Top 22 Activities in Sri Lanka

The beach at Arugam Bay lined with fishing boats.

We absolutely loved the month that we spent in Sri Lanka. We found the people to be some of the friendliest you will meet anywhere in the world. The food is absolutely delicious – the curries are a must! There are also plenty of activities to satisfy any type of traveler. Here are our top 22 activities to do when in Sri Lanka in no particular order. 

Mirissa

Relax on Mirissa Beach – We did this most of the time when the weather permitted (it was the rainy season, so check the weather if you want beach time). If you need to relax, unwind, and get your tan on the beach, then this is a great place to do it! We enjoyed relaxing on the East end of Mirissa Beach, near Zephyr restaurant. It was less crowded and the waves were calmer.  Just look for the massive uplift where everyone goes to catch the sunset. You can’t miss it! 

Catching the sunset from Mirissa Beach.

Hike to Secret Beach – The secret might be out, but it is still worth the trek out to this isolated beach. It was a little confusing to find this place, and it took us a couple of tries and some off roading to finally get there. There are signs near the West end of Mirissa Beach that point you towards the Palace Mirissa Hotel. We tried this route, but quickly got lost. We had better luck following the road that leads up the hill near the harbor on the North part of town. You can find this path on Google maps. It’s about a 30 minute walk from the main beach. Once you arrive, there is a cool little bar/restaurant and a beautiful little beach to enjoy. We had the entire place to ourselves on the day we went. Score!

Swimming in the surf at Secret Beach

Whale watching – We did not do this, but heard from our friends it is amazing! The season runs from November to April/May and there are chances of seeing Blue Whales. Please do research on the company you choose. We read some of them actually chase down the whales and get too close, which messes with their migration patterns. You don’t want to support this type of operation. Let us know how it is in the comment section. We’d appreciate it!

Ella

Hike Little Adam’s Peak – We highly recommend this hike! The hike is not that challenging and the views are spectacular! You will see people stop and take photos at the top of the first hill, but keep following the trail down the other side and up the next peak. The further you hike the less people there will be, making it easier to get that perfect shot. The views were absolutely stunning and worth the extra 30 minutes of hiking. You will not be disappointed.

The hiking trail at Little Adam’s Peak.

Check out the 9 Arches Bridge – This is probably the most iconic spot in Ella. It is located east of Ella, between the Demodara and Ella stations. Check the train schedule before heading to the bridge for the opportunity to watch a train go over and get that incredible Instagram photo! Check out ours! You can hike here along the tracks from town or from the trail leading down from the Ella-Passara Road. We hiked here directly after our Little Adam’s Peak hike and then walked the train tracks back to town. Don’t forget to get a king coconut from the stand near the bridge to refresh you after the hike. Remember to say no to the plastic straw!

Just hanging out on Nine Arches Bridge.

Take the train from Ella to Kandy – It definitely lives up to its reputation as being one of the most beautiful train rides in the world – it is gorgeous! The total travel time was about 8 hours including all the stops. The tracks are windy, and the train doesn’t go very fast, but the stunning views of the tea plantations keep you occupied. We had so much fun taking selfies while hanging out the window. We decided to go with second class to have fans and our own seats. We read that 3rd class seats are just fine, but we were happy to pay a little more and have our cushioned seats for the long trip. 

The view from our seats on the Ella to Kandy Train.

Kandy

Royal Botanical Gardens Peradeniya – The botanical gardens are a little piece of tranquility in the middle of the bustling city. There are sections for many of the various types of plants that can be found across the ecosystems of Sri Lanka. Our favorite part was the massive orchid garden filled with the most beautiful orchids from all over the country. We spent 3 hours walking the grounds, but could have stayed longer if we had packed a lunch. Tip: We took the local bus from our hotel for 20 LKR each way per person. Busses run along Kandy Road from Kandy to Peradeniya and can be easily be caught at any of the stops along the way. Just ask the driver if the bus stops at or near the botanical gardens. Entrance fee to the gardens is 1500 LKR per person.

We could have spent all day enjoying these beauties inside the orchid pavilion.

Walk around Kandy Lake – It is located in the middle of the town right next to the Temple of the Tooth. We enjoyed getting off of the busy city streets and strolling along the path around the lake. It’s a great way to decompress and get your steps in! Be careful if you are walking around the lake at night as we heard it can be a little sketchy. We did it during the day. You can also catch a great view of the lake from the top of the hill where the giant Buddha is located.

