Sri Lanka is one of my favourite countries to travel around as an adventure awaits around every corner.
The north of Sri Lanka can be a whole different experience than the south, so it’s worth exploring both regions.
On a recent visit to Sri Lanka, I went to discover the north of Sri Lanka for the first time.
The below route included the north and central regions of Sri Lanka and took me a week to explore.
If you would like to extend your trip by an additional week and make your trip two weeks in total and explore the south of Sri Lanka as well (which I can highly recommend), then be sure to check out my travel guide about Places to visit down south Sri Lanka.
This is a travel guide to help you explore the best places to visit in the north and central areas of Sri Lanka.
Best route to exploring the north of Sri Lanka
From Colombo, you have a few travel options if you wish to travel up to Jaffna.
You can take a private domestic flight which is the quickest option but can be the most expensive way. The most affordable method is travelling by train which is a fun experience in itself and will require the most time.
I’ve opted to book a tour with Jetwing Travels who took care of my travel arrangements from point to point throughout the trip, which is another option you can take. There are many ways to travel around the north of Sri Lanka. The choice is yours.
Safety concerns about Sri Lanka
After the attacks in April, I did at first have some concerns about travelling to Sri Lanka but now from my first-hand experience, I’m happy to share my opinion.
I noticed that many safety procedures have been put into place compared to my trip to Sri Lanka last year.
Safety has become a priority to ensure it never happens again. From extra security checks at popular tourist attractions, hotels and the airport to general road checks, Sri Lankan government has done its best to put prevention procedures in place to ensure the safety of everyone.
I felt safe and received that wonderful hospitality that Sri Lanka has always been famous for. It is a region that depends heavily on tourism and I hope that the country can bounce back and start to see visitors return once again.
Currently, at the time of writing, the Sri Lankan Electronic Tourism Visa is free of charge for UK visitors.
The FCO has lifted its travel ban to Sri Lanka and it has been declared safe whilst flight prices have been reduced to help tourism grow again.
It has never been a better time to visit Sri Lanka than now, so make the most out of it and plan your next trip.
I would always recommend reading the FCO travel advice website before you travel just to be aware of what’s going on regarding safety concerns and to double-check that your travel insurance is valid.
I hope this information has helped in making an informed decision. I found Sri Lanka to be a safe country to travel around and would recommend others to also visit.
As this guide is focused on the north of Sri Lanka, feel free to also check out the south of Sri Lanka.
Both my itineraries can easily be done over two weeks and are equally as unique and show different sides of Sri Lanka.
If you asked me which route I would prefer, my answer is simple, stay longer in Sri Lanka and do both.
Spend a day in Colombo
Why not relax after your long flight and visit the capital city of Sri Lanka, Colombo for a few days?
My favourite thing to do is take a Colombo Tuk Tuk tour with a local to all the popular spots around the city.
Such as visiting the Independence Memorial Hall, Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, Royal Colombo Golf Club, Colombo Lotus Tower, Colombo Fort Railway Station, Gangaramaya Temple, National Museum of Colombo, Viharamahadevi Park as well as the local markets.
Colombo is a perfect city to explore for a day or two before you start your adventure around the north of Sri Lanka.
Journey up to Jaffna
Jaffna is Sri Lanka’s northernmost city, located across the sea from close by India. Jaffna is also home to a large population of Tamil community who speak their own language and write in a different alphabet.
The Tamils most commonly live in the north and along the west coast of Sri Lanka. This is why you find different cultural traditions and food dishes in the north of Sri Lanka compared to other parts of the country.
Once you’ve arrived in Jaffna, take a day trip over to Nainativu Island.
You can grab a local boat taxi that can take you over. Here you will find two points of religious interest, such as Nagadeepa Purana Vihara which is an ancient Buddhist temple, and Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman which is a Hindu temple.
They are both located on the island and worth visiting.
Other highlights to discover around Jaffna would be to head to the Jaffna Fort which was built by the Portuguese and dates back to 1618.
Jaffna Library is also located close by and worth a visit. This historical library is an interesting place to check out and to have a glimpse of the past.
Before you go, be sure to also walk around Jaffna Market which is a wonderful local market full of fresh produce and household goods on offer.
It offers a great view into everyday life in Jaffna.
The ancient city of Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, famous for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sinhala civilization.
Here you will find Sri Maha Bodhiya, the oldest recorded planted tree in the world, as well as Ruwanwelisaya Buddhist Stupa and Kuttam Pokuna, also known as the Twin Ponds.
Head up to the top of Sigiriya
Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress and considered by the locals to be the 8th wonder of the world. The UNESCO site of Sigiriya is a must-visit attraction on any trip to Sri Lanka.
