Defined by many as one of the finest islands in the world, Sri Lanka has seduced travelers for centuries. It has so much variety to offer and is definitely a place you must visit once in a lifetime. In this charming island, you will have the opportunity to experience and see so many different things. From beautiful beaches to ancient ruins, from picturesque cities to local temples, not to mention the amazing diversity of its wildlife. The good news is that Sri Lanka entered in travelers radar only lately. It means that now is the perfect time to get on a plane and go there! Here is a list of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka for first-time visitors that will transform your travel into a life-changing experience.
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1 – Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Also known as Lion’s Rock, Sigiriya is an astonishing ancient fortress built atop a rock and named from a giant lion’s paws at the entrance of it. Take part in one of the guided tours of Sigiriya to discover this UNESCO World Heritage site, often referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
There is also an interesting story behind this beauty from the 5th century. King Kashyapa, the illegitimate son of King Dhatusena usurped his throne after killing him. He built his fortress and pleasure palace on top of the Sigiriya rock for the fear of the return of the throne’s rightful owner, Moggallana. With his marvelous gardens and amazing architecture, this is really a place every traveler must visit.
Check out the recommended hotels in Sigiriya
2 – Kandy and the Temple of the Tooth
Located in the heart of the island, hidden away between beautiful precipitous green hills, Kandy is the second largest city of the country and the last ancient Kingdom capital. This marvelous city is home to one of the most sacred Buddhist temples in the world, the Temple of the Tooth. Discover the best ways to visit Kandy and its beauties. Private tours, day trips from Colombo, and many more!
It hosts between July and August the spectacular Festival of the Tooth (Kandy Perahera), a vibrant religious procession with beautifully adorned elephants, drummers, fire eaters, energetic dancers and stilt walkers. It is something you definitely need to see! Kandy enters easily between the best places to visit in Sri Lanka.
Check out the recommended hotels in Kandy
3 – Adam’s Peak
Adam’s Peak, Sri Pada for the locals, is a 2.243 m mountain in the central region of Sri Lanka. This beautiful peak has been an important pilgrimage site for the last 2 thousand years.
According to the Buddhist tradition, it is a footprint of Lord Buddha. For Christians instead, it is Adam’s first step after being exiled from the Garden of Eden. Hindus believe, on the other hand, that is Lord Shiva’s footprint.
The suggested option is to start the trekking in the night to get on top of the peak just before the sunrise. Something you will hardly forget! The trekking is quite challenging, it takes most people 2-4 hours to summit and 1-2 hours to come back down. But visiting this place is definitely worthed. With no doubts, this is one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. It is important though to avoid the crowds: better to avoid the Sri Lankan New Year (mid-April), full moon, and even the weekend.
Check out the recommended hotels near Adam’s Peak
4 – Yala National Park
Sri Lanka is a wildlife lovers paradise, one of the best places in Asia for seeing wildlife. Indeed in Yala, the most famous National Park in the country, you will be surrounded by an incredible variety of species. Experience a Safari to watch closely this amazing wildlife.
Located in the south-east part of the Island, Yala has the highest concentration of leopards in the world. In addition, it hosts many other species as Buffalos, Elephants, Monkeys, Crocodiles and a huge variety of Birds. If you are animals and nature lovers, this is one of the most incredible places to visit in Sri Lanka!
Check out the recommended hotels in Yala National Park
5 – Arugam Bay
Whether you are looking for some epic waves to surf or you just want to relax and enjoy the beach life this is the right place for you. This beautiful bay is located in the dry part of Sri Lanka and is famous for being one of the best surf spots in the country. But there’s more: peaceful atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and a relaxing vibe, very different from the more touristic and crowded south-west coast.
In case you need a break from the sun and sea air, you can also visit the town’s historic temples or the nearby Kumana National Park. So close your eyes, listen to the sound of the ocean and breath deeply. You are in the right place!
