Welcome to our seven-day plan for Sri Lanka, one week itinerary for those who want to explore the rich history and the wild mountains of the Teardrop of India. This one packs in some serious culture, loads of natural gems, and even a taste of the buzzy cityscapes of the island nation, ticking off a few of the must-dos along the way.
But we’ve also managed to pack in some of Sri Lanka’s best-kept secrets (at least they are secrets for now). They come in the form of chilled out, salt-washed surf towns on the southwest coast, where crumbly reef breaks and bamboo beer shacks are the order of the day.
Given the size of Sri Lanka, one week itinerary plans are limited to the southwestern corner of the island with a little of the Central Highland mountains thrown in. That means you will be missing out on significant portions of the country. There’s still so much to see here that there’s plenty to be getting on with if you want to push on with your travels after our plan is done. We’ll offer some tips on that towards the end.
When to do this Sri Lanka one week itinerary?
First thing’s first – when’s best to complete this Sri Lanka one week itinerary? That’s all determined by the weather. This island nation is so big that it attracts two different monsoon seasons. The first hits the east and north coasts in the months between November and March. The second hits the south and west coasts from May to October.
Since almost all of this itinerary takes place on the southwest coast, it’s hardly a surprise that you’ll want to do it during the southwest peak season. That’s when the monsoon is NOT around, so anytime from November to April works best.
Surfers should bear in mind that the waves get progressively smaller throughout, so December trips are better if you want swell. Also, there’s never a time that you can totally dodge the rain in the highlands of Ella and the like – all travelers planning on hiking there will need to bring waterproofs and some thermal wear for the evenings.
Day 1: Colombo
There’s a big welcome to Sri Lanka from the buzzing capital of Colombo. This frenetic city is the main commercial hub of the island, and it’s worth exploring before you venture away to the mountains and the beaches. The trip in from the airport takes about 40 minutes. There are local buses but a taxi transfer is usually pretty cheap and way more comfy when you’re coming straight off a long-haul flight.
Your aim is the Fort area. That’s the downtown core of Colombo. It hosts all manner of intriguing historical relics like the Lighthouse Clock Tower, built by the British in 1856, and the Delft Gateway, an even-older entryway to the heart of the town that was raised by the Dutch in the 1650s! Colombo is also filled with tea houses and curry houses where you can get that first taste of the island’s unique cuisine.
In the afternoon, head south to the prestigious Colombo National Museum. It’s the most acclaimed museum exhibition on the isle, chronicling the history of the country since its earliest beginnings. It also sits within walking distance of the Seema Malakaya temple complex, where you can see meditating Buddha statues perched on the side of a relaxing lake.
In the evening, there’s nowhere better to be in Colombo that Galle Face Green. A hubbub of whirring tuk-tuks and samosa sellers, it’s the lifeblood of the city. The sunset there blazes a bright red and orange across the sky, illuminating the whole Indian Ocean, and you’ll get to people watch the locals playing cricket and strolling while you dine on spicy street food.
Day 2: Sigiriya
Day two of our Sri Lanka one week itinerary is entirely dedicated to an excursion out to the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sigiriya. You can do a day trip from Colombo but we’d actually recommend hopping on the daily morning train or a private taxi transfer to Kandy first, since that’s a better base for seeing the site and where you’ll be exploring tomorrow anyhow.
Either way, arriving in Sigiriya should take a couple of hours. When you do arrive, you’ll want to get a guided tour of the main site. It’s a vast and epic complex that dates back some 1,500 years. The most impressive part is a soaring bluff of granite stone known as Lion Rock, which hosts a ruined palace raised by King Kashyapa back in the 470s AD.
You’ll also want to see the carved lion paw at the base of the rock, the so-called mirror wall (which was once made from polished plaster to let the king see himself whenever he strolled past), and the abundance of ancient fresco work that adorns the stone. Finally, there are water gardens and terraced gardens that were added to the palace complex at a later date spreading around the main bluff.
