Are you planning on visiting Sri Lanka? Although this island nation is small, it’s certainly not lacking in things to see and do. From temples to beaches, safari to surfing, there’s something for everyone and trying to fit it all in can be overwhelming. Here we suggest an itinerary for a 2-week trip which packs in all of the highlights, with some extra optional stops if you’re lucky enough to have more time.
Day 1: Negombo
If you’ve just arrived in Sri Lanka after a long flight, chances are you won’t feel like a long bus or train ride straight away. We therefore suggest staying nearby for a night before leaving early the next day.
Bandaranaike International Airport, the main International Airport in Sri Lanka, is 30km north of the capital of Colombo. Although Colombo is worth a visit if you have time, arriving and heading straight into the busy city can be a bit much, so we suggest instead staying a night in Negombo. Just 8km from the airport, this beach town is a great chilled-out spot to spend a day before embarking on your trip.
Day 2-3: Anuradhapura
On day 2, set off early and take either the train or bus north to the city of Anuradhapura. Famous for being the ancient capital of Sri Lanka, you can get your culture fix in this historical city.
The day you arrive we suggest you take a trip to Mihintale for sunset. About 30 minutes tuk-tuk ride from the city centre, this complex encompasses a number of different temples and includes a large seated buddha and white stupa. All the temples require you to climb up stairs, some of which are built into the rocks and make for an interesting climb. But it means you’ll have amazing views over the surrounding countryside.
The next morning hire a tuk-tuk driver to take you around the ancient city of Anuradhapura. Covering over 40 sq km, it is a vast collection of ancient temples, stupas and monasteries. You could spend all day here but after a few hours you may be a bit “templed out”. We suggest picking a few temples to visit over the course of the morning. Mirisavetiya Stupa, Vessagiriya and Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya are some we recommend.
You can then take a late afternoon bus to Sigiriya.
Extra stop: Trincomalee
If you have time, Uppuveli Beach in Trincomalee is one of the most beautiful in Sri Lanka, with perfect white sand and calm turquoise waters. There are also opportunities to dive and snorkel here, with some of the best snorkelling being around the nearby nature reserve of Pigeon Island.
Day 4: Sigiriya
One of the most famous attractions in Sri Lanka, you can’t miss visiting the Sigiriya Rock Fortress whilst you’re here. This UNESCO world heritage site is sometimes considered the 8th Wonder of the World. At around $30 for entry, it’s one of the most expensive things to do in Sri Lanka, but given its history, impressive nature, and amazing views from the top, it’s worth the visit.
Don’t miss also climbing to the top of nearby Pidurangala Rock where you’ll be greeted with amazing views of Sigiriya jutting up high out of the surrounding green countryside.
The hikes to the top of both Sigiriya and Pidurangala aren’t too hard and both can be completed in one day. We suggest picking one to climb for sunrise. After, you can head straight to Kandy or stay another night near Sigiriya and visit the nearby Dambulla Cave Temple. Built under an overhanging rock and within caves, and containing many murals and Buddha statues, this is another sacred and historical place in Sri Lanka.
Day 5: Kandy
Sitting in central Sri Lanka, Kandy has a lake in the middle and is surrounded by hills, making it a scenic city to visit. The most popular attraction here is Sri Dalada Maligawa. Otherwise known as “the temple of the Sacred Tooth”, as it houses the relic of the tooth of the Lord Buddha. It’s a World Heritage Site and a must-visit whilst you’re in the city.
Another great spot to visit whilst here is the Botanical Garden. The garden here is huge and takes at least an hour to walk around, but you’ll likely want to spend longer just strolling around, admiring the many different types of plants and escaping the chaos of the city. The aptly named Palm Avenue, with its towering palm trees lining the walkway, is also a perfect spot to take some cool photos.
Being a city there are plenty of good local (and extremely cheap!) places to eat here. We recommend trying the masala dosa and masala chai at Balaji Dosai. Packed with locals, it’s the best place to sample delicious vegetarian food.
