The island nation just off of the coast of India is a wondrous place for travelers. From dense rainforests and blissful beaches to ancient temples and amazing train journeys, Sri Lanka has a lot to offer – and that’s without mentioning the kindness of its people and the deliciousness of the food.
Vibrant and full of its own unique history and culture, Sri Lanka may have a strong connection to Southern India but with a rapidly developing tourist scene and alluringly diverse landscape, visiting Sri Lanka is becoming increasingly popular.
Map of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka
Knowing where to stay in Sri Lanka depends on what you want out of your trip. If you just want to enjoy a week or more in a luxury beach resort under the shade of palm trees, head to Sri Lanka’s popular beach resorts such as Unawatuna. If adventuring into hill-top towns with ancient relics is more your scene, Kandy is the place for you. Then there’s the modern vibrancy of the cosmopolitan colonial capital Colombo, with its huge selection of accommodation.
Whatever it is you’re looking for, Sri Lanka is sure to have it. Here’s our round-up of the best places to stay in Sri Lanka to get you dreaming of your next big trip.
Up in the lush green hills in central Sri Lanka, the country’s second city is a unique enclave of customs and culture. The last to fall to colonial rule, Kandy is a cultural hub boasting sights like the Temple of the Tooth – the most important shrine in Sri Lanka – and is host to the high-spirited Esala Peraher festival. Known as the Capital of the Ancient Kings, staying in Kandy means spending time soaking up the city’s unique music and architecture.
Being located high up in the hills means that Kandy has a much cooler climate compared to other big Sri Lankan towns. From the charm of the colonial buildings and the central lakes, modern Kandy has developed into an urban city complete with busy streets – but nothing compared to Colombo. Getting around the city on the local three-wheelers – or tuk-tuks – is cheap and easy.
Accommodation in Kandy is a mix of affordable boutique hotels and lovely central guest houses, as well as some truly stunning places to stay – think infinity pools in villas nestled among the treetops.
Where to Stay in Kandy
Earls Regency Hotel – With its sophisticated rooms, tropical gardens, three bars, three restaurants, multiple pools, as well as a tennis court, spa, and gym, the Earls Regency Hotel is a definitively 5-star option. There is a lot to keep you entertained at this hotel. In terms of location, you’re going to be well placed to see what this area has to offer. Top sights like Kandy Lake, the storied Temple of the Tooth, and Peradeniya Botanical Gardens are all just a short drive away from this picturesque place.
OZO Kandy – Just a stone’s throw from both Kandy Lake and the famed Temple of the Tooth, this hotel is well placed to explore the best that this hill town has to offer. For incredible views, all you have to do is head up to the rooftop pool area, or the restaurant which offers up a fantastic vista of the surrounding hills – as well as Kandy Lake itself. The rooms at OZO Kandy are light, stylish, minimalist in style, and feature French doors that open onto bright balconies.
Hotel Casamara – The newly renovated Hotel Casamara features a terrace pool complete with sun loungers and a plethora of tropical plants, as well as an amazing rooftop bar and a sophisticated restaurant. The rooms are polished, with wooden furniture, wood floors, TVs and desks with tea and coffee making facilities. You can even upgrade for more space and a comfy double bed. The location of this 3-star offering is perfect for seeing the Temple of the Tooth, which is within walking distance.
This southwestern Sri Lankan city is famous for its 16th Century Portuguese fort; it’s the best-preserved example of such in all of Southeast, Asia.
Much Portuguese architecture still dots the city, but it was mainly the Dutch who developed Galle; you can still see it plainly in churches, warehouses, and other repurposed architecture, like the National Museum of Galle, housed in an 18th Century Dutch building.
Tourists are drawn to the ambiance and history of this place, which is definitely helped by the charming buildings that line its streets, restored by locals and foreign residents alike.
Formerly known as Gimhathiththa before the arrival of the Portuguese, this harbor city is awash with cafes and shops, as well as hostels and boutique hotels. Cheap hostels are chic. The amount of effortlessly stylish heritage hotels means you’ll be able to stay in relative luxury on a budget (to an extent), but there are lots of pricey – and more lavish – options, too.
Where to Stay in Galle
Amari Galle – The stylish and polished rooms at this luxury offering have balconies with sea views and rain showers. They boast sleek furniture in relaxing, minimalist tones and terraces or balconies with views of the Indian Ocean. Featuring a large outdoor pool with many sun loungers, gourmet dining options – one of which is poolside – and even an open rooftop bar, Amari Galle also boasts a beachfront location. Needless to say, you will be spending your days here relaxing on the beach and living a lavish life.
Parawa House – Parawa House is a boutique villa set in a stunning heritage building – the perfect option for anybody wanting to stay somewhere that feels downright luxurious but without the high price. Coffee and meals are available at this guesthouse, with many places to sit and enjoy the surroundings. Galle Fort is practically next door, as are all the sights that come with it, like Galle Fort National Museum, the old Dutch Church, lighthouse, clocktower, and hospital.
