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.
Unawatuna. Situated on Sri Lanka's south coast roughly 5 km 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.
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.
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.
Negombo. Just 10 km 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dickwella Beach. It's no wonder this romantic beach is a hotspot for newly weds on honeymoon thanks to its breathtaking scenery and serene atmosphere. The beach is also ideal for swimming, snorkelling or learninga bout Sri Lankan lace making, while foodies flock to the local haunts offering mouthwatering seafood pasta and veggie curries. Take the time to find Dickwella's hidden gem, Hiriketiya Bay; it's a little slice of paradise.
Weligama. More quiet, serene, and a favorite for surfing beginners, Weligama is a smaller alternative to the busier beaches located north. Directly next to Weligama is Midigama, a tranquil strip destined to be developed as another of the best beaches in Sri Lanka. The most interesting of the things to see in Weligama is Taprobane Island, a tiny rock island with an immaculate villa built by Count de Maunay after he was exiled from France. Several famous authors, composers, and performers have owned the dream house since. The villa has been turned into a guesthouse and offers a unique experience if you don't mind taking a small boat every time you need to leave the property!