A 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary will give you a chance to soak up a ton of culture, history, beaches, mountains and curry. We have done a couple of Sri Lankan routes after coming in 2017 and 2018 and spent a collective 5 weeks trying to find the best Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary to enjoy this country.
What we’ve detailed below is a breakneck speed, highlights tour of a Sri Lanka in 3 weeks. You don’t have to move this fast, but if you are coming all this way why not pack a ton of stuff into this Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary? Take this as a suggested guideline.
There is So. Much. To. See. We’ve been to this island nation twice in the past two years and have spent about 5 weeks here and still haven’t explored the north or southeast adequately.
Take this 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary as a guide to help you plan out what means the most to you. The beauty of Sri Lanka is that it can offer culture, history, mountain, beaches, and be a foodie paradise in such a small space. It’s a fabulous country to explore: cheap, safe, easy and the people are so nice and welcoming.
Here’s a 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary to help you see the best of what this country can offer a tourist.
Day 1-2: 1 Night. Fly into Negombo
Reward yourself with a massage on that first night.
Flights are listed as arriving in Colombo, but you’re actually going to land in Negombo. What used to be a fishing village an hour North of Colombo is now a bustling city on its own, servicing the International Airport.
We spent an evening in Negombo and decided to ask the locals the best place to go for an Ayurvedic massage. We were recommended the Jasmin Villa Ayurveda Resort which was a delight. For a couple of bucks (2100 LKR ≈ 12 USD), we got an hour long oil massage. It was lovely.
We stayed at a bed and breakfast called Krishan Villa, which was lovely. An old colonial house with coconut and mango trees in the front yard. It was spacious and beautiful, the kind of house that leaves you feeling like you took a step into a postcard.
Day 2-3: 1 Night. Go to Colombo and Spend 24 Hours There (not much to see otherwise).
Colombo is an hour south of Negombo and is- honestly- a chaotic, overwhelming city. I wouldn’t recommend staying there longer than 24 hours and if you wanted to skip it entirely that’s OK, too. I think there are a lot more interesting places to see on a 3-week Sri Lanka route without spending too much time in the capital.
That said, we saw a couple of temples while we were there that were really, really weird and interesting.
Colombo is changing rapidly. Due to a lot of foreign investment from China the city is expanding and modernizing. While we were there we were confounded by the amount of cranes, construction sites, and building happening. If you want to get a glimpse of the old chapter before the new one completely bulldozes it, you might want to take a look around.
We stayed at Bunkyard Hostels which was reasonably priced and in a good location.
If you are looking for a place to eat, we loved Upalis which had very good items on the menu and was reasonably priced.
Day 4-6: 2 Nights. Kandy.
Taking a train to Kandy from Colombo is a classic way of getting around on a Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary. The train ride is really peaceful and I found myself asleep for the majority of the ride. Jackson enjoyed looking out of the window.
After a few hours the train goes higher into the mountains and the scenery gets much very pretty. Make sure you sit on the RIGHT side of the train because those are the windows that look out over the mountains.
We booked first class tickets in the “viewing car” so that you get “optimal views” of the mountains and found that the windows were not ideal for snapping a top of shots and our seats were facing backward the whole trip which was frustrating.
The second time we went on a Sri Lanka route, in 2018, we took a private car from Colombo to Kandy. This cost about $35 USD and was not nearly as comfortable as the train.
Kandy is the jump-off point for the rest of a Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary. Not only is it a cultural capital of the country, it will also get you connections to almost anywhere else on the island. It’s a bustling city filled with tons to go see. It’s not nearly as chaotic as Colombo, though.
I would recommend coming here straight after Negombo to start your 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary quicker by just skipping Colombo.
We went to the Botanical Gardens which were lovely. Very relaxing and beautiful. We took a nap under a tree and enjoyed wandering around the gardens taking pictures of the strange-looking African trees and Asian Bamboo groves.
There are also a crap-ton of temples in Kandy, including the Temple of the Tooth. This is a lovely complex and we would recommend checking this out, just don’t go on the weekend like we did (very crowded!!).
