What to see in Sri Lanka: Top 10 Sights
What to see in Sri Lanka? In this article we’ve collected the best Sri Lankan sights, must-see places to visit during your vacation on the island: photos, video description and a map.
Excursions or self-guided visits?
Most of the sights of the island of Sri Lanka can be seen as part of a tour or on your own.
If you have time, it’s more convenient to rent a car and go around all the interesting places in Sri Lanka on your own. If you come to rest on a tour for 5-14 days, then you have to choose only a few of their available places, because it’s impossible to visit them all in a short period of time.
How to find cheap airline tickets? They are easy to find through the search engine Aviasales. It is best to look for tickets in advance and consider different departure dates.
What to visit in Sri Lanka: Top 10 interesting places
Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura, the first capital of ancient Ceylon, is located 200 km northeast of Colombo. From the capital can be reached by bus, which is a journey of 6 hours. There are train connections between the cities, the train takes 5 hours.
All the attractions are concentrated in the old town of Anuradhapura. Entrance to tourists everywhere is paid, but you can buy a single ticket for 3700 rupees. With the ticket you can visit the Abhayagiri complex.
All the monuments can be seen in two days. Because of the heat, it is recommended to see the sights from some kind of transport: a bus or a rented car. A place in the parking lot costs about 25 rupees.
Separately, the Bodhi tree, sacred to Buddhists, is worth a visit. This ancient ficus grew from a scion taken from the tree under which the Buddha became enlightened. Therefore, the Bodhi tree is the most sacred and the oldest tree in Sri Lanka.
The tour of the sacred tree will cost the tourist 200 rupees.
Video about the attractions of the city of Anuradhapura:
What you can see nearby:
- Fifty meters away from the Bodhi tree is the Bronze Palace. It was built before our era and has lost its original appearance. It is forbidden to enter the palace.
- You can see the largest stupa made of brick, Jethawana, for free. This large structure was erected in the third century AD. It is located 300 meters from the tree.
- At a distance of one kilometer from Bodhi is the palace of Isurumuniya, carved into the rock. It was built before our era. Admission is paid and costs 200 rupees.
- The stupas of Ruvanvelisiya and Mirisaveti can be seen for free. Both structures are 200 meters from the tree.
- In the northern part of the city is the Abhayagiri complex. On its territory is the second tallest stupa in the city of Anuradhapura, there are statues of the Buddha, a museum, a pond and two lakes.
- You can visit the caves Vessagiriya, the royal palace of King Vijayabahu and artificial ponds for free.
- A visit to the Folk Art Museum will cost Rs. 300.
Gal Viharaja in Polonnaruwa
The monuments in Polonnaruwa are not only available for viewing with group tours, but they are quite possible to visit on your own and see them in 2 days.
In Polonnaruwa, a must-see is the Temple in the Rock or GalViharaya with its huge Buddha statues. This temple has no analogues and is located on the territory of a huge Archaeological Park. There is a fee to enter the park, with a ticket price of 3,250 rupees.
Tickets must be purchased in advance at the Polonnaruwa Museum. The territory of the park is huge, and it is recommended to move through it by car, motorcycle or bicycle.
There are several temples and monasteries, a stupa, and a royal palace complex in the park. There are also artificial ponds and stupas.
Photo and description: Gal Viharaya © vasse nicolas,antoine / flickr.com
- Polonnaruwa is 200 km east of Colombo. It is very inexpensive and convenient to go to Polonnaruwa by train. There are two flights: one train departs early in the morning and arrives at noon. The second departs at 7 pm and arrives in Polonnaruwa at midnight. The ticket costs from 185 to 600 rupees.
- The second option is the bus service. Because of the heat it is better to leave on the earliest flight. The trip from Colombo to Polonnaruwa lasts 6 hours and the ticket costs 160 rupees.
Attractions in Sri Lanka nearby:
- Naypena Vihara Hindu Complex;
- King Nissankamalla’s Palace;
- The ruins of the library and the statue of King Parakramabahu 2.5 kilometers from the park;
- Near the ruins of the library, you can see the Parakrama Sea, a lake created by the king’s order.
One of the most famous attractions in Sri Lanka according to TripAdvisor rating is Sigiriya (Lion Mountain). It is a cliff 370 m high with a complex of cultural monuments inside and on top. It is the subject of many hiking trails and is protected by UNESCO.
Tickets for the visit cost 3,900 rupees. The price includes a visit to the museum, where the history of all the structures will be told.
