If you’re looking for things to do in Sri Lanka and want to visit all of the iconic spots, then here is a Sri Lanka bucket list guide.
1. Explore Colombo
Top of your things to do in Sri Lanka list should be to get out and explore Colombo.
With the airport being nearby, this will most likely be the first stop on your Sri Lanka bucket list.
A great way to tie in all of the city’s hot spots is to jump on a tour, and here are some of the most popular ones in the city:
Small-Group Tuk Tuk Tour with a Local Guide
The True Essence of Colombo:Private Highlights & Hidden Gems
Full-day Sightseeing Tour of Colombo, Sri Lanka
Tours like this allow your to head down narrow streets, past monuments, and to some of the most popular areas, the way locals do.
With an experienced local guide by your side, these tours could be the best way to get the most out of your visit to Colombo.
2. Catch A Sunset At Galle Face Green
After exploring for the majority of your day in Colombo, this scenic spot for sunset makes the evening a little more relaxed.
Galle Face Green is a 5 hectare ocean-side urban park, which stretches for 500m along the coast of Colombo.
Here you can see plenty of local kids playing, friends meeting for street food, and families strolling along the promenade.
You’ll get a glimpse of Galle Face Green if you take the Full-day Sightseeing Tour of Colombo. However we spent a couple of hours there in the evening, just giving our feet a break and taking in the atmosphere.
Not only is Galle Face Green one of the top places to see in Colombo, it’s the perfect spot to grab a local delicacy whilst taking a beach front walk. We recommend stocking up on vegetable rottis or prawn vadai.
If you want to see the true culture of Colombo this has to be on the Sri Lanka bucket list. The vendors and sea breeze of Galle Face Green will definitely capture it for you.
3. Ride In A Tuk Tuk
An auto rickshaw is a motorized version of the pulled rickshaw or cycle rickshaw. Most have three wheels and do not tilt. They are known by many terms in various countries including auto, baby taxi, tuk-tuk, pedi-cab, 3wheel or tukxi.
If you’ve never been to Asia before and Sri Lanka is your first stop, you’ve probably never ridden a tuk tuk.
This is a must on your things to do in Sri Lanka bucket list. We remember our first time riding in a tuk tuk and it was certainly a memorable experience.
Once you’ve ridden one once, you’ll be sure to keep taxying around in them for your whole trip. It’s a fun and cheaper alternative for getting from A to B.
Be sure to negotiate a price for your journey before you get in the tuk tuk. You may even find some tuk tuks with metres on them, similar to taxis.
4. Ride A Local Sri Lankan Bus
A Sri Lanka bucket list involves more than just the pristine, golden coastlines and tropical palm trees, it’s full of adventure, animals and local chaos.
A ride in one of the Sri Lanka buses will allow you experience (as close as it gets) to the life of a local.
The transportation system is not only fun and interesting but it’s super fast and efficient too.
Unlike a few other places we’ve visited in Asia, Sri Lanka buses are always on time and super speedy getting to your destination.
Not to mention the fast paced Sri Lankan music playing on your wondrous journey.
Each bus is uniquely decorated, but all are jazzy, colourful and celebrate some kind of meaning.
5. Visit The Temples
With culture all around you, the temples of Sri Lanka are some of the most popular and interesting places to visit.
With famous temples in each and every destination, get ready to learn Sri Lanka’s history and culture of religion.
There are four main religions in Sri Lanka, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.
70% of Sri Lanka’s population follow Buddhism, so you will see lots of Buddhist temples and decorations around the country.
Not only is it interesting to study their beliefs and way of life, it’s incredible to see all the unique architecture and designs of the temples too.
Not to mention the beautiful churches and mosques in several parts of the county. They really take pride in their places of worship and it shows.
A couple of our favourite temples are Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo and Pathrakali Amman Temple in Trincomalee.
6. Hike Sigiriya Or Pidurangala Rock
A few hours inland on the bus, and the most natural step to take from Colombo, is to head to the centre.
Before arriving in Dambulla, Sigiriya Rock was of course at the top of our radar.