It’s one of the greatest examples of early preserved ancient urban planning.
The site for Sigiriya was selected by King Kashyapa for his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with colourful frescoes.
On a small plateau about halfway up the side of this rock, he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion.
The name of this place is derived from this structure, the Lion Rock.
Today it’s open for visitors and you can walk up to the top of the peak and enjoy the surrounding views.
Go on a wild safari in Kaudulla National Park
A visit to Sri Lanka wouldn’t be complete without first spotting an elephant in the wild. Kaudulla National Park offers private safari trips and the opportunity to spot elephants roaming in the wild.
The national park has a large selection of lakes which the elephants love to flock to just before sunset allowing you to usually spot a whole family of elephants bathing in the cool heat if you’re lucky. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity which is a simple must on your trip to Sri Lanka.
Central Highlands and the Mini World’s End in Matale
Along your trip be sure to head towards the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka. Go on a hike starting from the Mini World’s End which offers spectacular vista views from high above and is a great observation point.
Stay in Kandy
Kandy is a popular hotspot on any trip to Sri Lanka due to its picturesque and tropical surroundings. I’d recommend spending the day exploring the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens which can be found around 5.5 km to the west of Kandy.
The beautiful garden is located 460 meters above sea level and has around 4000 species of plants for visitors to admire. It’s also a perfect place to enjoy a high tea experience whilst enjoying the peaceful garden surroundings.
Take the train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
If you’re travelling around Sri Lanka, you have to try the Sri Lankan railway system – it’s an experience in itself.
For my journey, I travelled from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, and the trip takes around four hours.
Kandy train station has been around since 1864 and uses an old Tablet single railway track system which has been working like clockwork ever since.
This route is considered to be one of the world’s most scenic and beautiful train routes in the world.
The first part of the journey starts with passing through villages and that gives you a glimpse of everyday local life along the railway.
Then you will start to see bridges, rice fields and waterfalls, and the scenic part of the journey begins. Don’t put your expectations too high at the beginning because you need to let the journey warm up to reach the scenic part.
The route can be rather busy as it’s a popular route, especially during the peak season or during a festival. I would recommend booking first class to ensure that you have a reserved seat just to be safe.
You can book your ticket here with 12GO Asia.
But for the budget-minded traveller, the third class can be a great experience as well, it just doesn’t come with a seat reservation and you might end up standing for 4 hours. I wouldn’t leave it to chance.
Tea experience in the Nuwara Eliya Mountain Valleys
Nuwara Eliya also has the nickname of “Little England.” Due to its location and altitude you will find that the weather here is a lot cooler than it is in other parts of Sri Lanka, and you will often see locals donning woolly hats and jumpers as they find it very cold.
Which is rather entertaining to witness whilst you still have your shorts and flip flops on.
You can also find a wonderful Victorian style park here worth walking around, and a large lake and tea plantations located close by.
On your drive out of Nuwara Eliya, you will start to spot several different tea estates along the way as you continue driving through the Mountain Valleys which offer spectacular scenic views.
Be sure to stop off at one of them and sample a cup of tea for yourself.
Ceylon tea is considered to be one of the best cups of tea that can be found around the world.
Most of the tea is grown around this area due to the mountain valley and high altitude which are perfect conditions for tea growing.
Damro has a tea lounge you can stop off at along the drive and enjoy a cup or two with the valley view in the distance. You can also go on a tea field safari if you wish to get out into the tea fields and learn more about the tea production.
You can also visit the Pedro Estate which offers guided walking tours around the tea processing centre if you wish to learn about the production side of things.
Both experiences can be enjoyed in the Nuwara Eliya area.
Leisure on the beach in Negombo
Negombo is a city located on the west coast of Sri Lanka, north of the capital, Colombo.
Negombo has to be the perfect spot in Sri Lanka to end your trip due to its close by location to Bandaranaike International Airport which is most probably where you will end up taking your flight home.
Being close to the airport allows you to spend more time relaxing on the beach than at the airport before your flight takes you home.
What a perfect way to end your time in Sri Lanka.
Negombo Lagoon is lined with fishermen’s huts and you will be sure to spot them out at sea at the crack of dawn.
The most common fishing in this area is the shrimp. Be sure to sample the fresh prawns to taste the wonderful local flavours and dishes.
For accommodation, I would recommend staying at the Jetwing Sea Negombo where you can arrange a room with a sea view and pool access to make your last day perfect.
Thank you for reading my travel guide about the north of Sri Lanka
I hope you’ve found this guide to the north of Sri Lanka useful and you’re looking forward to your next trip to this unique region.
If you have any questions, feel free to send me a message and I’m more than happy to help. Happy travels!