places to visit sri lanka

Is Sri Lanka Worth Visiting? 21 Reasons and Best Places to Visit Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a small island country with extraordinary sights to discover thanks to nature and the island’s rich history and spiritual foundations.  Unspoilt, palm tree fringed beaches line the coasts with lush mountainous tea plantations running down the backbone of the island.  The seas and verdant landscape are abundant with incredible wildlife.  Sri Lanka is a year-round travel destination where you will be greeted with Sri Lankan kindness and generosity and experience great food. So, is Sri Lanka worth visiting? Read on to discover 21 reasons and best places to visit Sri Lanka.

Where is Sri Lanka Located?

Sri Lanka is an island country located in South Asia to the east of India in the Indian Ocean.  To the northeast of the island is the Bay of Bengal.  The capital of Sri Lanka is Colombo and its currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee.

As a British colony, the island of Sri Lanka was formerly known as Ceylon.  However, political independence was granted in 1948 and the country changed its name to Sri Lanka and became a republic in 1972. 

The island has diverse cultures, languages and ethnicities.  The two most widely spoken languages are Sinhala and Tamil which reflect the predominant ethnic groups living on the island (Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils).  The main religion in Sri Lanka is Buddhism

Is Sri Lanka Safe?

In light of recent events in Sri Lanka, you are probably asking yourself this question.  We hope we can help you make an informed decision as we were faced with the same dilemma recently.  We didn’t regret our decision to continue with our planned travel to Sri Lanka and hope our experiences in this post will put your mind at rest and allay any fears you might have.

Up until 2009, Sri Lanka suffered from a 26-year civil war.  Since then, Sri Lanka has been a peaceful country and had become an increasingly popular tourist destination.  In fact, Lonely Planet named it as the world’s most popular tourist destination in 2019.  However, on Easter Sunday in 2019, Sri Lanka’s tourist industry was shattered by suicide bombings which killed 250 people in churches and tourist hotels in the capital of Colombo.  Sadly, most foreign tourists cancelled their holidays to Sri Lanka in light of the images and news reports which quickly spread around the globe.  This thriving island paradise quickly became a desert island.

When the bombers struck, we were faced with the same dilemma as many other tourists.  We had booked flights to Sri Lanka in August to travel round the entire island for our honeymoon.  The UK government quickly advised against all travel to the island.  However, we decided to wait for a few months to see whether this was a one-off tragedy or an ongoing situation. 

Fortunately, we had Sri Lankan friends living on the island who kept us up to date with the reality of the situation in Colombo.  We decided against forfeiting our dream honeymoon and, shortly after taking our decision, the UK government lifted its travel ban.  However, we know of many people who cancelled weddings in Sri Lanka and holiday plans.

Having visited the island of Sri Lanka recently, we can confirm that the island is safe to visit.  We travelled around the country on public transport from Colombo on the southwest coast to the beaches of Nilaveli on the northeast coast and then through the centre of the island to the southern coastline.  We felt completely safe as we moved from location to location and were greeted everywhere with the friendliness, kindness and generosity of the Sri Lankan people.  In fact, people gave up their seats for us on crowded buses, held our bags on their laps, gave us free food and trips on tuk-tuks and even sourced crutches for me after a serious fall on some stairs! 

As we travelled around, we spoke with so many local people about the terrible effect the bombings have had on their livelihoods.  Locals told us how they are now doing several jobs to make ends meet.  Restaurants in some small towns and beach resorts which were once thriving are now closed.  There are just not enough tourists to go around. However, always check with your local government website for the latest safety information.

If you are wondering about putting Sri Lanka back on your bucket list, don’t dwell on isolated atrocities (which can sadly happen anywhere in the world) but instead please read on to find out about the amazing sights you will see in Sri Lanka.  It is a green emerald of an island which is brimming with amazing wildlife and extraordinarily beautiful natural and man-made sights with picture perfect beaches and fantastic food

Most importantly, the Sri Lankan people are amongst the kindest people we have ever met which made our honeymoon such a wonderfully memorable experience.  The Sri Lankan government has also waived visa fees for many countries and there are some great deals on flights and accommodation, so don’t hesitate or you will miss out on a gem! 

