!

best places to go in Sri Lanka, the tea plantations
The tea plantations are considered some of the best places to go in Sri Lanka.

#2 Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya is also known as ‘Little England’ and no wonder; with so many tea plantations around, every Englishman would love this place! The town itself boasts buildings in the decadent Queen Anne style (and some tudor style), a large park (which reminded me so much of the London parks I used to roam around in), and even several roundabouts (I didn’t see any roundabouts anywhere else in Sri Lanka). The post office building itself is as British as it gets, with its red bricks covering it all. This is definitely a town worth visiting, and a must-see place in Sri Lanka!

#3 Knuckles Mountain Range

The Knuckles Mountain Range and Nature Reserve is a popular place to visit for travellers to Sri Lanka, and definitely a must-see. The mountain range has gotten its name due to its shape, as it seems like a clenched fist with knuckles protruding towards the sky. The local name is Dumbara Kanduvetiya, which means “mist-laden mountain range” (so poetic, right?). In the Knuckles, you’ll be able to look for around 130 species of birds (20 of which are endangered), and 20 species of amphibians. The Kirthisinghe’s Rock Frog can’t be found anywhere else in the world! Find more information here!

During my trips I have visited several areas of the Knuckles Mountain Range, and one of my favourite experiences has been Wild Glamping Knuckles! Read more about it in my breakdown of the best places to stay in Sri Lanka here.

beautiful places in Sri Lanka, knuckles mountain range
The Knuckles Mountain Range is one of many beautiful places in Sri Lanka!

#4 Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is a must-see place to visit in Sri Lanka and one I wish I had more time in during my trip. This ancient city offers lots of historic and spiritual value to travellers, and it is worth spending at least half a day seeing some of the sights here. From the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree (a sapling of the original Bodhi tree in India) to ruins and excavations dating back thousands of years, there is so much to explore in this ancient place! You’ll also find a stupa with the largest collection of Budha remnants in the world here. Make sure to bring a shawl to cover up, as shoulders and knees must be covered for some of the sacred sites here.

Below is a vlog I made during one of my days in Sri Lanka, which includes exploring some of Anuradhapura’s sights and climbing Sigiriya Rock (another one of the must-see places in Sri Lanka). Sigiriya Rock is next on the list, so watching the video will give you an idea of what that was like! If you enjoy the video, please head this way and subscribe to my Youtube channel for more!

#5 Climb Sigiriya Rock

This ancient rock fortress, with a lost city on top, is the 8th Wonder of the World according to the locals of Sri Lanka! It is massively impressive and is naturally named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Sigiriya was built by King Kashyapa around 480 AD. The rock itself is 200 meters high and surrounded by beautiful gardens. The climb is 1200 steps, so you have to work to make it to the top. Trust me, it is totally worth it!

It’s definitely a bit of a work-out, but once you’re up there, you will be blown away by the sensational views of the Sri Lankan landscape. It is completely possible to do the hike in 30 minutes, and once you get started you’ll find that you reach the top much quicker than you thought.

While climbing, you get to admire ancient poem-carvings (no photos allowed here) as well as beautiful paintings descending from somewhere between the 7th and 14th century!

Not too far from Sigiriya Rock you will find Pidurangala, which I have mentioned in my post on less common places to see in Sri Lanka.

Girl running towards Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka

#6 Hikkaduwa beach

Hikkaduwa beach is a beautiful and popular palm-fringed golden beach bordering the stunningly clear blue sea where you can go swimming, snorkelling and surfing. The town of Hikkaduwa has a great lively atmosphere with lots of charming bars and restaurants. The snorkelling reef is beautiful, and there is a big chance you will meet giant sea turtles, especially at ‘turtle point’. Hikkaduwa beach is also great for surfing, especially from November to March when the waves can reach 3-meter in height! In the north of this coastal town, there is a turtle hatchery where baby turtles are nurtured and released to prevent them from getting caught in the fishing nets. During your stay in Hikkaduwa, do remember to get up early for sunrise and allow yourself to get enchanted!

There is also a Tsunami Memorial and Museum in Hikkaduwa, as the beach was quite heavily impacted by the 2004 tsunami. The Memorial is beautiful, yet sad, and the small museum is worth visiting to get some understanding of how the local community was and is affected by the events of 2004.

Find Hikkaduwa hotel deals below:


#7 Go on a Safari in one of the National Parks

Before visiting Sri Lanka, I genuinely had no idea that going on a safari was an option there! So I was very excited to learn that I’d be going on my first ever safari during my trip (head to my Sri Lanka Instagram highlights to see what it was like)! We went on a safari in Wilpattu National Park, which is the biggest in Sri Lanka, and saw lots of birds (such as peacocks, and the national bird of Sri Lanka; the jungle fowl), water buffalo, land monitors and an elephant!

Additionally, Udawalawe National Park is home to grassland, jungle, riverine forest, and it is the place to go on a safari trip to see the old and wise Sri Lankan elephants roam in their natural habitat. On top of that, Udawalawe National Park is also a paradise for bird watchers. Nature freaks and wildlife lovers shouldn’t miss out on a safari in one of Sri Lanka’s national parks!

#8 Colombo

Of course, the capital city has to be on the list of must-see places in Sri Lanka! Colombo is a city rich with history, dating back thousands of years, and traces of colonial rule, ancient traders and modern development alike. From the beautiful Lotus Tower (and the big city skyline) to the ancient temples (and the beautiful mosque seen below), there are lots of things to explore in Colombo. This is also where you’ll find the international airport in Sri Lanka, so you are bound to travel through here on your trip. Make sure to spend some time and get a feel of the city!

