Best Places to Visit in Sri Lanka with Family

For a place so deeply shrouded in mystery and wonder, Sri Lanka certainly has an appeal that even children can understand. The palpable magic of this country is not wasted on them, which is why families with kids often turn to the island nation as a holiday destination of choice.

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With so many wildlife parks and beaches among other things, coming to Sri Lanka with kids can turn out to be the wisest choice you’ve made in years. They are some of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka with Family, but it goes without saying that fortresses and temples of old might yield equally positive responses from the young ones. It will be an endlessly fun and enriching experience that’ll stay with them for the rest of their lives. Moreover, you’ll be able to explore and learn about such an exotic place in a mild, familiar climate that is not nearly as oppressive as it can get in this corner of the world.

Buddha Statues by the Water in Colombo

All you need to do before booking your family trip is if you’re going to end up right in the middle of a monsoon season, which is almost always in Sri Lanka. For an island country, it sure has varied rainy seasons and alternating monsoons. To make the most out of your vacation, take into account the part of the country you’d like to stay, and see what kind of weather can you expect there.

Colombo

Every Sri Lanka itinerary is going to start off in Colombo, which is to be expected considering it’s got one of the few airports in the country.

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Oftentimes, families spend more time in Colombo then they initially planned. The hospitability of this city and its inherent beauty are staggering, making the visitors feel more than welcome. Not only that but the city’s also quite modern with luxury hotels ranging from three to five stars, offering comfortable family rooms. There’s always the option of staying at a guesthouse if that’s what you prefer.

The reason for its popularity stems from the amazing sights and locales to visit, but also from great interconnectedness between Colombo and the rest of the country.

A Sandy Beach in Colombo, Sri Lanka

As for the things to see and do in Colombo, you can start your vacation off by getting down to Galle Face Green. What is basically a huge stretch of the beach dotted with an unpredictable patch of grass here and there is the core of Colombo’s being. Here, you’ll be able to take in the local culture, try some of their cuisines and watch kites of all colours run into each other in the skies above. There’s also plenty of room for the kids to run around and meet children of Sri Lanka. An occasional snake charmer playing his pungi can be seen casting his spell on the snake.

At Viharamahadevi Park, children will find the best playground imaginable. A myriad of activities that they can partake in include horse riding, toy train rides, slides and many others. At the mystical Gangaramaya Temple, you can find huge Buddha statues and artefacts of Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage.

Dambulla Cave Temple

The incredible location of this temple rises over the surrounding fields – a single rock that invites curious visitors to its doors.

Just when you thought that your Sri Lanka excursion can’t get any better, Dambulla Cave Temple in the central part of the island will prove you wrong. Home to ancient paintings and breathtaking statues, the cave temple complex consists of five interconnected caves. Most of the statues inside are dedicated to Buddha, a jaw-dropping number of them actually. Inside these caves, you can see a total of 153 Buddha statues, three additional statues dedicated to kings of old and finally four of them dedicated to Hindu deities.

If you venture into the cave called Cave of the Divine King, you and your family will find yourselves facing a 14-metre statue of Buddha.

An Entrance to Dambulla Temple Complex in Sri Lanka

Each king that came to this rock updated it with religious art of his time. In fact, the cave and the rich tapestry of art it contains is a gift given to descendants of these mighty kings, as if they’d known there would be people coming here to revere the holy statues for years to come.

An air of serenity envelops the entire cave system, a feeling you should treat your family to if you plan on visiting Sri Lanka.

Anuradhapura

Among the temple and lovely beaches of Sri Lanka, ancient cities and capital of old kingdoms dot the landscape, equally stunning regardless of whether you’re travelling with family or friends. There is something really special about Anuradhapura that will enrich your experience and keep the memory of Sri Lanka alive.

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Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Anuradhapura used to be the capital of kingdoms now gone. The entire city is enveloped in high cultural and historical significance, and the architecture of these past times still remains. The best examples are ‘dagobas’, bell-shaped structures constructed with tons of stone.

A Bell-shaped Stupa or 'dagoba' in Sri Lanka

So, what exactly can a family find interesting in this place? Well, for starters, there’s the Moonstone of Abhayagiri Vihara. Moonstones are excellent representatives of Sri Lanka architecture. These semi-circular stones are usually to be found at entrances of Buddhist temples. Also, another point of great interest is Ratna Prasada Guard Stone, a monastery complex which was unfortunately destroyed and rebuilt throughout history. It’s still a majestic sight to behold, much like the rest of Anuradhapura.

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Overall, this is a place worth visiting if you’d like to learn something about the history of the country and its people. Moreover, there’s more than a single cool spot for some family photos!

Bandarawela

If you were looking for one place on this list that will just provide you with comfort, enjoyment and relaxation, Bandarawela is going to grab your attention.

The reason why Bandarawela made it on this list is because of its completely mild climate. Higher altitude on which this small town is perched gives way to better weather throughout the year. This, combined with great trekking opportunities in the surrounding area can turn into a meaningful experience for the whole family. Exploring the hillsides and some, even remoter regions of the island is quite possible from this location.

Another important reason why you’d possibly want to call Bandarawela a home during your stay in Sri Lanka is due to the accessibility of the rest of the country. This town is on all major routes, making it a great place to use as a base of operations. For those looking to do some hiking as a part of a group, you’ll be able to arrange a journey to the stunning Ella Rock for you and your family. This vantage point will reveal a spectacular view of the entire surrounding countryside.