21 Reasons and Places to Visit Sri Lanka

If you still need persuading, here are our 21 reasons why Sri Lanka is worth visiting:

1. Year-Round Travel Destination – Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka?

For most people, one of the most important factors to consider when booking travel is the weather.  Sri Lanka is one of those rare places which is genuinely a year-round travel destination.  The best time to visit Sri Lanka is from December to mid-April.  However, you can enjoy dry, sunny weather somewhere on this island at any time of the year. 

During the summer months between May and September, you will find dry, sunny weather and calmer seas on the east coast and northern areas (whilst the west and southwest have more rain and rougher seas).  In contrast, if you are travelling to Sri Lanka in the winter between October and February, the west and south west will enjoy better weather and calmer sea conditions because the monsoon season hits the east and north at this time of year.

2. Stunning Scenery

Sri Lanka is full of natural beauty.  The palm-tree lined beaches which edge the island are completely unspoilt compared to other travel destinations.  Outside of Colombo, you can relax on beaches which have a raw beauty owing to the current lack of commercial development.  For now, there are no high-rise chain hotels, just small guest houses nestled along beach paths.  In the suburbs of Colombo and other cities like Kandy, you will find attractive lakes which are popular meeting points and recreation spots for locals. 

The central and southern areas of Sri Lanka are a wet zone dominated by untouched mountains, rushing waterfalls, uninterrupted hillside tea plantations andsmall patchwork squares of vegetables.  In contrast, the dry zone to the north of the island features plains and rocky hillsides and promontories.  In coastal areas around Sri Lanka, you will find islands to explore, bays, mangroves and coral reefs.

3. The Three S’s: Surfing, Snorkelling & Scuba Diving

If you love the ocean like us, you will love Sri Lanka.  It has some great spots to surf, snorkel and scuba dive whether you are a beginner or have more experience than most. 

Firstly, Sri Lanka is a year-round surfing destination.  The best places to surf are the southwest coast near Galle (eg. Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa), the south coast (eg. Weligama and Mirissa) and the east coast (eg. Arugam Bay).  In general, the surfing conditions are best on the south coast from November to May and on the east coast from April to October.

Whilst you are visiting Sri Lanka, don’t miss the opportunity to put on your mask, grab a snorkel and enjoy the sights of the crystal-clear water of the Indian Ocean.  One of the best places to snorkel is Pigeon Island National Park which is a protected marine life sanctuary on the east coast of Sri Lanka (see number 12).  We snorkelled here whilst we were staying at Nilaveli Beach and had an amazing experience.   

To reach the island, you need to buy a conservation ticket and pay for a place on one of the many boats which leave frequently from the beach.  The journey from Nilaveli Beach to Pigeon Island takes about 10 minutes by boat.  This coral island is named after the Blue Rock Pigeons that live on the island.  We had an amazing experience snorkelling around the reefs and saw black-tipped reef sharks, turtles and plenty of different types of fish

Make sure you read the signs when you arrive at the island because you have to follow a route to protect a certain part of the coral and marine life, otherwise the guard will blow his whistle!  It’s worth pointing out that the current on this side of Pigeon Island can be quite strong.  However, on the other side of the island there is a sheltered bay where children can snorkel and swim safely.   

Other good places to try snorkelling include, Hikkaduwa, Koggala, Weligama and Mirissa on the southwest coast near Galle and Kirinda on the southeast coast.  Alternatively, you could try Trincomalee (near Nilaveli Beach) or Passikudah on the eastern coast and Kalpitiya on the northwest coast.

If you are looking for more of an underwater adventure, Sri Lanka has some great places to scuba dive.  Many places have PADI dive and training centres which cater for beginner and experienced divers.  On the southwestern corner of Sri Lanka, you can dive from Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna.  There are 10 coral reef diving spots with different depths for all levels of divers and shipwrecks no more than 30m deep.  Mirissa on the south coast is another good spot for scuba diving.  On the east coast, there is great diving around Trincomalee and Nilaveli including the area around Pigeon Island.  You can also explore the wreck of World War II tanker British Sargeant from Passikudah.

