Travelling to Sri Lanka: 10 Top Sights You Shouldn’t Miss!

View from the Top of Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka
View from the Top of Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka

Located just off the coast of India, Sri Lanka is one of the world’s most vibrant and remarkable countries with countless highlights to explore. Sri Lanka has become an extremely popular holiday destination with Australian travellers, which is not surprising as Lonely Planet named it one of the best places to travel on a budget in its “Best in Travel 2013 guide”.

The list below is great for the budget conscious traveller as these experiences will not break the budget. With flight tickets from Sydney going for less than $1000 (even less during sale times) getting there is cheap. The only thing in terms of price that you need to consider is accommodation (think airbnb and affordable hostels); get the right travel insurance for those emergency situations and of course planning your super fun itinerary!

Sri Lankan Railway Views
Sri Lankan Railway Views

To help you narrow down your Sri Lankan itinerary, we’ve singled out some of the most exciting and culturally rewarding sights and experiences that you definitely shouldn’t miss:

1. Elephant Orphanages

For anyone that loves animals, a visit to a Sri Lankan elephant orphanage is a must. One of the best is the Elephant Transit Home located in Uwa Walawe National Park, which is where injured and orphaned elephants are rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. The Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage – near Kegalle is another great option, especially if you want to get up close to these huge and gorgeous creatures.

2. Sigiriya or Lion Rock

Considered a UNESCO World Heritage site, this 1,214-foot high rock formation is said to have once been the site of King Kasyapa’s palace many years ago and was informally named Lion Rock after the palace gateway he built in the shape of a lion.  The hike to the summit takes quite an effort, but the incredible views from the top make it well worthwhile. Amazing rock wall frescoes and the surrounding gardens are also two of the best must-sees of this unique destination.

View from the Top of Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka
View from the Top of Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka

3. The Ancient City of Kandy

No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without a visit to the ancient city of Kandy. Surrounded by lush hills and set beside a stunning man-made lake, this enchanting city is home to the Sacred Tooth Temple, which houses one of Sri Lanka’s most revered relics: a tooth belonging to the Buddha. Kandy is also where you will find two of Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist monasteries, known as the Malwatte and Asgiriya viharas.

4. Peradeniya Botanic Gardens

Once reserved for the exclusive use of the Kandyan royalty, the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens are now open to the public. Covering a massive 60 hectares, these are Sri Lanka’s largest botanical gardens and feature a stunning array of orchids, as well as impressive plants like cannonball trees and giant bamboo trees.

5. The Beaches of Unawatuna

Some of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful beaches can be found on the south coast in Unawatuna, where you will be treated to a postcard-esque setting of palm trees and beautiful blue waters. Restaurants and hotels are easy to come by here and you should have no trouble seeking out a Sri Lankan meal. Water activities, especially diving, are popular in Unawatuna too.

6. Yala National Park

Sri Lanka is home to a series of magnificent natural areas, none more remarkable than the southeastern Yala National Park. Here you can find wild buffalo, mongoose, spotted deer, jackals, elephants, leopards and even crocodiles. The safest way to see as much as possible is to take a guided jeep safari with a local guide. Museums and other structures are also available to explore here and finding both luxury and budget accommodation in the park is entirely possible.

7. Explore a Tea Plantation

Sri Lanka is world renowned for its high quality tea and touring a tea plantation is a great way to appreciate just what goes into your morning cuppa. While there are plantations all over Sri Lanka offering quality tea and guided tours, the Pedro Tea Estate near Nuwara Eliya is one of the oldest and the best.

8. Adam’s Peak at Sri Pada

Located in central Sri Lanka, this striking, towering mountain is not only a wonderful place to do a hike, but it’s also home to the ‘Sacred Footprint’, believed to be that of the Buddha. The ‘Sacred Footprint’ is over 5 feet in length and can be found near the summit of Sri Pada, and each year thousands of locals and visitors hike up to see it. Don’t worry – if footprints don’t wow you, the magnificent views from the top certainly will.

9. Curries in Colombo

A huge highlight of any visit to Sri Lanka is always the food, which consists of a wonderful mix of Malay, Indian, Portuguese, Arab, Dutch and English influences. Rice and curry is a delicious staple of every Sri Lankan’s diet and the best place to find a great curry is at one of the exciting restaurants in the capital city of Colombo. Choosing a place where many locals are eating will ensure an authentic meal.

10. Shopping in the Markets

There is no better place to shop in Sri Lanka than at its colourful and vibrant markets, with some of the best being those in Pettah, Jaffna and Colombo. Here you will find everything from elaborate silk garments, musical instruments and cigars to fruits and vegetables and meals for lunch or dinner.

This article was written in collaboration with InsureandGo Travel Insurance.

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  • Hi there, I think this could be slightly misleading, if you were to visit, Sigyria, Dambulla, The Temple of the Tooth, Pinewalla elephant orphanage, Yala, etc. your trip would not be at all ” budget”. Admission prices are huge in Sri Lanka, for us, as a family of 4, it was too much. We were there for a month recently, wonderful country, one of the best.Incredibly cheap transportation, but watch out for those admissions! I’d also highly recommend whale watching, we saw blue whales. AirBnb was useless in Sri Lanka, too, nothing on there nearly as cheap as the wonderful guest houses we found. I’m stil dreaming about those Sri Lankan breakfasts, so good!

    • Alyson, thanks for your comment. The admission fees for significant activities is definitely one of the things I usually research as part of my trip planning process, because as you have said they can sometimes be higher than you expect, which is only magnified if you are travelling as a family. Thanks for pointing out your recent experiences.

      • No worries. I think you can enjoy Sri Lanka just as much without following the usual tourist trail, there is so much more to any country than just the big sites. That being said, I’ve been to all of them in Sri Lankla previously, they’re great, but expensive.

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