As an incredibly diverse destination, Sri Lanka offers a plethora of landscapes, wildlife and attractions usually found across an entire continent. Partly ruled by the Dutch and Portuguese during the 16th and 17th century, the island also retains a colonial charm and well-preserved remnants from that era.
There’s something for every type of traveller here, whether you’re a culture enthusiast keen on exploring ancient ruins and temples, or a nature lover set on trekking through remote and breathtaking landscapes. We’ve whittled down the attractions to a select few experiences that’ll be the highlights of your Sri Lanka travel trip:
Discover Galle’s Colonial Charm
Galle, rich in cultural heritage from the Dutch era, is a place that captivates locals and tourists alike. Make your way past the imposing gates of Galle Fort to explore the historic town. The charming streets, colonial-style buildings and remnants from the Dutch era will make you feel as if you’ve travelled back in time.
Other notable attractions within the town that are worth a visit include the Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Museum Complex, National Maritime Museum, Dutch Reformed Church, Kalutara Temple and Meera Mosque.
Enjoy a Scenic Train Ride From Kandy to Ella
Watch on as a spectacular landscape unfolds before your eyes. The train ride from Colombo to Ella, historically used for the purpose of transporting tea leaves out of the island, is now almost a tourist attraction in itself. Numerous travellers include the ride as part of their itinerary, boarding the train at Kandy so as to enjoy the picturesque scenery as it ambles up towards the Hill Country.
You’ll feel like you’re transported into a different country altogether, as the train rolls out of the heat and dust of the city towards the cool, refreshing climate of Nuwara Eliya. A landscape made up of buildings and roads slowly transforms into pointed hills and gentle slopes blanketed by emerald tea plantations. The ride, lasting a duration of about seven hours, ends at a lovely colonial-style station in the sleepy, serene town of Ella.
Hike Up to the Summit of Adam’s Peak
Adam’s Peak cuts an impressive figure along the southwestern region of the Hill Country. Regarded as one of the island’s most celebrated pilgrimage sites, Adam’s Peak draws hordes of travellers who bravely attempt the arduous climb up to the summit of the mountain.
The ascent up to the peak takes about three and a half to four hours, so most hikers start their climb in the wee hours of the early morning. The hike is fairly challenging for most, but is a worthwhile effort as you’ll be rewarded with mesmerising views over the mountain and a magical sunrise show at the summit.
Get Up Close and Personal with Exotic Wildlife
Sri Lanka is one of the best destinations in Asia for seeing wildlife; the island’s wide range of altitudes, heavy rainfall and remoteness from the mainland has given rise to a diverse biodiversity rarely found in a single country.
Extensive grounds across the country have been preserved as sanctuaries for over 2,000 years, allowing wildlife lovers to enjoy the best of the island’s flora and fauna. The national parks of Bundala, Uda Walawe, Horton Plains, Yala and Wilpattu are some of the most popular reserves in the country. The highlights differ across each reserve; Bundala draws hordes of bird watching enthusiasts with its myriad aquatic birdlife, while Yala offers ample opportunities for sighting elephants, sloth bears, birdlife and leopards.
The best times for visiting each reserve may differ greatly due to the seasonal migration of the wildlife, so do keep this in mind when planning your itinerary.
Explore the Sacred Sites of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle
A expedition to the sights of Sri Lanka’s famed Cultural Triangle is a must-do for any culture buff. As its name suggests, the region of the Cultural Triangle forms a triangular shape over the island’s landscape; it starts out from Kandy, stretching up northwards to Anuradhapura and eastwards to Polonnaruwa.
There’s much to see and do in this region. An exploration of the ancient capital of Anuradhapura brings to sight striking stupas, mystical temples and fascinating temple ruins. Mihintale, located close to Anuradhapura, is a sacred location where Buddhism was first introduced to Sri Lanka. A number of significant religious sites are situated here, with temples and stupas sprinkled across the scenic hillside area.
Travel down south towards the middle of the region. There lies Dambulla and Sigiriya, home to UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Dambulla Cave Temple and Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Proceed eastwards to Polonnaruwa, an incredible archeological relic site containing spectacular stupas, vatadages and palace ruins.
The Sacred City of Kandy, the southernmost point of the Cultural Triangle is where you’ll find the renowned Temple of the Tooth — a famous pilgrimage site housing the relic of the tooth of the Buddha.