Beautiful beaches, UNESCO World Heritage sites and lush national parks make Sri Lanka a fantastic destination to visit. A Sri Lanka road trip is a feast for the eyes, with roads that sweep past waterfalls, tea plantations and ancient temples. With such rich pickings, 10 days in Sri Lanka is only just enough to give you a taste of what Sri Lanka offers.
For a small tropical island, Sri Lanka punches way above its weight when it comes to UNESCO World Heritage Sites and with affordable prices, there’s every reason to start planning your Sri Lanka itinerary for 10 days now.
With so many interesting places to visit in Sri Lanka, it’s hard to decide where to spend your time, so here’s an itinerary I enjoyed thoroughly and I think you will enjoy it too.
- Interesting facts about Sri Lanka
- Why visit Sri Lanka
- Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka
- Sri Lanka Itinerary Tips
- Sri Lanka Itinerary Highlights
- Sri Lanka Itinerary – 10 Days
- Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 1 – Negombo
- Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 2 – Negombo to Sigiriya
- Si Lanka Itinerary Day 3 – Anuradhapura
- Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 4 – Polonnaruwa and Minneriya National Park
- Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 5 – Sigiriya
- Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 6 – Sigiriya to Kandy
- Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 7 – Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
- Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 8 – Nuwara Eliya
- Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 9 – Nuwara Eliya to Galle
- Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 10 – Colombo
Interesting facts about Sri Lanka
- The blue water lily is Sri Lanka’s national flower.
- The national gemstone of Sri Lanka is the blue sapphire.
- The national bird of Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan jungle fowl.
- The most common Sri Lankan breakfast is herbal soup with purifying greens.
- Seventy per cent of the population is Theravada Buddhist.
- Most common local fruit are red bananas, mangosteen and rambutan.
- The official language of Sri Lanka is Sinhalese but Tamil and English are spoken. The Sinhalese alphabet is a complex writing system invented 2000 years ago.
- Consulting an astrologer before making major decisions is local practice, especially when choosing marriage partners and housing locations.
- There are more than 1 million Sri Lankans working abroad (many are women who work as housemaids overseas).
- Sailing boats and the Roman Catholic religion was introduced to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese.
- Dutch canals, architecture, hospitals, the Dutch Reform Church and Dutch Roman Law came to Sri Lanka through Dutch colonisation. Dutch Roman law is still used in courts today.
- In 1796, the British brought with them town planning, education, tea, coffee and the railways.
- Sri Lanka has nine provinces and 22 districts.
Why visit Sri Lanka
- With almost 3000 years of history, Sri Lanka has an intriguing ancient history and eight World Heritage sites.
- There are plenty of National Parks, hill stations and coastal areas that allow visitors to balance a historical trip with outdoor, beach and nature-based activities (it’s easier if you can spend at least 10 days in Sri Lanka)
- Sri Lanka has good roads, many of the roads are tarred roads (or carpet roads as the locals call them), villages and cities are clean and tidy and toilet facilities are clean and readily available.
- It’s easy to plan an itinerary for Sri Lanka for 10 days to suit most budgets, as meals, travel and accommodation is very reasonable.
Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka
If you’re planning on exploring Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, the best time to visit is between January and March, when it’s dry and warm enough to explore the elevated altitudes of the northern plains.
Of course, you don’t mind walking around in the rain or on a humid day, you can visit anytime.
If you’re planning on climbing Sigiriya (everyone should try it!), avoid the monsoon season (the months before January) and after March, when temperatures can soar to the mid-30C. Check out the weather in Sri Lanka here.
Sri Lanka Itinerary Tips
- When visiting these ancient sites, start early to avoid the heat and crowds.
- The best time to photograph ruins is early in the morning or at dusk, for the light.
- Try eating in local family-run canteens, which are sheltered outdoor areas attached to a family home.
Sri Lanka Itinerary Highlights
- Explore Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s ancient capital.
- Discover the ruins of the medieval capital of Polonnaruwa
- A safari in Minneriya National Park
- Hike the rock fortress of Sigiriya
- Admire the amazing art at the Cave Temples of Dambulla
- Visit a tea plantation in Nuwara Eliya
- Leopard safari in Yala National Park
Sri Lanka Itinerary – 10 Days
Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 1 – Negombo
35km north of Colombo, Negombo was a hub for the cinnamon trade during the Dutch era.
It’s a great place to start a Sri Lanka itinerary, as Negombo is a small historic city with a relaxed atmosphere.
There’s a strong Dutch influence in Negombo’s architecture and Negombo is an excellent place to brush up on Portuguese, Dutch and British history.
The Portuguese lost Negombo to the Dutch in 1640 and again in 1644.
The first day of a Sri Lanka itinerary should always be a bit cruisy to give you a chance to adjust to the time zone and recover from jetlag.
Things to do in Negombo
- Visit the Negombo Fish Markets to take photos of the traditional patchwork of fish drying on hessian sacks.
