Looking for some epic Sri Lanka must see places and things to do?
There is a wide variety of Sri Lanka must see attractions and things to do though out the country. Hanging like a tear drop from the southern tip of India you will be pleasantly surprised with the beauty of Sri Lanka and how much the country has to offer. Check out our 25 photos of Sri Lanka that will make you want to travel, which will make you want to visit Sri Lanka even more!
Sri Lanka offers everything from gorgeous, tropical sandy beaches to the magnificent tea fields in the cool highland regions. The country is rich with culture, temples, wildlife, tea heritage, friendly people and routed traditions. Make sure you know all the tips and hacks before visiting Sri Lanka.
In this post we will outline a few popular tourist attractions and even some secret things to do in Sri Lanka that we found after exploring the breath taking county for a month.
15 Awesome things to do in Sri Lanka:
1. Ravana cave hike & temple (Ella)
GPS Coordinates: 6.864913, 81.049910
One of the things not to miss while exploring Ella is a visit to the Rivana Caves. It had mixed reviews online and we can understand why. To reach the cave you have to test your endurance up the 650 uneven steps and then when you finally reach the top you are faced with a huge empty cave.
However, there are a few fascinating stories behind this cave that you have to know before you trek up. It makes your hike so much more interesting and reaching the top worth your while. But we will tell you more a bit further down.
We were looking for something to do away from the crowds and we read about the Ravana Caves. Although some people said it was a waste of time, yet others loved it so we decided to check it out for ourselves.
The cave is just 2km from Ella town. We hired a scooter and found the entrance to the cave fairly easily. The only other person there was a friendly guy behind the makeshift counter that issued us a ticket for 150 LKR and then pointed us in the right direction. There is a small map on the wall which you can take a picture of for your own reference. The caves are easy to find and the path is well marked.
Halfway up the climb there is a small tea shop where you can sit and have a cup of tea or water which can be a welcomed blessing if you don’t have any water or just want to catch your breath.
Ravana caves history in a nutshell
In Hindu legends, Ravana was a legendary emperor of Sri Lanka who kidnapped a girl named Sita and hid here in these caves. The cave is perched on a cliff 1370 meters above sea level with a hidden tunnel at the back of the cave. The tunnel is connected to the Nuwara Eliya Caves and Nuwara Eliya waterfall where Sita once bathed. You can read more about the Ravana legend here
Archaeological studies have also confirmed that there were once human habitation in these caves dating back to approx 25 000 years old.
The temple at Ravana
If you walk along the main road, a little further from the Ravana caves entrance, you will find a small Buddhist temple.
Inside the temple grounds is a small cave with Buddhist paintings and statues, it is really peaceful. So in our opinion, the cave is worth a visit if you have the time and want to do something that is a bit off the beaten track and not so touristy.
2. Pidurangala rock sunrise (Sigiriya)
GPS Coordinates: 7.967759, 80.760399
Why we climbed Pidurangala Rock instead of Sigiriya Rock
Travellers flock to Sri Lanka to visit Sigiriya rock which has some dramatic features, is rich in history and probably one of the largest monuments in the area. As much as we wanted to climb Sigiriya Rock, a 30 USD entrance fee each would be rather tough on our travel budget. We had also walked past the entrance the day before and it was really busy with bus loads of tourists which is our least favourite thing.
Pidurangala Rock is adjacent to Sigriya Rock and just as spectacular. So we decided to go up Pidurangala Rock first and then if we still not satisfied then consider sacrificing our budget and to go up Sigriya Rock.
What you need to know about hiking Pidurangala Rock
We woke up at 5am and headed up to the entrance which is a small white temple called Pidurangala Sigiri Rajamaha Viharaya. To climb Pidurangala Rock you need to pass through the temple and pay the 500 LKR donation fee (about $3USD)
The climb takes about 20-30 minute’s. It starts off with a few steps but does get pretty tricky at the end, with a few boulders to climb over.
What do you need to take with you?
Four things you need to make sure you have with you is a shawl to cover your shoulders while walking through the temple, a decent pair of shoes, water and your camera! If you are planning to go for the sunrise and it is still dark make sure you have a good torch.
The reclining Buddha
On the way you will pass a huge reclining Buddha that lays inside a cave. It has been reconstructed with bricks but much of the original structure remains intact. There is also some ancient scripts carved into the rock, we gotta admit… it is rather spectacular.
