Best places to visit in Jaffna with a handy map
I love Sri Lanka, I have already visited it twice and I am planning for a new trip soon.
Because it really offers any kind of experience in such a relatively small island. In my last trip I have visited Jaffna, in the northernmost area of the country.
If you are reading this post most probably you already know about this area of Sri Lanka, close to any sort of tourism only till a few years ago due to a long internal Tamil dispute. The train network was again activated only in 2014.
Today Jaffna, and the north side of the country, are as peaceful as the remaining part of Sri Lanka, which means smiles at every corner.
It can be however challenging to visit it as the unique attractions are quite dispersed in the area.
In this guide, I list the best 9 places to visit in Jaffna with a bonus spot, a typical fishing market that you will be very unlikely to share with any other tourist, a real experience.
The best is that I have organised a map with all the top things to do so you can easily move through them.
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Table of Contents
- 1 Top places to visit in Jaffna – a few quick facts
- 2 Best tourist attractions in Jaffna and around
- 2.1 Kaakkai Thevu Fish Market
- 2.2 Jaffna Dutch Fort
- 2.3 Clock Tower
- 2.4 Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil
- 2.5 Jaffna Beach (Casuarina Beach)
- 2.6 Keerimalai Pond
- 2.7 Naguleswaram Temple
- 2.8 Sri Sangamitta Viharaya (Buddhist temple)
- 2.9 Old buildings, churches and cathedrals
- 2.10 King Sangiliyan’s Minister’s House – Manthri Manai
- 3 Where to stay in Jaffna
- 4 How to get to Jaffna
- 5 Tamil Food in Jaffna
- 6 Map of the places to visit in Jaffna
You can read also
- The 9 best areas to visit in Sri Lanka
- Great itineraries of Sri Lanka
- Best time to travel to Sri Lanka
- Travel photography in Sri Lanka – best images and a full guide
- Top things to do in Kandy
- Where to go and how to experience a tea plantation in Sri Lanka
- What to see and where to stay in Sigiriya
- A guide to Kalkudah and Pasikudah Beach on the east coast
This is a 3 minutes video I did in my trips in Sri Lanka, with a drone as well. The beginning was shot in Jaffna.
You can make Jaffna as part of a 2-week tour through Sri Lanka. With local trains and buses.
This is not to say that Kandy or Colombo are cities that shouldn’t be visited.
In true honesty, I believe that globalization has still not a big imprint in Sri Lanka and this is why I usually suggest this country to my friends.
Before visiting any new destination I like to check the local news and happenings.
I found in Today Jaffna a great source of information (with Google Translator). Have a look, you may come across a street party or a celebration planned during your stay
Top places to visit in Jaffna – a few quick facts
If you have just 2 minutes spare for this post then you should know that:
- a trip from Colombo to Jaffna takes around 8-9 hours however you may be able to fly there as well
- a quick Jaffna map of places to visit is available here, move around with a guided tour or just rent a car or a taxi
- the beaches in Jaffna are nice however they are not the major reason to visit the area
- the Tamil food recipes of Jaffna are unique and different from the remaining part of Sri Lanka, unmissable
- English is widely spoken
- the major attractions are the local fish market, the fort, Keerimalai, Nainativu (Nagadeepa), Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, Deft Island, the countryside and read on for more
- the final Battle of the Sri Lankan Civil War in the Jaffna peninsula was in 2009. It is now a peaceful part of the country to visit
- the best time to visit the north is between May and September. Dry, sunny and lower humidity. In saying that, I was there in January and I had only sunny dry days with coolish nights.
If you can add another 4 minutes you may go deeper and keep reading about the full list of attractions, hotels in Jaffna and means of transportation.
Best tourist attractions in Jaffna and around
Few of the attractions are around town and they can be easily reached on foot.
I, however, suggest sparing a day roaming the peninsula with either a rented a car or simply with a tuk-tuk. There are so many nice places you would miss otherwise.
Kaakkai Thevu Fish Market
If you are fascinated by the local culture and the local way of living than I definitely suggest a visit to the Kaakkai Thevu Fish Market.
This is where the local fishermen come back from the sea and sell the fish.
There are two areas, one dedicated to the retail and one for the locals where people can buy the fish for their own meal.
Walk a few meters and you find the cleaning section, where the fish is made ready for cooking.
This is not an industrial area by any mean. It’s instead based on a few square meters, two sheds and a small pier.
It’s more down to the basics. You will be very unlikely to meet any tourist.
Check the map below for the location as there are many fish markets around the city (I got confused myself when I wanted to revisit the place for more videos)
If you are into photography then this is a must place to visit in Jaffna.
