Incredible scenery, breath-taking beaches, and a culture based on historic values are just some of Sri Lanka’s alluring charms. Yet often the best a country has to offer comes in the form of its annual celebrations. By submerging yourself into the Sri Lankan way of life, you can truly come to know the island. From dramatic parades fuelled by fire dancers and embellished elephants, to deeply intimate temple ceremonies, there are plenty of impressive events to behold on this spectacular island. With so many events and festivals in Sri Lanka in 2019, we are here to help you whittle down your bucket list, with our hand-picked selection of the best things to do across the country. Ready your Instagram account and get packing!
The Festival of the Tooth
Imagine decorated elephants parading through the streets, incredible authentic costumes, dazzling light displays and exotic fire dancing: this is the heart of The Festival of the Tooth. Also known as Kandy Esala Perahera, this annual procession takes place throughout the month of Esala (July) and will be one of the key events in Sri Lanka in 2019. The procession celebrates many of the island’s important traditions by honouring the sacred tooth of Lord Buddha. This ancient relic rests in Sri Dalada Maligawa (The Temple of the Tooth) in Kandy and the festival sees elaborate parades travel through the streets, in lively memorial of the God. The wondrous event draws to a close with a traditional water cutting ceremony, held in Kandy’s Mahaweli River, where thousands gather to bathe and pray. If you’re looking for spiritual things to do in Sri Lanka in 2019, then this should go to the top of your list.
If you need more inspiration, take a peak at our seven-day island itinerary, to get you booking your flights!
Galle Literary Festival
If you’re a book worm, then for you, Galle Literature Festival will be one of the ultimate events in Sri Lanka in 2019. Drawing together both Asian and Western writers, this yearly literary fest is a five-day spectacular celebrating the magic of the written word. A fringe style event, Galle Literature Festival has been running for over 10 years, offering an intimate atmosphere where reading enthusiasts can meet international authors, discuss much-loved books and discover new works from noted and fledgling writers. During the day enjoy writing workshops, panel discussions, poetry recitals, theatre performances and literary lunches and by night, witness the festival come to life with music, wine tastings and photographic exhibitions. Not just for book fans, Galle Literature Festival will be one of the greatest family events in Sri Lanka next year.
Stay around the corner from this annual event by booking one of our luxurious apartments in Galle Fort.
Address: Dutch Galle Fort, Church Street, Galle 80000
Dates: Wednesday 16 January to Sunday 20 January 2019
Vesak Poya has to be one of the coolest family events in Sri Lanka. This two-day holiday celebrates the birth and death of Buddha in truly spectacular manner. An incredible paper lantern festival sees every Buddhist house and temple across the country come to life with colour. Vesak Day is celebrated every May during the full moon and is one of most significant dates in the Buddhist calendar. As well as beautiful light displays, numerous religious ceremonies take place while giant story boards are erected around Colombo, retelling the history of Buddha. This annual ceremony is a sight to behold; during the event, temples become covered with flowers, lights and incense, creating a memorable atmosphere that should not be missed. Of all the events and festivals in Sri Lanka in 2019, this has to be one of the most special.
Need somewhere to stay during the festivities? Why not take a look at our incredible, hand-selected villas in the heart of Colombo.
Address: Various, including Gangarama Seema Malaka temple, Sir James Pieris Mawatha, Colombo
Date: Approximately Sunday 19 May 2019 (depending on the Full Moon)
Sri Lanka celebrates its independence from Colonial rule in truly spectacular fashion, with a yearly procession that takes place across the island. Definitely one of the best family event in Sri Lanka, this special celebration of liberty occurs most spectacularly in Colombo, where the country’s President delivers an important televised speech to the Sri Lankan people. Yet no matter where you go, you can witness the Independence Day festivities, with hundreds of flag-hoisting ceremonies, military parades, canon fire shows, firework displays and cultural performances taking place across the country. The joy and fun this annual celebrations brings to locals and visitors helps seal it as one of the best events in Sri Lanka in 2019.
Need more persuading? Check out our 10 fabulous reasons why you should add this vibrant country to your travel list!
