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Essential Sri Lanka with Nuwara Eliya

9 days Guided Tours

Virgin Holidays' view

As the name suggests, this is the perfect trip around Sri Lanka for first-timers ticking off some essential sites and experiences. From climbing the spectacular Sigiriya Rock to ‘safari-ing’ in Minneriya to drinking freshly picked tea, the Essential Sri Lanka with Nuwara Eliya will leave you feeling totally immersed in the culture and history of this beautiful country. The best bit? Travelling with your very own local driver/guide — they will make your experience in Sri Lanka truly special with expert knowledge, local insights and a personalised service.


Day 1: Arrive Colombo

Arrive in Colombo this morning, where you will be transferred to Negombo (approximately 40 minutes) to check-in at the Jetwing Beach or similar (4V option), Heritance Negombo or similar (5V option), The Wallawwa or similar (boutique option). The rest of the day is at leisure. (D)

Day 2: Negombo to the Cultural Triangle

After an early breakfast depart for Habarana by road (approximately 4 hours 30 minutes), upon arrival enjoy the rest of the day at leisure. Commonly referred to as the ‘Cultural Triangle’, the central plains area boasts of temple ruins and ancient cities combined with national parks and glistening reservoirs. UNESCO World Heritage Sites include the striking rock fortress of Sigirya, Dambulla’s Royal Rock Temple and crumbling archaeological treasures of Polonnaruwa. Habarana is a popular tourist destination for safari lovers as it is the starting point for safaris in the nearby Minneriya sanctuary, heavily populated by elephants. This makes the area an enthralling visit for wildlife and cultural lovers alike. Enjoy 3 nights at the Habarana Village by Cinnamon or similar (4V option), Cinnamon Lodge or similar (5V option) or Jetwing Vil Uyana or similar (boutique option). (B/D)

Day 3: Sigiriya

This morning enjoy a tranquil walk, catamaran ride and tractor ride through the village of Hiriwadunna experiencing the calmness of a tropical village as you enjoy some local tea. Embark on a walk over village paths, an ancient reservoir and forest. Cross a little jungle rivulet by catamaran to reach a farmers simple "wattle and daub" house where you can enjoy an authentic Sri Lankan lunch with a local villager. Then walk half an hour by foot and bullock cart to a point where your vehicle meets you. In the afternoon, visit the magnificent site of Sigiriya Rock. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Sri Lanka's major attractions, highlights include the water gardens, the mirror wall with ancient graffiti, the lion platform and the summit of 1.6 hectares, which was completely covered by buildings during the period of Sigiriya's glory. (B/D)

Day 4: Minneriya

Enjoy the morning at leisure or add an optional tour to Polonnaruwa (extra cost), the medieval and ancient capital of Ceylon. In the afternoon you will drive to the Minneriya National Park (depending on the elephant movement, we may visit the nearby Kaudulla National Park or Eco Park instead).The 8,890 hectares of Minneriya National Park consists of mixed evergreen forest and scrub areas and is home to favourites such as elephants and sambar deers. The central feature of the park is the ancient Minneriya Tank (built in 3rd century AD by King Mahasena). During the dry season (June to September), this tank is an incredible place to observe the elephants who come to bathe and graze, as well as the huge flocks of birds that come to fish in the waters. (B/D)

Day 5: Cultural Triangle to Kandy

This morning travel from the Cultural Triangle to the hill country capital of Kandy, an important cultural and spiritual centre (approximately 3 hours) with sightseeing on the way. Visit the Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temples, one of the largest and best preserved cave temple complexes in Sri Lanka. Located in the north central province, this UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to the 1st century BC, and is an amazing complex of 5 caves. These caves were first used as a refuge by an ancient king who on regaining his throne commissioned magnificent carved images within the living rock. Onwards to Kandy, the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings, where many of the legends, traditions and folklore are still lovingly kept alive. In the evening you will visit the Temple of the Tooth in time for the ‘Pooja’ ceremony. This is the major shrine where pilgrims have revered Buddha's tooth since the 16th century; its gilded roof seems to act as a beacon to visitors throughout the day and into the evening. Enjoy 2 nights at Cinnamon Citadel or similar (4V option), Earl’s Regency or similar (5V option) or Kings Pavilion or similar (boutique option). (B/D)

