Don’t just stay in Colombo: 5 other cities to explore in Sri Lanka

Cities to explore in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has stolen our hearts! The beauty of this exotic country is beyond comparison, the culture is more than intriguing, the food is amazing and the locals are super friendly. This country is not spoiled by tourism yet and there is so much to see, explore and discover. Sri Lanka is the land of endless tea plantations, hills and mountains, the land of spices, amazing wildlife, gorgeous beaches and interesting towns and cities. In this article we highlight 5 cities to explore in Sri Lanka other than the capital city Colombo:

Galle – The Unesco World Heritage Town

Credit: POTIER , Jean-Louis

Galle is Sri Lanka’s best-preserved colonial town and ancient trading port, located by the sea in the south of the island. This walled city dates back to 1588 and it is an official Unesco World Heritage Site. Galle Fort is the old part of town where you can walk the city walls and gaze at the magnificent sunset. In town, there are also lots of impressive Dutch Mansions, churches and museums to visit.

The town attracts lovers of culture and history but Galle also naturally draws in all kinds of artists due to its beauty and its creative vibe. Galle is home to unique boutique shops and restaurants and it is a great place to shop for antiques. You can easily spend a few days here exploring Galle Fort and the new part of town as well as the beautiful beach of Unawatuna, just a 15-minute drive away. Staying in Galle is perfectly enjoyable for all kinds of travellers. Book yourself a private villa and soak up the town’s ambience before continuing your journey.

Antique shopping | Galle Fort | Stroll around in the Museums | See the lighthouse | Visit nearby Unawatuna Beach |

Getting there
Galle is a popular tourist destination town and it is easy to reach from other towns and cities in Sri Lanka. From Colombo, it takes around 3 to 4 hours to get to Galle. From Kandy, it is approximately 10 hours by bus. You can also take the bus to nearby Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa, it’s fast and cheap.

Negombo – Easy, chill and convenient

Negomba - don't just visit Colombo
Credit: snowflakegirl on Flickr

There might not be a whole lot of things to do in Negombo, but it is the perfect beach town to start your Sri Lanka adventure, adapting to the heat, taking in the new flavours and scents of this exotic island and getting to know the heartwarming locals. Negombo is a friendly town on the west coast of Sri Lanka and its location is closer to the airport than the capital Colombo’s. Even more reason to drive down here with a Tuk Tuk and rent a private villa with a pool before exploring the island further.

Negombo was colonized by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. Negombo was the islands biggest producer of cinnamon back in those days. In town, go see the colonial buildings, the churches and the canals. The beach is not the prettiest but it’s perfectly palm-fringed and quiet. Good for a lazy beach day or two and you can also try kite surfing. You can also get a local fisherman to take you out to the blue lagoon of Negombo and catch some fish. Great fun! To help you get rid of the jetlag, visit a traditional Ayurvedic spa to help you feel refreshed and revived again.

Fishing tour on a traditional fisherman’s boat | See the old Dutch Fort and Canal | visit Buddhist temples | Go to local fish market in the early morning | Get an Ayurvedic treatment at the local spa | Shop for handicrafts and wild cinnamon | Diving & kite surfing |

Getting there
Located just 8 kilometers from Sri Lanka’s International Airport, getting to the center of Negombo is easy. You can even take a local tuk-tuk to take you there. A taxi should cost around 1500 LKR.

For more details, check out our Negombo Guide.

Hikkaduwa – The surfing and hip party town

cities to visit in Sri Lanka
Credit: Amila Tennakoon on Flickr

This hip little surf town is located on the main road between Colombo and Galle. Back in the 70ties, this town was already a massive surfing hotspot and up until today, it still considered the island’s second-best surfing spot. Hikkaduwa is a town where travellers come for chilling, parties and fun. There are lots of restaurants and bars at Hikkaduwa Beach, a lovely place with a laid-back vibe and the place to be day and night. A tsunami hit Hikkaduwa back in 2004, taking many lives. You can visit the memorial monument – a giant Buddha statue -and visit the Tsunami Photograph Museum.

