To help inspire or plan your trip to Sri Lanka, some of its major attractions for travellers are shown below, including some of the best natural, historical, cultural and adventure sites in the country. These include all of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for Sri Lanka which represent the best of the world's cultural and natural heritage.
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Anuradhapura was founded in the 4th century BC and was the political and religious capital of Sri Lanka for 1,300 years until it was abandoned in 993 following a series of attacks by invaders from southern India. The ruins include palaces, monasteries and monuments such as the Ruvanvalisaya Dagoba (with a 90m high dome) and the Smadhi Buddha. A sanctuary near the Brazen Palace contains a bodhi tree which supposedly originated from a cutting from the tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment. Close to Anuradhapura lies Mihintale, the site where the King of Anuradhapura was converted to Buddhism in 247 BC and therefore regarded as the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. There are many pagodas, monasteries and caves in the site which is accessed by climbing 1840 stone steps, offering spectacular views over the surrounding plains and back to Anuradhapura.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Sacred City of Anuradhapura


After the destruction of Anuradhapura in the 10th century, Polonnaruwa became the capital city. The Chola occupiers built many monuments to Shiva and their Brahmanism religion before the reconquest of Ceylon in 1070. The city's golden age occurred in the 12th century when the rulers Parakramabahu I and Nissamkamalla I built a vast garden city of palaces and temples whose ruins are well preserved. Monuments of note included the Lankatilaka with a huge image of the Buddha, the rock sculptures of the Gil Vahara, the wall paintings of Tivanka Pilimage which illustrate previous lives of the Buddha, the enormous relic chamber of Rankot Vihara and the Temple of the Tooth Relic which once held the tooth of the Buddha. The city fell into decline in the 13th century and the capital was moved to Kurunegala.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

Lion Rock of Sigiriya

The Lion Rock at Sigiriya is a granite peak that is 370 metres high. In the 5th century, King Kassapa I built a fortress on the slopes and summit of the rock. A series of steps and steel stairways leads to the top which offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape and contains the ruins of the king's summer palace. Halfway up beneath a rock overhang are the famous frescoes known as the Sigiriya Damsels while poems inscribed on the rock are some of the most ancient texts of the Sinhalese language.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ancient City of Sigiriya

Golden Temple of Dambulla

The Golden Temple of Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka, which has been a site of pilgrimage for Buddhists for over two millennia. Dating to the 1st century BC, the temple comprises five caves and has been continuously renewed and transformed since. The colourful Buddhist mural paintings cover some 2,100 square metres and there are also 157 Buddhist statues.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Golden Temple of Dambulla


Kandy became capital of the kingdom in 1592 and resisted European domination for hundreds of years. It is most famous as a scared site of pilgrimage for Buddhists, who flock to see Dalada Maligawa, the Temple of the Tooth, which contains the sacred tooth of the Buddha, taken from his funeral pyre in 543 BC and brought to Sri Lanka in the 4th century AD. Each evening the casket containing the tooth relic is put on display during the Thewawa ceremony whilst the city hosts the spectacular Esala Perahera festival every July or August, when thousands of dancers and hundreds of elephants march through the town with a replica of the tooth carried on a richly decorated elephant. Elsewhere in town, the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens contain 4,000 species of plants including a massive weeping fig tree, numerous orchids and the rare Coco de Mer coconut tree while a performance of Kandian dancers and fire eaters is worth checking out.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Sacred City of Kandy


Kitugala is located by a large river surrounded by thick jungle. A pleasant place to relax with a jungle walk or river swim, Kitugala was the location used for the film 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' in 1956. From Kitugala, it's possible to climb Adam's Peak between December and May - this is a strenuous overnight ascent of 4hrs which many Buddhist pilgrims take. You will reach the summit with its Buddhist temple for sunrise.

Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya was an old British hill station located at 1,890 metres where officials and planters would head in the summer to escape the heat of the plains. The town lies in the shadow of Pidurutalagala, Sri Lanka’s highest mountain at 2,524 metres. The town has a faded colonial charm in places like the Grand Hotel and the Hill Club as well as many British style houses and a racecourse.

Horton Plains

Horton Plains is Sri Lanka's highest plateau at 2,500 metres and is a region of beautiful and diverse scenery from mountains to grasslands and forests. You may spot wildlife like sambar deer, leopard, slender loris and purple monkey as well as colourful butterflies and rare bird species. There are spectacular views from 'World's End' where the plateau plunges over 1,000 metres in a straight drop and on a clear day, you can see all the way to the Indian Ocean 50km away. The region also includes the spectacular Baker’s Falls.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Central Highlands of Sri Lanka

Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park in the south of Sri Lanka contains large herds of wild elephant as well as macaque and larger monkeys, leopard, spotted deer and crocodile. The park also includes the Elephant Transit Home which provides shelter and rehabilitation for 30 orphaned or abandoned baby elephants, who you can view at feeding time.

Yala National Park

Yala National Park is the largest reserve in Sri Lanka and is home to all the major mammals found in the country. These include elephant, leopard, sloth bear, wild boar, chital and sambar deer as well as smaller species like black-naped hare, grey Langur, porcupine and various types of mongoose. Over 140 bird species have also been recorded in the park. The park's diverse habitats include dense jungle, open parkland with huge rocky outcrops and huge sand dunes before it meets the sea.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Sinharaja Forest Reserve is Sri Lanka's last viable area of primary tropical rainforest. 60% of the trees found here are endemic and the reserve is also home to many endemic species of mammals, birds, butterflies, insects, reptiles and amphibians.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Old Town of Galle

The old fortified town of Galle was founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century and extended by the Dutch in the 17th century. Located on the south-west coast of Sri Lanka, Galle was an important trading port. Galle Fort spans 90 acres, inside walls defended by 14 bastions, within which lie the Clock Tower magnificent colonial churches, houses and other buildings.

UNESCO World Heritage Site: Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications