2 Weeks in Sri Lanka: The Ultimate Bucket List

Two weeks to check off almost your entire Sri Lanka bucket list? You got it! Sri Lanka is one of the few places where you’ll find so many UNESCO World Heritage sites packed into a seemingly small, but, diverse area.

Make your way from one ancient Buddhist ruin to the next on a whirlwind train ride, spot elephants in the wild while on a safari in Udawalawe National Park, learn about tea production in Kandy and explore coastal towns ranging from colonial gems to a surfers paradise. These are just a few of the adventures on the list.

We’ve curated the ultimate guide on spending two weeks in Sri Lanka. Here are all the places you need to visit.  

Several stilt fishermen are perched in the sea below and orange-hued sky

Silhouettes of the traditional stilt fishermen at the sunset near Galle in Sri Lanka

Explore Sri Lanka

Here’s some speedy information about a Sri Lanka. Along with beaches, surf, tea and incredible food, this country is also renowned for having friendly locals and elephants.

At a glance:
Capital cityColombo
Most popular destinationKandy
Natural attractionTrincomalee
Nightlife destinationColombo

Travel to: Sri Lanka


Start in Negombo

  • Length of visit: Stay at least a day

Kick off your two weeks in Sri Lanka in Negombo. About 10 kilometres away from the Bandaranaike International Airport, Negombo is the perfect launch point to start your adventure.

This modest beach town on the Western coast boasts local fish markets along Negombo lagoon, quaint canals, and of course, Negombo beach. Ease into the local culture by sampling street food like hoppers – a Sri Lankan-style pancake, or prawn treats while admiring the Portuguese and Dutch architecture.

Visit the Dambulla Cave Temple and hike to Sigiriya Rock

  • Length of visit: Two days should allow you to experience all of these sights

Head northeast out of Negombo on a five-hour bus journey inland to Dambulla. At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can explore Sri Lanka’s largest temple cave complex.

Learn more about Sri Lankan spirituality as you make your way past five caves adorned with ancient gilded status and intricate murals depicting Buddha.

Close to Dambulla is Jathika Namal Uyana, the largest chain of rose quartz mountains and ironwood forest in Asia — one of mother nature’s masterpieces. From Dambulla, you can join a tour to Sigiriya Rock, a famed UNESCO World Heritage Site built over 1,600 years ago. This ancient fortress is worth the hike to the top to see the ruins of the larger-than-life lion carved out of rock and for a sweeping view.

Explore the royal ancient city of Polonnaruwa

  • Length of visit: One day should be long enough to justly cover the site

Just under two hours by bus from Dambulla, is Polonnaruwa. It’s one of Sri Lanka’s most ancient kingdoms and is an archaeological haven to explore!

The King had quite the impressive set-up including a pool with crocodile spouts and the royal audience hall, with walls of intricate stone-carved elephants. The collection of 12th-century, massive stone Buddha’s, Gal Vihara, is another must-see monument as is the sacred quadrangle where temples are raised on a walled-platform.

Polonnaruwa ruins in the day with stone embellishments

Polonnaruwa ruins | ⓒ Patty Ho/Flickr

Enjoy tea plantations and temples in Kandy

  • Length of visit: Give yourself two days here

Take a direct 4-hour bus from Poḷonnaruwa to Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second largest city. The city woos travellers with its Sinhalese architecture and its production of some of the finest tea in the world. Unwind upon arrival at a tea factory and learn about the production of Sri Lanka’s most popular drink.

Finish the day with a performance by Kandyan dancers over some fried sambal, a traditional Sri Lankan fish dish. Then, set out early the next day to catch the morning light on the golden Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. It’s home to one of Buddha’s teeth, making it a significant place of worship within the temple complex and the world. You’ll also want to check out the scenic Kandy Lake amidst the staggered hills for sunset.  

Traveller with a basket on his back amongst a grove of tea leaves

Traveller on tour picking tea leaves

This isn’t your typical “banana pancake trail” destination. It’s harder to get around than most countries, but you’ll be rewarded by authenticity and a culture that has rich roots, beautiful traditions, kind people, a gorgeous landscape and great food! If you can make it during July/August, don’t miss the Perahera Festival in Kandy. The parade of elephants through the city is unlike anything I’ve seen — it’s a special and unique experience that showcases their beautiful, ancient traditions. – Katie, The Katie Show Blog

Train to Ella

  • Length of visit: Allocate a day for the train ride and spend another exploring

The train journey to Ella will take up most of your day (roughly seven hours), but it’s an adventure in itself! Initially used for spice and tea trade, the train has remained a local staple. The tea plantations, lakes, and local villages are the epitome of scenic. Views aside, inside the train you’ll be surrounded by local colours buskers and food vendors. It’s an authentic experience through the countryside.

