The Top 16 Things to Do in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

By Mark Wiens 27 Comments
Things to do in Jaffna
Cool Rickshaw in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

1. Ride in a Cool Rickshaw

There aren’t too many options for transportation in Jaffna, but riding around in a “cool rickshaw” is probably the best choice!

The cool thing about the Bajaj rickshaw’s is that they are actually comfortable, and you can get a good view out the doorway.

Jaffna Fish Market
Jaffna Fish Market

2. Jaffna Fish Market

There are a number of small scale fish markets around Jaffna city, but the one located on Beach Road is easy to get to and very relaxed. The fish market in Jaffna gets started right around 7 am and when I went there was a good selection of exotic fish and the normal catch of the day.

The entire market consisted of only about 100 men, trickling in and out, making it nice and calm as compared to many of the bigger city fish markets in this world!

Walk Around Beach Road
Walk Around Beach Road

3. Walk Around Beach Road

Beach Road is one of the coolest areas of Jaffna – and it’s not because of the beach. It’s because of the fascinating life and the community that exists in the area.

Nallur Kovil - Ceremony
Nallur Kovil – Ceremony

4. Nallur Kovil – Ceremony

Jaffna, in northern Sri Lanka is populated by a majority of Hindu Tamil’s. Nallur Kovil (also known by its full name Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil), is the most famous Hindu temple complex in Jaffna.

While the temple is home to a number of festivals throughout the year, Nallur Kovil also holds daily ritualistic ceremonies. Catching a Hindu ceremony where you get to hear the sounds and smells is one of the most interesting things to do in Jaffna.

Daily Ceremony:

Pilgrimage to Nainativu Island
Pilgrimage to Nainativu Island

5. Pilgrimage to Nainativu Island

If you are up for a day trip out of Jaffna, one of the popular things for locals to do is to make the pilgrimage to Nainativu Island. The island is one of the holiest sites in Sri Lanka for both Buddhists and Hindus.

The Buddhist temple is known as Nagadipa Purana Vihara (Naga Vihare) and the Hindu temple is the Sri Naga Pooshani Amman Kovil.

How to get to Nainativu Island:

Things to do in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Catholic Cathedrals

6. Catholic Cathedrals

Though Jaffna is predominantly Hindu, there are quite a few Roman Catholic churches especially around the beach side area of town.

Some of the most famous cathedrals include: St. John’s, St. Mary’s, Our Lady of Refuge Church, St. James’ and John the Baptist. Pictured above is a view of St. James’ Cathedral and school.

Old Buildings and Ruins
Old Buildings and Ruins

7. Old Buildings and Ruins

As Jaffna was recently in the middle of the long running Sri Lankan civil war, there are lots and lots of empty fields and bombed out, decaying ruins. Everywhere you look around Jaffna there’s a pile of rubble and jungle vines starting to grow.

Taking a walk around town while checking out some of the ruins of Jaffna is one of the interesting things to do in Jaffna.

Jaffna Fort
Things to do in Jaffna - Jaffna Fort

8. Jaffna Fort

The well known iconic fortress in Jaffna was originally built by the Portuguese but was later overtaken by the Dutch. The Dutch transformed the city of Jaffna into a successful trading hub.

Throughout the war, the Jaffna Fort was the center of a number of battles and today (though it’s being restored at the moment) it remains a great historical destination to see.

Visiting the Jaffna Fort is one of the popular things to do for both local tourists and foreigners alike.

Graveyard View
Graveyard View

9. Graveyard View

Another solemn reminder of the former war in Jaffna is the Catholic graveyard located near the beach, just off Beach Road.

Things to do in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Things to do in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

10. Jaffna Public Library

Another building in Jaffna that has an interesting history is the Jaffna Public Library. At its peak, it was one of the largest libraries in Asia – but it was burned down in 1981.

The library has since been rebuilt, but it doesn’t house nearly the collection that it had before.

Entrance fee is 10 LKR ($0.09) – pretty cheap (stuff like this made it possible to travel through Sri Lanka on $10 per day)

Jaffna Causeway
Jaffna Causeway

11. Jaffna Causeway

The northern part of Sri Lanka is made up of small low lying islands or which Jaffna is connected by causeway. You can walk a little ways down the causeway, take a rickshaw or take a local bus to another island.

Things to do in Jaffna - Shopping
Things to do in Jaffna - Shopping

12. Jaffna Shopping Market

The central part of Jaffna is as busy these days as parts of Colombo. Near the bus station is a lively market that is stocked with all necessities one could possibly want.

From Tamil style clothing to tools and dvd’s and music cd’s, the market will always have you excited. The friendly Sri Lankans and the rowdy traffic adds to the bustling scene.

Hotel Rolex Restaurant
Things to do in Jaffna - Eat at Hotel Rolex

13. Eat at Hotel Rolex Restaurant

One of my favorite things to do in Jaffna (like most places I go) is to dine on the local food. Jaffna, being the center of Sri Lankan Tamil culture presents a few different Sri Lankan food delicacies and tasty specialties.

