Adventure awaits you on the paradise island of Sri Lanka. Pristine sun-kissed beaches, lush green tea plantations, wildlife, breathtaking waterfalls, historically rich temples and incredible ancient ruins are what’s in store for you in the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.
Well, that’s not all. From scenic train rides to exciting safaris, you will find something to be happy about here.
Here are the top must-see places in Sri Lanka that cannot be missed.
Our List of Must-see Places in Sri Lanka
You just cannot come to Sri Lanka and not see Sigiriya, the 8th wonder of the world. Nestled in the Matale district, Sigiriya also popularly known as ‘Sinhagiri’ or ‘Lion Rock’ is a rock fortress with archaeological significance. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this 180-meter-tall rock is an architectural masterpiece with its palace ruins, beautifully landscaped gardens, fascinating frescoes, the mirror wall and waterways. It is believed that King Kasyapa built his palace on this rock to protect himself against his brother Moggallana’s invasions.
Don’t forget to check out the lion’s gate with remnants of two giant paws at the entrance, the mirror wall and the frescoes! The 1200-step climb to the very top is truly worth it for the stunning views of the surroundings. This place could get crowded, so if you are planning on climbing the rock, start off early in the morning.
Situated in the heart of the city of Kandy, the last kingdom of Sri Lankan kings, the Temple of the Tooth Shrine is by far the most worshipped temple on the island, a majority of Sri Lankans being Buddhists. Locally renowned as ‘Dalada Maligawa’, the temple houses the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha.
Visit this sacred temple and trust me you will be inspired. If you happen to visit Kandy in July or August make sure to witness the ‘Esala Perahera’, a vibrant parade of local dancers, drummers and elephants on the streets.
The Nine Arch Bridge also known as the ‘Bridge in the Sky’ is architecture at its best. Nestled amidst lush green breathtaking tea plantations, this 80-100-feet-high, 300-feet wide viaduct bridge between Ella and Demodara built by the British is truly worth a visit. The bridge is believed to be built entirely with cement, stones and bricks without the use of steel.
Taking the scenic 7-hour train ride from Kandy to Ella through charming villages, cascading waterfalls and tunnels is one of the best ways to get to the impressive Nine Arch Bridge. You can also reach the bridge by walking along the tracks from Ella town or taking a tuk-tuk from Ella right up to the bridge. Make sure to take that perfect photo with the train!
If you are the adventurous kind go on a hike to Little Adam’s Peak in Ella and you will enjoy every bit of it. The climb to the 1141-meter-high mountain is quite easy and only takes about 1-2 hours to complete. Enjoy the picturesque surroundings on the way and views from the very top will leave you speechless! You will find a lot of good spots for that photo you’ve been waiting to take. If you are daring, you can also climb Ella Rock and try ‘Flying Ravana’, a zipline that stretches over half a kilometer offering you sweeping views over luscious tea plantations and mountains.
Lipton Seat is a must-visit when in Sri Lanka. Located on Poonagala hill, an hour away from the town of Haputale, it is a spectacular viewpoint over beautifully landscaped tea plantations named after Sir Thomas Lipton, who was instrumental in introducing tea to Sri Lanka. You can take a tuk-tuk or if you are up for it go on a 7-kilometer hike to the top.
You just can’t get enough of the stunning views, where you will get to see up to 7 provinces from the observation platform when the view is clear. Make sure to get to the top as early as possible to enjoy a breathtaking sunrise with the hills turning green from blue. It is truly a wonderful sight! Don’t forget to take a photo with the statue of Lipton sitting on a bench and the beautiful scenery behind before the fog covers everything.
The Sinharaja Rainforest – The Best Nature Trail
If you are a nature enthusiast you should definitely visit Sinharaja. Located in the southwest lowland wet zone on the island, Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve is the last remaining primary rainforest in Sri Lanka spanning 18,900 acres. Home to a wide variety of fauna, flora and wildlife, the rainforest rightly deserves its UNESCO World Heritage status.
Over 60% of the plants are endemic, while it is also home to over 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic mammals and to amphibians, reptiles, bird species and butterflies. Go on a nature trail to explore this pristine rainforest and you will not be disappointed.
Horton Plains National Park – A Natural Phenomenon
Located in the Nuwara Eliya District in the Central Province, Horton Plains National Park is spread over Kirigalpotha and Totupolakanda, two of the highest peaks in Sri Lanka. At an elevation of 2000 meters above sea level, the park features vast open grasslands, cloud forests, flora and fauna endemic to Sri Lanka, incredible waterfalls and an abundance of wildlife.
