For several years now, this island paradise has been our most popular destination – and by some margin. Whilst Sri Lanka’s tourism industry has taken an understandable and well-documented hit during 2019, it’s testament to how appealing and buoyant this relatively small but diverse country is that tourism is now very much back with a bang.

Allow us, if you will, to recap on why Sri Lanka is a tick-all-the-boxes family hotspot.

Fabulous beaches, waterfalls and hotel pools. Great weather, whichever school holiday you choose. Just enough sightseeing to keep the troops from getting bored. Phenomenal scenery – mountain, coastal and foothills carpeted with tea plantations. Wildlife, both on land and water. Adrenaline fuelled activities. Truly scrumptious food.

We could go on…. In the interests of brevity, though, we’ve selected our Top 10 favourite things to do and see in Sri Lanka with kids.

It’s great to be back.

1 – See elephants swim while eating a scrumptious picnic 

Elephant swimming in lake - Sri Lanka - luxury family holiday

Enjoy a family picnic and look out for elephants swimming with trunks held aloft, in Gal Oya National Park

These majestic beasts always feature highly in any of our trips to Sri Lanka – whether it is spotting huge herds in one of the many national parks, catching sight of them crossing a major highway as they follow an age-old elephant corridor that existed long before roads and parks were created, or getting up close at the wonderful Millennium Elephant Foundation near Kandy. At Gal Oya National Park you can enjoy an unforgettable few hours walking with elephants, feeding them and even taking a shower from them. Highly educational and a huge amount of fun too and top of our ‘Sri Lanka with kids’ things to do. Check out our Places to visit in Sri Lanka page for more ideas.

2 – Watch the sun set over Sigiriya 

Boy looking across to Sigiriya at dusk

Enjoy the peace at Pidurangala as the sun sets over Sigiriya in the distance

When travelling to Sri Lanka with kids, the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya a.k.a. ‘Lion Rock’ is a crowd magnet, and for good reason. Literally hundreds scale its 200m peak throughout the day, but sunset understandably draws even more as they jostle to witness the glowing horizon from such a vantage point. Climb Pidurangala, a neighbouring mountain and you’ll not only see the sun set on those jostling crowds but be able to enjoy it from an entirely different – and peaceful – perspective. Be warned, the last bit of the climb involves a little scrambling. Ideal for tweens and teens, perhaps not so great for Granny. See our example Sri Lanka itineraries which include a visit to Sigiriya.

3 – Learn top cooking tips from a local expert chef

Cooking lesson with chef in Sri Lanka

Cooking lessons are one of our most popular family activities

Sri Lanka is famed for its food. Although when ordering ‘curry and rice’ in other countries, you may be presented with exactly those two foodstuffs, here, you’ll be wowed with eight to nine different dishes at a minimum. In the heart of the Ashburnham tea estate, we know of a wonderful, friendly local chef (let’s call him Reggie), who’ll give you and your kids a private, informal lesson so you can make some of these authentic dishes when you return. It’s one of our top Sri Lanka with Kids insider tips.

4 – Spot leopards in Wilpatta National Park

Yala National Park

The kids will love looking for leopards, soth bears, elpehants and crodiles in Wilpattu

If there’s a better introduction to the concept of safari than going on an afternoon wildlife safari in Wilpattu National Park (other Sri Lankan NP’s also apply!), we can’t think of it. There’s actually a 50 – 60% chance of spotting the park’s most famous and sought after creature, but if you don’t see a leopard then there’s sloth bears, crocodiles, elephants and the famous Sri Lankan rooster (?!) to keep little Attenborough’s happy. A Sri Lanka with Kids must-do. You can visit Wilpattu on both our Sri Lanka Summer Tour and our Sri Lanka Christmas and Easter tour. Also take a look at our Top 5 wildlife experiences in Sri Lanka for more ideas.

5 – Enjoy some family time on a paradise beach

Family on beach, on Sri Lanka with kids family

Pick between buzzy beaches with lots of activities or long stretches of secluded sand with azure seas

It would be remiss not to include one of the main reasons to travel to Sri Lanka with kids: its beaches. Yes, this is the stuff of picture postcard paradise – palm fringed, azure blue warm waters, a hammock or three. If you’re travelling during summer, then it’s the north east beaches where the sun will shine; head south and west during Christmas and Easter. So, whether you prefer a bit of buzz with your beach (we recommend Weligama for its numerous restaurants, hotels as much as its surfing and swimming) or walking barefoot along remote sands in Tangalle beach for example, Sri Lanka ‘does beach’ brilliantly.

6 – Cycle around the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa

Buddha at Polonnaruwa - Sri Lana with kids holiday

Explore Polonnaruwa at a leasurely pace by bike, and don’t miss The Vatadage (Round House)

There are two well known ancient cities to explore in Sri Lanka: Anuradhapura, which is much older and therefore the most visited and Polonnaruwa. Of the two, we prefer the latter. It’s less crowded, less dilapidated and its giant Buddha carvings we think gives it the edge. As you pedal through the trails, you’ll enjoy the journey just as much as the destination, and keep the kids engaged throughout, too. Find out more about Polonnaruwa on our Places to visit in Sri Lanka page.

7 – Take an iconic train journey

Sri Lanka with kids - train to Kandy

Do the Kandy to Ella train trip with the kids in reverse if tickets are in short supply

The most famous train line in Sri Lanka meanders from Kandy to Ella in 5 ½ hours, though picturesque scenery and jaw-dropping valleys. Now, maybe your children would sit happily for the duration, but certainly, not ours, so we recommend a different section, travelling from the mountains which surround Kandy, through tea plantations to the plains surrounding Columbo. Not only it, at 45 minutes much shorter, it’s also less crowded and much, much cheaper. If you’re hell bent on doing the longer version, then ticket availability during school holidays is in short supply. Do the Kandy to Ella trip in reverse and you’ll come up trumps. Toot Toot!

8 – Spend a night (or three) in a tea plantation

Luxury family holidays bungalow in Sri Lanka - with pool overlooking lake

Treat the family to some serious R&R

Whilst Sri Lanka has shrugged off its colonial past, you can still get a hint of it if staying in the tea plantations in the central regions of the island. Our favourite hotels are found in the less-visited Knuckles range to the north of Kandy, where you’ll find a smattering of lovely, boutique cottages or hotels with swimming pools, croquet lawns, tea served in bone china cups and where G&T’s are served at 6 pm. Check out our Sri Lanka itinerary examples.

9 – Go whale watching

Whale watching Mirissa Sri Lanka

Take the kids whale-watching at Mirissa – best from November to April

Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to watch the migration of the Blue Whale. If you’re travelling during the Christmas or Easter holidays, you’ll be able to hop on board one of the many dedicated boats from Mirissa to spot them. However, if money is no object and / or, you prefer a much less intrusive experience, then we thoroughly recommend hiring a private catamaran for an encounter you’ll never forget.

10 – Make your own Sri Lankan souvenir

Sri Lanka Fire Mask - Sri Lank with children holiday

Learn to make a traditional Sri Lankan Fire Devil mask, a lovely sounvenir to take home

In the cultural triangle near Dambulla, the thriving craft scene is known for the country’s main export – clothing. However, we know of some local artisan producers who will also teach you how to make your own authentic mask or batik, so you have something unique and extra personal to bring back home. Your very own Sri Lanka with kids souvenir!

More about holidaying in Sri Lanka with kids

If you’d like to know more about Sri Lanka with Kids then do check out our two sample itineraries, our 15-day Sri Lanka Summer Tour or Sri Lanka at Christmas or Easter. Or, for a more comprehensive overview of what to do and see in the country, visit our Sri Lanka destination page.

Best time to visit Sri Lanka

Centre and South coast – Christmas, Feb half term and Easter
Centre and North East coast – May half term and summer

Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel
We always love hearing about family holidays so do send us your photos and tell us about your experiences of holidaying in Sri Lanka with kids.
Body boarding in Sri Lanka

The kids will love the mix of activities in Sri Lanka, with time on the beach the perfect way to complete a holiday