Sri Lanka is one of those places that we knew we had to go to when we moved to Doha. A place that everyone raves about and that my husband had spent time in on his gap year many moons ago, it was a question of when not if. When we hit 3 years in the region last year, we realised we were waiting for the perfect time to go and with a minimum of 2 weeks to spend there… but time was passing us by! So when we had a week of national holidays come around, instead of going to a place that would ‘do’, we bit the bullet and headed to one of our dream destinations.
Note: Guest post written by the lovely Emma over at Wanderlust and Wetwipes!
I won’t lie, I was nervous about visiting Sri Lanka with kids, especially with the itinerary we had planned. We booked everything just 3 days before we left so found ourselves a little bit at the mercy of what was available. BUT… it all worked out perfectly. The kids absolutely adored Sri Lanka and so did we. As a parent it’s hard not to have an amazing time when your kids are so happy!
Here are some of the most fun things we did while we were in Sri Lanka.
Best Things to Do In Sri Lanka with Kids
Take a Train Journey
As we planned the holiday we showed the kids photos of where we were going. They BEGGED us to take them on the train so of course we were happy to oblige. We ended up on 2 train journeys. The first went from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. We did it because I wanted to see the amazing views and because the kids were desperate to go on a train and we hadn’t managed to do it yet (see below for my tips about travelling by train). This journey took far longer than it would have done by car but the views were as spectacular as we had been told. The other journey was from Kandy to Colombo. We had done the Colombo to Kandy leg by car as the trains had been fully booked when we arrived. There was heavy traffic and one of our kids got car sick so we had to keep stopping. The whole journey took hours and hours. The train journey, by comparison, was super easy, stress free and much quicker.
Climb the Lion Rock in Sigiriya
The kids will tell you that the train was the highlight for them but for me it was climbing Lion Rock in Sigiriya. Considering my kids are prone to whining if I ask them to walk to the shops, this was a huge achievement for all of us! There was so much to distract them – from wall paintings to wild monkeys to some rickety old stairs – that they hardly noticed the exertion and positively skipped up to the top! Clearly babies and really little kids will struggle with this but with a decent carrier I think most families could do it.
Go on an Elephant safari
Another thing to do in the Sigiriya area is to go on an elephant safari. Depending on the time of year, the elephants may be in one of two national parks – Minneriya or Kaudulla. This is where having a driver came into its own for us. We had heard that Minneriya was the best place to see them but we didn’t know that the elephants roam between the two parks. Our driver was able to tell us that he had just been in the area the week before and knew for a fact that the elephants had moved!
Another highlight in Sigiriya was an amazing glamping site that I had found. Part of one of the hotels (Royal Retreat), we arrived to check in to discover that the camp site (around 10 individual sites) was actually a 20-minute drive away. Not just that but the drive was down an increasingly narrow road until it became a bumpy dirt track in the forest! On arrival we found a gorgeous 2-bedroom tent with our own personal chef to cook us dinner! It was a really special and unique place to stay.
Ride in tuk tuks
If the train wasn’t the highlight for the kids then tuk tuks definitely was! They absolutely loved travelling by this mode of transport and were thrilled when we used them for all short distance travel!
Go to a festival
Now this wasn’t exactly planned and I would add a word of caution about the particular festival that we went to in Kandy (the Festival of the Sacred Tooth). It went on for hours and hours – well past the kids’ bed times and, as luck would have it, the night before an early train journey back to Colombo. BUT it was an incredible experience to see all the dancers and acrobats parading the streets (I didn’t love the elephants – an ongoing conflict for me). With some better planning on where to watch the parade from, I think you could get a really great experience without tiring the kids out too much.
Head to the Beach
What most people come to Sri Lanka for – the beaches are really, really beautiful. Conscious that we had packed a lot in to our 7–day trip we made sure we had a couple of days of R&R at the end to really appreciate the coastline. We chose to stay in Negombo which is very close to the airport but lots of others head down to the South coast to places like Galle, Weligama and Mirissa. Others go as far East as Arugam Bay and Trincomalee.
Fly a kite
We arrived in August to find there was a huge kite flying festival in Colombo the day after we went to Kandy! Hugely disappointed, we bought a kite and flew it anyway. The following weekend, in Negombo, we were delighted to find that kite flying seems to be a national pastime and we watched families flying kites together on the beach at sunset.
You can’t go to Sri Lanka without commenting on the delicious food they have to offer. From Egg hoppers for breakfast to coconut-based curries for dinner and samosas for a mid-morning snack, we found loads of options for us and the children to try. Don’t get me wrong, my kids will still choose chicken nuggets over a chickpea curry any day of the week but they also tried and enjoyed almost everything we put in front of them.
Where to eat with kids in Sri Lanka
There is no end of places to eat in Sri Lanka and we loved them all! The hotels, obviously, are a great place to start as they are convenient and reliably consistent. They’ll usually have kid-friendly options and will serve alcohol if you want it (we found the restaurants in Kandy didn’t sell alcohol during the Festival of the Sacred Tooth). The train stations had some snacks available but lots were very spicy and we were glad to be travelling with a few snacks to keep everyone going. In the main towns you can find all sorts of restaurants to cater for your every need.
Where to Stay Sri Lanka with Kids
We were so lucky to find some incredible places to stay in Sri Lanka:
Where to Stay in Colombo with Kids
Where to Stay in Kandy with Kids
Where to Stay in Sigiriya with kids
Where to stay in Negombo
Top Tips on Visiting Sri Lanka with toddlers or kids
Travelling on Trains in Sri Lanka with toddlers
If you are travelling to a strict timeline consider booking your tickets ahead of time. I’ve heard some people have booked then tickets and then not got what they wanted but most people have been successful. Also, don’t travel first class – you get guaranteed seating (you also get this in second class) but you also can’t open the windows or doors and get the real feeling of the journey.
Strollers would be fine in the towns but less useful on hikes. I think a carrier or backpack would be much more useful on this sort of trip. If you’re travelling with a driver, make sure you check that the car has seatbelts (note a lap belt passes for a seatbelt in Sri Lanka so make sure you ask the right question). If you don’t have a dedicated driver for the duration of the trip, consider buying travel car seats instead of lugging around the tradtional ones.
Food in Sri Lanka
While my kids are getting more and more adventurous, I found I had to plan ahead to make sure there would be something that they could eat if they decided they were feeling like playing it safe. I also found it hard at times to find appropriate snacks and I was glad to be travelling with a supply of things from home that I knew they would eat.
Thanks Emma and Wanderlust and Wetwipes for this wonderful and informative guest post! We can’t wait to return to Sri Lanka with our toddler and know that this will be an invaluable resource when we do!
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