Sri Lanka
Overview

Goa? So 70s. Thailand? So 2000s. We know where you can head if you’ve been there done that. And that’s Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka means “resplendent island” in Sanskrit, which could not be more fitting. It’s rare to find a place in the world with such a vast variety of remarkable landscapes - from sunny, sandy beaches, to misty hillsides dotted with hauntingly beautiful ruins to jungle tropics where elephants roam free. This magical destination is for the sophisticated traveler who’s able to go with the flow and dive into a largely untapped culture, even if it means forgoing access to a full gym, Wi-Fi (gasp!), or other high-end amenities many A-list globetrotters have grown accustomed to. Be open! Give your gowns a rest and explore in shorts, tanks, and fleeces instead (we draw the line at crocs though; that should go without saying). You won’t even miss these super-luxuries once you’re immersed in the rich heritage of this raw, astonishing country, sure to skyrocket to the top of every chic traveler’s must-visit list.

Attire is definitely effortless, with just a couple chic pieces for cocktail hours and dinners at your hotel or in the capital needed. That said, with such varying terrain, your packing with depend on the regions you choose to visit. Try to stock up on basics from ASOS and other budget friendly retailers where you can buy bulk and not endanger your designer wardrobe. Ideally you’d be able to hit them all, but it could take a couple weeks to truly enjoy each area to its fullest, so we’ve highlighted a few to help you make your picks.

Set on the southern seaside is Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, which offers the most developed urban culture with a colorful cityscape of colonial architecture smattered with high rises, plus a cultural melting pot of Arab, Dutch, Portuguese, and British influences unlike anywhere else. In Sri Lanka, Colombo has the most prospering restaurant and bar scene, with new hotspots sprouting up each season. For more natural vibes, Balapitiya and Bentota, both a couple hours south, are known for seaside views and lush tropical terrain, and are choice spots for colorful bird sightings. On the southernmost shore overlooking the Indian Ocean, you’ll find the beaches of the Tangalle region, prime for true laidback lounging where you’ll breeze through that beach read and need to pack only a few pareos and suits (go ahead and break out a Mara Hoffman). A lesser-known holiday spot on the southwest coast is Wadduwa, an area patch-worked with historic coconut plantations and serious contender for best beaches. The Galle district is best known for its namesake port city, a prime spot to explore historic cathedrals and museums to get a taste of the city’s heritage. Kandy is a majestic inland city where a mystical mist perpetually hovers over the colorful colonial houses, boutique hotels, and lush greenery. Walking the slippery streets, you’ll be jealous of how good this city looks when it’s raining. North of Kandy you’ll find The Cultural Triangle, filled with relics and ruins of ancient civilizations. From Buddha statues, to haunting forest monasteries and temples, this region oozes culture and mystique. Here you should pack easy cotton separates that can double as sightseeing gear and hotel loungewear. The climate dips a bit amid in the emerald green of Hill Country, a region of rolling highlands laden with tea plantations, herds of elephants, raging rivers and hidden waterfalls (contrary to TLC’s 90’s jam, definitely chase the waterfalls, because they’re spectacular).

Truth be told, no matter where you choose to visit, it’s hard to go wrong with such well-rounded, authentic options of city, beach, culture, history, and vibrant animal life. So now you’re in the know. Be the first of your jetset friends to visit this pearl off the southeastern coast of India. You’ll get the boasting rights as the first, not to mention the vacation of a lifetime.

