The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka might be small, but it packs in a world of awe-inspiring beauty and nature
Sri Lanka might be small, but it packs in a world of awe-inspiring beauty and nature | © eFesenko / Alamy
Photo of Courtney Stanley
2 September 2021

Sri Lanka was described by Marco Polo as one of the finest islands in the world. It has a history that dates back thousands of years and – despite being relatively small – has oodles of nature and beauty to admire. Itching to explore? Here are the most beautiful places in Sri Lanka.

Adam’s Peak

Natural Feature
Map View
Great Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka early in the morning
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Adam’s Peak is a tall, cone-shaped mountain in a diverse biological site in central Sri Lanka. The 2,243m (7,359ft) ascent is a common pilgrimage route in the Buddhist religion, as it’s said there is an impression of Buddha’s own footprint near the summit. It takes between two and four hours to climb; aim to arrive at the top around dawn for an unforgettable sunrise.


Archaeological site
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Galle is a UNESCO World Heritage site
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Visit the well-preserved colonial city of Galle, on the southwest coast, for a relaxing city break. This town is full of charming Dutch-era villas and seaside views, as you can now go there with Culture Trip as part of our epic 12-day Sri Lanka adventure. Plan to see the Dutch-built Galle Fort – the largest remaining European-built sea fort in Asia and a World Heritage Site. Other highlights include the natural harbour, St Mary’s Cathedral, and Galle International Stadium, one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the world.


Map View
The historical Sigiriya rock fortress is surrounded by a breathtaking landscape
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Sigiriya, also known as Lion Rock, is a rock fortress and palace in the Matale district. The Unesco World Heritage Site is one of the must-visits attractions in Sri Lanka. Climb up to the ancient ruins, which are surrounded by gardens, ponds, and magnificent frescoes, to see dramatic views of the jungle hills below.

Yala National Park

Forest, Park
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Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
Courtesy of Thomas Dekiere/Shutterstock
Yala National Park, on the southeast coast, is the place to see big cats in Sri Lanka. The park is home to the highest concentration of leopards in the world, and it is also an important sanctuary for Sri Lankan elephants and aquatic birds. Monkeys, crocodiles and other creatures also run around the grassy plains and forest areas.


Natural Feature
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Big Buddha statue at the Kande Vihara Temple. Kande Viharaya is a major Buddhist temple near Bentota beach in Sri Lanka
Courtesy of Andrey Khrobostov / Alamy

This town on the southwest coast has magnificent beaches, luxury hotels and plenty of untouched beauty. Spend a day soaking in the sun at Bentota Beach, visit the nearby Kosgoda turtle hatchery or find peace in the Galapatha Rajamaha Viharaya Buddhist temple. Bentota is a tourist hotspot, so you’ll also be able to get stuck into activities such as helicopter rides and water sports.


Architectural Landmark
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Buddhist pilgrims walking into the shrine of Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, in Kandy, Sri Lanka, celebrating the the Ves
Courtesy of Victor Jiang / Alamy

This large city is known as the Sacred City of Kandy for its significance to Buddhists. Many travel to the Temple of the Tooth, within the fourth-century royal palace complex, as it’s said to hold Buddha’s tooth – although you can’t actually see it. Elsewhere, Kandy is surrounded by the central highland mountains and is the place to sample Sinhalese culture – especially if you visit during the Esala Perahera festival in summer. It also features as one of many wonderful destinations on Culture Trip’s specially curated small-group Sri Lanka tour.

Nuwara Eliya

Forest, Natural Feature
Map View
Landscape view tea estate, Nuwara Eliya, Central Province, Sri Lanka, Asia
Courtesy of Geogphotos / Alamy Stock Photo

Nuwara Eliya is a plateau town surrounded by mountains. It is also known as Little England for its British colonial buildings, such as the Queen’s Cottage and the General’s House. The area holds natural beauties, too, including waterfalls, hills, tea plantations, and Pidurutalagala, the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka. Nuwara Eliya is one of many tea plantation regions in Sri Lanka, but regarded as the most important tea producing spot in the country – try a cup on your visit.

Arugam Bay

Natural Feature
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A group of surfers climb down Elephant Rock at Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka towards the beach for a surfing session.
Courtesy of Thomas Wyness / Alamy

Arugam Bay, on the southeast coast, is a remote town that attracts surfers from around the world. Brush up on your skills at one of the schools, such as Pappy’s Surf School or Amigo Surf, before heading out to the swell on Main Point. When not at the beach, visit the historic temples or the nearby Kumana National Park.


Buddhist Temple, Shrine
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Historical Dambulla cave temple, in Dambulla, Sri Lanka
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This large town houses the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in all of Sri Lanka; covering a total area of 2,100sqm (22,604sqft), it has five cave temples containing a huge collection of Sri Lankan Buddhist artwork, including statues, shrines and murals. The paintings and statues tell stories from Buddha’s life – there are also 153 Buddha statues throughout the complex. Other statue subjects include Sri Lankan kings, gods and goddesses.


