When choosing to visit the island formerly known as Ceylon, I faced the challenge of choosing the best 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary.
After I read a lot of articles and experiences of fellow travel bloggers, I got some inspiration from various packages offered by travel agencies, I did a lot of research on what points of interest, activities, and attractions the island has to offer, I finally came up with a 16 nights itinerary. I mixed together a few days in the hectic city capital of Colombo, some relaxing days in the mountains, and long days in the summer sun.
When you think about a 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary, I have read a lot of things and I have understood that one can come here several times without getting bored or exhausting everything there is to be seen.
But since we had only a limited amount of time and wanted to get also a little bit of relaxation, I have chosen to skip some of the more active destinations and focus on the zen and relaxation part (you know me).
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Read next: Things to know before visiting Sri Lanka
Our perfect Sri Lanka Itinerary in 3 weeks
Day 1 to 3 – Colombo
The trip has started with a few days in the island’s capital, Colombo, where we were welcomed by a lot of craziness.
But how else would you have a taste of the local way of life and culture? Getting lost on the streets of such a city must be truly interesting!
I must admit though, that apart from the crazy way of driving around in those small tuk tuks, the town is much more impressive than I was expecting it to be. We walked around, entered some impressive temples, that were very different from everything else I’ve seen before.
Buddhist temples and Hindu temples are very colorful, and even though they make for some of the most Instagrammable places in Sri Lanka we as tourists must always respect these sacred places.
Things to see in Colombo
- Colombo Fort and its impressive architecture influenced by the Dutch ruling period. Don’t miss out on the Colombo Fort Railways Station and let yourself seduced by this architectural gem.
- Pettah Market where you’ll feel part of the daily life of local people.
- Colombo National Museum is not only for its colonial architecture, and beautiful garden but also if you want to learn about Sri Lanka’s history and culture.
- Gangaramaya Temple may be the most popular Buddhist temple among tourists. We spent some time here and strolled around in the vicinity. Pay around 300 rupee entrance fee and make sure to have your shoulders and knees covered.
- Ashokaramaya Temple – brightly colored and not very populated, I think we were the only ones inside at the time of our visit.
- Colombo Dutch Hospital – for the foodies out there!
- a local market where you can buy Sri Lanka souvenirs, tea, and more
Where to eat in Colombo
When in Colombo there are certain things you should not miss when it comes to food and eating out.
Because it was next to our hotel we ate pretty much all our meals during our stay in Colombo at the Red Orchids Restaurant. The food was delicious even though the restaurant is on a rather obscure street, and they have also a Chinese cuisine menu. It’s really worth a try if you’re in the area.
However, the one place on every foodie’s list of incredible places to try in Sri Lanka is the Ministry of Crab restaurant. Made famous by the world-renown Anthony Bourdain who ate here twice throughout his career, you will need to make a reservation way ahead of time.
When you find yourself unable to book a table at the Ministry of Crab, don’t worry just yet. Chef Dharshan Munidasa has two popular restaurants in Colombo: Kaema Sutra (Sri Lankan food) and Nihonbashi (Japanese cuisine).
Where to stay in Colombo
We wanted our trip to start perfectly, thus we booked a great hotel by the sea, with a stunning sea view. We could also see the iconic blue train passing by with the sea on one side and the bustling town on the other.
I would stay by the window and watch the crazy traffic from above, stunned how they don’t have more accidents.
In the evenings we would relax by the infinity rooftop pool with a cocktail in hand because Ozo hotel has one of the coolest rooftop bars in Colombo.
Other great options that would answer your where to stay in Colombo question are:
- Cinnamon Grand Colombo hotel – check out prices here!
- Jetwing Colombo Seven – see when they’re available here!
Day 4 to 6 – Kandy
Our next stop was in another iconic town of Sri Lanka: Kandy.
Beautifully set around a prominent lake, in the middle of the mountains and tea plantations, Kandy has significant importance also from the religious point of view. Here is where the famous Temple of the Tooth is, and Buddha’s canine tooth is kept according to the local legend.
