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Sri Lanka is a country of contrasts: Colonial buildings, modern supermarkets, luxurious beach resorts and peaceful temples. This 10 day Sri Lanka itinerary takes you on a journey of discovery through some of the countries best highlights.
After the horrible bombing in early 2019, tourism was at an all-time low in Sri Lanka. Luckily, things are starting to pick up again. Tourism brings in large amounts of money to the Sri Lankan communities, and it’s so important that we keep supporting them!
10 days in Sri Lanka Itinerary
Day 1 | Colombo
This ten-day trip to Sri Lanka starts in the country’s capital city: Colombo. Make sure to book a transfer from Colombo Airport to your hotel before your holiday. This will save you so much hassle! Alternatively, you can hire a taxi at the airport, but these tend to get pretty expensive.
Colombo is home to 750.000+ inhabitants (as of 2019) and its history of playing an important part in the old east-west trade routes used by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British is still clearly visible. The city is a mixture of colonial buildings, modern shopping malls and ancient temples – sometimes all on the same street. When exploring Colombo during your first day in Sri Lanka, make sure to check out the following places:
- National Museum: Built back in 1879 and funded by the British governor of Sri Lanka at the time, the beautiful building houses Sri Lanka’s largest museum. Inside, you can learn all about Sri Lanka’s rich history.
- Gangaramaya Temple: Holding the relics of Buddha’s hair, this temple in Colombo has probably the biggest Buddha statue collection I’ve ever come across.
- Independence Memorial Hall: When Sri Lanka got its independence back in 1948, this memorial hall was built in celebration.
- Old Dutch Hospital: One of the oldest buildings in Colombo’s Fort Area. This beautifully restored old hospital houses many lovely restaurants and shops. Perfect for lunch.
- Ride in a tuk-tuk: Tuk-tuks are EVERYWHERE in Colombo, so why not ride one? Especially in the heat, it’s a perfect way to get from A to B.
Where to stay in Colombo
Many people stay in Negombo instead of Colombo. Negombo is a lot quieter and closer to the airport compared to Colombo. It’s easy to get into Colombo for a day trip, which is why I’d also recommend staying in Negombo during your first night – Negombo hotels.
Day 2 | Negombo Fish Market
On the second day, we take some time to explore more of Negombo. This city is mainly known for its amazing beaches and resorts, but that’s something we will enjoy later. Negombo is a fishermen’s town, which can be noted by the fishermen’s houses lined up near Negombo Lagoon. Spend some time visiting the Negombo Fish Market, where you can see some of the fishermen at work.
After visiting the Fish Market, it’s time to drive on to our next destination: Anuradhapura. The drive from Negombo to Anuradhapura takes about three hours.
Where to stay in Anuradhapura
During your two night stay in Anuradhapura, I’d recommend staying somewhere in the centre of the town. Hotels like The Lake Forest Hotel ($$$), Aryana Boutique Hotel ($$) or CTC Reception ($) are hotels I’d recommend.
Day 3 | Explore Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura ruled Sri Lanka for over a thousand years. Its ancient ruins now act as a temple ground and a tourist hotspot. Both archaeological and architectural, the ruins are very impressive and can teach us so much about Sri Lanka’s history. Anuradhapura is listed as one of the country’s UNESCO world heritage sites. Keep in mind that some of these temples are still in use today – so please act respectfully! Some points to check out in this ancient city are:
- Ruwanwelisaya: This beautiful white stupa is an important building for many Buddhists around the world. It was built by King Dutugemunu. Inside, two relics of the Buddha are enshrined.
- Jethawanaramaya Stupa: The largest stupa in the whole of Sri Lanka at 122 meters in height.
- Mihintale: A sacred mountain. It is believed that the Buddhist monk Mahinda met King Devanampiyatissa here, which inaugurated Buddism in Sri Lanka.
- Kuttam Pokuna (twin ponds): One of the best-preserved bathing tanks or pools from ancient Sri Lanka.
Day 4 | Climb Sigiriya
One of Sri Lanka’s most iconic and famous sights: Sigiriya Rock (also known as the Lion Rock). The flat landscape that used to be part of the Kassapa Kingdom only makes the massive rock formation more impressive. When Sri Lanka’s capital was located here, a palace stood on the top of the rock. You can now find its ruins after hiking the rock yourself.
