Traditional fishing in Sri Lanka.
Traditional fishing in Sri Lanka.


This small island in the Indian Ocean is a far-from-obvious choice for family holidays on paper – the plane journey’s a slog at 11 hours, and there are bunches of jabs to have beforehand and pills to take. But if you’re looking for something different, Sri Lanka will reward you hugely for your efforts.

As well as plenty of picture-postcard beaches for easy days spent splashing in the shallows, the cultural side of the island begs to be discovered, including impressive ancient cities  – a legacy of the melting cultural pot of Muslim, Tamil and Sinhalese – and some temples and ruins, made more attractive to kids by the wildlife dripping from the trees (mainly birds and monkeys). And animals only previously seen in school textbooks make their home here –the promise of a glimpse of a leopard or elephant should stir even the most recalcitrant of teenagers from their sun-lounger. 

There are plenty of organised trips to keep kids entertained. The people are friendly, the food is fantastic, if a little hot for some tastes, and transport is cheap – your children will love the experience of getting from A to B in a tuk tuk, of passing the lush tea plantations by train or of taking a bike tour of the sights.

Check the Foreign Office website ( for current safety guidelines before booking a family holiday in Sri Lanka. 


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Things to do with kids in Sri Lanka

Don't miss the Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery, one of 18 turtle care centres along Sri Lanka's southern coast. Five species of turtle that are seen around Sri Lanka nest in Kosgoda, making this the best spot to see the different kinds, help feed them and perhaps even watch hatchlings be released into the ocean.

See some of Sri Lanka’s other amazing wildlife. Yala National Park is a popular choice where you might even get to see a leopard. Note that you’re not allowed out of the Jeeps, so make sure your children will be happy to sit in a confined space for some time.

Head to Sri Lanka's adventure hub Kitulgala for outdoors adventures that are particularly great for teens, including whitewater-rafting, kayaking, canyoning, abseiling and jungle treks.  

Enjoy the sun, sea and sand, but ensure you know what the currents are doing – the south coast has a treacherous riptide. Hikkaduwa Beach, protected by a reef with shallow waters, is popular; you may get to swim amidst leatherback turtles and dolphins, or you can see them on a glass-bottomed boat trip. Surfing is also on the up in Sri Lanka, with some surf schools offering kids' tuition. 

Head to Dambulla with its impressive temples to Buddha (including a vast golden one in the lotus position in the square) then on to the reclining Buddha and cave paintings. Hawkers along the route sell melons if you need cooling down. At Weligama Bay on the southern coast is a noteworthy Buddhist rock sculpture of the Kusta Raja or 'Leper King'.

Amble around the Cultural Triangle of Kandy, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, all ancient capital cities in Sri Lanka's colourful past. As well as housing Buddha’s tooth (in the Temple of the Tooth), Kandy, historical bastion of Buddhist power, has a small but good National Museum, botanical gardens with space to run around, and plenty of local arts and crafts to browse. Polonnaruwa, recognisable to many parents as a backdrop for the video of Duran Duran’s Save a Prayer in 1982, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. And don't miss the UNESCO-listed, 650m-tall rock citadel of Sigiraya – one of the wonders of the world. 

Discover Galle, the former capital, with good beaches, good shopping and an ancient fort that’s fun to clamber around. Its incongruous Dutch appearance is a reminder of its colonial heritage. The current capital Colombo is a bustling city with beaches, shopping, museums and markets, but it can get very crowded. 

Read up about the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage to decide whether you feel it's something you would like to visit – opinions differ wildly as to whether the famous centre is ethical or not.

Flamingoes in Sri Lanka.©

Flamingoes in Sri Lanka.


Sri Lanka can be an exciting place to eat – you can often see your supper coming in on a boat if you’re on the coast, and there are plenty of fish and prawns on the menu. Food can be very spicy, which might be difficult for younger palates; good back-ups are the fruit and, in some hotels, the buffet meals. Kids also tend to love the hoppers - bowl-shaped pancakes made out of rice flour and coconut milk and served with various fillings that can include a fried egg or curry.

And don't miss ‘short eats’ – traditional café fare descended from British-rule high tea, when you are served a plate of sandwiches, sausage rolls and pastries and pay for what you eat. 

Note that many Sri Lankan properties, in particular homestays, offer cookery courses.

Train travel in Sri Lanka.©

Train travel in Sri Lanka.

When to go to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has excellent weather from December until the end of April, but it can get extremely hot, even in the cool seasons, so think carefully before booking family holidays here with very young children. The amount of rain in the monsoon seasons varies, depending on where in the island you’re going, so plan your trip carefully - the monsoon in the north-east lasts Dec-Mar; in the south-west it's June–Oct.

Elephants in Sri Lanka.©

Elephants in Sri Lanka.


You'll pay from about £500pp for flights from the UK to Sri Lanka. There are different standards and style of accommodation to suit most pockets.  

Destination stats

Capital cityColombo

Flying time11hrs All flight times are based on flights from UK London airports, to the capital or nearest destination airport.

Carbon footprint10.03 CO2 Estimated tonnes of CO2 produced for return flights for a family of four.

TimezoneGMT +5

CurrencySri Lankan Rupee

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Monkeys in Sri Lanka.©

Monkeys in Sri Lanka.

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White-water rafting in Sri Lanka.©

White-water rafting in Sri Lanka.