Panorama overlooking the Lion’s Rock:
- Take buses No48 and 49 from Pettah Bus Station in Colombo to the Inamaluwa stop. There you will change to bus No 490/1 from Dambulla to Sigiriya. The full journey time will be 6 hours.
- From Colombo, buses to Lion Mountain leave every 30 minutes.
What to see near Sigiriya:
- Pidrunagala Cave Temple, located 1.5 km north of Sigiriya, entrance tickets cost 200 rupees;
- The town of Dambula and the cave temple;
- Polonaruwa town with sights.
Temple of the Sacred Tooth of Buddha in Kandy
Kandy is the second most populous city literally in the center of Sri Lanka.
The city is famous for its Temple of the Sacred Tooth of Buddha, which is the main Buddhist temple of Sri Lanka. It is located on the shore of a man-made lake. The temple itself has preserved its original architecture, which can be seen from the outside and inside. There is a fee to enter the temple, 1500 rupees.
Photo: Buddha’s Tooth Temple – Kandy’s main attraction © Jorge Lascar / flickr.com
- To get to Kandy from Colombo you have to drive 120 km, going straight east by bus No1, departing from Pettah Bus Station. The journey time will be 4 hours.
- It is even faster to get from Colombo to Kandy by train, only 2.5 hours.
Besides this Buddhist shrine, there are other sights to see in Kandy:
- Asia’s largest botanical garden is 12 kilometers from the city.
- The Elephant Nursery, where baby elephants left without their mothers are raised.
- A stone’s throw from the Temple of the Sacred Tooth is the Kandy National Museum. It occupies part of the royal palace and houses the royal regalia and other historical artifacts. The cost of a ticket is 500 rupees. The International Museum of Buddhism is also located here in the palace. Admission to the museum costs Rs. 500.
- Not far from the Temple of the Buddha’s Tooth are four Hindu temples. There are Hindu temples outside Kandy as well.
- Within the city is an amazing reserve Udawattakele – forbidden forest, a piece of wildlife of Sri Lanka. It is a must-visit to understand what the real nature of the island looks like.
Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu Park is located 180 km north of Colombo and 30 km west of Anuradhapura. Within its boundaries are six dozen lakes. In terms of size Wilpattu Park is the largest in the world. It is also the oldest park on earth.
To see more sights in the park, it is worth renting a car. Admission costs 2,300 rupees.
There are a huge number of local and visiting birds. The Bengal ram, a large and active predator, is seen. You can also see the local swamp crocodiles, which reach 4 meters in length.
The park is home to deer and monkeys as well as elephants and leopards.
Photo: Leopard in Wilpattu National Park © Shashin Wijenayake / flickr.com
- You can get here by bus from Colombo and other cities. The driver must be warned in advance to stop at Wilpattu Park.
What to see nearby:
- Anuradhapura sights;
- Mihintale Temple.
Golden Temple in Dambulla
The Golden Temple is located in the small town of Dambulla and is part of an entire temple complex consisting of six temples and caves. The town is located near the rock of Sigiriya. You can see everything in 1 day.
The complex was built in the first century BC. In the twelfth century there were more than 70 statues of Buddha, covered with gilding.
Very close to the Golden Temple is the Museum of Buddhism. There is also a ticket office where you can buy tickets to the temple, which costs about 1,500 rupees.
There are many paintings on the earthly life of the Buddha, as well as water, which does not obey gravity and flows upwards.
Panorama from the mountainside where the temple is located:
- Dambula can be reached from almost any city by bus. They arrive at the town station, from where you can walk to the temple in 20 minutes or take a tuk-tuk for 100 rupees.
The sights of Sri Lanka are close by:
- If you step 100 meters away from the temple, you can see the Museum of Buddhism. Here is a collection of samples of paintings on the rocks. The ticket there costs 250 rupees.
- You can see the stupa Somavati. It is located at the foot of a small mountain on which the complex is located.
- Tourists will be interesting to visit and market Dambula, which is located near the bus station.
Unique Sinharaj Park
In Sinharaja Park, you can see what the rain forests of Sri Lanka looked like. Rare plants and animals exist in the small area of the park. Sri Lanka’s last wild elephants, leopards, monkeys, three species of endemic deer, reptiles and many insects are still found here.
The tour of the park is a walking tour. The flora of the rain forest is very widely represented here. Many plants are now found only in this park. It is not uncommon to encounter a tree 50 meters tall. There are beautiful waterfalls.
Entrance to the park is paid and costs 500 rupees. If you could not arrive early, you can stay overnight in a special camp, which is at each entrance, to go on a tour in the morning. A four-hour guided walk will cost 1,600 rupees and an eight-hour walk will cost 3,200 rupees.
