Sri Lanka is a truly wonderful country to travel through. Mass tourism has not yet completely found ground here (in contrast to most other South Asian countries!). We spent 3 weeks in Sri Lanka, which was a great length of time to experience this incredible place. Read all about our adventures in this ultimate 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary below.
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3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Explore iconic attractions and views
I am sure you will love Sri Lanka. The locals are wonderfully friendly, the food is mouth-wateringly delicious, and the sunsets on the endless beaches are breathtaking.
3 weeks in Sri Lanka Highlights: Things to do and see
- Day 1: Columbo
- Day 2 – 3: Kandy
- Day 4: Sigiriya – Lion’s rock or Pidurangala Rock Hike
- Day 5: Kaudulla National Park – Sri Lanka Safari tour
- Day 6: Minneriya National Park
- Day 7: Sigiriya (cultural sites)
- Day 8: Kandy-Ella beautiful train ride
- Day 9 – 10: Ella (hikes)
- Day 11- 12: Day trips from Ella
- Day 13 – 14: Hatton/tea plantations
- Day 15 – 17: Tangalle
- Day 18: Mirissa
- Day 19 – 20: Galle
- Day 21: Hikkaduwa Beach and return
Planning your trip to Sri Lanka Asia
Here are some essential planning tips to prepare for your trip!
Sri Lanka is located in southeast Asia. It lies in the Indian Ocean and is separated from the Indian mainland by a strait.
Sri Lanka Visas
Tourist Visa for Sri Lanka is issued to bona-fide tourists who wish to visit the country for tourism purposes.
For a 30 day visit, an ETA costs about $35 USD per person, with double entry. You can apply for the ETA online. Your passport needs to be valid for a period of six months.
The best airport to land from overseas flights is in Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. The airport is called Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayake, and it is about 30 km north of Colombo. You will easily find taxis, car rental, and money exchange services at the airport.
The official currency of Sri Lanka is Rupee, symbolized by Rs., or SLRs (it is different from the Indian Rupees).
Sinhala and Tamil are the two official languages in Sri Lanka. However, English is widely spoken.
Sri Lanka Budget
Set aside $1000 USD per person on a twin-sharing basis in accommodation. It is a budget destination and you do have a lot for your dollars or euros!
Best time to visit Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is one of those destinations that you can visit any time of the year – but bear in mind which areas to travel to in different months. In a nutshell, the best time to visit the west coast, south coast, and hill country is from December to March, while the best weather on the east coast is from April/May to September.
Shoulder season (between peak and off-season) is also a great time to visit – there’s still a high chance of getting good weather, and accommodation prices tend to be much cheaper!
Getting around in Sri Lanka – Tuk-tuks and others
The best way to move around in Sri Lanka is by Tuk Tuk or Pickme – basically an Asian equivalent of Uber. Patience is key, because traffic on the island can be a real pain in the ass sometimes!
If you’re traveling slightly longer distances, hopping on a train is definitely the best idea.
Now, here is our 3 weeks in Sri Lanka itinerary to give you some inspiration. I have included hotels and tours for each day wherever applicable to make it easy for you to book!
Day 1 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Arrive in Colombo, and explore the island’s capital city
Stay at: Havelock Gardens BnB
We started our trip in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Since we arrived late at night, we booked into a cheap (but beautiful) hotel room at the Havelock Gardens BnB close to the city center. We booked our transfer to the hotel online in advance.
Colombo is not particularly a city where you need to spend too much time – except the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, which is worth a visit and is handily situated close to the train station. Spend a day exploring the city center, and don’t forget to stop at the Galle Face Green for sunset.
The next morning, we jumped on the train to our next destination.
You might like: Day tour from Colombo to Yala National Park safari
Day 2 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Head to Kandy and explore
Stay at: Sevana City Hotel
You can visit Kandy from Colombo on a day tour.
On day 2 of your Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary, start bright and early for Kandy. Colombo to Kandy is less than 3 hours by road (if renting a car), or 4 hours by train.
On the first day in Kandy, take it easy and explore the famous Temple of Sacred Tooth, located in the center of the island.
The Temple of the Tooth Relic (a sacred tooth of the Buddha) is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a pilgrimage destination. Kandy is a sacred city and you will feel at peace here.
