As travellers that have explored these parts will tell you, the many highlights and hidden gems of Sri Lanka make it a destination that stays with you long after you leave.

Known affectionately as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, this South Asian island is a wonderful tapestry of culture, history and natural splendours. From the vibrant UNESCO-listed city of Kandy to the beautiful beaches that adorn the island’s coastline – a visit to this spiritual mecca is like nourishment for the soul.

Shrouded in mystery, uncover the mist-kissed tea plantations of Sri Lanka’s green centre and search for Buddhist statues in the country’s ancient cave temples.

With so many immersive experiences to enjoy, enhance your tailor-made trip to Sri Lanka with a combination of unmissable and under-the-radar experiences.

“I would go back in a heartbeat! Sri Lanka boats a fascinating historical heritage, beautiful landscapes with misty mountains, a huge diversity of wildlife and delicious food packed with fragrant spices.”   – Nick, Travel Specialist


'Must do' experiences in Sri Lanka, as chosen by our travel experts.

1. Visit Dambulla Cave Temple

Make the pilgrimage to Dambulla Cave Temple and enter the spiritual heart of Sri Lanka.

As the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in the country, it’s made up of five separate caves and contains 157 golden buddha statues and mural paintings. Walking through its shadowy passages to uncover over 2,000 years of history is awe-inspiring, making this an absolute 'must do' experience for visitors. 

As a sacred site, you'll need to wear modest clothes to enter the temples, which means no shorts and no bear shoulders for women. Come prepared for a bit of a climb too, as you'll need to walk up 365 steps before you reach the entrance to the cave complex, which should take approximately ten minutes (unless you stop for a quick breather!).

A good amount of time to spend here would be around 1-2 hours, depending on how many photos you plan to take at the top. While you may think that this doesn't seem like enough time to see all five caves, in fact, you'll find the caves are relatively small rock overhangs, and therefore, won't take you a long time to explore.

Consider making the climb either in the morning or in the evening to avoid the heat of the midday sun, and to enjoy spectacular sunsets towards the end of the day. 

2. Learn about tea production in Hatton

Dubbed ‘the tea capital of the world’, Hatton is a famous tea plantation town located in the central highlands of Sri Lanka.

Discover its uniform rows of lush green tea bushes – the majority of which are grown 4000 ft above sea level in the region’s mountains, which provide the perfect climate for these plants. Cool and often showery, its advisable to pack something waterproof if you intend to explore this part of the island.

Visit a tea factory to learn all about how Britain’s beloved brew is produced, from growing the plants to the art of picking the tea leaves. Embark on a guided tour through the neat rows of well-groomed bushes, where you might even see the tea pickers at work.

Beyond the tea-related activities, Hatton is also a fantastic place to go hiking! Immerse yourself in the region's emerald landscape with a trek to one of its many waterfalls, the most well-known being Laxapana Falls. Or walk around Castlereagh Reservoir, taking in the area's undulating hills, alpine forest and crystal-clear waters.

3. Attend a Buddhist festival

Head to the major city of Kandy, located in the Central Province, to attend the Esala Perahera – one of the oldest religious festivals in the world.

The Esala Perahera runs over ten nights in July or August every year, and is considered to be one of the most iconic and grandest Buddhist celebrations in the country. 

Alongside thousands of spectators, watch this dazzling display of dancers, firebreathers, musicians and elephants covered in the colourful silks, as they parade through the streets to honour the Sacred Tooth of Buddha.

Buddhist festivals are a key part of the rich cultural tapestry of Sri Lanka, and planning your visit to coincide with one of them is a fantastic way to get a feel for the spiritual heritage and character of the country. 

Other notable Buddhist festivals include Vesak Poya, which takes place on the May full moon and celebrates the three milestone of Buddha's life — his birth, enlightenment, and death — with residents offering up colourful lanterns to mark the occasion.

4. Climb Sigiriya Rock Fortress

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sigiriya is an ancient fortress balanced on the top of a 200-metre rock just outside Dambulla.

It's essentially what remains of the citadel built by the parricidal King Kassapa I in the 5th century. It was repurposed as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century, and today remains one of Sri Lanka’s most impressive architectural and historical sites.

The fortress sits on a granite peak — otherwise known as 'Lion's Rock' — which presides over the surrounding jungle. One of its most identifiable features is, of course, the gigantic paws that flank either side of the staircase at Lion's Gate, about half way up the rock.

Climb the whole 1,200 steps to wander around the foundations of the fortress (which is all that's left at the top), and to savour spectacular views over the gardens below and the jungle beyond. 

On your way down, pass through the Sigiriya Museum to see a computer-generated video of what the top of the fortress would have looked like in its former glory!

5. Spot leopards & sloth bears

Embark on a jeep safari adventure through Wilpattu National Park in search of illusive leopards and reclusive sloth bears. 

The 131, 500-hectare park is the largest national park in the country and is the best place in the world to see leopards in the wild! Set off either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, as these are the best times of day to settle in for some sightings. 

During your safari, drive past the park’s many natural lakes and ancient ruins in search of Sri Lanka’s most sought-after native species. Spot other incredible wildlife along the way, including elephants, wild board, spotted deer, water buffalo and sambar deer, as well as many species of birds. 

For those looking for a peaceful and authentic wildlife encounter, Wilpattu is preferable over other popular parks in Sri Lanka, such as Yala National Park, which is much more frequented by safari jeeps. 

6. Go whale watching in Mirissa

Head to Sri Lanka's southern coast to the small coastal town of Mirissa — one of the best places in the world to see blue whales!