Jaffna Dutch Fort
The fort is probably the biggest legacy left by the Europeans, and more precisely by the Portuguese, and the Dutch later.
It is quite a big structure almost in the centre of town, really easy to visit on foot.
I visited the exterior on a sunrise photography walk however it was still close in the early part of the morning.
I would personally suggest a visit in the late part of the day (around 4:30-5pm) when it cools down.
Unfortunately, it opens too late (8am) for early access in the morning.
For some photography, I suggest staying on the coast side of the fort. You can find some nice spots with walls and sky reflection.
Fishermen are also in the area, another great subject for few photos
The clock tower is a historical site and landmark of Jaffna. It was built almost 150 years ago in the occasion of the Prince of Wales visit to Ceylon.
It’s a busy site and sunrise is the only time when you will find the square almost empty. In my early bird photography walk, I was almost on my own.
I would not wake up just for this tower though, add some more juicy stuff like a walk around the fort and in the city centre.
Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil
Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil is probably the most beautiful Hindu temple I have ever seen. And it will stay always in my eyes.
Simply, because photography is not allowed inside the structure and my eyes “stored” all the possible images.
And it’s a pity, however, I do fully understand the reasons.
This temple is so beautiful that the energy you can feel around would be disturbed by the many people taking photos and videos.
It was quite unassuming from the outside however once I entered and I started the walk I definitely felt a connection with someone, I am not sure how to describe it.
The silence was so “loud” inside the temple.
Be aware that men need to take off the shirt.
I tried to understand the reason for it but I am still uncertain on the real explanation if there is one (add a comment if you have more info).
One explanation mentions the fact that clothes may describe the social status of men.
Once removed, everyone looks similar, there are no more social classes. All the same in front of God.
Another reason is about the clothes blocking or slowing down, the positive chakra energy entering the body.
It is actually believed that the temples are built around energy points.
Obviously, you may ask why this works only for the men. I guess it is more because having topless women around is probably not a great idea.
I made a few photos around the temple.
My suggestion is to try to include the local ladies in your composition, they are usually dressed in very bright colours which makes a great contrast with the goldish background.
Jaffna Beach (Casuarina Beach)
Casuarina is reckoned by the locals as the most beautiful beach in the Jaffna peninsula. There is even a small fee to access it.
Was I impressed?
Let’s say it was not my highlight of the day. The beach is nice but it does not stand out.
When we arrived I could see only locals using it, which is another great signal of how this region is still a “secret” of Sri Lanka.
Do not plan your trip to Jaffna for just beach time (better options in the south or east of Sri Lanka) otherwise, you will end up disappointed.
Jaffna is more about a local experience, culture and cuisine.
Keerimalai Pond is one of the attractions of Jaffna that I liked the most. This unique place has also quite an interesting story.
This pond became famous in the 7th century when a Chola princess (one of the longest-ruling dynasties in the history of southern India) visited the place and after a bath, her face was transformed from a horse-like head to a beautiful woman.
The story is well pictured at the pond entrance.
During my visit, few boys were using the pond for a swim (females have a separate one behind walls).
It’s a pity I did not have a swimming trunk with me otherwise I would have checked if I could improve my look too LOL
This place is described also as Keerimalai Spring. I am personally not sure if the water nowadays is sourced by a natural spring or it comes through the small channel directly from the sea.
Either way, it is really a unique site to experience in Jaffna.
It’s a famous Hindu temple next to the Keerimalai Pond. It went through a history of destruction and repair started with the Portuguese and ending with the Civil War a few years ago.
But it’s still up and accessible.
Now for more than 2500 years.
Definitely popular with the locals however not as impressive as the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil.
Sri Sangamitta Viharaya (Buddhist temple)
This is the site where the Sacred Bo Tree of Buddhists (Sri Maha Bodhi) was planted in Sri Lanka.
The interesting fact here is that Hindu, Buddhist and Christians churches and temples are next to each other.
The Sri Sangamitta Viharaya is located just next to a beautiful beach.
Be aware that you are required to go barefoot inside the sacred area. However sand can be quite hot, I personally suggest to wear a pair of socks (I didn’t of course and I suffered LOL).
Old buildings, churches and cathedrals
There are plenty of them around, especially churches. They are quite intriguing, especially for some photography.
Usually, there is always someone looking after these buildings and with a small tip, you may have access.
The picture below shows the inside of the Archbishop Cathedral.
King Sangiliyan’s Minister’s House – Manthri Manai
King Sangiliyan’s Minister’s House is another interesting site to walk around.
Nowadays it is just a collection of ruins however the architecture, old 2,000 years, is actually very interesting and in my mind recalled the Roman Empire.