Address: Various, including Galle Face Green, 56 Galle Main Rd, Colombo
Date: Monday 4 February 2019
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A group of costumed dancers perform at Navam Perahera in Colombo, Sri Lanka. SECOND VIDEO IS UP! 24 HOURS IN COLOMBO, SRI LANKA! Link in my bio. Ashley and I never seen anything like it. Drums, elephants, and well-rehearsed performances made this an unforgettable parade through the city. Watch the video to see it all in action! —///— #lumixlounge #g85 #lumixandme #travelingourplanet #parade #awesomeearth #navamperahera #culturalperformance #srilankadaily #travelpic #wanderluster #travelgram #traveldiary #livetheatre #outsidethecube #roamtheplanet #iamtb #travelersnotebook #takemethere #neverstopexploring #lifeofadventure #travelnow #srilanka #vlogger #exploretocreate #youtuber #dancers #colombo #buddhism #dancerlife
As one of the best festivals in Sri Lanka in 2019, Navam Perahera is a celebration of colour and tradition, taking place over two days during the Navam Full Moon. Starting from Gangaramaya Temple and moving through the streets across Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo, this vibrant pageant sees lively performers dancing and chanting alongside beautiful elephants and incredible traditional costumes. The event has been part of the Sri Lankan calendar since 1979, seeing hundreds of entertainers led down the city’s streets by flag and torch bearers. Local monks also join the parade, celebrating a new moon with elaborate and authentic street performances. A dazzling display of culture, tradition and island art, Navam Perahera has to be one of the ultimate things to do in Sri Lanka in 2019.
Address: Starting from Gangaramaya Temple, 61 Sri Jinaratana Road, Colombo 2
Dates: To be confirmed. Two dates in February/March from 7pm, during Navam Full Moon
The Atman Festival will be one of the best music events in Sri Lanka in 2019. This vibrant tribal gathering brings together locals and tourists to witness incredible live music sets in the heart of Colombo. With a charitable and eco-friendly angle, the event aims to benefit locals through the power of music and community. The annual festival brings with it a week of live music, local art and modern performances, with entertainers from across the world taking to the event’s two main stages. From DJ sets to alternative musicians, there is something here for all types of music lovers. Pack your glow sticks and add the Atman Festival to your do to list, because as one of the coolest things to do in Sri Lanka in 2019, you won’t be disappointed!
Held during the pre-full moon of poya day, Duruthu Perahera is an important annual festival, celebrating Buddha’s first visit to the shores of Sri Lanka. This significant annual event involves a flamboyant temple procession beginning from Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya, to mark the beginning of the Buddhist Calendar year. The celebration dates back to 1927 and carries with it much of Sri Lanka’s important cultural and religious traditions, showcasing the heritage of this beautiful and passionate country. Live drummers and traditional dancers fly through the streets of Kelaniya, while thousands watch the procession. Before the parade, a series of religious sermons are held every night, to bring communities together before the main event. As one of the most important festivals in Sri Lanka in 2019, the Duruthu Perahera celebrations should not be missed.
Address: Kelaniya Rajamaha Viharaya temple, Kelaniya, Peliyagoda
Dates: Monday 14 January and Tuesday 15 January 2019
Fairway Colombo Street Food Festival
As the ultimate family event in Sri Lanka, Fairway Colombo Street Food Festival is a vibrant celebration of the culinary world. This ongoing event takes place every month from 6pm on Colombo’s lively Hospital Street. The narrow street becomes transformed into a bustling night bazaar where eclectic world foods can be savoured. Take in the smells, sights and sounds of Sri Lanka’s flavours, sample new things and indulge in sweet treats. From local restaurant experiences to tantalising treats from around the globe, there is something delicious here to kill any craving. As well as an outdoor street food market, the event sees restaurants open their doors for intimate dinners, while live music and drinks carry visitors into the early hours.
For more Sri Lankan foodie tips, check out our guide to the island’s world-famous food culture.
Address: No.07, Hospital Street, Colombo 01, 10000
Dates: The last weekend of each month