The best family friendly beaches of southern Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has 1,340km of coastline, most of which is made up of sandy beaches. Many of Sri Lanka’s beaches have quite rough surf, however, and whilst they are great for surfers or strong swimmers, they are not particularly child-friendly if your child likes frolicking around in the sea. Even a strong swimmer may be a bit wary of some of the waves that crash onto the shore.

We’ve been to Sri Lanka a few times over the past 9 years. The first time in 2010 spending a month travelling all over the country. A second time in 2011 spending two weeks travelling around the southern beaches and attending a friend’s wedding. On our most recent two week trip with the kids in December 2018, we again spent quite a bit of time in the south at the beach and venturing inland to Udawalawe for a safari and the hill country for tea estate visits and beautiful hikes. Given we have done quite a bit of beach time in Sri Lanka, we thought we would pass our recommendations for family friendly beaches in southern Sri Lanka on, starting in Colombo, and working our way south and east.

Wellawatte beach, Colombo

Wellawatte is a southern Colombo suburb, a few kilometres and train stops south of Colombo Fort (ie. central Colombo).

We’re putting this in here because it is the closest decent beach to Colombo (if for some reason you don’t have time to go further south). It’s a relatively narrow strip of sand with the main coastal train line running right alongside it. You have to actually walk over the tracks to access the beach. Wellawatte was a convenient place to stay because it is a quick and incredibly cheap train ride into the centre of Colombo and accommodation is a lot cheaper.

Just before sunset, the beach fills up with locals taking in the view and having a splash around in the surf. It didn’t strike us as too much of a bathing beach – more somewhere for a paddle and a play in the sand, or for sun-downers whilst people watching. As with Mount Lavinia beach, it is a nice place to visit with kids to give them a runaround if you are in the area, but not somewhere to plan a visit to Colombo around.

Mount Lavinia beach

Mount Lavinia is a little further south than Wellawatte, but just about still classifies as a southern suburb of Colombo. Mount Lavinia has a certain faded charm, and the colonial-style Mount Lavinia Hotel between the train station and the beach adds to the historic feel of the place.

The beach itself is narrow in places but is very long and easy to find a quiet spot. As with Wellawatte beach, this is a city beach and whilst the water didn’t seem too bad, neither was it that enticing for a dip as the surf was quite large. Our boys still had a wonderful time there running around, paddling and making sandcastles. The big draw, however, must be Bubba Beach seafood restaurant – a wooden shack hidden amongst the trees with views out over the sea. It is a lovely setting if you are looking for a low key, beach restaurant for an evening meal where you can feel the sand between your toes while eating and watching the sun go down. They had a great selection of seafood, and the classic chicken rice option for the kids!

Bentota beach

Bentota beach is a long and wide stretch of golden sand situated almost mid-way between Colombo and Galle. It is a good point to stop on your first night if you have just arrived and don’t want to stay in Negombo or Colombo. The swimming is not great here because of the large surf, but just look at all that sand!

If you’re staying in one of the hotels on the beach with a pool where the kids can swim (we stayed at the Centara Bentota), then this is a great beach. The hotels are all set back from the beach and covered by palms so you get the impression there is no development at all, just a huge, wide (and sometimes windy!) expanse of sand. There are also great things to do nearby such as visiting the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Sanctuary or Geoffrey Bawa garden tour at his Lunuganga Country Estate. The tour lasts around 1 ¼ hours and is great for little explorers. You can also stay and eat there. It looked amazing. We didn’t stay this trip but it is something to keep up our sleeve for our next visit.

Plenty of room to run around on this wide stretch of sandy beach at Bentota

Unawatuna beach

Unawatuna is a great beach resort if you want to base yourself at a beach with lots of action. The narrow winding road to the beach from the main road is jam-packed with everything a tourist could ever need – bars, restaurants, coffee shops, small supermarkets, clothes shops, art galleries; you name it.

The beach itself is a wide, curved bay, sloping down to the sea. Unawatuna is quite developed these days, and there’s no shortage of beach bars and restaurants with lots of seating and sun lounger options. The downside to this is the sheer number of tourists and the inevitable beach hawkers following them – something we didn’t experience anywhere else in Sri Lanka. It was not a hard-sell and everyone was very polite, but be prepared to look at dozens of sarongs if you lounge on the beach!

