Most Popular Places of Interest in Sri Lanka

Scrounging about for undiscovered gems of the world has never been a more daunting and energy-syphoning process.

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The corners of this planet appear as if they’ve shrunk down to size, becoming ever smaller with less new lands to explore. Despite these dire prognoses, some places are still out there, tucked away for some late post-modern discovery. One of the destinations still largely veiled in secrecy is Sri Lanka, an island country in the unpredictable Indian Ocean. Places of interest in Sri Lanka come in various forms, competing for the attention of fervent discoverers.

Path to Sigiriya in Sri Lanka

What’s so inviting about this place, you might wonder? Well, as is the case with all the other lost jewels of planet Earth, the true satisfaction comes from demystifying that little that remains to be demystified. You won’t find rowdy droves of tourists here, nor will you find incessant hustle and bustle that often derive from the said tourists. While they’re off on some other, albeit more popular destination, you’ll get to have an adventure of your lifetime on an exotic island, walking in footsteps of an ancient civilization.

Udawalawe National Park

Bordering Sabaragamuwa and Uva provinces, Udawalawe National Park provides the wildlife displaced during the construction of a reservoir with a place to call home.

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Covered mostly in expanding planes with only a couple of mountains to tear the horizon, the area around the Walawe River is home to the widest of varieties of flora and fauna. Most notably, it is a home to the majestic elephants of Sri Lanka which are all but gone from the actual wilderness. Besides elephants, families of water buffalos, wild boars, mongooses and grey langurs wander the park, basking in the proximity of the Walave River. Other than these, most notable of all the animals (thanks to their likeness being featured on a series of stamps), you can run into an occasional Indian hare, jackals and macaques.

Two Elephants near the River, Sri Lanka

Nature wildlife preserves such as this one can be experienced as a part of a group similar to a safari tour, unravelling the story of Sri Lankan creatures from a safe distance.

Kandy

At the very heart of the island, there exists a temple of immense cultural and spiritual significance. On the Kandy plateau lies the city of Kandy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site trapped by rolling green heals surrounding the central province.

Besides being the administrative centre of the region, Kandy has a long and illustrious history. The Royal Palace has been home to more than a single monarch, however, there was much more to this grand complex than what you’ll be able to see today. The artificial Kandy Lake adds to the overall beauty of the landscape, but it’s not even remotely as interesting as the Temple of the Tooth.

A Temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka

This, the most sacred of sites in the Buddhist tradition apparently has a unique relic on display – Buddha’s tooth. If you happen to find yourselves in Kandy during summer, you’ll be able to observe Esala Perahera. It is at this event that the relic makes its way around town on the back of an elephant, supported by the beating of the drums and moves of the traditional dancers.

Galle

Before its long colonial history, Galle was more commonly known as Gimhathiththa. The former definitely rolls off the tongue more gently, at least for us European folk.

Much like in Kandy, there’s also a World Heritage Site to be found in here. Galle Fort was built by Dutch colonialists to protect the valuable harbour, whose prominence has survived throughout the years. It’s still the largest structure of its kind in this corner of the world. But, if forts aren’t your forte, pun intended, the Dutch have left the most astonishing villas, remnants of European colonial architecture that, perhaps, serve as a reminder of bleaker times.

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All around Galle, there’s plenty of natural beauty to be had as well, especially the meandering Gin River. If you’d fancy a good legend, head out the way of the Rumassala hill, where, as some people believe, certain events from Ramayana took place.

Adam’s Peak

Locally known as Sri Pada, or ‘the sacred foot’, Adam’s Peak is one of the highest mountain peaks on the island.

Buddha at Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka

As you may or may not have known before, most of the largest world’s religions trace their footsteps back to this towering mountain. When we say footsteps, we mean that quite literally, considering the existence of a mark resembling a foot located at the very summit. Depending on who you ask, the footprint belongs to Adam, or Shiva, or Buddha.

Besides this relatively important landmark, hiking up the trails leading to the summit will also reveal the green convexedness surrounding Adam’s Peak in the shape of its hills. One can easily realise why Adam’s Peak is among the most breathtaking places of interest in Sri Lanka and quite worth visiting. Whether you consider it a holy site or not is of little importance and its six trails should find themselves on your travel itinerary.

Nuwara Eliya

Believe it or not, Sri Lanka also has its own City of Light, but it’s something different altogether.

