Lake, Nalanda, Sri Lanka

Best places to visit in Sri Lanka

Last Updated on September 25, 2023

Sri Lanka is starting to attract more and more tourists, and now is the perfect time to go. The culture and the way of life there, are really preserved. Contrary to many Asian countries, the western influence is minimal. Visiting Sri Lanka is truly a great experience, the country has a lot to offer in terms of culture, scenery, history, and nature. The diversity there is amazing and whatever you like, you’ll be able to find it there: great trekking opportunities, wonderful beaches, impressive temples, rich history, wildlife… All the ingredients are there to give you a perfect vacation.  Here is a guide to the best places to visit in Sri Lanka:

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Best places to visit in Sri Lanka:

1 – Kandy

Kandy, Sri Lanka’s religious capital, is famous for being home to the famous Tooth Temple, where the sacred relic is celebrated 3 times a day. Kandy has also a lot to offer in terms of culture and nature. Take a stroll in Kandy Botanical garden, watch a traditional dance show and visit centuries-old temples.

Related articleKandy’s Complete Travel Guide.

2 – Polonnaruwa

This archeological site is a must-see if you’re in Sri Lanka. Polonnaruwa is a UNESCO world heritage site that used to be Sri Lanka capital from the 11th century to the 13th century. The monuments are incredibly well preserved, you can enter most temples and the sculptures and carvings are just amazing. Walking through this ancient city will make you travel back in time and get a better understanding of the Sri Lankan culture.

3 – Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is Sri Lanka’s oldest preserved capital, more degraded than its neighbor Polonnaruwa, the ancient city is now mostly in ruins. Some monuments have been restored like new and the center is still an important place for Buddhists. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site, truly worth to explore, especially if you’re interested in history and religion.

4 – Dambulla Golden Caves Temple

Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, Dambulla’s Buddhist Golden Caves Temple was built in the first century BC and used to serve as a shelter for monks during the raining season. Called originally Raja Maha Vihara, the caves are carved from a huge granite rock and are the best-preserved and the biggest cave system in Sri Lanka. Located at the top of the rock, a steep staircase leads to the caves, on the way people sell flowers for offerings and monkeys await to make a snack out of them. The paintings and sculptures are incredibly well preserved, it’s a truly unique experience.

Learn more about Dambulla and its Golden Caves Temple.

5 – Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Sigiriya or Sihagiri, meaning Lion Rock in Sinhalese, is an ancient rock fortress and capital, built in the first century AD by King Kasyapa. The palace was built on top of a massive 200 meters high (660 feet) rock column, the sides of the rock are almost vertical making it really hard to reach the top.  Sigiriya’s main feature is its impressive and incredibly well-maintained frescoes representing courtesans.

6 -Jaffna

Candi Nallur Kandaswamy, Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Jaffna peninsula, located in the north, is definitively not a tourist destination. If you decide to go, prepare to be starred at a lot. It is totally safe now and really worth the trip. Jaffna has a lot to offer to visitors who make the trip. It’s interesting to learn about the Hindu side of Sri Lanka and the scenery there is breath-taking.

If you’re planning on going, you might want to check out this Jaffna Travel Guide.

7 – Colombo

Colombo is the only city in Sri Lanka where you’ll see skyscrapers. The busy metropolis has some nice activities to offer: visit the temples, take a stroll in the city center and discover the old colonial buildings, try some international cuisine if you’re tired of rice and curry, and enjoy the busy nightlife, sipping a cocktail in on of the city’s rooftop bars.

8 – Galle

Founded in the 16th century by the Portuguese, Galle’s old city and its fortifications have been added as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988. It is the perfect example of a European fortified city built in South Asia, mixing European and Asian architecture and traditions. It used to be an important commercial seaport, and taking a stroll in the old city, you’ll be able to notice the diverse influences which made Galle what it is now.

9 – Ella

Ella, located in the central highlands, is one of my favorite places in Sri Lanka, trekking through the lush vegetation, the scenery is spectacular and the views are breathtaking. It’s the best place in Sri Lanka to rest for a couple of days, enjoy the fresh air and stroll along the tea plantations visiting temples and waterfalls on the way.

Related articleElla Travel Guide

10 – Horton Plains National Park

Horton Plains National Park is a protected area located in the central highlands. Famous for its mountainous meadows and its cloud forests, the region has been classified as World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. Horton Plain’s plateau is about 2 200 m high and is home to many endemic birds, mammal and amphibian species, some you’ll only find in the park and nowhere else in Sri Lanka or in the world. The trek takes about 3 hours and is pretty easy.

11- Tangalle

Tangalle, Sri Lanka

This beach is really beautiful, good for swimming and quiet. I really liked it because, even if it’s quiet, the place is still adapted to tourists and people are used to foreigners, which means you can wear a swimsuit at the beach without being out of place.

More picture-perfect Sri Lankan beaches right here.

12 – Sinharaja Rainforest

Sinharaja is the only lowland tropical primary rainforest left in Sri Lanka and has been recognized as a UNESCO biosphere and world heritage site. Located in the southern part of the island, Sinharaja is spread over 18900 acres, but the forest used to be much bigger. Its highest peak is 1,170 meters high. It possesses a really rich ecosystem with a lot of endemic species and a great diversity of habitats. It’s also a major eco-tourism and trekking destination in Sri Lanka.

Read more about Sinharaja Rainforest.

What about you? What is your favorite place in Sri Lanka?

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