Sri Lanka offers a wealth of must-see cultural sightseeing opportunities from UNESCO World Heritage sites to a compelling mix of ancient cities and palaces, along with Hindu and Buddhist temples that sit scattered amid emerald plains and lush jungle-clad mountains.
Sri Lanka hots seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the following…
Discover the sacred city of Anuradhapura, founded in 500 BC then abandoned in 993 AD when the Lankan capital moved to Polonnaruwa.
Once hidden in dense jungle, this splendid site offers an enthralling array of palaces, monasteries and monuments to wander around.
The ancient city sits on the banks of the historic Malvathu Oya, 205km north of Colombo.
Marvel at the monumental ruins, frescoes and enormous statues of Buddha dating back to the 11th and 13th centuries.
Marvel at the huge 12m-long reclining stone Buddha statue carved out of a rock wall at Galyhare, then wander around the Royal Palace and Lankatilaka and Thuparama temples in this remarkable garden city that was created in the 12th century on the shores of Lake Topawewa.
Discover this ancient palace fortress, which sits atop a 370m-high granite peak, through a series of galleries and steep staircases deftly carved into the rock face.
Built during the 5th century and surrounded by the ruins of an extensive garden, Sigiriya is also famous for its ancient frescos, which are reminiscent of India’s famous Ajanta Caves.
Explore the largest and best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka, dating back to the 1st century BC.
Stroll through a complex of five caves packed with an exquisite collection of Buddhist murals and statues, including a 14m-long painting of a meditating Buddha.
Explore the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, a sacred Buddhist site and the site of the Temple of the Tooth Relic (the sacred tooth of the Lord Buddha), held within the octagonal Dalada Maligawa – a famous pilgrimage site.
Kandy is Sri Lanka's second largest city, the gateway to the famous tea plantations that lie amid the country’s rolling hill country and the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Sigiriya.
Explore the massive ramparts of the 36ha Dutch Fort, built in 1663 on a promontory overlooking the town and ocean approaches.
The fort is generally considered to be the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in South and South-East Asia – a showcase of European architectural styles and south Asian traditions.
Galle is located in the southwest corner of Sri Lanka.
Explore on foot Sri Lanka's last existing tropical rainforest, home to a treasure trove of endemic vegetation, reptiles and mammals, including leopards and the purple-faced langur.
Endemic birds here include the greater racket-tailed drongo, the noisy orange-billed babbler and the colourful Sri Hanging Parrot (photo).
Other non-UNESCO sights to visit include…
Discover the tea capital of Sri Lanka, which sits in the central highlands at an altitude of 1889m, overlooked by Mount Pidurutalagala, the highest peak in Sri Lanka (2524m).
Nuwara Eliya is surrounded by a seemingly endless array of picture-perfect tea plantations.
Relax in a country club-styled hotel, try to spot sambhar and leopard at Horton Plains National Park and hike or bike through the scenic hill country, offering a pleasant change from the tropical coast with an average 10°C year round.
Discover one of the largest herds of captive elephants in the world – presently around 3000 orphaned elephants – located about 80km northeast of Colombo.
Assist during the feeding of baby elephants and take photos of the daily bathing ritual in the nearby river.
Try to spot and photograph some of the 130 different species of birds and animals that inhabit Sri Lanka’s largest park (1259km²), including 35 leopards.
Look out for elephants, sloth bear, spotted deer, barking deer, mouse deer, toque monkey, mongoose and crocodiles living in a diverse landscape of open parkland, jungles, beaches, lakes and rivers.
Yala National Park is located 309km south of Colombo on the southeast of the island.
Climb the steep stairway up the mountainside – believed to be the longest in the world – to this legendary 2224m-high holy mountain peak known as Sri Pada, or Adam's Peak.
Once you’ve caught your breath, enjoy spectacular views from the summit and don’t miss the enclosed rocky imprint of a foot on the summit’s pinnacle.
A pilgrimage centre for more than 1000 years, pilgrims believe the footprint was made by either Lord Buddha, the God Shiva, St Thomas or Adam after he was expelled from Eden. Sri Pada is located in the beautiful southern Hill Country.
Follow walking trails through the grassland of this 10,000ha reserve to see native flora and fauna including leopards, sambar, the purple-faced langur, elk, deer, giant squirrel, boar, hare and porcupine.
There is also a variety of migratory and local birds – the Park is home to 95 per cent of the endemic birds of Sri Lanka.
Don’t miss walking to ‘World's End’, a sheer precipice with a 1050m drop. Horton Plains National Park is located at a height of more than 2000m above sea level in the central highlands, around 200km east of Colombo.
Discover Sri Lanka’s highest waterfall, a dramatic 263m-high cascade that plunges down a vertical cliff face into a deep pool.
The waterfall is best appreciated between October and March and is located in a pine forest just 22km from Kalupahana, followed by a short walk.
Latest update: Sri Lanka Attractions: 29 April, 2022