Throughout time, the town held great importance as the capital of the Kandian Kingdom. Needless to say, there is plenty to do and see in Kandy.
What to do in Kandy
- We visit the famous Temple of the Tooth, located in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy.
- We strolled through Kandy’s Royal Botanical Garden and were owed by the lush vegetation. You can easily spend plenty of time in this place and just relax between the hundred types of orchids, or along the palm tree path. Mix both attractions in a Cultural Show City Highlights Tour
- We went for a spice tour in a spice garden and discovered the secret powers of Ayurveda.
- We went to a traditional Kandian dances show.
- Optional for the more adventurous: Sigiriya Rock Fortress and Cave Temple Tour or Sigiriya Rock, Village Tour and Minneriya Park.
- When you only have one day you can always book a tour from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya by Train and see the tea plantations in one day.
Where to stay in Kandy
We chose another OZO hotel with a great location and a great view. From the pool area, we could see the mountains and the lake.
Even though there was a bit of a walk uphill from the city center, getting there was not hard, and hiring a tuk-tuk is simple and cheap in Sri Lanka.
Other great Kandy hotels:
- The Kandyan Manor Home Stay – a wonderful, affordable outdoor chalet with a garden view – book it here!
- Villa Rosa – a quiet location with fantastic views of the river and yet a 15-minute walk from the city center – book your stay here!
Day 7 to 9 – Nuwara Eliya
One thing was sure: I didn’t want to miss the chance of experiencing the scenic train ride on one of the most beautiful routes in the world!
Kandy to Nuwara Eliya is said to be one of the most picturesque itineraries, climbing the mountain, passing by waterfalls and a lot of tea plantations. And once we got on the train I started to understand why.
I would say this was one of the highlights of the trip. Another option for your Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary would be to take the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. As popular and with stunning breathtaking views.
What to do in Nuwara Eliya
Since the village is rather small, on the top of Sri Lanka’s mountains, there isn’t so much to do in the city itself. Of course, there’s a reason why people still come here, apart from the mountain-style accommodation.
- We went on a tea plantation tour, learned about the production, did some tea tasting, and stopped at many tea shops. I purchased the hands-down best tea in the world from these places around Nuwara Eliya.
- We went to see the Ramboda Falls and climbed the many stairs to the falls once we paid the entrance fee. We were “mugged” by monkeys and stopped for lunch with a crazy view on our way back.
- On our third day, we went rafting on the Kelani river, and it was one of the greatest experiences!
- Other activities: take a full-day tour to Ella and Little Adam’s Peak
Read all about experiences in Nuwara Eliya here!
Where to stay in Nuwara Eliya
As I’ve said, Nuwara Eliya is small in size, but that does not mean there aren’t some great places to stay in.
We stayed at a rather small hotel with a pretty nice view since it was up on the hill. I wouldn’t recommend the place, because it was very cold and noisy but here are a few other great options:
- Heritance Tea Factory – ultimate colonial-style stay experience enhanced by the tea plantation and the misty mountains. Check it out and book your ultimate stay here!
- Villa Tea Fields – perfectly located at the edge of Gregory Lake, on the lower end of the budget, this villa looks stunning and sits between the tea plantations. Check out their rooms here!
Day 10 to 12 – Yala National Park
Also, what is a vacation in such a country without the chance of seeing the local flora and fauna? Thus, visiting a local national park is a must. We chose Yala for that and I hoped would be rewarded with lots and lots of beautiful surprises.
And I wasn’t disappointed at all. Even though the safari didn’t come close to the one we experience in Tanzania some years before, it is still a once-in-a-lifetime thing to do in Sri Lanka. Book here your Yala National Park safari and get the chance to see the leopards and much more wildlife.
We were lucky and did see one, but I’m not surprised he ran away with all those cars running around trying to see him.
On the other hand, we managed to see plenty of elephants in their natural habitat, and other smaller animals going by with their days.
However, one of the best things about Yala was our hotel: Jetwing Yala. This place was excellent from the moment we arrived at the moment we left further on our three-week itinerary through Sri Lanka.
