Sri Lanka may only be a tiny teardrop-shaped dot on the map, but with its myriad offerings, what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for with sights. And the beauty of this country being so small? From its octet of UNESCO World Heritage Sites to its elephant filled plains, or even its rolling surf and staggeringly beautiful beaches, you won’t have to miss a thing. So, if you’re looking for things to do in Sri Lanka, our first response will always be everything. But if you want the highlights, this country has a showreel that will have you hooked in no time.
First up is Sigiriya Rock – an icon that is always going to make it to the top of a casual “what to do in Sri Lanka” google. Dramatically jutting out from it’s evergreen surrounds, this stark, rocky outcrop really is a thing of beauty. A site shrouded in ancient history, it’s only when you’ve made it to its astonishing plateau – beyond the carved lion’s feet that guard it’s peak – that you discover the true extent of this UNESCO-listed site’s enchanting past. The panoramic views aren’t the only thing that will have you spellbound, that’s for sure.
And if travelling back in time is your thing, then next on your agenda has to be a trip to the enigmatic Dambulla Caves. This sacred place may mean making another climb, but the Buddhist art – dating back to over 2000 years ago – that can be found in the five separate caves here, are well worth the effort. History buffs beware: Sri Lanka will steal your heart.
But it’s not all about the ancient sites in this multifarious country. You’ve come to Sri Lanka for the elephants, and elephants you will most definitely see. Whichever itinerary you opt for, a safari in Minneriya National Park will be part and parcel of your trip. With one of the largest populations of Asian Elephants in the world, the lush grasslands of this national park are a must-see. And, if that’s not enough to get your wildlife fill, you can always add on Udawalawe National Park – you can never see too many of these magnificent mammals.
To get to grips with Sri Lankan culture, taking in the heady sights, sounds and smells of the intriguingly named Temple of the Tooth in Kandy is a must. And yes, this really is a temple that’s sole purpose is to protect a tooth. But this isn’t any old gnasher, this ancient relic symbolises the foundations of Buddhism, so a trip to the temple that houses it is not to be missed.
Down on the picturesque south coast, Galle Fort showcases the best of Sri Lanka’s colonial architecture. Built by the Portuguese and revamped by the Dutch, this walled area of the historical coastal town now boasts a plethora of boutique shops and chic restaurants making it the perfect spot for a wander. And, whilst you’re by the coast, why not lounge on a beach or two? It would be rude not to, surely.
But Sri Lanka has so much more to offer than this quick summary list depicts. Take a look below to see what else you could be getting up to on your holiday.
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Need to escape the chaos of Colombo for a while? Look no further than Galle Face Green. A long ribbon of parkland stretching 500 metres along the coastline, this is where city dwellers and weary travellers come to take a much-needed breather from the hustle and bustle. Though the city’s incessant buzz is never far away, the sprawling lawns, sandy stretches and ocean breeze offer a refreshing respite from the busy, sun-baked streets.Discover more
If there’s one building that dominates the ever-changing skyline of Colombo, it’s the Lotus Tower. Standing at 350 metres, it’s the tallest self-supported structure in South Asia and the city’s single most spectacular sight - you’d struggle to miss it even on an overcast day. A journey to the top isn’t for the faint-hearted, but the spectacular panoramic views make it more than worthwhile.Discover more
Just steps from the National Museum of Colombo and the city library, Viharamahadevi Park is ideally placed for taking a much-needed rest in between sightseeing. If you’re looking to take a refreshing break from the bustling city centre, there’s no better place than Viharamahadevi Park. Grab a cool drink, take a seat beneath the trees and watch the world go by.Discover more
For the chance to brush up on your history of Sri Lanka - and see some weird and wonderful sights - a trip to the National Museum of Colombo is a must. Manicured lawns dotted with huge banyan trees and the Italian-inspired facade makes this one of the country's most visually appealing cultural hubs, while inside all manner of ancient antiques, art and artefacts are waiting to be discovered.Discover more