From the top the views over the valley is breath taking. The sunrise is a must and in our opinion a Sri Lanka must see that you just cant miss! We got a 360 degree of Sri Lanka and an amazing view of Sigiria Rock in the distance. As the morning crept on it got a little busier so if you want to avoid people, get there in time for the sunrise.
Pidurangala ancient ruins
After we climbed down we walked up the road just a few hundred meters on the opposite side of the road you will find some ancient temple remains. Pidurangala is where the King Kassapa relocated the Buddhist monks who had previously occupied the area around Sigiriya. There is something really mysterious and beautiful about this area and we highly recommend you check it out.
Did we end up going up Sigiriya rock?
We decided not to go up Sigiriya rock since our curiosity was satisfied with adventure and breath taking views from Pidurangala rock. However, if you have time and enjoy history, architecture and hiking then Sigiriya rock will well be worth a visit. When we return to Sri Lanka we will certainly budget and plan a visit Sigiriya rock.
3. Dambulla caves temple (Dambulla)
GPS Coordinates: 7.856762, 80.648239
Over 150 Buddha’s to discover
Dambulla cave temple is also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla. The caves is a world heritage site filled with Buddha’s, paintings and spectacular history. The caves are located just under 20km from Sigiriya.
This was probably one of our favourite places that we visited during our travels in Sri Lanka. We hired a scooter which allowed us to explore the caves at our own leisure. We enjoyed it so much that we ended spending a few hours exploring, taking pictures and admiring the awesome ambience of the temple. While visiting the Dambula caves we also got to meet a snake charmer.
Located 1118 feet from sea level, you will need to climb quite a few steps to get to the temples but believe us, it’s worth it! We paid 1500 rupees each and headed up the stairs.
When you reach the top you will need to leave your shoes with a shoe keeper for a small fee before you can enter the temple. Make sure you have a shawl to cover your shoulders.
Guide or no guide?
Locals may come up to you and offer you their services as a guide. If you have the budget this could be useful as they share some really interesting facts that you probably wont find in the guidebook.
Alternatively if you don”t have the budget for a guide or prefer to wonder the caves on your own, then we recommend reading a little history, facts and information about the Dambulla caves before your visit. It will add so much value to your visit knowing where the caves come from and what they mean.
More about the Dambulla Caves
There are five limestone caves (shrine rooms) in Dambulla temple. All of these caves are full of statues of Buddha and there are over 150 Buddha’s. Each cave was painted at different times. Cave No. 5 (the last in order) has no historical value as it was done in the second decade of this century. All the other caves contain statues and paintings representing various epochs of Sinhalese sculpture and painting.
The early painting of Dambulla are believed by some to belong to the 8th century A.C but this cannot be proved because the paintings have been painted over to restore them. Nevertheless Dambulla caves is home to a mine of decorative designs and beautiful Buddhist statues.
It is truly a magnificent feeling standing in somewhere with over a 2000 years of history. For a small donation we received a blessing from a monk with a sacred thread called a Sai Sin.
Don’t miss the Golden temple while you there.
If you walk down the opposite set of stairs from the Dambulla caves you will reach The Golden Temple which is located at the bottom of the hill, close to the main road. The big golden Buddha is spectacular. We recommend visiting the Golden Temple and the Dumbulla Caves at the same time.
There is a Buddhist museum here if you interested in all the arts and crafts you can go and walk around, just make sure you are dressed appropriately.
4. Experience a home stay in Sri Lanka
Home stays offer all travellers an alternative and often very affordable place to stay while visiting Sr Lanka. By staying with locals rather than hotels, home stays can provide a more authentic and cultural experience, depending on the level of involvement that you choose to have with your host family. Home stays are also great value for money and often include meals.
Meeting local people means you learn local cultures and customs, its an opportunity to really dive in and get to know the country you are visiting. Another advantage is the family you are staying with can also provide you with great tips and advice on what to do and see in the area.
Our Sri Lanka home stay experience
In Sigiria we stayed with Peaceful Sigiriya guesthouse which we found on AirBNB, and it was a truly unique and wonderful experience. From the time we got there we were treated like family and by the time we left it was our home away from home.
We stayed with a Sri Lankan chef
The owner Anura was not just a wonderful host but a phenomenal chef too! He gave us a spectacular cooking demonstration and wowed us with the wonderful flavours of Sri Lanka. His wife who was also a avid cook, demonstrated how to traditionally make coconut sambols which we fell in love with during our time in Sri Lanka. (We will be making it one day when we get home for sure.) We left as friends and with memories we will never forget.