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Now, those looking for some architectural wonders and incredible sightseeing opportunities might consider this town disappointing. There are only a couple of churches and a Dhowa Buddhist rock temple which might come off as mesmerizing, but that’s it.

The importance of Bandarawela comes from a beautiful, untouched nature that covers the enitre province. There is no better place in Sri Lanka to teach your young ones about the importance of eco-tourism and nature preservation.

Yala National Park

What used to be a hunting ground during the British rule is now a sprawling nature reserve with approximately 130,000 hectares of land to its name and a must-have destination for anyone taking travel in Sri Lanka seriously.

Besides Sri Lankan elephants which are obviously a recurring topic in this country, there are at least 40 other mammals you can see here. Among these, leopards stick out thanks to one of the largest congregations of these spotted hunters in the world. Not only are there the most leopards in Yala, but you’ll also (if you’re lucky) see a ‘Panthera pardus kotiya’, a kind of leopard that is endemic to Sri Lanka. More spotted animals abound, with spotted deer also maintaining a steady population. Expect to see some crocodiles, jackals, peacocks and even sambars.

An Elephant in Grass in Yala National Park

A word of warning about Yala – if you’re arriving with children, be sure to protect them from the heat, so bring a lot of water. A common misconception about Yala National Park is that all the lush greenery is providing good, mild temperature in the area. The truth could not be further from that and expect to be greeted by very high temperatures. Monsoon season brings a lot of this heat and humidity, so avoiding it will be a much more enjoyable experience.

There is so much to learn here about how we influence the lives of animals, a valuable lesson making this one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka with family.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

What better way to have your children introduced to the gentle giants that we’ve grown to call elephants than to give them a bath in the river.

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If this sounds a bit too much right off the bat, it will calm you down to hear that there are guides and mahouts, or elephant handlers, to teach you how to properly approach and bathe the animals. It’s a wonderful exercise in compassion and kindness, and seeing these intelligent creatures up close will surely melt even the hardest of hearts. Speaking of cute and adorable, you may even observe as elephant calves are bottle fed. This is usually not the practice with other elephants of the orphanage, but there are several that are fed as a tourist attraction.

An Elephant Calf Bathing itself in the River

Elephant orphanages, or nurseries as they’re called, were originally created with the purpose of protecting and caring for the calves that were separated from their mothers. The area near the Pinnawala village provided to be a perfect fit for this exact purpose, considering the abundance of coconut trees, the proximity of Oya river as a source of fresh water for both drinking and bathing and availability of local mahouts who could help take care of the animals.

Most of the income from tourism is reinvested in the orphanage, further supplying these majestic animals with food and care.

Unawatuna Beach

Spending more than two days at Unawatuna is by no means strange. One of the most laidback places in Sri Lanka for families, the town and the beach of Unawatuna are going to charm and enchant you.

The town itself is a picturesque place, tucked away in the jungles of the south. Exploring its main and only street will be an effortless, yet awfully exhilarating activity. Souvenir shops, restaurants and even a gym will grab your attention, but what the younger members of your family will be gravitating towards the most are the beaches.

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The famous Unawatuna Beach is a crescent-shaped paradise and one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka, bordered by palm trees on all sides as if there was a wall blocking you from leaving. The sandy south coast of Sri Lanka is a quiet, safe spot where you can make some friends among the locals that also make their way here for a relaxing day off. Besides a couple of sunbeds for rent, there’s enough space for everyone to have some quality time with their family.

A Remote Sandy Beach in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka

Another amazing thing about Unawatuna is its location, which cuts right through the heart of the southern region. Going west will take you to Galle and its long-standing fort while heading east takes you to Habaraduwa Beach. Both places aren’t that far and require a 5-minute tuk-tuk ride, meaning you can get there quite easily on foot as well. In Habaraduwa, there’s a turtle hatchery, providing a home for baby turtles that were hurt and in need of caring. If they’re ready to get back out into the water and you decide to treat your family to such a noble pursuit, make sure to release them somewhere it’s safe, away from jet skis and other threats to their survival.

Minneriya National Park

Located in North Central Province of Sri Lanka, Minneriya National Park is an endeavour much different to visiting an elephant orphanage.

This time, you’ll be able to observe elephants in their natural habitat. It’s completely different from seeing these animals chained up or spoon fed by humans. Spending an entire day in Minneriya National Park (in the back of a jeep of course) will take you past some of the gorgeous elephants and their families. Observe them as they travel together and feast on grass, bushes, fruit or really any plant that comes too close to their adorable trunks! Besides elephants, you can see 23 other species of mammals and dozens of species of butterflies, reptiles and fish. By some estimates, more than 150 species of birds nest in the area.

A Family of Elephants in Minneriya National Park

To get the most out of national parks, make sure that you arrive between the months of November and April. That way, you’re not risking them being closed due to bad weather and you’ll be able to treat your family to an amazing contact with nature and wildlife.

Minneriya is not as crowded as Yala National Park which is also a big plus if you’re looking for a less touristy option during your exploration.

Choosing the right place for you and your family will depend mostly on what you’d like to be exposed to. Whether it’s history, wildlife or simply some good, fun times, Sri Lanka has got it all.