We had an amazing adventure in Sri Lanka with kids. It’s definitely do-able and not a destination to be scared of when travelling with kids. In saying this, it is definitely not as easy as other Asian countries.
Here is an overview of our Sri Lanka itinerary with kids. If you’re planning a family holiday in Sri Lanka, feel free to use any of this information as a guide. We are sure you will have an incredible time in Sri Lanka.
We had limited time (of course we did) so we focused on the southern loop including the hilly countryside around Ella. Sri Lanka is very diverse and there is much to see. We could have spent a month or longer and still not seen close to everything. In saying this, we still had a wonderful Sri Lanka family holiday. I think this is a great Sri Lanka itinerary to explore the best of Sri Lanka with kids.
I did struggle to plan our itinerary and work out what we really wanted to see and what we could skip. Our Lonely Planet is invaluable when it comes to travel planning. We wanted to plan a Sri Lanka itinerary that kids love as much as the adults.
We would highly recommend taking the family on an unforgettable journey through magical Sri Lanka. Beaches, elephants, tuk-tuk rides, mountains to climb, ice cream every day! The kids will love it. Sri Lanka is a perfect place to travel with kids.
Sri Lanka makes for a wonderful introduction to both travel and the Indian subcontinent.
I have put together a brief overview of our itinerary for our Sri Lankan family adventure. It covers a lot of the highlights of Sri Lanka, for families. Of course, there are many other places to visit but I am really happy with how this one worked for us.
What you can find in this post
We arrived late at night and had a pre arranged transfer with our accommodation. I knew that after a long flight we would just want to look for our name and get to our accommodation and bed as quick as possible.
Negombo is the closest beach town to the airport and I would recommend staying here on your first couple of nights. It’s approx. 20-30 minutes (depending on traffic). Whereas to get into Colombo it’s around 1.5 hours. We couldn’t face a long car trip in the middle of the night. We don’t feel like we missed out by not going into Colombo. There are always going to be places that are different to others when planning your Sri Lanka family holiday itinerary.
Our first official day was a chill-out day. We walked the beach and swam in the pool.
There are places to explore i.e. a canal tour and a visit to the local fish market (smelly but apparently good) but we set the day aside for the pool.
Today we arranged with the owners of our accommodation to drive us into Colombo to the train station. Here we picked up our train tickets for our Ella to Kandy train trip and lined up to buy our tickets to take us down past Galle Station to Weligama Station. From here it’s a short tuk tuk ride to Mirissa.
We hadn’t booked these tickets beforehand. We turned up at the station, and after lining up at a couple of wrong counters we found the correct line! You can book online now though if you’d like. This is the best place for Sri Lankan train tickets (it’s the easiest and most likely the cheapest) – 12GoAsia.
We had heard this train trip is quite spectacular and to make sure we had a seat on the right-hand side of the train. I have never seen so many people getting onto an already crowded train haha! It was hot, squishy and hard work. Olive was in tears! A combination of jetlag, heat and too much going on.
A lovely local lady offered the kids her seat so Ned and Olive were able to squash on the one seat. We didn’t see a great deal out the right-hand side window. So, I’ll take people’s word for it that there was a lovely view. I make it sound hard, and it was a bit. But it’s all part of the experience and I wouldn’t change it if we were going back again. I just want you to know what to expect.
I think our favourite accommodation for the whole trip was our Tree House in Mirissa. I actually booked this one through Air B&B. Check it out here –
So cool! Yes, it wasn’t expensive so we had no air con, rickety steps, an awesome outdoor bathroom, unsafe bunks (so the kids shared) and hardly any space for our luggage. So. Much. Fun! I had promised the kids monkeys in the trees but unfortunately, they weren’t visiting on our trip, ha!
We relaxed around Mirissa Beach. We visited the Secret Beach and enjoyed playing on the beach.
Things to do in Mirissa Beach include –
Exploring around the beach – secret/jungle beach etc – for an afternoon, beach bar and chairs set up.
Turtle hatchery – This is to be investigated individually and to go with your gut as to whether you think its a good idea. We looked into this but it really does get bad reviews (turtles taken from the beach just for tourists) we decided not to visit any of the Sri Lankan Turtle Hatcheries.
