The 8 Must -Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is home to a collection of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

This list includes:

  • Sacred City of Anuradhapura
  • Ancient City of Polonnaruwa
  • Ancient City of Sigiriya
  • Dambulla Cave Temple
  • Ancient City of Sigiriya
  • Galle and its fortifications
  • Central Highlands of Sri Lanka
  • Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Here’s all you need to know about the eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka before your next Sri Lanka trips.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka (Cultural) 

Sacred City of Anuradhapura

The north-central district was initially established around 300 B.C. The capital city of the time was home to numerous Buddhist kingdoms whose remains have been preserved to date. Among the ruins lie Buddhist shrines, palaces, monasteries, dagobas, and historic water tanks. This is why the city is known as one of the most sacred places in the nation. The site also includes sacred a Bo Tree which is over 2000 years old. To Sri Lankan Buddhists, the Sacred City of Anuradhapura is a site of cultural appreciation and religious exploration. For tourists, it’s an attraction to uncover the history of Sri Lanka.

Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

Around the 11th century A.D., the next popular ancient capital that came to be was the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Its legacy as a capital city commenced following the leadership of King Vijayabahu I. Nearly a millennium later, the ruins of the city lie unharmed. The astonishing marvels that stand to date include the Royal Palace, temples, monasteries, dagobas, enormous Buddhist statues, water fountains, and mysterious caves. This is yet another city that serves as a must-visit site on your next Sri Lanka trip for all cultural enthusiasts that enjoy historic background.

Ancient City of Sigiriya

The icon of the ancient city of Sigiriya is the Rock Fortress. It is also referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by UNESCO. During the latter few decades of the 5th century A.D., King Kashyapa built his palace on the flat peak of the Sigiriya rock, which stands at an astonishing height of 660 ft. Other sites of historical and cultural value within the fortress’s bounds include the Lion Gate, Royal gardens, ancient pools, the Sigiriya frescoes, and Sigiriya Museum. If you’re on a Sri Lanka tour seeking an adventurous hike that yields scintillating views, then the Lion Rock is one site to set foot on.

Sacred City of Kandy

The unique icon of this UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka is the Temple of the Golden Tooth Relic. Home to the sacred tooth of the Lord Buddha, the temple is the #1 attraction for vast numbers of Buddhist pilgrims across the globe. The temple is situated within a palace complex close to the Kandy Lake. The cool, laid-back atmosphere of the city is great for exploring its other icons – ones that range from historical museums to colonial architecture and modern facilities and gardens. Kandy is a wonderful place for travellers looking for a relaxing and historical experience.

Golden Temple of Dambulla

The next UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka is the Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple. The site in Dambulla includes five cave temples, each decorated with a vast array of Buddhist artefacts, paintings and is densely populated with statues of the Lord Buddha. While they elaborate on his teachings, a few other artefacts and statues are dedicated to ancient rulers of the Buddhist kingdoms. Despite them being centuries old, they still manage to glisten golden inside the caves that otherwise would be dark and murky.

Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications

The first location that comes to mind when thinking of a southwestern Sri Lanka tour is Galle. Centuries ago, this city was once a buzzing port during foreign rule. The Portuguese initiated the development of the city of Galle in the early 16th century. The city was later ruled by the Dutch and ultimately by the British, and this mix of colonial cultures resonates throughout the architecture of the city. Its main attraction is the breezy Galle Fort. This UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka is one with immense minimalistic vibes and is great for a relaxing getaway beside the windy oceans and deep blue seas.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka (Natural)

Central Highlands of Sri Lanka

The first natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka covers three key areas in the Central Province of the island. They include the Peak Wilderness, Horton Plains, and the Knuckles Conservation Forest. The hill-country is home to the island’s densest tea plantations, scenic waterfalls, misty mountain tops, and dense forest cover. This one is for an adventurous Sri Lanka trip packed with many hiking trails, mystical views, and tranquil moments in nature.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Located in southern Sri Lanka is the low-lying Sinharaja rainforest, home to many exotic species of flora and fauna. The well-preserved biosphere which is the latest UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka has exciting trails running through the forest, overlooking beautiful waterfalls amidst enriched biodiversity. Here’s to the nature lovers and adventure seekers who dream of a Sri Lanka trip through its most famous forest reserve.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites are sites of significant cultural or natural value in a global context. There should then be no doubt that you must visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka, not just to add value to your Sri Lanka trips but also to appreciate the beauty of these sites from a global perspective.