The Dambulla Cave Temple is one of island’s most visited attractions. Inside five sacred sanctuaries lies some of the country's most impressive religious art - we’re talking more than 150 ancient Buddha statues and colourful paintings covering every inch of the cave wall. These shrines have a strong spiritual presence that needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated. If this hasn’t roused your curiosity, nothing will.Discover more
Located in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, Minneriya National Park is a natural sanctuary of evergreen forests, lush grasslands and swampy wetlands. The focal point is the sparkling water tank, built by the great King Mahasen in 3rd century AD. While the scenery definitely has the wow-factor, the star attraction is the elephants.Discover more
It’s one of the country’s most awe-inspiring sights and attracts flocks of visitors every day to gaze upon the 200-metre high rock rising majestically from the jungle. At the flat-topped summit lies an unexpected enigma - the remnants of an ancient sky palace. There are some amazing views too, but you’ll have to break a sweat and scale a series of steep staircases first.Discover more
The Temple of the Tooth, located inside the former royal residence of the Kandy kings, is said to house the tooth of the Buddha. What’s so special about that, you might ask? Well, not only does this ancient relic symbolise the foundations of Buddhism, but legend has it that whoever possess the tooth has the right to rule the country. In other words, it’s a pretty big deal.Discover more
No trip to the hill city of Kandy is complete without spending some time exploring its glorious lake. A sprawling, emerald water body fringed by ancient temples and lush jungle, the idyllic scenery wouldn’t be out of place on a painting or postcard. In fact, it’s so naturally beautiful that you’d never guess it’s man-made.Discover more
Imagine standing on the edge of the cliff, looking out across rolling valleys dotted with tiny tea plantations some 4,000 feet below. The aptly-named World’s End viewpoint is the most popular attraction in Horton Plains National Park - and it’s not difficult to see why. Trust us when we say the views really will take your breath away.Discover more
Experience views of lush green tea fields, misty mountains and picturesque valleys from the open windows of an authentic Sri Lankan train. But this isn’t just any old train. Constructed by the British to transport tea from the hill country estates to Colombo Port and bring imported goods inland during the 19th Century, this train journey is now considered one of the most scenic in the world. And it’s not just the scenery that makes this journey so special; you’ll receive first-class service from the on-board crew in the special air-conditioned carriage, High Tea or lunch and use of the free Wi-Fi, TV and washroom facilities. Your driver will even take care of your luggage and meet you in Nuwara Eliya, commuting will never be the same again.Discover more
As Brits, tea is practically in our blood. We are a nation fuelled by a good cuppa. But, where is it actually produced? Well at least 20% of it comes from the green, green grass – okay, shrubs – of Sri Lanka. Which means extensive hot drink options and rolling vistas of the tea-clad hills are on the holiday menu in this destination.Discover more
It was originally built by the Portuguese in 1588 and revamped later by the Dutch, and the European influences are still very much visible today. As you stroll along the quaint streets of the walled old town, you can’t help but notice the slightly jarring fusion of colonial architecture and Asian culture - think Dutch-style villas and imposing mosques.Discover more
Anyone who's spent time in Galle will tell you there’s one landmark you absolutely must see. Standing guard over the city, Galle Lighthouse enjoys a prime location on the seafront ramparts of the UNESCO World Heritage fort. Framed by swaying palm trees, the dazzling white structure offers uninterrupted views of the bay and is a popular place to watch the sunset. If you’re looking for somewhere to take some envy-inducing holiday snaps, this is the place to go.Discover more
The main event here is the elephants. The park is home to hundreds of these magnificent mammals, and it’s not uncommon to see herds of up to 50 feeding and bathing near the reservoir and rivers. Another draw for animal-lovers is the Elephant Transit Home, where orphaned baby elephants are cared for until they’re ready to live in the wild. So far, more than 100 calves have been rehabilitated and released, many into Udawalawe National Park.Discover more
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