Day 6-8: 2 Nights. Sigiriya.
Sigiriya is a MUST on anyone’s 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary. This is one of the defining features of a holiday to this island. It’s a large rock that sticks out of the jungle and is so unique to Sri Lanka. We loved Sigiriya: the history, majesty and climbing to the top to look at the fantastic views.
When we visited the price was $30 USD or 4500 LKR. With the exchange as it is at the time of writing ($1 USD ≈ 175 LKR) you’d be better off paying in local currency if you have it. In general it’s advisable to carry around plenty of local cash, as you’ll often find yourself in situations where you either can’t pay with credit, or the credit card machine isn’t working.
We went at sunset at the suggestion of a local. I don’t know that this time would be any better than going at sunrise, except we were able to watch the sunset from the top which was really pretty. Sigiriya was still very crowded, even at 4pm when we went.
Day 8-10: 2 Nights. Anuradhapura.
Anuradhapura used to be a capital of Sri Lanka over 2,000 years ago. Now it’s a crumbling set of ruins, but it is EPIC. This sprawling complex of buildings, pools and temples will take a lot of time to really cover. We spent one day here on our Sri Lanka itinerary and rented bicycles to get around.
It was HOT, dusty, and confusing, but it was a lot of fun. One of the highlights was an ancient temple built thousands of years ago. It was so cool going in there and seeing such old history.
When you stay in Anuradhapura make sure you stay at the Little Paradise Tourist Guest House we went here for dinner while we were in Anuradhapura on the recommendation of locals and it was FANTASTIC. Honestly, the best food we have had on any of our Sri Lanka routes. It’s all home-cooked by the woman who needs a head count of who will be eating before 3pm.
It’s totally worth staying at the hotel if you get a chance, it’s not the cheapest option in the area (about $60/night) but it looked really pretty and… that food!!
If you’d like to read more about what Sri Lankan food is like you can check out “Sri Lankan Food: What to Try When you Visit“
Day 10-13: 3 Nights. Nilaveli.
Anuradhapura is pretty far north and you can head East toward the Northeast coast on your Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary, which is not very touristy. After the Tsunamis of 2004 the Northeast was almost completely wiped out and suffered a lot of economic depression. Compounding all the natural devastation with the destruction from the civil war, this area needs all the love it can get.
We spent a couple nights near Nilaveli beach which was lovely, empty, and cheap. We had the whole beach to ourselves and got a massive, beautiful room to stay in. I’d highly recommend staying at Nagena Hira Beach Villas, where we stayed. Just make sure you bring plenty of cash because they don’t take credit cards and the nearest ATM is a 30-minute drive back to Trincomalee.
Day 13-14: 1 Night. Polonnaruwa.
Polonnaruwa became the Sri Lankan capital after Anuradhapura was sacked about 1,000 years ago. This is a much smaller ruin of a city, but I think it was a lot easier to digest. It was great to see in a day and a lot easier to get around. I think, between the two ancient cities: Polonnaruwa was our favorite.
On any trip that takes you around Sri Lanka in 3 weeks, you’d be sorry to miss this stop. You can get around easily on a rented bike and see so much in a couple hours. Entrance fee was about $25 USD.
We came out to see these ruins on our Sri Lanka itinerary while we were staying at Sigiriya. It was easy and we took a bus there and back.
Day 14-16: 2 Nights in Haputale. 1 Day at Horton Plains National Park.
Day 14: go back to Kandy and then take the train or bus to Haputale.
Haputale happened by accident. We had been staying in Nuwara Eliya and wanted to get closer to Horton Plains National Park. Admittedly, Nuwara Eliya has transportation to Horton Plains and Knuckles, but Nuwara Eliya SUCKS.
I don’t know why people tote this as a stop on a 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary because it really has very little to do and see. We stayed at an Airbnb which was very pretty, but the food in Nuwara Eliya wasn’t very good, the architecture is not what everyone says it is: it was a big disappointment. I wouldn’t bother going if I were you.
