15 Top Tourist Attractions in Sri Lanka

by Danushka Tharindu
Aerial View of Sigiriya (Lion Rock) in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s popularity as a tourist destination has been on the rise since the conclusion of the country’s devastating civil war in 2009. In addition to its natural attractions, such as its beaches and fauna, the area also offers a wealth of cultural attractions, such as its impressive archaeological sites and historic structures.

Sri Lanka, which is encircled by the Indian Ocean, is located directly to the south of India, with just the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar separating it from the subcontinent. The pearl-shaped island has a long and beautiful coastline, but its highlands are just as beautiful, with gorgeous hills and mountains, rushing rivers, huge lagoons, and sparkling waterfalls strewn all over the place.

Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte may be the new capital of the island country, but most tourists still fly directly to Colombo. The frenetic and crowded metropolis is the country’s business and financial hub, and it also has many fascinating temples, museums, and historical monuments, as well as several parks and bustling marketplaces.

However, the cultural center of Kandy and the fascinating ruins of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are among Sri Lanka’s most popular tourist destinations. The final kingdom of the country is located in a breathtaking setting, and it is home to many historical landmarks and architectural marvels, including the Royal Palace and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

Also popular among tourists are the seaside settings of Galle, Batticaloa, and Trincomalee, all of which provide picturesque coastline locations as well as dramatic forts and colonial architecture. Another fantastic site to visit is Nuwara Eliya, sometimes known as “Little England,” with its charming Victorian architecture and gorgeous tea plantations.

Some of the island’s most popular activities include surfing along the coast and safaris in and around Yala National Park, but visitors shouldn’t leave without first seeing the incredible rock fortress of Sigiriya, which sits atop a prominent hill overlooking the rest of the island.

Travelers of all kinds will find that they like visiting Sri Lanka’s best attractions. Surfing and hiking are just two of the many exciting activities available on the small island country.

Travelers interested in religion or history can find a wealth of great destinations in Sri Lanka. While the natural beauty of Sri Lanka is unquestionable, few would argue that it is second to none. Lush vegetation and unusual animals are always close by, whether one is on the way to a fantastic surf break, a historical monument, or a pilgrimage destination.

15. Nine Arch Bridge

Demodara Bridge in Sri Lanka

The Nine Arches Demodara Bridge, also known as the Bridge in the Sky in Sri Lanka. Image source: saiko3p/Shutterstock.com

The Nine Arch Bridge in Ella, a small mountain town, is one of Sri Lanka’s most recognizable landmarks. At this vantage point, you can take in breathtaking views of the lush vegetation and tea fields that surround you.

Visitors to the Demodara Loop can see trains passing over the bridge. The bridge is remarkable because it was built in the early days of the railway development in Sri Lanka out of cement, stone, and brick rather than steel.

14. Mihintale

Mihintale in Sri Lanka

Mihintale, located in Sri Lanka, is a sacred site and a popular destination for tourists seeking a spiritual experience. Image source: Schobuku/Shutterstock.com

Near the town of Anuradhapura lies a mountain called Mihintale. The Buddhist community places great spiritual importance on its peak. King Devanampiyatissa is credited with introducing Buddhism to his country after meeting the Buddhist monk Mahinda on this peak.

The King was captivated by Monk Mahinda’s calm demeanor and the calming effects of Buddhist teachings. The King eventually stopped fighting and became a peacemaker for the whole country. There are a number of magnificent temples and other ancient buildings on and around Mihintale Mountain. Many people make the journey to the holy ground annually.

13. Unawatuna

Aerial View of Unawatuna Beach

Unawatuna Beach, located in Sri Lanka, is a breathtakingly beautiful destination for tourists seeking sun, sand, and sea. Image source: Marius Dobilas/Shutterstock.com

Relax on the beautiful white sands of Unawatuna Beach in the charming fishing town of Unawatuna. There are many operators in town that provide snorkeling and scuba diving trips to the area’s many reefs.

The waters here are often teeming with turtles and tropical fish of all shapes and sizes. The beach is lined with excellent restaurants that encourage guests to take advantage of their sun loungers and relax with a drink in hand.