Remember that snorkelling and diving conditions are also affected by the climate of Sri Lanka so check which coast will offer you the best experience during the time of your stay.

4. Wonderful Wildlife

Sri Lanka is a fantastic place to see a wide variety of wildlife in their natural environment.  As we’ve mentioned above, snorkelling at Pigeon Island allowed us to spend time watching and swimming with turtles and black-tipped reef sharks which is an unforgettable experience!  From Nilaveli Beach, we also arranged an early morning dolphin watching boat trip and were lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins.  The only downside is the number of other boats doing the same thing and some of the boatmen get too close!  However, our boatman was respectful, and it is amazing to see these marine mammals having fun and darting around the ocean. 

In addition to dolphin watching, you can also arrange whale watching trips at certain times of the year.  The whale watching season in Sri Lanka runs from November to April/May.  Off the coast of Sri Lanka, you can spot up to ten different species of whales.  One great place to see whales is Mirissa on the southern coast.  If you want to respect these creatures in the wild, GetYourGuide offers a tour with a naturalist expert and guarantees to keep distance from the whales and respect their environment. Click here to find out more:

Whilst in Sri Lanka, we were also lucky enough to catch sight of small herd of elephants from our journey from Sigiriya to Trincomalee on the bus!  We also saw plenty of beautiful birds and lizards as we walked amongst tea plantations and hiked up to various peaks and temples.  Brazen monkeys can also easily be seen as you climb Sigiriya and on the rocky promontory where the Dambulla caves can be found.

If you don’t want to leave seeing wildlife to chance, you can also opt for more organised safari trips to see elephants and other animals.  For instance, Udawalawa National Park is reputed to be one of the world’s best places to see wild elephants and for game spotting.  Bundala National Park which is situated in a wetland area is a less crowded place to see wildlife.  Yala National Park boasts a leopard density which is higher than anywhere else in the world and you can also see elephants here.   In order to avoid disappointment, it’s a good idea to book your safari in the National Parks in advance. 

5. Inexpensive Transport

Another reason to visit Sri Lanka is that it’s easy to find your way around the island.  Travelling on public transport is a unique cultural experience.  During our stay, we used a combination of public buses, trains, taxis and tuk-tuks to travel from place to place.  Although the distances between Sri Lankan destinations can be far and take time, the good thing is that public transport is extremely cheap

If you take the bus in Sri Lanka, they will be extremely crowded as they are filled to the maximum.  Don’t be surprised if you have to stand for a few hours on the bus.  For us, this is all part of the adventure and locals are very kind and may offer you their seat or hold your bag on their lap.  To guarantee yourself a seat, we recommend boarding the bus at the start of its journey.  Luggage can be stored in the boot of the bus or next to the driver. 

On the roads, there are red government buses and private buses.  In our experience, it is true that the private bus drivers drive faster than government bus drivers but there are more private buses on the roads.  Our bus journeys were certainly entertaining at times, but we travelled safely from place to place.  Neither government buses or private buses are air-conditioned, but there is a good breeze from open windows and the door is not closed when the bus is travelling.  There are also Express buses which operate on a restricted number of routes around Sri Lanka which are air-conditioned, more comfortable and don’t stop so frequently.

Travel in trains is in 3 classes and you can buy a reserved seat in 1st or 2nd class very cheaply.  2nd and 3rd class unreserved tickets cannot be booked in advance.  Seats in reserved cars can be booked up to 30 days in advance.  You will have a seat number on your printed ticket and an attendant ensures that no-one else enters the carriages, so they don’t get crowded.  If you want to travel from Kandy to Ella on the train (a 7-hour journey), make sure you book your tickets in advance!  They sell out very quickly as this is the most scenic railway line in the world (see number 17)!  Although 3rd class carriages have seats, they are unreserved, and the coaches are packed full of people standing which may seriously detract from your enjoyment of the journey and the spectacular views!

