Jaffna Travel Guide – 17 Places to Visit, Best Food, & Accommodation

Last Updated on by Teddy

If you’ve come to Sri Lanka for a piece of ancient history, Jaffna is the place to go.

Jaffna is located on a peninsula on the northernmost tip of Sri Lanka. The city itself is one of the oldest human habitation sites in South Asia and is populated by Tamil people. For tourists fascinated by different cultures and religion, Jaffna is a mecca! You could spend days exploring the many Kovils (Hindu temples), Catholic churches, convents, mosques, and other religious buildings.

In addition to all these wonderful places, Jaffna is best known for all for its friendly people and scenic environment. After years of occupation, Jaffna has settled into a peaceful, tourist-friendly area with ongoing developments.

Jaffna is a melting pot of influences from various cultures and a truly unique destination.

Places to Visit & Things to Do

1. Jaffna Fort

A great historical destination, the Jaffna Fort is regarded as the best Dutch Fort not only in Sri Lanka but in all of Asia. Originally, the Portuguese built this fort, but the Dutch later overtook it. Jaffna Fort was the site of many battles during the Civil War, and as such has suffered some damage. It is currently undergoing restoration.

  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Location: Jaffna, Sri Lanka

2. Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil

Approximately one-and-a-half kilometers northeast of Jaffna, the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil temple is one of the most impressive religious building in Jaffna, as well as one of the most significant Hindu temple complexes in Sri Lanka. Daily small pujas are done at 5:00 am, 10:00 am, 12:00, 4:15 pm and a special puja takes place at 5:00 pm and 6:45 pm. No shoes are allowed inside, and photography is not allowed either. Men must remove their shirts to go inside, while women must cover their shoulders and legs.

  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Location: Jaffna
  • Website: http://www.nalluran.com

3. Nagadeepa

The Nagadeepa is one of the holiest Buddhist shrines in Sri Lanka, and is located on an island. You can reach this ancient temple via road to Kurikadduwan and then take a ferry or hire a private boat. The beautiful structure and calm, peaceful environment will be an unforgettable experience. Evenings and mornings are the best time to visit.

  • Duration: More than 3 hours
  • Cost for foreign visitors: LKR 500 considered to be a donation.
  • Location: Nainativu Island, Jaffna

4. Sri Nagavihara International Buddhist Centre

The Sri Nagavihara International Buddhist Center is hugely popular among foreign tourists and locals. The building was speedily rebuilt after the government won back Jaffna in 1995. The annual Katina pooja of Sri Naga Vihara International Buddhist Centre is celebrated in November.

  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Location: Jaffna
  • Website: http://www.srinagavihara.com

5. Jaffna Public Library

At its peak, the Jaffna Public Library was regarded as the best library in Asia and had almost a million manuscripts at one time. However, in 1981 the library was set on fire. The building was rebuilt after the civil war ceasefire in 2002, but its book collection is not as vast as it was before. Worth a visit if you are interested in architecture, rather than books because visitors can only walk through the building and cannot enter any of the library rooms where the books are. Bear in mind also that visiting hours are restricted.

  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Opening Times: 9:00 am-6:00pm, Tuesday to Sunday
  • Location: Jaffna
  • Contact: +94 21 2 226028

6. St. Mary’s Cathedral

Seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jaffna, St. Mary’s Cathedral is a beautiful white building with wooden pews and iron-corrugated roofing. It’s also known as the Jaffna Cathedral and was built in 1794.

  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Location: 8 Grusoult, Jaffna

7. Jaffna Archaeological Museum

The Jaffna Archaeological Museum houses many beautiful, rare antiquities. The most famous items are Buddha torsos from the 15th century, and a seven-mouthed clay pot from the 14th century. The building itself is not well-maintained and the artifacts are not displayed as best as they could be, so do not expect a typical museum experience when visiting this venue – however you can get guide to show you around.

  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Cost for foreign visitors: No entrance price, but donations are welcomed.
  • Location: Navalar Road, Jaffna
  • Contact: +94 21 2 224574

8. Miralliamman Kovil

The Miralliamman Kovil is a dazzling Hindu temple located in the outskirts of Jaffna. The towering gopuram, red-and-white striped walls, and sprawling complexes makes it a striking sight from both inside and outside. Like other Hindu temples, the Miralliamman Kovil temple has many attractive carvings.

