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What to see and do in Sri Lanka - a guide to notable attractions and landmarks

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Culture vultures, nature lovers and beach babies alike will find plenty to relish in diverse Sri Lanka. A melting pot of tropical beaches, ancient landmarks and abundant flora and fauna, this picturesque island is a haven for the explorer in search of untouched natural beauty. Roam its rolling countryside, luxuriate on its pristine beaches, or wander the vibrant streets to discover its fascinating colonial heritage.  

Natalie Lyall-Grant

My Destination local expert on

Sri Lanka

Spot leopards in Yala National Park


Home to the highest concentration of leopard in the world, Yala National Park is the premium location for wildlife spotting in Sri Lanka. Take a safari trip to search for the handsome cats in their wild habitat, where you might also spot elephants, sloths, buffaloes or monkeys roaming the verdant jungle and its salty lagoons.


Drink tea from a tea terrace


Tea lovers are in their element in Sri Lanka. With its hilly central highlands blanketed in lush tea plantations, tour the estates and watch tea pluckers working the fields. Head for a tea terrace to drink in the picturesque scenery and sip on freshly picked tea leaves from the surrounding plantations.


Join the celebrations of the Buddhist Festival of the Tooth


To celebrate the ancient tooth relic from India that has been standing proudly in Kandy since its arrival in the fourth century AD, Esala Perahera – or the festival of the tooth - is a colorful celebration that draws hordes of visitors each year. Watch as the relic is carried through the streets, while fire dancers, Kandyan dancers and whip dancers entertain, and elaborately decorated elephants march in procession.


Climb Sigiriya


Dominating the ancient Citadel of Sigiriya, Lion Rock is the remainder of an eroded volcano that dates back to the fifth century BC. At the summit of this 200-metre tall rock, not only are the views of the surrounding rainforest plains spectacular, but there is also an ancient fortified palace to be explored. As the stunning residence of King Kasyapa between 477-495 BC, this historical landmark is deservedly listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has become an iconic Sri Lanka attraction.


Go whale watching


The southern coast of Sri Lanka has been hailed as one of the best spots in the world for whale watching. The Mirissa coastline in particular has been regarded as the capital of whale watching, having become a playground for Blue Whales, Sperm Whales, and dolphins between the months of December and April. Chat to the local operators in the village to arrange an excursion.


Explore Galle Fort


A rare slice of European colonialism in the tropics, Galle lies on a small peninsula in the south of Sri Lanka. Its 17th century fort flaunts the Dutch colonial architecture of the city, which has been listed as an UNESCO Heritage Site. Overlooking the magnificent southern beaches, this picturesque city flaunts grandeur and oozes history at every turn.


Live like Robinson Crusoe on a tropical beach


Packed full of Crusoe-style beaches, lying on the shores of Sri Lanka’ paradisiacal coastline is an obligation. Mirissa, Uppuveli and Unawatuna are among some of the best, or for the true ‘wild’ experience, head for the untouched eastern and northern beaches, where coconut palms swing overhead, and the occasional elephant or orange-cloaked monk ambles past.


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