A guide to Sri Lanka's best beaches

The Tear Drop Isle

The island of Sri Lanka has long been a popular beach destination with miles of gorgeous coastline that encompasses a jungle-clad interior home to remarkable ancient ruins, attractive tea estates and wildlife-rich national parks. It's the ideal place to combine a cultural tour with a bit of downtime at the beach, and it's equally as perfect for pure beach holidays spent chilling out at a resort. And whether you're a couple looking for a romantic getaway, a family looking to entertain the kids or a solo traveller seeking peace and quiet, Sri Lanka has a beach for everyone - with our help, find your very own.

Sri Lanka beach - On The Go Tours

Top 10 Beaches in Sri Lanka

With so many beaches to choose from, it's a hard job compiling a list of just ten but that's exactly what we've done with our selection of the most idyllic, the most fun and the most charming beach destinations from all corners of the island.

Unawatuna Highlight - Web Ready
Best for: all round appeal

Unawatuna

Situated on Sri Lanka's south coast roughly 5km from the charming colonial town of Galle, the popular beach resort of Unawatuna has it all - good looks with a pretty beach backed by a striking rocky outcrop, good swimming with a sheltered bay resulting in calm waters year-round, good nightlife with thumping discos and fun activities, and good accommodation options with plenty of hotels to suit all budgets. Its distance from Galle makes it a popular weekend getaway for locals with a towering dagoba offering magical views at sunset.

Recommended Accommodation:
CoCo Bay Unawatuna - a 4 star boutique property with its own exclusive beach and great ocean views

SRI_LANKA_BENTOTA
Best for: year-round watersports

Bentota

Backed by the still waters of the Bentota Ganga and fronting a fine stretch of sandy beach on Sri Lanka's west coast, Bentota is a first choice for many sun-seekers with a varied range of accommodation and outdoor activities. Waterskiing, jetskiing, sailing and windsurfing are just some of the water-based sports available year-round thanks to the nearby lagoon and it's also possible to take a boat safari along the Bentota River that connects with the lagoon for a chance to spot aquatic birds and enjoy the mangrove scenery.

Recommended Accommodation:
Vivanta by Taj - beautiful beachfront 5 star property surrounded by lush gardens with a luxury spa onsite

Hikkaduwa Highlight - Web Ready
Best for: beach parties

Hikkaduwa

Popular with the hippy crowd back in the 1970s, Hikkaduwa on the west coast is undergoing something of a renaissance with its famous Coral Gardens and beach slowly returning to their former glory after years of over-development. Resorts and hotels have been given a makeover after the devastating effects of the tsunami back in 2004 and the beach town continues to draw visitors with its lively nightlife and the yearly three-day Beach Fest when international DJs spin out tunes all night long out on the beach.

Recommended Accommodation:
Hikka Tranz by Cinnamon - ideally located 4 star hotel with crowd-pleasing buffet breakfasts

Negombo Highlight
Best for: airport access

Negombo

Just 10km away from the Bandaranaike International Airport and an hour's drive from Colombo, the beach town of Negombo on the west coast is ideally located for those in need of a quick break on golden sands before flying home. You'll find plenty of activities to keep you entertained at this lively resort, from wetland boat trips to kitesurfing, with a few architectural flourishes left over from the colonial era including St. Mary's Church, the remnants of the old Dutch fort and the attractive mansions along Main Street.

Recommended Accommodation:
Jetwing Beach - a landmark 5 star property designed by renowned Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa

Tangalle beach - Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours
Best for: countryside attractions

Tangalle

Set along the visually-pleasing south coast marked by rocky promontories and quiet coves, the beaches of Tangalle (also spelled Tangalla) are exactly what you want a tropical beach to resemble with swaying palms, expansive sands and turquoise waters. What makes this region stand out, however, are the attractions further inland that include a giant Buddha and surrounding shrines, the Hoo-maniya blowhole (best seen during the wet season), a bird sanctuary and an ancient monastery carved into rock.

Recommended Accommodation:
Palm Paradise Cabanas - 20 yards from the beach with jungle-inspired cabanas accompanied by hammocks

Mirissa beach - Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours
Best for: sea wildlife

Mirissa

Tucked into a small bay on the south coast, the picturesque arc of sand that forms Mirissa beach is one of Sri Lanka's most chilled destinations without the overwhelming development found in other spots. Modest guesthouses and rustic restaurants characterise the area and it's popular with those looking for more relaxed activities. Between the months of December and April it's also one of the best places in the world to enjoy whale-watching as blue and sperm whales make their migratory journeys around the coast of Sri Lanka.

Recommended Accommodation:
Mandara Resort - this 4 star beachfront hotel is surrounded by tropical palms and boasts an Ayurveda Spa and lovely pool

Arugam Bay beach with surf break - Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours
Best for: surfing and ethnic charm

Arugam Bay

Home to Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim populations, Arugam Bay is easily the most multi-cultural beach resort in Sri Lanka with an eclectic character and laid-back vibe that entices a burgeoning expat community. Situated on the east coast of the island, the bay features an attractive palm-fringed beach and a famous break point that makes it particularly popular with surfers. Mainstream tourism developments have been kept largely at bay so it's a great place to enjoy a beach without the brashness of other more-established resorts.

Recommended Accommodation:
The Danish Villa - an intimate guesthouse with just five bedrooms set in a garden bungalow 100m from the beach

Nilaveli beach - Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours
Best for: low-key atmosphere

Uppuveli and Nilaveli

Their location on the east coast has meant that the beaches at Uppuveli and Nilaveli have remained blissfully unspoilt due to the decades of civil war that kept visitors and developers out of the region. Palm trees, golden sands, fishing boats and a distinct lack of crowds are what you'll find here with just a smattering of places to stay, which means it stays peaceful and quiet. Off the coast Pigeon Island and its surrounding coral reefs make a good diving and snorkelling spot, particularly between May and September.

Recommended Accommodation:
Palm Beach Resort - this cheerful guesthouse offers rustic cabanas with verandas from which to enjoy the coastal views

Alankuda Beach kitesurfing - Sri Lanka - On The Go Tours
Best for: dolphins and kitesurfing

Alankuda

The beautiful Kalpitiya Peninsula on the west coast is home to the idyllic Alankuda Beach, a relatively new and undiscovered beach destination in Sri Lanka. The waters play host to schools of dolphins throughout the year making it the country's premier dolphin-watching spot with regular boat tours while the constant strong winds are ideal for kitesurfing. Another drawcard is the cluster of eco-resorts dotted along the coast that are a world away from the glitz and glamour of beach resorts further south, each with their own individual character and rustic appeal.

Recommended Accommodation:
Bar Reef Resort - one of the originals with a gorgeous infinity pool and choice of cabanas or villas with open-air bathrooms

Passekudah beach credit eiko via Flickr
Best for: safe swimming

Passekudah and Kalkudah

Nestled along two bays of the same name, the twin beaches of Passekudah and Kalkudah are the perfect spot for swimming thanks to the gently sloping seabed and calm waters. Popular in the 70s and 80s before the outbreak of civil war, Passekudah was once one of the most developed beach resorts on the east coast and is set to be once again with on-going development of hotels and facilities while Kalkudah remains largely deserted with the vibe of a sleepy backwater and plenty of private spots to be found.

Recommended Accommodation:
Maalu Maalu - a quiet getaway taking inspiration from local fishing villages with palm-thatched chalets right on the beach

Sri Lanka Beaches
Map of Sri Lanka showing our top recommended beach destinations

Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka for a Beach Holiday

Despite its small size, the island nation of Sri Lanka experiences a surprisingly varied climate, influenced by two monsoon seasons that affect different parts of the country at different times of the year. These seasons are rarely completely reliable as the rains shift their pattern each year but there are months where the weather is just right for a beach holiday and others where heavy rains mean sunbathing is off the cards. Here's a general overview of the best time to visit Sri Lanka for a beach holiday by coastal regions.

East Coast

Arugam Bay, Uppuveli & Nilaveli, and Passekudah & Kalkudah beaches
The best time to visit Sri Lanka's east coast is between the months of April and September with this part of the country free from monsoonal rains, which start in earnest in November and stick around until February. March and October are considered shoulder seasons with a chance of rain but not enough to ruin your beach holiday.

South Coast

Unawatuna, Tangalle and Mirissa
It's a different story on the south coast with the months between December and May peak holiday season with the absence of the Yala Monsoon that hits the region from June to October. Weirdly, rainfall drops dramatically in August, in comparison to the months either side, so it's possible to enjoy a beach holiday slap bang in the middle of the monsoon season. November is considered shoulder season as the rains start to decline.

West Coast

Bentota, Hikkaduwa, Negombo and Alankuda
The west coast experiences a similar monsoon pattern as the south coast with the rains at their heaviest between July and November. December through to April are the best months to visit the region with sunny, clear days and little rainfall. Once again, August is something of an anomaly with far less rain than the months its sandwiched between, while May and June can be a little unsettled with increasing rainfall.

Top Sri Lanka Deals
Colombo Festival | Sri Lanka Colombo Festival - 8 days Map
25 Jan 2018  20% off
Colombo Festival - 8 days
USD $1,516
was $1,895
Leopard | Yala National Park | Sri Lanka Wild About Sri Lanka - 10 days Map
11 Nov 2017  15% off
Wild About Sri Lanka - 10 days
USD $2,036
was $2,395
Train to Nuwara Eliya | Sri Lanka Colombo, Caves & Kandy - 8 days Map
11 Nov 2017  15% off
Colombo, Caves & Kandy - 8 days
USD $1,305
was $1,535
A herd of elephants | Sri Lanka Safari in Sri Lanka - 9 days Map
18 Nov 2017  15% off
Safari in Sri Lanka - 9 days
USD $2,325
was $2,735
Katurogoda Ancient Vihara in Jaffna | Sri Lanka Sri Lanka Northeast Explorer - 12 Days Map
05 Dec 2017  15% off
Sri Lanka Northeast Explorer - 12 Days
USD $2,180
was $2,565