If you have time left in the evening, you might also be able to plan a pitstop at Pidurangala Rock. That’s another sheer-cut bluff of stone that peaks above the horizon just north of Sigiriya itself. However, some say it has the best panoramas of the site as a whole, offering sweeping views that take in the aged palace complex, its surrounding water gardens, and the jagged spires of the Knuckles Mountains in the distance.
Day 3: Kandy
Wake up in Kandy and feel the cooling breezes of the Sri Lankan highlands. This quaint little city is tucked into the foothills a couple of hours east from the hectic capital of Colombo. It’s a real looker, set between lush, jungle-clad ridges before a shimmering lake of mirror-like water. Tropical birds flit through the air in the mornings and the calls of hooting monkeys echo around all day long.
Be sure to bag yourself a hotel on the south side of the town. There, a high hill rises to give all the accommodations a pretty epic view north over the whole town. Some options – like the OZO Kandy ($$) and Serene Kandy ($-$$) – also offer swimming pools on their roofs to make the most of the panoramas.
But you’re not here just for the views. Head down into the city itself and you’ll find arguably the most important religious shrine in the whole of Sri Lanka: The Temple of the Tooth. It’s a revered Buddhist pilgrimage spot that hosts a sacred relic that’s thought to be the tooth of the Buddha himself. Visitors can go on tours there to see the old royal palace complexes next door and the beautiful temple grounds that host blooming orchids and pagodas.
Afterwards, if you have the energy, consider scaling up to the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue. It’s a colossal sitting Buddha that has its own pretty majestic views over Kandy Lake and the surrounding hills. For dinner, hit Nagalingam’s Bhavan, a pure vegetarian Jain restaurant that served us some of the best dahl and lassi we encountered in Sri Lanka!
Day 4: Ella
Ella is the destination on day four of our Sri Lanka one week itinerary, but really, it’s all about the journey there. Taking a whole day, the Kandy to Ella train is one of the most epic rides you can do in Sri Lanka – nay, the world! We’re talking eight hours of winding and weaving through jungle-dressed mountains to plateaus high above the tropical coastal plains; a land dressed in tea paddies and tea plantations for as far as the eye can see.
The train leaves in the late morning from Kandy Station. You need to book ahead because it fills up very fast since it’s one of the biggest draws on the island. Try to get yourself a seat on the right-hand side of the carriage (the views are better).
Once you do get to Ella it should be approaching late evening. Still, there might be time to catch a sunset courtesy of the well-placed hotels on the southern side of town. We can recommend Ella Mount Relax Cottages ($$) or Two Rock Vista ($$), which both gaze straight down the main valley to the coast, offering glimpses of gushing waterfalls and Ella Rock. For dinner, check out Jade Green on Ella’s main street, or head to Mandala Café and Bar for some reggae tunes and cold Lion beers.
Day 5: Hiriketiya Beach
Hiriketiya Beach is one of the rising stars of the Sri Lanka south coast. We reckon you should visit now. Like, right now! Things are changing here with more hotels and whatnot almost every month. For now, at least, it’s still chilled and relaxed, with palm trees stooping down to a white-sand bay where turtles frequent the reefs. Talk about that fix of Sri Lankan R&R.
We’d 100% recommend getting a private taxi transfer as early in the morning as possible down from the mountains and Ella. The trip takes 2.5 hours by road and traffic will be easier before midday. That should leave at least half the day in Hiri (as it’s known to its loyal followers). And there’s lots to get through…
Start with a spot of lunch. Duni’s Hoppers is the place to eat. It’s a casual little breakfast-brunch diner that specializes in Sri Lankan egg hoppers (an egg cooked in the middle of coconut dough) with dahl. They also have cracking iced coffees. From there, you’re a mere five minutes’ walking from the beachfront.
