The 10 best things to do in Sri Lanka — where do we start? Sri Lanka is an incredible place filled with delicious food, beautiful beaches, rewarding hikes, and the friendliest folks in the world.
For being a relatively small country, there’s such variety in experiences. We loved our 10 day trip to Sri Lanka. To help you get a feel of what you can experience, here’s what we found as the 10 best things to do in Sri Lanka.
1. Eat Sri Lankan food
When you have real Sri Lankan food, it’s so spicy yet soooo tasty. Unfortunately, there’s not too many Sri Lankan restaurants in New York (and the good ‘ol USA). Instead, you’ve probably had lots of Indian food.
A typical Sri Lankan meal is vegetable forward with bold flavors accented by turmeric, curry leaves, chilis, and tons of coconut milk.
When you go to Sri Lanka, you MUST have local Sri Lankan food. A few of my favorites to try out:
- Rice and curry – vegetable and fruit variations.
- Kottu – Shredded roti bread stir-fried with vegetables.
- Hoppers – Pan-fried crepe thingy. Breakfast ones come with an egg.
- Sambol – Shredded coconut with spices.
2. Hang out at pristine beaches
Sri Lanka is an island with 833 miles of coastline with about 22 major beach areas. You have your choice of more built out beach areas like Negombo or Bentota all the way to quiet beaches like Tangalle.
Some of the beaches feature whale watching, turtle spotting, and water sports like surfing.
Also, prices are relatively cheap at a beach-front hotels. Why not unwind and chill out? We had an amazing three nights at the Marriott Weligama Bay.
3. Visit a tea factory or plantation
Sri Lanka is the fourth largest producer of tea in the world. Most of the tea production takes place in central Sri Lanka in the areas of Uva, Nuwara Eliya, and Dambulla.
Here’s where you’ll find rolling hills of tea plantation as well as some of the tea processing factories.
Whether you’re a tea fan or not, it’s interesting to learn about the different variations of Ceylon tea, how it’s grown, and how they process the fresh tea leaves into tea for brewing. Plus, it’s tea-to-table, so you can buy tea directly from the source.
4. Take a cooking class
You won’t truly appreciate Sri Lankan food until you’ve learned how to make it. The best way to do it is to take a Sri Lankan cooking class. Plus, you get to eat all the food too — it’s unlimited!
In Kandy, we attended a three hour cooking class at Thotupola Residence. You learn about the essential spices that go into Sri Lankan cooking, how to make coconut milk, and the how to make a traditional Sri Lankan lunch or dinner.
Fun fact. A lot of Sri Lankan cuisine is paleo friendly!
5. Hike Little Adam’s Peak
In Ella, one of the popular things to do is to climb Little Adam’s Peak, a short hike from the town. You’ll hike through a tea plantation, then up to the dual peaks where you’ll find some amazing views.
It’s a moderate hike with some scrambling — nothing to crazy or strenuous. Be sure to bring some water or load up on a king coconut (or two).
6. Ride the Train from Kandy To Ella
Taking a local train from Kandy to Ella or vise versa is the best way to enjoy Sri Lankan tea country. Over a the course of an 8 hour journey, you’ll see tea plantations, rolling hills, and quaint rural life.
We recommend 2nd class seats. Although getting seats is hard, check out our guide on how to get a seat on the Kandy to Ella train.
7. Hike Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya in an ancient rock fortress and UNESCO World Heritage Site in central Sri Lanka near the town of Dambulla. It looks unusually small in photos, but the rock is magnificent.
If you get there early when there’s no crowds, you can hike up the well maintained stairs and steps quickly for an amazing view at the top.
Sigiriya Rock is a bit pricey for what it is and all the big tour groups go there. As an alternative, you can head to its neighbor, Pidurangala Rock — the cheaper less crowded rock.
8. Drink king coconut water
One thing you’ll notice in Sri Lanka is that there are so many coconuts all around. The most common one for drinking is the king coconut, a rather large orange colored coconut.
It’s not as sweet as what you may be used to, but it’s amazingly refreshing and full of electrolytes. Perfect for those hot Sri Lanka days. And it’s soooo cheap.
9. Visit Polonnaruwa by tuk tuk
Polonnaruwa is an ancient town of ruins and temples. If history is your thing, this is the place for you to savor. History is not my thing, but I can see how this is one of the top things to do.
10. Hang out at Nine Arches Bridge
There are nine arches on this bridge near Ella. Not sure why this place became so popular amongst tourists, but the cool thing is that you can walk along the railroad tracks, on the bridge, and through the bat-filled tunnel. SO COOL.
Pro tip. Time your visit so that you can see the Kandy/Ella train pass on the bridge.0