Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, island of the Chera Kings, gained independence in 1948 from England, and Ceylon’s name was finally changed to Sri Lanka in 1972 when they became a Republic. Ceylon Tea is a staple grown on the island, and the name Ceylon gives it an ancient title that is filled with timeless history. Named as an “Isle of Serendip”, with a chance for a happy time, it is a very fitting name for this island, and is where the word serendipity originates from.
Sri Lanka also goes by other names. The Pearl of the Indian Ocean, and tear drop of India are other common titles. Known by the locals as, “Muthu Ataya”, or “My Pearl”. A lovely pearl it is. Sri Lanka is full of ancient history, timeless temples, and beautiful beaches.
Besides Sri Lanka’s rich heritage and beautiful landscape, the people of Sri Lanka are incredibly lovely. They will not hesitate to show you their beautiful island pearl.
There is much to learn about Sri Lanka. This is why we have compiled the Top 10 Sites in Sri Lanka.
1. Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya Rock or Lion Fortress. The ever-soaring rock that rests among the clouds and strikes wonder and curiosity for someone who has never seen it before. Pictures can be deceiving as it is much more difficult and complex than the pictures lead on. Sitting 200 meters high, you can climb halfway to see views of mountains and the entrance to the 2nd part of the climb, or adventure to the top and take in the breathtaking views. Sigiriya provides an amazing 360-degree view all around you. The hike to the top is completely “stairs,” so no need to be concerned. Even school children can take this hike.
Sigiriya is a site located in the North-Central part of Sri Lanka, near a town called Dambulla. This is not just a rock in itself. It is an entire archeological and ancient history site in Sri Lanka that served as a magnificent fortress for a king. On the top of the you will find the foundation of an ancient palace.
Also called the 8thwonder of the world, Sigiriya rock has plenty to offer you on your hiking trip. Dating all the way back to the 8th century, you can find canals and gardens where the old city inhabited for many years. It was added as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1982.
If you make a trip to the island pearl, don’t forget to make Sigiriya one of your stops. You will see more monkeys than you can count, but be careful, they are known to steal snacks out of your hand.
2. Galle Fort
When you have spent a lovely day at any Southern Coast Beach, you can choose to stay at the Galle Fort, or just visit the shopping area for the day.
Sri Lanka has a lot of bustling traffic and busy vehicles with places to go and people to see.
In the Fort, however, you can walk along the cobblestone roads without the endless lines of traffic on the street.
Galle Fort is home to many places to shop. Get some handwoven items from Barefoot, stop for Gelato or ice cream, or if you are hungry later you can get some fabulous food at a so many little restaurants. We don’t think you will leave Galle Fort hungry. And if you do, you must have tried to refrain!
Once you have done all of the eating and shopping, take a stroll around and see all of the history. Locals still live inside the fort, and you can spot some small homes around your walk. We offer a guided walking tour of the fort, and we recommend this tour for early in the morning as most sites are in direct sunlight. You’ll learn so much history, but you’ll need your sunscreen.
Made in the 16thcentury by the Portuguese and then taken over by the Dutch in the 17thcentury, Galle Fort is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s combination of Asian design mixed with European architecture which is very interesting to view.
3. Yala National Park
Our most popular safari! Sri Lanka varies in its seasons in the fact that some months have more rain than others. The best time to visit Yala National Park is in the drier months from February to June. Although April will be your hottest month of the year. (check out our article on “Best Times to Visit Sri Lanka”)
Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s most famous and frequently visited parks in the island. Here many people have spotted leopards, especially in the early evening times. If you are looking for a rugged safari, take a jeep ride into Yala where you will spot loads of wildlife!
4. Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe National Park is another great option for a safari bucket list checkoff. Similar to Yala, you can take a rugged jeep into the beautiful plains which feature elephants, water buffalos, many different species of monkeys, birds and an occasional leopard. Leopards are known for hiding, so keep a keen eye out and maybe a zoom lens or pair of binoculars ready to view the amazing beast.
There are several factors about Udawalawe that makes this park unique. One of the largest animal sanctuaries in Sri Lanka, these beautiful plains are a definite treat to the eyes. This park has the largest animal to human ratio on the island!
Elephant lover? Look no further. Udawalawe is known for its large population of elephants. You won’t be able to experience Asian elephants at such close distance anywhere else as you will in Udawalawe. August& September are the prime months to catch the most elephants in one place. Up to 100 elephants can be found in a herd, with lots of baby elephants tagging along.
Watch them all pile together to get some water or see them take a dirt bath to get a break from the heat.
5. Tea Plantations/ Hill Country
We talked about the lovely beaches of the south and the coastal town of Galle. What you may not realize about Sri Lanka is that it also has a hill country with small mountains. Sri Lanka is unique in the fact that you could see the beach, the jungles, and the mountains, all in a short period of time! The hill country is an amazing sight to see.
Trains are available to take you throughout the country, but nothing beats winding through the hills and seeing all of the lovely tea plantations. The best brief train ride would be from Hatton to Ella and then a hike to Little Adams Peak before leaving this tourist town. Haputale is a wonderful location to stay for a few nights while the cooler temps can make for an enjoyable time. Nuwera Eliya is like Little England and is packed with British tea gardens, horse rides, and even a park filled with flowers and trees from many species. Hatton has tea bushes and a beautiful lake to enjoy an outing on, or even a picnic on the bank.
