Top beaches in Sri Lanka

The Asian island nation of Sri Lanka has a coastline fringed with numerous golden beaches. Wondering which of these sun-kissed sandy stretches to visit? Read on for our overview of each of the country's coasts and to discover the best beaches in Sri Lanka for you.
Beautiful beach in Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock
Beautiful beach in Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

Last updated: 29 March 2023

One of the most essential Sri Lankan experiences is to spend some time lazing on an idyllic, tranquil beach. But where are the best beaches in Sri Lanka? Here is a brief overview of the country's coastal regions followed by our pick of the top five.

The information in this article is inspired by Insight Guides Sri Lanka your essential guide for visiting Sri Lanka.

West Coast: The winter sun favorite

Sri Lanka’s west coast shows the island at its most developed, most Westernized, and most tourist-oriented. Here you'll find some of the best beaches in Sri Lanka, backed by hundreds of hotels and guesthouses, from Negombo in the north to Hikkaduwa in the south.

Despite increasing development in other parts of the island, the large hotels in Negombo, Kalutara, Beruwala and Bentota - all within easy reach of the capital, Colombo - continue to serve as the hub of the island’s substantial package-tourist industry. 

These resorts offer two-week trips to primarily European visitors, particularly during winter in the northern hemisphere. But if you want something more off-beat and exclusive, try Insight Guides Jaffna and Western Sri Lanka trip

South Coast: Gorgeous beaches and wildlife parks

The south coast is one of Sri Lanka’s most rewarding areas to visit. Representing the island in microcosm, the region offers gorgeous beaches, colonial towns, and superb wildlife parks, as well as a host of Buddhist shrines and temples. 

In addition, this coastline is home to a selection of some of the island’s most alluring places to stay, from luxurious beach hotels to atmospheric colonial-era villas. And active travelers can find a never-ending range of things to do and see here. 

However, despite gradual ongoing development around the coast, much of the region’s charm lies in its quintessentially rural atmosphere. Countless sleepy villages nestle in the shade of toppling palm trees, and the pace of life is unashamedly slow-moving.

For proximity to more action, look for resorts near Galle, a colonial town on the southern coast. Or for a unique perspective on the region take a look at Insight Guides Sri Lanka Deluxe trip

South coast Mirissa is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka  Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

East Coast: Still a little off the tourist trail

Sri Lanka’s east coast is unquestionably beautiful, but was off the tourist trail for many years due to the long-raging civil war, compounded by the damage wrought by the 2004 tsunami. 

However, in the years following the end of the civil war in 2009, there has been slow and steady reconstruction. The region now looks to the future with renewed confidence and its major towns, Trincomalee and Batticaloa, bustle with life and commercial activity. 

Ongoing development is also starting to unlock the huge potential of the superb coastline - albeit at the inevitable cost of changing its formerly remote and magically unspoiled character.

Our five best beaches in Sri Lanka

1. Hiriketiya, one of the south coast's best beaches in Sri Lanka

On the south coast, the area around Dikwella is gradually becoming more popular with travelers looking to escape the increasing development further to the west. 

A string of relatively unspoiled beaches dot the coast here, most notably the stunning little horseshoe bay at Hiriketiya which is backed by a small selection of great places to stay. Try The Salty Pelican Yoga & Surf Retreat just three minutes walk from the beach. 

Hiriketiya Beach, Sri Lanka. Photo: Creative Family/Shutterstock

2. Bentota on magnificent Bentota Lagoon

Bentota is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka. It sits on the west coast, runs south from magnificent Bentota lagoon and is lined with a string of alluring hotels. 

The southern end of the beach is home to some of the most appealing upmarket accommodation along this coastline. You'll find a number of chic boutique hotels nestled amongst the palm trees, like Centara Ceysands Resort & Spa

Bentota is also Sri Lanka's watersports hub. Behind the beach, the calm waters of the lagoon are perfect for kayaking and jet-skiing, while boat trips up the river to explore the mangroves and tangled waterways are easy to arrange. 

Lying halfway between major destinations such as Colombo and Galle, adding a stop off at Bentota as part of Insight Guides Sri Lanka Family Adventure trip makes perfect sense. 

Idyllic stretch of golden sands at Bentota, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

3. Discover beautiful Arugam Bay on the east coast

Towards the southern end of the east coast, the village of Arugam Bay is a popular destination with independent travelers drawn by the charms of its beautiful, palm-fringed beach. 

Surfers originally put the village on the map by visiting to ride what are widely thought to be some of the best waves in Sri Lanka. The beach continues to attract plenty of surfers, but its laid-back vibe and offbeat charm provide wide-ranging appeal. Tours of nearby Pottuvil Lagoon are easily arranged, as well as motor-boat trips out to sea in search of dolphins.