- Cruise along the Gin Oya River and look for birdlife as the sun sets on the water.
Where to stay in Negombo
Jetwing Lagoon, Negombo
Jetwing Lagoon, Negombo, is a luxurious hotel in a great location between the Indian Ocean and lagoon. Ask for a room with a view of the lagoon and relax in luxury before your embarking on your Sri Lanka itinerary.
Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 2 – Negombo to Sigiriya
Depart Negombo early in the morning for Sigiriya, travelling north into the Sri Lankan highlands, but before leaving Negombo, stop at the Negombo fish market to catch a bit of local market action.
As Sigiriya is a central point to many of the sights in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, it’s an excellent place to use as a base.
On the way to Sigiriya, spend at least a couple of hours at the Golden Temple of Dambulla.
Even if you’re not into caves, you won’t want to miss this as this 3rd-century cave monastery with its five caves of Buddhist mural paintings and 157 statues is impressive.
The caves were refurbished in the 18th century in the Kandy school of art style and the colonial facia and veranda were built in the 1930s.
Don’t miss the Maharaja Vihara Lena (Cave of the Great Kings), which has statues of two great Sri Lankan kings, King Valagambahu and King Nissankamalla as well as an enormous statue of a reclining Buddha.
Driving time between Negombo and Dambulla: 3 hours 20 minutes (Sigiriya is about 30 minutes from Dambulla)
Where to stay in Sigiriya
Staying in Sigiriya for four nights will give you a chance to unpack and sleep in a familiar bed for a few days. From Sigiriya, you can do day trips to the ancient capitals.
Sigiriya Village, Sigiriya
Sigiriya Village is a sprawling complex that has the lovely backdrop of majestic Sigiriya Rock. Pathways meander past lotus ponds and connect the chalets with the central resort area. There’s a large swimming pool and restaurant the serves up traditional Sri Lankan food.
Si Lanka Itinerary Day 3 – Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura was Sri Lanka’s third capital and of all the ancient kingdoms, this is the one not to miss even if you’re on a Sri Lanka 5 Day itinerary or shorter.
The sacred Buddhist city is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
Anuradhapura’s days of glory lasted from 377BC to the 12th century AD but the city itself is much older than that (possibly dating as far back as the 10th century BC!).
It’s incredible to think that this once-important city with its 60m bell-shaped stupas lay in ruins for centuries, forgotten until the 19th century.
These stupas are as impressive as the Egyptian pyramids and filled with Buddhist relics.
- See the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, which some believe might be the oldest tree planted by humans. The sacred fig tree was planted in 288BC from a cutting from the Bodhi tree in India where Buddha attained enlightenment.
- Visit the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa, which was built by King Dutugemunu (140BC) and is the oldest stupa in Sri Lanka.
- Climb the Mihintale (13km from Anuradhapura’s centre), believed to be the rock where Buddha landed when he flew from India.
On the way back from Anuradhapura, if you fancy a green change and a forest walk, stop at the Ritigala Medicinal Forest.
It’s a good hike through the forest to the ruins of an ancient Buddhist Monastery, which does require a bit of the imagination to picture bridges, courtyards and platforms.
Driving time between Sigiriya and Anuradhapura: 1 hour 30 minutes
Driving time between Anuradhapura and Ritigala: 1 hour
Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 4 – Polonnaruwa and Minneriya National Park
Polonnaruwa was the centre of power on the island during in the 11th and 12th centuries.
What sets Polonnaruwa apart from the other ancient kingdoms is the technology the rulers employed to build this kingdom’s irrigation systems, which were vastly superior to those during the Anuradhapura era.
Shrines and stupas were constructed from brick and temples were built for Hindu gods.
Alas, Polonnaruwa’s golden age was short-lived when an invasion from a Southern Indian army began to drive the political centre towards the centre of the country.
- Explore archaeological treasures including palace ruins and baths.
- See the Gal Vihara carvings of four large rock-hewn carvings are some of the most impressive ancient sculptures in Sri Lanka.
- Visit the Polonnaruva Site Museum to see the culture, history and engineering displays and don’t miss the chart that describes the complexity of the Sinhalese alphabet as you’ll be amazed that it was invented 2000 years ago!
Minneriya National Park
An option in the afternoon is to go on a short safari in Minneriya National Park to see elephants and sambar deer.
Driving time between Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa: 1 hour 14 minutes
Driving time between Polonnaruwa and Minneriya National Park: 1 hour 20 minutes
Driving time between Minneriiya National park to Sigiriya: 53 minutes
Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 5 – Sigiriya
Once a palace built on top of an enormous 200m-high rock, Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is commonly known as Lion Rock.
The palace ruins on the plateau, with its swimming pool ruins and throne, are awesome.
In the 5th century, King Kasyapa built his palace on top of this lava plug left over from an ancient volcano.