Sigiriya Rock, or Lion Rock as it’s also known, is famous for its palace ruins on top of a massive 200 meter high rock, surrounded by the remains of gardens, reservoirs and other structures.
The rock itself is a lava plug left over from an ancient long extinct volcano. It attracts thousands of tourists to Sigiriya to climb and take in the views from the summit.
It wasn’t until we arrived in the city and started talking to other travellers, that we found out about Pidurangala Rock.
Another large, naturally formed tourist attraction with insane views! Especially of the almighty Sigiriya Rock.
For those on a short schedule, there is also a highly rated Sigiriya and Dambulla Day Trip from Colombo tour.
This tour allows you to visit the historic rock fortress of Sigiriya and explore the large cave temple complex of Dambulla, on a full-day trip from Colombo with a private driver.
If you do have time, we certainly recommend putting this on your Sri Lanka bucket list and spending a day or two in Dambulla, exploring to your heart’s content.
7. Eat Local
The food is one of the largest parts of Sri Lankan culture, so save some space on your Sri Lanka bucket list to get fully immersed into the local delicacies.
The most common Sri Lankan street foods are hoppers, vadai, and kothu. All of which we ate way too much of!
A go-to for us though, was a typical Sri Lankan vegetable curry. Usually served with a mixture of rice, pumpkin or root vegetable curry, popadoms and pol sambol.
When searching for local spots to eat at we usually look for the busiest place. That way you know the food you’re getting is fresh and the Sri Lankans approve of it!
Wherever you choose to eat, be sure to try something local and we promise you’ll leave Sri Lanka fully satisfied.
If you’re looking for a great food tour in Colombo, the most popular seems to be: Eat, Eat, Repeat. A small group tour with a local.
8. Take A Safari
An Udawalawe Safari is near the top of most people’s things to do in Sri Lanka bucket list.
It was one of THE most epic experiences of our travels.
There are a few options available in terms of Sri Lanka safaris. The most popular being: Yala National Park, Minneriya National Park or Udawalawe National Park. After a lot research, we opted for the latter.
Udawalawe is a small town located in the southern part of the Ratnapura District in Sri Lanka.
It’s not only a great habitat for elephants but also, apparently, not as crowded as Yala National Park which is a popular destination for those on the hunt for Sri Lankan leopards.
The most popular destination that tourists choose to visit Udawalawe from is Ella.
We booked onto the Udawalawe National Park: Private Safari Half Day (3 hours).
Cost: £15 per person.
Start time: 6:30am.
However, if you just wish to visit on a day trip safari from other areas of Sri Lanka, there are plenty of options on Get Your Guide such as:
Ella To Udawalawe National Park Wildlife Safari Tour
Colombo To Udawalawa National Park Wildlife Safari Tour
Bentota To Udawalawa National Park Wildlife Safari Tour
Negombo To Udawalawa National Park Wildlife Safari Tour
All of these 1 day tours will all include hotel pickup and drop-off, national park fees and a private Udawalawe jeep safari.
9. Learn To Surf
There are three mains spots tourists learnt to surf in Sri Lanka.
Those three spots are Arugam Bay, Weligama Beach and Hiriketiya Bay.
For beginners, the best option is definitely Weligama Beach.
Located just 15 minutes up the road from Mirissa, this is the place for beginners to get stuck in and master the waves.
The main company we noticed everyone to be using was Freedom Surf School.
They offer both beginner and intermediate lessons for roughly £10 per hour and you can book a Weligama 1-Hour Beginner Learn to Surf Lesson in advance.
So, if you’re a keen to learn, this will be one of the best surf spots in Sri Lanka for you.
There are a few quirky food spots around the area as well so keep your eyes peeled!
For the more seasoned pro’s, Arugam Bay and Hiriketiya are hotspots for riding the larger waves.
10. Hike Ella Rock
Ella is a town high in the mountainous region of Sri Lanka.
The Ella Rock Hike in Sri Lanka is also a well known spot, with breathtaking views and therefore a must for the Sri Lanka bucket list.
