The small island of Sri Lanka is nothing but amazing as a travel destination. From the perfect sandy beaches, green mountainous region, glorious waterfalls, diverse wildlife, thick forest cover, historical ruins to friendly people, Sri Lanka has it all. Thus, if you are a passionate travel enthusiast, you should certainly add Sri Lanka to your bucket list. However, Sri Lanka is like an all-in-one package where every type of tourist can find something interesting. That’s why Sri Lanka tops the list of best travel destinations in the world every year. However, if you are planning to visit this splendid island any sooner, you should be wondering about the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. Take it easy, because we are going to help you with it through this read. Keep reading and choose the best places that you would love to visit during your trip to Sri Lanka!
Best Places to Visit in Sri Lanka
Here is a list of the top 20 best places that you shouldn’t miss in Sri Lanka.
- Sigiriya Rock Fortress
- Sinharaja Forest Reserve
- Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy
- Nine Arch Bridge in Ella
- Hikkaduwa Beach
- Adam’s Peak
- Yala National Park
- Horton Plains National Park
- Arugam Bay Beach
- Bambarakanda Waterfall
- Colombo Red Mosque
- Adisham Bungalow
- Galle Fort
- Peradeniya Botanical Garden
- Colombo National Museum
- Ruwanweli Maha Seya
- Moon Plains. Nuwara Eliya
- Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, Jaffna
- Dambulla Royal Cave Temple
- Ella Rock
We are sure that you are eagerly waiting to know more about these places. Continue reading, and get to know their significance!
1. Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Sigiriya is the iconic architectural monument of Sri Lanka. It is an ancient rock fortress and palace located in Matale district near Dambulla town. Because of its archaeological significance, UNESCO named Sigiriya as a world heritage site in 1982. Sigiriya also goes by the name Sinhagiri which means the lion’s rock.
There’s an interesting historical story behind Sigiriya. As it reveals, King Kashyapa built his palace in Sigiriya rock during his reign of 473-495 CE. The rock fortress and its surrounding is actually a well-planned city that showcases ancient urban planning, architecture, construction technology, hydraulic engineering, and ancient fine arts. Thus, it is an amazing heritage site that proves the majestic civilization in this country.
Sigiriya stands 200 meters higher amidst the thick jungles in the area. In Sigiriya, the most attention goes to the huge lion figure at the entrance, the mirror wall, and the Sigiriya frescoes apart from the vast gardens, ponds, and fountains in the palace complex. There are 18 frescoes remaining in the Sigiriya walls now, which shows some resemblance to the paintings in the Ajanta caves in India. In addition, there is a belief that the officials used the mirror wall as a mirror in the past. Later, visitors used it to paint inscriptions and poems. Anyway, it is a highly protected area now and visitors are entirely prohibited to draw or touch the walls. Still, visitors are most welcome to climb the rock, witness the panoramic views, and explore the ancient heritage of this wonderful location.
January to April is the best time to visit Sigiriya as the climate is moderate at that time.
2. Sinharaja Forest Reserve
Sinharaja forest is a biosphere reserve and the largest tropical rain forest in Sri Lanka. UNESCO declared it as a world heritage site in 1978.
The forest reserve spans through an area of 7648 hectares located within the Sabaragamuwa and Southern provinces. It is home to numerous endemic flora and fauna. In fact, it is stated that almost 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic species can be found in the Sinharaja forest reserve. The rainforest provides shelter to several endemic species and many threatened species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, and 19 endemic bird species of Sri Lanka. As a whole, it is a spectacular natural paradise with the unique vegetation of a tropical lowland rainforest or tropical wet evergreen rainforest.
A nature lover will fall in love instantly with the forest as its natural beauty is like heaven. Many visit the Sinharaja forest reserve for research purposes too. However, this place is so worth a visit to have an amazing escapade through the unspoiled rainforest. You have to take a tour guide to visit the forest. There are many beautiful and super clean waterfalls and water streams inside the forest. You can also take a dip in the refreshing waters in some such places.
Sinharaja forest is certainly one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka to have a proper rainforest experience away from any traits of city life. It is hard to travel in Sinharaja during the monsoons. So, January to April and August to October are the best times to visit the forest reserve.
3. Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy
This is one of the most sacred Buddhist temples located in the heart of Kandy, Sri Lanka. Locally, it is famous as ‘Sri Dalada Maligawa’.
According to history, this temple was built in 1595 during the reign of King Wimaladharmasuriya 1. Initially, this place was used as a royal palace for the kings of the Kandyan kingdom. Now as a major Buddhist temple, it holds the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha.
This picturesque temple is indeed a must-visit in Kandy. UNESCO recognized the temple of the tooth relic as a world heritage site. Buddhists from all corners of the world visit the temple throughout the year. However, the unique architectural grandeur is also very significant as the building can leave any visitor awestruck.
This is actually a temple complex with stupas, bo trees, and even a museum. So, take your time to explore the site. If you can, try to visit it during the perahera season. The grand procession, famous as the Esala Perahera festival, is one of the major Buddhist events of the year which lasts for 10 days in July or August. It is a colorful cultural and religious parade held in honor of the sacred tooth relic.
Anyhow, the temple is such a peaceful and divine place even though it is crowded most of the time. If you are longing for an amazing experience where you can also learn about the religious beliefs and history of the country, this is certainly one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. Remember to behave and dress respectfully as this is a place of worship.
4. Nine Arch Bridge in Ella
Believe us, this bridge looks like a scene straight out from the Harry Potter franchise. In fact, this is a beautiful construction that connects two small hills in the central highlands between the Demodara and Ella railway stations. Thus, it is a major tourist attraction in the Ella area.
Nine arch bridge was built in 1921 entirely out of brick, rock, and cement. It is an amazing structure with nine arches and that is what makes it one of the most special and picturesque bridges in the Sri Lanka railways. There is a popular belief that the British officials built the bridge with the advice of a local man named P.K Appuhami. However, many visit the bridge to capture photographs with magnificent views.
There are several routes to reach the bridge. Many choose to walk from the Ella railway station to the bridge through the railway line. If not, you can take a tuk-tuk from the Ella town and walk the remaining distance to the bridge through the jungle. Usually, many wait till a train crosses the bridge. Trains cross the bridge more than 6 times a day. The best time to visit the bridge is early in the morning as the sun rays over the bridge create a stunning picture and it is also less crowded at the time. After all, Nine Arch Bridge is a place that you shouldn’t miss when visiting Ella.
5. Hikkaduwa Beach
The main highlight in a Sri Lankan tour is of course visiting a beach. Anyway, there are gorgeous seashores all around this paradise island. Among them, Hikkaduwa beach is one of the most popular and charming beaches in Sri Lanka. The transcendent beach is at a long stretch and there are many activities that a tourist can do here.
First of all, you can lounge on the beach looking at the stunning views while getting a beautiful tan. However, try to visit the shores in the evening as you will be able to witness a beautiful sunset here. Besides, snorkeling and scuba diving in the Hikkaduwa beach is an extraordinary experience as the coral reefs provide shelter to such a diverse aquatic life.
The beach is also very popular for many other water sports such as surfing, bodyboarding, swimming, and boating. Thus, it is a promise that you can have that much-needed adrenaline boost, here in Hikkaduwa.
Also, there are several top-class hotels and restaurants near Hikkaduwa beach. So, don’t forget to give a treat to your taste buds with a delicious seafood meal. The seafood here is super fresh and enriched with the best Sri Lankan spices. Besides, it is always a delight to have such a special meal overlooking the dazzling Indian ocean.
The time period between January to April is when the weather is most settled. So, it is the best time to visit the beach. Anyway, Hikkaduwa beach is busy throughout the year and especially the nightlife of the beach is very happening. Thus, the Hikkaduwa beach is one of the best places for you to visit in Southern Sri Lanka.
6. Adam’s Peak / Sri Pada
Adam’s peak is the fourth highest mountain in Sri Lanka. It is 2244 meters tall and is located in central Sri Lanka.
It is a sacred place for Buddhists as they believe that Lord Buddha left his footprint on the Adam’s Peak summit. Meanwhile, Tamils and Muslims also believe that this footprint belongs to their religious leaders. Hence, this place is popular as a place of harmony as well.
There are several routes to reach Adam’s peak and the most popular ones among them are the Hatton-Nallathanni and Ratnapura-Palabaddala routes. The route up to the summit is an amazing journey through the forested hills. It is kind of a difficult journey to the top as there are more than 5500 stairs to climb. It takes about 2-3 hours to reach the top. However, if you are fond of nature, culture, religious beliefs, and hiking, then this is indeed one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. Still, make sure that you are physically fit enough for the journey.
Traditionally, Buddhists start the pilgrimage season on the December full moon day and it ends on the full moon day of April. This season is packed with pilgrims and there are several religious events during that time. However, if you want to enjoy nature and bird-eye views from the mountain, it is better to travel in the off-season, but make sure to avoid the monsoon periods at all costs. If you are planning to watch the famous sunrise from the top, start the hike at around 3.00 am.
Also, it is really cold, especially at the summit. So, remember to take the necessary clothing to keep you warm. However, you can have a one-of-a-kind experience in Sri Pada or Adam’s peak.
7. Yala National Park
Yala is largely characteristic of dry zone tropical thorn forest. It also houses a fine coastline with associated coral reefs. Furthermore, there are important historical ruins inside the park.
Yala provides shelter to a total of 32 species of mammals and 120-130 species of birds including endemic and threatened species. Hence, Yala is considered the best national park to witness a wide variety of wildlife. There is only one entrance to the park, and it is between Tissamaharama and Kirinda.
You can have a safari trip to the Yala park as it is the best way to observe the undomesticated animals in their natural habitats. In fact, it is one of the most popular wildlife safaris in Sri Lanka, and the highlight in a Yala safari is seeing the large herds of elephants.
Yala National Park is actually a year-round destination but the best time to visit the park is from February to June. It is the dry season and many wild animals roam in the park in search of food and water. Also, it is better to go on a safari early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the scorching sun.
8. Horton Plains National Park
There are many national parks scattered throughout the island. Among them, Horton Plains national park is a totally different and unique ecological system.
It is located in the very cold and windy central highlands with an altitude of 2100 meters above sea level. The park shows the characteristics of a montane grassland and cloud forest. The park spans through an area of 3160 hectares. Also, Horton Plains consists of a catchment area for the major rivers of the country. Besides, it is one of the easiest hikes to do in Sri Lanka and it takes about 5-6 hours to explore through the scenic beauty of this amazing ecosystem.
The cold climate in the central highlands is a safe haven for different species of wildlife and birdlife. In Particular, all the species of montane endemics live in the Horton Plains. The most common animals in the park are sambar deers, wild boars, giant squirrels, and monkeys. It is also the only national park in Sri Lanka without any elephants. A sheer cliff with a drop about 4000 feet known as the world’s end and the Baker’s fall are the must-sees inside the Horton Plains.
The average temperature of the park is about 15°C. The best time to visit the park is from November to March as you can get clear views of the beautiful surroundings in these months.
9. Arugam Bay Beach
Arugam Bay beach is a breathtaking beach located on Sri Lanka’s southeast coast. It is in the Ampara district close to Pottuvil. Since it is kind of far away from the major cities, the beach is not that crowded with tourists. However, Arugam Bay is mostly known as a surfers’ paradise.
The waves are perfect for surfing. Even if you are a beginner, you can try surfing here with the help of a trainer. It is the most popular tourist activity to do on the Arugam Bay beach.
The beach is shallow but sometimes the waves get quite rough. Yet, it is safe to have a dip in the warm waters. In the morning, you can watch how fishermen go off for fishing. Overall, the beach has its own eccentric charm.
You can take a bus to Arugam Bay or take a taxi or drive to Pottuvil from any part of Sri Lanka. There is also a small airport in Batticaloa, so you can travel on a domestic flight as well. The best time to visit Arugam Bay beach is from May to September. However, don’t forget to pack your sunscreen as there’s a very hot climate in Arugam Bay. The average temperature of the area usually stays above 27°C. Still, if you want to have an exceptional beach holiday and love surfing, Arugam Bay is simply one of the best places for you to visit in Sri Lanka.