The far western end of the beach is a little quieter, and also where the small fishing boats are dragged up onto short when they’re not at work. Our boys loved exploring this part of the beach, but after a quick lunch we were keen to move on to find somewhere more peaceful which is quite easily done in Sri Lanka.

Lunch on bustling Unatawatuna beach

Wijaya beach (at Dalawella)

This is our number one favourite family-friendly beach for a number of reasons. It has a reef which runs right along the length of the beach, acting as a natural barrier to the large surf and creating a calm lagoon for the kids to play in. It’s not over-crowded (although to be fair most of Sri Lanka’s beaches are not over-crowded – except perhaps neighbouring Unawatuna, 2km away), even during peak season. We were there just days before Christmas, and whilst it certainly wasn’t empty, there was plenty of space for the boys to play football without getting in other people’s way. There are a handful of sunbeds to hire at around LKR 800 / £3.50 for 2, which is good if you have little ones because there isn’t much shade on the beach. The big draw of this beach, however, is the chance of swimming with turtles who drift in and glide among the swimmers. Keep a careful lookout as they can glide past you without you even noticing!

There are a bunch of small guesthouses serving food set back from the beach, amongst the palm trees. The best is definitely Wijaya Beach restaurant offering a great selection of beach eats (go to the second floor for great views along the beach!). There’s also a swing attached to a tall palm tree for a great photo op but the boys were more interested in building sandcastles! We had a definite thumbs up from our boys who claim not to like beaches!?!

Sandcastles on Wijaya beach

Fresh fruit smoothies @ Wijaya Beach restaurant

Weligama beach

Slightly west of Mirissa, Weligama (translates as sandy village) is a small town with a large sandy beach. The beach is a ‘working beach’ and in constant use by fishermen and whale tour companies. It is perhaps not the place to turn up for a full day of lounging and relaxing, however, in the centre of the beach, 50 meters or so into the water, is the much-photographed Taprabone Island – essentially a large rock covered in tropical greenery and now a luxury accommodation for hire.

Weligama is a good place for beginner surfers. This means, however, that the sea can be a little rough for swimming or for little ones to splash around in. It is also somewhere you can see the iconic stilt fishermen, although these days they are not necessarily authentic and may just be out there posing for photos, for which there is sometimes a charge.

The wonderful Taprobone Island off Weligama beach

Mirissa beach

Putting Mirissa in here because although we didn’t visit on our recent trip with kids, we did go in 2010 and loved it. It’s a little more developed now but still a lovely beach and hugely popular with families. The gently sloping beach makes waves manageable, although a little rougher than Dalawella. At each end of the beach are rocks, making it good for rock pooling/snorkelling, but be careful of urchins! Surfers head to the right end of the beach as you’re looking out to sea. Great to watch – especially at sunset with a beer! The centre of the beach is best for swimming.

Some of the best seafood we had was in Mirissa. A huge platter for 2 which cost around £5 back in the day!! Enormous prawns, lobster, crab, calamari, white fish – you name it, it was on that platter with lashings of garlic butter. Nowadays it is a lot pricier but a friend of ours was there Christmas (2018) and confirmed that you can still get amazing seafood there and it’s pretty reasonable for what you get.  There are lots of accommodation options to suit every budget.

Calm waters of Mirissa beach

Tallala beach

If you’re looking for a quiet beach with a long 2km stretch of golden sand and small surf for the kids to play in, then Talalla may be the one for you. It’s about an hour South along the coast from Galle, close to Tangalle – another popular beach on the South coast. There are a few accommodation and eating options but it remains pretty unspoiled and relatively undiscovered. There’s plenty of space for the kids to run around, kicking sand merrily as they go. Warning – the beach is a little sloped and so you still need to watch the kids.

Quiet and peaceful Tallala beach with its gently sloping beach


Hiriketiya beach

Hiriketiya beach is situated in a natural bay which protects the beach from the large crashing waves. As with so many Sri Lankan beaches, it’s lined with palm trees and has turquoise waters. Along to the east end of the beach you can watch surfers which our boys loved. There are a few good places to eat, although it is touristy and so pricier than other places. Same goes for accommodation, but there is a good mix to suit all budgets. It also can get very crowded as it is a relatively narrow strip of sand.

Calm waters of Hiriketiya beach

Find these family-friendly Sri Lankan beaches on the map below:

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