Here is another fun option (which we ran out of time for) – Swim with sea turtles, head to Mirissa and ask any of the tuk-tuk drivers. They know where the secret beach is and will take you to the ‘Coral Dive Centre’ (a house with some fins and snorkels outside) to kit up and get on the boat.
We didn’t have time in our itinerary to stop overnight in Galle. We planned a morning there instead. We travelled from Mirissa in a taxi. It was really hot and I am glad we were there by 9am.
We walked around (this is where we arranged our Sri Lankan SIM card) the wall and had a couple of ice creams each!
Lot’s of families overnight in Galle or stay in one of the larger resorts close by. To us there were so many others places we wanted to explore.
On the drive there and back we were on the lookout for the Sri Lankan Stilt fisherman (you can stop on the way from Galle in the tuk tuk to see these) – very touristy and they make you pay for a photo.
Travel to the town of Udawalawe – This trip is about 3 hours in tuk-tuk or 2 hours in a car. There was no way we were travelling any sort of long-distance in a tuk-tuk. The roads in Sri Lanka were pretty crazy.
As it turned out our taxi wasn’t particularly comfortable either but at least we felt sightly safer on the roads.
We stayed for one night at the Kottawatta Village Resort. We arranged our safari through them for the next morning and relaxed by the pool in the afternoon. Ned was so keen for a swim in walked in down the steps fully clothed!
Today we had an early morning safari to Udawalawe National Park. Unfortunately, I don’t think it was a good as it could have been. You can read all about our experience here.
Afterwards, we stopped at the Elephant transit home to watch the elephants being fed.
Then we travelled up to Ella in the hill country in a taxi (which is literally anybody with a car! All hotels etc will be able to arrange your taxi’s as needed) which was about 2 hours.
Ella was one of my favourite places in all of Sri Lanka. Yes, it’s a tourist town but there wasn’t a tourist bus in sight. There were lots of families and backpackers and it was a really cool vibe. There are plenty of things to keep you busy for a few days (I wish we had 1 extra day).
Climbing little Adam’s Peak and also Ella Rock were highlights. Little Adam’s Peak is a lot easier than Ella Rock. But, we took it slow and both kids made it.
Another highlight for us (and many ‘wow’ moments from friends back home) was walking along the tracks and Nine Arches Bridge – 20 minutes walk south along the train tracks from Ella station. We used google maps to make our way back to the road and caught a tuk tuk home.
There are many tea plantations in and around Ella to visit if you are interested. We were pushed for time (and we actually don’t drink tea or coffee so it wasn’t of great interest).
We stopped at Ravana Falls on our way into town. This is a good way to do it. I wouldn’t bother making a special trip from Ella. It wasn’t particularly exciting to be honest.
We had a nice and early start to the day as we walked to Ella train station and took the famous train trip – Ella to Kandy – where we could hang out of the train! About 6/7 hours in total and you can read all about our experience here.
We arrived in Kandy and could walk to our accommodation. We just booked something small and relatively cheap as we knew we were only staying for 1 night. We booked through booking.com
It was Sri Lankan New Year so everything was shut. It was a ghost town. We did visit the Temple of the Tooth but it was so crowded. The kids seem to enjoy walking around a temple but it didn’t do a great deal for me. World Travel Family has a great post of things to do in Kandy if you are looking for ideas.
Today we travelled from Kandy up to Sigiriya which was about 3 hours in a car. I had earmarked this leg of the journey to potentially do via bus if we were feeling up for it. But we said no way to catching the local buses! They drive like crazy, they didn’t stop to let people on an off (you literally had to jump to get on or off as the bus pulled to the side for a moment). It’s super easy to arrange car transport in Sri Lanka though.
Top Tip – Take snacks and anything else from Kandy as not much else at Sigiriya
We had booked the Magaredda Retreat in Sigiriya. It was our first experience of checking out of accommodation early. We didn’t feel comfortable in this accommodation at all and you can read about what happened here.