Day 6: Kandy

Enjoy a relaxing day with a tour of Kandy including the British Garrison Cemetery and a drive around the beautiful Kandy Lake. In the evening, experience an exhilarating show of traditional cultural dances and impressive performances. (B/D)

Day 7: Nuwara Eliya

Today you journey onwards to Nuwara Eliya, the sleepy city, often shrouded in mist, is considered the tea country capital. We travel by scenic train to Nanu Oya**, which slowly winds its way up through vast tea plantations. Enjoy 2 nights at the Black Pool Hotel or similar (4V option), Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya or similar (5V option) or Stafford Bungalow or similar (boutique option). (B/D)

**If the train is unavailable we will travel by road (approximately 3 hours). Check-in to your hotel and enjoy the evening at leisure.

Day 8: Nuwara Eliya

After a leisurely breakfast visit a tea plantation and a tea factory. You will be told all about the process of manufacturing tea and also gain first-hand experience on the manufacture of some of the best tea in world. If you're lucky you may be invited to taste a cup of pure Ceylon tea which begins its journey as raw green leaves in the hills and ends up as a final golden-brown graded product which we all but know too well. Continue your day’s activities with a quick tour of the Nuwara Eliya city centre followed by a walk through the Hakgala Botanical Gardens. Home to a wide array of roses and vibrant flora, Hakgala Botanical gardens is a lush and serene expanse. Optional: tee off at the infamous Nuwara Eliya Golf Club. (B/D)

Day 9: Depart Nuwara Eliya

Having reached the end of your tour you will be transferred to Colombo airport for your onward travel arrangements (approximately 5 hours by road), or you can extend your stay in one of our beautiful beach resorts (approximately 6 hours 30 minutes to Bentota or 5 hours 30 minutes to Tangalle). (B)

Meals: B=Breakfast, D=Dinner

Please Note: There is a supplement applicable to drop off at our south coast hotels at the end of the tour, please ask your agent for prices.

Dates & prices

The table below shows our escorted tour departure dates.

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Prices are described as Guide prices on this website and may be higher or lower due to availability and date of departure.

Prices are for departure dates listed, ex-UK and are per adult based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room and with return economy flights where stated. Single room and flight prices are available at a supplement.

Please note some tours are subject to minimum numbers, please call our travel experts or visit your local retail store for full details as well as our latest prices.

Tour information

Please click here to download a pdf of the itinerary and additional tour notes

Pre/Post Tour Options

The first day of the tour is at leisure so allows you enough time to arrive and relax, if you have time we recommend adding a couple of extra nights on the beach before your tour. After the tour you can extend to Nuwara Eliya or a safari in Yala, alternatively you can extend your stay on the beaches of Sri Lanka or the Maldives.

Time difference

GMT +5 hours 30 minutes (summer) +6 hours 30 minutes (winter)

Tour inclusions

  • Air-conditioned transport with private driver/guide
  • Sightseeing as detailed, including entrance fees and still camera fees
  • Accommodation and meal inclusions as mentioned
  • Road taxes, parking fees, fuel surcharges and porterage at airports.

Tour exclusions

  • International flight, including all UK and overseas airport taxes and applicable fuel surcharges
  • Flight upgrades and airport transfers in the UK
  • Insurance
  • Items of a personal nature such as drinks, laundry, tips and gratuities, video camera fees at monuments
  • Anything not detailed on the itinerary.

Optional excursions

  • Visit to Polonnaruwa on Day 4
  • Tee off at Nuwara Eliya Golf Club on Day 8


Occasionally due to availability or other circumstances we may need to substitute one or more of the hotels with that of a similar standard.

Journey times

Sri Lankan roads are windy and there are few highways so journey times between destinations can be very long and those listed in the itinerary are approximate. If optional excursions are added or ad hoc visits are required this may add extra time on the roads. This tour have been designed by our destination experts so we have tried to build in free time to relax and added internal flights where we think cutting journey times may improve your experience.

In some instances you may want to add an internal flight to cut transfer times, for the Essential Sri Lanka tour you can add the Colombo to Sigiriya flight for an additional cost, please ask your Virgin Holidays agent.


English is widely spoken in Sri Lanka.

Visa requirements

Holders of UK Passports will require a visa to visit Sri Lanka. This must be obtained in advance for US$30.00 and can be completed at: