12 breathtaking beaches in Sri Lanka (+ map)


Beach life has to be one of the highlights of any holiday to the teardrop-shaped island – especially when there is such an abundance of beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka.

Even if you’re more about hiking in the hills, going on safari, heading to a tea plantation, or absorbing local history, I think spending at least a day at a lovely coastal spot belongs on every traveller’s island itinerary. 

Every one of these breathtaking beaches has been handpicked by me because it has something very special to offer.

The following dozen recommendations are based on the time I recently spent in Sri Lanka, as well as a few tips and recommendations from fellow travellers and friends.

Continue reading to discover your new favourite Sri Lankan beach. 

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Author Bio: Jessie Moore

Jessie Moore is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.

Map of the best beaches in Sri Lanka

Use my map of beaches in Sri Lanka to help visualise where the best spots are on the island.

1. Mirissa, Matara District

Nearest town: Mirissa

Best for: Elevated views


Search for Mirissa online, and you’ll find the official website listed with “the most beautiful beach in Sri Lanka” tagline.

It’s certainly a deservedly popular spot, where you can learn to surf, go snorkelling with turtles, take a whale watching trip in season, or kick back and unwind on the golden sand. 

At the tip of the beach is a very picturesque promontory, Parrot Rock, a cluster of reddish rock sprinkled with palm trees.

I’d recommend clambering up here for fabulous sunset vistas, or fantastic views of local and visiting surfers. 

Coconut palms, a clean sweep of soft sand, surfing waves, and rich marine life make Mirissa a must among Sri Lankan beaches. 

2. Unawatuna, Galle District

Nearest town: Unawatuna

Best for: A laid-back lifestyle

Unawatuna Beach

Situated in the resort of the same name, Unawatuna Beach is popular with both tourists and locals, making it one of the most loved beaches in Sri Lanka.

It offers clean sand and clear, calm water for swimming. The stretch of sand is shaped like a banana, and is backed by a line of swaying palms. 

Unawatuna is a laid-back kind of place, despite its popularity. There are various beach bars for happy hour cocktails and sundowners.

You can also feast on freshly grilled seafood, so there’s no need to pack a picnic – unless of course you want to. 

Whether you prefer relaxed beach shacks or fine dining with a view, the vibe at Unawatuna Beach suits backpackers, luxury travellers and families alike.  

Book a surfing lesson in Unawatuna or go snorkelling for a fun underwater experience.

3. Arugam Bay, Ampara District

Nearest town: Pottuvil

Best for: Surfing

Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay – or Arugam Kudah as it’s called locally – can be found on Sri Lanka’s southeast coast.

This is the number one beach for surfing fans, and even hosts international surfing competitions.

According to some, in fact, this is one of the world’s finest surfing beaches. 

The windswept bay can be suitable for beginners, depending on weather conditions, and many surf schools are dotted around the area.

Arugam Bay and nearby Pottuvil have something of an alternative vibe, and the beach is a popular party spot among those seeking some apres-surf. 

Arugam Kudah is also a good place for seaview dining, with a great choice of restaurants.

If you’re feeling lazy like me, you can simply unwind on the sand while watching the surfers in action. 

Or for something more adventurous, discover the mangroves at nearby Pottuvil Lagoon

4. Nilaveli, Trincomalee District

Nearest town: Nilaveli

Best for: Marine life


Though it’s a coastal resort, Nilaveli beach is relatively undeveloped. I love that it’s therefore a peaceful alternative to some of the island’s more touristy places.

There’s a huge stretch of pale sand for sunbathing and playing on, and gentle waves to splash about in. 

The resort is small, but offers some accommodation and dining options. You can also join local boat trips to Pigeon Island National Park from Nilaveli, which lies only a kilometre off the coast.

The waters around the park are rich in marine life, and a good place to spot sea turtles in particular. 

Many describe Nilaveli as a little slice of paradise, and it’s refreshingly quiet.

Whether you come to swim, snorkel, scuba dive, or sunbathe, I think this one’s unmissable. 

5. Hiriketiya, Matara District

Nearest town: Dikwella

Best for: An alternative vibe 


Shaped like a horseshoe, Hiriketiya Beach can be found on the south coast of Sri Lanka.

It’s more recently developed than others, meaning you can find all you need here without the crowds.

The nearby resort of Dikwella is also growing in popularity, particularly among the surfing community. 

You can learn to surf at Hiriketiya, or sit back and watch while others try to catch a wave.

The local area also offers plenty of affordable places to eat and drink, plus vibrant nightlife after-dark.

Everyone from families to single travellers in search of a sociable atmosphere can find their niche at Hiriketiya Beach.

6. Bentota, Galle District

Nearest town: Bentota

Best for: Luxury hotels


Bentota Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Sri Lanka, with a line of luxury hotels clustered close to the shoreline.

It’s favoured for a reason, as this is, hands-down, one of the finest beaches on the island. 

I think Bentota is a lovely spot for coastal strolls, or sunbathing, while enjoying the picture perfect white sands.

You may be able to take a dip here, depending on the time of year and the weather, as sometimes the water is just too rough for swimming. 