Cows are freely roaming in the yard, in the typical Indian style.
I must have spent 20 minutes finding the best one (cow and composition) to put in my photo below LOL
When I run my photography workshops I always suggest to add something to the photo that can make it unique.
Just think the same photo without the cow, it would be completely boring I believe.
I missed on this trip the Public Library of Jaffna, once the largest in Asia (unfortunately it was mostly destroyed by a fire in 1981) and Deft Island.
Something I regret and they are definitely both in my next visit bucket list.
The library is just in front of the tower clock, I walk through after sunrise but it was still closed.
Where to stay in Jaffna
Jaffna is a developing travel destination in Sri Lanka. This means that there is not a huge number of available hotels around and it may be a good idea to book your place well in advance.
I have since organised also a dedicated post to the best places to stay in Sri Lanka and Jaffna is part of it.
In Jaffna, I spent two nights at Jetwing and I had a great experience. It’s a brand new place, with a local interior design, located right in the centre of town, perfect for any kind of exploration.
The hotel is in a great central location and they organize visits to the major attractions as Keerimalai, Nainativu (Nagadeepa), Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, Deft Island (there is more on the places to visit later in the post).
This may be an option as well as just renting a car, a taxi or a tuk-tuk for 2 days and visit all on your own and with your time schedule.
How to get to Jaffna
Colombo to Jaffna by private transportation
A trip to Jaffna is not a quick thing to do, and that’s probably another reason why this area is so unspoilt.
My trip was made with a private van and it took me around 9 hours with a break in the middle.
The hard part is getting out of Colombo, so, if you can, try to have a very early start, it will probably save you one hour.
The drive itself is quite easy. The roads are almost straight but it’s a busy route used also by local businesses, which means it’s easy to get stuck in traffic, especially when driving through the towns.
Right in the middle of this 400km trip, you will cross the town of Anuradhapura, my favourite temple site of Sri Lanka.
Imagine a wide area made of different temples, ancient buildings, even men built pools.
It reminded me of Ayutthaya in Thailand. This is a great place to stop for a couple of days (I did it on the way back from Jaffna) and explore by bicycle.
Colombo to Jaffna by train
There is a direct train line from Colombo to Jaffna, I have not experienced it myself, however, I was said it’s a good option.
Travelling time varies based on the train you select (there are a few throughout the day). The Jaffna station was connected only in 2014 to the country network.
You can use one of the below options to check the timetable and tickets:
- the Official train website although it’s not always up and running
- the Seat 61 website , a useful resource for travelling by train and ferries which covers most of the world
- download this train app. Be aware it’s not officially supported by the Railway Network
The ticket costs between $3 and $10 based on the class and if overnight.
I personally suggest to not fully trust any website timetable. Just use it as a reference and try to book your ticket as soon as you are in Colombo.
The station itself is one of my favourite attractions of the city, a place to visit in the capital.
Colombo to Jaffna by Bus
A website I was suggested to use for transportation by bus is BusSeat. This is a great source as the train may be not available for some routes.
As an example, you may book the direct train from Colombo to Jaffna, on the way back stop to Anuradhapura for few days and from there take a bus to Kandy (there is no train line between these two towns).
SriLankan Airlines to Jaffna
SriLankan Airlines does not currently fly to Jaffna. However, you can try with Cinnamon, a small airline company in Sri Lanka that flies to minor destinations.
They fly only small charters to Jaffna, which means that if you are in a small group it may actually be quite convenient, besides saving a lot of time.
Tamil Food in Jaffna
The great thing about the Jetwing Hotel, where I spent two nights, was that they cooked local Tamil street food and it was absolutely great to have a taste through the huge selection.
However, honestly, you can find amazing food on any corner of every street. I spent my lunch at the Ammachi Unavakam food court, basically few tables shared by few ladies cooking on the side of the street.
That was an amazing experience! And so cheap too.
Sri Lanka can be visited really on the cheap if you eat street food. And besides the price, the quality is really amazing.
I like to close this post with two words used in a bizarre way in Sri Lanka:
- washroom, this is actually the toilette
- hotel, it’s used to describe restaurants that do not provide any room. If someone takes you to a hotel for lunch it may be just a restaurant (confusing hey LOL)
Map of the places to visit in Jaffna
For the interactive Google Map you can click on this link.
In this trip, I have been supported by the Tourism Board of Sri Lanka. As usual, all opinions are mine. I was not requested to write about it. Yes, it's all genuine. Actually I gave the tourism board some hard time because my days start at sunrise and finish at sunset LOL. Sorry guys :)