Local taxis and tuk-tuks are another way of getting around the island.  Make sure you ask for an estimate first.  In cities like Colombo, the tuk-tuks (or 3-wheelers) are metred, whereas in more rural areas they are not.  Licensed tuk-tuks will charge you higher fares than unlicensed ones.

Travelling alongside local people is a great experience for us.  They are invaluable sources of information and make our holidays memorable.  However, if you don’t want to worry about transport arrangements, you can easily hire a car with a driver for a stress-free experience.

6. Rich History

Another reason to visit Sri Lanka is the fact that it has many interesting historic sites thanks to the country’s rich history.  These include many ancient ruins, rock fortresses and temples with fascinating stories.  In fact, Sri Lanka has eight UNESCO World Heritage sites: Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, the Dambulla cave temples, the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, the Central Highlands and the Sinharaja Forest.

Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle stretches between the ancient cities of Anuradhapura (see number 11) and Polonnaruwa and the cave temples in Dambulla (see number 15).  Within this triangle, you will also find Sigiriya, the ruins of a 200 m high rock fortress/palace (see number 10).  In the southwestern corner of Sri Lanka, you will also find Galle Fort (see number 20) which is a fortified old city originally founded by the Portuguese and extended by the Dutch.

7. Deep-Rooted Spirituality

Sri Lanka’s historic religious influences also provide many fascinating temples for travellers to visit alongside the Sri Lankan people worshipping at them.  For instance, the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy which houses the country’s most important Buddhist relic (a tooth of the Buddha) and the Golden Temple and Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple which shelters an incredible 150 Buddha statues in 5 painted caves.

In Colombo, we were fortunate enough to take part in a private Sai Sin string ceremony at a local Buddhist temple during which our recent wedding was blessed by a Buddhist monk. We wore traditional white clothes and the monk tied white cotton thread bracelets around our wrists to provide us with protection and good health. This was a very special once in a life time experience.

8. Wide Choice of Accommodation

Sri Lanka also offers a wide range of accommodation to suit the budget of every traveller.  During our trip, we stayed in a number of small guest houses or homestays to support the local economy as well as 5-star luxury hotels.  Wherever we stayed and however much we paid, we were looked after extremely well by the hospitable Sri Lankan people.  Nothing was ever too much trouble. 

Our preferred booking site is booking.com because they offer the best prices and reward customers for their loyalty.  If you want some ideas of places to stay, here are some of the places we chose:

In Sigiriya, we stayed in a guest house just 10-15 minutes’ walk from the UNESCO World Heritage site.  The owners of the Sigiri Rock Side Home Stay gave us a warm welcome with local food specialities.  For about £21 a night, we had a fabulous breakfast and extremely clean room. 

When we visited Pigeon Island on the northeast coast, the Nilaveli Beach Rooms at £7 a night provided us with basic but clean accommodation 350 metres from the beach. 

Back in Dambulla, we stayed at the beautiful Sigiriana Resort by Thilanka which is a 5-star hotel situated in a peaceful location amongst ancient mango trees.  At approximately £54 a night, the hotel has a fantastic swimming pool amongst small rice paddy fields with an impressive view which made for a wonderful early morning or early evening swim before dinner.  As its name suggests, the hotel also had a small spa where we enjoyed a relaxing massage. 

In Kandy, we also enjoyed our night at the 5-star sister Thilanka Hotel (approximately £92 per night) which is set on a hill above the city with lake views. 

In the mountainous town of Ella, we stayed at the Ella Heritage for 3 nights (approximately £67 per night) which is situated just outside the centre of Ella but before the tourist zone of hotels.  This hotel had a fantastic view of Ella Rock and was a great base for exploring the Nine Arch Bridge and Little Adam’s Peak. 

In Tangalle, we opted for the Golden Lodge guest house which was £8 a night and was situated just 200 yards from Tangalle beach and close to the bus station. 