Climbing the rock takes around 2-3 hours and includes over 1000 steps. The rock is 200 meters high, so bring your walking shoes. The last bit of the hike is pretty steep, and I wouldn’t recommend climbing it if you have a fear of heights. But the view on the top is absolutely stunning – totally worth the climb!
If you want to see the Sigiriya rock from a distance, you might want to check out the Pidurangala Rock instead! From there, you’ll have a lovely view of Sigiriya.
Where to stay near Sigiriya
One night will be spent in Sigiriya, before moving on with this trip through Sri Lanka. Eighth Wonder Resort ($$$), il Frangipane ($$) or The Cattleya Guest House ($).
Day 5 | Dambulla Cave Temple
On the fifth day, you have the choice to visit another ancient city named Polonnaruwa. It’s not far from Sigiriya but it’s very similar to Anuradhapura. You can choose to rent a bike for the morning and explore the city, or drive on to the next stop: Dambulla Cave Temple.
The Golden Temple of Dambulla (also known as the Cave Temple) is another one of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO world heritage sites. It has acted as a famous pilgrimage site for over 22 centuries and is the best-preserved cave-temple in the whole of Sri Lanka. With 157 statues and Buddist murals that cover over 2100 square meters, this temple is absolutely stunning. It feels like you’re in another world. Make sure to buy a ticket before hiking up the mountain, as you will be refused entry without it! And believe me, you don’t want to hike up that mountain twice… After visiting Dambulla’s temple, we drive on to Kandy.
Where to stay in Kandy
You will stay in Kandy for two nights. Because Kandy is located in the middle of the mountains, a hotel with a beautiful mountain view is easy to find! Some hotels that would be a good pick include The Radh Hotel ($$$), Kings Pavilion Luxury Hotel ($$) or Mountain View Residency ($).
Day 6 | Kandy
The second-largest city in central Sri Lanka is next on the list. Kandy is a big and lively city surrounded by mountains, giving it an entirely different vibe compared to Colombo. Filled with culture and temples, Kandy has a lot of sights to pick from. f you only have one day, I’d recommend visiting the following:
- Temple of the Tooth: Kandy’s main attraction is this sacred Buddist temple that houses a special relic: the tooth of Buddha. Because it’s located near the former Royal Palace and Lake Kandy, it’s very easy to get to. For opening times, please check their website.
- Royal Botanical Gardens: Kandy’s royal botanical garden covers over 60 hectares with the most beautiful plants and flowers. The gardens are absolutely stunning – an absolute must-visit when in Kandy!
- Sri Lankan Dance Performance: Book a ticket for the dance performance at Kandy Lake Club. Here you can experience a real Sri Lankan performance, including traditional dances and firewalking!
Day 7 | Tea Plantation and scenic train ride
In the morning of the seventh day in Sri Lanka, we drive to Nuwara Eliya where we visit a tea plantation. Sri Lanka is big on tea and known for it’s special Ceylon Tea. The country used to be called Ceylon, which is why the tea still proudly wears that name. Tea takes up 2% of the GDP! Nuwara Eliya is located in the middle of the tea hills of Sri Lanka. While visiting one of the tea factories, you can learn all about the process of making the teas, the different flavours and what the difference between black, green and white tea is. After the tour, we got to try some of the teas and put our new knowledge to the test.
In the afternoon, we planned a scenic train journey through the highlands of Sri Lanka. Most people take this journey from Kandy to Ella. For this trip, we decided to take the trip from Nanu-oya to Bandarawela. This is because the train trip from Kandy to Ella takes about 6-7 hours. Because we only have 10 days in Sri Lanka, we wanted to visit the tea factory too. The train ride from Nanu-oya to Bandarawela only takes 2-3 hours, which gave us enough time to visit the factory and plantation in the morning.
Where to stay in Bandarawela
You will spend one night in Bandarawela. Bandarawela is located up in the mountains of Sri Lanka, and you can definitely feel the temperature difference. Make sure to pack some sweaters too! It’s a little town, but still has a good choice of hotels including 9 Arch ($$$), Ovitiyas Bandarawela ($$) and Himagira Hotel ($).
Day 8 | Yala National Park
Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s biggest and most popular safari park. Home to 44 different species of mammals and 200+ bird species, this park really supports Sri Lanka’s wildlife. There are more than 300 elephants to spot and if you’re lucky, you might even be able to see a leopard!