Natural Feature
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The Main street of Mirissa, one of Sri Lanka top beach destinations.
Courtesy of Maciej Bledowski / Alamy Stock Photo

Fancy hanging out in a hammock under the sun? Make your way to the beachside village of Mirissa on the south coast, best known for its sandy bays. The namesake beach is particularly popular, from which you can head out on a dolphin- and whale-watching boat trip between May and November. Coconut Tree Hill is also a must-visit destination to watch the sunrise.


Architectural Landmark
Map View
Lotus Tower on Beira Lake at sunrise, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Courtesy of ITPhoto / Alamy
Kick start your Sri Lankan adventure with a few nights in the capital. The starting point of Culture Trip’s epic 12-day adventure through Sri Lanka, this west-coast metropolis has a skyline that comes alive at night, with the 350m (1,148ft) tall Lotus Tower perhaps the most impressive sight. Here, you can soak up sky-high views of Beira Lake from the observation deck, while tucking into a feast at the revolving restaurant. For natural beauty, head to Crow Island Beach Park and Viharamahadevi Park during the humid summer months.


Map View
RW0GJJ - View on Nine Arches Bridge in Sri Lanka, Ella
Courtesy of Ulf Huebner / Alamy
The mountainous town of Ella is best known for having the stone Nine Arch Bridge, between Ella and Demodara station, built by the British at the turn of the 20th century. You can take the journey from Kandy to Badulla or marvel at it with a trek through the surrounding jungle and tea plantations. There are endless hiking (and photo) opportunities around Ella, including waterfalls such as Bomburu Ella Waterfall, which is the widest in Sri Lanka.


Natural Feature, Historical Landmark
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The great seated Buddha at Mihintale, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
Courtesy of Ariadne Van Zandbergen / Alamy Stock Photo
Step back in time at the sacred city of Anuradhapura, which is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, perhaps dating back as far as the 10th century BCE. As you might expect, the ancient metropolis, surrounded by jungle and rice fields, is home to numerous historical sites; the most popular include the Ruwanwelisaya (featuring Buddhist relics) and Abhayagiri Stupa (a Buddhist monastery). Meanwhile, the sacred bodhi tree in the Mahamevnāwa Gardens is another place of pilgrimage, attracting thousands of visitors annually.


Natural Feature
Map View
Shiva statue Koneswaram Kovil Hindu temple, Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, Asia
Courtesy of Geogphotos / Alamy Stock Photo
The port city of Trincomalee, on the northeast coast, is usually reached by train or bus from the capital – taking around seven hours. Once you’ve made it, put your feet up and enjoy sweeping beaches such as Uppuveli and Coral Cove, before spotting blue whales from Swami Rock Cliff. If you’re a keen diver, visit the Trincomalee Underwater Museum, off Sandy Bay Beach, to see sculptures and cannons.


Natural Feature
Map View
Vallipuram Alvar or Valipura Aalvar Vishnu Kovil is a hindu temple near Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Vallipuram Alvar Kovil is considered as one of the oldest H
Courtesy of Andrey Khrobostov / Alamy
If you’re in the northern tip of Sri Lanka, spend a few days enjoying the sights and sounds of Jaffna, which is off the main tourist track. Cultural highlights include visiting the arches of the gilded Nallur Kandaswamy Hindu temple, which is one of the most significant Hindu temples in the country, and the Instagrammable Jaffna Fort, built in the 17th century by the Portuguese. More photogenic moments will be found at Jaffna Market, where you’ll find traditional sweet treats, colourful fruits and vegetables, and exotic souvenirs.


Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
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Tropical beach with fishing boats, Sri Lanka
Courtesy of Oliver Förstner / Alamy Stock Photo
Don’t forget to pack your beach gear if you’re heading to Tangalle. This coastal city, around three hours south of Colombo, has some of the most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka, including the palm-fringed Tangalle Beach and Rekawa Beach, the latter being a top spot to watch turtles lay their eggs. If surfing is your thing, hit Hiriketiya Beach, which has year-round great waves for all abilities, including a more advanced reef break. Just fancy sunbathing and splashing around? Calmer waters are found at Goyambokka Beach.

Udawalawe National Park

Map View
Water buffalo in the Udawalawe National Park on Sri Lanka.
Courtesy of Martin Silva Cosentino / Alamy
It’s as though you’ve stepped into a wildlife documentary at Udawalawe National Park. The expansive sanctuary, on the borders of Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces, is a must-visit for animal-lovers. Between October and April, you’re guaranteed to see elephants while in your 4×4 (since there are around 700 in the area). They share the park with leopards, crocodiles, water buffalos, otters and several species of eagle. The landscape varies as you go, with grasslands and scrublands complemented by rockier, more mountainous areas.
These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh. This article is an updated version of a story created by Courtney Stanley

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