5. Kandy Lake Club Cultural show (Kandy)
We had read so many excellent reviews about the Kandy Lake club that we were excited to finally see it. On arrival we received a pamphlet with all the information about the different dances and we could order beverages from the on site bar.
What is the Kandy cultural show?
The Kandy cultural show is a mix of arts, dance and heritage that depicts various forms of Kandyan Folk. Kandyan dancing plays an important role in Sri Lankan Culture and history.
What can you expect during the Kandy Lake Club cultural show?
During the show, we saw different dances which depict the graceful movements of birds, animals and beautiful maidens. There are energetic aerobatic performances incorporating back flips with dancing, plate spinning and drumming. The dancers costumes were nothing but impressive even down to the last beaded detail. Huge metallic headdresses were worn with all the bells and whistles.
The show had us sitting on the edge of our seats the whole time, it was exciting, dramatic and colourful. We felt the rhythm of the drums against our chests and the energy from the dancer’s spilled over onto the crowd. The show has been running for 35 years and continues to lure thousands of tourists a year, we could see why.
Did that guy just walk on fire?
The highlight was definitely the fire walking at the end. The performances come out bare foot, spitting fire before braving the walk through a prepared fire pit. The pit is roughly 8 feet by 3 feet and covered with red hot charcoal. It is truly spectacular to watch. If you are planning a visit to Sri Lanka, make sure the Kandy Cultural Show is on your itinerary it may even turn out to be one of the highlights of your trip!
6. Train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella
Known as the most scenic train ride in the world
This is a known as one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka and has become busier over more recent years. If you visit Sri Lanka you should catch a train ride at least once.
If we can give you a very valuable tip it is to book online either first or second class reserved seats before your trip. (Tickets are normally sold out a few weeks before.) Alternatively you can arrive on the day for unreserved tickets, which mean you will more than likely stand for 4 hours.
Warning about the Kandy to Ella train:
Due to the popularity of the train between Kandy and Ella over the last few years, be aware that it gets really busy. Often it may not look anything like those wonderful Instagram pictures or YouTube videos.
So is the Kandy to Ella train madness worth it?
It is an incredible train trip and well worth the journey. It is no surprise to its status of “the most scenic train ride in the world” so if possible reserve your tickets and do it! If you couldn’t reserve tickets then speak to your hotel about the best day to go and get there at least an hour early.
Alternatives to Kandy Train?
Some travellers opt to hire a taxi instead and stop when they want to instead to take photos and admire the beauty of the tea fields.
Another alternative is to catch a train along one of the lesser known routes along the coast. Not only do they offer beautiful scenery but there will be ample opportunities for you to take pictures from the trains open doors.
7. Go on a Tuk Tuk Safari (Galle)
Now this was a whole lot of fun! This Tuk Tuk safari is not one of your typical tourist tours. It’s a fun way to experience and see some local attractions while chauffeured in a retro fitted convertible tuk tuk. The approach is fantastic, guides are full of personality and all the cost for all the stops are included, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride!
Pimp my TukTuk
This special three wheeler is kitted up to the max for your comfort. There is a boom box so you can enjoy a few tunes, some nuts to snack on along the way and an ice box with a few local beers and water.
Puma our guide was a pocket full of sunshine. He arrived to pick us up from our hotel at 3pm with a bunch of flowers, fresh King coconuts, loads of smiles.
First stop – the turtle hatchery
Our first stop was a turtle hatchery, we learnt so much about different turtles that are found in the ocean around Sri Lanka. The hatchery was well organised and our volunteer was passionate and clear on explaining about how to recognise the different turtles that they were rehabilitating.
Sampling Virgin White at the Tea Plantation
This was our first time visiting a tea plantation as we had not managed to visit one during our time in Sri Lanka. The guide there was enthusiastic and knowledgeable. We were unable to visit the tea plantation itself but everything is explained really well and there are a few tea trees where they show you how the famous untouched Virgin white tea is harvested. You are taken to a room where you get to taste all the different tea’s and purchase any if you fancy one or two.
Sri Lankan home cooking demonstration & lunch
This was a really delicious and yummy stop! We made coco nut symbols the traditional way and learnt about different ways to prepare Sri Lankan food. The meal itself was divine, it was made with fresh ingredient’s and we loved the ginger tea!
