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!). The locals are wonderfully friendly, the food is mouth-wateringly delicious, and the sunsets on the endless beaches are breathtaking. 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
When should you go?
Sri Lanka is one of those destinations that you can visit any time of the year – but bare 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 Sri Lanka
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 travelling slightly longer distances, hopping on a train is definitely the best idea.
The ultimate 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary
If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka, here’s our 3 week itinerary to give you some inspiration.
Day 1: The Island’s capital, Colombo
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 Moss BnB Colombo close to the city centre. 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. The next morning, we jumped on the train to our next destination.
Hotel tip: Moss BnB Colombo
Day 2-3: Kandy
Kandy, which is famous for the Temple of Sacred Tooth, is located in the center of the island. The climate is slightly cooler here compared to the rest of the island, and there’s a beautiful lake in the centre.
While we were in Kandy, we paid a visit to the White Buddha, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth and the Royal Botanic Gardens. Sri Lanka has so much more to offer and we wanted to experience as much as we could, so we decided to not spend too much time in the city.
Hotel Tip: Sevana City Hotel
Day 4-7: Sigiriya
Next stop on our trip was Sigiriya. 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, woops!) – 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.
On the next day of our stay in Sigiriya, our hotel helped to arrange a safari for us in Kaudulla National Park. My boyfriend had never done a safari before, and he was desperate to see some wild elephants.
We spent three hours in the park for 30 euro 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.
Hotel tip: Sigiriya Jungles
Day 8: 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 freedom to move around and space to hang out the doors for that perfect Insta snap – without any fighting!
Practical train advice:
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.
Top tips for enjoying your epic Sri Lanka train ride:
- 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 travelling during the weekends.
- Book the 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 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 9-12: Hiking 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. It’s 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.
Climbing Little Adam’s Peak takes approximately 30 minutes. You begin by ambling 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 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!
Hotel tip: Ella Heritage
Day 13-15: Visit the tea plantations
After all that hiking we needed some well-deserved rest, so we decided to travel to the beach.
On our way down, we made a stop among the world-famous tea plantations and stayed at The Farm Resorts. 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 at its fullest.
One quick tip out of 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.
Hotel tip: The Farm Resorts
Day 16-18: Tangalle
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. 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!
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.
Hotel tip: Ananya Beach Resort
Day 19: Coconut Tree Hill Mirissa
Without a doubt one of the most Instagrammable places ever, Coconut Tree Hill Mirissa is a must-visit during your 3 week stay in Sri Lanka.
Watching sunset through the tops of the palm trees overlooking the ocean is just beyond magical! 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.
Hotel tip: Beach Mirissa
Day 19-20: Galle
Our wonderful Sri Lanka trip continued on to Galle. 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 on 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!
Hotel tip: Villa Amma Erna
Day 21: 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!
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