Eager to check out some Sri Lanka tour packages? To visit these sites and many more on your next tour of Sri Lanka – plan your Sri Lanka trips with us today!

Discover the best tourist attractions in Sri Lanka

Travel as much as you can, as far as you can, as long as you can. Life is not meant to lived in one place.” And there is no better place to explore a series of abundant magical destinations than in the tropical island paradise of Sri Lanka. The once Ceylon, is home to a vast array of beautiful gems that await to be explored from vibrant flora and fauna to rich forest and marine life, sandy beaches, extensive cultural escapades and the most glorious historical sites. We at Olanka Travels are counting down the top six holiday destinations that we believe are the best tourist attractions in the homely and strikingly beautiful Sri Lanka.

Ancient City of Sigiriya

A truly majestic wonder that is home to one of the most astounding histories of the tiny island calls out to be explored. Once, long ago this archaeological monument was home to King Kashypa who on top of this gracious rock, erected his castle and adorned with strikingly beautiful frescoes. At present day, the historical Sigiriya stands proudly as a UNESCO world heritage site; located in the northern Matale District of Sri Lanka’s Central Province, near the town of Dambulla. 

Head towards the picturesque small town that yet beholds one of the grandest sites in the country and be amazed by all the mysteries it has to offer. The ruins of the ancient capital lie at the summit of the rock, renowned as the Lion’s rock, dominating the luscious green town. 

As you step foot on the enthralling site, the extensive collection of fortifications, vast gardens, ponds, canals, alleys and fountains are surely set to mesmerise you alongside the truly unique harmony between the nature and human imagination that it exuberates. The enthralling frescoes on site, depict paintings of nude females are considered to be either the portraits of the king’s wives and concubines or priestess performing religious rituals. Despite the unknown identity of the females depicted in the frescoes, these unique ancient paintings are celebrating female beauty and have incredible historical significance. Another substantial feature of the monument is the famous mirror wall, painted inscriptions and poems written by the visitors of Sigiriya.  Apart from visiting the renowned Lion’s rock, there are abundant other activities that you could enjoy during your stay in Sigiriya from visiting the local handicraft shops that surround the site to participating in sacred ‘Pansil’ ceremonies, enjoying delectable local meals and taking in the serene beauty of the tranquil town by either a long stroll or exciting cycle ride around the historical monument of Sigiriya.

Temple of the tooth in Kandy

Known for its spirituality and laid-back charm, Kandy has everything peaceful, serenade and balmy about it. Explore the country’s second largest city, brimming with a fascinating history, rich culture, spectacular beauty and old-world charm. A visit to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic or Sri Dalada Maligawa is a must when you are in Kandy as it is one of the most picturesque and iconic Buddhist temples in the country. Step into its midst and embark yourself in the city’s vast and magnificent history. Located in the heart of the town surrounded by the glistening Kandy Lake also known as Kiri Muhuda or the Sea of Milk, the temple was once the royal palace inhabited by the king of Ceylon during the Kandyan kingdom and his consorts, but after the demise of the Kandyan Kingdom the palace was transformed into a Buddhist temple that holds the scared tooth of Lord Buddha. Take a walk to its sight and also catch a chance to witness the magical cultural show at the temple of the tooth that will give you the opportunity to spectator a remarkable display of Kandyan dancing, Sri Lanka’s iconic art form, which includes elaborate costumes, boisterous mass drumming, and flamboyant dancing. The cultural center of Kandy is also renowned for its Kandy Perahera: the Esala Perahera, a stunning sight guaranteed to leave you baffled in awe featuring dancers, jugglers, musicians, fire-breathers and more.

Ella

Ella is a paradise like highland village set on southern edge of Uva province of Sri Lanka. The beautiful and scenic village of the tropical island with its salubrious climate nestles amidst hill after hill of tea plantations bringing in panoramic views of the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka. Enjoy Sri Lanka’s most scenic train ride from Nanu Oya to Ella as you capture the most mesmerizing surroundings from passing by mountains to lakes and beautiful waterfalls and visit the renowned Nine Arch Bridge, popularly known as the “Bridge in the Sky.”  This bridge is 300 feet long, 25 feet wide, and 80-100 feet tall and is one among the country’s greatest instances of colonial-era railway building. Other fun activities and excursions to do during your stay at the beautiful Ella include a trek to the Little Adam’s Peak offering an exciting climbing and trekking option for today’s explorers. Adventurers are encouraged to begin their excursions from Ella town, where the mountain’s top is only 3 kilometers away. It comes as no surprise that there is no party scene with loud music and excitement in a charming hamlet hidden between misty mountains when it comes to nightlife. Instead, there are a few restaurants that dish up some warm western-style cuisine, as well as a few pubs and swanky cafés that give a nice relaxed ambiance, perfect for capping off a long day of trekking in your Sri Lanka trip.

