The Most Beautiful Unesco World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka

The Temple of the Tooth allegedly houses a tooth of the Buddha. Its cultural significance helped earn the city of Kandy World Heritage Site status in 1988
The Temple of the Tooth allegedly houses a tooth of the Buddha. Its cultural significance helped earn the city of Kandy World Heritage Site status in 1988 | © Rolandas Misius / Alamy Stock Photo

Sri Lanka Hub Writer

A Unesco World Heritage Site is an important landmark chosen by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a protected area. The places selected are usually in a historical location with cultural and anthropological importance. Sri Lanka is home to eight such sites – six cultural and two natural. Keep reading to find out what they are, and plan your trip to visit them all.

Loved by over 40s

Let us do the work for you to experience Sri Lanka’s history and more – book our exclusive 12-day trip across the country discovering breathtaking ancient temples and playful wildlife from Culture Trip.

Sacred City of Kandy

Buddhist Temple, Ruins, Architectural Landmark

Kandy, a mountain city in Sri Lanka, was home to Sinhalese kings from 1592 to 1815. It’s also the site of Sri Dalada Maligawa, also called the Temple of the Tooth; here, a special container holds a tooth of the Buddha. Over the years, the relic came to be very important politically, with some believing that the holder of the sacred tooth was the one who would have power over the Buddhist population. Kandy was appointed the status of World Heritage Site in 1988, mainly due to the Temple of the Tooth.

Ancient City of Sigiriya

Ruins, Architectural Landmark

Sri Lanka, Ceylon, North Central Province, Sigiriya Lion Rock fortress, UNESCO world heritage site, aerial view
© Tuul and Bruno Morandi / Alamy Stock Photo
The rocky outcrop of Sigiriya holds the ancient remains of King Kassapa’s palace from the 5th century AD. The top is reachable by stairs built on the side of the mountain, and features the Lion Rock, as well as the remains of the palace and fortress. Ascend to the top for a remarkable 360-degree view of the jungle below. Sigiriya was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1982.

Sacred City of Anuradhapura

Ruins, Buddhist Temple, Architectural Landmark

The city of Anuradhapura was the first ancient capital of Sri Lanka, and it is still a sacred Buddhist religious centre. It lies around 200km (124mi) north of Colombo, the current capital. Buddhist worshippers and pilgrims visit the well-preserved ruins of the temples along the bank of the river Malwathu Oya year-round. The city is also home to a hugely sacred Bodhi tree, believed to be a descendant of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha was illuminated. Anuradhapura became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1982.

Old Town of Galle and its fortifications

Ruins, Architectural Landmark

Sri Lanka, Southern Province, South Coast beach, Galle town, Dutch fort, UNESCO World Heritage site, aerial view
© Tuul and Bruno Morandi / Alamy Stock Photo
The Dutch built the fortified town of Galle in the 16th century. It sits approximately 130km (81mi) south of Colombo. Thick stone ramparts, which were built to protect the goods stored there during the times of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th and 18th centuries, surround the historical buildings and churches. The entire fort has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1988.

Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

Ruins, Architectural Landmark

Ruins of the Buddha statue in historical city of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
© Suranga Weeratuna / Alamy Stock Photo
Polonnaruwa is part of the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka, along with Anuradhapura and Sigiriya. After the destruction of Anuradhapura in the 1st century, it became the capital of Sri Lanka. The remains include Bhramanic constructions from the Cholas civilisation, as well as the garden city that was built in the 12th century. This site was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1982.

Dambulla Cave Temple

Buddhist Temple, Ruins, Architectural Landmark

The Golden Dambulla Cave Temple has been a pilgrimage destination for the past 22 centuries. It’s also the largest and best-preserved cave temple on the island. The Dambulla Cave Temple was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1991 in order to preserve the magnificent wall paintings and more than 150 statues in and around the temple.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Forest, Park, Natural Feature

Green garden lizard (calotes calotes), Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Southern, Sri Lanka
© Mark Daffey / Alamy Stock Photo
Designated in 1988, the Sinharaja Forest is one of the two natural Unesco World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka. The last remaining primary rainforest in Sri Lanka, the reserve is full of endemic trees and species; many rare amphibians make the reserve their home.

Central Highlands

Natural Feature, Park

Landscape Horton Plains National Park in Sri Lanka
© Hilda Weges / Alamy Stock Photo

The Central Highlands of Sri Lanka include Horton Plains National Park, the Knuckles Conservation Forest and the Peak Wilderness Protected Area. At more than 2,000m (6,562ft) above sea level, this natural World Heritage Site joined the others in 2010. There are plenty of hiking trails in the Central Highlands, and it’s a biodiverse haven.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.