Galle’s stilt fisherman
Puma took us to watch some stilt fishing, it is one of the most interesting traditional fishing methods in Sri Lanka. The fisherman use stilts that are in the water to catch their fish. If you like you can climb up one and try it for yourself!
So much more to see in Galle in a tuk tuk
We also had an opportunity to stop for a sunset at the beautiful Peace Pagoda, see the Galle Fort, try some coconut roti’s and sit in the captains seat of an old plane. Every stop was more interesting than the next and our guide offered us a good insight of a local’s perspective of Sri Lanka. We could not have asked for a better day out discovering Galle (or a better guide) and highly recommend that you go on a tuk tuk safari while in Galle. Tuk Tuk safari’s are also available in Colombo. You can find our more information about going on a safari or making a booking here.
8. Stay somewhere out of the ordinary in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka boasts some very unique accommodation and we were lucky to try out a few places during our stay. From tree houses to jungle lorries to giant hollow elephants. We enjoyed it so much that wrote a whole article about it, 14 Unique places to stay in Sri Lanka
9. Visit the buzzing local markets in Sri Lanka
If you looking for local souvenirs to take home and would like to take some unique photographs the markets are the places to be! The markets offer some of the cheapest prices for trinkets, spices, leather bags and clothes. There are different kinds of markets that vary from place to place throughout Sri lanka and the internet is buzzing with reviews and locations. Alternatively its best to ask the locals for the best markets in the area.
We went to the market in Ella main square and spent about 2 hours just taking in the local life and shopping. The fish and meat market was of particular interest to us as we got some amazing photographs. The locals kept asking us to take their photo’s with their catch of the day or to just smile for the camera. The scenes were surreal as they are nothing like what you see back home.
10. Food in Sri Lanka – Eat your heart out!
Sri Lankan food was some of the best that we have tasted. The array of spices and flavours were delicious, especially in the curries! Don’t expect to visit Sri Lanka and not try at least one curry and rice dish, you will be pleasantly surprised. (even if you not a curry fan)
Our favourite Sri Lanka food
Some of our favourite food in Sri Lanka included the devilled chicken, egg hoppers, prawns in Negombo, roti’s, samossa’s from the mobile tuk tuk bakeries, coconut sambols and don’t forget the King coconuts to cool down a hot day!
11. Temple of the tooth (Kandy)
The golden roofed temple of the Sacred Tooth houses one of Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relics, a tooth from the Buddha. Besides the main temple, the complex includes a series of smaller temples, shrines and museums which follows a very interesting history of the tooth.
Museums and temples to explore
The museums are full of ancient relics and offerings that are hundreds of years old, from exquisite pieces of jewellery to statues and clothing. You could easily spend a few hours in and around the temple, if not the whole day. Most areas inside do not allow photography but there are a few sections where you are allowed to take a few snaps. Remember to be respectful and follow these Sri Lanka tips, including never take a picture with your back to the Buddha.
There is a free audio guide available
At the entrance you can find a guide that will take you around the entire temple or you can get a free audio guide that is available at the ticket office. The temple can get very busy with tourists and worshippers that come far and wide to visit the complex. We recommend going early in the morning.
It is important to wear clothes that cover you legs and your shoulders and you have to remove your shoes before entering. There is a place that will keep them for you which asks for a donations on collection. If you not dressed appropriately, you wont be allowed inside.
12. Learn to surf (Arugam Bay)
Arugam Bay is one of the best surf spots in the world
Arugam Bay is situated on the Eastern shore of Sri Lanka. It is knows as one of the best surf spots in the world and even made CNN’s list for the 50 best surfing spots in the world.
The coastal beach is known for its point breaks and swells that come from the same Arctic Winter swell that hits Indonesia in the middle of the year between May and November.
This vibey little town comes to life in season. The main street is buzzing with activity and the main beach is full of beginners as well as professional surfers.
Learn to surf in Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay has many surfing schools to choose from no matter what age, size or level you are on, there will be a surf school that will help you advance to the next level.
Board hire, sales, transport, wax and clean is available at every second shop. So if you don’t have your own surfboard yet, you will be able to hire one.
Surf camps are available as an alternative to hotel accommodation and some of them come with surf lesson packages.
Perfect surf spot for beginners
Baby point at Aragum offers the perfect opportunity for any beginner, the waves are small and steady. It can get a little over crowed but everyone has really good surfing etiquette and are patient with each other. Around the corner at Main Point is where the bigger breaks are for advanced surfers.