Mirissa

Mirissa is of the main beach destinations in southern Sri Lanka, renowned for its beautiful tropical beaches, surf waves, whale watching, and thriving bars and restaurants. Enter into the coast, take in the sun, soak in the icy waves altogether with a stifling drink in hand. Catch a whale watching safari down the picturesque blue isles of the glimmering Mirissa Ocean. You can explore the depths of the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean and catch a glimpse of the glorious whales, ever friendly dolphins and of course the famous island sea turtles as well. Mirissa is the hub for water sports, giving you the opportunity to ride the curls of the waves, swim with the largest mammals on earth, snorkel, and even enjoy a full day sailing experience in the sea filled with its truly magical activities from fishing with people of the coast to catching more than just a foretaste of the grandeur whales and dolphins.

Yala

Yala National Park, Sri Lanka’s most renowned park is located in the south eastern region of the country and extends over two provinces of Hambantota district of southern province and Monaragala district in Uva province. 

Of all the National Parks in Sri Lanka, Yala National Park gives the best opportunity to witness Sri Lanka’s broad variety of wildlife: colourful painted stork in troops are seen perched at the shores of lagoon where the crocodiles too have chosen to doze off; lovely fantailed peacocks in their resplendent blues and greens parade about amidst the woods where monkeys hang, leap and chatter; in the bush jungle are the Elephants; crossing the tracks and wandering off into the thorny scrub jungle is the star attraction of the park: the leopard.

You can also enjoy a once in a lifetime opportunity of camping on sight. Whether it’s wild swimming, stone skimming or simply messing about in boats, there’s nothing quite like camping beside a river in the midst of the bustling forest of Yala. For guests looking for a more tranquil stay, the destination also has some of the most luxurious resorts that are set to give you a one-of-a-kind experience, bringing together unparalleled wildlife experiences, comfort and luxury.

Galle

The picturesque colonial city of Galle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is awaits to be explored. From exotic old trading ports blessed with imposing Dutch-colonial buildings to ancient mosques and churches, grand mansions and museums, the city has it all. Wandering its rambling lanes, you’ll pass stylish cafes, quirky boutiques and impeccably restored hotels owned by local and foreign artists, writers, photographers and designers. Take a walk in the picturesque streets of the Galle fort amidst the grandeur of the colonial hub which is a prominent attraction with a modified twist of open cafes and restaurants to decorate the old city fort and explore the evidence of the history of colonized Ceylon all preserved in a colonnade left by the Dutch at the famous Dutch museum. 

Explore the rural village by wheels as you enjoy a cycle or tuk-tuk ride around the blissful Galle or take an exciting tour to the colonial past of Galle and its glory days. The artifacts and collector’s items are priceless with art history and craft for a treasure hunt. Here at Galle, you can also savour the taste of a variety of free-range prawns and shrimp squid lobster and blue crab meat from the warm blue Indian ocean and experience a glimpse of Island life in a platter.

How to spice up your Sri Lanka trip with a visit to Kandy

Where is Kandy? Kandy, a popular city listed in your Sri Lanka Trips itinerary, is situated in the central hills of Sri Lanka and is preceded by stories of interesting historical accounts and unique cultural anecdotes. Ever wondered how to explore this fascinating city? Well, welcome to your guide to Kandy!

The colourful Kandy Perahera

You are lucky to be in the tropical paradise of Sri Lanka. But if you happen to travel to Kandy in July or August, it is either because you know exactly what you are doing, or you are insanely lucky!

July and August are auspicious months for Kandyans and Buddhists across the country. This is when the “Esala Perahera,” the festival where Buddhists pay homage to the tooth relic of the Lord Buddha takes place. The Perahera culminates in the carrying of the relic which is accompanied by colourfully adorned dancers, Kandyan officials, elephants draped in glamorous capes, drummers, and flag bearers. Thousands from around the country and the world watch the parade from either side of the streets. This ceremony is a reflection of Sri Lanka’s vibrant culture and attracts tourists around the world!

A visit to the temple of the Tooth

A visit to the glorious temple where the tooth relic resides (Sri Dalada Maligawa) can make your Sri Lanka trip that much blessed! The Temple of the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha is located in the Royal Palace complex belonging to the ancient kingdom of Kandy which was the capital of Sri Lanka many centuries ago. This temple is a popular landmark in the itinerary of tourists who are interested in exploring local culture. It is not only significant as a UNESCO world heritage site and revered by Buddhists around the world but also known for its unique Kandyan architecture.