10. Bambarakanda Waterfall
Bambarakanda waterfall which is also known as the Bambarakele waterfall is the tallest waterfall in Sri Lanka with a height of 263 meters. In the list of the tallest waterfalls in the world, it takes 461st place. Kuda Oya, a tributary of the Walawe river forms this stunning waterfall. It is located in the Badulla district close to Kalupahana amidst a steep pine forest.
There is a distance of around 4.5 kilometers to the waterfall from the Kalupahana junction on the A4 road. Even from a distance, there is a spectacular view of the waterfall mingled with the unspoiled greenery. There’s a natural pool at the base of the waterfall where you can have a safe bath while enjoying the beauty of the surroundings.
The trail to the waterfall is relatively easy and the route is also a very scenic one. This location is widely known for its amazing photography opportunities. The beautiful waterfall shows Sri Lanka’s natural beauty at its finest. During the dry season, the waterfall gets too thin and in the rainy season, it is hard to reach the waterfall. So, the best time to visit the rainfall is from March to May when the rainfall is at its best state. This is one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, to have a picnic enjoying the gorgeous natural scenery.
11. Colombo Red Mosque
Jami-Ul-Alfar mosque which is popularly known as the red mosque is an architectural wonder situated just 4 kilometers away from Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. It is located in the middle of the very busy Pettah streets. In fact, in the middle of small shops and buildings, the red mosque stands as an iconic structure.
It is a quite large mosque that was built in 1980 by the Indian Muslim community in Sri Lanka. Its unconventional color patterns which mostly incorporate the red color are the reason why it is called the red mosque. This mosque is unlike any other typical Islam mosque in the country, so it got popular as an important religious and cultural attraction within the city limits of Colombo.
Many include the red mosque on their Colombo city walking tour. If not, it is easy to notice it even from afar and also easy to reach by a tuk-tuk or on foot. Recently, the red mosque got popular on social media as it provided such a unique background for photographs in the otherwise busy, clumsy streets of Pettah. Anyway, remember to behave respectfully as this is a place of worship. It is better to visit the mosque early in the morning when the streets are less crowded. After all, it is indeed a grand building with impressive architecture in Colombo.
12. Adisham Bungalow
This majestic colonial house looks like a house from the countryside of England. This was built by the English aristocrat, Sir Thomas Villiers in 1931 as his home. The Roman Catholic Church purchased it in 1961 and in the present, it is used for the congregation of St. Sylvester. It is situated in the Badulla district close to the Haputale town.
The stunning building stands in an environment with such amazing views which are out of this world. Usually, the climate here is cold and because of its location, it gets covered with fog very often. It is such an eye-catching view with a slightly mysterious vibe. Besides, this is a famous location for teledramas and movies in Sri Lanka.
This stone mansion is well maintained and a small part of it is used as a museum. It owns 10 acres of land which is filled with flower beds, grass lawns, and trees. Visitors are welcome to enjoy a limited area of the land, only on weekends and public holidays. You can also spend a night here but it is essential to make a booking at least a month prior to your visit. There is a farm in the bungalow and there is a small shop where you can buy delicious organic products like jam, sauce, cordial, etc. This is such a work of art in Haputale, and one of the best places for you to visit in Sri Lanka.
13. Galle Fort
Your trip to southern Sri Lanka won’t be complete without visiting the quintessential Galle fort. It is also known as the Dutch fort and is located in Galle.
The fort was first built by the Portuguese and later reinforced by the Dutch. In the present, it is an architectural monument with excellent views of the surrounding. It is also recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO. As a major tourist attraction of the city, it is a very lively destination. There are restaurants, bard, and boutique shops inside the fort. If you like antique locations, this is a must-visit in Galle. Must-see sights in Galle fort are De Groote Kerk, old Dutch hospital, national maritime archaeology museum, and the All Saints’ Church.
Today, Galle Fort is very popular for its beautiful views which are perfect for photography. It gets crowded on weekends and holidays, so try to visit on a weekday to have a more peaceful tour through the fort. It takes about 2 hours to roam the whole fort and don’t forget to buy a unique souvenir as well.
