Sri Lanka with kids: Your 6D5N itinerary to the ultimate family holiday

From wild elephant safaris to UNESCO World Heritage sites and pristine beaches, Sri Lanka offers an adventure the family will never forget. Here’s your guide to a week-long trip to the country.

Sigiriya Rock
  • Delle Chan
  • February 2020

Sri Lanka has long been a highly underrated destination, but travellers are wising up to its numerous charms: think idyllic beaches, verdant tea plantations and atmospheric temples. It is also relatively family-friendly, with good transport infrastructure and activities that will appeal to the young and old alike. Plus, it’s now easier than ever to get to Sri Lanka, with Jetstar Asia currently being the only low-cost carrier to fly direct to its capital, Colombo.

Day one: Chill out with locals at Colombo

Galle Face Green
Here at Galle Face Green, you’ll find families flying kites and vendors serving up various types of street food — from paratha (flatbread) and hoppers (steamed rice noodle discs) to barbecued prawns and devilled crab.

Home to the country’s main international airport, the capital of Colombo is the natural starting point for your family’s holiday to Sri Lanka. Take things easy on your first day in the country. Head to Galle Face Green opens in new window — an oceanside park that stretches over 500m along the coast. Visit in the evening to soak up the sublime sunset views.

Day two: Visit the “Eighth Wonder of the World”

Wake up bright and early for the 3.5-hour drive to Sigiriya opens in new window (otherwise known as Lion Rock), a UNESCO-listed ancient fortress that is often regarded as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Sigiriya Rock
This UNESCO World Heritage site is considered one of the best examples of ancient urban planning.

Formed from the magma of an extinct volcano, the granite monolith towers over its surroundings at 200m. If you and your kids are up to the challenge, climb the 1,200-plus steps to the top (there are several rest areas along the way) to discover the weathered ruins of a 5th-century palace complex.

Dambulla Cave Temples
Dambulla Cave Temples are the largest cave temple complex in the country.

Then, it’s a 30-minute drive to the Dambulla Cave Temples opens in new window, another UNESCO-listed wonder that dates all the way back to the 1st century BC. The temple complex comprises five caves, which are filled with religious art like Buddha paintings and statues of Hindu deities — said to be commissioned or created by various Sri Lankan kings throughout the centuries.

Minneriya National Park
Minneriya National Park is where you can witness the largest gathering of Asian elephants in the world.

Spend the rest of the day at the sprawling Minneriya National Park opens in new window, which is around a 35-minute drive from the cave temples. Book a jeep safari tour opens in new window; your little ones will relish getting up close and personal with creatures such as sambar deer, water buffaloes and Asian elephants — the latter often gather in large numbers, making for an awe-inspiring sight.

Day three: Explore Kandy’s famous attractions

In the morning, make your way to Udawattakele Forest Reserve opens in new window, which is located on a ridge in the city of Kandy opens in new window. There are various walking trails to explore, along which your kids might spot creatures such as the golden palm civet, slender loris and dusky palm squirrel. The sanctuary is also home to around 80 bird species — such as the brown-capped babbler and yellow-fronted barbet — making it a paradise for birdwatching.

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
While you might not be able to glimpse the tooth itself at Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, there is plenty else to discover in the temple complex, which comprises several smaller museums and shrines.

From the entrance of the reserve, it’s a short walk to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic opens in new window, which houses what is purportedly a tooth of the Buddha. The relic is highly prized as it symbolises the right to rule the country; as such, it is stored in a gold casket and heavily guarded.

Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya
Royal Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya, is famed for its wide collection of orchids; other highlights include a bamboo forest, a spice garden and an avenue lined with coconut palms.

Then, take a 15-minute drive to the Royal Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya, opens in new window just outside of Kandy, which is home to over 4,000 plant species and 10,000 trees.

Day four: Discover Sri Lanka’s tea plantations at Nuwara Eliya

Nuwura Eliya
Nuwara Eliya is nicknamed “Little England” thanks to its temperate climate, manicured gardens and colonial-style bungalows.

From Kandy, make the three-hour drive to Nuwara Eliya opens in new window, a highland town ensconced in Sri Lanka’s hill country. It is also home to numerous tea estates such as Pedro Tea Factory opens in new window, which offers guided tours.

St. Clair's Falls
St Clair’s Falls is a three-tiered cascade, which runs through the St. Clair Tea Estate, measures around 50m in width, making it one of the widest waterfalls in the country.

Next, check out Moon Plains opens in new window (Sandathenna), an expansive natural area where wild deer and cattle roam free. Here, you can rent a jeep (around LKR2,000) to explore the lush surroundings. Alternatively, take a trip to St. Clair’s Falls opens in new window, affectionately dubbed the “Little Niagara of Sri Lanka”.

Day five: Take in epic views at Horton Plains National Park

Horton Plains National Park
The highland plateau of Horton Plains National Park is carpeted with montane grassland and cloud forest, giving it an otherworldly vibe.

From Nuwara Eliya, it’s around a 1.5-hour drive to Horton Plains National Park opens in new window, which frequently ranks among Sri Lanka’s best attractions. Adventurous types can hike the 4km trail to World’s End opens in new window, a vertiginous precipice that offers 360-degree vistas of the surrounding peaks and valleys. The trail then loops back to the entrance, where you’ll pass by vast plains and the picturesque Baker’s Falls opens in new window.

Baker’s Falls
Baker’s Falls is one of the most famous sights at Horton Plains National Park.

While the hike isn’t too difficult, the full 9.5km route can take three to four hours so it might be more suitable for older kids. Head there at dawn to catch the sunrise and reach the top before mist obscures the view around 9.30am.

 Lipton’s Seat
It is said that the tea baron, Sir Thomas Lipton, once surveyed his estates from this very spot (hence its name Lipton’s Seat).

Once you’re done exploring the park, take a 2.5-hour drive to the hills of Poonagala, where you’ll find Lipton’s Seat opens in new window. This popular observation point offers sweeping views of the surrounding tea plantations, which stretch far into the distance. Skip the 8km hike to the top and hop into a tuk-tuk instead up the narrow roads and winding slopes.

Day six: Time to head back to Colombo!

It’s time to head back to Colombo - the drive should take around 5.5 hours or so, depending on traffic. After the long journey, unwind at the scenic Mount Lavinia Beach opens in new window in the suburb of Dehiwala–Mount Lavinia, which is a favourite among locals. Here, you and your kids can take a refreshing dip in the ocean or simply stretch out on the sand.

If you have time to spare …

Yala National Park
The best time to visit Yala National Park is during the dry season.

If you’re looking to extend your Sri Lanka holiday, other top spots in the country include the hugely popular Yala National Park opens in new window, which is home to an impressive array of wildlife such as leopards and elephants, and UNESCO-listed Galle opens in new window, a historic walled city with grand Dutch colonial buildings.

How to get around Sri Lanka with kids

The easiest and most comfortable way to get around in Sri Lanka — especially if you’re travelling with young children — is by car. Typically, you can rent a car for around USD$30 per day, or a car and a driver for around USD$50-USD$60 per day (not inclusive of accommodation for the latter). If you require child car seats, be sure to enquire with the car rental company or the driver in advance — you might have to pack your own if you want to use one.