Delectable cuisine? Check. Pristine, powdery white-sand beaches? Yep. Elephant-filled national parks and thousand-year-old Buddhist monuments? You bet. Sri Lanka has everything you could ever want in a tropical Asian getaway destination — and yet, it still manages to fly (somewhat) under the radar, often overlooked in favour of neighbouring India or Southeast Asia’s heavy-hitting destinations.
Even if you only have one week to spare, this budget-friendly island nation will dazzle you with its ever-changing landscapes and staggering biodiversity. Covering some of the country’s can’t-miss highlights, read on for a seven-day Sri Lanka itinerary that offers a taste of its compelling cities, mountainous interior, and alluring coastline.
Travel to: Sri Lanka
While many travel advisories to Sri Lanka have been lifted or downgraded, it’s always recommended to check your government’s travel advisory information for the most up-to-date advice.
Getting around in Sri Lanka
Whether travelling by bus, train, or tuk tuk, public transport is the cheapest way to travel in Sri Lanka — but it’s also the slowest. While the country’s infrastructure is constantly improving and a range of transport options is readily available, getting around Sri Lanka will likely feel a little trying at times. If you have limited time here, you may want to consider hiring a car and driver or joining a Sri Lanka tour to make the most of your precious time in the country.
Day 1: Colombo
Home to the country’s largest international airport, Colombo is Sri Lanka’s primary gateway and the perfect place to take a quick breather and recuperate after a long flight. If you’re keen to do a bit of sightseeing before moving onto the country’s stunning hill country region, visit the National Museum of Colombo, Viharamahadevi Park, and the Old City Hall for an introduction to the city’s top sights.
Top things to do in Colombo:
- Walk along the promenade at Galle Face Green
- Admire the city’s impressive colonial-style buildings, including the Old City Hall and Dutch Period Museum
- Escape the hustle and bustle at Viharamahadevi Park
- Indulge in fresh seafood at the legendary Ministry of Crab
Days 2 & 3: Kandy
Kandy, a picturesque city situated in Sri Lanka’s heartland, is a must-visit destination for its spectacular natural beauty and historic and religious significance. The main attraction here is the Temple of the Tooth Relic, one of Sri Lanka’s holiest shrines, and one of the most sacred places of worship in the Buddhist world. The temple itself is housed in the Royal Palace complex, which encompasses a series of smaller shrines, museums, and temples.
After you’ve had your fill of temples, take a leisurely stroll around Kandy Lake or hop on a bus and head to the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens, home to a collection of cannonball trees, orchids, a spice garden, and a range of wildlife — including monkeys, water monitors, and several species of birds.
Top things to do in Kandy:
- Take a day trip to the ancient city of Sigiriya and Dambulla’s famed rock cave temple
- Watch a Kandyan dance performance at the Kandy Lake Club
- Go hiking through Udawattakele Forest Reserve
- Visit the Botanic Gardens
- Stroll around Kandy Lake
Days 4 & 5: Ella
The train journey from Kandy to Ella is a highlight in its own right; not only is it hailed as one of the most scenic train rides in the world, but it’s also one of the absolute best things to do in Sri Lanka. Winding through lush jungle-clad hills, verdant tea plantations, and colourful towns, the landscapes you’ll pass along the way are beyond stunning (just be sure to snag a seat on the right side of the train for the best views).
When you make it to Ella — a misty mountain town nestled amongst the country’s idyllic Central Highlands — even more spellbinding scenery awaits. Despite its small size, there’s no shortage of incredible things to see and do in this laid-back hill country oasis: hike to the summit of Little Adam’s Peak or Ella Rock, swim in cascading waterfalls, walk through tea plantations, or simply admire the unbelievable views from one of Ella’s mountainside guest houses.
Top things to do in Ella:
- Climb up Little Adam’s peak
- Take a cooking class at Ella Spice Garden
- Hike to the top of Ella Rock
- Walk along the rails on Ella’s famous Nine Arch Bridge
- Visit Ravana Falls (located just outside Ella)
- Join a tea plantation tour
Tip: The best way to break up the 4.5-hour drive between Ella and Galle is to stop at Udawalawe National Park on the way. This is, quite possibly, the best place in Sri Lanka to see elephants in their natural habitat, along with sloth bears, sambar deer, water buffalo, crocodiles, and more.
See Also: We Rank the Best Beaches in Sri Lanka
Days 6 & 7: Galle
You’ll know you’ve arrived in Galle when you start feeling as though you’ve temporarily transported from Asia to Europe; this seaside city has a distinctly European flair, thanks to its narrow, cobbled streets and Dutch colonial buildings.
Depicting a blend of European architectural styles and South Asian traditions, the UNESCO-listed Galle Fort is one attraction you can’t miss here. Set aside an afternoon to walk along the fort’s outer walls and explore its historic centre. The Galle Lighthouse, Galle National Museum, and the Old Dutch Hospital — which is one of the oldest buildings in Galle Fort — are only a few of the top highlights you’ll find within this fortified city.
Beyond the fort’s walls, stretches of azure coastline and palm-fringed beaches are only a short rickshaw or bus ride away. Unawatuna Beach, with its golden sand and gentle surf, is a dreamy tropical paradise where you can go snorkelling, surfing, or simply while away the hours from your sun lounger.
The journey back to Colombo takes approximately two to three hours, so you can hire a taxi or hop on a train or bus to get back to the capital at the end of your holiday.
Top things to do in Galle:
- Immerse yourself in history and get lost amongst Galle Fort’s winding alleyways and cobbled streets
- Buy souvenirs and local handicrafts from the shops on Pedlar Street within Galle Fort
- Catch some rays or take a surf lesson at nearby Unawatuna Beach
- Stock up on Sri Lankan spices from markets located just outside Galle Fort
How would you spend one week in Sri Lanka?