Besides, Galle Fort is a year-round destination. It is better to visit it in the morning or in the evening as it will be less crowded. After all, this is an extraordinary place to visit in the most beautiful coastal town of Sri Lanka.
14. Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens
Peradeniya is a much loved and beautiful town in central Sri Lanka. It is such a romantic paradise with captivating natural sceneries.
The Royal Botanical Garden is the major tourist destination in Peradeniya. It’s a wonderful paradise situated just 6 kilometers away from Kandy. It is the oldest formal garden in Sri Lanka. The park’s history dates back to 1371. If you are a nature lover, you will love spending hours and hours walking inside this park. Simply, there is ample space in the park to sit back and get yourself lost in nature.
There are more than 4000 species of flora in the park which encompasses an area of 147 acres. There are jaw-dropping views at every corner of the park. The palm tree avenue, exotic orchid collection, huge trees, and the suspension bridge are the most sought-after sights in the garden.
It is actually surprising how peaceful and serene this garden is. You can arrange a picnic in the garden with your loved ones. It is so worth a visit when you are visiting Kandy. The best time to visit the Royal Botanical Garden is from March to July as the garden is as pretty as a picture with the spring vibes. It is better to visit after 3 pm as you can have an amazing escape to the wilderness in the evening.
15. Colombo National Museum
It is important to have an idea about a country’s history, especially when visiting a graceful country like Sri Lanka. And yes, it is the museum that offers information on a wide field of history. Accordingly, when considering Sri Lanka, the Colombo National Museum is the most prominent and also the largest museum in Sri Lanka.
It is a treasure which stores so much information on the whole history of the country. You can see many artifacts, paintings, statues, ancient documents, royal crowns, and many such important exhibits of Sri Lanka here. The building itself is an impressive architectural structure that was built in 1877 with influence from Italian architecture. Sir William Henry Gregory, then British governor of Ceylon is the pioneer of building this museum.
The museum is situated just 3 kilometers away from the heart of Colombo. You can easily reach the museum either by bus or taxi. The museum is only closed on public holidays. On other days, the museum is open from 9 am to 6 pm.
After all, this splendid Colombo National Museum is the perfect place if you are keen on learning the history and culture of Sri Lanka. It is so worth a stop when you are visiting Colombo. Take 2-3 hours to have a proper informative tour around the museum. You’ll be lost wandering around in awe for sure!
16. Ruwanweli Maha Seya
Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka and is now a Buddhist paramount city. In fact, this ancient town is famous for its well-preserved historical ruins and many religious places. Among them, Ruwanweli Seya is a significant Buddhist monument. It is cherished by Buddhists from all around the world and all Sri Lankans alike.
King Dutugemunu built this temple in the 2nd century BCE. Its height is about 103 meters with a circumference of 290 meters. The large milky-colored stupa radiates peaceful energy. Besides, this stupa enshrines the largest collection of Lord Buddha’s relics.
Ruwanweli maha seya is the pride of Anuradhapura city. It is such an exquisite sight, especially at night. The location gets very crowded on poya days. To have a peaceful experience here, visit in the morning or at night as it will be less crowded and the weather is soothing at the time. Many visit the Ruwanweli seya to engage in religious practices and meditate.
Remember to wear white clothing and remove any headwear and footwear when visiting Ruwanweli seya. After all, this is one of the best places for you to visit in Sri Lanka, and thus, don’t forget a visit to this blissful stupa when you are exploring the ancient city of Anuradhapura.
17. Moon Plains, Nuwara Eliya
Moon plains is a lovely park situated just 6 kilometers away from Nuwara Eliya. This is a great location to have a safari journey up the mountains while enjoying the cool climates of this charming mountain town.
It was opened as a park in 2014 and is already a sensation among tourists. The lush green plain with a ring of mountains around is one of the most eye-catching views in Sri Lanka. Mini world’s end or the second world’s end is the highlight of the Moon plains. From this viewpoint, you can get a 360° view of the surrounding mountain peaks. The safari ride will take you through a scenic trail to enjoy the diverse flora and fauna.