Photo and description: Sinharaja Park © Stefan Krasowski / flickr.com
- From Colombo, Sinharaja Park can be reached by bus. The forest is very close to the city of Galle.
The nearest attractions are in the town of Unawatuna:
- Japanese Pagoda, admission is free;
- Unawatuna Temple, admission is also free;
- Yatagala Temple on the outskirts of Unawatuna;
- Turtle Farm, entrance is 400 rupees.
One of the most beautiful places in Sri Lanka is Adama Peak. It is a mountain of 2243 m, the top of which can be climbed as part of the tour.
At the top is a depression that resembles a giant footprint. This is the “sacred footprint” of Buddha. For followers of Hinduism, it is the footprint of the supreme deity Shiva. And Christians consider this footprint the footprint of the Apostle Thomas. A temple is built over the footprint.
To get up to the temple, you have to overcome more than 5000 steps. The length of the stairs is 8 km. After every 150 meters of the stairs are made platforms where you can rest, buy water and food.
Many people start climbing at night to reach the top by dawn. The stairs are well lit. At the top of the peak is always windy and cold, and you need to bring warm clothes.
The ascent takes anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, and the descent takes no more than an hour and a half. Admission to the stairs for ascent is free.
Photo: Adam’s Peak view at dawn © Manu Praba / flickr.com
- Adam’s Peak can be reached from Colombo by bus from Pettah bus station to Hutton. You can also come here by train.
What to visit in Sri Lanka nearby:
- Badulla town and attractions;
- Sinharaja Rain Forest;
- Elephant Nursery in Pinavelle.
At the foot of Adam’s Peak is the town of Ratnapura. From Colombo you can come here by bus or train. The journey is 100 km long.
It is the center of Lankan gems. The largest sapphires in the world are found here. There are no modern high-rise buildings and entertainment venues in the city. There are strange huts everywhere, which close the entrances to the nuggets of gems.
Tourists who come here with a tour will see how they are mined. The most daring ones can go down into the mines, go underground, and look at the structure of the mines.
The labor of the gem miners is very primitive. The rock is extracted with a pick and shovel, and then washed in the local river. The sludge of the larger fractions is picked by hand. The tour will continue to the factory where the mined gems are processed.
Photo and description: gem mining in Ratnapura © hassage / flickr.com
What to see in Ratnapura:
- Ratnapura has a state museum with collections of jewelry made from local gems, tools from Sri Lanka’s most primitive tribe, the Veddas, and the remains of prehistoric animals.
- Near the city is a very revered temple of Maha Saman Dewal.
- The local market, which is located right in the center of town. This market is what many people visit Ratnapura for. Here you can buy gems very cheaply.
Peradeniya Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden of Sri Lanka is one of the best in the world.
The largest river in Sri Lanka, the Mahaweli, runs through the park. Here it forms a loop. The park was created on the site of the old royal gardens, which were laid out back in the 13th century.
There are collections of heat-loving conifers, ebonite trees, palms, bamboos, ficuses, ferns. The main treasure of the park is a collection of ornamental and species orchids.
There are corners devoted to the design of gardens and parks. These include a suspension bridge, a Japanese garden, a flower garden, alleys of different palms, a spice garden, and its own waterfall.
The garden has name trees planted by famous people from around the globe. Including trees planted by Nicholas II and Yuri Gagarin.
There is a fee to enter the garden. The cost of admission is 1500 rupees.
Photo: Peradeniya Garden © Buddhika Rangebandara / flickr.com
- From Colombo you can take a bus to Kandy. In Kandy, take buses No644 and No 652 to the stop called “Botanicgarden”.
What sights to see nearby:
- Temple of the Buddha’s Tooth;
- Royal Palace of Kandy;
Sri Lanka has beautiful beaches with the clearest ocean water. Hikkaduwa is a resort located on the south coast of Sri Lanka about 100 km from Colombo. If you drive from Bandaranaike Airport, a cab will cost about 9,000 rupees.
The beaches here are large with a wide strip of excellent clean sand. There are beaches open to all winds with a real ocean wave, and there are indoor beaches where the wave is not felt at all.
There is a coral reef. It was severely damaged by the 2004 tsunami waves. You can see swimming in shallow water sea turtles and a variety of fish.
Hikkaduwa Coral Garden is one of the most popular attractions in Sri Lanka.
Photo: Sri Lankan coast near Hikkaduwa © Amila Tennakoon / flickr.com
What else to see in Hikkaduwa:
- National Park;
- Gemstone Mines;
- Monument to the victims of the tsunami;
- Mask Museum 10 kilometers from Hikaduwa.