The bad news is there are 750 steps to climb to the summit is quite an effort but it’s worth taking your time to climb up the staircases just to see the view from the plateau.
The frescoes of a bevy of bare-breasted maidens are particularly arresting and well preserved.
You can access them via a metal corkscrew staircase near the top. According to the legend, 500 women were assembled by King Kashyapa for his entertainment and parties.
Things to do in Sigiriya
- Visit a traditional Sri Lankan village and see how the locals live their daily lives as farmers.
- Climb Lion Rock
Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 6 – Sigiriya to Kandy
Another sacred Buddhist city, Kandy, is the former capital of Ceylon and the last capital of the Sinhalese kings.
Kandy is most known for the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, which is home to Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic – Buddha’s tooth.
If you’re able to, try to plan your visit to Kandy so it coincides with the Tooth Festival as this is one of the largest celebrations in the country.
During the festival elephants are decorated with embroidered coverlets there are parties, fire walking and other festivities.
Things to do in Kandy
- Pay homage to Buddha’s tooth at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha.
- Wander around the Royal Botanic Gardens of Peradeniya and see the orchid house.
- Watch a traditional cultural performance.
Driving time between Sigiriya and Kandy: 2 hours 33 minutes
Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 7 – Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
Sri Lanka’s railway was constructed by the British in 1864 to transport tea and coffee from the hill stations to Colombo.
Nuwara Eliya was the hill station where the British went to escape from the steamy temperatures.
The rail route to Nuwara Eliya is a scenic journey where the landscape gradually changes from spice and banana plantations to pine and eucalyptus forests.
Kandy to Nanouya
Either travel from Peradeniya railway station or (if tickets are not available) from Gampola station.
Sit on the left and gaze out the window as the train rolls past tea plantations.
Keep your eyes peeled for St Clair and Devon waterfalls (after Hatton) and don’t miss Adam’s Peak.
Nanu Oya station is a 15-minute drive to Nuwara Eliya.
Train tickets can only be purchased in advance and seats cannot be guaranteed.
Train travel tips:
- It’s a great idea to start early in the day before the midday mist sets in.
- It is better not to buy tickets in advance as trains are frequently cancelled due to unpredictable weather and you’ll only know the night before if the train is still on schedule.
- Turn up early on the day to buy tickets
Visit a tea plantation to learn about Sri Lanka’s most famous export. Of course, we’ll enjoy a cup while we’re there.
Driving time between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya: 2 hours 30 minutes
Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 8 – Nuwara Eliya
As soon as you arrive at Nuwara Eliya, you’ll see the British influence in its mock-Tudor houses with whitewashed walls and rose gardens, golf course, race track and botanical gardens.
- Stay or have afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel, which was built in 1891 as the home for the governor of Sri Lanka, Sir Edward Barnes. Check out hotels in Nuwara Eliya here.
- Learn the art of tea making at a tea plantation
- Stroll around Victoria Park, which was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 60th Jubilee coronation in 1897.
- Shop for winter jackets at the Bale Bazaar
- Visit St Clair Falls
- Check out the Nuwara Eliya Post Office, which is one of the oldest post offices in Sri Lanka and Tudor manor built in 1894.
Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 9 – Nuwara Eliya to Galle
Travelling south towards the coast, you’ll pass Ella (which has quite a lovely waterfall) to arrive in Tissamaharama (or Tissa) – the gateway to Yala National Park.
Yala National Park
Yala National Park is the oldest and most famous national park in Sri Lanka.
The park is home to elephants, wild buffalo, deer, black bears, macaques and jackals but most people go to see leopards.
There’s a range of habitats, from scrub jungle to brackish lagoons, lakes and rivers. And it also has ruins from long-gone civilisations.
Galle is a Dutch colonial town of Galle that deserves a few days but a half-day tour around the city is enough to give you an overview of its UNESCO World Heritage-listed sea fortress.
- Check out the famous stilt fishermen, who stand on stilts in the ocean.
- Explore Galle’s UNESCO World Heritage fortress on a walking tour.
- See the Galle fort divers jump into the ocean from high cliffs.
Enjoy the afternoon at leisure and travel straight through to Colombo but if you can spare another day or two, check into one of these hotels in Galle.
Sri Lanka Itinerary Day 10 – Colombo
Make your way to the island nation’s capital, Colombo, where it’s worth taking a guided tour of the city.
Rich in colonial heritage, Colombo is Sri Lanka’s capital and a vibrant city to explore.
If there’s one place not to miss, that would be the Gangarama Vihara temple for its amazing brass work, stone carvings, Buddhist art and museum.
- Colombo is an excellent place to go shopping – try the department stores and shopping malls for designer clothing, shoes and handicrafts that won’t cost a fortune.
- Tour Colombo on a tuk-tuk to soak up the atmosphere.
- Sample Sri Lankan cuisine on a tour of local eateries and coffee shops in Colombo.
- Take photos of Colombo’s Parliament House.