Trek through the Udawatta Kele Sanctuary

One of the best things to do in Kandy during your Sri Lanka trips is to trail through the Udawatta Kele forest reserve. Perched on a hill behind the Temple of the Tooth lies this sanctuary, also referred to as the Royal Forest Park of Kandy. Find endemic fauna and flora including fishing cats and palm-squirrels in this verdant forest. Walk through tall tree-canopies to catch a sight of colourful birds. Udawatta Kele is a nature lover’s paradise that also features scattered temples, water ponds, mountains, and mysterious caves from the time of the kings.  

What are the best hotels and resorts in Kandy?

Every Sri Lanka Trips itinerary includes a few days of stay in Kandy. Kandy deserves to be explored slowly, with ample time to uncover its mysteries. Choose from a list of resorts and hotels in Kandy that best suit your budget and requirements. Here are a few suggestions that will make finding accommodation in Kandy simpler for you.

Earls Regency Hotel –A classic, colonial-style hotel with stunning views of tea gardens. 

Queen’s Hotel Kandy – Originally a governor’s mansion, this hotel is now a British Colonial style luxury hotel that offers spectacular views of the Kandy Lake.

Cinnamon Citadel, Kandy – A truly enticing hotel with royal heritage, Cinnamon Citadel is surrounded by emerald hills and bordered by Sri Lanka’s longest river.  

Golden Crown Hotel, Kandy – Just a 10-minute drive away from the Temple of the Tooth Relic, this is a 5-star hotel situated amidst lush paddy fields.

OZO Kandy – A playful space with a rooftop swimming pool and bar, this Hotel features rooms with city, garden, and mountain views and is nestled amidst misty mountains and tea plantations.

Where to shop in Kandy?

Shopping in Kandy is one of the most satisfying things to do when on a Sri Lanka trips. There are many authentic Sri Lankan arts and handicrafts boutiques that cater to tourists here. Pick out colourful batik clothing in one of the stores in the city; batik has become a chic hallmark of Sri Lankan fashion.

Walk into the main Kandy market at the heart of the city where locals and tourists can find affordable souvenirs, or shop in boutiques like LUV SL by ODEL, Jayamali Batik Studios, and Selyn for equally authentic and well-crafted souvenirs.

Royal Botanical Gardens in Kandy

Once the pleasure garden of the Kandyan queen, the Royal Botanical Garden, also known as the Peradeniya Botanical Garden, displays over 4 000 different species of plants which are regarded amongst the most superior in Asia.  

Renowned for its collection of orchids and the long, palm framed pathways, the garden is spread over 60 hectares of sublimely designed lawns, pavilions, and plant houses, and is a fragrant and colourful treat to the senses. 

Tour around Kandy by cycling!

One of the fun things to do when you travel to Kandy is to rent a bicycle, cycle freely through the bustling streets, and stop by roadside shops to try delicious street food. Sri Lanka trips are absolutely amusing when you cycle through its cities! Stop at historically significant sites such as the ‘Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha statues’ and ‘Embekke Dewalaya’ to learn about Sri Lankan culture and to experience the diversity of its people. A dip into the Kandy Lake, locally known as ‘Kiri Muhuda’ is also recommended.

As the sun sets, enjoy a drink of ‘Thambili’ (king coconut, a tropical fruit drink in Sri Lanka) to quench your thirst as you listen to the hymns of the ‘Dalada Maligawa’ and make conversation with the locals.

The iconic train ride from Kandy to Ella

Do you know the best way to leave Kandy? By train, course! This could be your favourite part of the Sri Lanka trips. Witness scenic beauty swishing past you as never before in visions of verdant forests, charming tea plantations, and misty mountains!

10 Reasons to Say ‘YES’ to a Sri Lanka Trip

A Sri Lanka trip is exciting, adventurous, and inspiring. But what makes a Sri Lanka holiday unique? Here are 10 reasons why Sri Lanka tours are unlike any other.

Stunning Coasts and Beaches

Sri Lanka has a beach for everyone, regardless of their preference. Choose from secluded getaways, sociable beach party spots, tranquil villas besides blue waters, or surfing towns to ride waves, based on your aspirations for an ideal tropical vacation. With each coastal town offering a unique experience that differs not just in ambience but also in terms of the activities on offer, you’re sure to be spoilt for choice. 