#9 Visit the colonial heritage sites in Galle

Galle absolutely blew me away! I had seen photos of the lighthouse there before, of course, and loved getting to explore the town myself! Much loved by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British alike, Sri Lanka has a lot of colonial heritage sites to admire. One of these historical towns is Galle. This historic town offers great heritage tours along the city walls and old Dutch Colonial buildings, including the first church they built and the lighthouse. From the Dutch church in Galle, there is a secret tunnel to the governor’s house! I loved learning facts like these while exploring the town.

the galle lighthouse, sri lanka

#10 Climb Adam’s Peak

Adam’s peak is an important pilgrimage site and it sure is a striking natural landmark of Sri Lanka! Adam’s Peak towers 2243 meter high up in the sky. On the summit of this majestic mountain sits the Sri Padra, ‘sacred footprint’ on a rock formation. Buddhists say it’s the actual footprint of Lord Buddha himself, while Muslims and Christians say it is the footprint of Adam, the first person to step foot on the earth after he got expelled from the Garden of Eden and the Hindus say it is the footprint of Shiva. To get to the top, you will have to climb thousands of steps, taking 2.5 to 3 hours. The legends are intriguing but the views are mind-blowing!

#11 Hurulu Eco Park (elephant safari)

I know I have mentioned going on a safari above, but the Hurulu Eco Park safari has to get it’s own listing. On my first trip to Sri Lanka I went on a safari in Wilpattu National Park, and ended up seing one lone elephant after a whole day of driving. Of course, we did see lots of other animals, but sadly, the elephants weren’t very present.

So, for my second trip, I didn’t have very high expectations of seeing an elephant, even though I’d been told that Hurulu Eco Park is known as “the elephant park”. I expected that it would be quite similar as last time, and hoped we would end up seeing at least one elephant.

We saw over 20. Maybe even 30 elephants. It was absolutely insane.

We didn’t even drive for long before we saw the first one, and for the rest of the drive we kept seeing them all over. It was such an incredible experience, and I can’t believe how many elephants there were in the park. We tried asking our drivers and guides how many elephants there were, but only got estimates. As the elephants migrate, you can never tell for sure, but from what I gathered, there are at least 1000 of them.

Don’t forget to tip your driver! We were advised that the most common tipping practice for drivers in the safari parks is around 1000 rupees per person (around 4 EUR).

Book your Hurulu Eco Park Safari here!

#12 Mirissa

Mirissa is a beautiful beach destination in the south of Sri Lanka, and a place that should definitely be on your list if you hope to relax and unwind after a busy itinerary. It is located not too far from Galle, mentioned above, and by visiting the two you can have the perfect mix of beach, surf, sun and culture. In addition to the beautiful beaches in Mirissa, and the popular photo spot coconut tree hill, you’ll love the relaxed “surf vibe” of the place.

Here are a few fun things to do in Mirissa:

#13 Bentota

Another beach location, Bentota also offers some of the most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka. This is a great place to relax (and stay in one of my favourite resorts in Sri Lanka), but there are also a few things to include on your list when visiting Bentota.

Starting with the Madu River and Maduganga Lake. Going on a river cruise up the Madu River and through the wetlands here is a fun experience for all ages, and you’ll drive through mangrove forests and past fishing stations as you look for the animals and critters that live along the river. We saw water monitors, river jellyfish (I had never heard of them before) and several birds that are endemic to Sri Lanka. We also stopped on Cinnamon Island, to learn about how cinnamon is grown and used in the area.

You can also go on a river safari on the Bentota River. This is a similar tour (though on a different body of water), but without stopping and going ashore. The Bentota River safari took us up a more narrow river, and so the animals we saw were a lot closer to us. Depending on the type of experience you like, both river cruises/safaris are great options!

#14 Kandy

Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka, and one many travellers want to include in their trip. Here, you will find the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which is a temple complex built around the relic of the tooth of Buddha. Yes, you read that right. The temple complex is of high importance to the Buddhists of Sri Lanka, and visiting feels very special. I loved being a fly on the wall (I stood in a corner for a while, trying not to be in anyones way) watching people pay their respects and show gratitude, and learned a lot about Buddhist culture from our guide.

In Kandy you have to also make sure to get a display of traditional Kandyan dancing during your stay! We did this, and were so impressed with the intricate dances. We also got to learn a few moves (there are 24 base moves in total), and you can imagine that was fun for me (I have loved dancing ever since I was little).

#15 Ella

Ella is a charming mountain town, and probably one of the most popular place to visit in Sri Lanka, especially for backpackers. The famous train from Ella to Kandy has put this town on the map, and it is a busy town where travellers and locals blend in a perfect mix. Ella is a great location for those who want to stay within close proximity to several popular hikes (like Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock), waterfalls (such as the Ella waterfall) and rolling fields of tea plantations.

Must-see places in Sri Lanka

These are my 15 tips for absolute must-see places and things to do in Sri Lanka. If you are visiting for the first time (or planning on returning), make sure you have seen these before you leave the beautiful island. I had such a great time travelling Sri Lanka with Sri Lanka Tourism, and can’t wait for my next trip!

Read more: Uncommon places to visit in Sri Lanka!


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