The highlights of the park ‘The Big World’s End’, ‘The Little World’s End’ and Baker’s Falls are not to be missed. To soak up the magnificent views take the 10-kilometer circular trail and you will be amazed by its stunning landscapes. You can get to the park from either Pattipola or Ohiya.
Also declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa cities are packed with ancient ruins. It is a must to witness these majestic awe-inspiring ruins when in Sri Lanka.
Don’t miss the Jetawanaramaya and Ruwanwelisaya, two of the largest stupas in the world, Sandakada Pahana, a semi-circular carved stone, an architectural masterpiece in the ancient city of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa Vatadage, Gal Viharaya featuring four stone-carved Buddha statues in the city of Polonnaruwa. You will get a one-of-a-kind experience exploring these ancient capitals.
This is yet another remarkable attraction in Sri Lanka that you cannot miss while on vacation. Considered the ‘Golden Temple of Dambulla’, the sacred Dambulla Cave Temple is a perfectly preserved cave that features 2000-year-old Buddhist art and over 150 Buddha statues.
While you are there explore the Golden Buddha Statue and the religious and cultural artefacts. From a Buddhist monastery to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cave has earned its glory.
Go on a safari adventure into the wild to witness the best of Sri Lanka’s wildlife in their natural habitats. Yala National Park is a popular national park to witness elephants, a variety of birds, crocodiles, monkeys and water buffalos.
It is also home to leopards endemic to Sri Lanka and if you spot one, you are one lucky traveler! Yala National Park is however not the only option for you to get closer to the wild. You can choose between Udawalawe, Bundala, Wilpattu and Minneriya National Parks too.
Galle is unarguably a tourist hotspot in Sri Lanka. Galle Fort remains a highlight of the town with its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. You will absolutely love the perfect blend of Dutch, Portuguese and British architecture here.
Explore the cobblestoned streets dotted with fancy cafes, souvenir shops, spas and boutiques selling exquisite gems and you will not be bored. Don’t forget to see the lighthouse and capture that Instagram-worthy photo.
Secret Beach – Ultimate Relaxation in Mirissa
Sri Lanka is blessed with golden sandy beaches and Secret Beach in Mirissa is no exception. A 5-minute tuk-tuk ride from Mirissa town will take you to this secluded beach. It is ideal to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and relax while enjoying the picturesque surroundings. The crystal-clear water is just perfect for a swim too.
Pigeon Island – Snorkeler’s Haven
Located about a kilometer off the coast of Nilaveli, Pigeon Island is a snorkeling paradise. Being one of the two marine national parks in Sri Lanka, Pigeon Island is home to colorful coral reefs and reef fish. You will also find sharks, sea turtles, eels, angel fish and parrot fish and you will discover a whole new world underwater. Make sure to wear slippers at all times while exploring the islands as coral cuts can be dangerous.
If you have a craze for surfing you are going to be extremely happy. But whether you are an expert or just a beginner at surfing you will not be disappointed in Sri Lanka. Try to tackle the waves at Weligama Beach if you are a beginner and at Arugam Bay if you are really a surfing expert. At Arugam Bay, you will also get surf schools if you are interested. Apart from surfing you will surely love the atmosphere and the vibe at night with live music and mouth-watering snacks.
Seen a Blue Whale before? Well, luckily you are going to! This is a rare kind of opportunity you get in Sri Lanka. You are likely to spot these massive creatures in and around Mirissa, Hikkaduwa and Trincomalee. Tours can be arranged for sightseeing and you will have a higher chance of spotting Blue Whales in the month of April on the west coast and during the months of July to September on the east coast. Blue Whales are not the only ones you’ll see. Try to spot dolphins and Humpback Whales too.
Sri Lanka is truly a gem in the Indian Ocean. You will definitely be able to tick off a lot from your bucket lists and will surely have the best time of your life in this beautiful island nation. So book your ticket right away for an amazing adventure in Sri Lanka.
Is Sri Lanka a resort destination?
Absolutely, we think so! Many of them are located at or very near these must-see places in Sri Lanka, which is ideal. If you are looking for real hidden gems, properties that offer luxury and natural beauty at a very reasonable price, then you need to look hard at Sri Lanka.
Here is a list of some amazing beachfront resorts in Sri Lanka that we think you will enjoy.
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