From golfing, bird sighting in a national park, and lovely waterfalls, hill country has much to see. Many hill country towns provide dairy resources to Sri Lanka. And the terraced vegetable gardens are spectacular when you consider the manual labor and tedious attention to detail given by the garden owners. The hill country also offers many sacred and religious sites. Explore the beautiful Buddhist and Hindu temples for a great cultural experience.
Do you enjoy tea time? Tour a tea factory while you are in Sri Lanka and take in the lovely aromas of oven roasted tea leaves. One really appreciates all that goes into tea when you see how hard that the tea pickers and factory men work.
Trincomalee has one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka. Though a little further from the other main sites, Trincomalee would be well worth a visit in the proper season (April – November). Trincomalee is located on a peninsula on the Northwest part of the island. Here you can view many cultural sites and even stop by a war cemetery, which is one of the top-rated things to do in Trincomalee.
The cemetery is well maintained, and has monuments dating from 1939-1945. Sri Lankans are not the only ones that are buried here. The cemetery contains many different people from Dutch, to Indians to different Muslims.
If History isn’t so much your thing, don’t worry, Trinco has much more to offer to the beach loving tourist. Blue whale watching can be done here, and some of the island’s best diving spots are located here. Rather swim with the reef sharks? Absolutely possible. They don’t eat humans so jump on in. Pigeon Island has this option during the East Coast swimming season.
With Sri Lanka being just a short distance from the Maldives islands, and in the heart of the Indian Ocean, tropical fish and reef exploration won’t leave you disappointed. Even if you aren’t a diver, snorkeling is also sure to be a highlight of your Pearl Island Trip.
Beach bumming, history searching, and temple gazing will all be highlights of your stop in Trincomalee!
7. Kandy Temple of the Tooth
Another World Heritage Site is located in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Formerly known as the kingdom of Kandy. As one of the top-rated places to visit in Sri Lanka, the Kandy Temple of the Tooth would make for another interesting religious tour site. Filled with roof paintings, and many other artistic items, this Temple is appealing to the eye. Many people from around the world come to see this temple. Tour the palace on the grounds and take in the beautiful view of the former Kingdom of Kandy. A legend said that a princess smuggled the tooth relic to be finally placed at the Kandy Temple.
Take a lovely stroll through the Botanical Gardens and experience all of the beauty of plants and birds that nature can offer you. You can spend half a day in this garden before you even realize the time has passed. Plan for at least 3 hours here and take plenty of photos. Relax and enjoy the sites and culture that Kandy gives you.
Tangalle is one of Sri Lanka’s best kept secrets. With a little more seclusion, and less tourists, Tangalle makes for a very relaxing getaway after a day at the safari or hiking. If you’re looking for a more local and cultural experience, Tangalle is the beach that you should visit. Eat at a local fisherman’s restaurant, with fresh fish on your menu.
From the lovely sand to the captivating sunrises and sunsets, you won’t be sad you visited Tangalle for a perfect and quiet getaway, free from the bustling tourists.
Also, from November to April is the best season for swimming here as the waves can get rough in the off season. However, in Weligama – a neighboring beach, you can take surfing lessons almost any time! Sit outside and listen to the waves for the best relaxation therapy this country can offer.
Polonnarurwa, part of the cultural triangle, is one of the best ancient cities that you can visit. History buffs and archeologists will have more than enough to explore in the fortified city that is filled with many layers. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has some of the most fascinating ruins Sri Lanka showcases today.
If you like mysterious, ancient kingdoms, this is a place to go. There are mixed views on who built this kingdom. Said to have housed the ancient relic tooth of Buddha for its protection, this is a great site to explore and wonder about the ancient kingdom that once lived there.
10. Adam’s Peak & World’s End:
Adam’s Peak and World’s end are both hiking spots in different locations, but each has their own unique things to offer.
- World’s End:
- Adam’s Peak:
Located in the tea country, World’s End makes for a beautiful hike. Most hikers start their trail early in the morning, with or without a guide. The earlier you go, the more you can see for miles and miles. If you go later, you’ll experience a “cloud forest” blowing in your face as moisture gets trapped in the clouds and must come up the mountain as it rises with the wind.
A beautiful and relaxing hike, there is an amazing waterfall and grotto that make the hike alone worth it. As you make your way to the top early in the morning, you can see all of the villages down below and plenty of wildlife along the way.
For a more cultural and religious site, visit Adam’s peak and experience a religious pilgrimage along with thousands of others during peak season. Sri Pada, this is the Sinhalese name for the mountain, means holy footprint. The Buddhists believe that Buddha’s foot left an impression at the top of the mountain and now a temple exists there that followers of Buddha make a pilgrimage to before they die. Since the whole island isn’t Buddhist, all religions have given their own account of the footprint.
Adam’s Peak was the name the British gave this mountain when they arrived and claimed it was where Adam lived in the Garden of Eden. Muslim’s also give Adam this footprint, while the Hindu’s call it Shiva’s footprint.
Adam’s peak can be more of a challenging hike leaving most explorers sore for days, but many say that the views from the top at sunrise make all the effort and hard work worth it! (For more details on Adam’s Peak, check out
“5 Adventurous Excursions that Won’t Disappoint”)
From safaris in the plains, to beautiful sandy beaches, and a mix of cool mountain trekking and aroma filled tea hills, Sri Lanka will surely be the trip of a lifetime and will leave you longing to return again soon.