In Galle, we finished our trip in a garden room overlooking the pool of the fabulous Galle Fort Hotel (£260 per night) which is right in the middle of the historic streets of the Galle Fort. 

It’s worth noting that these are peak season prices.  Of course, you could pay significantly less depending on when you travel to Sri Lanka.

9. Flavoursome Food

There are many different types of delicious food to try in Sri Lanka which include many rice and curry variations, including dahl, pumpkin, beetroot and green jack fruit to name a few! However, don’t miss out on trying these specialities as well:

Kottu: This is a tasty dish which is basically a stir-fry which uses up leftovers!  It’s made with roti bread mixed with shredded vegetables and small pieces of meat, soya sauce, spices, ginger and garlic.

Hoppers: These are the Sri Lankan version of thin pancakes with crispy edges made from fermented rice flour, coconut milk, coconut water and a little sugar.  As the name suggests, egg hoppers have an egg cooked in the middle of them and these delicate baskets were one of our favourites at breakfast time.

String Hoppers (Noodles): These also form part of a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast.  They are thin noodles made of rice flour and eaten with a coconut relish (see below) and a dahl curry.

Pol Sambol: This is a fresh coconut relish which is served with a variety of Sri Lankan dishes at different mealtimes.  It’s made of finely grated coconut, red onions, dried whole chillies, lime juice, salt and a little fish.

Pittu: We were first introduced to this dish at an evening food festival in Ella.  Pittu is a simple but tasty cylindrical tube of ground rice and/or coconut served on a banana leaf.  Try eating it with your hands!

Coconut & Honey Pancake: For someone who isn’t a big fan of coconut, this was one of my favourite sweet treats in Sri Lanka.  These pancakes are served at breakfast or as an afternoon snack and are thinly cooked, then filled with a mixture of caramelised coconut and honey and rolled.

Things to See and Do in Sri Lanka

10. Mysterious Sigiriya Rock Fortress (Lion Rock)

Sigiriya (or Lion Rock) is an intriguing place to visit.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site in the centre of Sri Lanka and one of the country’s most visited tourist destinations.  To visit the mystifying ruins at the top of this 200 metre (660 ft) high rock, you will need to climb up a dizzying 1,200 steps.  The climb up is quite strenuous and not for the faint-hearted.  That being said, we saw many elderly Sri Lankans climbing the rock with flip flops or bare feet …

On the way to the top, you will also climb a metal spiral staircase to see the painted frescoes of ladies which remain on one part of the rock’s walls high above the ground.  One can only marvel at how they were painted here or how the Sigiriya Fort/Palace on top of Sigiriya was built by King Kasyapa.  Before you reach the summit, you will come across the giant lion paws which mark the final ascent to the top.  Take care because there are giant hornet nests nestled in the rock face in this area.  Once you reach the top, you can wander around the ruins and enjoy the breath-taking views across the landscape below.

11. Sacred City of Anuradhapura

The well-preserved ruins of Anuradhapura are a UNESCO World Heritage Site found in the north central province of Sri Lanka.  The extensive complex of this sacred Buddhist city features huge stupas (domed monuments for relics) and the ruins of monasteries, temples and palaces.  Look out for:

  • Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi – the sacred shrine built around the branch of the sacred Bodhi tree planted in the 3rd Century BC which founded the city.
  • Ruwanwelisaya – a magnificent white stupa which contains sacred relics and is a major place of worship.
  • Mirisawetiya Stupa – a quieter temple built in the place where the King’s sceptre stood.
  • Jetavanaramaya – one of the ancient world’s tallest structures containing sacred relics.
  • Abhayagiriya Stupa
  • Isurumuniya Viharaya – a Buddhist temple with granite and rock carvings: the Isurumuni Lovers, the Royal Family carving, the Elephant Pond carving.
  • Kuttam Pokuna – twin ancient bathing tanks or pools.
  • Samadhi Buddha statue
  • Sandakada Pahana (the Moonstone) – an intricate semi-circular slab symbolising the Buddhist cycle of Samsara (the beginning-less cycle of repeated birth, existence and death).