  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Cost for foreign visitors: Donations welcomed.
  • Location: Jaffna, Sri Lanka

9. Yamuna Eri

One of the most famous surviving sites of the Jaffna Kingdom, Yamuna Eri is a U-shaped pool where women of the royal family of Jaffna bathed. According to history, water from Yamuna (a sacred river in India) was brought to fill the pool.

  • Duration: Less than 1 hour
  • Location: Jaffna

10. Nilavarai Bottomless Well

Nilavarai Bottomless Well is just that—bottomless! There are many legends attached to it, all from Ramayana. The locals believe that the well has fresh water for the first forty feet, and then becomes salty. The well has two tunnels, which most believe lead to a lake in Jaffna.

  • Duration: Lees than 1 hour
  • Location: Nilavarai, Jaffna

 11. Keerimalai Hot Springs

The hot springs of Keerimalai are believed to heal many different illnesses, and there are separate pools for men and women. Fortunately, the water is not hot despite the name. Visiting it early morning is best, as during the afternoons it can be crowded with bathers.

  • Duration: Less than 1 hour
  • Location: Keerimalai, Jaffna

12. Dambakola Patuna Sangamitta Temple

A sparkling, sapphire ocean and fresh yellow beach surrounds this beautiful temple. The Dambakola Patuna Sangamitta Temple was built where missionaries from India—who brought a sapling from a bo tree—landed. The Sri Lanka Navy currently maintains the site, and the area is serene—perfect for solitude, reflection, and relaxing. Please follow the dress code for the temple.

  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Location: Madagal, Jaffna

13. Casuarina Beach

Casurina Beach is just twenty kilometers from the Jaffna. The water is shallow and warm, perfect for swimming! There is a small entry fee, and early mornings or evenings are the best time to go to avoid the hot afternoons. Be warned there is not much in the way of amenities, and nowhere to eat.

  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Opening Times: 9am-10pm
  • Location: Beach Road, Karainagar, Jaffna

14. Elephant Pass

A beautiful place surrounded by a lagoon on both sides, Elephant Pass is an important spot in the history of Sri Lanka. The pass connects the Jaffna Peninsula and the mainland. It was a crucial military post during the Portuguese, Dutch, and English rule. A war memorial stands here after the Civil War. Don’t miss the sunset as it can be a spectacular sight – although the sun does set quickly.

  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Location: Elephant Pass, Jaffna

15. Kayts Causeway

A stunning escape full of birdlife, fishermen, and everyday people, Kayts Causeweay links Jaffna to Kairanaga. Driving on it is an experience like no other! The landscape is beautiful, the atmosphere vibrant, and people extremely friendly. As you go further down the causeway you will see lots of local birds such as waders, cormorants, egrets, herons, and spoonbills.

  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Location: Kayts island, Jaffna

16. The Naguleswaram Temple

This famous Hindu temple, the Naguleswaram Temple, is located in Keerimalai, about twenty-one kilometers north of Jaffna. A water tank stands adjacent to the temple, called Keerimalai Springs, and locals believe its waters can cure many ills.

  • Duration: 1-2 hours
  • Location: Keerimalai, Jaffna

17. Neduntheevu (Delft Island)

Neduntheevu is a perfect day excursion from Jaffna. You can reach the island via road to Kurikadduwan and then a ferry. Ferries depart in the morning and return in the evening. You can arrange to hire a tuk-tuk driver to take you around the island to see the main attractions, which include a beautiful, quiet beach called Manal Kannuttadi, a baobab tree large enough to cover fifteen people, and a giant rock which locals believe is growing.

  • Duration: 2-3 hours
  • Location: Jaffna

Foodies Guide

Best Food Experiences

1. Jaffna cuisine at Green Grass restaurant

The 12th largest city of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, Jaffna is a bastion of Hindu tradition, art and creative culture. Highly inspired by the Tamil culture, most restaurants here serve Northern Sri Lankan cuisine and Indian food. Although both styles of cooking are largely similar, the food of Jaffna has its own distinctive taste. To get a taste of the best of both countries, head to the restaurant at Green Grass Hotel and dine under a mango tree and around the pool. A good spot for a Northern Lankan meal, Green Grass offers the best Jaffna special crab curries at fairly affordable prices. These curries are way different than the ones you’d have had in the South or the Eastern coast of Lanka. That’s the significance of Jaffna cuisine – it comprises of age old recipes loaded with heavy spices and delectable flavours.

