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 staff and hosts at my accommodation then I have wandering the streets.
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 teamed up my favourite things to do in Sri Lanka with incredible places to stay in each.
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!
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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.
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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 get your hike on at 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 mountains. (Sigh.)
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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.
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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.
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What to do: As if all that history and golden beaches wasn’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.
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.
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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