Things to Do in Sri Lanka
Tucked into Kandy’s historical Royal Palace complex, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is one of Sri Lanka’s top attractions. The 18th-century Buddhist temple, part of what was once Kandy’s royal court, is revered for housing a tooth reputed to have belonged to Buddha himself, with pilgrims and tourists flocking to it as a result.
Built by the Portuguese, the 16th-century Galle Fort occupies a promontory in Sri Lanka’s south-coast city of Galle. Developed into a walled town by the Dutch in the 17th century before the British arrived in 1796, the UNESCO-listed fort boasts cobbled streets and European- and Asian-style buildings enclosed by sea walls.
Situated near Beira Lake in central Colombo, Gangaramaya Temple is one of the city’s largest and oldest Buddhist temple copmlexes. Established in 1885 and composed of pagodas, courtyards, and shrines, it’s best-known for its beautiful lake temple (Seema Malaka), which stands on stone pillars above the waters and is reached via a walkway.
Looming 656 feet (200 meters) above central Sri Lanka, the UNESCO-protected Sigiriya Rock Fortress is a sheer volcanic outcrop crowned by a ruined fortress. Come to admire its wall frescoes, and experience the relics and bird’s-eye views at the summit.
Located in southern Sri Lanka, Udawalawe National Park is the island’s 6th-largest reserve, created in 1972 to house wildlife displaced by the building of the Udawalawe Reservoir. Spot animals such as elephant, buffalo, deer, crocodiles, leopards, and exotic birdlife among the park’s 119 square miles (308 square kilometers).
Fringing a stretch of Colombo’s southern coastline, Galle Face Green is the city’s largest open space, composed of 12-acre (5-hectare) lawns overlooked by the colonial-era Galle Face Hotel. The green, which is flanked by a promenade and narrow beach, is a popular spot for strolling, picnicking, and kite flying.
Founded in 1877, the Colombo National Museum in central Colombo chronicles the history and cultural heritage of Sri Lanka. Also called the Sri Lankan National Museum, the institution occupies a 19th-century Italianate-style building and attracts visitors eager to view its wide collection of treasures.
Rising from Galle Fort’s ramparts on Sri Lanka’s southwest coast, the Galle Lighthouse is one of the UNESCO-protected fort’s most photogenic spots. Built by the British in 1939 to replace an earlier light station, this functioning, 86.9-foot (26.5-meter lighthouse is the island’s oldest and a must-see for fort visitors.
Nestled in the town of Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka’s hill and tea country, Gregory Lake was built as a reservoir in 1873 by the island’s British Governor, Sir William Gregory. Framed by mist-swathed hills, the lake and its park offers visitors plenty of activities, from watersports to footpaths and cycling trails.
Situated in Kosgoda on Sri Lanka’s southwest coast, the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project works to protect endangered sea turtles by conserving nesting sites and providing a hatchery for rescued eggs. Visitors can tour the small, beachside facility to see the turtles, learn about their lifecycle, and discover the project’s work.
More Things to Do in Sri Lanka
In the heart of the city’s prestigious 07 district and framed by palm-lined gardens, Independence Square is one of Colombo’s signature sights. The centerpiece of the square is Independence Memorial Hall, a stone monument that commemorates Sri Lanka’s independence from Britain in 1948.
Leisure World Water Park combines waterslides with rides and kid-friendly attractions for the ultimate day of fun in Sri Lanka. The first park of its kind in the country, Leisure World is a must-visit destination for thrill seekers and families alike.
Situated in central Colombo in the prestigious Cinnamon Gardens neighborhood, the Gem Museum is a 4th-generation family-owned gemstone and jewelry store with an adjoining small museum. Displays showcase many of Sri Lanka’s gemstones, from topaz and blue sapphires to rubies, moonstones, tourmaline, quartz, and alexandrite.
Running west of Kandy, the Alagalla Mountain Range is located deep in Sri Lanka’s heartland. At its northern end is Alagalla Mountain, a 3,740-foot (1,140-meter) peak that draws hikers eager to stand on its summit, the potato-shaped rock that gives it the nickname Potato Mountain and commands magnificent panoramic views.
One of four devales (temples) in Kandy’s Royal Palace compound, the Buddhist Natha Devale stands at the front of the royal complex. Associated with the palace’s Temple of the Tooth and believed to be Kandy’s oldest temple, this 14th-century shrine was built by King Vikramabahu III and attracts both Buddhist and Hindu followers.
A cluster of ancient Buddhist cave shrines on a natural rock that rises 673 feet (205 meters from the jungle floor, the Mulkirigala Rock Monastery is one of south Sri Lanka’s must-sees. While temples have existed here for 2,000 years, the caves are brim with colorful Buddha statues and frescoes dating from the 1700s.
Located within the grounds of Kandy’s Royal Palace, the Maha Vishnu Temple (Maha Vishnu Devalaya) is one of four holy devales (temples) linked to the palace’s Temple of the Tooth. This small complex is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, a Sri Lankan deity who is also considered the guardian of Buddhism, so it draws both Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims.
Deep in Sri Lanka’s hill country, the Ramboda Falls is the island’s 11th highest waterfall, dropping from a height of 358 feet (109 meters). Formed from the River Panna Oya, a tributary of the River Kothmale Oya, the waterfall is framed by emerald forests—making it an especially beautiful and popular stop for travelers.
Sitting 525 feet (160 meters above the Kandy-Jaffna highway in central Sri Lanka, the UNESCO-listed Dambulla Cave Temple is a working Buddhist cave monastery dating to the 1st century BC. The five caves at the heart of the complex are filled with exquisitely painted Buddha statues, carvings, and murals.
Also called the International Buddhist Museum, the World Buddhist Museum in Kandy is the world’s first museum dedicated to the international story of the religion. Located within Kandy’s UNESCO-listed Temple of the Tooth complex, its exhibits chart the history, art, and practices of Buddhism worldwide, from China to Sri Lanka.