Day 6: Train from Kandy to Ella
Of course, you can’t visit Sri Lanka without taking the train between Kandy and Ella. It’s an iconic and beautiful trip, the photos of which are probably responsible for turning Sri Lanka into the tourist hotspot it is today. And with good reason. The views along the ride are stunning and it really is one of the most scenic train journeys in the world.
Of course the journey is a popular one and so try and book a ticket in advance with a reserved seat in either first or second class. If you can’t, then avoid travelling on the weekends as many locals take the train from Colombo back to the countryside and so you may find yourself standing for 6 hours!
Extra Stop: Nuwara Eliya and Adam’s Peak
Nuwara Eliya is a small, quiet town located not far from the busier tourist hot spot of Ella. It’s a great place to enjoy the Sri Lankan tea country and do some hiking around Horton Plains National Park.
Adam’s Peak is considered a sacred pilgrimage site for Sri Lankans due to the Buddha’s footprint at the top of the mountain. For non-Buddhists, it’s an amazing hike to the top of the mountain providing awe-inspiring views, especially at sunrise.
Day 7-9: Ella
One of the most popular places in Sri Lanka, Ella is an absolute must-visit. Nestled in the middle of the Sri Lankan tea country, it’s a great place for getting out into nature and hiking around the gorgeous scenery.
One of the best hikes is to Ella Rock. From Ella, walk along the train line to Kitha Ella station, then follow maps.me through some tea plantations, past Shashicka juice bar (which you should definitely stop at on your way up or back down) and finally up a steep climb through the trees before arriving at the top. It’s not the clearest path but is possible without a guide, and the views from the top are simply stunning.
Another easier, more straightforward hike is to Little Adam’s Peak. From here you can see Ella Rock opposite. If you’re after an adrenaline rush, the walk here takes you past a zipline where for about $20 you can zipline right over the valley.
Finally, pay a visit to the Nine Arches Bridge. Another iconic spot, time your visit with the train passing to get some great photos.
If you have more time then you should definitely consider extending your stay in Ella. There’s plenty to see and do here, including visiting some of the surrounding waterfalls, taking a tour of a tea plantation, and taking a cooking class.
Extra Stop: Arugam Bay
If you’re into surfing and are visiting Sri Lanka between April to September then Arugam Bay should be on your list. During this time the waves are at their peak turning this part of Sri Lanka into a hotspot for surfers from all over the world.
Day 10: Yala National Park
There are many National Parks where you can take a safari in Sri Lanka, but Yala is the most famous and the most popular for one reason: leopards. Yala National Park has the highest concentration of these stunning creatures meaning your chances of spotting one are highest whilst here. You’ll also have the opportunity to spot plenty of other wildlife including elephants, crocodiles, monkeys and water buffalo.
There are plenty of companies offering safaris in Yala National Park and most of the hotels and guesthouses in Tissamaharama and surrounding areas can arrange it for you. We recommend staying at, and organising your safari with, La Safari Inn, a lovely guesthouse run by a local family who really look after their guests.
Day 11-14: Unawatuna
It’s now time to head to the south coast of Sri Lanka and finish your trip with some much-needed beach time.
There are plenty of beach towns along the south coast and you could split your time between a couple of them, but if you want to stick to just one then our favourite is Unawatuna. This small village has a beautiful sandy beach lined with beachside bars and restaurants and is backed by a little village with a range of accommodation options, shops and local places to eat. It’s very chill and a great place to end your time in Sri Lanka.
Extra Stops: Dickwella, Mirissa, Weligama and Galle
There are plenty of other stops you can make along the south coast if you have the time, including the beautiful Hiriketiya Beach in Dickwella, the palm tree-lined beach of Mirissa, surfing hotspot Weligama and the old colonial city of Galle.
Sri Lanka is an amazing country. Beautiful countryside, stunning beaches and amazing culture. This two-week itinerary tries to incorporate everything that Sri Lanka has to offer, but you’ll no doubt be wishing you could stay longer. You may want to discover other top places in Sri Lanka for more inspiration and ideas.
Noticed a mistake? Let us know.