Stay

Where to stay

Indulge

Indulge

DINING

From fresh seafood to every kind of Asian fare you can imagine, Sri Lanka kills it with cuisine, and just keeps getting better. Colombo of course is home to some of our favorites, starting with Ministry of Crab, where chef’s craft classic as well as innovative crab dishes that we’d venture to say could even rival a Krabby Patty (they also have non-seafood and vegetarian options). The dining room is fairly elegant and upscale, so dress accordingly (perhaps a light dress and wedges). At Chutney’s, indulge in authentic South Indian cuisine with original twists, including extensive vegetarian options, amid a sleek, modern atmosphere, perfect for an edgy ensemble. Last up on our Colombo top picks list is Nihonbashi, for fellow sushi fanatics missing their favorite Japanese spot back home. Here, you’ll dine on fine Japanese specialties in any of the seven uniquely designed dining rooms, some featuring luscious red floor cushions, other bamboo canopies, but all as artistic and refined as the authentic Japanese delicacies you’ll savor.

Heading over to Kandy, a hot spot for dinner is Kandy House at the Kandy House hotel, where you’ll savor Sri Lanken specialties alongside international cuisine. If you luck out you’ll catch their bi-weekly, highly acclaimed feast of ten Sri Lanken curries (dress extra spicy for this outing). Satisfy your sweet tooth in Kandy at the local-favorite Soya Centre, a casual eatery best known for it’s generous soft serve ice creams (optimal for when a froyo craving hits you overseas), though they serve other delicious small eats, and great soy options for the dairy-free globetrotter.

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In Galle, you’ll find the finest of fine dining at The Fort Printers’ hotel restaurant, known for beautiful execution of locally sourced products, set either in the elegant dining room or outside beside the courtyard pool. Consider a sleek, printed maxi dress for dinner in this 18th century restored mansion turned boutique hotel. Slightly more laidback but no less delicious is Galle’s Fortaleza hotel restaurant, which serves Asian fused with Western dishes. The encrusted tuna salad is superb, though you’ll likely also be tempted by their classic juicy burger or succulent barbeque (unless you’re a vegan, in which case we envy your willpower. But there are vegetables here too, so you’re set). If you find yourself in the golden beach town of Wadduwa, you’re close by one of Sri Lanka’s finest restaurants, The Nautilus at the five star Blue Water Hotel. The sleek restaurant specializes in fresh seafood (think elegant yet beachy attire), though it also offers prime cuts of meat and local vegetables.  

While exploring the jungles of the Hill Country region, stop for dinner at The Old Course Restaurant inside the St. Andrews Hotel (located in Nuwara Eliya), home to the largest wine cellar in Sri Lanka. We’d hack through the jungle for that, but if you’re still not convinced then come for the culinary creations of British heritage fused with Asian flavors, not to mention a sophisticated atmosphere as welcome break to your jungle trek (exciting though it may be). 

NIGHTLIFE 

For the best of Sri Lankan nightlife, Colombo is the spot. The capital offers everything from buzzing nightclubs where you can glam up and hit the dance floor, to a blossoming pub culture for laidback revelry, even to a few casinos, the nightlife here just keeps getting better. Start at the lively Glow Bar, a consistently packed venue of modern, minimalist décor where you can sport one of your edgier ensembles, or get into the spirit of their regular theme nights. Come for happy hour at 6pm, or after dinner for late night, or just stay the whole night through cause why not? For a night of chic sophistication, try The Library at the Transasia Hotel, which is literally a library by day and club by night, though the atmosphere remains relaxed.

The Hut is the ultimate #TBT club, attracting an entertaining, eclectic crowd by offering everything from 70’s reggae, 80’s disco, and 90’s techno with live bands on the weekends and DJ’s throughout the week. Come to kick back in one of their cozy booths and enjoy prime people watching amid great throwback music. Our pick for a classic pub is Rhythm and Blues, where the vibes are casual, the live music on point (think classic rock and blues), and the beer ice cold, perfect for a relaxed night to practice your pool game.  Last up is Colombo’s most famous casino, Stardust, known for its lucky tables and great live entertainment right in the heart of the capital.

While nightlife is picking up across the country, in most areas the hotel lounges are bars the best spots for good drinks and mingling.