Standing at an elevation of 1,041 metres above sea level, Ella Town is located right in the centre of the island, and you can start the Ella Rock hike directly from the main high street.
The not so strenuous walk is around 8km long, taking a couple of hours. The gradient isn’t too steep either. On the way up you pass through unique tea plantations, train tracks and the beautiful Sri Lankan countryside.
There’s the popular 2-Day Tour of 3 Iconic Ella Sites available, which includes Ella Rock, Little Adam’s Peak, and the Nine Arch Bridge.
11. Go Whale Watching
The most popular place to spot whales in Sri Lanka is off the coast of Mirissa.
One thing Mirissa prides itself on is its marine life!
With blue whales, sperm whales and dolphins known to hover around the coastline from November until the end of April, whale watching is certainly one top priorities to add to your things to do in Sri Lanka bucket list.
The very best months are March and April for blue whale sightings. We also recommend heading out as early as possible as the sea is usually calmer in the mornings than the afternoon.
With so many companies to choose from, Island Breeze Mirissa is one of the highest rated in the area.
We recommend checking their availability and booking your Mirissa: Morning Whale Watching Tour in advance as they can get super busy in peak months.
The duration of their trips are 4 hours long, starting at around 6am and ‘’with a strong possibility of spotting whales and dolphins in their natural habitat’’ promised, you shouldn’t be disappointed.
12. Take The Kandy To Ella Train Ride
A must for the bucket list, as a trip to Sri Lanka would not be complete without taking the scenic Kandy to Ella train.
There are 3 trains that depart from Kandy towards Ella everyday.
Times: 3.30am, 8.47am or 11.10am.
We heard that the 8.47am train is the best to catch because naturally, fewer people want to get up early. Plus it’s good to hit the road (well tracks) before the mid morning fog sets in.
If you can get a guaranteed seat then that’s a bonus. Chances are you’ll be fighting everyone on the platform just to get on the train, let alone sit down, so don’t worry too much.
13. Visit Nine Arch Bridge Ella
Visiting the Nine Arch Bridge in Ella is one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka for tourists.
The bridge is one of those iconic images that best represent Sri Lanka, so don’t miss if off the Sri Lanka bucket list, especially if you want that perfect photo.
This destination is the most picturesque spot we visited in the country, and we couldn’t put our cameras down once we were there!
The bridge is located right in the centre of the jungle, where tea is grown and the locals sell their coconuts.
Not only is it a beautiful bridge but a very scenic spot to watch the famous Sri Lankan train pass through too. If you find out the time it should be passing through when you’re there, it’s definitely worth checking out!
For the Nine Arch Bridge there are a couple of tour options with the reputable company Ella Day Tours:
Little Adam’s Peak and Nine Arch Bridge (Half Day Tour )
Ella Rock & 9 Arch Bridge, Little Adams Peak with Transfer (Full Day Tour)
Both tours include hotel pickup and drop off, tuk tuk transport and water bottles.
14. Visit Coconut Tree Hill
Coconut Tree Hill is now probably one of the most recognisable places in Mirissa and another favourite for the Sri Lanka bucket list if you’re after beautiful pics.
It’s basically a large dirt mound that offers a unique viewpoint, located under quite the number of palm trees.
From this mini viewpoint elevated 4m (13ft) above sea level, you can witness the peace and serenity of the ocean that surrounds you as well as the several bays of Mirissa Beach, bouncing in and out of the coastline.
You can chill under the sun, take some iconic photos and enjoy a well deserved coconut at Coconut Tree Hill Mirissa.
Coconut Tree Hill Mirissa has become quite the Instagram spot. It’s no wonder, with its uniquely packed symmetrical palm trees and the beautiful, crashing ocean as the backdrop.
You may have seen Coconut Tree Hill Mirissa in some of the picturesque photos that pop up of Sri Lanka. It’s certainly now one of the top things to do in Mirissa.
15. Swing on the Dalawella Beach Swing
Famous for its rope swing and low bending palm trees, Dalawella Beach is a beautiful strip of sand just down the road from Unawatuna.