2. Jaffna mutton curry

When people think of Jaffna food, the first dish that usually comes to mind is the celebrated Jaffna mutton curry. This traditional curry holds true to the characteristics of Sri Lankan cuisine with its heavy spices and delectable flavours. The mutton curry is essentially succulent chunks of mutton swimming in a gravy that is a delicious combination of fenugreek, cardamom, cumin, fennel seeds, cloves, coriander, garlic, ginger, turmeric, curry leaves and of course, cinnamon. Prior to indulging in this dish, you will breathe in the rich aroma of all these spices which alone leaves your mouth watering. For an amazing experience of the mutton curry, head to Green Grass restaurant that cooks up a storm with their mutton delicacy.

3. Pittu at Kumarapavan Restaurant

This one’s another typical Jaffna specialty. A dinnertime specialty, pittu is majorly made of wheat flour or red rice-flour and is infused with desiccated coconut to add flavour. The preparation involves steaming a mixture of ground rice with water that is layered with grated coconut, and sometimes also layers of shrimp or fish. The classic Pittu is when meat and seafood are stirred in with the dish to make a type of pittu kotthu. This is the Jaffna style of taking leftovers and making it into a signature lip-smacking dish. To get your hands on the best authentic Pittu, head to Kumarapavan restaurant where you will get different varities of Pittu. Try their Special Spinach Pittu and the Popeye lover in you will thank you for it.

4. Ice creams at Rio Icecream

The Jaffna weather is extremely dehydrating and what’s better than super cool ice cream in this weather. Rio Ice Cream is a real stalwart of the North, and possibly one of Jaffna’s most famous culinary exports along with the Jaffna crab curry. Before you think of images of a Brazilian fiesta or a seedy cinema, it turns out Rio actually stands for the Rathinam Industrial Organization. Rio is located next to the sprawling Nallur Temple making it a perfect destination to pop in for a sundae in the scorching mid-day heat after a tour of the temple. Try their exotic flavours of ice creams from the usual fruity ones like mango and blueberry to a mix of all frozen cups packed into a sundae. 

6. Mattu Thosai

Although the thosai (dosai) is popular throughout the island, this one’s a little identifiable to the Hindu tradition, thanks to the large influence of Tamil cuisine in Jaffna. The addition of ghee when cooking it is a slight alteration that leaves you with an amazing aroma when served. Jaffna’s take on the thosai is based on a fermented batter made of rice flour and coconut milk with spices. It comes in various shapes, sizes and varieties but the classic thosai of Jaffna cuisine is the one with mattu (egg) and is a bowl-shaped crisp pancake with a soft centre. Served with a combination of pol sambol, seeni sambol and katta sambol, this traditional thosai leaves an aftertast4e thanks to its deliciousness.

Where to Eat

Did we say it before? Jaffna is the Holy Mecca of spicy food lovers. It won’t get any better than this. Vegan, non-vegan, Asian, or local restaurants are plentiful in Jaffna to please your gastronomical needs.

Here are 6 our trusted places that are for every budget. But in Jaffna if you going to spend money on any one thing, spend it on food. You can also check our complete list of Jaffna’s best places to eat for some more mouth watering options.

1. Jetwing Jaffna ($$$)

37, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Jaffna | + 94 21 2215 571 | www.jetwinghotels.com/jetwingjaffna/dining

Eating at this luxury restaurant is truly a cultural experience and must not be missed if you want to feel the essence of Jaffna in food. Serving authentic Jaffna and south Indian food, this restaurant is relaxed in a way that is both traditional and contemporary. For the adventurous eaters out there, their fiery red Jaffna crab curry is a must try.

2. Fort Hammenhiel Resort ($$$)

40000, AB17, Kalapoomy | +94 11 381 8215 | www.forthammenhielresort.lk/restaurant

It’s not everyday that one gets to dine in a manmade fort a hop and a jump away from the mainland. After getting off the jetty into your own paradise, you can also enjoy a gastronomical journey with flawlessly cooked meals and views of the endless sea and sky. For regal hospitality and traditionally cooked meals, this is the place to eat at.

3. Mangos ($$)

359/3, Temple Road, Jaffna

This simple Indian restaurant caters only to vegetarian customers. Mangos is a perfect eatery if you are the lover of reasonably priced vegetarian food when travelling. Wildly popular in the locality, Mangos is known to serve the best kind of South Indian dishes.