12. Gal Viharaya

Gal Vihara Statue in Polonnaruwa

The Gal Vihara Statue in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. Image source: VladyslaV Travel photo/Shutterstock.com

The site of Gal Viharaya can be found in Polonnaruwa, an old city open to tourists. The many caverns and enormous Buddha statues carved into the rock walls of Gal Viharaya have made it a world-renowned Buddhist attraction. Even though they were made in the 12th century, they are in very good condition.

Among the sculptures is a set of rules etched on the side. Following the rules of the code was supposed to unify and cleanse Buddhist monks. The famous King Parakramabahu I is responsible for its creation. Gal Viharaya has become one of Sri Lanka’s most visited religious places.

11. Kataragama Festival

Ceremonial Elephant at Kataragama Festival

The Kataragama Festival, celebrated in Sri Lanka, is a vibrant and colorful celebration of the country’s rich culture and heritage. Image source: Thomas Wyness/Shutterstock.com

The Kataragama Festival, held annually in Sri Lanka in honor of one of the Hindu gods, is a major tourist destination. Travelers from all over the globe gather to take part in this two-week event.

Parades of elephants and entertainers in bright costumes fill the festival. An abundance of traditional dances are performed, and the festival’s infectious spirit is fueled by the performances of musicians, acrobats, and fire-breathers.

10. Udawalawe National Park

Elephants in the Udawalawe National Park

A group of elephants walking in the Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka. Image source: Heinz-Peter Schwerin/Shutterstock.com

Only in a few locations throughout the globe are elephant sightings so common. Udawalawe National Park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including but not limited to elephants, peacocks, jackals, water buffalo, crocodiles, monkeys, and even deer.

The early morning is the peak time for safaris since that’s when animals are most active. Because of its diverse topography, the park is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life. The park is bounded to the north by mountain ranges, and the grasslands and forests at its foot are surrounded by grasslands and rivers.

9. Ravana Falls

Ravana Falls in Ella, Sri Lanka

A beautiful view of Ravana Falls, a popular sightseeing attraction in Ella, Sri Lanka. Image source: Boyloso/Shutterstock.com

In the hot summer, locals go to the stunning Ravana Falls for a refreshing dip. The water flow is particularly powerful and stunning during the rainy season. The cave complex beneath the falls is steeped in local legend, and the falls themselves are part of the Ravana Ella Wildlife Sanctuary.

The caverns are a popular stop for tourists because of their proximity to the major road leading to Ella town. The nearby trees are home to a large population of cheeky monkeys, many of which can be seen on the side of the road enjoying a snack of fruit. If you visit a place where the locals are known to become a little too friendly with tourists, however, you should keep your distance.

8. Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple in Sri Lanka

A view of the Dambulla Cave Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka. Image source: 780Moments/Shutterstock.com

One of the holiest sites in all of Buddhism is the Dambulla Cave Temple. Full moons are free days to enter the temple, but because of the religious importance of this lunar phase, they are also the busiest days of the month. Religious believers go from all over the globe to see this holy site.

There are more than eighty caverns known to exist in the region, but only five of them are as well-known as the ones that house some of the world’s most stunning sculptures and murals. It is hardly surprising that ancient Sri Lankans, who resided in some of the caves dating back to 1000 BC, would have built temples within those same caves. To enter the temple, guests must cover their shoulders and knees and take off their shoes.

7. Mirissa

Aerial view of Mirissa beach in Sri Lanka

A stunning aerial panorama of the tropical beach in the town of Mirissa, Sri Lanka. Image source: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock.com

Mirissa, Sri Lanka, is where you want to go for the perfect beach vacation. The gorgeous, extended beach is framed by towering palm trees above and backed by chic hotels and restaurants. Western-style cuisine is offered at Sri Lankan pricing in the restaurants. Parrot Rock is a short distance from the shore. From its peak, accessible by a short stairway, one can take in breathtaking views of the sea and the coastline.

Whale watching, snorkeling, and surfing are just some of the day adventures that can be taken from Mirissa. Weligama is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka for beginners to learn how to surf, and it’s just a short distance from Mirissa. When the sun goes down, several restaurants transform into beach clubs, complete with DJs and alcoholic beverages.

6. Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka

A view of Arugam Bay, a popular surfing spot in Sri Lanka. Image source: Thomas Wyness/Shutterstock.com

The surfers in Arugam Bay hold it in the highest regard. This little town on Sri Lanka’s eastern coast is the epitome of the chill surfer vibe. Even though it’s close to the heart of town, advanced and intermediate surfers should avoid the Main Point surf break since it’s too difficult.