The park is divided into 5 zones. Tourists and other visitors are only allowed in zone one and five. The other zones are closed to the public, so animals can live peacefully in their natural habitat without being disturbed by safari jeeps. It’s something I find super important. Making sure you visit places that don’t harm animals but actually help them. You wouldn’t want to support businesses that profit of animals and harm them while doing so.
Where to stay near Yala National Park
Stay the night in the nearby village of Tissamaharama. It has a good variety of hotels and is located close to Yala National Park. Some of the best options include The Rain Tree Hotel ($$$), Kethaka Aga ($$) and Avonil Resort Yala ($).
Day 9 | Galle
On the south-west coast of Sri Lanka, you can find Galle. In this old city, you can really feel the influence of the colonialism Sri Lanka has seen. Galle is mainly known for Galle’s Fort, a fortified old city built by the Portugues in the 16th Century. The Dutch took over shortly after and continued to expand Galle. It’s listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Being Dutch myself, seeing the Dutch names and Dutch influences was pretty crazy. So far from home. I could only imagine what those settlers must have felt like seeing sights like this after months on boats. Especially since there was no internet and no photographs. It also left me feeling a bit torn. Colonialism definitely wasn’t something that Sri Lanka benefitted from, and it’s insane to think that the country only has been independent for 70-odd years… But I believe it’s good to be aware of history, so we can all work to prevent things like that happening in the future.
After Galle, we start making our way back to Negombo. Make sure to stop near Weligama to spot some of the famous Sri Lankan fishermen sitting on sticks. They don’t fish like that anymore, unfortunately, and are many there to please tourists – but it’s a pretty sight!
After visiting Galle, make your way back to Negombo. It’s quite a long drive, but this gives you an entire day at the beach for your day in Sri Lanka.
Day 10 | Beach day in Negombo
Back in Negombo, you can use your last day in Sri Lanka to relax at the beach or at your hotel’s pool. There are options to book day trips in Negombo if you’re not really in the mood for a pool day – but after 10 days of exploring Sri Lanka, I know it was exactly what I needed!
Tourist traps in Sri Lanka
Even though I absolutely adored my time in Sri Lanka and the people were some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, there are a few touristy traps that I’d like you to be aware of.
I’m yet to come across a similar tourist experience that is animal-friendly. DO NOT SUPPORT ELEPHANT RIDES! It is not ethical, the animals aren’t treated fairly and it’s all just a big moneymaker scheme. Please, please, please, avoid at all cost. Don’t fund these terrible businesses.
During my time in Sri Lanka, I noticed that many taxi drivers and tour guides add an additional stop to your trip: a spice garden. Filled with beautiful spices and plants. At first, I thought “oh, this is cool! I’d love to learn more about spices in Sri Lanka”. But they quickly turned into sales pitches. They say it’s a free tour (but tips are appreciated), but immediately recommend tons of cremes, pills and natural medicine with a high price tag. When we decided not to buy anything, we were rudely told to leave. It’s one of the few things that made me feel very uncomfortable during my time in Sri Lanka. We were “guided” to similar spice gardens a few more times, but we told the driver we wanted to skip.
Gem museum in Kandy
Similar to the spice gardens, the gem museum felt like a big sales pitch. The museum itself was lovely and I learned a lot about the gems that are found in Sri Lanka. But at the end of the tour, we ended up in a very pricey jewellery shop. And I fully understand that people in Sri Lanka need to make their money and that tourists contribute a lot to that – but not everybody can afford expensive sapphire rings! When we politely declined to buy anything, the guide made a complete 180 and didn’t even say goodbye. It left me with a very unsettling feeling, unfortunately. I would’ve loved to support the museum, but I simply cannot afford a $1000 stone.
Sri Lanka Travel Tips/Essentials
A few things to keep in mind before visiting Sri Lanka.
- Do I need vaccinations? Yes, you need Hep A, Hep B, Typhoid and Japanese encephalitis vaccinations.
- Do I need a visa? Depending on your nationality, you might need a visa. From August 1st 2019, British citizens can visit Sri Lanka for 30 days with a visa they can get upon arrival.
- What language do people speak in Sri Lanka? The main languages in Sri Lanka are Sinhala and Tamil. Many people also speak English, though.
- What currency do I use in Sri Lanka? Sri Lankan Rupee (100 rupees equals about £0.50)