Tranquil beaches, cheap prices, impressive colonial architecture and flavorful tea are more than enough for Sri Lanka to be considered an alluring destination. This country of endless contradictions brims with history of eight ancient kingdoms and now the World Heritage listed sites radiate the glory it has garnered over centuries. Take a look at our selection of amazing historical sites to explore in Sri Lanka.
This iconic rocky outcrop doesn’t reveal its secrets easily and to reach the top you have to climb up its staircases that will cause vertigo without a doubt. However, it is not that difficult, because the stone steps are rather well maintained all the way to the top. The best time to visit Sigiriya is early in the morning, to avoid scorching sunrays and have enough time to fully embrace the beauty of the surrounding area. The sheer walls, remarkable frescoes of women (most of which have now faded) and surrounding landscapes only add charm to the Lion Rock. Surprisingly, after 1,500 years, the rock paintings of damsels have not disappeared, though the citadel was hidden from the eyes for centuries. The history buffs will appreciate the ancient ruins on the flat summit. This rock fortress used to be the palace of King Kasyapa, who reigned in the 5th century AD. The ruins of gardens or courtyards, ponds and stairwells have somewhat a dramatic feel. This witness of ancient civilization is decidedly a must-see and once you get there a great sense of accomplishment and admiration will accompany you long after the end of the excursion.
This historic Tamil town was deeply affected by war and myriad other challenges. And now ruined homes, bombed churches and buildings are perceived as witnesses of all those disasters. And because of the above-mentioned reasons this city was shadowed from the eyes of the tourists. However, Jaffna rises like a phoenix and once again welcomes visitors. Some of the refugees return to rebuild their city and make it match its potential. New structures have been built, roads and air connections were upgraded and all these renovations reflects the people’s struggle and inspiring optimism. The surrounding peninsula is a heavenly spot for water sports with its sparkling lagoons and sandy coastline to explore. A unique highlight of the island is Nagadeepa Temple, which is a boat ride from the city and has a huge religious significance as an evidence of Buddhist culture.
This fascinating fortress is also called Fire Rock and was once a very popular holy site, since it housed an important relic: the tooth of Buddha. Some parts of the fortress are still being restored, while the others are under archaeological survey. The high-rise sheer walls used to be a royal palace and a refuge against the invading South Indian armies. Actually, many traces of battle defences are still “fresh” enough to be seen. There is also a cave temple at the summit, built to shelter the monks. Kurunegala is a short way from the fortress and it’s a nice chance for hikers to explore the countryside. History and culture aficionados should also visit the museum nearby, which is home to lots of sculptures and carved stone screen of Buddhist culture.
This intriguing and mostly untouristed place is worth devoting a few days to explore to. The rough times of war are left behind and the town thrives again. You don’t have to be a history nerd to appreciate this place, because besides being old enough to be mentioned in ancient Hindu texts, the town also features the world’s finest deep-water harbours. The town is on the way to the beaches of Uppuveli and Nilaveli, and many tourists come here for exactly that purpose. Beach activities and whale watching expeditions are famous attractions for visitors. Tiriyaya Stupa and Koneswaram temples are the evidence of the kinship of Buddhist and Hindu cultures. Koneswaram Temple is an important landmark of the town placed on the top of the Beach Mountain. Besides being a vibrant religious spot, this beautiful and welcoming temple also offers the best views over the Ocean. Trincomalee still retains enough history and charm to be considered unique in its own right.
This holy town is a vivid example of religious extravagance and is a renewable source of cultural energy. The main shrines of Maha Devalaya are devoted to god Katharagama. Being an important religious pilgrimage site for devotees of major religions, it is one of those wonderful places where the timeless pieces of work within the temples and houses of worship whisper the legends of ancient times. Thousands of people travel here annually to receive blessings for anything important to them. The Hindu Kataragama festival is the best time for pilgrimage, but you should book the accommodation beforehand. You can visit the Kataragama temple and witness the Buddhist worshippers playing drums and sharing the area with representatives of other religions, like Muslims, Hinduists and sometimes Christians worshipping in peace each to their own believe. The friendly attitude of the worshipers fills the air with tolerance and understanding… quite an appropriate atmosphere for culture enthusiasts.
This place of great beauty is an unmissable destination due to the Dutch-colonial heritage, but it’s also exotic in its own right. The tropical setting changes gradually into classic colonial architecture and looks like straight out of a postcard. Many tourists like strolling around boutique shops, but those who are here for the atmosphere of the history and ocean breeze, can walk around the fort, the lighthouse and narrow back streets.
The medieval fort being surrounded by the ocean is an oasis of peace compared to the hussel and bussel of the town. However, when you begin to explore this place, architectural surprises, like Galapatha Temple or Fort Shri Sudarmalaya Buddhist Temple, appear at most unlikely corners. Little antique and fashionable boutiques, cafes and hotels fill the air with a buzz of energy. A former trading hub now develops its touristic potential, but the fisheries and shops, which sell a head-spinning assortment of spices, still exist.
This incredible city of the past was settled in 900 B.C and now it’s the living witness of the ancient Sinhalese Kingdom. The evocative sights of Anuradhapura contain a rich collection of archaeological and architectural wonders, some of which are still in use as holy places, where many religious ceremonies are held giving the city a mysterious charm. The city boasts many Buddhist temples, enormous dagobahs, soaring towers, which whisper tales of yore.
Sri Maha Bodhi is an incredible site, where you can watch pilgrims reciting prayers and offering flowers and why not join them. Though the place is difficult to photograph because of the fences, it’s still interesting to have a look at this tree, which is reputed to be one of the oldest on the island and according to the legend it has grown from a cutting taken off the tree under which Buddha was enlightened. The place is a holy and respectable one, and is regarded as a living Buddha, so it’s advised to keep silence. Another exciting centre of worship is Ruwanwelisaya: the oldest stupa in Anuradhapura. Ratnaprasada palace being all in ruins still retains a good pocket of history. Samadhi Statue is a very peaceful looking Buddha statue, which is worth seeing up close and personal to admire the great craftsmanship due to which the expression on Buddha’s face changes, when you look at it from different perspectives. Buddha being in the position of Dhyana Mudra is associated with Nirvana and is a culturally important statue for all the Buddhists. The centerpiece of an old monastic complex Abhayagiriya Dagoba reflects Buddhist beauty and solemnity in its own way. The biggest of all Buddhist shrines in Shri Lanka is Jethawanaramaya Stupa, which is a huge testimony to building skills of the ancestors of the locals and makes you feel like a dwarf in its presence.