Prepare to be stunned! Hiriketiya is a breathtaking bay enfolded by boulder-clad cliffs and clusters of coconut palms that bristle in the trade winds. You can unfurl the towel and laze down if you want, but the surf is some of the best beginner- and intermediate-level stuff on the island. There are like 20 spots to rent a board on the bay, but Dinesh’s Surf School and Lal’s are two good options.
You’ve got two breaks to surf in Hiriketiya. The one at the west end of the bay is the beginner beach break. It’s a mushy, easy going right-and-left with some good power behind it. The other is a lefty reef break that rolls in over shallow rocks but offers much longer rides.
After a session on the waves, head through the coast road to Dikwella Beach. It’s only a 10-minute walk but now hosts one of the best-rated cocktail bars in Asia (yep, Asia!). Cue Smoke & Bitters, where you’ll sip creative arrack mixes and dine on braised meats fresh out of the BBQ.
Day 6: Ahangama
Cue day six of our Sri Lanka one week itinerary: Ahangama is a stretched-out town that spread along the main Galle coast road for a few clicks. It’s a favorite among surfers thanks to the beginner-friendly beach break of Kabalana and the endless array of reefs that stretch south from that into Midigama.
So, if you’ve brought the board in tow, this is a cracking place to bed down. For starters, the break at Marshmallow is just about perfect. It’s a mushy – just as the name implies – deep reef that’s super mellow. More expert riders might prefer the wave at The Rock, an A-frame that rips out back from the sands of Kabalana in north Ahangama. You can get to all of those in a tuk-tuk within 10 minutes.
But Ahangama also offers some relaxed beach time, along with an array of upscale hotels with pools and tropical gardens where you can get some hard-earned down time – check out Kiri Palu ($$$) if that’s the sort of thing you want.
We also think Ahangama now boasts some of the finest dining on the southwest coast. Yum Pizza is a rare wood-fired option, but there’s everything from Levant falafel to Mediterranean fusion food on the menus in these parts. Sundowner beers at the bar at Soul & Surf can also be pretty special!
Day 7: Galle
Your final stop on our Sri Lanka one week itinerary is the historic fort town of Galle. Poking out of the shoreline right at the point where the island bends into the south coast, it’s a steeped in tales of colonial rulers. Yep, the town has been built up and commanded by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British, and it’s now a UNESCO site that’s hailed as the largest colonial fortress left in Asia.
The Fort part of Galle is where you want to be. It’s a charming European-style town that has cafés and bars spilling out under covered arcades. There are craft shops selling artisan teas and Sri Lankan souvenirs. You’ll gaze at age-old Portuguese palaces and mansions, and dodge tuk-tuks hurtling around the street corners.
Once you’re done with the historic park of Galle, remember that it’s also only a short tuk-tuk ride down to the famous beachfronts of Unawatuna. They’re known for their shimmering sands and lining of sunset bars. There are also reefs at nearby Dalawella Beach for those interested in snorkeling in the company of zebrafish and massive urchins (don’t touch!).
Where to go next?
So, you’ve completed our Sri Lanka one week itinerary, but you’ve still got some time left in the fabled Teardrop of India? Don’t worry – there’s still LOADS to see. Aside from extending your time in any one of the destinations mentioned above (we’d say Ella and Hiriketiya especially deserve a little more than just a single day), you’ve still got plenty of spots ready and waiting.
Assuming you’ll be located on the southwest coast around Galle town, since that’s where we finish the week-long trip plan above, the following places are convenient choices worth considering:
- Unawatuna – A built-up beach resort just south of Galle, known for its boho lunch bars and nightlife. There’s a long, sandy golden beach and a temple on a rocky island to see. You can also surf in the reefs just to the south.
- Hikkaduwa – One of Sri Lanka’s original tourist resorts, Hikka as the locals call it, has two top surf beaches and a busy stretch of sand. It’s a good place to finish a trip with some hard-earned R&R.
- Bentota – Bentota is one of the top places to seek out lux hotels within easy proximity of Colombo. Laze on the beaches, see winding Bentota River, eat well, and then return to the airport for your flight home.