The climate is slightly cooler here compared to the rest of the island, and there’s a beautiful lake in the center. Do remember to pack a scarf or a lightweight jacket with you.
Day 3 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Kandy
On your second day in Kandy, visit the White Buddha, and the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue aka White Buddha is a beautiful statue located on a hilltop. You can hike upstairs (with steep stairs leading to the top), and then soak in hilltop views from this Buddhist place of worship. This place is open 24 hours.
Royal Botanic Gardens are located about 5.5 km to the west of the city of Kandy. It is spread on a sprawling 147 acres with over 400 species of flora is a stunning location. There is an entry fee for the gardens and it starts at Rs.1500 for adults.
Other than these 2 attractions we explored the city leisurely, had great food and then moved on to the next stop on our 3 weeks in Sri Lanka itinerary.
Because Sri Lanka has so much more to offer and we wanted to experience as much as we could, we decided to not spend too much time in the city.
Day 4 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Head to Sigiriya
Stay at: Sigiriya Jungles
Explore from Colombo: Pidurangala Rock.
The next stop on our trip was Sigiriya. Sigiriya to Kandy is about 2 hours by road. For this route, a car is essential because public transport is not reliable.
In this destination, we stayed at Sigiriya Jungles, a wonderful hotel where you can truly soak up the beauty of nature at its finest.
But of course, we simply didn’t have time to sit by the wonderful pool all day during our stay!
We desperately wanted to visit one of the world’s most famous rocks during our 3-week stay in Sri Lanka: Pidurangala Rock.
We chose to climb the Pidurangala Rock rather than the Lion Rock, as huge crowds of tourists aren’t really our cup of tea. You can climb the rock for just 3 euros, much cheaper than the 30 euros you have to pay for the Lion Rock!
The Pidurangala hike should only take around 20 minutes, but be warned – it’s a short and steep route. The climb isn’t too tough and it’s also suitable for children, though there are a couple of large boulders to climb that may require a helping hand.
Once you’re at the top, you’ll also have a unique, beautiful view of Lion Rock.
Due to the Buddhist temple located near the entrance, women are requested to cover their legs and shoulders for the start of the hike.
Don’t worry if you forget to wear long clothes before you go (just like I did, oops!) – the ticket office provides scarves to help you cover-up. Wear proper footwear, and don’t forget to bring along a large bottle of water to stay hydrated, as it can get very hot.
Just outside the Lion Rock or the Sigiriya Rock grounds is the Sigiriya Archeological Museum. The entrance ticket is included in the ticket to climb the rock.
Sīnhāgiri or the Lion Rock gives the city its name. This was the capital and the royal palace in the past, and today it is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site.
Day 5 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Kaudulla National Park
On the next day of our stay in Sigiriya, our hotel helped to arrange a safari for us in Kaudulla National Park. My husband had never done a safari before, and he was desperate to see some wild elephants.
We spent three hours in the park for 30 euros per person. Personally, I wasn’t that impressed. There were far too many jeeps in the park, and they kept getting stuck in the mud which wasn’t ideal. At one point, there were about thirty jeeps around a herd of elephants. All the engines kept running, and I really felt bad for the elephants breathing in their exhaust fumes.
If interested: Add a trip to the Dambulla Caves along with National Park.
Day 6 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Minneriya National Park
Another option is to head to the Minneriya National Park and spend a day there. It is one of the best places to see elephants in the country. This is spread over 8890 hectares and can only be explored on jeep safari.
On a safari in Minneriya National Park, it is possible to see elephants all gathering together in large groups. Safari costs are around 13,000 rupees for two people (approximately).
Day 7 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Explore more of Sigiriya
For the next day in Sigiriya, explore the cultural side of the city.
- Pethikada: Do explore Pethikada which is a small art gallery, located in the town center. This place was made famous by the paintwork of a local man – Jagath – who hand-paints all the exhibits. His style of art resembles that of the ancient painting found on Sigiriya Rock.
- Dambulla Cave Temples: Located about a short drive away from Sigiriya are the Dambulla Cave Temples. These temples are very well preserved and also very old, dating back to 2,700 years!
- Shop for wooden souvenirs: You will find a lot of artifacts created out of wood in Sri Lanka. In the streets of Sigiriya, you will find a lot of souvenir shops. Do pop by a few shops, and buy souvenirs to take back home.