The beautiful view of Kandy Lake from the Giant Buddha statue.

Hike to the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue – A visit to the giant Buddha statue is a must when in Kandy. It is a 15-20 minute walk up the hill from the town center. At the top there are impressive, panoramic views of the city below and surrounding landscape. It is beautiful! You can also hire a tuk tuk to take you up the hill if you aren’t feeling up for the hike. You might want to ask them to wait for you so that you don’t have to hike back down the hill if there are no tuk tuks when you leave. Entrance fee is 250 LKR per person.

Clayton getting his Zen on.

Visit the Temple of the Tooth Relic – Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic: located in the royal palace complex. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and also one of the holiest shrines in the entire Buddhist world! Inside there are many exhibits explaining the history of the tooth relic and of the temple complex. Don’t forget to check out the impressive International Buddhist Museum to learn about the history of Buddhism from 17 different countries. The entrance fee is 1500 LKR and includes entrance to the museum inside. Note: Do not forget to cover your shoulders and knees or wear pants/long skirt. If not, bring a sarong to cover up or they will not let you enter. We were able to rent a sarong from one of the stalls near the entrance for 300 LKR each.

Sigiriya

Visit Dambulla Cave Temple – The Golden Temple of Dambulla is a UNESCO World Heritage site located just south of the city of Dambulla. There are 5 cave temples containing many impressive Buddha statues and beautiful cave paintings. The first Buddha paintings were created over 2 thousand years ago! We were staying in Sigiriya and caught the local bus to Dambulla. It takes about 45 minutes, and costs 40 LKR per person each way. You will get dropped off near the bus station in Dambulla. From there you can either catch a tuk tuk or walk to the temple. We decided to walk, as we almost always do. If you walk, it’s about 2 km south of the city center along the Dambulla-Kandy Road. You will see a large Golden Buddha on your right, which is the entrance to the complex. Once you enter, walk towards the Southwest corner (to the left of the Buddha) where you will see stairs leading up to the cave temple. There will be arrows pointing the way. Watch out for the monkeys! They will try to steal any food you might be trying to eat. Keep walking up, then back down the other side of the mountain to the ticket booth. You will then have to walk back up the stairs to the entrance of the temples. Entrance fee is 1500 LKR per person. Note: Do not forget to cover up or bring a sarong! 

The entrances to the 5 cave temples.

Hike Pidurangala Rock – Sunrise or sunset from the top of Pidruangala Rock should be on the top of anyone’s list of things to do in Sigiriya, if not Sri Lanka. We chose to watch the sunrise here. We left our hotel around 4:45 in a tuk tuk. We had planned to walk, but our hotel would not allow us, saying it is dangerous because of the wild elephants nearby. The hike up the mountain takes 25-30 minutes. The first part consists of really high steps and is fairly well marked, but at the end you will be climbing over and under large boulders. It is well worth it! Panoramic views of the valley below, incredible views of the sun illuminating Sigiriya Rock, and the sound of the birds waking up in the jungle make for an epic way to start the day! It was a highlight of our month in Sri Lanka! The entrance fee is 500 LKR per person, and we paid 500 LKR for the tuk tuk ride there. There were plenty of tuk tuks waiting at the entrance to take people back to their hotel. We decided to walk since it was a beautiful morning.

Thomas taking in the sunrise view from the top of Pidurangala Rock.

Visit Sigiriya Citadel Rock (aka Lion Rock) – Sigiriya Citadel Rock is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that towers 200 meters above the town of Sigiriya. The impressive fortress on top of the rock is believed to have been built in the 5th century a.d. The top can be reached by climbing the 1,200 steps that climb up the side of the rock. The best time to avoid the crowds is right when site opens at 7am. The ticket price is 4,500 LKR per person. If this is too pricey for your budget, we recommend climbing nearby Pidurangala Rock for views of Sigiriya Rock. The entrance for Pidurangala is only 500 LKR.

The view of Sigiriya Rock from below.