4. Green Grass Hotel & Restaurant ($$)

33, Aseervatham Lane, Jaffna

Green Grass is the perfect place to have a meal under the swaying trees and gentle breeze. The food is exquisite, the cost caters to a basic budget, and the staff are amicable and charming. Their most raved about dish is their crab curry.

5. Hotel Rolex ($)

340, Hospital Road, Jaffna

This hotel fames itself on serving the best kothu rotti in town. And if reviews are anything to go by, they stand right! Enjoy your meal with simple décor and high quality food.

6. Nallur Bhavan ($)

250, Temple Road, Jaffna

A family restaurant with an amazing ambiance and delicious food, the Nallur Bhavan is a must visit if you want to try a variety of food for very little cost. This cozy nook has a warm ambiance an is a good place to stop by if you want scrumptious vegetarian food.

Where to Sleep

There are several types of accommodation in Jaffna ranging from cheap budget rooms to more expensive options. Here are some suggestions:

1. Jetwing Jaffna

Jetwing Jaffna is located in the heart of the city on Mahatma Gandhi Road, right next to Cargills Square. It is an example of Sri Lankan hospitality and tradition.

2. PJ Hotel

This hotel is well maintained and very clean. It has a sprawling pool with a poolside bar and polite service staff.

3. Green Grass Hotel

Located near to Jaffna Railway station (about 200 meters away), the Green Grass Hotel is ideal for people traveling by train. It has a well-maintained garden and an in-house restaurant offering various types of cuisine.

4. Sarra’s Villa

Sarra’s Villa is a beautiful heritage home with several rooms available to rent. It was built more than a hundred and fifty years ago in the colonial Dutch style. It’s an economical option for the budget-oriented traveler.

5. Joseph’s Home

This centrally located guesthouse is surrounded by peace and greenery. It offers free parking, a modest library, WiFi, and rooms with AC.

When to Go

Best Time to Go: The best weather is from September to April.

Time to Avoid: The temperature is highest after April, and it can be difficult to enjoy outdoor activities.

Dress code

It’s important to pay attention to the dress code when you are traveling around Sri Lanka, especially if you want to enter temples and other religious venues. Be sure to cover your knees and shoulders when you are not at the beach, and take off your headwear and footwear when entering religious buildings.

Getting-In and Around

For air travel, Jaffna’s Palaly Airport is seventeen kilometers north of Jaffna, deep within a high-security military zone. It is used mainly by the military, although there are occasional charter flights. The well-organized CTB bus stand has both long-distance buses and local; most long-distance departures are in the morning or late afternoon. There are daily bus services connecting to important towns. You can also conveniently get around in rented bikes, or tuk-tuk’s.

Colombo: The train to Jaffna from Colombo Fort Station takes around 8 hours. Taking a taxi will save you about an hour.

Airport or Negombo: It takes about six and a half hours by taxi to reach Jaffna. Alternatively, you can take a taxi to Colombo Fort Station and take the 8 hour train.

Galle: It’s an 8 hour drive from Galle to Jaffna . Alternatively, you can take a train/bus from Galle to Colombo Fort station, and then transfer for the ongoing train to Jaffna – this journey will take more than 12 hours.

Kandy: Taking a taxi from Kandy will take just under six hours. Alternatively, there are buses from Kandy to Jaffna .

Dambulla: The taxi to Jaffna takes about four and a half hours. Alternatively, you can take a bus from Dambulla to Anuradhapura and then take the four hour train to Jaffna.

Budget

Jaffna has lots of budget priced rooms across a variety of venues form homesteads to guesthouses and small hotels, with rooms costing from as little as $10 to about $40. For slightly better hotel rooms you will be paying anywhere from $70 to over $130.

You can find plenty of cheap local eateries selling dishes from $5, although seafood items will cost more. For restaurants and bars within hotels you will be paying more.

Jaffna is a budding tourist hotspot just waiting for you to visit! Not only can you get glimpses of recent history (the Civil War with the Tamil tigers and the Sri Lankan government), but there’s a unique mash up of cultural variations here. From Buddhist to Hindu temples, to beautiful beaches, Jaffna offers a wide variety of things to see. A true gem in the northern part of the island nation.

We know you’ll love the local restaurants and hotels—so don’t wait, come visit us today!