The view to the sand dunes from our room, the incredibly comfortable large bed, the hotel’s private beach, were only a few of the things that surprised us. Up to this day, I remember those delicious meals with a huge variety of things to try out, that immense pool, the perfect message I got at the hotel’s spa.
If you’re ever around, please book at least one night at this hotel. Check out prices and availability here!
Day 13 to 17 – Bentota
And last but not least, the place where we will finish the trip, leaving time and space for a whole lot of relaxation and water activities, the Southern part of the island, the place that offers lots and lots of beaches, like Mirissa, and warm weather!
We chose to stay in Bentota, really close to Galle and Mirissa.
Unfortunately, we had a bad experience with our booked hotel which was overbooked so we had to stay somewhere else without getting our money back. Be careful if you’re looking into The Surf hotel.
Apart from that, Southern Sri Lanka is amazing. A long strip of pristine beaches with so many options for activities and relaxation.
What to do in Southern Sri Lanka
- spend time on the beach
- take some surfing classes
- go whale watching
- visit Galle fort
- spend some time in Mirissa one of the most Instagrammable places in Sri Lanka
- go diving in Sri Lanka
- chase the swings in Unawatuna
Where to stay in Southern Sri Lanka
Some of the best places to stay for the beach are in Southern Sri Lanka, thus you will have plenty of locations to choose from:
- Mirissa – the hippest place, perfect for surfing and whale watching
- Unawatuna – incredible beaches close to Galle, a world heritage site
- Bentota – closer to Colombo and the airport
Visa requirements for Sri Lanka
Depending on where you are traveling from, you will most likely need a visa. Check your Visa requirements here!
The good news is you can easily apply online for your tourist evisa, and get it in no time. The visa is usually valid for 6 months and costs around 50 USD.
The process is done online, and you also get all the information you might need (related to any testing, quarantine, or insurance needed).
Best time for your Sri Lanka itinerary?
The answer to that question depends very much on the area of the island you want to see. However, our trip started in the middle of January and ended in February and we didn’t have any problems.
When planning your Sri Lanka itinerary take into consideration the following:
- The main monsoon brings rain to the west and southwest coasts and the central hill country from April or May to September and you should avoid traveling from April to June.
- The northeast monsoon hits the east coast from November to March and you should avoid traveling from November to December.
What to pack for Sri Lanka
Traveling for 3 weeks in Sri Lanka following my itinerary or your own version of it will take you through different landscapes and temperatures. That’s why having the right clothes and some travel accessories is essential.
Here’s what you should definitely have in your luggage.
Most of Sri Lanka will treat you with hot weather, but Kandy and Nuwara Eliya can get really chilly during the evenings.
Thus, make sure to bring on:
- a jacket – I would go for denim
- at least 2 blouses for layers and a zip-up tracksuit jacket or a sweater
- some TOMS comfortable shoes
- a colorful travel-size umbrella or lightweight rain jacket
- a lightweight scarf which can also be used as a cover-up on the beach
Other useful accessories
- a good and handy water bottle
- the quick dry towel will always come in handy
- a dry bag
- a mosquito net
- mosquito repellent – this is an absolute must! We had big issues with mosquitos during our stay in Bentota, thus bring some strong repellant with you and use it daily. A repellent bracelet would also come in pretty handy once the night falls.
- sunscreen and mosquito repellent 2 in 1, check the price here
- a universal adaptor comes always handy no matter where you travel to
Sri Lanka Tours
As I’ve said, we’ve booked a tour for our 3 weeks in Sri Lanka itinerary, and I suggest you do the same. Why waste time and money on planning and maybe not getting the greatest prices on transfers, experiences, and/or hotels?
GAdventures have a great custom made 14 days Sri Lanka tour which will take you through my itinerary and Negombo and Sigiriya on top! You’ll have all the hotels, transfers, some meals, a train ride, boat ride, and a whole lot of incredible experiences included in the price.
So here it is, my Sri Lanka itinerary 3 weeks:
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