One of the things I love about Sri Lanka is the range of boutique villas, homely guesthouses and independent hotels that make your stay in Sri Lanka as wonderful as the sights you go to see there. During my 2 trips to this country I’ve often learned more about the culture, history and cuisine of Sri Lanka from the hosts at my accommodation then I have from the tourists sites and museums.
That being said, Sri Lanka has such a vast array of incredible experiences to offer – from UNESCO heritage sites, to elephant safaris and endless beaches – so I thought it might be helpful if I paired all my favourite things to do in Sri Lanka with incredible places to stay in each area.
Where to stay in Sri Lanka
Here are my top recommendations in a nutshell.
- Top pick – stunning estate in the Tea Country: Thotalagala
- Best for heritage in Galle: Galle Fort Hotel
- Best for elephant safaris: Cinnamon Lodge Habarana
- Best for beachfront bliss in Tangalle: Buckingham Place
- Best for exploring Colombo: The Kingsbury
- Best for home-cooked food in Kandy: Green View Boutique
Where to go in Sri Lanka
What to do: Most visitors will find themselves in Colombo for at least a night at the start or end of their trip. Personally, I find there is not much to do here, in comparison to what you’ll get up to elsewhere in Sri Lanka, but I enjoyed sampling the local snacks and watching the sunset at Galle Face Green.
I’d also recommend visiting Gangaramaya Temple, a Buddhist Temple built in the 1800’s filled with curious items gifted by patrons.
Where To Stay: On my first visit to Colombo I stayed at The Kingsbury, an elegant 5-star property right next to Galle Face Green with a rooftop bar overlooking the Indian Ocean that’s just perfect for sundowners.
If you’ve got a very early or late flight I recommend getting a room at the Gateway Hotel Airport Garden By Taj, which is where I spent a long layover last week. Ask for a room in the new suite and book yourself in to the spa to sort out any pre/post flight kinks!
What to do: Kandy is on most visitors Sri Lanka itinerary due to the culturally significant Temple Of The Tooth. It’s also a great base from which to explore the surrounding hill country; visiting tea plantations, museums and botanic gardens.
Where to stay: Kandy has a great array of homely guesthouses nestled in the hills surrounding its lake. There is not much in the way of restaurants in the city so it’s wise to pick a place to stay that has a highly recommended kitchen or cook on hand. For a warm welcome and fantastic food check out Green View Boutique.
For a modern villa with fantastic views I also recommend Sky Pavillion and for a luxurious Sri Lankan owned property with onsite spa and sprawling breakfast buffet check out Cinnamon Citadel Kandy.
Ella & Haputale
What to do: Don’t miss the opportunity to experience one of the most incredible train rides in the world from Kandy through the Hill Country. Head to Haputale to explore tea estates, like Dambatenne built in 1890 by Sir Thomas Lipton. Visit Ella to hike to the popular Little Adam’s Peak and slightly more challenging climb at Ella Rock.
Where to stay: Ella is a tiny town with a handful of cute restaurants and bars catering to tourists. We stayed at the cheap and cheerful Ella Rock House, as all the Ella restaurants and hikes are within easy walking distance.
On my next trip to Sri Lanka (I’m sure there will be a third!) I’m dying to stay on a tea plantation on one of the many old plantation houses that are now boutique hotels. Thotalagala is a stylishly restored planters bungalow with just 7 elegant suites that look over the surrounding plantations including the Lipton Estate next door. I can just imagine sipping locally produced tea from delicate china while watching the sun come up over the fields. (Sigh.)
What to do: Built by the Dutch in the 1600s, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Galle Fort is an unexpected taste of old Europe on the southern tip of Sri Lanka. People come to Galle to walk the old fort walls, admire the historic architecture and stumble upon arty boutiques and courtyard cafes along the way.
Where to stay: Get a delicious taste of Galle’s history by staying at the Galle Fort Hotel, a renovated 17th century merchant’s house that is now a 5-star boutique hotel renown for its antiques and Sri Lankan hospitality.
What to do: There are a wealth of beach resorts to choose from in Sri Lanka. Tangalle has some of the most unspoilt beaches I’ve seen in Sri Lanka but personally it was a little too quiet for me.*
Mirissa is popular for its chilled vibes and whale-watching tours. My favourite beach town though is Unawatuna, which is by no means a party town but has a decent array of restaurants, yoga classes and the odd beachfront party too.
*(Edit: This comment was based on my experience in 2014 but I hear there’s been quite a bit of development in this area now and there are more restaurants and boutique hotels dotted along the golden beaches – like Buckingham Place which looks divine!)
Where to stay: Close to the beach, yoga classes and with its own awesome on-site cafe my pick for a purse-friendly stay is the Sunil Garden Guesthouse (now bizarrely named City Ideal Hotel).
A big hit in the area for sunset cocktails and food is Wijaya Beach – they have a few beachfront rooms for hire too.
What to do: If all that history and golden beaches weren’t impressive enough, you can also have an incredible safari experience in Sri Lanka too.
Yala National Park is known for its leopard population and while you might not always spot these elusive big cats (although I did – yay!) you are guaranteed to see a vast number of elephants, peacocks, monkeys, deer and rare birds.
Where to stay: Be the first to enter the park and last to leave by camping just outside the national park. (It’s not permitted – or safe, I’d imagine – to camp inside.) If you like a bit of luxury than I’d recommend Leopard Safaris – a glamping experience providing en-suite tents, hot showers and delicious dinners served under the stars.