12. Nilaveli Beach

Nilaveli is a small, undeveloped beach resort in the north east of the island in the Trincomalee district.  Small hotels, guest houses and restaurants are dotted up and down the sandy lanes of this quiet Tamil village which run to the beach.  The 6km long sandy beach is untouched by high-rise tourist hotels.  Only palm trees and a few casual beach bars fringe the sand, so Nilaveli is perfect if you are looking for some peaceful time out to relax on an unspoilt beach.  From this stretch of beach, you can enjoy swimming, snorkelling and diving in the Indian Ocean.  From the beach, you can see Pigeon Island National Park which is known for its coral reef.  Throughout the day, small boats regularly leave the shores of Nilaveli to make the 1km trip to Pigeon Island which makes a great half day trip.  Early in the morning, the boatmen will also take you whale or dolphin watching.

13. Pigeon Island National Park

Pigeon Island is a small, protected island 1km off the coast of Nilaveli.  On one side of the island, a white sandy shoreline gives way to a beach scattered with old coral of every shape and size, so make sure you have comfortable beach shoes to walk around.  Boats land on this side of the island (see number 3) and from here you can snorkel around the reef following a marked route to protect the coral.  Although officers ensure you stick to the route, we saw plenty of species of fish including black-tipped reef sharks and turtles!  In total, the reef is 200 metres long and 100 metres wide with over 100 species of coral, 300 species of reef fish and a variety of visiting sea turtles including the Hawksbill.

The interior of this rocky island has small paths which crisscross through dense undergrowth.  Look out for the endangered Blue Rock pigeons who give their name to the island and nest and breed amongst the rocks.  The other side of the island features rockpools and a protected bay which is perfect for cooling off in the shallows or snorkelling around the rocks without the strong current which can wash over the main reef.  This spot is popular with locals and tourists so can become crowded, so go early or late in the day if you want a more leisurely experience.

14. Jaffna

Jaffna is located in the far north of Sri Lanka and is the capital of the northern province.  The Jaffna peninsula offers an interesting contrast to the rest of the country as this is a Tamil region with a strong Hindu culture.  The area is also still recovering from civil war, so is generally less touristic, providing a fresh and authentic experience for travellers.  If you decide to travel north to Jaffna, don’t miss out on exploring the ancient Jaffna Fort and Nallur Kandiswamy Kovil which is a significant Hindu temple.  From Jaffna, you can also take a day trip to the intriguing Delft Island (Neduntheevu in Tamil) which is an hour-long boat ride from Pungudutivu Island just west of the Jaffna peninsula.

15. Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple and the Golden Temple of Dambulla

Situated in the central part of Sri Lanka are the fascinating Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple (or Rock Temple of Dambulla) and the Golden Temple of Dambulla which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  160 metres above the surrounding plains, you will discover 5 beautiful painted caves which shelter 153 magnificent Buddha statues along with statues of Sri Lankan Kings and Gods and Goddesses.  The stunning painted cave murals cover 2,100 square metres of rock face

The caves themselves date back to prehistoric times and are thought to have been a place of worship since the 1st Century BC when a King took refuge here.  Today, they remain a sacred pilgrimage site with worshippers laying lotus flowers before Buddha.  The enormous Golden Buddha statue is located down the hill below the Cave Temples. For a full guide about the Dambulla Cave Temples and other sites to see in the area, check out our article Best Things to Do When Visiting Dambulla.

16. Kandy – City of Kings

Kandy or the City of Kings is the former capital of Sri Lanka and the country’s second largest city.  This centrally located hillside city is nestled between mountain ranges surrounding a beautiful lake.  The city is a vibrant place with plenty of bustling shops, restaurants, cultural activities and colonial architecture.  The main attraction in Kandy is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a major pilgrimage shrine housing part of Buddha’s tooth. 

Other places to visit include the Royal Botanic Gardens of Peradeniya and the 27-metre-high Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha statue which is perched proudly above the city on top of the Bahirawa Kanda hill alongside the Sri Maha Bodhi Temple.  Another reason for spending a few days in Kandy is to take the world’s most scenic railway trip from the city to the mountain town of Ella (see number 15 below).

