Sri Lanka itinerary 7 days – The ultimate 3 daily plans with maps

Let me say straight away that it is a real challenge to design a 7 days Sri Lanka itinerary.

This is one of the 20 biggest islands in the world.

Honestly, you will not have enough time to travel all around Sri Lanka, however, if you plan your trip in advance, you will be certainly able to see a lot, you will be surprised

Listed below are three travel plans according to your type of trip – active, relaxing, cultural or a little bit of everything.

But let’s get straight to it

You can read also

Sri Lanka itinerary 7 days – In a nutshell

Below are three types of itineraries I have designed based on my previous trips to Sri Lanka.

You can find a map below with the most interesting areas of the island.

There will be more detailed maps for each Sri Lanka 7 day itinerary.

Best area to stay in Sri Lanka
Best area to stay in Sri Lanka
  • Sri Lanka itinerary in 7 days for beaches, surfing and sea: there is no doubt that Sri Lanka has some of the most picturesque beaches on Earth. The surfing scene is so relaxed, with some great easy going waves, as well as some challenging spots. You may also want to factor in whale-watching if there in the right season. Read more below about the day-by-day plan.
  • 7 days Sri Lanka itinerary to visit all you can: this itinerary will give you a lot of experiences, but it will be on the go and it can be quite tiring. This is why I always recommend that you add 1 or 2 extra days to your trip in order to relax at the beach and recharge your batteries. Read below for the detailed travel plan
  • 7 days in Sri Lanka – The relaxed itinerary: this is the best travel plan for a relaxed visit to the country. While you will still get to see and experience many places and activities, you will also have a chance to relax and chill out at the beach or by the pool. Check out below my daily plan with a map.

For each itinerary below, I have also listed a few suggested accommodations for your stay. I have documented even more hotels in this guide to the best places to stay in Sri Lanka.

Keep in mind that the winding roads make any trip longer than you would expect, especially in the centre of the island

Many buses connect all the above areas on the map.

Private transportation can also be organised and that can significally reduce the travel time by as much as 50%.

There is good connectivity between Colombo and the south (Galle and Hikkaduwa) in around 2-3 hours. It takes around 3-5 hours to travel east (Kandy) and north (Dambulla, Anuradhapura).

A transfer to any other location can take the entire day.

For instance, Arugam Bay is amazing if you are a beach lover or more specifically a surfer. But it will take approximately 7-8 hours to get there from Colombo.

It will take less time from Galle/Hikkaduwa.

The 12Go website is exceptional for booking internal transportation, even better for private transfers, the best way to maximise your transfer time.

Check Sri Lanka transportation

There is no central bus booking site in Sri Lanka. You should consult a local travel agency or directly at the bus station.

Trains connect some destinations as well. The Sri Lanka Railways website offers information about all routes and timetables.

Although the train is the most charming and characteristic way of travelling in Sri Lanka, especially between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, it is also the slowest way of getting around.

Sri Lanka itinerary in 7 days for beaches, surfing and sea

May to September are the best months for surfing on the east coast (Arugam Bay) and October to April are the suggested months for surfing on the south coast (Galle to Hikkaduwa).

The weather is not as consistent as it used to be though. You should check this guide on the best areas to visit based on your travels dates and the Sri Lanka weather website once you will be there.

Usually the shoulder months are the best to enjoy both the south and east coast.

You will mostly be staying on the coast in this itinerary

Sri Lanka itinerary in 7 days for beaches, surfing and sea
Sri Lanka itinerary in 7 days for beaches, surfing and sea

Day 1 (overnight in Hikkaduwa)

Once landed at the Colombo Airport you have two options.

Grab a local bus to Colombo where you will spend the remaining part of day 1. The following day, you can take another bus to Hikkaduwa.

Despite the fact that there is a lot to do in Colombo, I recommend bypassing the capital and instead arranging a private transfer from the airport straight to Hikkaduwa where you will stay the first three nights

If your travel plan is all about the beach, sunbathing and surfing, then stopping in Colombo is not really worthwhile.

Day 2-3 (overnight in Hikkaduwa)

Explore Hikkaduwa Beach and Narigama Beach, both within one kilometre of each other.