Check out the recommended hotels in Arugam Bay
6 – Galle and his Dutch Fort
This incredible city, surely one of the unmissable places to visit in Sri Lanka, is full of charming Dutch-era villas and delightful seaside views. Galle is really delighted to explore on foot and most of the travelers remain impressed by his beauties and his fascinating atmosphere. There are many different activities in Galle to enjoy the best of this city.
The city hosts another Unesco World Heritage, Galle Dutch Fort, a walled enclave surrounded on three sides by the ocean. Built by the Portuguese and finished by the Dutch in the 17th century, this fort really deserves his reputation!
Check out the recommended hotels in Galle
7 – Mirissa
The perfect place to let the days slip by without a care in the world. Mirissa is a small beach village where it is very hard to get bored. Many travelers found their paradise here. It is definitely one of the best beach towns in the country!
There are many reasons why you will love this place. Here you will find beautiful clean beaches, watersports activities, delicious food and a nice nightlife. But most of all here you will have the unique opportunity to experience Whale Watching! Seriously, how could you miss this place?
Check out the recommended hotels in Mirissa
8 – Nuwara Eliya and Tea Plantations
Nuwara Eliya is better known as Little England of Sri Lanka. The climate, surroundings, and architecture of this area are different than other villages. Thanks to its cooler climate, it is the most important area for tea production in Sri Lanka. The area holds many natural beauties, like waterfalls, hills, tea plantations, and the towering Pidurutalagala, the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka. This place is a must to visit in Sri Lanka, and once you get there don’t forget to have a cup of tea!
Nuwara Eliya is located between Kandy and Ella. To get there you can take the world famous Sri Lanka most beautiful train ride. A ticket from Kandy will cost you around $2,50. The ride takes 4 hours from Kandy and has been mentioned as one of the most beautiful train routes in the world.
Check out the recommended hotels in Nuwara Eliya
9 – Polonnaruwa
Kings ruled the central plains of Sri Lanka from Polonnaruwa 800 years ago, when it was a thriving commercial and religious center. The glories of that age can be found in the archaeological treasures that still give a pretty good idea of how the city looked in its heyday. You’ll find the archaeological park a delight to explore, with hundreds of ancient structures – tombs and temples, statues and stupas – in a compact core. If you like history and walking around some incredible ruins, this is surely one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka.
Don’t miss the historical treasures this UNESCO UNESCO World Heritage Site has to offer. We recommend you to visit the Polonnaruwa Museum, the Quadrangle (At the heart of the ancient city), the impressive walls of the Lankatilaka, and the unique Gal Vihara. Here lay four magnificent Buddha statues hewn out of a granite cliff-face by unknown artists. The highlight is the majestic 14m reclining Buddha!
Check out the recommended hotels in Polonnaruwa
10 – Dambulla Golden Cave Temple
Declared as one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1991, the Dambulla temple has five caves and 157 statues of the Lord Buddha, many paintings on the ceilings and walls that emphasize the artistic talent of ancient days. Buddha images were first created here over 2000 years ago, and over the centuries subsequent kings added to and embellished the cave art.
This beautiful Royal Rock Temple complex sits about 160m above the road in the southern part of Dambulla. From the caves there are superb views over the surrounding countryside; Sigiriya is clearly visible some 20km distant.
Check out the recommended hotels in Dambulla
11 – Colombo
Colombo is the commercial capital and largest city of Sri Lanka. It has become a worthy destination in its own right and makes an excellent start – or finish – to your Sri Lankan adventures. Being the gateway to Sri Lanka for most travelers, it tempted many of them to simply pass through this diverse and interesting city. Make sure you don’t make the same mistake. Colombo is definitely one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka!
Rich history, eclectic culture and buzzy culinary scene, the Sri Lankan capital deserve to be more than just a side note to the rest of the country. Discover all the activities and tours of Colombo. Visit the National Museum, grab a tuk-tuk, go to the spectacular Gangaramaya Temple and to the Beira Lake. These are just a few things you can do to visit this beautiful and controversial city where you never get bored!
We hope this list of places to visit in Sri Lanka has inspired you. Did we miss something? Please do not hesitate to leave a comment if you know more wonderful places to visit! Enjoy your Trip 🙂
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