The landscape, the history, the people, the food, the beach … there is nothing I don’t LOVE about Sri Lanka. It is really the richness and the diversity of the country that appeal to me. I have been lucky to visit Sri Lanka 5 times now, and although it has evolved a lot since my first visit in 2011, I still enjoy the country each and every time. That is what I wanted to round up a 1-week itinerary in Sri Lanka, dedicated to first-time visitors with a limited amount of time. One week in Sri Lanka is barely enough to enjoy the country and I would recommend spending at least 2 weeks to cover most of the interesting sights. But if 1 week is what you got, you can still have a great time and see plenty, thanks to this 1-week itinerary.
Just for your information, on my most recent trip I had a car and a driver, so for this article I will not be able to give you much details about public transportation, but do know that bus & trains are a cheap & easy way to travel around the country if you have time or if you are on a budget.
1 WEEK IN SRI LANKA, THE FULL ITINERARY
DAY 1 – KANDY
Drive from Colombo International Airport to Kandy : Around 3.5 hours
Kandy is the cultural capital and spiritual center of Sri Lanka, and a good stop on your way to the rest of the central region of Sri Lanka. Most of the sights to visit, the train station, the market etc… are walking distance from the lake, the heart of the city. While in Kandy, make sure to visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, walk around the Lake and visit the Central Market. If you are looking for some peace or if you love plants, make sure to check out the beautiful Peradeniya Botanic Garden.
For more details to plan 24h in Kandy here.
Where to stay in Kandy: The Secret Kandy
DAY 2 – TRAIN TO NUWARA ELIYA
Train Kandy – Nanuoya – 4 hours
The blue train running from Kandy to Ella is one of the most scenic train rides in the world! Depending on the class you choose, the experience can go from comfortable to pretty chaotic, but it is always worth it. For some epic pictures of this ride, check out the blog Journey Era . His pictures are stunning.
For more tips to prepare and fully enjoy your train ride, check out my article here.
Before heading to the hotel, stop by one the many tea plantations and factories around, to discover how Ceylan tea is made, the different grades, the difference between green tea and black tea (Spoiler Alert: It comes from the same leaves !), etc.
During my last visit, I stopped by Labookellie Estate Tea Factory, which I do not recommend. I visited it back in 2011 and it was a charming place to learn more about tea making and then sip a cup and eat some chocolate cake in a pretty setting with a view over the cloudy tea plantations. Now it has turned into a tourist factory, with an army of ladies reciting their speech by heart as quickly as possible without showing any interest in the matter! It is free (although tipping expected), but it is really not worth your time.
DAY 3 – HORTONS PLAINS & NUWARA ELIYA
Drive from Nuwara Eliya to Hortons Plains – 1.5 hours
Wake up extra early and head over to the beautiful and peaceful Horton Plains for a hike. The walk around the park is 10 km and takes around 3 hours to complete. About midway through the walk, discover World’s End, an incredible 900m cliff, dropping straight into the valley. Be there before 9 am to enjoy the view before the fog rolls in.
After Hortons Plains, enjoy the center of Nuwara Eliya and spend time walking around Gregory Lake, visiting Victoria Park, and checking out the British style Post Station. You should quickly get a sense of why Nuwara Eliya is commonly nicknamed “The Little England of Sri Lanka”.
DAY 4 & 5 – ADAM’S PEAK
Drive from Nuwara Eliya to Dalhousie – between 3 and 6 hours
Take it easy in the morning, or explore more of Nuwara Eliya, before starting the long drive to Dalhousie, the “base camp” of Adam’s Peak. Climbing Adam’s Peak during the pilgrimage season (December to May) is a very unique and rewarding experience and anyone in reasonably good physical shape should consider it. Hiking the more than 5000 steps to the top should take you around 3hours. I recommend to do the hike at night (leaving Dalhousie around 2 am) to enjoy a spectacular sunrise from the top! Once rested from the hike, drive to Udawalawe.
Where to stay in Adam’s Peak : Slightly Chilled
DAY 6 – UDAWALAWE
Drive from Dalhousie to Uda Walawe National Park – 140 km – 5 hours
Udawalawe National Park is one of the best places in Sri Lanka to see elephants, wild buffalos, a myriad of birds, and if you are lucky, even some leopards. My favorite part of the park is around the reservoir; suddenly the view is endless and the blue sky and white clouds reflect in the water. Personally I prefer Udawalawe to Yala National Park, as the chance of seeing elephants is a lot higher, but both parks are worth a visit.
Once done with the morning safari, drive down to Unawatuna for some well reserved relaxing time by the sea.
DAY 7 – UNAWATUNA
Drive from Udawalawe to Unawatuna – 140 km – 4 hours
The southwest coast of Sri Lanka is ideal to relax, enjoy the beach, take surf lessons, do some yoga and reflect on how great the rest of your trip was! I like Unawatuna because of its proximity to Galle, but it is also one of the most touristy and busy beaches. Spend the day exploring the coastline and once you find the beach that suits you, work on your tan, drink a fresh coconut, or catch a few waves!
Where to stay around Unawatuna : Apa Villa Thalpe
DAY 8 – GALLE
Drive from Unawatuna to Galle – 6 km – 15 min
Hop on a tuk-tuk and drive to Galle Fort. This former Dutch settlement is a wonderful collection of narrow alleys, old colonial buildings, and a great shopping, eating and drinking destination.
Enjoy the view from the fort walls, check out the iconic lighthouse and visit the Dutch Reformed Church before enjoying a chic drink in one of the upmarket hotels installed in the most beautiful colonial buildings. Galle is also a great place to shop for souvenirs before heading home.
Where to stay in Galle: The Fort Printers
ALTERNATIVES TO CONSIDER
A couple of alternatives things you could do :
- From Kandy, take a day trip to Sigiriya, and climb the famous Lion Rock. On the way stop by the Dambulla Caves.
- From a more young/ happening destination, swap Nuwara Eliya for Ella, and discover the iconic Nine Arches Bridge and countless waterfalls.
- If you don’t feel like climbing Adam’s Peak, you can do Little Adam’s peak, an easy 1h climb with a rewarding view at the end.
EXPLORE GREAT HOTEL DEALS FOR SRI LANKA
I hope this one-week itinerary in Sri Lanka s going to be useful for you. Don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below if you have any suggestions or comment to improve it!