Hotel Rolex is an excellent restaurant to get a satisfying Jaffna style cheap meal!

Full rice and curry meals go for just $1 – $2 per person.

Things to do in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Sunrise Breakfast

14. Sri Lankan Sunrise Breakfast

There’s nothing more pleasant than taking advantage of the cool morning in Jaffna. Along with the beautiful daily sunrise, Jaffna has a few very local restaurants that serve cheap and delicious dishes and cups of steamy ginger and milk tea.

Jaffna Mangoes
Jaffna Mangoes

15. Eat Jaffna Mangoes

Of all the things to do in Jaffna, sometimes sitting back and enjoying a few mangoes and just people watching is one of the most rewarding.

The area of Jaffna is well known throughout Sri Lanka for its supply and deliciousness of mangoes. In Pettah Market in Colombo, many of the vendors will even tell you they have “Jaffna mangoes!”

Things to do in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Things to do in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

16. Play Football in Jaffna

If you happen to be awake in the really early morning (about 6 am), these guys will be out in the field enthusiastically playing a little football and sometimes cricket. This neighborhood field was located near the fish market just off Beach Road.

Have you been to Jaffna? What others things did you find to do?

27 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • A.J.Aseervatham

    2 years ago

    You have given a very good guide for the tourist to Jaffna. Well done.

  • Christine Nathan

    2 years ago

    I enjoyed your write up on Jaffna I am really keen to visit this place is there any reasonable place to stay where by I can attend daily Mass and walk around the place easily.

    • Mathura

      2 years ago

      Hi, please check out Mathura guest house on Facebook.

  • Luke

    3 years ago

    I have been to Jaffna numerous times. Why they (some) pretend they don’t understand sinhalese but when I say something to anoy them in sinhalese they understand. When I talk in English they are very friendly. I’m disappointed. We are all sri lankan ‘s. They better change their their attitude. You people are living in south as our friends.

  • Doria

    4 years ago

    So happy that I found you! I lived in Sri Lanka from 1988 to 1993 during the war and was not allowed to visit Jaffna. I hope to finally visit during my next trip later on this year.

  • paper boat sailor

    4 years ago

    Great list, Mark. I remember reading this before I went to Jaffna as a volunteer teacher last year. It’s nice to see how the province is getting back on its feet and all the local charm and flavours have returned to this lovely fishing town.

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Thank you very much, and very cool to hear you went to volunteer in Jaffna.

  • Rudolph.A.Furtado

    6 years ago

    A very informative and simple most.Hope to visit Jaffna in October-2012.Thanks.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thank you Rudolph, I hope you get to visit as well! Enjoy!

  • Spencer

    7 years ago

    Sounds like a fun place to visit with lots of things to do!

  • Nishanthan

    7 years ago

    hi……mark
    great yaaaaaaaa

  • Nishanthan

    7 years ago

    good work mate

  • sully86

    7 years ago

    mark: awesome…come down to malacca mark. I will bring you around

  • Joshua Samuel Brown

    7 years ago

    A fine post indeed my lad. When I was in Sri Lanka just after the civil war came to its grinding conclusion I wanted to go to Jaffna but they wouldn’t let me buy a ticket, citing potential unrest, unsettled issues and so forth. Must return someday…

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks Joshua!
      I went back and read your post (http://josambro.blogspot.com/2009/09/sris-just-not-that-into-you.html). Really interesting! I know things have definitely improved in Sri Lanka in just a few years. I really liked your quote: “Sri Lanka is one of those destinations best suited for two kinds of travelers: Those with lots of money, and those with almost none.” Though things are changing, it really is sort of like that still. I traveled on the budget side of things and spent actually less than $10 per day, granted the long distance buses weren’t what I’d call luxurious. On the opposite side of the spectrum the tours of Sri Lanka and some of the famous sites were very expensive to enter (and I had to skip quite a few of them like Sigiriya). Anyway, hope you have another chance to return to Sri Lanka, would be interesting to see how it has changed and grown.

  • kyh

    7 years ago

    interesting post! elsewhere in sri lanka, they refer to that rickshaw as a three-wheeler or tuk-tuk (same as thailand!).

    so are male visitors to the temple required to go shirtless while inside too?

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Kyh, hmmm, not fully sure about rickshaw or tuk tuk, I just heard most people calling it a rickshaw… Yah, in the Hindu temples in Jaffna I was required to take off my shirt before entering.

  • Nomadic Samuel

    7 years ago

    I can think of about 16 worthwhile reasons to visit here someday! Nice list Mark.

  • Colleen

    7 years ago

    Loved this report on Jaffna. Really want to go there someday and travel through all of Sri Lanka.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      I really hope you get a chance to visit Collen – I know you will love the food and they also have durian in Sri Lanka!

  • Jeremy Branham

    7 years ago

    I think I would have to go with the football on this one. Even though I am not very good, it’s become one of my favorite sports to watch. However, the mangoes look good too! 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks for the comment Jeremy. Cool to hear that you love watching football – I’m also a huge fan, though these days I don’t always have time to watch the matches. I do love playing informal matches in random places like this!