Many of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka are located within what is known as the cultural triangle in the centre of the island. The cultural triangle encompasses the island's most important UNESCO World Heritage sites - Sigiriya's famous Lion Rock fortress, the exquisite Dambulla Cave Temples, the giant 12th-century stone sculptures of Buddha at Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, the ancient Ceylonese city and Kandy with its revered Temple of the Tooth. There are also plenty of other great places to visit in Sri Lanka; here is a list of our favourites.
Located atop a rock plateau overlooking verdant jungle and a vast plain is Sigiriya, the mysterious remains of the 5th-century fortress of King Kasyapa. These ruins of Sigiriya are the most unique of the ancient sites in Sri Lanka. Be sure to brave the rickety-looking spiral staircase to see the awesome 1500-year old painted frescoes located beneath an overhang about 90m up the rock. This archaeological site, unparalleled in South Asia, is a place of pilgrimage for Sri Lankans and has been declared a World Heritage Site.
The glory of medieval Sri Lanka is seen at Polonnaruwa, an ancient and compact city featuring 12th-century stone sculptures and the Gal Vihara – comprising three enormous Buddha figures. One of the statues is reclining and is 13 metres in length, one standing and the other is sitting. The statues, located in a cluster along a dirt road, are revered as being among the most sacred monuments in all of Sri Lanka. There are also palace ruins, great bas-reliefs and friezes to see.
The hill city of Kandy was the last bastion of the Sinhala Kings and is a charming place offering a living record of a magnificent past and is set around an attractive man-made lake in scenic hill country. It is also the site of Sri Lanka’s greatest annual spectacle, the Esala Perahera Festival in August, also known as the Kandy Festival when thousands of people from all parts of the country and Elephants are paraded in the courtyards of the temple during Esala Perahera. Kandy’s star attraction is the ornate Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) which houses a sacred relic in well-guarded casket.
Sri Lanka’s cool hill country offers a welcome antidote to the heat of the coast and low-lying plains. Situated among verdant tea plantations and at an elevation of 1990 metres, Nuwara Eliya is one of the highest and most attractive towns in Sri Lanka’s hill region. Built by English tea growers, it remained their favourite hill station during colonial times. Nuwara Eliya boasts the best golf course in Sri Lanka and is home to the impressive Hakgala Botanical Gardens.
One of the most popular attractions in Sri Lanka is the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, home to abandoned or orphaned wild young elephants including babies. Situated in the hill country near Kegalle, around 60 elephants are fed, bathed and cared for at this sanctuary of sorts. Perhaps the star attraction is viewing the elephants enjoying their daily river soak.
As the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo is a modern city filled with good hotels, restaurants, al fresco cafes, shopping and every form of transport imaginable. Just off the north end of Galle Road is the Fort, once a colonial stronghold but now home of many government residences and offices. To the south is Galle Face Green, a seaside promenade where informal cricket games are played out among city folk. Just east of the Fort is the Pettah, a traditional bazaar where you can enjoy a colourful retail experience.