The best time to visit would be anytime between November and April (and especially February and March), when these majestic marine mammals migrate from the cold Antarctic to the warm Indian Ocean. And it's not just Blue Whales you'll find in these waters; other commonly-seen species include humpbacks, sperm whales, orcas and dolphins.

Which cruise operator you choose is also important, as some are more dedicated to animal welfare and marine ecology than others. Choosing one that adheres to proper distancing regulations helps protects the whales from feeling distressed in their natural environment.

After your whale-watching cruise, why not enjoy a spot of sunbathing around Mirissa? Fringed by tropical sandy beaches and azure waters, it's a great place to linger and take in a colourful Sri Lankan sunset.

Or, if you're looking for the perfect holiday snap for your Instagram, follow the 2.6km trail to the top of Coconut Hill: a well-known spot, consisting of a dome-shaped hill, which is dotted with evenly-dispersed palm trees.

Hidden Gems

Under-the-radar experiences that are sure to enhance your adventure.

7. Indulge on a street food tour in Colombo

Taste the bold flavours of South East Asia on a street food tour in the capital city of Colombo.

Head to the Sivan Hindu temple in the early evening, where you'll meet your expert tour guide, before making your way to Hulftsdorp Street to sample some of the best street food in Sri Lanka! 

Smell the smoke rising up from the chargrills of vendors as you move through this bustling part of town, indulging in fragrant curries of chicken liver and cuttlefish, with a pillowy naan bread on the side. Tuck into a hearty bowl of beef bones with barley stew, then satisfy your sweet tooth with coconut pancakes or the traditional Sri Lankan dessert, kavum: a deep fried ball of rice flour dipped in kithul treacle.

Along the way, you'll also learn more about Sri Lanka's capital city and some of its most important sites. Driving along Main Street, marvel at the Red Mosque and find out more about the building's striking colours. You'll also pay a visit to the Dutch Hospital, where you'll find the prison cell of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, and hear the story of how the country's 2,358-year-old monarchy ended right in this very spot!

Round off your street food tour at the Grand Oriental Hotel, sipping gin and tonics and nibbling on a cheese platter, with views of Old Colombo and the harbour at night as your backdrop. 

8. Enjoy a jungle cooking experience at Gal Oya Lodge

For the ultimate nature-lovers escape, stay at Gal Oya Lodge and enjoy their immersive jungle cooking experience. 

Nestled in 20 acres of private forest in Sri Lanka's Gal Oya National Park, the lodge is made up of a collection of eight eco-bungalows and one villa, each designed to make you feel at one with the park's lush surroundings. 

The lodge offers the unique opportunity to join their chef in the outdoor jungle kitchen, where you'll be introduced to traditional Sri Lankan cookery. Start by foraging for key ingredients in the jungle, before enjoying a demonstration on how to prepare some delicious local dishes, such as river fish curry, thalapa (a traditional Sri Lankan dessert), spiced yams and forest salads. 

This hidden gem experience is the perfect way to take a taste of Sri Lanka home with you!

9. Cycle the backroads of Anuradhapura

Breeze through the backroads of Anuradhapura on a scenic bike ride and visit all the top sights and hidden gems in the ancient city.

As the former capital of Sri Lanka for more than 1000 years, Anuradhapura is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains a portal into the history of one of the greatest civilisations in Asia.

Go off the beaten track on this cycling adventure, following a resident guide, who will take you through the Inner City to see a side of Anuradhapura that travellers rarely get to see — and definitely away from the crowds!

Visit the three temples of Mirisaveti, Jetasvana and Ruvanweli — otherwise known as the 'star tracing stupas of Sri Lanka' — which perfectly align with the constellation of Orion's Belt, and are said to create heaven-earth duplication.

Pedal to the largest Buddhist monument in the world, Abayagiri Dagoba, and marvel at its towering terracotta dome. Stop at the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Mahamewna Gardens — a sacred fig tree and the oldest human-planted tree in the world — where it is said that the Buddha first achieved enlightenment.

Along the way, cycle past scenic landscapes of lush rice fields and tranquil ponds on this illuminating adventure that combines religious history with outstanding natural beauty. 

10. Walk around Galle Fort with a local expert

Explore the UNESCO Galle Fort on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka — an enclosed living heritage city and a portal into the country's Portuguese and Dutch-colonial past.

First erected in the 16th century by the Portuguese, its was extensively fortified from the mid-17th century onwards by the Dutch, and is now occupied by no more than 1000 residents.

Discover everything there is to know about this enchanting city on a guided walk, led by a 5th generation resident, who will take you through its labyrinth of alleyways and buildings. Learn about the places of worship, the clocktower and the lighthouse, as well as the lifestyles and livelihoods of those living inside the Dutch fort today.

As you meander, gain unique insight into Galle Fort, as your host explains regional myths and stories that only a resident would know! Plus, shop the charming boutiques that now occupy many of the city's historical buildings and stop for a coffee in a local café.

Plan your bespoke Sri Lanka adventure

Ready to experience some of these highlights and hidden gems?

Our Travel Specialists have been to this enchanting part of the world, so can help you plan the ultimate tailor-made adventure in Sri Lanka.

Whether you want to climb to the top of Sigiriya Rock Fortress or enjoy a street food tour in Colombo, we’ll make sure you do it in a way that's perfect for you.

Speak to our dedicated Travel Specialists to find out more or browse our full portfolio of tailor-made tours, luxury hotels and extraordinary experiences in Sri Lanka.

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