If you prefer you can also head to Anuradhapura from Sigiriya. Anuradhapura is a Sri Lanka city, located about 1.50 hours from Sigiriya, and is known for the well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sinhala civilization. You can easily explore the historic site on a day trip.
Day 8 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Kandy – Ella Train Ride
Reserve some time for one of the most scenic train rides in the world: the world-famous Ella to Kandy Mountain train ride. Without a doubt, this should be the number one must-do activity on your Sri Lanka itinerary.
Admire stunning mountains, bountiful waterfalls, tea plantations, local villages and so much more while riding the famous blue train for 7 hours.
Don’t be put off – there are plenty of horror stories about over-packed trains, people standing cramped for 7 hours straight, and even fights breaking out over seats. But if done right, this train journey will be one of the ultimate highlights of your trip.
If you book your seat at an optimum time and follow all the advice, you should have an epic trip with the freedom to move around and space to hang out the doors for that perfect Insta snap – without any fighting!
Tips for planning the Kandy train ride:
There are two express trains per day departing from Ella on a fixed schedule. Train tickets can be purchased locally at the Colombo train station, and different classes are available:
- 1st class: Numbered seats, super comfortable with a lot of privacy. The compartments have air conditioning, but there are no open windows to hang out.
- 2nd class reserved seats: Numbered seats, super comfortable; the windows and doors are open.
- 2nd class: Same as 2nd class reserved but the seats are not numbered, so there’s no seat guarantee. These can only be bought on the day of travel.
- 3rd class: Wooden benches which aren’t numbered. This is the cheapest option, and it’s great for those who want to travel with locals and immerse themselves in the experience.
Book your tickets in advance online – especially if you want to have an assigned seat, and you don’t want to stand up for 7 hours!
Avoid traveling during the weekends. Also opt for an early morning train ride, as it will be less busy than trains later in the day.
Consider booking your train ride from Ella to Kandy instead. Although the common route guide around Sri Lanka is to go clockwise, the opposite direction will definitely be less busy.
Sit on the best side of the train: from Ella to Nuwara Eliya, most of the scenic views are on the right-hand side. From Nuwara Eliya to Kandy, the left side is better. Generally speaking, the views during this scenic train ride are amazing on both sides – but as you do want to enjoy it to the fullest, these are the sides to keep in mind while booking.
Enjoy the epic train ride while sitting in an open doorway. Even with assigned seating, you’re still free to go to the open doors at the end of each carriage and hang out on the appropriate side to catch the best views!
Day 9 to 10 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Hikes near Ella
We couldn’t be more excited to be in Ella, as we could finally start hiking!
Ella is a pleasant (but very tourist-oriented) village. The road distance between Sigiriya and Ella is 177 km, and it will take you about 3.50 + hours to reach one way. There are public transport options available like buses and trains, and they take about 13 hours.
On your first day in Ella take the time to relax, and enjoy the beautiful scenic town.
Ella is a great base to discover Little Adam’s Peak and The Nine Arch Bridge. Take it from me, both hikes are breathtaking and definitely worth doing during your stay.
Little Adam’s Peak
Climbing Little Adam’s Peak takes approximately 30 minutes. You begin by wandering through some beautiful tea plantations from Ella to the base of the peak.
The climb up the peak is short but tough – it’s worth it though, as you’re rewarded with a 360-degree view of the surrounding fields from the top.
Take your sandwiches with you, as I promise this will be one of the most epic picnic spots you’ve ever had!
The Nine Arch Bridge
The Nine Arch Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the world, and it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. We watched the classic blue train drive over the majestic old stone bridge, which was absolutely amazing.
There are so many different spots to watch the trains go by. Make sure you also enjoy the walk-in tea fields that lie directly below the bridge!
Day 11 to 12 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Day trips from Ella
As mentioned Ella is perfect for hikes, and also day trips to explore the countryside.
After all that hiking, we needed some well-deserved rest, so we decided to travel to explore villages and more scenic tours!
You can get a taste of rural life in Sri Lanka, and interact with the local village community to understand more about their daily lives. Head to the village of Etili from Ella.
Visit a traditional Chena cultivation farm, and try it for yourself. This is an agricultural practice that dates back some 5000 years in Sri Lanka. You can explore, enjoy a nice lunch, and then relax on a gentle canoe ride around the lake in Etili village.