Adrenaline Rush inducing Adventure Sports

The captivating coast of Arugam Bay is a well-known surfer’s paradise. Other surfing hotspots in Sri Lanka include Koggala, Ahangama, Balapitiya, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, and Weligama. 

Head to Bentota, Pigeon Island in Trincomalee, Kalpitiya, or Negombo to try your hand at water sports such as jet skiing, diving, snorkelling, kayaking, and fishing, among others. Experience other adventure sports such as waterfall and rock climbing, abseiling, sky diving, whitewater rafting, and more around the central regions of the island.

Exotic Wildlife

Home to some of the rare species in the world, the little island of Sri Lanka is known for its biodiversity. Leopards, sloth bears, Sri Lankan elephants, sperm whales, blue whales, and five species of endangered turtle can be spotted here in relatively high densities. 

Safari and camp in over 22 national parks, each with its distinct flora, fauna, and endemic species. Sri Lankan wildlife safaris can also culminate in luxury glamping experiences for those who want to enjoy the best of both worlds. 

Diverse Culture

Sri Lanka is home to a fusion of multiple ethnicities. Owing to its colonial history, Dutch, Portuguese, and British influences can be observed in its architecture. No matter when you plan your trip to Sri Lanka, there’s bound to be a cultural holiday. The Sinhala and Tamil New Year, Kandy Perahara, Vesak, Nallur Kovil Festival, and Kataragama festival are celebrated locally. 

Experience new ways of life and culinary specialties in each city or town you travel to.

Rich History

The cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, including Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Kandy, showcases a rich history of over 2,500 years. Numerous cultural sites dating back to the days of kings are now listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. These structures are adorned with ancient art and murals, vivid woodwork, stonework, and insightful scriptures. A trip to Sri Lanka isn’t just about experiencing its beautiful sights but also appreciating its fascinating cultural, classical, and historic background.

Diverse Landscapes

From the mountains in Haputale to the safaris in Yala and the beaches along the coast, Sri Lanka is one of the most diverse countries in terms of its landscape. Especially because the sites and scenes seem to change within just a few hours of a drive. Conquer the Ella Rock or the Knuckles mountain range, relish the misty panoramic views and feel a tingle down your spine at the ‘Great World’s End Drop.’ Meander through the narrow trails of tea plantations or gaze at the spectacularly picturesque waterfalls of the region. You could also enjoy a hike through the Sinharaja Rainforest – a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Sri Lankan Curries

Sri Lankan food is on a league of its own; spicy, coconutty, and irresistibly fragrant, a plate of Sri Lankan rice and curry is a quintessential part of the Sri Lankan identity. Enjoy local flavours and dishes such as hoppers, wade, kottu roti, ‘del’ or breadfruit curry, ‘polos’ or jackfruit curry, and ‘ambulthiyal’ or sour fish curry, chased by copious cups of world-renowned Ceylon tea. 

People

All cultures of Sri Lanka are based upon the foundations of hospitality. ‘Ayubowan’ in Sinhala and ‘Vanakkam’ in Tamil are classic Sri Lankan greetings. This greeting, accompanied by the gesture of pressing the palms together, holding them under the chin and in front of the chest with a slight nod of the head, loosely translates to “may you be blessed with long life”. No matter where you go during your Sri Lanka tour, you’re sure to encounter friendly smiles and helpful people.

Yoga and Ayurveda

Whether you are in a bustling city or secluded town, relaxation is essential. What’s a Sri Lanka trip without a soothing spa session? 

While ‘Ulpotha,’ located in a jungle heartland beside a lotus ringed lake, is known to offer one of the best yoga retreats in the world, the island is interspersed with Ayurveda resorts, spas, and wellness centres that specialize in treating the mind, body, and spirit.

Affordable Luxury 

Spoil yourselves with the extravagant services and plush accommodation offered by affordable luxury resorts in Sri Lanka, strategically located in close vicinity to tourist hotspots. Experience luxuries complete with infinity pools, Jacuzzis, candle-lit dinners, hot air balloon rides, and much more. The modern hotels in the city of Colombo are close to eventful nightlife hubs and contain their own entertainment and dining options. Most Sri Lankan resorts and villas are sustainably developed and seamlessly fuse luxurious spaces with the locality’s natural environment. 

Say ‘YES!’ to a Sri Lanka Trip 

These are only 10 reasons why you should be planning your vacation in Sri Lanka. Visit Sri Lanka to discover more reasons to holiday here. Let our travel experts assist you with the itinerary planning. Get in touch with us for more details.