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World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka

Updated on February 4, 2015

Eight world heritage sites

World heritage sites are categorized into three groups , cultural , natural and mixed. Since Sri Lanka have a written history that goes back more than 2000 years, world heritage sites in Sri Lanka are dominated by cultural ones. Although it's a small country Sri Lanka boast of eight world heritages sites , six of them being cultural ones and two natural ones. The latest addition to the list being the Central highlands, which is a combination of Peak wilderness sanctuary,Horton plain national park and Knuckles conversation forest which were on the the tentative list for some time. As expected these are few of the most visited places in the country as well. Below are summaries of the things you can see when you visit one of these sites.

Fresco arts found in Sigiriya Rock walls
Fresco arts found in Sigiriya Rock walls

1 - Sigiriya, The most visited

Of all the world heritage sites in Sri Lanka Sigiriya is the most visited one of them all. It was built by King Kashyapa, mainly as a stronghold to protect himself from his brother. It is built on top of 350M high rock, situated in a plain making it an excellent defensive position. Although the intention was to built a fortress King Kashyapa turned it into a beautiful complex full of fountains , boulder gardens etc. The irrigation system is considered a work of genius and during rainy season you could still see those fountains working.Sigiriya is also famous for its frescoes, which are considered one of the most well preserved artwork from that era. The lions paw entrance is another interesting feature which gave the place its name.

Sigiriya is about 2 hours drive from Colombo,ideal for a one day getaway so it is considered as one of the must see places for tourists in Sri Lanka. The climb will take about one hour and the beautiful scenery atop the mountain makes it a worthwhile journey. There is the museum nearby if you want to find more historical details about the place.

Pictures of Sigiriya

Golden Temple of Dambulla
Golden Temple of Dambulla

2 - Golden Temple of Dambulla

Golden temple of Dambulla also known as the Dambulla rock cave temple is another cultural world heritage site that is close to Sigiriya. It is cave complex which is turned to a temple and a monastery and it is considered the best preserved cave complex in Sri Lanka. Altogether there are five caves and you can find around 150 statues of Lord Buddha inside the caves. These were built on various times so you could get a good idea of the evolution of sculpting in Sri Lanka. Other than the statues of Lord Buddha there are statues of few kings who contributed to the development during various times. Keep in mind that this was used as a monastery for almost 20 centuries. The temple is on top of a rock so you can get a beautiful view of the surrounding plain and you get a clear view of the Sigiriya rock fortress which is 19 Km away. Other than the statues the caves are filled with different artwork including lovely patterns and art of Lord Buddha.

Collection of Pictures from Dambulla rock temple

pictures of Dambulla Rock Temple
pictures of Dambulla Rock Temple
Galle Fort walls
Galle Fort walls

3 - Galle Fort

Galle Fort is the only cultural world heritage site in Sri Lanka that could be considered not religious. It represents the colonial era where Sri Lanka was ruled by Portuguese , Dutch and the British. Originally built by the Portuguese as a small fort to control the cinnamon trade in the region, it was the Dutch who converted it to the formidable fortress it is today. They reinforced the walls , build fortified towers and dug canals to make it an impregnable fort.

The cannons and most of the fortification are still intact and most locals love to spend the evening walking on the fort walls while enjoying the sunset. Other than the fortifications, remains of some old building are still intact, most beautiful of them being various churches inside the fort.

Galle Fort is also home to many foreigners with most of them been British. Because of this there are plenty of high quality restaurants within and near Galle Fort and this again attracts many other foreigners. Galle Fort villas are highly sought after by visiting tourists because they provide a great mix of modern comfort and ancient heritage.

Images of Galle Fort

Pictured of Galle Fort
Pictured of Galle Fort
Temple of sacred tooth relic in Kandy
Temple of sacred tooth relic in Kandy

4 - Sacred city of Kandy

Kandy is considered the last capital in Sri Lanka when Sri Lanka was ruled by the Kings. Because of its location it was a natural stronghold and Sinahalese repelled many attacks aimed at taking Kandy. Although city of Kandy is considered a world heritage site the main attraction of the city is the Temple of sacred tooth relic and the palace complex surrounding the temple. The temple is an impressive sight with gold painted roofs , surrounding white walls , grand entrance and moon stones.Inside the temple there are various artwork from different eras. There is a video of a guided tour available for anyone who wishes to get a detailed introduction to everything related to the complex. If you want to know more about the history of the palace there is a museum beside the temple. The nearby Kandy lake and the Udawatte forest sanctuary behind the castle adds to the beauty of the place.