If you’re more of a beginning or intermediate surfer, though, you can go to Whiskey Point and Peanut Farm with a quick tuk-tuk ride. Just on the outskirts of town, you can often see elephants and peacocks on the side of the road. You can get anything from authentic Sri Lankan curry to full English breakfasts along the main street of Arugam Bay town.

5. Temple of the Tooth

Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka

The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Image source: Arkady Zakharov/Shutterstock.com

Visiting the Temple of the Tooth is like entering a holy sanctuary. One of Buddha’s teeth is housed at the temple. It was supposedly stolen from the Buddha on his deathbed and brought to Sri Lanka from India. After her father’s country was besieged, it was hidden in the princess’s hair and brought out to safety.

It became a symbol of immense significance almost instantly and has been paraded and honored ever since. Many people have tried to steal the tooth or even destroy it. As part of the daily rituals honoring the tooth relic, visitors and devotees get two opportunities to see inside the tooth’s case: during the morning and evening pujas.

4. Adam’s Peak

Sri Pada Mountain (Adam's Peak) in Sri Lanka

Sri Pada Mountain, also known as Adam’s Peak, is considered a sacred site by multiple religions in Sri Lanka. Image source: shutterlk/Shutterstock.com

A stone print can be seen at the top of Adam’s Peak. Numerous faiths find importance there, but at the peak there is a Buddhist monastery. The Buddha’s footprint, the Adam’s footprint, and the Shiva footprint, according to the three major world religions.

Pilgrims flock to the area during full moons to pay their respects. It’s a long way up more than 5,000 stairs to the peak of the mountain, where the footprint can be seen. The path is dotted with restaurants and snack stands that serve as welcome pit stops. Many hikers get an early start around 2:30 a.m. to make it to the peak before daybreak.

3. Galle Fort

City Clock Tower in Galle, Sri Lanka

The City Clock Tower in the town of Galle, Sri Lanka. Image source: Naumenko Aleksandr/Shutterstock.com

It’s easy to become disoriented amid the maze of narrow, cobbled streets and passageways that make up Galle Fort. These days, you can find all sorts of trendy places to eat, stay, and buy clothes and souvenirs. Meanwhile, street performers such as snake charmers and buskers crowd the shoreline.

The fort, however, did not always include such a diverse population. When the Portuguese arrived on the island for the first time in 1505, they promptly set about building a crude fort. After taking over Galle, the Dutch completed a number of modifications, including the construction of the massive sea wall that still surrounds the fort today. Galle Fort is a wonderful illustration of the successful combination of European and Asian styles.

2. Yala National Park

Yala National Park in Sri Lanka

Yala National Park is the second-largest national park in Sri Lanka. Image source: Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

You can find a wide variety of Sri Lankan animals and breathtaking scenery in Yala National Park. Since there are more leopards per square mile there than anywhere else, sightings are quite likely.

Although leopards are the most popular animals to see, elephants, sloth bears, and crocodiles all inhabit the area. Before Yala’s 1938 designation as a national park, some of the park’s five sections were off-limits to hunters. It is highly recommended that you stop by the park’s visitor center to learn more about the region.

1. Sigiriya Rock Fort

Aerial View of Sigiriya (Lion Rock) in Sri Lanka

Sigiriya, also known as the Lion Rock, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist attraction in Sri Lanka. Image source: maloff/Shutterstock.com

The Rock Fort of Sigiriya is awe-inspiring. The rock walls are 200 meters high, yet they flatten down onto a plateau at the very top. There are winding stairwells leading up to the peak, and along the route there are several frescoes to take in. Remains from a long-lost civilization, such as a palace and a monastery, can be found at the peak.

Creating a tower of this height so many centuries ago would have required exceptional technical skill. Some of the earliest landscaped gardens in the world can be seen in the caverns and gardens that surround the rock fort.

You may also like

Leave a Comment


At OnTravelX, we’re passionate about travel and helping people explore the world. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, informative, and inspiring travel content to our readers. From destination guides and travel tips to the latest trends in travel and tourism, we strive to cover every aspect of the travel experience.

Contact us: contact@ontravelx.com

@2023 – OnTravlex. All Right Reserved. Designed and Developed by OnTravlex