It has a few picture perfect spots and with water that’s perfect for swimming. We highly recommend an afternoon stroll along Dalawella Beach as we feel it’s one of the most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka.
The Dalawella Beach Swing in Sri Lanka is an example of how social media has driven local tourism through the roof!
It is located just down the road from the popular tourist town of Unawatuna, just a two hour train ride from Colombo.
In the last couple of years the insta-famous Dalawella Beach swing has become a huge tourist attraction.
It can be found directly in front of the Dream Cabana guesthouse, right on the beachfront.
With photos popping up all over social media, many travellers are adding it to their Sri Lanka bucket list. It’s one not to miss on your trip to this adventure packed island.
16. Swim With Wild Turtles
Turtle Beach is located in Hikkaduwa, a seaside resort town in southwest of Sri Lanka.
The Hikkaduwa turtles can usually be found swimming around directly in front of the Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon Hotel.
The wild Hikkaduwa turtles are super local to this part of the coastline and can be spotted by snorkelling up and down the beaches all year round.
Although there is one point at Turtle Beach in particular where the big boys like to play.
These wild turtles in Hikkaduwa are completely free and they have been known to visit a certain point of the shore to feed on the seaweed and lay their eggs for many years.
There are conservation workers that hang around the rocky area helping tourists gather seaweed to feed the turtles. Also, to make sure nobody is touching or mistreating the animals.
There are many turtle hatcheries around Hikkaduwa and the underwater world is one of the towns main tourism attractions. So you can be sure that the locals take great care of their wildlife.
17. Visit The Stilt Fisherman In Unawatuna
The traditional fisherman have to be on the Sri Lanka bucket list as they are definitely a ‘must see’.
Sitting for hours on nothing but a large stick, with a line and pole, it’s a way for the poorer men in the community to earn a living and it’s a huge part of Sri Lankan culture.
You may visit and chat to the locals just outside of Unawatuna, but please be wary of where you are walking.
Remember they are hard at work and may have been sitting there for hours, waiting patiently for fish so don’t ruin their chances.
If you scooter along the coastline of Unawatuna in the morning they’re pretty hard to miss!
Some have turned the stilt fisherman into a tourist attraction along the coast, charging you to take photos with them.
We don’t advise against this, just make sure that the money is going to the fisherman or give it to them directly.
18. Release Baby Turtles Into The Ocean
Koggala Turtle Hatchery is a sanctuary that works on increasing the rate of survival of baby turtles in Sri Lanka.
Upon entry the local guide will give you a tour of the complex and educate you on the work they are doing there. They talk you through the size, weight and teach you a little bit about the difference species of turtles they look after.
We learned a lot about the turtles and our young guide was extremely informative and enthusiastic about what he does.
After the short tour, you are free to look around the sanctuary, which includes a huge enclosed hatching area where the turtle eggs are protected and monitored from above the sand.
There are newly born hatchlings, just days old, as well as injured and disabled turtles. Some have missing fins that sadly will never return to the wild.
If you enquire at the front desk, they will be able to tell you when they are expecting to do their next release of baby turtles into the ocean.
If you like, you can visit at these times and release your own baby turtle to begin its life in the wild.
19. Visit Galle Lighthouse
Your Sri Lanka bucket list definitely needs to include a trip to the famous Galle Fort.
A historic Dutch landmark that has been transformed into a beautiful European-like town.
If you’re really into Dutch history, it might be worth staying over but we recommend renting a scooter for the day and exploring the fort and old town, all in an afternoon.
Galle Fort is full of trendy, chic shops and beautiful little cafes.
Don’t forget the towering Galle Lighthouse, one of the most photographed buildings in Sri Lanka, it was built by the British just before WWII.
The Lighthouse is a must-capture postcard shot, which you will have to take home and remember Galle Fort by.
There is a also a small bathing spot beside the lighthouse, almost like a natural, safe swimming pool.
For those wishing take visit on a day trip from Colombo, we can recommend the Galle and Bentota Day-Tour From Colombo.
20. Shop Arugam Bay
As far as tourist places go, Arugam Bay has some pretty cool shops, with a surf kind of vibe.