Images of Kandy and Temple of the Tooth Relic

Pictures of Kandy and Temple of Tooth relic
Pictures of Kandy and Temple of Tooth relic
Ruwanweli Dagoba in Anuradhapura
Ruwanweli Dagoba in Anuradhapura

5 - Sacred city of Anuradhapura

The first capital of Sri Lanka Anuradhapura flourished as a city for a long time under the rule of Kings. King Pandukabhaya first used it as a capital and organized the city in a structured way. It acted as the main administrative center as well as a place of worship. To accommodate the growing population lots of lakes and ponds were built throughout the city and since the Kings placed high value on religion lots of temples were also built. But the constant wars with the neighboring India led to the city being ruined and Polonnaruwa was chose as the capital because of its strategic location. Because of its successful past there are lots of places to visit in Anuradhapura. Visit to the museum could be a good place to start your tour of Anuradhapura. Things to see in Anuradhapura could be categorized into few categories , Dagobas , palaces , ponds and temples. Most attractive to the tourist are the huge dagobas which are really huge and majestic looking structures the most famous of them all being the Ruwanweli Dagoba built by King Dutugamunu. Then there are the palaces which has beautiful and well preserved moonstones , stone carvings and whole lot of other items. Then there are the various ponds spread throughout the city which were built mostly for the service of the clergy. Finally there are temples which houses beautiful painting of different eras , beautiful stone carvings of Lord Buddha and other statues and various old scriptures. Hiring a guide is a good idea if you intent to visit most places in Anuradhapura.

Pictures of Anuradhapura

Statue of Lord Buddha in Polonnaruwa gal viharaya
Statue of Lord Buddha in Polonnaruwa gal viharaya

6 - Ancient city of Polonnaruwa

Because of the constant wars with the neighboring India Polonnaruwa was chosen as the next capital in Sri Lanka. It was located in a strategic location and could be defended much easily than Anuradhapura. Although it was king Vijayabahu who chose Polonnaruwa as the capital it was under the leadership of king Parakramabahu that the city flourished into a great city. It is considered the golden age of agriculture in Sri Lanka where Sri Lanka even exported rice to other countries. Like Anuradhapura Polonnaruwa is also full of ancient ruins and it will take a while to explore all these places. The most famous site visited in Polonnaruwa is the Gal Viharaya which has four statues of Lord Buddha in different positions all carved out of the rock. There are many other historic sites including Thuparama , Nissanka Latha Mandapaya , various dagobas etc.

Pictures of Polonnaruwa

Sinharaja rain forest
Sinharaja rain forest

7- Sinharaja Forest reserve

The only natural world heritage site in Sri Lanka Sinaharaja forest reserve is famous for its bio diversity. Compare to most national parks in Sri Lanka it comparatively small national park but it is rich in plants , insects and many other floras found in virgin rain forests. Excursions to Sinharaja forest are popular among nature lovers and there are small lodges and Eco friendly huts near and inside the reserve if you wish to spend a night there. There are specific trails for visitors to follow so you can choose one according to your time frame. The most popular one is the journey thorough forest and streams to the Sinha gala. Although it is open all year around during the rainy season some areas become inaccessible because of the flooding.A must visit place if you are a nature lover. Although there are wildlife they are not spotted as easily as in Yala or other national parks because of the dense forest.

Horton plains national park
Horton plains national park

8 - Central Highlands

The most recent addition to the World heritage list and the second natural world heritage site in Sri Lanka. Central highlands is a combination of Peak wilderness sanctuary, Horton plains national park and Knuckles mountain range. These are categorized as cloud forests and are on an elevation for above 2500m. "Worlds End" in Horton plains is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike and Adams Peek mountain in Peak wilderness sanctuary is a sacred pilgrimage destination for Buddhists. The region is considered a bio diversity hot spot and is home to several endangered species. Central highlands is also popular among nature lovers because of the beautiful nature trails leading through these areas and there are quite a few camping sites for you to spend a night as well.

Locations of world heritage sites in Sri Lanka

Locations of the world heritage sites in Sri Lanka. From top to bottom the island is only 432 Km. So almost every site is at most 6 hours journey from Colombo, The Capital

Sigiriya Rock Fortress:

get directions

Dambull Rock Temple:

get directions

Galle Fort:
Galle, Sri Lanka

get directions

Sacred city of Kandy:
Kandy, Sri Lanka

get directions

Ancient city of Anuradhapura:

get directions

Ancient city of Pollonnaruwa:

get directions

Central Highlands:
Ohiya, sri lanka

get directions

Sinharaj Rain forest:
Deniyaya, sri lanka

get directions

Useful links about World heritage sites in Sri Lanka

Below are some useful links if you want to learn more about World heritage sites in Sri Lanka.

Visited any of the sites ? Vote for your favorite place

I have being to all the world heritage sites and it is not easy to pick which is the best. But if I'm pushed to make a decision Then I will pick Sigiriya ;)

What is the must visit world heritage site in Sri Lanka ?

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