17. Kandy to Ella (The World’s Most Scenic Railway Trip)

If you are visiting Kandy, don’t miss out on buying a train ticket and making the epic and inexpensive 7-hour train journey from Kandy to Ella.  This journey is reputed to be the most beautiful and most scenic rail journey in the world.  We can confirm that the iconic blue train definitely provides a breathtakingly beautiful ride through the central part of Sri Lanka. 

On the way, you will be captivated by the stunning scenery which features rolling tea plantations as far as the eye can see, mountainous wild forests and cascading waterfalls.  Taking photographs is easy as the train moves slowly.  The railway line is also a single track, so perhaps you will be brave enough to sit or hang out the open doorway!  Part of the charm is also the commotion of getting on the train and the hustle and bustle as locals hop on and off and food sellers jump from waiting trains with delicious snacks.

However, in order to avoid missing this extraordinary journey, you must buy your ticket in advance.  Firstly, the route is extremely popular with locals going about their lives and visiting tourists.  Secondly, from personal experience of seeing the serious overcrowding in the standing 3rd class carriage, we highly recommend that you buy a reserved ticket in 1st or 2nd class!  You can book reserved tickets 30 days in advance, but unreserved seats are purchased on the day. 

For reserved seats, you will be guaranteed a seat which is a must if you don’t want to stand for 7-hours!  Your seat will be numbered on your ticket and guards ensure that only reserved ticket holders enter these carriages and no additional standing passengers are permitted.  This means that you will be able to enjoy the views from both sides of the carriage as the central gangway will remain clear.  To avoid disappointment, it really is advisable to plan in advance by booking your train tickets here before they sell out!

18. Ella (High in Hill Country)

Ella is a small, relaxed town with a cool vibe in central Sri Lanka high in the hills about 1,000 metres above sea level.  The town is dominated by the lion-shaped Ella Rock and is the perfect place to chill out, hike and enjoy cooler temperatures.  Ella offers visitors the chance to enjoy many outdoor adventures hidden in the surrounding landscape like scaling Ella Rock, hiking up Little Adam’s Peak through tea plantations, finding the Nine Arch Bridge or swimming and bathing in the Ravana Falls with the locals.  The town itself is brimming with appealing restaurants and in August you may be lucky enough to experience the Ella Street Food Fiesta like us, which is a great way to eat freshly cooked, local specialities (see number 9) really cheaply.

Ella Rock

If you love nature, Ella is a great place to visit and enjoy the outdoors.  There are many popular hiking trails from the town including the 4-hour trek to the top of Ella Rock which offers stunning panoramic views from the summit at 2,000 metres above sea level.  You can hire a local guide or find your own way to the top.

Little Adam’s Peak

Another popular hike is to ascend the 1,141-metre-high Little Adam’s Peak.  The climb is fairly easy and there is a clear path to follow so you won’t get lost.  The trail starts after the Ella Flower Garden Resort in beautiful lush green tea plantations and it takes about 2 hours to reach the summit.  At the top, you will be rewarded with breath-taking views of the surrounding hills and plains.  Perhaps you will be brave enough to zip wire across the valley on your way up or down?

Nine Arch Bridge

The final hike we did was to find the Nine Arch Bridge or the Bridge in the Sky.  The Nine Arch Bridge is a stunning stone viaduct bridge which rises 24 metres above the emerald green tea plantations between the Demodara and Ella railway stations.  From the Passara Road, it takes about 30 minutes to walk to the bridge

Read our helpful guide, How to Find the Nine Arch Bridge, to make sure that you don’t miss out on this gem hidden in Ella’s densely forested green hills.  It’s fun to join the locals and other visitors walking across the 91-metre-long bridge along the railway tracks.  Don’t worry about approaching trains!  It’s easy to hear them and an official will blow a whistle as an additional warning.  Simply wait at the side of the track or sit on the edge of the bridge to let the train pass!

