Top 10 things to do in Sri Lanka
1. Sigiriya Rock Fortress: Sri Lanka’s most popular attraction is a gigantic column of rock rising 200m (660ft) from the forested plains below. Located in the approximate centre of the country, Sigiriya is one cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, the others being Anuradhapura to the north and Polonnaruwa to the east. Read more about Sigiriya Rock Fortress here.
2. Climbing Adam’s Peak: Adam’s Peak stands at 2,243m (797ft) and is unique in that it holds significance in several major religions thanks to the curious depression at its summit, known as the Sri Pada or Sacred Footprint. The mountain is a popular pilgrimage site so get your timing right as the 5,500 steps to the summit can get quite busy! Read more about climbing Adam’s Peak here.
3. Hiking Ella Rock and surrounding Hill Country: The town of Ella is not Sri Lanka at its best! Only in leaving the village and literally heading for the hills will you see the Ella of the guidebooks: grand and expansive vistas that plummet and soar as far as the eye can fly.
Nowhere are they more impressive than at the summit of Ella Rock, a dramatic peak approximately 5km from town. Hiking Ella Rock is fun, confusing, taxing, rewarding. There are also some excellent hikes around Ella and the surrounding Hill Country too.
4. Yala National Park: Yala has one of the highest leopard densities in the world. It comprises five blocks with Block 1 alone home to an estimated 25 leopards. Yala received 350,000 visitors in 2013 and numbers continue to rise, making it Sri Lanka’s most popular national park. Spotting leopards at Yala National Park was one of the highlights of our trip.
5. Udawalawe National Park: For elephant watching alone, Udawalawe is arguably better than many of the more famous east African national parks. There are over 250 permanently resident elephants in the park, dozens of whom are easy to spot thanks to the open savannah-esque grassland in the park. Udawalawe is easily the best national park in Sri Lanka for elephants.
6. Anuradhapura: The ancient city of Anuradhapura has a long and illustrious past. Established in 4th century BC, it is among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals and was the centre of Theravada Buddhism for centuries. the best way to get around the UNESCO World Heritage Site, spread over an area of 40 sq km (15 sq mi), is by bicycle.
7. Walking tour of Galle Fort: Built by the Portuguese, fortified by the Dutch, modified by the British and restored by the Sri Lankans after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Galle Fort marks out Galle as Sri Lanka’s most intriguing city. We suggest a DIY walking tour of the city.
8. Kandy: History and culture are on tap in the lively city of Kandy. Known as Sri Lanka’s cultural capital, Kandy withstood the Portuguese and Dutch for three centuries and was the capital of the last Sinhalese kingdom, which finally fell to the British in 1815.
The city is wedged among mist-laden hills that often leave the skies overcast. The breeze, however, usually parts the mist to reveal Sri Lanka’s famous second city, known for the great Kandy Esala Perahera festival. Take a look at our 10 things to do in Kandy to find out more.
9. Trincomalee’s beaches: Trincomalee is a perfect spot in which to while away a few days on the beach. We ended our Sri Lankan odyssey in nearby Uppuveli on a powdery stretch by Trinco Blu. Like us, most tourists will bypass Trincomalee for the neighbouring beaches of Uppuveli and Nilaveli, however, we did spend a morning exploring the sights and have rounded up the best things to do in Trincomalee.
10. Jaffna and the north: Closed to tourists for decades, Jaffna and the surrounding area is finally opening up. The buzzing city of Jaffna has plenty of ancient sites to keep you entertained, but it is the idyllic islands to the west and the untouched coastlines and lagoons of the surrounding peninsula that really steal the show.
Lonely Planet Sri Lanka is a comprehensive guide to Sri Lanka, ideal for those who want to explore the top things to do in Sri Lanka as well as take the road less travelled.