Nuwara Eliya is also known as the City on the Plain thanks to is highly hospitable position in the central province, even though it’s surrounded by hills on all sides. Hailing from Nuwara Eliya is some of the best tea you can have in Sri Lanka. That is yet another fragment from this country’s colonial history, only a different one in this instance. Hill Club, General’s House, Queen’s Cottage and their architecture, combined with all the tea plantations have garnered it the appropriate nickname of Little England.

Nuwara Eliya Hills in Sri Lanka

Above all, you’ll find the highest peak on the island, Pidurutalagala, staring down at Sri Lanka from its 2,524-metre tall vantage point. Any real Sri Lanka tour should take you in this direction as the beauty and culture of Nuwara Eliya are just a couple of reasons to visit this picturesque region.

Mirissa

As is the case with Arugam Bay, travellers often come here for a relaxing day on the beach, sipping colourful drinks or engaging in a lively nightlife scene.

Unlike Arugam Bay though, Mirissa offers quite a unique experience that you’d do well to partake in. We’re of course referring to dolphin and whale watching, an activity that’s amazing no matter how old you are or who you’re travelling with. Mee the rich marine life of Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean from a relatively short distance and marvel at their gentleness and intelligence.

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Other than that, you can simply enjoy yourself in this quiet village, having drinks, going partying or participating in a wide variety of water sports and activities. Above all else, relax and have a good time in Mirissa.

Polonnaruwa

Any visit in Sri Lanka has the potential of taking you to to not one but multiple World Heritage Sites, as this exotic island is swimming in them.

Ruins of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka

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Polonnaruwa is most famous as the biggest congregation of ruins on the island. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the 10th-century architecture, this would be the place to visit. With so many ruins of stupas, temples, tombs and palaces, Polonnaruwa takes one of the highest, if not the highest precedence in any serious cultural exploration efforts. Without visiting the capital of old, you’re likely going to miss out on a big chunk Sri Lankan history and tradition, so make sure you come here while you’re visiting places of interest in Sri Lanka. The odds are you’ll find the most memorable and culturally elevating experience right here.

Arugam Bay

There’s a lot of culture and history to be found here, and plenty of it. There’s even the Kumana National Park for lovers of nature.

But most of all, there’s surfing in Arugam Bay! For those that have found Sri Lanka to be a bit of a buzzkill and whose adventurous soul is seeking indulgence, hit the waves at Main Point and feel the power of the waves coming in from the Indian Ocean. Unless you’ve had some practice in the past, the wisest course of action would be to take it easy as it can get pretty rough.

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Even if you don’t feel like facing the crashing waves head-on, there’s still the beach and it beckons the tourist come closer and relax. After all, not everyone is interested in incessant exploring without a breather. Some people would like to treat themselves to a nice relaxing holiday on a remote island and its sandy beaches.

Sigiriya

In the north of the Matale District, you’ll find one of the most awe-inspiring places, commonly attributed the generous title of a wonder of the world.

Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka

Sigiriya, or ‘Lion’s Paw’, is a rock fortress overlooking the entire area. It gets its name from an actual lino’s paw carved in stone next to the entrance to the fortress. Sigiriya is a place where the stuff of legends is closely interwoven with the factual past. On the more factual end, history follows the lives of Kashyapa and his half-brother Moggallana. Having murdered their father and usurped the throne, Kashyapa walled himself off inside Sigiriya knowing that the rightful heir Moggallana will try and claim his right to rule. This page of the history books ends with Kashyapa’s death and Sigiriya falling to his brother’s hands, but not before he turned it into a pleasure palace.

More than anything else, Sigiriya is a spectacular landmark today worth a visit to Sri Lanka on its own merits.

Jaffna

In the north of the illustrious island nation of Sri Lanka, you’ll find Jaffna, also called the city of the temples and for a good reason.

Unfortunately, the beauty of this area has been marred by a recent civil war that ended ten years ago. However, most of the temples found in this city are still as grand as they ever were. Spiritual travel often leads people to this destination and for a good reason. It goes without saying that even those of no religious inclinations can find a lot of beauty and culture here. The most prominent of all the temples is probably the Nallur Kandaswamy temple, which also happens to be the largest Saiva place of worship in this part of the island.

Hindu Temple in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

These are just some of the most popular places in Sri Lanka. Just like with many other travel destinations, it would take a lot more time to truly get acquainted with the country and its people. There’s a lot of culture and history to be digested, so go easy and stay as long as you need to in order to really understand a place as wondrous and exotic as Sri Lanka. Make sure to have good insurance, a habit best practised on all of your journeys. After all, who knows how long it’ll be before the place starts seeing hordes of visitors, it might be better to quietly experience it while you still can.