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Explore

Explore

First things first, people go crazy for Cricket here (that sport that uses a bat, a ball, and innings, but isn’t baseball), so join in and take a few swings at a pick-up beach game, or join the local observers at a match in Kandy or Colombo. Also in Colombo is The Pettah, the colorful and wonderfully frenzied bazaar, an invigorating hub of Southeast Asian culture. It’s like the cooler, non-overrated, Sri Lanken version of Time Square. 

Beyond the capital, set out to explore the stunning Southern hill country, where the ethereal Adam’s Peak, a famed religious wonder of a mountain, juts out amid the lush green terrain. This early pilgrimage site is thought to be where the biblical Adam first set foot out of heaven, or where the Buddha left his sacred footprint as he headed toward paradise. Either way, it’s a magnificent site not to be missed. Take another day trip to explore the mysterious yet impeccably preserved ruins in the ancient city of Anuradhapura (say that five times fast), located in the North Central Province. Although a remote pilgrimage town, Kataragama draws crowds to its stirring nightly temple ceremonies, among other lively rituals held sacred by Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims alike. Make like Great Garbo and voyage back in time to the Golden Age of Travel by getting aboard one of Sri Lanka’s timeless colonial trains.

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 Originally constructed to transport tea and spices from the mountains to Colombo’s port, this extraordinary railway line chugs through some of the most beautiful parts of the country… oh and did we mention it’s a pretty fab way to travel! Not to be missed is Nuwara Eliya, which is home to the country’s oldest tea estates. Bicycle your way from plantation to plantation for tea tastings (like a sober wine tour) Not much of a tea drinker? Opt for a tea infused culinary lesson, therapeutic tea massage or rejuvenating herbal treatment.

This country is an animal’s lover paradise so stop to see leopards at Yala National Park, Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sabaragamuwa Province to see the baby elephants, and to Dondra Point for some of the best whale watching in the world!

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SHOP

Where to Shop

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Given that Sri Lanka is still a blossoming culture for tourism, shopping here will consist of local and authentic designs, vs. big name designers, which is fitting considering your attire most of the trip will be light, airy, and relaxed. Colombo is the best bet to score luscious fabrics, décor, and other goodies to take home with you.

For exquisite hand-woven fabrics and linens, head to Barefoot and pick up a vibrant collection of tablecloths, napkins, and placemats. Paradise Road is our pick for home décor like that found in the boutique hotels you will fall in love with, so you can carry a little something reticent of your Sri Lankan getaway into your own living room. Shop among the local Sri Lankan women at their favorite, House of Fashions, featuring everything from clothing to footwear and accessories. In Galle Mimimango, on Lighthouse for chic designer wear but don’t stop there as the streets are lined with gem shops such as Laksana.

Basic advice for jewelry:
Unless you’re a gemologist, don’t buy fancy stones, because you just won’t know how good they are. As for semi-precious stones, go ahead…

Shop the Destination

Intermix Zoe Floral Dress $325.00
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L’Agence Danica Wide Leg Cropped Jeans $255.00
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rag & bone Straw Panama hat $240.00
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Ancient Greek Sandals Eleftheria braided leather sandals $250.00
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Lisa Marie Fernandez Leandra off-the-shoulder swimsuit $520.00
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Innika Choo Smocked embroidered linen dress $357.00
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Carrie Forbes Salon Woven Faux Raffia Slides $300.00
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Nightcap Clothing Eyelet Apron Dress $495.00
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Ahlem Concorde Sunglasses $470.00
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Cult Gaia Ark bamboo and gold-tone earrings $100.00
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Three Graces London Georgianna striped linen dress $785.00
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Wai Wai Maloca bamboo-cage bucket bag $1,028.00
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Mara Hoffman Lua polka-dot print underwired bikini top
$155.00
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Mara Hoffman Lydia high-rise bikini briefs
$125.00
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Apiece Apart Himalaya striped linen and silk-blend dress
$556.00
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Kalita Brigitte silk-habotai maxi dress $578.00
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