Snorkeling and diving are great at both beaches.

In addition, there are a variety of breaks for both beginners and advanced surfers, making it a perfect place for improving and learning your technique.

Visit the tiny Turtle Beach (10 minutes from Hikkaduwa) for a relaxing time.

This is a great place to find turtles, some of which are giant (there is an unwritten rule against touching or grabbing them)

For those who would like to explore the village and learn about local families, food, and traditions, I recommend joining this Local Hikkaduwa Village Tour.

I suggest also spending at least an evening in Galle, one of the most beautiful towns in Sri Lanka, just 30 minutes east of Hikkaduwa

I discuss Galle more in depth in another post, but I mention here that the unique Galle Dutch Fort is also UNESCO-listed.

You should also not miss a boat trip for whale watching, if you are in the right season between November and April.

This was one of my favourite experiences in Sri Lanka even though it is a long day that starts at 6AM.

You should book your tour well in advance if you are travelling during peak season; there is a 24 hour cancellation policy, so you can change your plans if necessary.

Check price for whales watching

And here is the spectacular view of two whales jumping out of the water
And here is the spectacular view of two whales jumping out of the water

Day 4 (overnight in Arugam Bay)

Your next home is Arugam Bay, a magical place.

You can book your bus once you are in Hikkaduwa or book a private vehicle on the 12Go website.

It takes about 5 hours to travel by private transportation. By public transportation, add 1.5-2 hours.

Once there, there will just be enough time for you to check in at your accommodation and explore the local beach

Plan a delicious roti dinner at Why Not Restaurant

Day 5-6 (overnight in Arugam Bay)

Get to know this east coast jewel over two full days.

The following are two of the most popular beaches with surfers around

  • There are easy waves at Elephant Rock, which is a good place for learners to learn (take your board from town)
  • The beach at Arugam Bay, in town’s southern part, has more challenging waves

The town has several surf shops where you can rent a board or arrange lessons. The price here is among the cheapest on earth for learning the sport.

Just after Elephant Rock is Peanut Farm Beach, another magical spot located a few kilometers south

Pottuvil point is a nice day trip around 5-6km north of Arugam, one of the safest beaches in the area.

Foodie hotspots in Arugam include:

Day 7 (overnight in Colombo or Negombo)

The transfer will be the longest of the entire trip. It could take as long as eight hours or even more.

It is highly recommended that you book your private transportation in this case. This will save you a ton of time.

A van/car can be booked directly at Arugam Bay or on the 12Go website (online bookings tend to be cheaper than in-person bookings).

You can decide to spend the last night in Colombo or in Negombo, a nice beach town north of the capital and just minutes away from the airport.

Accommodations and experiences:

If you still have 24 or 48 hours spare in the country, you can check my guide to 10 days in Sri Lanka for a few more tips.

Mt Lavinia Beach - On the best beaches nearby Colombo
Mt Lavinia Beach – On the best beaches nearby Colombo

7 days Sri Lanka itinerary to visit all you can

This itinerary emphasises cultural activities, including a few historical sights in Sri Lanka.

You will experience some of the best attractions of the country, however, you will miss out the beaches of the south and east coasts.

It is not possible to experience everything in Sri Lanka in 7 days.

7 days Sri Lanka itinerary to visit all you can
7 days Sri Lanka itinerary to visit all you can

Day 1 (overnight on the train)

As you arrive, you will have enough time to transfer to Colombo and from there, catch the overnight train to Anuradhapura, one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka.

The trip itself is a wonderful experience. It will take you back to the old British Empire.

You can buy the ticket at Fort Colombo Station, one of my favourite places to take travel photos in the capital.

Check always the latest timetable on the Railways website.

In saying that, there is usually a quick train leaving at 8:30pm for a trip of just 4 hours. In this way, you can have a late arrival at your accommodation.

Alternatively, catch any train after 9pm to sleep on the train and be in Anuradhapura in the early hours of the morning. The trip takes 7-8 hours.

If your flight to Sri Lanka arrives in the morning, you could

  • explore the capital. Check this guide on all the interesting things to do in Colombo, or
  • take an earlier train to Anuradhapura to spend more time there. There are plenty of trains, however, the quick option (4 hours trip) runs only every 2 hours from ~9:45am.