The local community have strongly and successfully resisted the development of major hotels. But plenty of casual lodgings are available in quirky village guesthouses and relaxed beachfront bungalows and cabanas. Arne's Place is a perfect example. 

Beautiful sunset at Arugam Bay another of the best beaches in Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Mirissa Beach is the south coast whale watching legend

On the south coast, the fine sands of Mirissa Beach are backed by palm trees, while its clear waters and lively waves make it ideal for both swimming and surfing. But development here has mainly been driven by Mirissa’s emergence as the whale-watching capital of Sri Lanka.

Numerous whales can frequently be spotted reasonably close to the shoreline. Additionally, multiple tour operators based in the village offer boat trips to see them during the season, which runs from December to April.

A cluster of hotels and guesthouses offer a variety of accommodation choices close to Mirissa Beach. Try laid-back and charming Handagedara Resort just a short walk from the Indian Ocean, soft sands and possible whale sightings. 

The palm-fringed golden sands at Mirissa, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

5. Peaceful Uppuveli Beach is off the beaten track

Just north of Trincomalee on the east coast, the sleepy village of Uppuveli is a great option if you want one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka, but well off the beaten track. 

Proximity to the former civil war zone means that the seemingly endless swathes of soft white sand lining the coast remain remarkably unspoiled. Although the area is beginning to develop a reputation as a center for whale-watching and diving.

Development is happening gradually and Uppuveli now has a reasonable selection of guesthouses and casual hotels Elegant Green Beach Resort just a few minutes walk from the sleepy beachfront. 

The sleepy beachfront at Uppuveli, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

6. Hikkaduwa Beach

Hikkaduwa is another south coast beach that’s especially popular with backpackers. It’s an energetic spot, featuring plenty of restaurants, bars and shops. Each July, Hikkaduwa hosts Beach Fest, a five-day music festival that draws international DJs and revellers galore. The surf is another attraction that brings people to this shore, with the season running from November to April. 

You'll also be able to experience outstanding snorkelling at the Coral Sanctuary just a couple of hundred metres offshore. A word of advice, it’s illegal to take coral and shells out of the country.

Hikkaduwa beach, Sri Lanka © Shutterstock

7. Nilaveli Beach

Some 10km north of Uppuveli is the straggling settlement of Nilaveli, home to another fine stretch of largely deserted beach. Guesthouses and hotels are sparsely scattered along the coast. 

The entire area retains a decidedly back-of-beyond atmosphere that makes even Uppuveli look like Ibiza. If you like very quiet days spent wave-gazing, beachcombing, snorkelling and hanging with the locals, Nilaveli is perfect. 

Nilaveli beach in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka © Shutterstock

8. Unawatuna Beach

Five kilometres southeast of Galle and neighbouring Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna is a little quieter but still has a buzzy atmosphere. While its selection of restaurants and bars means that it’s sadly lost the sleepy charm it once enjoyed, it’s small enough to have retained an intimate atmosphere. 

The beach arranges itself in a graceful horseshoe shape that’s only about one kilometre from end to end.
The strand was seriously depleted by the 2004 tsunami but has since been plumped up with sand scooped from the seabed. Thanks to offshore rocks that break up the waves, the water at Unawatuna is safe for swimming year-round.

Unawatuna beach is popular for watersports © BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock

9. Tangalle Beach

Strung out along one of the south’s most stunning stretches of coastline, Tangalla (or Tangalle) is among the best beaches in Sri Lanka, with a string of simple guesthouses – and a handful of upmarket hotels and villas – dotted along the coves and beaches that line the oceanfront here. 

Tourism has never taken off quite as much as the entrepreneurial locals would like, however, and Tangalla remains resolutely low-key compared to the resorts further west. What gives the place added appeal, however, is the number of rewarding attractions in the surrounding countryside.

Tranquil relaxing holidays in Sri lanka - Tangalle © leoks/Shutterstock

10. Trincomalee Beach

The oceanfront Fort Frederick Road along Dutch Bay offers fine sea views, while the Trincomalee beach that edges the road is a popular spot around dusk, when half the town seems tocongregate here to promenade along the seafront and loll around on the sands. 

Beyond here lie further understated but charming rows of colonial villas, most particularly along Dyke Street, lined with colourful facades. Nearby, it’s also worth hunting out thecolonial-era St Mary’s Cathedral, an imposing blue structure buried amid lush gardens.

Trincomalee, Sri lanka woman in beautiful sari walking toward beautiful Nilaveli beach ©  Sergii Rudiuk/Shutterstock

Ready to take a trip to Sri Lanka?

Our local experts can plan wonderful trips for you in Sri Lanka. Simply get in touch to let us know your ideas for the trip and when you would like to travel. We will then create a personalized itinerary especially, which you can amend until you are totally happy with every detail before booking. Browse our existing Sri Lanka itineraries for inspiration, and keep in mind that all of our planned itineraries can be tailored to meet your specific needs.