After we dropped our bags off at the Eco Village Resort we headed straight to climb Sigiriya. I had read mixed reviews about the suitability of kids tackling this climb but as we do – we take our kids everywhere and we all get pushed out of comfort zones.
It was so busy (but more so when we left) that it was slow going anyway so that kids were fine. Yes, it was hot, really hot, and were desperate for a swim but we all survived.
We wore our longer pants and t-shirt our of respect as it is is cultural site. One guy in front of us had his t-shirt off. I just don’t understand, do they really not understand or do they just not care? If they really don’t care, then why bother visiting these places.
The first half of the climb was back to back with people with varying degrees of fitness so we didn’t feel under pressure at all to be quick. We took our time with the kids and stopped where we needed to (or where we had no choice for photo’s etc).
The second part of the climb (which was in full sun) was really hot and we had to literally yell at an Asian tourist more than once as she put her elbows out and tried to push past the kids. We looked back down a few minutes later and she was miles behind and huffing and puffing. Silly women.
We definitely relaxed in the afternoon by the pool.
Our second choice for an elephant safari was Minneriya National Park which you can visit from Sigiriya. If you don’t make it to Udawalae or it doesn’t fit into your itinerary then Minneriya would be a great option.
Most people leave Sigiriya after climbing Lion Rock but we gave ourselves a whole other night as we were excited about tomorrow morning’s activity.
Today we were up quite early to climb Pidurangala Rock. Pidurangala Rock is certainly less touristy than Lion Rock but we enjoyed the walk heaps more. I think mainly because it wasn’t as crowded and busy.
At the start you are required to take your shoes off and have your shoulders covered. There are sarongs to hire if you are not wearing a t-shirt. After the temple you are able to put your shoes back on.
From here the stairs start and they go on and on, and on! All the way to the top. But to be honest it actually felt longer on the way down rather than the way up.
Towards the top there are rock boulders to scramble over. This is why the kids enjoyed this walk so much. Anything for some rock scrambling.
From here we headed back for another afternoon of swimming and relaxing. To be honest, this is the one day where we could have squashed down the itinerary. But, when travelling with the kids I had to make sure I was building in enough down time to the itinerary.
There are many other things to explore around this area including the Dambulla Cave Temples. We were planning on stopping here on the drive up and then potentially on the way back to Colombo but to be honest, the heat and the reviews put us off. We don’t feel like we missed out on anything amazing.
Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, and Anuradhapura are the three ancient cities that comprise the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka. Many people also visit the sites around Polonnaruwa but we didn’t feel like heading out again in the afternoon after Lions Rock or Pidurangala Rock so we gave it a miss.
Today we travelled back to Colombo (Negombo) in a car with the same driver we had been using over the past few days.
On the way back we visited Ritigala Archeological Monastery. This lesser-visited archeological site features long pathways that wind through the jungle and remains of an ancient monastery. The site is less crowded than the popular Sigiriya, cooler with its tree canopy and involves less climbing. We really felt like we were off the tourist path stopping here. We were originally not going to take a guide but had no idea where we were going so ended up heading back and grabbing a guide. We paid him too much ($20) but that’s ok!
The site was fantastic, but as Ross said – We have started at the top with the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu and the temples of Cambodia so everything else doesn’t really compare. I’d still recommend a visit as it is definitely not a tourist site.
We then took the rest of the day to get back to Negombo. It was a long drive! The roads are terrible and the driving is pretty scary. But we made it! We stayed somewhere different to our first night (but just down the road) which we booked through booking.com which had a tiny pool (All we needed), breakfast and a new car to take us to the airport.
Overall thoughts on Our Sri Lanka itinerary with kids
Overall, I think we gave Sri Lanka with kids a pretty good crack! Of course with limited time there is always going to places that don’t make the list. It is all part of the planning.
Overall, we thought this was a great Sri Lanka itinerary to explore the best of Sri Lanka with kids.
Somedays I feel sad that we can’t see everything I’d like and other times I realise how wonderfully lucky we are to do all we do with the kids.
I am so amazed with how fantastic they travel and take all the new experiences, heat, food, people and places in their stride. Travelling with kids in Sri Lanka was a great experience.
Bring on the next adventure!
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