Once you have arrived there will be plenty to keep you busy, but depending on the time of year, here are a few events taking place….
Dry Season (October – April)
Pilgrimage Season (Dec – May)
Starting on poya day in December and running until the Vesak festival in May, the pilgrimage season sees thousands of visitors make the long trek up Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada) – Sri Lanka’s highest point and one of the most sacred places on the island. A string of twinkling lights guides pilgrims during the taxing slog up from the settlement of Dalhousie to the summit.
Colombo’s most famous festival draws thousands of visitors and locals for a two-day display of pomp and circumstance. Featuring parading elephants, dancers, street performers, musicians and torchlight processions, it’s one of the most colourful events in the country’s calendar. Hotels are often fully booked over the festival, so be sure to arrange accommodation in advance.
Hot Air Balloon Festival
Sri Lanka’s burgeoning ballooning scene is celebrated in this week-long flying festival, which sees a colourful crop of balloons float over the towns of Sigiriya and Hambantota as well as the city of Colombo. It’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy an extended aerial tour of Sri Lanka.
Galle / Jaffna Music Festival
Moving between the northern city of Jaffna and Galle in the south on alternating years, this eclectic music festival showcases everything from classical pieces to folk and fusion music. Workshops following themes such as sound engineering and arts and crafts take place alongside the main live events.
Sinhalese New Year
According to Sinhalese astrology, the New Year begins in April when the sun moves from the house of Pisces to the house of Aries. The event is celebrated with cultural rituals across the country, including fireworks, big family dinners and colourful street parties in Sri Lanka’s major cities. The date also coincides with the Tamil New Year, which sees similar rituals take place in the north of the country.
Wet Season (May – September)
Poya holidays take place in Sri Lanka every full moon, but the most important of them is Vesak Poya in May. It’s a chance for Buddhists to celebrate the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death with prayer, mediation and partying. Streamers traditionally hang from buses and free food is handed out at street stalls across the country.
Hikkaduwa Beach Festival
For five days between July and August, the lively beach town of Hikkaduwa is given over to this popular festival. Expect international DJs, Sri Lanka dancers, live music and a range of activities to appeal to the whole family. Associated events include a jazz festival, kite festival, kids’ corner and fireworks.
The remote town of Kataragama is one of the most venerated religious sites in Sri Lanka, and its annual festival is a true feast for the senses. Watch devoted Hindus walk over hot coals, pierce their skin with hooks and engage in other morbidly fascinating self-mutilation rituals. The highlight of the event is the evening procession, which is conducted in almost complete silence.
For hundreds of years, the residents of Kandy have taken to the streets in August for this annual parade and ritual. Watching the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha carried on the back of an elephant in the centre of a magnificent, glittering procession is one of the highlights of the Sri Lankan festival season.
Colombo Fashion Week
This colourful event celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2013, and continues to provide a high-profile showcase for Sri Lankan designers. During the three days of festivities, a variety of workshops, catwalk shows and fashion-focussed events are held around the capital. The emphasis is on traditional clothing, but fashion aficionados will also find plenty of modern collections to take their fancy.