Must-Visit Attractions in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is full of gorgeous sights, both natural and manmade
Sri Lanka is full of gorgeous sights, both natural and manmade | © Angelo Cordeschi / Alamy Stock Photo
Jayani Senanayake

Despite being a small island off the coast of India, Sri Lanka is a country is home to an impressive amount of gorgeous natural landmarks and opulent historical fortresses. These 10 sites all embody the diverse beauty this land has to offer, and none are to be missed.

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Sigiriya (Lion Rock) is an ancient citadel built atop a rock, named for the large lion paws flanking the entrance. It was built by King Kashyapa in the late 5th century, after he usurped the throne from his father. The high position may today give you unparalleled views, but was actually chosen for military strategic reasons; Kashyapa feared that the rightful heir to the throne, his elder brother, would one day return to overthrow him. The immaculate gardens and frescoes here have earned Sigiriya Unesco World Heritage site status.

Galle Dutch Fort

Head towards the golden beaches of the south coast of the island to witness yet another Unesco World Heritage site: the Galle Dutch Fort, built by the Portuguese and fortified by the Dutch. Today – with charming villas, ancient churches and cobblestoned streets – the fort still retains much of the original quaint colonial aura. It’s bound to enchant anyone who walks upon the ramparts overlooking the deep, blue sea.

Dambulla Cave Temple

See mystic caves adorned with alluring frescoes and elaborately carved statues at the ancient Dambulla Cave Temple. It has more than 150 Buddha statues and religious artworks, some of which were created at least 2,000 years ago. Various kings have contributed to this magnificence over the centuries, and King Nissanka Malla had the cave interiors gilded, thus earning the temple the name of Rangiri Dambulu (Golden Temple of Dambulla).

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Ever seen hundreds of majestic tuskers frolicking in the same spot? The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage will let you. Here, you’re treated to sights of these playful giants bathing in the river, while a lucky few will even get the chance to bottle feed some adorable calves.

Yala National Park

The Yala National Park is where to go if you want to see Sri Lankan wildlife in a natural habitat. Yala is famous for the population of majestic wild elephants, stealthy leopards and astounding variety of birds.

Temple of the Tooth

Located in Kandy, the Temple of the Tooth is considered the very heart of the nation. Wars had been fought for the possession of the Sacred Tooth Relic; it’s believed that whoever holds it has the power and the right to rule the country. Being a predominantly Buddhist country, the Temple of the Tooth is the most sacred place of worship for Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Visit between July and August to witness the spectacular Festival of the Tooth (Kandy Perahera), a vibrant religious procession complete with beautifully adorned elephants, drummers, fire-eaters, dancers and stilt walkers.

Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada)

Buddhists believe that it is the footprint of the Lord Buddha; Christians believe that it’s Adam’s, after he was expelled from Eden; Hindus believe that it belongs to Lord Shiva. Whatever the case, this beautiful mountain peak has been a pilgrimage site for more than 2,000 years and offers magnificent sunrises. The best time to climb Adam’s Peak is between December and May.

Horton Plains National Park

Home to cascading waterfalls and sprawling plains stretching out for as far as the eye can see, the Horton Plains National Park is a beautiful world with excellent hiking opportunities. The scenic landscape is rivalled only by the diverse wildlife and abundance of flora.

Diyaluma Falls

The Diyaluma Falls, cascading down to the Koslanda Plateau in the Koslanda-Welawaya road, are a spectacular sight. Much local folklore surrounds this mystic waterfall in the Badulla District, increasing the allure even further.

Gal Viharaya

The Gal Viharaya (Stone Temple) in Polonnaruwa houses four of the most perfect of Buddha statues, each carved out of solid stone. This temple was built during the reign of King Parakrabahu and remains one of the finest examples of stone carvings in Sri Lanka.
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