The small, seaside city of Hikkaduwa is north of Galle, along the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. Well-trodden by tourists who are looking for a slice of sand and a chilled-out time, the town is packed full of cheap guesthouses, tourist shops, and many cafes and restaurants. It may have lost a little of its beauty since the tourists started arriving here in the 1970’s, but if you want to spend a few days near the sea, this might be the spot for you.
Connected to Colombo by rail and road, the town has become a hotspot for surfers, who turn up here between November and March, keen to hit the waves at Hikkaduwa Beach. There are also some good snorkeling opportunities; turtles can often be seen around the coral reefs just off the coast.
Where to Stay in Hikkaduwa
Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon – The sprawling Hikka Tranz features spacious rooms that feel effortlessly design-friendly, with cool tiled floors, simple style and bold color pops of saffron. The rest of the hotel is design-led too, with a manicured garden complete with a pool, and no fewer than five restaurants to choose from. Beach fans will love this place; it’s set on a bit of headland surrounded by your favorite things – sea and sand. For those who want to explore further afield, there’s a bus stop located a short walk away.
L&D Lodge – The rooms at L&D Lodge may be compact, but they’re modern, clean, polished and tastefully decorated; each one comes with its own balcony, too. Guests can get breakfast served in their room, which feels very luxurious – especially a spot of tea on the balcony. The location is excellent, as well; it’s a mere few minutes’ walk from this 3-star offering to the beach, which boasts the Hikkaduwa Coral Reef, plus there are many a restaurant and bar on the doorstep.
Colombo is the largest city in Sri Lanka and its commercial center. Made the capital of the island nation by the British when it became part of their empire in 1815, it remained that way even after independence, until that title was taken by nearby Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte.
Today, the sprawling city has a fast-growing cosmopolitan side, with many art galleries and trendy cafes popping up in recent years. High-rises – including many hotels facing the huge coastal grassy area of the palm-lined Galle Face Green – are now beginning to create a new skyline. At ground level, British colonial architecture can be found in the form of the elegant Galle Face Hotel, as well as many others, including the General Post Office, Old Parliament Building and the National Museum of Colombo.
This ocean city boasts more than architecture – there’s also the huge Viharamahadevi Park to explore, as well as its many malls. Staying in Colombo has all the benefits of a big city; there’s something for everyone, from its many cheap hotels and hostels to more expensive offerings.
Where to Stay in Colombo
Galle Face Hotel – This indeed is a luxurious option. One of the reasons is because it’s set in a beautiful colonial building that dates all the way back to 1864. It’s one of the oldest colonial hotels located east of the Suez canal! Famous guests include Arthur C. Clarke, Carrie Fisher, and Richard Nixon. With period features retained throughout, the rooms feature lavish fabrics and a sense of Old World decadence. There’s a beautiful bar at this seafront hotel, as well as a large restaurant, a seawater swimming pool, and even a museum containing Prince Philip’s first ever car.
Fairway Colombo – The contemporary rooms at Fairway Colombo don’t hold back when it comes to bold design. With patterned or bright purple carpets, stylish bed throws, colorful cushions and lots of sleek, clean lines, it’s a cool place to rest your head. Guests will find a restaurant as well as a bar and bistro, plus a fitness center to keep up with your workouts. Historic and landmark buildings like the old Dutch Colonial Hospital (now a shopping district) and the World Trade Centre are a stone’s throw from here.
CityRest Fort – This hostel features both mixed and single-sex dormitories, meaning it’s great for women backpacking around Sri Lanka by themselves – as much as anybody looking for budget accommodation in Colombo. That said, there are also double rooms on offer for couples or those wanting more privacy. Though it boasts an onsite international restaurant, CityRest Fort is all about the location: the towering Colombo World Trade Center, the Dutch Hospital shopping and historic area, as well as many more sights are very close by.
The small, seaside town of Negombo is located just 10 kilometers from the Colombo International Airport and is where many visitors to the island start their trip. A much more relaxed way to slip into Sri Lankan life than beginning in Colombo, Negombo is easygoing and friendly. The beach is attractive enough, although not the best in the country – it’s fine for some days chilling out and catching a tan.
A great introduction to Sri Lanka, the center of the town is abuzz with red and green tuk-tuks and locally run restaurants selling some traditional (but mainly Western versions of) food. There’s a good range of choice when it comes to accommodation, too. If you’re looking to travel cheaply, locally owned guesthouses offer low-priced beds, and whilst large resorts may cost more, staying there will mean added comfort and luxury.
