Roughly the size of Ireland, Sri Lanka may be diminutive, but it packs an awful lot in between its palm-fringed shores. Poised above the equator in the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean, the Cinnamon Isle has endless swathes of lovely strands on which to relax. Read on for our lowdown on the best beaches in Sri Lanka and make sure you pencil in time to lounge on its sands.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Sri Lanka, your essential guide for visiting Sri Lanka.
This remote village is located on the island’s southeast coast, near to the Yala National Park. This makes it a perfect option if you start suffering from animal fatigue (think castle fatigue but furrier). With waves rolling in all the way from the Antarctic, Arugam has earned something of an international reputation in the surfing world.
This conclusively puts it on the list of the best beaches in Sri Lanka. The surf season runs from April to October and you can rent boards right on the beach if you don’t have your own. If you’re not into surfing, swim in the well-protected inner bay, explore the mangrove lagoons and soak up the chilled-out atmosphere.
Absorb Sri Lanka's ancient culture at Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa on this tailor-made trip to Sri Lankan culture and coast. Journey south to colourful Kandy with its temples and tea factories, followed by a relaxing stay on sandy southwest beaches.
Find more accommodation options to stay near Arugam Bay Beach
The southern end of Bentota beach is home to a nice collection of small-scale luxury hotels marking it out as a stylish alternative to the west coast’s louder resorts. Just south of the train station, you’ll find a broad swathe of sand in front of thick thickets of palms. It’s one of the most winsome beaches on the island.
At Bentota’s northern end, you’ll find Paradise Island. This thin spit of land separates the Indian Ocean and the tranquil waters of the Bentota Lagoon. Behind the lagoon, the Bentota Ganga river provides the perfect conditions for jet skiing, speedboating, water skiing and windsurfing. The Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery is also nearby.
If you want to spend your holiday in style without spending too much, read about some of our favourite boutique hotels in Sri Lanka.
Find more accommodation options to stay near Bentota Beach
This laid-back beachside village sits in the south of the island near the Dutch Fort and port city of Galle. Mirissa's fine stretch of sand backed by verdant coconut palms and world-class blue whale watching makes this bay one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka. In fact, it is one of the country's most appealing places. It’s lively after dark with a thriving bar scene that glows with charming strings of fairy lights.
Discover the tea plantations, waterfalls and hill country of the Central Province before being whisked away to the golden sands of Sri Lanka’s glorious Indian Ocean beaches on the south coast on this tailor-made trip to Sri Lanka Deluxe. From whale watching to soaking up the rays, this trip offers a relaxing escape to Sri Lanka.
Find more accommodation options to stay near Mirissa 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.
Find more accommodation options to stay near Hikkaduwa 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.
Find more accommodation options to stay near Unawatuna Beach
Kalpitya is a beautiful windswept peninsula in the northwest. Lined with spotless beaches, it's bounded on either side by the sea and the Puttalam Lagoon. There are miles and miles of secluded beaches to enjoy. However: it’s worth remembering that no matter how private it might feel as nudity and topless sunbathing are illegal in Sri Lanka.
Kalpitya offers eco lodges and amazing kitesurfing opportunities as well as superb dolphin watching. You may even spot the occasional pod of sperm whale too. The Barr Reef Sanctuary coral system has the highest level of biodiversity of any coral reef around India.
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.
Join us on a once-in-a-lifetime voyage exploring stunning sunny beaches; lush green mountains; unspoilt forest trails and breath-taking world heritage sites. This all-encompassing tailor-made trip to affordable luxury in Sri Lanka includes accommodation, private transportation and a variety of excursions and activities.
Find more accommodation options to stay near Nilaveli Beach
Around 15km east of Dondra on the coastal highway, the small town of Dickwella is home to a pretty curved beach and an attractive resort. From here, it’s just 8km east to the Hoo-maniya blowhole, en route to Tangalla.
Nearby, the village of Hiriketiya and its horseshoe-shaped beach is becoming one of the south coast’s most popular surfing destinations – at the moment it’s very small scale with just a few guesthouses, but this may change very soon.
If you're looking for more great places in Sri Lanka for surfing read our list of the best places to surf in Sri Lanka.
Find more accommodation options to stay near Hiriketiya 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.
Find more accommodation options to stay near Tangalle Beach
Find plenty of options for your holiday with our guide to the best things to do in Sri Lanka, or maybe you would like to choose your destination from the list of the most exotic places to travel in the world.
Ready for a trip to Sri Lanka? Check out the snapshot The Rough Guide to Sri Lanka. If you travel further in Sri Lanka, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. For inspiration use the itineraries fromour local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to the Sri Lanka without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.