Day 2 (overnight in Anuradhapura)

Colombo has only been Sri Lanka’s capital since the 19th century.

For over 600 years, the city served as the capital of the Sinhalese people in Sri Lanka, until it was invaded by the South Indian army.

The city was abandoned just like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the jungle covered it with overgrown plants and trees.

That’s how almost all of Anuradhapura’s temples, monuments, and other sites have been preserved in immaculate condition.

Following the discovery of Anuradhapura by British researchers in the 19th century, it became the country’s Buddhist pilgrimage center.

An ideal way to explore the ancient capital is by bicycle, which you can rent just about anywhere.

A tuk-tuk with a driver is another option if it’s too hot to ride a bike.

Day 3-4 (overnight in Sigiriya)

In the morning of the third day, take the bus to Sigiriya where you can experience probably Sri Lanka’s most iconic sight, the Lion Rock Fortress.

A bus or private van can take you there in 2-3 hours.

I describe many of the area’s fascinating attractions in my guide.

Check into your hotel and then get ready for an elephant safari in the Minneriya National Park.

You can arrange it by yourself, but it will require time as you must organise transportation from your hotel to the park, then you must bargain for a jeep inside the park, and finally you must purchase the tickets (if they are not sold out).

This is why I strongly suggest you book the safari in advance, including transportation back and forth from your accommodation (free cancellation up to 24 hours before the start)

Safaris are best done in the late afternoon, before sunset, when animals are likely to walk down to the lake to drink.

Book your Elephants Safari

We actually got very close to the elephants
We actually got very close to the elephants

The best time to visit the magical Sigiriya Fortress is in the early morning on day 4, perhaps as soon as the gate is opened.

As a result, you will have some fresh air and be pretty much alone at an attraction that’s usually quite busy.

There is only one way up to the fortress with plenty of stairs, part carved in the stone, so you might have to wait if there are many travellers around walking at different speeds.

Relax at the accommodation in the afternoon.

As an alternative, you could climb up the Pidurangala peak for sunset if you have any energy left

Day 5-6 (overnight in Kandy)

The next day, take the bus to Kandy (about three hours).

A private driver may also be able to take you to Kandy through the Mini World’s End, a national park with a spectacular view and cliffs that are similar to a Norwegian fjord.

It is, however, a long detour that keeps you busy for an entire day, as you have to drive 5 hours and walk 2-3 hours.

The city itself has so much to offer that I wrote a guide on Kandy’s attractions. I suggest you check it out to better plan your staying there.

15 great things to do in Kandy

Day 7 (possible overnight in Colombo or Negombo)

It’s time to take either a bus or a train back to Colombo, or directly to the airport.

If you have some spare time to kill, you could plan a short itinerary in Colombo with this guide.

Alternatively, you could go instead to Negombo, a beach town just minutes north of the Airport, for sunbathing and the last swim.

How to plan the best out of Colombo

From Colombo, you can also book a private transportation to the Airport which is a real bargain if you are in a group of 2 or 3 people.

I suggest staying in Negombo if you have a spare night.

Accommodations and experiences:

7 days in Sri Lanka – The relaxed itinerary

This itinerary includes some beach time and interesting sights mostly in central Sri Lanka.

You won’t have to change accommodations as often, and you can explore some of Sri Lanka’s most scenic spots in a more relaxed way.

7 days in Sri Lanka - The relaxed itinerary
7 days in Sri Lanka – The relaxed itinerary

Day 1 (overnight in Kandy)

Organise a private transfer directly from the airport to Kandy, the best way to start your trip straight into the action.

Alternatively, take a bus to the Fort Colombo Main Station and grab a train from there to Kandy. The train trip alone is around 2.5-3 hours long.

Enjoy a stroll through Kandy’s old centre and the many temples surrounding it.

Day 2-3 (overnight in Kandy)

On day 2, take advantage of the city’s offerings, beginning with the local meat and fish market in the early morning and, of course, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

In my Kandy guide, I’ve covered all the things to do, including the Esala Perahera Festival, one of the most colourful religious pageants in Asia (be aware that accommodations sell out months in advance in that period).