Where to Stay in Negombo
Heritance Negombo – Boasting a beautiful sea view and a beachfront location, Heritance Negombo is the place to go for pampering. There’s an upscale rooftop bar, a seafood restaurant nestled in a grove of palm trees, and a large buffet restaurant with a selection of cuisines on offer. The rooms are design-led, sleek and stylish, featuring balconies with their very own slice of sea views. There’s also a pool to relax in, but most likely you’ll be spending most of your time on the beach or strolling around Negombo Beach Park, practically on the doorstep.
Camelot Beach Hotel – With its huge outdoor pool, an Ayurvedic spa, three dining options, and a bar, Camelot Beach Hotel is undoubtedly the place to come to relax. As you might be able to tell from the name, this 4-star offering is situated practically on the beachfront, meaning days spent lounging around on the sand, lapping up the sun and paddling in the sea. There’s a great sense of style here, from its manicured gardens to its rooms that mix classic with minimalist cool.
Leighton Resort – This modern, whitewashed hotel boasts a courtyard pool and simple but clean and colorful rooms. It is located just a few minutes’ walk from Negombo Beach Park – which means the Indian Ocean is within easy reach of Leighton Resort. Besides offering various tours and massage services, this hotel also features a year-round indoor pool, a hot tub, garden and restaurants with kids meals on the menu. That said, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from practically on the doorstep of this polished hotel.
Once a getaway for British colonialists who managed tea plantations – thanks to its elevated position in hilly Central Province – the green town of Nuwara Eliya does feel a little bit like the countryside.
It’s certainly retained its colonial past, making it popular with domestic tourists in the summer who want to escape the heat. There’s the stately Victoria Park, many golf courses, and 19th Century, Tudor-style country houses and hotels – like the Hill Club and the Grand Hotel. There’s also the Town Post Office – one of the oldest in Sri Lanka. Even the English-style lawns and gardens of private houses now owned by Sri Lankans have been immaculately maintained.
Incredible vistas of the hill country itself, including waterfalls and dramatic valleys, mean it’s also a great place to get in touch with nature.
This is a good place to splurge on a hotel, where you can really hark back to the days of old with some afternoon tea. Of course, this being Sri Lanka, there are several cheap guesthouses and hostels in town – plus some solid mid-range hotels – meaning you can stay affordably amid the luxury. But that’s no fun, is it?
Where to Stay in Nuwara Eliya
Queenswood Cottage – A unique, log cabin style building, Queenswood Cottage boasts rooms that continue the lodge theme, with the logs on show, wooden floors, and exuberant cushions and bedspreads. There are charming gardens to stroll around outside. Indoors, there’s a billiards room, as well as a lounge with fireplace – plus a restaurant where a range of international cuisine is served. Nearby, you’ll find Victoria Park and the Nuwara Eliya Post Office – a colonial-era building that’s one of the oldest of its kind in Sri Lanka.
The Grand Hotel – This luxury hotel is all about colonial opulence. Set in a building that dates back to 1891 – and with plenty of meticulously manicured lawns to relax in – The Grand Hotel stays true to its name and offers refined things like afternoon tea. Lovingly preserving its period features, there’s a billiards room, a dark wood piano lounge, and a large restaurant, all featuring things like wood paneling, black and white tiles, and ceiling fans. If you can tear yourself away, go for a stroll at nearby colonial-era Victoria Park.
For amazing views of unbelievable scenery, Ella cannot be beaten. Set in the mountains of the central highland, 1000 meters above sea level, the town is best reached by train. The journey by rail to Ella from Kandy is an iconic one and will take you chugging along in a colorful carriage up through the lush, verdant hills. Ella itself may be small, but if you enjoy hiking or just relaxing in the peace and quiet of nature, it’s definitely well worth your time.
The green slopes surrounding the village are laden with tea plantations and rice fields, and some of the best guesthouses in the area look out over these serene scenes. The accommodation here is good value and mainly run by local families, but there are some boutique hotel offerings too, for travelers looking for a little more comfort. The village itself isn’t packed full of activities, however, you can head out into the hills and discover gushing waterfalls and charming temples.
Where to Stay in Ella
Morning Dew Hotel – There are many reasons to stay at this hotel: the cozy bar, the clean, warmly decorated rooms complete with balconies, the restaurant – but most of all the rooftop. This vantage point puts you in the perfect position to soak up the incredible views that Sri Lanka’s Hill Country offers up. Plus, this is where you get to eat your breakfast each morning! Morning Dew Hotel is located near Ella Railway Station, the interesting Ella Spice Garden, and the dramatic Little Adam’s Peak.
The View Ella – Ella is well known for its stunning views of nature, as this hotel is very happy to show off to you. Everywhere – from the rooms to the pool – you will view the jungle as far as the eye can see. Set in a charming villa-style building, The View is the place to stay if you’re interested in incredible landscapes, friendly staff, a great breakfast, and a chilled atmosphere. Simple and convivial, The View features a restaurant, a pool, and a lawn with sun loungers. It is close to cool attractions like Ella Spice Garden, where you can learn all about what grows in this stunning area.