The food was fantastic. We ate lunch a couple times at Sunrise Restaurant, which served some damn good Sri Lankan food. The town sits high on a hill and the views of the surrounding area are phenomenal.
We got Strawberry milkshakes at Golden Hill Tea Shop, which were great! The venue was in a really large building that had a lovely area to sit in and relax in the shade. It was full of plants and eclectic items to stare at as we drank.
We stayed at Hotel Nature Horizon and although the accommodation itself was pretty “meh” the views from their balcony were unbelievable. We didn’t even bother going to Lipton’s Seat because we didn’t think that the views could be improved on.
Horton Plains National Park
This is a must-see if you are in the area. The hiking here is spectacular and we loved the opportunity to stretch our legs and take in some of the gorgeous views of the mountains. A good Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary will give you a chance to stop here!
At the entrance to the park, expect to pay about 8,000 LKR (≈ $45 USD) for a couple, including the driver and car fees.
It’s cheaper to come to the park in a group of 4+, as the price of the ticket per person goes down. When we went, we linked up with another couple staying at our home stay and went with them. We organized the trip through our accommodation at Hotel Nature Horizon. We left before dawn and got driven over to the park by the owner’s son.
Day 16-17: 1 Night. Ella.
A lot of people go crazy over Ella. We get it. We, however, weren’t too crazy about it for a couple reasons:
- It’s very touristy: lots of Western bars, clubs and restaurants.
- It’s expensive
- It’s crowded
There is a lot to do around Ella, so I totally get why people go there when doing Sri Lanka in 3 weeks. If you are looking for a “Khao San Road” experience on your Sri Lanka route (and maybe a taste of what is to come the more globalization continues to spread?) then Ella is your place.
We enjoyed doing the highlights tour of Ella when we went and wrote more about that here if you want a list of things to do. If you want to do all that Ella has to offer you should budget about 2 or 3 days, but considering how touristy it is, I’d spend more time in Haputale and then do a day trip to Ella instead.
Day 17-19: 2 Nights. Udawalawe.
In the South there are a ton of National Parks. We hiked in Sinharaja National Park while on our Sri Lanka itinerary and it was pretty good. A friend of ours went to Udawalawe to see Elephants (and unluckily for her she didn’t see many). There are plenty of good wild-life viewing parks to see on a 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary and I don’t think that any one park will be better or worse than another.
Yala is the popular choice and we didn’t go there because we’d heard it was very crowded and choked with tourists. After our experience with Chobe in Botswana being choked with tourism it was really not our intention to go to an already saturated area.
We’d recommend Udawalawe because it is a little more off the beaten path and has a ton of wildlife to see. Like any safari, though, a lot of what you experience has to do with luck. I think a Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary should include a chance to visit a national park, the wildlife and nature there is so diverse.
Day 19-21: 2 Nights. Galle.
The old district of Galle is lovely and a great place to see if you are coming South on your Sri Lanka route. We really enjoyed Galle’s fort and wandering around the old town. The restaurants are good, there are a lot of shops and hotels but it hasn’t fully been globalized yet so it all still feels very Sri Lankan which is a relief. (Although I don’t expect that to last for long, Sri Lanka is becoming more popular every year and there will be the Tiffany’s, Gucci’s, and Prada’s moving in in a matter of time, to be sure…).
We enjoyed walking along the fort walls on our Sri Lanka itinerary and came back the second time we visited in 2018. The fort is iconic and you can snap a ton of great shots while doing Sri Lanka in 3 weeks.
Day 21 go back up to Negombo to fly home.
From Galle, you can catch a train that will take you back up to Colombo in a matter of hours. Hitching a ride with a taxi or a bus to the airport is easy and can be done in a day when you come to the end of your Sri Lanka 3 week itinerary.
If you are looking for a Sri Lanka itinerary that is not 3 weeks, we have also made a Sri Lanka route that will take you all over in 2 weeks. We based this second itinerary on the first visit we had to this country and still look back on that visit very fondly.