19 things to do in Kandy

Top things to do in Kandy - Sri Lanka
Top things to do in Kandy – Sri Lanka

On day 3, I recommend visiting a tea plantation area, of which the one around the Nuwara Eliya is my favourite.

In another extensive guide to the Tea Plantations in Sri Lanka, I discuss how to visit them.

However, in light of your limited time, I would recommend joining this local organised tour that will take you on the “Tea Train” to Nuwara Eliya and back to Kandy by van.

There is no other way to describe the view from the “Tea Train” between the hills and endless tea plantations.

As you head back by van, you will also stop at the Ramboda Falls.

This tour gives you the opportunity to experience the “Tea Train” as well as the surrounding landscape and the small villages that are only accessible by car.

During the tour, you will also have the opportunity to visit a Tea Factory and sample the “real tea,” as the tour guide described it to me.

Organised Tea Tour back to Kandy

With more time, you could consider doing it on your own, but with just 7 days in Sri Lanka, it is not an option.

Day 4 (overnight in Sigiriya)

This is the day to travel to Sigiriya, one of the most interesting and beautiful areas in Sri Lanka

I suggest booking your accommodation at the unique Water Garden Resort or the Jetwing Lake.

They are both so lovely (my preference goes to the Water Garden, I must say) with a great pool to spend some time relaxing between attractions that tend to be either early in the morning or late in the day.

In the late afternoon of day 4, experience the elephant safari at the Minneriya National Park.

Before sunset, you will find a lot of wild animals around, heading to the lake for water.

Avoid taking a safari during the day, since most animals are hidden sleeping in the forest

The safari can be organised directly at the hotel, or you can save some money by booking directly online this jeep tour which picks you up and drops you off at the hotel, offering a worry-free experience.

Book your Elephants Safari

Day 5 (overnight in Sigiriya)

Your day 5 will begin with a hike to the Sigiriya Rock fortress, also known as Lion Rock, which is built onto a massive monolith, with part of the stairs carved into the stone

It is one of the most iconic and unique historical sites in Sri Lanka.

After lunch, enjoy a chilled out afternoon by the pool in your accommodation

In case you still have energy, climb up to the Pidurangala peak to see Lion Rock and the National Park from a different corner.

I have also written about other experiences in my guide to Sigiriya, including a hidden gem you should not miss out.

7 things to do in Sigiriya

Best things to do in Sigiriya - The fortress and so much more
Best things to do in Sigiriya – The fortress and so much more

Day 6 (overnight in Negombo)

Organise an early morning trip back to Negombo, just north of Colombo Airport. This is where you will spend the rest of your holiday.

Private transportation is the quickest option (3-4 hours), if you would like to travel directly to Negombo.

A public bus is also an option, but you may need to go first to Colombo, which will add an additional 2 hours to your trip. Check out bus availability at Sigiriya bus station or at your hotel.

Day 7

Seat and relax by the pool or at the local beach based on your departure time.

Negombo beach is actually quite nice, and it’s only a short drive away from the airport (a big advantage if compared to Colombo city centre).

Take a walk also through the old town and fishing village, always a good place to take a few pictures.

Accommodations and experiences:

Tea plantations in Sri Lanka
Tea plantations in Sri Lanka
The "Tea Train" from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
The “Tea Train” from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
Anuradhapura, one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka
Anuradhapura, one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka
Contrasting colours at the Praying at the Buddha at the Gangaramaya Temple
Contrasting colours at the Praying at the Buddha at the Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo
Fort Railway Station in Colombo - Train arrival
Fort Railway Station in Colombo – Train arrival
Amazing view from the infinity pool of the Movenpick Hotel Rooftop
Amazing view from the infinity pool of the Movenpick Hotel Rooftop in Colombo
Swimming Pool at the Lion Rock
Swimming Pool at the Lion Rock
Peak of Sigiriya
Peak of Sigiriya
The main station in Colombo, great spot for travel photography
The main station in Colombo, a great spot for travel photography
The beautiful Kandy in the early morning
The beautiful Kandy in the early morning
Lanes and alley of Kandy town centre
Lanes and alley of Kandy town centre

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