Zion View Ella Green Retreat – With super stylish rooms complete with polished wood floors, four-poster beds, and balconies, Zion View is a 3-star hotel you won’t want to miss out on. Here, as you may be able to tell from the name, it’s all about the view. You can soak up beautiful views of the dramatic natural landscape from your room or the gorgeous infinity pool. It’s a laid back guesthouse, complete with onsite restaurant and bar, just under a 10-minute walk from Ella Railway Station.
Located on the south coast of Sri Lanka, Mirissa is Sri Lanka’s chilled-out beach destination. Well, in the daytime it’s chilled out – in high season, the nightlife here has gained Mirissa a reputation as something of a party destination.
In addition to that, seriously cheap beachside accommodation, hostels, and inland guesthouses make this place very affordable indeed, meaning it’s popular with backpackers. If you want a little more luxury for a little more money (in a few cases, a lot more), there are quite a number of nicer hotels and even resorts.
Other than sitting on the beach in a hammock, splashing around in the sea or exploring to see what secret cafes and bars you can find dotted along the coast, this is actually a prime location for dolphin and whale watching. And not just any whales – blue whales, which migrate past the coast between November and June.
Where to Stay in Mirissa
Randiya Sea View – Just 300 meters from Mirissa Beach, Randiya Sea View lives up to its name: the rooms here feature balconies where you can lap up sea views at any time of day. But being so close to the beach, you may not even be in your room that much anyway. The staff here are extremely friendly and will help you out with anything you might need. The hotel also offers discounted tickets for the nearby whale watching company.
Triple O Six – This modern hotel boasts a cool boutique style, marrying design-led furniture in a range of statement colors with traditional details, like displays of old Sri Lankan artifacts in one of the lounges. The rooms are styled like this too, with light wood furniture mixed with organic materials and sleek, minimalist features. Boasting a pool, garden, and restaurant, Triple O Six is just across the road from a beach, while Mirissa Beach is also within walking distance.
Peacock Villa – Stay at Peacock Villa if you want to be surrounded by nature. This hotel is set in lush tropical gardens where monitor lizards, monkeys, and even peacocks roam around. Make sure you get a room here with a balcony or terrace that looks out over all this beauty. Including a tasty breakfast, it’s just a five-minute walk from this lovely hotel to the beach itself; there are plenty of restaurants – and supermarkets for snacks – located nearby, too.
The popular beach resort city of Unawatuna is well-known on the traveler map and for good reason. Glistening seas, yellow sands, and coral reefs are a big draw for people who want to spend a week or two unwinding. The town was hit badly by the 2004 tsunami and, although rebuilding was done in a bit of a rush, the accommodation around the beach ranges from shining resorts popular with international holidaymakers to smaller budget backpackers’ guesthouses run by locals.
Being the most famous beach in Sri Lanka, Unawatuna has all the amenities you would expect – sun loungers and beach-side bars and restaurants all eager to lure in tourists. Domestic tourists also enjoy breaks here and you can often see Sri Lankan families spending time together paddling in the sea. With fewer waves than other beaches in the country, the water here makes for a good swimming spot. As the sun sets, the town begins to liven up, with people enjoying dinner and cocktails. The road that makes up the center of town is busy with souvenir shops, and guesthouses.
Where to Stay in Unawatuna
Cantaloupe Levels – Featuring rooms that boast beautiful sea views, Cantaloupe Levels is all about living the high life. Around the pool are double day beds complete with lavish white drapes, perfect for relaxing in the heat of the day after taking a refreshing dip. The spacious rooms are done in boutique style and feature colorful quilted furniture and wooden floors. There’s also a rooftop area for even more chilling out, and a panoramic restaurant. It’s not far from here to Jungle Beach for a spot of seaside fun.
Thaproban Beach House – Situated on Unawatuna’s main beach, the rooms at the aptly named Thaproban Beach House feature a rustic beach house feel. In fact, you can stay at the beautiful Penthouse Suite, which offers a whole other level of beachfront luxury. The onsite restaurant spills out onto the sand of the beach and offers delicious seafood dishes, among other things. The friendly and helpful staff here make all the difference.
Hotel J Unawatuna
An excellent option for budget travelers and not so budget travelers alike, Hotel J Unawatuna comes with a range of rooms, including mixed dormitories. But this isn’t a typical hostel; the rooms are polished and contemporary, with a design-led focus throughout the property. The bar area is particularly cool, with stylish furniture and a minimalist feel. There’s even an outdoor pool, and some of the rooms open onto the pool itself. It’s conveniently located just 500 meters from Unawatuna Railway Station.