Sri Lanka sights on the map
On the map below you will find the location of all attractions in Sri Lanka in Russian.
To display only the points of interest on the map, click on the menu icon in the top left corner and uncheck all categories except “places of interest”.
Useful information about Sri Lanka
Which Sri Lanka sights do you think are worth seeing?
The 9 Most Beautiful Places in Sri Lanka
To Europeans, Sri Lanka is best known for its huge tea plantations, which look like green waves shimmering in the sun. But travelers come here not only to see these vast fields, similar to the sea, and to learn about the techniques of tea making. They’re drawn to the other side of the island: the famous nine-arch bridge, walks through the streets of the port city of Galle, Mount Sigiriya, Ravana Falls, the Golden Temple of Dambulla, and dozens of other attractions. We tell you what to make sure to include in your itinerary.
Would you like to swim in a waterfall? In Sri Lanka, you’ll have that opportunity. In the heart of Sri Lanka’s mountainous landscape is the 25-meter-high Ravana Waterfall. The waterfall is surrounded on all sides by mountains: it looks majestic. There are local cafes and restaurants everywhere, so you won’t go hungry. In general, in Sri Lanka to die of hunger is almost impossible: coconut trees are everywhere, which will be glad if you take off a couple of pieces and thus facilitate their life. The only thing left is to learn how to climb the coconut trunks, which are only five or six stories high. Any Lankan will tell you it’s a cakewalk: all you have to do is use a strap.
How to get there? The waterfall is located near the town of Ella. You can get here by taking a local tuk-tuk transport or by booking a tour with the Lankans. You need to bring warm clothes, because the waterfall is located in the mountains and the temperature is lower than on the coast of the island. At the highest points it can reach only +18 degrees.
Tea lovers are sure to come here. There are hectares of tea plantations on the island. There is so much of it that everywhere you look in the mountains of Sri Lanka, you see a tea plantation everywhere. All this goodness is in private hands, not public. Tea is harvested every day and exclusively by women – 10 kilograms of tea before lunch and 10 kilograms after. The colorfulness and scale of the tea plantations and mountain ranges will be remembered for a lifetime.
How to get there. Take the train at Nuwara Eliya in central Sri Lanka. Ticket prices are $2-$10.
3. tea factory
Once you’ve seen enough tea beauty, you’ll probably want to try the drink itself. Then you go to the tea factory. Here you can learn all about tea-making techniques and buy yourself a bag or two of green, black, or white tea.
While you walk around the factory and think about what kind of tea to buy, the Sri Lankans assiduously go through the tea leaves in huge containers, helping them quickly get rid of moisture, and the guide will tell you that there are strong tea and loose tea, how to distinguish them, from what leaves white tea is made, and why green tea is better than black tea.
How to get there? The tea factory is also located in Nuwara Eliya, surrounded by mountains of tea plantations. Book a tour with the locals. Other factories can be found listed.
In the small village of Gotuvala, at 945 meters above sea level, rises a 30-meter nine-arch bridge, also called “Bridge to the Sky.” Construction began in the twentieth century, when Sri Lanka was a British colony. The bridge is unique in that it consists entirely of dense rock, brick and cement. The bridge was built without the use of iron, and therefore the cost of such construction was so low that the British were not confident in the reliability of the structure. Local people tell the legend that after the bridge was fully built, the British forced the builders to stand under it before the first train ran over the bridge. The train moved and the bridge remained in place.
How to get there. The bridge is located in the village of Gotuvala. You can get here from Demodara town by tuk-tuk or by train from Ella to Demodara and from there walk to the bridge.
The peak is named after the sacred Adam’s Peak (the mountain where the Buddha’s imprint is preserved) because of its external resemblance. The height of the mountain is 1141 meters above sea level. You can just admire the mountain, or you can climb it. On many websites can find information that the mountain is quite easy to climb, but take into account the 30-degree heat, searing sun and humidity. You should take a liter or two of drinking water with you and be prepared for the ascent to take a couple of hours. At the top stands a figure of Buddha and guards the small peak of Adam, and the view offers spectacular views of waterfalls and mountains – so that a little inconvenience with the local climate is worth the ascent. For the thrill seekers on the mountain, there is a small boulder at the edge of the cliff, a favorite spot for photos. You can stand on it, sit down, lie down or jump up, whatever you are brave enough to do.