Read about my glamping experience with Leopard Safaris
Sigiriya & The Cultural Triangle
What to do: Arguably Sri Lanka’s most impressive World Heritage Site, Sigiriya (known as the Lion Rock), is an ancient palace perched on the summit of an intimidating steep rock. Visitors are welcome to climb Sigiriya (at their own pace) to see up close the frescoes, giant lion’s paw staircase and water gardens that were built for King Kassapa in 477 – 495 AD.
While in the North Central Province, also known as the Cultural Triangle, take time to visit Anuradhapura, a sprawling heritage-listed complex filled with ancient dagobas, archaeological wonders and the sacred bodhi tree – the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world.
Sacred sites & safaris: Exploring the North Central Province Of Sri Lanka
Where to stay: Within convenient driving distances of all these sacred sites is the gorgeous Cinnamon Lodge Habarana. This is where I spent most of my time on my last trip and I loved the elegant decor, incredibly substantive buffets (with dessert room – I kid you not) and starring appearances from cheeky local wildlife including monkeys and sugar-stealing squirrels.
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Highlights from a 2 week tour of Sri Lanka
Tips for visiting Sigiriya: The Lion Rock in Central Sri Lanka
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24 thoughts on “What To Do & Where To Stay In Sri Lanka”
This is so helpful! I’ve heard so many good things about Sri Lanka lately that I just need to check it out. That elephant safari sounds amazing!
You will see so many elephants in central Sri Lanka. Twice we had to stop as a family casually crossed the road in front of us!
Such a great guide! I’m hoping to visit Sri Lanka soon so this will come in super handy. Looks absolutely beautiful 🙂
Loved this post! I liked the way that you included all the best things to do along with beautiful places to stay in a really quick and easy to digest way. Despite being in India for so long I still haven’t made it to Sri Lanka and I really don’t know why – it looks gorgeous! I’ll definitely go there for my next visa run I think as this post gives me lots of inspiration to go. Stunning photos too! 🙂
Oh thank you – was hoping it would be useful to people as I remember being a bit overwhelmed by all the places to see on my first trip. You should totally make the short hop over, I think you’ll find it very inviting 🙂
Ready good ideas on what to do and where to stay, we only have 5 days and what to do and see as much as possible, thanks
I am going in less than two weeks! Planning on seeing several places you mentioned. Can’t wait!
Argh so exciting! Enjoy!!
Great guide! This makes me want to pack my bag and go to Sri Lanka a.s.a.p!
I know exactly what you mean!!
Thanks for the post. We are planning to visit Sri Lanka this December, would be great if you suggest whether it would be good if we choose to stay at Trincomalee, Halka wadi and Mirissa. Also some good places to visit from there. We are planning to have a 5 days stay. Thanks in advance!
Hi Bipasha, I don’t have any experience of these places at the moment but I have added your comment in case some readers can help. Enjoy your trip!
Hi, Thanks for an amazing writeup! We are visiting Sri lanka for a week starting this Sunday (Apr 22) thought I’m quite confused about planning my tour within Sri lanka. We are travelling as family (2 Adults, 1 child aged 7 years). Please suggest if hiring an taxi for complete stay make sense?
Hi Dhananjay, I think it depends how many places you plan to visit. If you are moving around quite a lot it might make sense to keep the same driver with you (most accommodation have rooms where the drivers sleep). But if you will be spending a few nights in each place you can just hire a different taxi driver from each hotel/guest house as you go along. This is what we did and it was easier as our plans were more flexible. Hope that helps.
Hi love this blog. Some great insight. We are planning a 3 week tour of Sri Lanka next year as a family of five with three daughters. If you could give me a suggested itinerary of cities and towns to visit, finishing with the beach, I’d be so grateful!
Congratulations! Got to know that your are expecting your first baby in December. Hope you are doing fine.
I just love your blogs. Really good tips.
I am from Bangladesh.
Could you please help me with a few things. I am traveling to Maldives in September end. Just added Sri Lanka as a second country to visit. Lots of things to see there but I have only 4 nights to stay on my way to and back from Maldives. Actually its a leisure trip. Please suggest a few places to visit. Though my husband is not much of an adventurous person. Would be sipping cocktails and hanging around the beach.
Please suggest a few good beach shacks as well if you remember!
Hi Anindita, sounds like you have a great trip planned to 2 of my favourite places in the world! If you have just 4 days in Sri Lanka then I would recommend relaxing in Negombo (close to airport) or Bentota where you can do a daytrip to Galle if you would like to see the old architecture. I haven’t been to these places personally (yet) but I know Cinnamon Hotels are very reliable with great food and excursions and they have properties in these areas. Have a wonderful time, Jayne
You should definitely visit the Balapitiya beach which is a Serene stretch of shoreline with fine sand and plenty of food and accommodation options. I recently visited Kumu Beach which is a beautiful contemporary beach hotel in Balapitiya and is a truly amazing place to unwind and relax. You can check them out here if your interested https://www.teardrop-hotels.com/kumu-beach/
First I would like to Thank you for showing my country and blog is most helpful for people make their trip much better.. wish you all the best
Chamara From Sri Lanka
What a great introduction – thank you! We are going in july, with two teenagers. Some people claim the east coast is better than the west/south during summer – as to beaches, weather (and snorkelling). Do you agree? If we were to stay south-west, Hikkaduwa sounds perfect for us. But would it be better to stay on the east coast in July, and if so: where?
Hi Tom, I haven’t been to Sri Lanka in July so can’t say for sure. Have a great trip!