Apart from surfing and beach partying, Hikkaduwa is also great for snorkelling. There is a coral sanctuary just a short swim from the shore and you are likely to spot some big turtles. You can also visit the nearby turtle hatchery to learn more about these big and wise sea turtles. At Hikkaduwa Lake, you can spot monitor lizards, all kinds of birds and you can hire a canoe and paddle up to Kalla Bonga Lake Resort. Make sure to rise and shine early in the morning to catch the magical sunrise at the beach. Afterwards, return home to your private villa for a lovely tropical breakfast.

Surfing | Snorkeling | beach parties | Sunrise gazing | Visit the Turtle Hatchery | Tsunami Museum | Canoeing at Hikkaduwa Lake |

Getting there
It’s approximately a 100 km to get to Hikkaduwa from Colombo. Take the train and prepare to get packed and go slow in a fun kind of way or get there by car following the highway that runs along the coastline. There are also frequent buses running between the capital and Hikkaduwa, taking 2 to 3 hours. From Galle it’s only 30 minutes by bus.

Ella – The Hill Country town surrounded by tea plantations

Credit: Dennis Binzen on Flickr

Hidden away in Sri Lanka’s stunning Hill Country, everyone who sets foot in this tea-plantation-surrounded town, falls in love instantly. Ella is encompassed by endless gorgeous lush green tea plantation and hills and the climate is wonderfully cool. The town has got an easy, laid-back and peaceful ambience making travellers often stay longer than they planned for. It is in this area where the famous Lipton tea comes from – Sri Lanka’s biggest export product.

Surrounded by so much natural beauty – you have to go explore! You can climb little Adam’s Peak, taking approximately 1 hour. It’s a much easier climb than its big brother but the views are still jaw-droppingly beautiful. Up for a bit more of a challenge? Hike up to Ella Rock in the early morning – a memorable 2-hour trek. Also, make sure to visit Lipton’s Seat – the place where Sir Thomas Lipton used to sit to take in the mesmerizing view of his plantation farms in the valley below. Other highlands in and around Ella are the 28-meter Ravana Waterfall and the Nine Arch Bridge.

Walk through the tea plantations | Shower beneath the Ravana waterfall | Visit Lipton’s Seat Viewpoint | Climb Little Adam’s Peak | Hike up Ella Rock | See the Nine Arches Bridge |

Getting there
The most scenic train ride imaginable runs through the tea plantations of Hill Country from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, taking approximately 2 hours. Can’t get enough of the scenery? Ride the train all the way to Kandy in 6 hours.

Kandy – The town of the Tooth

Credit: Amila Tennakoon on Flickr

Kandy is another beautiful and interesting city, known as the island’s cultural capital. Kandy is also on the Unesco World Heritage List since 1988. Located in the center of the island, Kandy is surrounded by the greenery of Hill Country. You can walk easily get around on foot and the center of town is not big at all. You can visit temples, go shop, eat some exquisite local food or enjoy a picnic by the lake.

Kandy is home to the most sacred Buddhist relic – an actual tooth of Lord Buddha himself. The tooth is safely captured in a casket, located in a heavily guarded room of the 16th century Temple of the Tooth’. It is an important pilgrimage site for all Buddhists and an interesting place for all. The Royal Botanical Garden of Kandy is also really worth a visit, dating back to the days that ancient kings ruled the country. In the evening, make sure to see a traditional Kandyan Dance before heading back home to your private villa for another perfectly restful island sleep.

Visit the Temple of the Tooth Relic | Stroll around the lake | Wander around the Royal Botanical Garden | Shop & dine | See a traditional Kandyan Dance |

Getting there
There are plenty of buses running from Kandy to other towns and cities. You can also take the train to Colombo or hop on the 6-hour train ride to Ella in Hill Country – it is beautiful!

Sri Lanka
Credit: mel0808johnson on Flickr

See you there?

See our villa collection in Sri Lanka. Selected and inspected by Villa-Finder.

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