The rich biodiversity of the plain is much loved by tourists. It is also a safe space for many wild animals such as Indian buffalos, wild boars, deers, monkeys, and about 205 species of birds.
The best time to visit the park is from February to April when the Moon plains park is so beautiful with soothing weather. The park opens from 7 am to 5 pm and the park is perfect to have a morning or evening safari. Take 2-3 hours to enjoy the mindblowing sights of the hill country.
18. Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, Jaffna
Nallur Kandaswamy kovil is a significant Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Murugan. It is situated 3 kilometers south of the Jaffna city center.
The history of the kovil dates back to many centuries. Therefore, it is the most popular kovil in the northern province of Sri Lanka. Many locals as well as foreign tourists, irrespective of their religion, make sure to visit the kovil when visiting Jaffna. That is simply because it is an impressive architectural structure, with religious and cultural values.
In late August, there’s a famous festival in the kovil which lasts for 25 days. As such, the kovil hosts many religious and cultural events every year.
After all, it is the most admirable Hindu temple in Sri Lanka. So, you can have a nice and relaxed feeling in the temple premises while admiring the beauty of this astonishing temple. You can pose for a photograph at the entrance but you have no permission for photography inside the kovil. Try to visit after 3 pm to avoid the scorching heat and you can attend a daily offering as well.
It is important to wear respectful and charming clothing when visiting the kovil. After all, it is an interesting experience to have in Jaffna, so remember to visit this colorful and mind relaxing kovil during your trip.
19. Dambulla Royal Cave Temple
This is one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. It is situated in Dambulla in Matale district. The well-preserved cave temple is now a major tourist attraction. Also, UNESCO declared this magnificent temple as a world heritage site.
There are 80 caves in that area and the temple complex spans across five caves. In these five caves, there are 153 Buddha statues and several other statues of Sri Lankan kings, gods, and goddesses that belong to the 2nd Century A.D. According to history, King Valagamba of Anuradhapura built this temple.
You have to take a fairly steep hike to the temple through a scenic route. There’s a mesmerizing view of the surrounding from the top. While enjoying this ancient magnificence, try to take a tour guide with you to learn all the interesting information about the temple complex. You will be amazed at the intricate cave paintings, small details in the architecture, and how the light creates shadows in the corridors. It is best to visit this place in the morning or in the evening to get the best views of the surroundings and the temple. However, be mindful to dress respectfully as this is a religious place.
20. Ella Rock
Ella is the tourist paradise of the Badulla district. Among the tourist activities to do in Ella, the hike in Ella rock is one of the most popular ones.
It is an amazing hike with such picturesque, panoramic views of the surrounding mountain regions. It is also famous as one of the best viewpoints in Sri Lanka. The trail to the top goes through tea estates, a eucalyptus forest, and luscious greenery. However, this hike is a fairly difficult one. But the view at the end makes the climb so worth it. Anyhow, make sure that you are physically fit enough for the journey.
Start the hike early in the morning, so you can enjoy the best views after about a 3-5 hours journey to the summit. The footpath goes through unspoiled nature so it can get quite difficult to find the path. You can easily get a tour guide to show the path.
Generally, there is a mild climate in Ella. So, the hike won’t be that tiring but the key is to keep yourself hydrated. The time period between January and March is the best time for a hike in Ella rock as there’s very little rainfall at the time. You can experience the Sri Lankan natural beauty at its best in Ella rock. So, if you are a nature lover, interested in hiking, Ella Rock is simply one of the best places for you to visit in Sri Lanka.
The Bottom Line
After all, these are our suggestions, with regard to the best places to visit in Sri Lanka. And yes, our list included religious, cultural, natural, and adventurous tourist destinations on this island, and we believe that they gave you some perfect choices. However, there are many other noteworthy tourist attractions at every corner of the island. As you travel, you are sure to get to know about many other amazing places to visit in Sri Lanka, adding many more wonderful memories to your travel diary. However, chances are high that you will fall in love with this heavenly paradise on your first visit itself. So visit Sri Lanka and have yourself a treat of a lifetime. Happy and Safe traveling!