Discover the best top things to do and see in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has roughly 1,600km (1,000 miles) of beautiful palm-shaded beaches, and Negombo – conveniently close to the airport – boasts one of the best. Other popular resorts include Beruwela, Bentota, Mount Lavinia Negombo and Hikkaduwa. Meanwhile Unawatuna near Galle claims to be among the top 15 beaches in the world. The beaches of the south are less populated and often more beautiful, but be aware that swimming can be dangerous in many areas.
Sri Lanka’s highest mountain is deeply ingrained in Sri Lankan folklore. Also known as the Sacred Footprint – because of an indentation at the summit said to belong to Adam (of Adam and Eve fame) – Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians all consider it a holy place and a popular pilgrimage site, with 4,800 steps to the top.
The beaches of Bentota might have seen better days, but this is still one of the top places in the country to enjoy diving and snorkelling. Glimpse the country's thriving coral reefs and their myriad multi-hued inhabitants, explore underwater caves and lose yourself among barnacled shipwrecks. Kite-surfing, water-skiing and a host of other water sports are also available here.
Wonder at the extraordinary civilization that ruled from the ancient capital of Anuradhapura thousands of years ago. Its majestic remains testify to an advanced city carefully planned and filled with beautiful palaces, temples and giant stupas.
Sri Lanka’s adventure capital is tucked away amid the ravines of the hill country. It offers an array of activities for adrenaline junkies, including kayaking, mountain biking and rainforest trekking. For a real rush, book yourself onto a beginner level or advanced white-water rafting experience on the wild Kelani River.
Off the northeastern shore of Sri Lanka, this island is surrounded by a limestone reef which harbours 100 species of coral and more than 300 different types of fish. Declared a marine sanctuary in 1963, it’s a prime destination for divers… and pigeons.
Explore Sri Lanka's most popular wildlife-viewing destination, Yala National Park, on the southeastern coast. It is home to the world's highest density of leopards, as well as a wealth of other species – from elephants to birds. Another great place to do a bit of leopard spotting is in the Wilpattu National Park.
This delightful colonial village in the heart of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country is a focus for the tea trade. Inhale the fragrant aromas of Victorian-era tea factories, drink their finest and roam the lush tea plantations that extend for miles around. The Nuwara Eliya hill station is also a popular destination.
In Colombo, root out bargains in the Pettah market, marvel at the blossoms in the Vihara Maha Devi Park between March and early May, and sample the offerings of some of the country's best restaurants. Vel Festival, which takes place during July and August in the capital, is also spectacular.
Visit Kandy, a picturesque town that was the last stronghold of the Kandyan Kings. It is now a cultural sanctuary where age-old customs, arts, crafts, rituals and ways of life are well preserved. Its fabulous UNESCO-listed Temple of the Tooth (also known as Sri Dalada Maligawa) shelters the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. Kandy hosts the annual Esala Perahera, an annual festival featuring parades of glittering elephants, dancers and drummers.
See the huge reclining Buddha at Polonnaruwa, an ancient capital and another UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its remains of royal palaces, temples and stupas. It also has the superb Polonnaruwa museum, one of the country's best.
Shaped like a giant fist, this rugged mountain range in the central south of Sri Lanka experiences much cooler temperatures than the rest of the country, making it perfect for hiking. Don your all-terrain boots and head for the hidden village of Meemure, where the villagers will happily lend beds to visitors for a modest fee.
This orphanage for Asian elephants is one of the most popular tourism attractions in Sri Lanka, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Though there are ample opportunities to feed the beasts and watch them bathe in a nearby river, ultimately they are not wild animals and are handled firmly by the resident mahoots.
Ramble around coastal ramparts, colonial villas and atmospheric streets in the striking Dutch fort of Galle, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Perhaps the most atmospheric of Sri Lankan towns, cobbled streets are lined with colonial villas and hotels. Its literary festival is one of the best in Asia. Galle is also a centre for crafts that include lace making, ebony carving and gem polishing.
Be amazed by Sri Lanka's best-known attraction, UNESCO-listed Sigiriya Rock Fortress. This stunning fifth-century palace-fortress perches atop a towering rock outcrop above the plains in the country's centre. Steps lead up from water gardens below and past murals of heavenly nymphs.
This southern port town would be just another tropical beach resort - were it not for the pod of blue whales recently discovered living just offshore. Now Mirissa is rightly famous as one of the best places in the world to spot the biggest mammal of them all. Whale watchers often see sperm whales, dolphins, flying fish and even orcas too.
Spy on Sri Lanka's abundant wildlife (much of which is found nowhere else on Earth) in this spectacular national park. Birdwatching is superb, and as well as the famous elephants there are also leopards, deer, bears, wild boar, porcupines and monkeys to see.