How to get there? The mountain is not far from the Ninear Bridge in the small village of Ella. Little Adam’s Peak can be reached on foot from the Nineyear Bridge, by tuk-tuk, or by booking a tour.
Another great place to climb is the Sigiriya Rock Plateau. The mountain is 370 meters above sea level.
In the 5th century AD, King Kassapa built a fortress on the mountain. The lion’s paws, preserved to this day, led to the top. Around the mountain was a whole complex of pools and gardens, where almost the first fountains in the world beat from the ground. Some of them still work today.
Before you go up, you can see all of the pools, fountains, and structures that are still there today. From the information sign at the entrance, you will know what animals you can meet here: crocodiles, monkeys and varans. Don’t go near the monkeys if you have any belongings with you or if you wear glasses.
After walking around the entire complex, built under King Kassap, you have to climb Sigiriya itself. It is done by a metal staircase and leads through the famous lion’s paws. There used to be a lion’s head on the mountain whose open mouth served as the main entrance to the king’s palace. The ascent lasts about 2 hours, after which the conqueror of the mountain offers an incredible panorama of Sri Lanka. Also at the top of the mountain is preserved throne of King Kassap. In general, the climb is also tough because of the local climate – don’t forget to bring enough water.
How to get there? To visit Sigiriya, you can book a tour with local guides. It is most advantageous to buy a tour with visits to several sights at once, such as Dambulla, the Royal Botanical Gardens, Little Adam’s Peak and Sigiriya. But if you’re traveling on your own, you can stay at any hotel in Dambulla and from there take a bus or a rented scooter to Sigiriya. The entrance fee for a foreign adult is $30, for a child $15.
Locals are proud to tell visitors about the Royal Botanical Gardens. After all, here is just an incredible number of plants – about 4000 species. These are medicinal plants, spices, flowers and various types of trees. The garden is also famous for its collection of orchids and palm trees. There is an alley of memorial plants planted by prominent personalities. For example, there is a tree that was planted by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on the grounds of the garden.
How to get there? The garden is located 5.5 kilometers west of the city of Kandy. Since the garden is very large, many travelers order electric cars that take them around the garden itself and stop at the places where the most valuable or interesting plants grow. The garden is open daily from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm. The cost of admission is $10.
Sri Lanka is considered a country of Buddhism – 70% practice Buddhism, 13% Hinduism, 9% Islam, and 7% Christianity. There are many Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, which can be visited by Buddhists as well as anyone else. One of the most famous is the Dambulla Temple, carved into the rock. It houses the largest collection of Buddha statues, many of which are over 2,000 years old. The walls and ceiling of the temple are decorated with frescoes in which the viewer can observe key moments from the life of the Buddha. There is a golden Dagobah, a 30-meter statue of Buddha, and a history museum on the temple grounds.
How to get here? You can get here by settling in the town of Dambulla, and from there come by tuk-tuk or book a local tour. The cost to visit the temple is $10 per adult and $5 per child. The temple is open from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm.
When the Dutch set foot in Sri Lanka in the seventeenth century, they built the fort of Galle in the city previously owned by the Portuguese. They also built a lighthouse, temples and a prison on the fort. Halle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the main attractions of the island. Walking through the ancient stone-lined streets of the city, make your way to the Grote Kerk Reformed Church. The church was built in the 18th century by Gertrude Le Grande, wife of Commander Gasparus de Jong, as a token of gratitude for the birth of a long-awaited child. The decoration of the church is modest: directly above the central entrance is a small organ, and there are tombstones on the floor at the entrance. At that time, wealthy Europeans could buy a burial place in the church. In addition to the massive fortress with high walls, there is a lighthouse, one of the symbols of Galle, on the coast of the city.
How to get there? Getting to the city is not difficult – by local train or bus. The price of the ticket depends on the place of landing. If you go from Hikkaduwa city, for example, it will cost less than $ 1 one way.
Visiting all the sights will not give a complete picture of this beautiful colorful island. Take a couple of days to walk the streets of the cities, visit the local markets, bus stations, and supermarkets. Don’t miss a ride on local transport – a bus ride will be memorable for a lifetime. Local buses run so fast you’ll practically have to jump in at every stop. Such a fast ride in general is quite surprising, because many Lankans are very slow. There are practically no traffic signs, no traffic lights, and everything is honking, creating a cacophony on the road. And you’re terrified and pray to Buddha, a statue of which is in every bus near the driver, to have mercy on you and help you get off the bus in this life, not the next. It is also worth a ride on the local electric train. You don’t have to hop on, but you can jump off at any time – the doors are always open. More travel tips for Sri Lanka can be found here.