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Must visit / see places for tourists in Sri Lanka

Updated on April 30, 2011

Favorite tourist destinations

Although its a small island there are hundreds of beautiful places for you to see in Sri Lanka so narrowing it down it a really hard task. Since I have friends in European countries , Australia and US I will try to narrow it down based on the feedback I have gotten from them. One thing for certain is that there is something for everyone in Sri Lanka , golden beaches all around the country , Cool hilltops so you can get away from the heat , historical places if you are into historical stuff , nature reserves if your a nature and animal lover and plenty of luxury hotels if you here to just relax and chill. Below are five places I think tourists will find most interested to visit. They are

  • Sigiriya Rock Fortress
  • Galle Fort
  • Ancient city of Anuradhapura
  • Sacred city of Kandy
  • Polonnaruwa

Sigiriya rock fortress , also known as lions rock
Sigiriya rock fortress , also known as lions rock

Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Sigiriya , also known as the lion's rock is a ancient palace build by King Kashyapa on top of an 361m high rock. The palace , surrounding gardens and reservoirs are considered a work of brilliance and the exact technology to control the flow of water etc are still a mystery. Its one of the seven UNESCO world heritage sites in Sri Lanka and without doubt the most visited one of them all. It is also famous for its beautiful paintings of maidens known as frescoes. There is a secured path leading to the top and you can see the frescoes and the famous "Mirror Wall" as well. Once you get to the top you have a very beautiful view of the surrounding area and the cool breeze helps in forgetting the tiredness. It is understandable why tourists are attracted so much to this place because it is beauty and history rolled into one.It is advisable to hire a tour guide when you are going there because then you can get full details of the ancient city. Don't forget to visit the recently opened museum as well.Check out the wiki article about Sigiriya to get further details and to see more images.

Walls of the Galle Fort
Walls of the Galle Fort

Galle Fort

Before gaining independence Sri Lanka was ruled by three colonial nations , namely the Portuguese , the Dutch and the English. They built forts all over the country and especially near the coast line and Galle Fort is the one that is most well preserved. Galle Fort and the surrounding old town is a world heritage site and the credit of enhancing the fort to this level should go the Dutch. There are beautiful churches and lots of old building inside the fort that makes it visiting worthwhile. You can go for a scroll on top of the fort walls and in the evening you can see one of the most beautiful sunsets you will ever see.

Ruwanweli Maha Seya in Anuradhapura
Ruwanweli Maha Seya in Anuradhapura

Sacred city of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is Sri Lanka's first capital and this ancient city is full of beautiful monuments which were built by various kings who ruled here for more than 1000 years. Because of the vast array of things you can see in Anuradhapura it is advisable to hire a tour guide so you can get a detailed explanation of the things you are seeing. It is always a good idea to start from the museum because then you can get an idea of the history of the place. One of the must see places is the "Sri Maha bodiya" , which is a old Bo tree grown from the part of the Bo tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. Another must visit place is the "Ruwanweli Seya" , a dagoba made by King Dutugamunu it is a huge structure which make a very beautiful site under moonlight. Although not the largest it is considered the greatest dagoba in Sri Lanka. Below are few other places where you should consider visiting.

  • Thuparama , Chethawanarama and Abayagiri dagoba - other dagobas of note in Anuradhapura , Thuparama is considered the oldest while Abayagiri is considered the largest. Also there are guard stones and moonstones and remains of old building in the surrounding area
  • Isurumuniya - Famous for its rock carvings and stone statues , the most famous of them all being the "Isurumuni lovers". Somewhat away from the main city there is a beautiful view of the surrounding are atop the rock.
  • Kuttam Pokuna - The most beautiful of the ponds left from the old days , but there are plenty more ponds scattered all over the city.
  • The Samadhi Budda statue - One of the best statues ever made of Lord Buddha it is considered as a masterpiece of statue making. Also there are plenty more statues almost everywhere in the city
  • The Moonstone - There are moonstones in few building in Anuradhapura but the most beautiful of them all is found in Mahasen Palace
The number of things you can see in Anuradhapura is limitless. Anuradhapura is surrounded by great lakes and all these are situated in very forest like area making it even more pleasurable to view them.

Well preserved Moonstone
Well preserved Moonstone
Temple of the Tooth relic in Kandy
Temple of the Tooth relic in Kandy


Kandy is world renowned because of the Temple of the tooth relic but that is definitely not the only thing to see in Kandy. The sacred city of Kandy is a world heritage site and the main attraction is the Asala Perahera also known as the Asela perahera. Its a precession that consists of richly decorated Elephants , fire dancers , whip dancers and all sorts of other dancers. This is a symbolic event in Sri Lanka and tourists flock to see the Asela Perahera. Even if you missed the Perahera you can always visit the temple of Tooth which holds a teeth of Lord Buddha. It is a beautiful temple full or carvings and painting. You can visit the nearby museum to get a good understanding of the history of the place. Other places of Interest are the Lankathilaka temple , Gadaladeniya temple and the Ambakka temple which is famous for its wooden carvings.

One of the statues in Gal Viharaya in Polonnaruwa
One of the statues in Gal Viharaya in Polonnaruwa


Polonnaruwa is the second oldest Capital in the country and although not as much as Anuradhapura it is still filled with ancient monuments build by various kings. Without a doubt the most visited place in Polonnaruwa is the Gal Viharaya. Its an old temple and which has four statues of Lord Buddha carved into the stone. It is considered a work of genius and the carvings surrounding one of the statues is truly remarkable. The golden age of Polonnaruwa was when it was ruled by King Parakramabahu and during his time Sri Lanka was so successful in farming they even imported rich to various parts of the world. Other than the Gal Viharaya there are plenty of other things to see in Polonnaruwa. There is the Polonnaruwa vatadage, a structure built surrounding a dagoba , The Lankathilaka temple , Royal palaces , statue of King Parakramabahu and many more things like ruins of palaces and dagobas.

Best Tour Guide About Sri Lanka

Hundreds of more places

For a small Island there are hundreds of places you can visit in Sri Lanka. These are my top five picks based on the feedback I have gotten from my various friends. When it comes to other various activities enjoyed by tourists sea bathing , wild life safaris are at the top of the list. In short Sri Lanka is a beautiful country filled with friendly people with limitless opportunities for you to enjoy , So come and enjoy.


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