Often eclipsed by its much larger neighbors, Sri Lanka is one of those lesser-known travel spots that can hold a lot of surprises. Being an island, you can expect lots of stunning beaches – but there’s much more to the island nation than that. Beautiful green tea fields, ancient ruins, and breathtaking train journeys are just some of what Sri Lanka has to offer. Here are the top things to do and see when traveling abroad in Sri Lanka.
If you’re going to visit any one of the seven World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka, then make it Sigiriya. Located in the middle of the island and easily accessible from the town of Kandy, this mountain fortress dates back to the 5th century AD. The walk to the top will take you through a quiet and serene area untouched by civilization – and from the top you can gaze around at a stunning open landscape marked by mountains in the distance.
See the Buddha’s Tooth in Kandy
This highland town was the last capital of the ancient kings of Sri Lanka and later became a getaway spot for colonial administrators. It also draws people for supposedly housing a sacred tooth of the Buddha. Every year, devout Buddhists celebrate the festival of the tooth each summer with parades, traditional dancing, and fire shows. The lakeside town is also a great place to visit for its cooler climate, beautiful temples, and surrounding scenery.
Visit the Old Dutch Fort in Galle
Before British admiration took over in 1815, Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) was ruled by the Dutch. The trading town of Galle served as their main base. The foundations were originally laid by the Portuguese, but the Dutch later expanded it after they took over in 1640. It still stands today in prime condition and attracts visitors who can also explore the old part of Galle city.
Enjoy Some Tea in Ella
Ceylonese tea is world famous and you can find tea plantations over much of the inner highlands. If you can only pick one though, make it the small mountain town of Ella. What makes it unique are the stunning mountain views and the laid-back atmosphere of the town. For photography enthusiasts, the place is a goldmine.
Ride the Train
A trip to Sri Lanka wouldn’t be complete without taking a ride on one of its colonial era trains. Compared to taking a bus, the train is far more comfortable and safer. There are many train lines that offer beautiful coastal and mountain views, but the best is the line from Kandy to Ella. Whenever possible make the train your main mode of transport.
Climb Adams Peak
There’s a certain irony to Adams Peak. On the one hand, it draws active people in search of a mildly challenging mountain hike. On the other, it attracts those who just want a quiet place to relax and forget about the outside world. The mountain can be hiked in about five hours, but unless you’re a devout Buddhist, you might want to avoid the annual pilgrimage when the quiet town becomes overrun with ardent pilgrims. The surrounding location is stunning and a perfect place to relax after a day’s hike.
Go Surfing in Arugam Bay
Sri Lanka is well known for being a top location for surfing – and the best place for it is the eastern town of Arugam Bay. The beach town has a fun vibe with locals and tourists alike playing volleyball or catching waves along its coast. For a more hip experience with all the comforts of a major tourist town, it’s definitely worth a visit
See the Ancient Ruins of Anuradhapura
You can find more than a few ancient sites around the island nation, but one of the best preserved are those of Anuradhapura. The site dates back to the fourth century BC and was the capital of the Sinhalese until the 11th century AD. It’s still an important site to Buddhists with many temples and monasteries surrounding it today.
Yala National Park
This is one of the few places in the world where you have the chance to spot a wild leopard. The park has an abundance of other wildlife to see and can be enjoyed while tumbling around in a safari truck. Here you can see elephants, peacocks, monkeys, crocodiles, and monitor lizards to name just a few.
Get to know the Locals
The people of Sri Lanka are some of the friendliest you’ll ever find on a trip. Guesthouses are genuinely better than expensive hotels, as you can be guaranteed a home cooked meal and friendly atmosphere. Although Tamil and Sinhala are the main languages, English is spoken very widely. Don’t be shy about ever asking for help or advice, chances are the locals will offer help before you ask for it.
For an Island nation, Sri Lanka certainly has a lot to offer. Although these are the top locations, there are also plenty of other smaller ones that are well worth a visit. Do a bit of research and always be willing to toss out the travel book for a spur of the moment decision. You won’t regret it.
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John English is a freelance content writer from Ireland that now lives in Thailand. Having spent the last four years traveling and living abroad, he now uses his experience to help others in making their own travel dreams come true. He specializes in real estate and travel writing for blogs and print publications.