What To See In Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, located near the southern coast of India, is a culturally rich and diverse country filled with world heritage sites, wildlife and endless golden beaches. Few countries offer as many UNESCO sites packed into one small area, plus boasts incredible cuisine, tea, treks and unforgettable train rides too.
To help you plan a holiday to Sri Lanka we’ve put together our guide to the very best sites to see on this incredible teardrop-shaped island:
Built by the Dutch in the 1600s, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Galle Fort is an unexpected taste of old Europe on the southern tip of Sri Lanka. You can walk the remains of the Fort Walls and inspect the old Bastions, then explore the historical laneways filled with souvenir boutiques, art shops and courtyard cafes, as well as many government and administrative buildings that are still in operation.
You could opt to stay within Galle at one of the upscale hotels that now reside within the historic buildings – luxury hotels Amangalla and Galle Fort Hotel are both found in 17th century converted houses – or you could base yourself at a villa in nearby beach resort Unawatuna. If staying in Unawatuna don’t miss the sunsets and pizzas at Wijaya Beach.
A short train ride from Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, Kandy sits on a majestic lake surrounded on all sides by lush hills and homely guesthouses. Most visitors to Sri Lanka pass through Kandy at some point in order to visit the Temple Of The Sacred Tooth. Home to Sri Lanka’s most important relic – a tooth of Buddha – the Temple of the Sacred Tooth is a large complex consisting of several temples and museums as well as the shrine of the tooth itself. Visitors don’t actually get to see the tooth – it’s kept in a gold casket, which contains a series of six dagoba caskets of diminishing size – but you do get to admire the vibrant floral offerings the devotees bring. Remember that you will need to cover your legs and shoulders in order to enter the temple and you will be asked to remove your shoes too. (This applies at religious sites throughout Sri Lanka.)
Aside from the temple and lake (a great place to walk at sunset) there is not much to see in Kandy itself but there is plenty to explore in the surrounding area. Hire a tuk tuk for a day to get a private tour of the Botanic Gardens (an expansive and romantic place), plus local tea factories, batik shops and spice gardens.
Regarded as one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world do not miss the opportunity to discover the Hill Country of Sri Lanka from a train window. The journey from Kandy to Ella takes up to 6 hours by train but the time will soon fly by as you weave your way through fields, hills, villages and jungle – children shouting and waving at the train as you pass by.
Once in Ella you have the choice of a number of scenic hikes, the most popular of which are Little Adam’s Peak or the slightly more challenging hike to Ella Rock. Guesthouses will be able to provide you with maps but if you’re feeling a little unsure pick up a local guide along the way. Farmers tend to watch out for hikers on their way to the rock and will offer services in exchange for a small tip.
Arguably Sri Lanka’s most impressive World Heritage Site, Sigiriya known as the Lion Rock, is an ancient palace perched on the summit of an intimidatingly steep rock. Visitors are welcome to climb the rock (at their own pace) to see up close the frescoes, giant lion’s paw staircase and water gardens that were built for King Kassapa in 477 – 495 AD.
Whilst in the North Central Province, also known as the Cultural Triangle, take time to visit Anuradhapura, a sprawling heritage-listed complex filled with ancient dagobas, archaeological wonders and the scared bodhi tree – the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world.
Yala National Park
If the ancient wonders, incredible architecture and beautiful scenery wasn’t enough, Sri Lanka offers incredible opportunities for nature lovers too. Yala National Park is a 1200 square kilometre area of scrub, forest, grassy plains and lakes in the southeast corner of Sri Lanka that is best known for its leopard population. The park is divided into 5 blocks and Block 1 is thought to host 25 leopards alone. On game drives through Yala it is not unusual to spot deer, peacocks, buffalo, families of elephants, hundreds of rare birds and, if you’re lucky, one or two of the elegant leopards too.