13. Snorkelling at Pigeon Island (Nilaveli)
Just off the beach of Nilaveli is pigeon island marine park. It is a great place to do some snorkelling and admire what these crystal blue waters have to offer.
How to get to Pigeon Island?
You will need to get to Pigeon island by boat. It’s best to take a boat from from either Nilaveli or Uppuveli beach.
There are dozens of tour companies offer snorkelling trips to the island and or your hotel can provide you with a suitable company.
Depending on which company you go with and which beach you leave from, is roughly a 20 min boat ride from the shore. We spent about 3 hours exploring the island and its reefs and paid approx 3000SLR per person.
More about Pigeon Island
The island itself is not very big but if you don’t want to snorkel, it is also a great place to walk around or sit on the white sandy beaches but 95% of people will go just to snorkel.
There are many different species of marine life and most will swim right up to you. There is a small secluded bay where you jump in with your gear and paddle around admiring all the sea life.
On the one side of the island you can swim with the turtles and there is a cornered off area where you can swim in shallow waters with black tip reef sharks. Most tour companies will provide you with the necessary equipment. You can take your own snorkelling gear if you prefer and don’t forget to take sunscreen, a towel and water.
Best time to visit Pigeon Island
Best time to visit the island in May – September. We visited the island in July and the weather was very pleasant. It doesn’t get too busy but the best time to go is early in the morning. There are some awesome things to do in Trincomalee and around the beaches that are worth checking out after your snorkelling adventures.
14. Watch traditional fishing (Uppuveli beach)
The best moments are usually the ones that are not planned. We walked into one of those moments one afternoon on Uppuveli Beach on the East Coast of Sri Lanka. Behind a small crowd there were two rows of about 15 men, single file pulling in large fishing nets from the ocean.
These nets are placed in the ocean once or twice a day for about two hours at a time. This is known as Madel fishing and it is the oldest form of fishing on the island.
If you on Uppuveli beach, ask one of the locals or restaurants if there are any nets out and what time they will be pulled in.
Watching the Madel fishing ‘dance”
Watching the men were both entertaining and fascinating. Their feet pounded the sand in a lockstep motion that becomes a synced rhythm. With each step backwards the nets come closer to shore. When the person at the back reaches a point he lets go of the rope and heads towards the front of the line, each time repeating this motion.
The crowds grew and excitement increased with each pull bringing the catch closer and closer. After about an hour the large nets are finally on the shore producing the catch of the day.
The fish were sorted through and what was to be kept was put in different baskets. The rest of the fish was thrown back into the ocean. The smaller fish were eaten by the crows that waited anxiously on the outskirts of the crowd.
It was fun, exciting and the locals really don”t mind you being there watching in anticipation, taking videos and pictures. They even gave some fish to the kids to put back in the ocean.
15. Visit a Sri Lanka tea plantations (Hill country)
Sri Lanka is the world’s fourth largest tea producer. The British introduced tea plantations to Sri Lanka in 1867. The country has become the producer of some of the worlds finest teas.
Ceylon tea is the one of Sri Lanka’s primary exports, there are now as many as 28 different grades. Tea is grown up in the hill country of Sri Lanka, where the temperature is cooler, wet and misty. This makes it the perfect conditions to grow tea.
Virgin White Tea
This specific tea that has a remarkable history that is grown along the Southwest Coast of the island. The Handunugoda Tea Estate is also known as the Virgin white tea plantation it produces tea completely untouched by human hands. It is the closest tea plantation to any ocean in the world. It is worth checking out and doing the tour and tasting.
A popular tourist attraction
The tea industry has become a popular tourist attraction for visitors to Sri Lanka. There are many different tours and accommodation options that are now available around the tea plantations. Tea factories have opened its doors educating with the process of tea that has stood for over 150 years.
Kandy and Nuwara Eliya are the two most popular areas to visit when it comes to tea in Sri Lanka. Both these little towns are surrounded by lush green tea estates, factories and waterfalls.
16. BONUS: More things to do in Sri Lanka
- Go on a safari at Yala National Park or any of the smaller national parks
- Walk across the Nine Arch Bridge (Ella)
- Climb to the top of Adam’s Peak (Nallathanniya)
Have you been to Sri Lanka? What was some of your most unique things to do in Sri Lanka or attractions? Let us know your thoughts and comments in this post below.
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