Another option is to go to a tea factory. This Lipton Seat & Dambatenne Tea Factory Day Trip is perfect from Ella. You can book this as a guided tour as well.
Day 13 to 14 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Visit the tea plantations and relax at the beach side resort – Hatton Sri Lankan countryside
Stay at: The Farm Resorts
On our way down from Ella to the beachside, we also made a stop among the world-famous tea plantations and stayed at The Farm Resorts in Hatton.
Hatton is a major center of the Sri Lankan tea industry. It is one of the prominent cities in the hill areas and is a perfect base to explore the tea regions intimately.
This hill town was founded during the British colonial times and the town refers to the village in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It is a very picturesque town, and worth spending a couple of days unwinding, relaxing at the lovely resort, and trying your hand at a tea plantation.
Did you know that the tea estates here are also named after Scottish villages?
At Hatton’s tea plantations, we received the warmest welcome and enjoyed the most delicious homemade food, with all ingredients coming fresh out of their garden.
It was so impressive to see the women picking tea leaves all day – it looked like incredibly hard work. We absolutely loved our stay here, so we booked an extra night to enjoy nature to its fullest.
One quick tip out of the experience – if you’re planning on visiting the fields, be aware of the leeches! I can assure you that having 3 leeches on your body really is terrible, and it’s also very difficult to get them off.
Day 15 to 17 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Tangalle
Stay at: Ananya Beach Resort
From the tea plantation region, we made our way to a few beach towns. Our first beach stop during our 3 week stay in Sri Lanka was in Tangalle, which is on the South Coast to limit our travel times.
Hatton (town) to Tangalle is about 5 hours one way, so set aside one day for travel.
We stayed at Ananya Beach Resort, where we were really spoiled! The cocktails were superb, the food was delicious, the rooms were perfect and the view out of our room was incredible.
In short, it was the perfect stay to fully immerse ourselves in that holiday feeling!
Once you are settled in, spend the next 2 days exploring the pretty town. Make sure you pay a visit to Goyambokka, a beautiful beach a bit further from the main town. It’s perfect for enjoying a less crowded atmosphere and amazing restaurants.
Optional: You can also add a day trip to Udawalawe National Park, located about 2 hours from Tangelle.
Day 18 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Visit the coconut tree hill – Mirissa
Stay at: Beach Mirissa
Without a doubt one of the most Instagrammable places ever, Coconut Tree Hill Mirissa is a must-visit during your 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary.
Travel time from Tangalle to Mirissa is about one hour away by road.
Watching the sunset through the tops of the palm trees overlooking the ocean is just beyond magical here, so I highly recommend stopping at this cute town!
Bring along some drinks and this will be a night to remember forever, I promise. I recommend visiting the place just before sunset if you want to snap some Instagram-worthy shots, as it can get really crowded in the evening.
Stay overnight at the Beach Mirissa before embarking on the last leg of your Sri Lanka itinerary!
Day 19 – 20 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Galle
Stay at: Villa Amma Erna
Our wonderful Sri Lanka trip continued on to Galle. Mirissa to Galle is about an hour’s drive away.
The city’s UNESCO-protected old town is definitely worth a visit. There are numerous lovely restaurants, but I’d definitely recommend going for a bite at Elita restaurant!
Stroll through the beautiful streets and treat yourself to some souvenirs. We stayed at Villa Amma Erna, one of the most amazing hotels we’ve ever stayed at. The place doesn’t have any glass windows, so you can freely connect with nature.
Our stay was made even more memorable thanks to all the little monkeys, which were always all around!
During your stay visit the Galle Fort, which was built by the Portuguese in 1588.
Day 21 of 3 week Sri Lanka Itinerary: Hikkaduwa Beach
We ended our trip at the wonderful Hikkaduwa Beach, where we swam among the sea turtles. It was a truly amazing experience. Make sure you head to the beach in the early morning, as it can get crowded!
Another option is to visit the popular Arugam Bay from Galle (or Tangalle), and it takes 3.50 hours to drive one way to get there.
In the evening make your way back to Colombo to fly out!
With a plethora of UNESCO World Heritage sites, nature, hikes and spiritual sites a trip to Sri Lanka will be memorable and will keep you wanting to explore more of Southeast Asia!