Are you interested in visiting the beautiful country of Sri Lanka? Perhaps you don’t know where to start when thinking about your itinerary…which sites are the “must-sees” and which ones can you skip? Let us help you by giving you our expert-selected top 10 sites to see in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, gained independence from England in 1948. It was historically the island of the Chera Kings. But once the island officially became a republic in 1972, the name was changed to Sri Lanka.
Over time this beautiful island has gained quite a few nicknames, like “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean”, “The Tear Drop of India”, “the Isle of Serendip” or “Isle of Serendipity”. For the locals, it’s commonly called “Muthu Atava” which means “My Pearl.” It isn’t hard to see why those who call the island home have given it such an affectionate name! 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. The love for their island shows itself in the warm hospitality and joy in showing you their beautiful pearl!
There is so much to see, learn, and enjoy about Sri Lanka, so we’ve compiled a helpful list of Sri Lanka’s top ten sites. Let’s get started!
1. Sigiriya Rock
The first up on our list is Sigiriya Rock or the Lion Fortress. The soaring rock rests among the clouds and great blue sky. For those who’ve never seen it before, you can’t help but be filled with awe and wonder!
Sitting 200m high, you can climb halfway up to get great views of the surrounding mountains. At that halfway point you can also find the entrance to the 2nd part of the climb, which will lead to the top of the rock. The view from top is truly breathtaking! Sigiriya provides an amazing 360-degree view all around you.
The hike to the top is completely “stairs,” so no need to be concerned about difficulty or hiking experience. Even small children will be able to do this hike!
Sigiriya is a site located in the North-Central part of Sri Lanka, near a town called Dambulla. However, Sigiriya is much more than just a rock! It’s an archeological and ancient history site that served as a magnificent fortress for a king. At the top of the rock you will find the foundation of an ancient palace.
Frequently called the 8th wonder of the world, Sigiriya rock has plenty to offer for your hiking trip. Dating all the way back to the 8th century, you can find canals and gardens where the old city was inhabited for many years. In 1982 it was added as a UNESCO world heritage site. Besides historical remnants and gorgeous foliage, you can also see more monkeys than you can count! But be careful, they are known to steal snacks out of your hand.
2. Galle Fort
If you choose to spend a day at the beach along the southern coast, consider making a trip to Galle Fort. 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. You can get some handwoven items from the store Barefoot, then make a short stop for gelato or ice cream as you meander around the area. If you are hungry later, you can get some fabulous food from any of the many little restaurants. This area is a great place to get some delicious food and see what kinds of crafts and goods the island has to offer.
Once you are done eating and shopping, take a stroll around and take in the local 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 of the sites are in direct sunlight. You’ll learn a lot about the history of the area, but make sure you remember your sunscreen!
Made in the 16th century by the Portuguese and then taken over by the Dutch in the 17th century, Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a combination of Asian design mixed with European architecture. This unique combination is a must see for those interested in architecture and history!
3. Yala National Park
Yala National Park is the home of our most popular safari!
Sri Lanka varies in its seasons in 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 it’s worth keeping in mind that April will be your hottest month of the year. (For more information on weather, check out our article on “Best Times to Visit Sri Lanka”!)
Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s most famous and frequently visited park on the island. While visiting the park, many people have spotted leopards, especially in the early evening times. You never know what special creature you might come across! If you are looking for a more 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. Similar to Yala, you can take a jeep into the beautiful plains where you’ll see native elephants, water buffalos, different species of monkeys, birds, and an occasional leopard. Leopards are known for hiding, so keep an eye out, maybe with the help of a zoom lens or pair of binoculars.
There are several things about Udawalawe that makes this park unique. It’s one of the largest animal sanctuaries in Sri Lanka, with beautiful plains that dazzle the eye. This park also has the largest animal to human ratio on the island!
Are you an 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 like you can in Udawalawe. August and 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.
You don’t want to miss this!
5. Tea Plantations/ Hill Country
What you may not realize about Sri Lanka is that it has a beautiful hill country with small mountains. Sri Lanka is unique in the fact that you can see the beach, the jungles, and the mountains, all in a short period of time. The hill country is such 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 a large variety of flowers and trees. Hatton has tea bushes and a beautiful lake to enjoy an outing on, or even a picnic on the bank.
From golfing to bird sighting in a national park to lovely waterfalls, hill country has so much to see. Many hill country towns provide dairy products for Sri Lanka. The terraced vegetable gardens are spectacular when you consider the manual labor and tedious attention to detail given by the gardeners.
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. You’ll really appreciate all that goes into tea when you see how hard 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 through 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 the historical British War Cemetery, which has been 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 various backgrounds who died during World War II.
If history isn’t so much your thing, don’t worry. Trinco has a lot to offer to the beach loving tourist. It’s a great spot for blue whale watching as well as some of the island’s best places for diving. Would you rather swim with the reef sharks? That’s another option! They don’t eat humans so jump on into the water without any fear. Pigeon Island also offers 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 are sure to impress you. Even if you aren’t a diver, snorkeling will definitely be a highlight of your trip to the island.
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. As one of the top-rated places to visit in Sri Lanka, the Kandy Temple of the Tooth makes for another interesting religious tour site. Filled with roof paintings and many other pieces of art, this Temple is really captivating. 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 the plants and birds 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 on a 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 for your meal.
From the lovely sand to the captivating sunrises and sunsets, you’ll be glad you visited Tangalle. It’s the perfect quiet getaway, free from the bustling tourists.
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 of the year! 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, with many layers. This UNESCO World Heritage site 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. Some have said that was built to house and protect the ancient relic tooth of Buddha. It’s a great site to explore and wonder about the ancient kingdom that once lived there.
10. Hiking in Adam’s Peak or 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:
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’ll be able to see. 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, you will be able to see the villages down below and plenty of wildlife along the way.
- Adam’s Peak:
For a more cultural and religious site, visit Adam’s peak. Here you will experience a religious pilgrimage along with thousands of others during peak season. Sri Pada, 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”)
A trip of a lifetime!
From safaris in the plains to beautiful sandy beaches, cool mountain trekking to aroma filled tea hills, the variety and options for your trip are almost endless! Whatever type of travel you’re looking for, Sri Lanka has something to offer. Our team of Sri Lanka experts can help you handcraft the trip you’re looking for. With the experience of living in country, we know how to help you get the most out of your time on the island. Don’t hesitate to contact us with any kind of question regarding your future travel to Sir Lanka!
No matter which of these 10 places you see or how you end up choosing to visit, Sri Lanka will surely be the trip of a lifetime, leaving you longing to return again soon.