Sri Lanka offers an array of breathtaking experiences and activities. An island country located in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is physically breathtaking, boasts countless picturesque beaches, tropical rainforests, wildlife and ancient ruins. The country's 2000-plus years of culture can be discovered at ancient sites where legendary temples are adorned with beautiful details.
Safari tours of its pleasantly relaxed national parks encounter leopards, water buffaloes, all manner of birds and a passel of primates. Escape the tropical climate of the coast and lowlands, and head for the hills, with their temperate, achingly green charms. Verdant tea plantations and rainforested peaks beckon walkers, trekkers and those who want to enjoy the view on a spectacular train ride. And then there are the beaches, dazzlingly white and considered sandy gems for surfing and diving in some world-class sites. Sri Lanka is spectacular, and here are some of its best sights to visit.
Established deep in the impenetrable hills at the heart of the island, the city is a bastion of Sinhalese culture and religion, home to the island’s most revered Buddhist temple, the Temple of the Tooth, its most sacred relic and its most magnificent festival, the Esala Perahera. It is also the undisputed arts and crafts capital of the island, filled with a myriad of temples and palaces built in the distinctive Kandyan architectural style. The area immediately west of the Temple of the Tooth are three of the city’s four principal devales, or temples (the fourth devale is in the city center on Kotugodelle Vidiya). The four gods worshipped in these four devales were traditionally believed to protect Kandy, and processions in their honor are still a major part of the great Esala Perahera festival. West of the city are the Royal Botanic Gardens that contain more than 4000 species of plants, including orchids, spices, medicinal plants and palm trees.
Despite now being the island’s second-largest city, Kandy retains a surprisingly small-town feel. The center’s modest grid of low-rise streets is lined with characterful colonial-era buildings and preserves a certain old-fashioned, countrified charm.
The commercial capital and largest city of Sri Lanka, the legacies of Colombo's colonial roots are very much intact and evident among its potpourri of races, religions and cultures. The oldest districts of the city, which are nearest the harbor and north of Beira Lake, are known as the Fort and the Pettah.
Fort is in the midst of widespread historic restoration of its landmark colonial architecture, while Pettah brims with markets and rampant commerce. Colombo’s cosmopolitan side supports ever-more stylish eateries, galleries and museums. Surprises abound in its old quarters where you can find great local food and discover a characterful shop or tiny, convivial cafe. Particular grand sights are its significant buildings like the Secretariat, the Town Hall, the Clock Tower, St. Lucia’s Cathedral, and the Galle Face Hotel. Other distinctive buildings that pique the interest of tourists in the city are the Wolvendahl Church, built by the Dutch in 1749; a complex of hospitals; the University of Colombo (1921); several Buddhist and Hindu temples; and the residences of the head of state and of the prime minister.
Welcome to everyone’s favorites hill-country village where many leisurely days can be spent resting in some of the country’s best guesthouses. The views through Ella Gap are stunning, and on a clear night you can even spy the subtle glow of the Great Basses lighthouse on Sri Lanka’s south coast. The charming village of Ella may be nestled in the middle of world-famous tea plantations, but it is also locally renowned for something else: delicious home cooking. The town offers foodies the chance to dig deep into the country’s culinary traditions and learn to eat – and cook – like a local.
Negombo is a modest beach town located close to Bandaranaike International Airport. With a stash of decent hotels and restaurants to suit all pockets, a friendly local community, an interesting old quarter and a beach. The main thoroughfares of the town have a very touristy look, yet Negombo is not a crowded destination. It has enough restaurants and clubs to indulge in entertaining evenings; at the same time, you could easily stay away from loud cheers and parties. Tourists will find plenty of fascinating sights such as the Angurukaramulla Buddhist Temple situated at Temple Road, which is more than 200 years old and is a great place to visit if you love culture and architecture. There is also the Dutch Clock Tower and the canal.
Though Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country, Negombo has a very high population of Christians. Some of the churches of architectural value to be visited are St. Mary’s and St. Anne’s.
Slowly but surely reemerging as a bastion of Hindu tradition, art and creative culture, Jaffna is once again welcoming visitors and looking to rise again. It’s an intriguing, unimposing and a thoroughly rewarding place to invest a few days discovering Sri Lankan Tamil culture.
The city is surprisingly green and leafy, with attractive palm-shaded colonial-era suburbs and beautiful temples and churches. In addition, the city is also an ideal base for forays to the idyllic islands just to the west, and trips along the coastline and lagoons of the surrounding peninsula.
The Ancient Cities
Crumbling temples, lost cities and sacred sites are reason enough to head up country to the cultural heartland of Sri Lanka. It was here on the hot central plains that ancient Sinhalese dynasties set up their capitals and supported massive artistic and architectural endeavors. Eventually these kingdoms fell, giving nature a chance to reclaim the land.
For more than a century archaeologists have been slowly shedding the many layers of history from this overgrown landscape. The rock fortress at Sigiriya, the monumental dagobas of Anuradhapura and refined carvings of Polonnaruwa are but a few of the sites now considered national treasures.
This region is commonly called the ‘Cultural Triangle’. Besides the amazing ruins, save time for the national parks, which teem with elephants and outstanding birdlife.