Ravana Falls Waterfall

Just outside of Ella, you will find the Ravana Falls which is a 25-metre-high waterfall which cascades and tumbles over a rocky outcrop.  This waterfall is currently considered to be one of the wildest waterfalls in Sri Lanka during the wet season.  During the dry season, you can join the locals who wash and swim in the pool at the foot of the waterfall, so take your towel and swimming costume.  From Ella, it’s a short 10-minute ride by tuk-tuk or a local bus to reach the falls.  Take care because the rocks can be slippery!  There is a purpose-built viewing platform if you are visiting during the wet season.

19. Tangalle (Gateway to Beaches)

Tangalle is a large sleepy town found on the south east coast of Sri Lanka with stretches of sandy beaches, small guest houses and larger hotels.  The town is relatively undeveloped and peaceful compared to resorts further west which some may find appealing.  Tangalle beach is stunning but swimming off the coast here can be dangerous so check with your accommodation about the safest places to swim.  East of the town, you will find other sandy beaches which stretch along Medaketiya and Medilla.  West of the town is known as Pallikaduwa and features attractive rocky coves.  Further west is the village of Goyambokka which also has some fantastic beaches.

Attractions nearby include the Mulkirigala Rock Temple monastery, Wewurukannala which is home to the largest Buddha figure in Sri Lanka at 50 metres high, the Hummanaya blowhole, the Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary and the Rekawa Turtle Watch conservation programme where you can watch turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. 

20. Charming Galle Fort

On the south western tip of Sri Lanka is the charming and historic Galle Fort which was first built by the Portuguese and then fortified by the Dutch.  Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Walking around the grid of small streets feels like you have been transported back in time with vintage cars and motorbikes which are parked outside picturesque colonial buildings. 

Within the walls of the fort, you will also find small boutique shops, cafés and restaurants which make for pleasant browsing.  You can also admire Galle’s lighthouse, walk around the ramparts and enjoy the views.  Sunsets here can be stunning.  Staying at the Galle Fort Hotel was an unforgettable experience.  This hotel is an iconic building with a rich history which added to our sense of being transported back to another era.  If you want to stay right in the heart of Galle Fort and are looking for luxury and attention to detail, check out booking.com for the best prices to stay at this elegant hotel.

21. Sri Lanka with Kids

Sri Lanka is a great destination if you are travelling with kids.  The people are friendly, and the food is delicious.  Most kids love playing on sandy beaches and swimming in the sea.  Sri Lanka offers pristine beaches and great locations to swim and snorkel with little ones including Pigeon Island and Unawatuna to name a few (see number 3).  In addition, this tear-shaped island is brimming with wildlife for your kids to experience first-hand and close up

Why not try out some of the ideas discussed in number 4, including a safari in Udawalawe or the turtle hatchery near Tangalle.   Kids also love trains.  The train from Kandy to Ella is a big adventure through the forested interior of the island and what’s not to love about taking a 3-wheeler or tuk-tuk from place to place?  In the hill country, your kids can have a welcome break from high temperatures and the hiking trails are accessible for little legs and all-terrain pushchairs. 

Adults and kids alike love exploring, so Sri Lanka is perfect with its ancient temples, forts, ruins and jungle which dominate its landscape!  Finally, accommodation in Sri Lanka can be as expensive or as cheap as you want.  We stayed in guest houses which cost as little as £7 a night in August and breakfast was included!  To get the best deals on accommodation, we use booking.com, not only are the prices competitive, they also offer a wide variety of properties with a good cancellation policy which enables families to be flexible when they travel.

Is Sri Lanka Worth Visiting?

In our opinion, Sri Lanka is 100 % worth visiting.  We are planning to visit again for longer as there were so many things we didn’t have time to see and experience.  The Sri Lankan people were certainly the highlight of our time here.  They were peaceful, generous and happy to see us.  The country not only has a rich cultural and spiritual history, it is an unspoilt paradise for nature.  So, go on!  Book that vacation.  You won’t regret it!  Sri Lanka is waiting for you.

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