Cultural Etiquette and Must-See Places in Sri Lanka

The island nation of Sri Lanka, renowned for its stunning scenery and rich cultural legacy, provides a singular experience through its colourful customs and important historical sites. Understanding the cultural etiquette and exploring the must-see places in Sri Lanka not only enriches the travel experience but also fosters respect between visitors and locals.

Navigating Cultural Etiquette in Sri Lanka

When travelling in Sri Lanka, it is essential to embrace local customs to ensure a harmonious experience. Greetings in Sri Lanka are traditionally done with a slight bow and palms together in a prayer-like gesture called the "Ayubowan," which signifies "May you have a long life." This gesture is deeply appreciated by locals and is an excellent way to show respect.

Dressing appropriately is crucial, especially when visiting religious sites such as temples. When entering places of worship, visitors are usually asked to take off their shoes and wear clothing that covers their knees and shoulders. Observing these practices demonstrates respect for the local culture and religious traditions.

Dining etiquette also plays a vital role in social interactions. When invited to a local’s home, it is polite to bring a small gift and remember to always pass and receive items with your right hand, as the left is considered unclean.

Overview of Religion in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is primarily shaped by Buddhism and Hinduism, which influence its political, cultural, and social spheres. However, the island nation also boasts small minorities of Muslims and Christians, adding to the rich tapestry of religious beliefs.

Buddhism: This is the predominant religion in Sri Lanka.

  • Beliefs: Buddhists believe in reincarnation, the continuous cycle of life and learning until reaching Nirvana.
  • Practices: Adherents make five key promises: to avoid harming living beings, not to steal, to control sexual desires, to refrain from lying, and to abstain from intoxicants.

Hinduism: This religion coexists with Buddhism, influencing many aspects of Sri Lankan culture.

  • Core Concepts: Hindus believe in samsara (the cycle of life, death, and rebirth) and dharma (moral duty), which dictate one's social obligations and future reincarnations.
  • Deities: Key figures include Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, Parvati, and Kali, all manifestations of Brahman, the supreme cosmic spirit.

Impact on Society: Both religions contribute to a cultural acceptance of fatalism, the belief that life is predetermined by a higher force, influencing personal and business decisions significantly.

Exploring Must-See Places in Sri Lanka

The Ancient City of Sigiriya

Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, is a spectacular fortress and a fine example of ancient urban planning. It is renowned for its historical significance and stunning frescoes. Climbing Sigiriya offers not only a physical challenge but also an opportunity to view the mirror wall, which was once polished so thoroughly that the king could see himself as he walked alongside it.

The Sacred City of Kandy

Kandy, the final capital of the ancient kings' era in Sri Lanka, houses the Temple of the Tooth Relic, one of the world's most sacred Buddhist sites. This temple complex serves as a cultural epicentre, with daily rituals offering insights into Sri Lankan Buddhist spiritual practices. Due to its religious significance, Kandy is a vegetarian city.

The annual Esala Perahera festival showcases dancers, jugglers, musicians, firebreathers, and lavishly decorated elephants is a cultural spectacle that should be noticed.

Yala National Park: A Wildlife Sanctuary

For nature enthusiasts, Yala National Park offers an unparalleled safari experience. It boasts a high density of leopards and provides habitats for a multitude of other wildlife, including elephants, sloth bears, and countless bird species. The park’s ecosystem ranges from monsoon forests to freshwater and marine wetlands, making it a key spot for biodiversity within Sri Lanka.

Galle: A Colonial Melting Pot

The coastal city of Galle and its Dutch Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, reflect the synthesis of European architecture and South Asian traditions. Walking through the streets of Galle Fort, visitors can explore well-preserved colonial buildings, chic boutiques, and quaint cafes, all while enjoying the ocean view.

Tea Country: Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya, known as “Little England,” is the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea country. Visitors can explore the lush tea plantations that cover the hills, visit a tea factory to discover how tea is made, and sip some of the best tea on the planet. The cool climate and scenic landscapes also make it a perfect place for leisurely hikes.

Plan Your Trip

To enter Sri Lanka, choose between an E-Visa for short stays (applied online) or a Traditional Visa for longer visits (requires embassy application). Flight prices vary by season, with the best deals during shoulder (April-May, Sept-Oct) and monsoon (June-Aug) seasons. Accommodation options cater to all budgets, from budget guesthouses to luxury beachfront hotels. So, plan according to your needs and comfort, and enjoy your journey to the fullest.

Tips for a Fulfilling Travel Experience in Sri Lanka

When planning a trip to Sri Lanka, consider these essential tips to make your journey more enjoyable:

  • Best Travel Time: The ideal months to visit Sri Lanka are from December to March when the weather is most favourable. However, the country enjoys a tropical climate year-round, so visiting during the monsoon seasons (May-June and September-November) might appeal to those who prefer lush landscapes and smaller crowds.
  • Local Currency: It's advisable to carry cash in local currency, as many places, especially in rural areas, may not accept credit cards. For safe currency exchange, use reputable banks or authorised money changers. While ATMs are increasingly available, having cash on hand is still necessary for smoother transactions.
  • Language Tips: Learning a few phrases in Sinhala can greatly enhance your interactions with locals. Efforts to speak the local language are often appreciated and can enrich your cultural experience.
  • Understanding Climate Variations: Sri Lanka's tropical climate means weather can vary significantly, especially between the coastal areas and the highlands. Pack appropriately to be ready for unforeseen weather changes.

These tips help travellers navigate Sri Lanka’s diverse offerings more comfortably, from warm cultural encounters to stunning natural beauty. By respecting local customs and exploring beyond the typical tourist paths, you can truly experience the essence of Sri Lankan hospitality and charm.


  • How can I get around Sri Lanka using public transportation?

    Buses (affordable, crowded), trains (scenic), tuk-tuks (agree on fare first). Be mindful of customs (seat giving, modest dress).

  • How can I bargain in Sri Lankan markets?

    Politely haggle. Start low, negotiate kindly, and avoid being aggressive.

  • What are the key elements of cultural etiquette in Sri Lanka?

    Sri Lanka’s culture deeply values respect, which is reflected in traditional greetings and attire. Key practices include:

    • Greeting: Use a slight bow with hands pressed together, saying "Ayubowan."
    • Dress Code: Dress modestly, covering shoulders and legs at religious sites.
    • Hand Usage: Always use your right hand for interactions, as the left is impure.
  • How do I greet someone in Sri Lanka?

    A simple "Ayubowan" (hello) with a slight bow is respectful.

  • What city should I base myself in for sightseeing?

    Depending on your interests, Kandy (cultural centre), Galle (colonial town), or Ella (hill country town) are popular choices.


Although this information was last updated in May 2024, we recommend verifying with the appropriate agencies, embassies, and airlines to ensure complete accuracy regarding your travel plans.