This 10-day Sri Lanka itinerary is the perfect way to explore the relatively untouched paradise of Sri Lanka. Like most visitors, we were attracted by its stunning countryside, tropical climate and friendly people, but mostly because of its endless list of things to see and do. With this itinerary, you’ll be able to see it all!
Read on to find out what to get up to on your 10-day tour of Sri Lanka, including all the best destinations and places to visit, where to stay and what to eat too.
Day 1: Colombo
Most visitors use Colombo as a transit town to get to their actual destination in Sri Lanka, but there are some treats to be had around town too. Spend the first of your 10 days in Sri Lanka on a city tour of Colombo to take in the sights of the capital.
Make sure you take in the beautiful Gangaramaya Buddhist temple, full of Buddha images and vintage cars (random, huh?), spectacular Beira Lake with Simamalaka Shrine at its centre, and the intricately decorated Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil – Colombo’s oldest Hindu temple.
Other sights worth seeing include the Independence Memorial Hall, the National Museum and the Town Hall – built in the style of the Capitol Building in Washington.
As well as all of its cultural sights, Colombo is a great place to eat and drink. The Old Dutch Hospital is a lively area, home to one of the best restaurants in the world – Ministry of Crab – as well as plenty of modern Sri Lankan eateries like Semondu (our pick of the bunch). You can also find some cool bars and a souvenir shop to keep visitors like me happy.
At the end of your first day, head to one of my favourite hotels in Colombo:
Day 2: Dambulla & Polonnaruwa
From Colombo, head out early and drive inland to Dambulla and Polonnaruwa to discover more about Sri Lanka’s Buddhist history and culture.
After a 3-hour drive heading northeast, you’ll arrive at the famous Dambulla rock temple – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must for any Sri Lanka itinerary. Spend a couple of hours exploring each cave with its Buddha images, statues and paintings of historical scenes.
For me, the most spectacular part of the Dambulla rock temple complex was the panoramic view from the top. From here, you can see as far as Sigiriya on a clear day.
Being a religious site, you’ll need to take your shoes off to walk across the rock surface that will most likely have been baking in the sun. When we visited, we were all hopping about madly as it was so hot, so make sure you take your socks to protect yourself from the heat!
Once you have fully explored Dambulla, drive east for one hour to reach Polonnaruwa.
Polonnaruwa is an ancient royal city dating back to the 11th century. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, designated as such to protect its ruins of a palace, temples and Buddha images impressively carved out of a single rock face at Gal Vihara.
We had a guided tour of the site, and would highly recommend you do the same. With a guide, you’ll learn much more about the site and its history than any book could tell you.
The whole site is covered with monkeys. Both grey langurs and macaques live in the area, and we even saw a fight between the two tribes as they tried to defend their land from each other. Keep your camera ready for the action!
At the end of your busy day of sightseeing, return to Dambulla to rest your head at one of the many hotels in the area:
>> Have a look at Travel Mad Mum’s East Coast of Sri Lanka itinerary for more ideas of things to do around Dambulla
Day 3: Sigiriya
On the third day of your 10 days in Sri Lanka, you’ll head to the famous rock fortress – Sigiriya.
Said to have been home to a King who murdered his father to take the throne, Sigiriya is an ancient fortress at the top of a 200m high rock. Thousands of visitors scale the 1200 steps to the top every day and, despite the terrifying climb, I was determined to be one of them.
There is a rather flimsy-looking staircase winding its way around the huge rock, but the Sri Lankans leap up without a care in the world. Our guide even completed the climb in flip-flops! Desperately clinging to Tim in front of me, I slowly reached the top and can assure you that every step is worth the effort, even if you have a fear of heights.
Ruins of the King’s palace are still visible on the rock’s level top, but the real reward for your efforts is the view. You can see for miles in every direction, and Sri Lanka is a treat for the eyes no matter where you look.
Also at the Sigiriya site are the famous Heavenly Maidens paintings, hidden on a side of the rock that is only accessible from a rickety spiral staircase. I wouldn’t blame you at all if you didn’t fancy it – just take a look at this picture instead.
Once you’ve had your fill of Sigiriya, head south to Kandy via Matale. It’s an area famous for its spice gardens, so make sure you stop at one to learn about Sri Lanka’s Ayurveda medicine before heading to your hotel to rest:
Day 4: Kandy
After a good night’s sleep, it’s time to explore Kandy. Kandy is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site – it seems Sri Lanka and this itinerary is full of them! The city is the second largest in the country and is set around a central lake, which makes it a really beautiful place to visit.
It is home to the Temple of the Tooth, which is said to contain one of Buddha’s teeth – only you can’t see it as it’s hidden in seven golden caskets to protect it.
While you are visiting the temple, you may be lucky enough to see some Buddhist rituals including offering food to the monks and traditional drumming in front of the temple’s inner chamber.
Spend the rest of the day exploring the town, before heading to a Sri Lankan music and dance show in the evening.
The show we watched had 20 or so performers including drummers, plate spinners, dancers, acrobats and fire walkers, all wearing traditional costumes. It was really good to see and certainly gave us an insight into the more cultural side of Sri Lanka.
After dinner and the show, head back to your hotel in Kandy for your second night.
Day 5: Nuwara Eliya
On day 5, it’s time to tick off a real Sri Lankan bucket list item: taking the train to Nuwara Eliya!
Make your way to Kandy train station and prepare to spend four hours staring out at the most spectacular scenery. As the train climbs higher into the mountains, you will see beautiful waterfalls, tea pickers collecting tea leaves in the plantations and passengers hanging out of the doors at the back of the train. It is always an incredible experience and one you’ll never forget.
There’s obviously quite a lot of English influence in Sri Lanka, thanks to its British rule dating back to the 1800s. The influence is really obvious in your destination Nuwara Eliya – a town high up in the Sri Lankan hills that was founded by a British man in 1846. Because of its cooler climate, it was perfect for British colonialists who wanted somewhere to play cricket, drink tea and ride horses.
It has retained most of its British architecture, including the Grand Hotel where we were lucky enough to stay the night.
You can use the town as a base to explore the Tudor-style Post Office and green Victoria Park, as well as the nearby areas, full of tea plantations and a beautiful waterfall in Ella Gap.
The best places to stay in Nuwara Eliya include:
>> For more to do in the area, read Natnzin’s budget guide to Nuwara Eliya
Day 6: Udawalawe National Park
Day 6 is a wildlife lover’s dream as you head south to Udawalawe, the most famous national park to visit in Sri Lanka for elephant sightings. Here, it’s possible to spot herds of Sri Lankan elephants as they head down to the rivers to drink and bathe. Alongside elephants, you’ll find water buffalo, sambar deer, wild boar and plenty of birdlife.
A guided Udawalawe safari can be organised by your accommodation, or through one of the safari companies based in the nearest town, Udawalawa.
The best accommodation options in the area include:
Day 7: Yala National Park
By day 7 of this Sri Lanka itinerary, you will absolutely have the safari bug. So it’s time to head to the most popular national park in Sri Lanka, Yala National Park.
Just like Udawalawe, the best way to explore the park is on a guided safari with a registered guide. You can arrange this through your accommodation or through a tour company.
Yala is home to the highest density of leopards anywhere in the world, but sightings are still quite rare. Keep your eyes peeled and listen out for alarm calls from other animals – you might be lucky enough to spot one!
While on game drives in Yala, we saw elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, water buffalo, wild boar, jackals, hundreds of birds, tortoises, deer, iguanas and mongeese.
Our hotel in Yala was right on the beach with views you just can’t help but stare at, but there are plenty of incredible places to stay:
Day 8: Bundala
Day 8 of this Sri Lanka itinerary is another wildlife-filled wonder! After a yummy breakfast at your Yala hotel, head over to Bundala National Park to have a chance of seeing almost 200 species of birds.
This nature reserve boasts a beautiful network of waterways and lagoons that are home to wetland birds including flamingos, bee-eaters and storks, as well as elephants, jackals, leopards and primates too. All of this makes for some wonderful photographs!
When you arrive, enjoy lunch before heading out on a game drive before the sun sets in the evening.
The best places to stay near Bundala National Park include:
Day 9: Mirissa
As an island in the Indian Ocean, it has some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. That’s why this 10-day itinerary is ending on the coast in some absolutely stunning spots. First up, Mirissa.
This small coastal town has grown in popularity recently, thanks to its offer of watersports and, my favourite, whale watching!
In fact, Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to see blue whales. They migrate across the Indian Ocean between December and April, so why not book a sustainable tour and try your luck to spot them?
After a trip out to sea, spend the rest of the day relaxing on the beach or exploring the town. You’ll then have a great night’s sleep at one of these wonderful hotels in Mirissa:
Day 10: Galle
Prepare yourself for an early start today, as you will want to pack as much in as possible before you head back home.
From Mirissa, travel along the coast to Galle. This city is a real beauty and there’s plenty to see and do here too. The Portuguese and Dutch influences from Galle’s colonial past are clear in the city’s architecture as well as its layout.
Galle Fort, also known as the Dutch Fort, is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site and well worth exploring. Set along the coast, it’s ideal for a stroll to admire the lighthouse, the mosque and various other historic landmarks. There’s also a beautiful beach for swimming down by the lighthouse, so make sure you have a dip in the Indian Ocean while you’re there!
As sad as it sounds, your ten-day trip to Sri Lanka is rapidly coming to an end. Once you’ve had your fill of Galle, it’ll be time to head back to Colombo for your flight back home. Sad face.
You may be tempted to spend more time in any one of the locations I’ve recommended, so feel free to take this itinerary for Sri Lanka as a template and adjust it to your liking.
No matter how or where to spend your time here, I genuinely can’t recommend this incredible country enough. Go now to take advantage of its peace and beauty while you still can!