Upon arrival to Ella, stretch out your legs on a climb up to Ella rock, trek Little Adam’s Peak or stay in town and wander the well-laid out streets to Palm Avenue for a photo-op. Finish the day with an Ayurveda massage, a thousand-year-old practice that will help you relax even further. 

A blue train makes its way across a bridge with arches through Sri Lanka's countryside

Nine Arch Bridge in Ella, Sri Lanka | © Dennis Binzen/Flickr

I loved pretty much anything about Sri Lanka but if I have to choose I would have to say the amazing train rides! For just a couple of cents you get to travel on the most beautiful train tracks in the world, leading through green tea fields and foggy mountains, absolutely breathtaking! The one thing I would advice every traveler to Sri Lanka is to try kottu. It’s a famous Sri Lankan dish love made with chopped up roti, vegetables and (depending on your preference) egg, chicken or cheese. Ask for spicy if you are up for it! – Lotte, Phenomenal Globe

Go tea picking in Bandarawela

  • Length of visit: Spend the better portion of a day here, before setting out to your next destination

Another 30 minutes drive on local transport out to Bandarawela, you’ll start to experience a higher altitude. Don’t leave without you’ll exploring the waterfalls found around here. Ravana Falls is among the best, which also hosts a series of caves.

Back inside the busy market town, you’ll notice a considerable array of tea leaves on offer. To get the chance to appreciate the product, go straight to the source at a tea plantation and learn the art of picking your own.

Safari in Udawalawe National Park

  • Length of visit: An afternoon game-drive is plenty of time in the park, but spending a night camping under the stars is also a bucket list 

Another must during your two weeks in Sri Lanka is a safari. After a four-hour bus ride southward you’ll discover 308-square-kilometres of Sri Lanka’s wilderness in Udawalawe National Park. Created as a sanctuary for animals, it is one of the best places on earth to observe elephants roaming in the wild (seriously, there are so many).

You can also have an up-close encounter with peacocks and for those looking for a thrill, keep an eye out for the elusive Sri Lankan leopards.

Herd of elephants walking in a jungle river

Elephants are another one famous attraction in Sri Lanka

Relax in Mirissa

  • Length of visit: Stay a day or two to unwind

Once you’ve happily arrived in the small coastal town of Mirissa, it’s time to relax. At this point you’ve been riddled with great adventures, so now it’s time to get off your feet.

Find a hammock or spot on the long curved beach, try out some whale watching or even surfing. Mingling with the lively crowd of locals and travellers who like to enjoy a punchy drink is also unmissable.

Bike through the rice paddies in Galle

  • Length of visit: A full day here will do the trick

Head a bit further up north to the coast of Galle Fort. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is arguably one of southern Sri Lanka’s greatest gems. Explore on foot the cobbled roads which map out historical colonial-era buildings, restored hotels and lead out to the old trading port.

The allure of Galle is its quirky shops and cool cafés that have attracted a community of artists who are keen to put their stamp on the city. Head outside of the old walls and take a bike ride through local towns, learning their trades and perhaps stopping to sip water from a fresh king coconut retrieved. At days end take in the sunset from the ramparts.

Explore Colombo

  • Length of visit: Spend your final day here

As your two weeks in Sri Lanka come full circle, spend the final stretch of your journey in Colombo. Embark on another scenic train ride up the coast to the city (approximately three hours). Walk off the train ride at Pettah Bazaar. It’s brimming with vendors from whom you can pick up some last minute souvenirs to take home with you.

Head to the waterfront and take in the beach and architecture, old and new. Finally, have one last hurrah at one of the hotels buzzing rooftop bars.

Colombo's city coastline with waves lapping up on the beach and the city scape in the background

Be city beach bum in Colombo | © Pixabay

We loved the stunning scenery, wildlife and beaches of Sri Lanka but our favourite thing was meeting the local people. A ‘must-do’ we’d highly recommend for first time travelers is to stay in homestay accommodation, where you can integrate with a local family. We absolutely loved watching our kids play with their little ones, and felt honoured to be invited to help prepare and share an amazing curry and rice dinner one night in their home. They also took us in their tuk-tuk around some of the must-see sights in the area. An experience we’ll never forget! – Kylie and Mike, Our Overseas Adventures

Phrases and Words

Ayubowan
Hello
Karunakara
Please
Kaama
Food
Apana Sala
Restaurant
Poddak Inna
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