Why travel to Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is one of my favourite travel destinations in the world and is full of bucket list things to do.
The beautiful teardrop island of Sri Lanka is located right on the southernmost tip of India and is known as the gem of the Indian Ocean. There is no doubting why, Sri Lanka has diverse landscapes, jagged palm tree topped hills, arid plains, and majestic wildlife. It also has historic and cultural cities, and glistening golden sand beaches, who can ask for more.
Take a peek at my Sri Lanka bucket list and you’ll understand why you should visit Sri Lanka on your next adventure.
Time to get inspired!
READ MORE | Check out my guide to the best Sri Lanka travel tips
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Sri Lanka Bucket List: Best Things To Do in Sri Lanka
#1 Climb the Iconic Lion Rock Fortress in Sigiriya
The small village of Sigiriya is home to the UNESCO Lion Rock Fortress, and what a sight it is! An otherworldly formation of rusty red rock protrudes from the lush jungle, formerly the Sri Lankan capital city, ruled by King Kashyapa in the 5th century. The rock itself displays beautiful frescoes, lion statues and staircases, but is also surrounded by expansive water gardens.
#2 Admire the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy is one of the best Sri Lanka bucket list attractions to visit to better understand the country’s rich religious culture. The white plastered and gold topped exterior takes you into an elaborately decorated temple with local woods and rich red fabrics. Thought to hold a piece of Buddha’s tooth, the shrine room is heavily guarded as believers stream slowly through the space, making offerings of florals and money.
#3 Board the Kandy to Ella Scenic Train Ride
One of the most scenic train rides in the world and one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka, the trip from Kandy to Ella will leave you slack-jawed. The train journey will take you up through lush green tea plantations, vibrant villages, jungled hilltops, and deep valleys. The locals will likely come out to greet you with warm smiles and big waves. One of the highlights of any Sri Lanka itinerary, this train ride is not to be missed.
#4 Sip Sri Lankan tea in Lipton Seat
Nuwara Eliya, or ‘Little England” is a small town in the hilltop region of Sri Lanka. Set amongst the most stunning tea fields I’ve ever seen, are a multitude of large plantations. This is the area that Lipton Tea originated. Rent a private driver or tuk tuk and tour the area stopping at all of the viewpoints, tea fields and make sure you have a sip of Sri Lankan tea at one of the plantations.
#5 Get an Epic Photo of the Nine Arches Bridge
The Nine Arches Bridge has become a clear Sri Lanka bucket list item in the last decade for its impressive architecture and poise. Originally built in 1921 by the British, the bridge features nine impressive arches emerging from the lush green landscape that carries the scenic train journey from Kandy to Ella to Demodara. The Nine Arches Bridge has several different viewpoints, so make sure to set time aside to get a couple different perspectives.
#6 Spot Asian Elephants and Leopards in the Wild
Sri Lanka is absolutely chock full of National Parks, 26 to be exact. A hefty amount for such a small island. In these parks, wild Asian elephants migrate around the island throughout the year, so there are a plethora of parks where you can see Asian elephants in their natural habitat.
Kaudulla and Minneriya National Parks in the North, and Udawalawe and Yala National Parks in the South are a few of the best. Yala, in particular, is world-renowned for leopard sightings, having a 50/50 chance to see the elusive creature.
READ | The Complete Guide to Visiting Yala National Park
#7 Learn to Surf at Weligama Beach
Sri Lanka has some of the best beaches and surf in the world and most of that lovely surf energy is focused along the south coast in the surf hub of Weligama.
Take a stroll down Weligama Beach and there’s no doubt that this is the case. Dotted with a large collection of surf schools, you can have your pick of the litter when it comes to instructors. The beginner size waves and predictable surf is the reason why so many gather here, and the economic prices reflect this.
Even if you aren’t big into water sports, booking a surf lesson is one of the best things to do in Weligama and I highly encourage you to try it at least once.