It’s home to some authentic local brands and local bikini tailors. So if you’re looking to get a dress made or replace your bikinis this is your place!
Be sure to check out ‘Maya’ for some awesome unique treats or gifts before you head out.
21. Explore The Sri Lanka Beaches
Sri Lanka is famous for its beaches and rightly so as they are certainly nothing short of tropical paradises.
Each beach or bay has its own completely different atmosphere. From coastlines bustling with surfers, to long stretches of sand perfect for sunbathers. There are even cute private beaches too.
The beautiful Sri Lankan beaches are the perfect place to rejuvenate and recharge completely.
If you are a beach-baby and you are solely visiting Sri Lanka to explore its coastline, then you should add these beaches in Sri Lanka to your list.
Unawatuna for tranquil blue waters.
Mirissa for sunbathing, adventure and whale watching.
Dickwella & Tangalle for a romantic, private getaway.
Hikkaduwa for epic sunsets and turtle beach.
Koggala for flash resorts and rare turtle species.
Galle for picture perfect colonial architecture.
Weligama for surf practice and Instagram heaven.
Arugam Bay for pro surfing and chic shopping.
Trincomalee for stunning temples, pristine white beaches, and snorkel heaven.
Hiriketiya Bay for a bit more surf and chill.
22. Watch A Sri Lankan Cricket Match
If you’re lucky enough to be on the island when a cricket match is in play, we certainly recommend adding it to your Sri Lanka bucket list.
Sri Lanka is well known in the cricket world because they take the sport very seriously. Like England with football and America with NFL.
We were lucky enough to get cheap tickets to a Sri Lanka vs Pakistan match whilst staying in Kandy.
The atmosphere was insane and it made for a great day with the guys from our hostel. We sat on the grass and enjoyed some beers whilst cheering on the island’s national team.
If you have a spare couple of days on your itinerary and you’re into the sport, there’s no better place to attend a cricket match than Sri Lanka.
23. Shop At A Local Fruit Stall
Asia is generally known for its beautifully presented fruit stalls.
Not only is it a place to access freshly picked goods, but also a hit amongst photographers wanting to capture that iconic juicy shot.
No matter what town or city you visit in Sri Lanka, you’ll be sure to find a neatly packed fruit stall with some exotic fruits that you may have never even seen or tried.
Whilst you’re travelling or on vacation, trying the tropical, unusually quirky fruits is a must.
Some of our favourites are, dragonfruit, mangosteen and jackfruit.
24. Explore Trincomalee
Trincomalee is know for it’s incredibly pristine beaches and unique temples. It’s situated in the North East of Sri Lanka.
Broken into 3 nearby towns including Uppuveli and Nilaveli, its crystal beaches and snorkelling are a huge hit amongst visitors and definitely one of the ultimate places to add to your Sri Lanka bucket list.
Uppuveli is great if you’re in search of more of an upbeat atmosphere with people and party opportunities.
Nilaveli, however, is located around 15km (a 20 minute drive) North of Trincomalee town.
Overall we’d side with Nilaveli as our favourite and it’s definitely worth taking the trip out of town for.
Nilaveli beach also backs on to Pigeon Island, which is rated one of the best things to do in Trincomalee too.
Pigeon Island is a National Park and one of the two marine national parks of Sri Lanka.
It’s super famous for its snorkelling and one of the main reasons tourists flock there every year.
Be sure to visit Pathrakali Amman Temple too, as it’s one of Trincomalee’s most iconic temples.
Where To Stay In Sri Lanka
For pre-booking accommodation when travelling, we always recommend Booking.com!
From 5 star hotels, to budget backpacker hostels, it’s got everything and the site is super easy to use.
So to compare deals, and pre-book all of your Sri Lanka accommodation, you can check the latest prices on Booking.com.
More Sri Lanka Blogs
7 Best Things To Do In Mirissa
The Perfect 2 Weeks In Sri Lanka Itinerary
7 Best Things To Do In Arugam Bay
7 Best Things To Do In Unawatuna