Arugam Bay

Visit Peanut Farm Beach – Peanut Farm Beach is about 6 km south of Arugam Bay. We hired a tuk tuk to take us there and bring us back for 1,200 LKR. Wild elephants are known to frequent the beach. Unfortunately for us, there were no elephants the day that we visited, but we did have the entire beach to ourselves! The waves here are much calmer and the water is clearer than in Arugam Bay. We spent a couple of hours swimming and climbing on the rocks at the South end of the beach. 

We had the entire beach to ourselves!

Catch a sunrise – Since Arugam Bay is on the East coast of Sri Lanka there are no sunsets over the water, but there are sunrises. There is something extremely peaceful about watching a sunrise, especially one over the ocean. If you can drag yourself out of bed, you will be rewarded with an amazing view of the sunrise as you walk along the beach. Don’t worry, you can always go back to bed after snapping a few shots to prove you were there.

We were fortunate to catch this amazing sunrise while we were in Arugam Bay.

Go surfing – This for me, was another adventure that I highly recommend while in Sri Lanka. There are quite a few spots to go surfing and I chose Arugam Bay. There are also chances of surfing while in Mirissa, but here the water is calmer. Since I am a beginner, this was the perfect spot for me to catch some waves. I rented a board for a half day for 500 LKR, or you can opt for a full day for 1,000 LKR. If this will be your first time surfing, I suggest you opt for a half day, and then rest for the following day. Surfing is a lot harder than it looks. I grew up skateboarding and snowboarding, but surfing really kicks your butt! If you do go, let me know how it goes! 

Clayton couldn’t wait to get out on the waves!

Unawatuna

Chill on beach in Unawatuna – Unawatuna Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Sri Lanka. It’s a long, crescent shaped beach lined with tons of restaurants and bars. We enjoyed our time here and spent much of it lounging on the beach and swimming in the surf. Getting a lounge chair with an umbrella is definitely recommended, as the sun can brutally strong. If you are looking to relax on the beach with a cocktail in your hand, this might be the beach for you. Granted we were there in the offseason, but we found the beach to lively without a clubby vibe. 

Visit Dalawella Beach – Dalawella Beach is a nice beach a little over 2 km east of Unawatuna Beach. It features a shallow lagoon that fronts the beach and offers protection from the surf. It is a great place to relax on the beach or bob around in the clear, shallow water. Sea turtles can be spotted in the lagoon at certain times of the day. There is even a rope swing attached to one of the palm trees hanging out over the lagoon. They were charging 300 LKR to use when we were there. Dalawella can easily be reached by tuk tuk or by public bus. We walked and it only took 20 minutes or so. 

Perfect day for a little beach time!

Visit the Japanese Peace Pagoda – The Japanese Peace Pagoda is located on the north-east part of the Unawatuna pinnacle, near Jungle Beach. This beautiful pagoda was built in 2005 by Japanese monks of the Mahayana sect. The views across the bay to the Galle Fort are not to be missed! We recommend going at sunset as the sun sets into the ocean unobstructed from this vantage point. You can reach the pagoda by tuk tuk or on foot along the Jungle Beach Road. The trail is steep at some points and can be slick when it rains.

The view of the Japanese Peace Pagoda from the hiking trail as you approach.

Eat gelato at Love Gelato – We normally wouldn’t list a dessert as a must do experience, but we couldn’t leave this off the list. This was some of the best gelato that we have ever had anywhere in the world! Our favorites were the salted caramel and the peanut butter. The owner is super friendly and very passionate about his gelato. We went back 3 times during our stay in Unawatuna. If you enjoy gelato you should definitely visit Love Gelato when in the area. Trust us. You will not be disappointed!

Clayton making some seriously tough choices!

Take a cooking class – As soon as we got to Sri Lanka and tasted the delicious curries, we knew that we wanted to take a cooking class. We chose Nautilus Cooking and they did not disappoint! Yamuna was an amazing host and was very patient with our novice level experience with Sri Lankan cuisine. We made 3 vegetable curries, one fish curry, dal, coconut sambal, rice and papadam. All of the food was so delicious and we happily stuffed our faces after everything was prepared. The experience left us with a deeper appreciation for Sri Lankan after seeing how much work goes into each dish. Grinding the coconuts and straining the meat to make coconut milk alone took so much work! The cooking class is located opposite Nautilus Cafe Bar on the main beach road (Yaddehimulla Road).

Look at all of that delicious food!

Pin this for Later!