Sri Lanka is great for family holidays, offering a combination of blissful beaches, active adventures and cultural diversions which can be selected and adjusted to suit kids of all ages and interests. The following rounds up some of the island’s family highlights, easily combined into a two-week tour.
Start off at Negombo, close to the international airport, where you’ll find a big beach, assorted watersports and a good selection of oceanside resort hotels perfect for families. You can also arrange enjoyable boat rides down the local Dutch canal or out into the lagoon on one of the town’s old-fashioned oruva catamarans, while longer boat rides through the wetlands of Muthurajawela are also enjoyable, with the chance of spotting monkeys, crocodiles and plenty of colourful birds.
If you want to spend longer by the sea, you could always do a side-trip up to Kalpitiya, where you’ll find further swathes of (largely deserted) beach and superlative dolphin-watching. It’s also a world-class kite surfing destination, which might suit older kids wanting to try their hand at this rewarding sport.
From Negombo, head inland next to Sigiriya – the steep climb up to the top of the rock is great fun (assuming none of you are too nervous about heights), and with great views from the top. You could also stop off for a look at the nearby Dambulla cave temples, perhaps overnighting at one of the superb hotels in the area such as the gorgeous lake-side Kandalama, cunningly built into the side of a hill and three-quarters buried in jungle.
Head south to Kandy, where you can explore the famous Temple of the Tooth and take in an exhilarating show of Kandyan dancing and drumming. It’s also a good base for visits to the superb botanical gardens at Peradeniya, just outside the city, and (slightly further afield) to Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, whose enormous herd of captive elephants is a guaranteed child-pleaser (assuming you can overlook the orphanage’s increasingly shoddy animal-rights record, and the increasingly money-grubbing antics of the resident handlers).
Next, hop aboard the train for a memorable (albeit tortoise-slow) train ride along the spectacular hill country railway to idyllic Ella, where you can walk though the hills, visit waterfalls and tea factories, or scramble up to the top of Ella Gap for one of the island’s most memorable views.
From Ella, it’s an easy hop to stunning Yala National Park, with elephants, birds, crocodiles and monkeys galore, plus the chance of spotting one of the park’s famous leopards. Next, continue round the coast to Mirissa, where you’ll find one of the island’s nicest beaches and world-class whale-watching in the waters offshore.
Heading back towards the airport, you could also stop off at Bentota, where you’ll find yet more beach and the best watersports on the island, and Ambalangoda, where you can see Sri Lanka’s famous wooden masks being hand-crafted in local workshops. A night in Colombo might also appeal, with family-friendly attractions including the beach at Mount Lavinia and the impressive Colombo Zoo, or just the chance to ride a tuktuk through the busy city streets and crowded markets of the chaotic Pettah district.
Colombo Sri Lanka in a Day … idyllic temples and bustling bazaars
Explore Sri Lanka’s Galle Fort … historic stronghold on the southwest coast
Romantic Sri Lanka … share the love on one of Asia’s most romantic islands
Sri Lanka Grand Tour … see the very best in two weeks
Sri Lanka Hill Walk Around Ella … hike through hills and tea plantations
Sri Lanka Journey through History … explore three thousand years of Sinhalese Buddhist art and architecture
Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle … the heart of the island’s most ancient kingdom
Sri Lanka’s Historic Anuradhapura … mapping your way through the myriad ruins and monuments
Sri Lanka’s Kandy in a Day … explore the temples, museums and music of the cultural capital
Sri Lanka’s Polonnaruwa … touring the stunning ruins and shrines of a great medieval capital
Sri Lanka’s Ten Best Beaches … sand and sea, plus plenty of great places to stay
Wild Sri Lanka … take a walk on the wild side through Sri Lanka’s spectacular landscapes and national parks