As a popular resort, Bentota offers all the amenities you could wish for, from surf equipment hire to five star hotels. 

I’d also recommend booking a Bentota river safari for a fun and unique experience.

7. Passikuda, Batticaloa District

Nearest town: Passikudah

Best for: A coral reef


A coral reef running across the bay makes Passikudah one of Sri Lanka’s safest beaches for swimming, as this provides protection from rough ocean conditions.

Snorkelling is a popular pastime here due to the reef, as colourful fish can be seen close to the surface. 

I love that the water at Passikudah Bay is so shallow that you can walk out into the Indian Ocean for over 50 metres from the shoreline.

As the sun’s rays are concentrated on a shallower area, the water here can also feel warmer than in other Sri Lankan coastal locations. 

The resort of Passikudah offers everything you need, without the hustle and bustle of more touristy places. There are some lovely beachfront hotels, too. 

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8. Hikkaduwa, Galle District

Nearest town: Hikkaduwa 

Best for: Snorkelling


Like Passikudah, Hikkaduwa has a reef, so it’s popular with snorkellers and scuba divers.

You can also take glass bottom boat tours from here, or learn to surf. Plus, I’d recommend trying out bodyboarding – or boogie boarding – at Hikkaduwa. 

The ocean waters here form Hikkaduwa National Park, which is known for its diversity of marine life. Species to see include sea turtles, colourful corals, and tropical fish.

The hand-painted Buddhist temple Gangarama Maha Vihara is also situated in the local area.

For exploring Sri Lanka’s underwater world, Hikkaduwa Bay and Hikkaduwa National Park are among the island’s top spots. 

Discover more of the best things to do in Galle.

9. Goyambokka, Hambantota District

Nearest town: Tangalle

Best for: A rugged shoreline


With a more rugged, rocky shoreline than other beaches in Sri Lanka, Goyambokka is a relaxed spot. I’d suggest visiting at the same time as neighbouring Pallikaduwa Beach.

The beach is located along Hiriketiya Road, close to Tangalle in the south of the island. 

While the wave action can be strong, the rocks act as a natural breakwater, meaning it’s often safe to take a swim.

Do take care though, as there’s no lifeguard service at this unspoiled beach. 

Though amenities are limited, you can hire sun loungers and order food and drinks at Goyambokka Beach, usually from the same vendor.  

10. Kalpitiya, Puttalam District

Nearest town: Kalpitiya

Best for: Biodiversity


Kalpitiya is actually a peninsula comprising 14 islands, located in northwestern Sri Lanka.

The beach of this name can be found to the north, and consists of a long stretch of sand. I love that this part of Sri Lanka is relatively untouched by tourism.

The local fishing community calls this area home, and it’s popular with anyone who wants to explore marine life.

Wilpattu National Park is also close by, offering an array of wildlife, and you can take boat trips out to sea or jeep rides across the sand dunes. 

Whale and dolphin sightings are fairly common at Kalpitiya, and it’s also a popular kite surfing destination.

The ​Bar Reef Sanctuary is particularly biodiverse, and the local landscape also offers salt pans, mangroves, and coastal plains. 

11. Koggala, Galle District

Nearest town: Koggala

Best for: Local history


With white sands backed by sea-leaning palms and lush, tropical vegetation, Koggala Beach is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka.

The resort offers other attractions, including a museum dedicated to local author Martin Wickramasinghe. You can also spend time by the lake or river here, as well as the ocean. 

The town is bordered by Koggala Lake to one side, with a coral reef on the other.

I’d recommend visiting the Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Museum here to delve into local history, as the depository displays cultural artefacts.

Handunugoda Tea Estate is also the closest to the country’s coastline.

If you visit at sunrise or sunset, you can still see silhouetted stilt fishermen at work in Koggala.

Plus, you can take boat trips into the lagoon, to visit the local islands and mangroves. 

12. Tangalle Beach, Hambantota District

Nearest town: Tangalle

Best for: Picture perfect views


Tangalle Beach is one of the biggest beach resorts in southern Sri Lanka. Yet in tourist terms, it’s largely overlooked.

Which is a shame – or a bonus, depending on how you look at it. 

Tangalle has everything you might expect from a tropical, Asian beach: golden sands, azure waters, and swaying palms.

The rugged shoreline in this part of the island adds interest too, providing a pleasing contrast to the pristine sands. 

Around Tangalle you can also find the mangroves of Tangalle Lagoon, food stalls at the local market selling spicy Sri Lankan fare, and Mulkirigala Rock Temple for sweeping views over the town and coastline. 

Let me know any of your personal favourite beaches in Sri Lanka in the comments below! For more Sri Lanka inspiration, you may also like: 

Or check out my Sri Lanka vlogs on YouTube

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Jessie Moore
Jessie Moore

Jessie is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.

Find me on: Web | Instagram


Want up to 25% off hotels?

Subscribe to my newsletter and get immediate access to my guide on how to save money on flights and hotels. Our weekly emails are filled with adventure inspiration, insider travel tips and exclusive discounts.