#8 Eat through all the Hip Cafes on the South Coast
This one’s for the foodies out there who pick their destination based on how good the cuisine is, guilty!
Sri Lanka has some amazing local food, try the thali plates, the wadi, the hoppers, all exceptional! But, after 3 weeks, by the time I got to the south coast I was all curried out. The south of Sri Lanka was a great place for this to happen since it’s full of trendy and healthy cafes all peppered along the golden coast.
If you are anything like me, this will be one of the top experiences in Sri Lanka. How can food not be?
#9 Take an Ayurvedic Cooking Class
Sri Lanka is well known for some earthy, bright and spicy food, and man is it good! Think eggplant curry, lentil dahl, spicy sambal and fresh coconut roti. With an emphasis on plant based and gluten free cooking, Sri Lankan food is naturally Ayurvedic for the body. Take a cooking class to find out how.
#10 Explore the Streets of Historic Galle Fort
Highlights of Galle Fort include large walkable fortified walls, a white washed lighthouse and quaint streets with pretty facades. It also has an abundance of history on offer. Built by the Portuguese in 1588 and later fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century, this European style fort is a great way to spend a day.
Go shopping along Pedlar St, eat gelato, watch the sunset on the ramparts and explore beyond the wall into some of the coolest fruit markets in the city.
#11 Fly on Rope Swings in Unawatuna
The beaches along the coast of Unawatuna township are home to the insta-famous rope swings. The iconic activity on a lot of Sri Lanka tourist sites, they are popular for a reason.
Set on a white sand beach, with the sunset as your background, this is a great place to have some fun and also get the perfect shot. If you have some time set aside, head to Unawatuna around 3pm and enjoy the beach before taking to the rope swings around 5:30pm.
#12 Watch the Sunset in Ahangama
The best sunset I witnessed in Sri Lanka was from The Lighthouse. This towering accommodation, right on the water in Ahangama, also has a rooftop bar, perfect for grabbing a cold one and watching the sun go down.
As a bonus, you can also watch the surfers catch waves right out front, making for a pretty epic scene. Expect a backdrop of saturated pinks and purples with swaying palm trees and crashing waves.
READ | Check out the best things to do in Weligama – Sri Lanka’s surf capital
#13 Stroll Along Mirissa Beach
Mirissa Beach is one of the best beaches in the country is should be on anyone’s Sri Lanka bucket list. This crescent-shaped beach offers immaculate golden sands, splashy turquoise waves, eats and sips. A stroll along the water’s edge will take you to Parrot Rock and further on to Coconut Tree Hill, with stunning views of the Indian Ocean.
More Essential Guides to Sri Lanka
Want to continue planning your trip to Sri Lanka?
Check out my 3 WEEK SRI LANKA ITINERARY or if you prefer to determine the route yourself, read the specialized guides below for some of the best experiences in Sri Lanka:
SRI LANKA TRAVEL TIPS | Prepare for your Sri Lanka trip by reading my 21 top tips on what you should know before visiting the beautiful teardrop isle
KANDY | Bustling market streets, quiet strolls around the lake, lush botanical gardens, and ornate Buddhist temples, the cultural capital of Sri Lanka has it all
ELLA | Nestled in the green centre of Sri Lanka, this hiker’s paradise features trails with panoramic views of jagged green hills, deep valleys and rushing waterfalls.
YALA NATIONAL PARK | Majestic elephants, elusive leopards, and a myriad of bird species can all be found in one of the biggest national parks in Sri Lanka.
WELIGAMA | Where surf culture is alive and thriving, this central town is located on the golden south coast of Sri Lanka and offers the best surf beach for beginners, and an abundance of traditional and modern eateries.
GALLE FORT | Fortified stone walls, dutch and Portuguese style architecture, great food and shopping all culminate in this little town that was once a major Sri Lankan trading post.
SRI LANKA PACKING LIST | Take the guesswork out of packing and easily check off my list to all things you will need for Sri Lanka’s warm climate