One of the most interesting countries that we’ve ever been lucky enough to visit, Sri Lanka should be on everyone’s travel bucket list. Whether you want beautiful beaches, stunning wildlife experiences, to chase waterfalls or just learn a tiny bit about the Buddhist culture, Sri Lanka offers all this in absolute spades. What’s more, there are just so many incredible landmarks and historic sites to explore in this country that you’ll want to spend a few weeks visiting. Want to see them all? We count down all the most iconic landmarks in Sri Lanka.
Have you visited any of these Sri Lanka landmarks? Do let us know in the comments below!
Read next: Looking to plan a trip to Sri Lanka? Here is the perfect Sri Lanka itinerary for you.
Our top 10 landmarks in Sri Lanka
Although we’ve gone into far more detail on each of our top Sri Lanka landmarks, we’ve also curated a list of the top 10 landmarks in Sri Lanka that should make it onto any trip to the country:
- Sigiriya Rock Fortress
- Dambulla Cave Temple
- Galle Fort
- Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
- Adam’s Peak
- Ruwanweli Maha Seya
- Nine Arches Bridge
- Lipton’s Seat
- Jaffna Fort
- Gal Vihara
Sigiriya Rock Fortress
When we first saw the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya, it was a spectacular view, from our stunning hotel. But, we’ll be honest, with the landmark so far off in the distance, it didn’t appear that impressive. Boy were we wrong!
Probably the most famous landmark in all of Sri Lanka, and one of the most famous in Asia, Sigiriya Rock Fortress has relatively recently become uber famous, mainly thanks to it being well photographed on Instagram. And yes, it is very Instagram-worthy…
The UNESCO World Heritage Site, situated not far from Dambulla (more on that shortly), became the capital in the 5th century under King Kashyapa, who chose this imposing 200m high rock as the location for his palace.
Derived from its Sanskrit name meaning Lion Rock, and with amazing Lions paws carved halfway up, the palace was abandoned after the King’s death, but then became a Buddhist monastery for the next 800 or so years.
You have to have a pretty good head for heights to make it to the summit, but the views offered once you reach the top are well worth the little vertigo you may get on the way up!
Recommended: Do you think Sigiriya made it onto our list of most famous landmarks in the world?
Dambulla Cave Temple
Well technically the Dambulla Cave Temple and Golden Temple, not located too far away from Sigiriya are another of the must-visit landmarks in Sri Lanka.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Dambulla Cave Temple is accessed with a little climb up to the rock tower around 160m up, so make sure you’re wearing good clothing for the hike up, and take water, since it can be blisteringly hot.
But once again, when you reach the summit, you are in for an absolutely amazing treat. Not only are the views back down beautiful, within the caves are the largest and best-preserved cave temples in all of Sri Lanka.
The temple complex, which spans across 5 different caves, dates back over 2000 years. And you’ll be in awe of the Buddhist statues and drawings that you find inside.
Once finished at the cave temple, head back down the far side, past some cheeky monkeys, to the Golden Temple, which has one of the largest seated Buddha statues in Sri Lanka, and there is a museum that you can visit.
The impressive Galle Fort was originally constructed by the Portuguese way back in latter half of the 16th century, before being updated and strengthened by the Dutch from the mid-1600s.
Sitting on a peninsula on the far Southwest of the country, the fortress is huge, and itself encompasses a number of other important landmarks in and around it, including the beautiful Galle Fort Lighthouse, Dutch Church, Meera Mosque and Galle International Cricket Stadium.
It’s a great place to explore the streets of the old town, and you won’t be disappointed with a good wander around all of the Galle Fort walls!
Top tip: If you happen to be in Galle when there is an International cricket match taking place, then there is no better place to watch than with a few locals, than on the walls of Galle Fort!
Ruwanweli Maha Seya
There are loads of landmarks to visit in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, but it is Ruwanweli Maha Seya, the enormous stupa that makes it onto our list!
So maybe first to touch on the Sacred City of Anuradhapura, which was the first ancient capital of Sri Lanka, within which are some of the best-preserved ruins of the Great Sri Lankan Civilization, and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The ancient city was the capital of the country for 1600 odd years from 4th century BC spanning to the 11th century. And in around 140 BC, King Dutugemunu built the original stupa (also known as Ruwanwelisaya), to house many sacred Buddhist relics.
The huge white stupa is now over 100m tall, and one of the world’s tallest ancient landmarks. It’s a really impressive and spiritual place to visit.
Top Tip: Many visitors flock to Anuradhapura just to see the famous Bodhi Tree, Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a sacred fig tree that is said to be the oldest known human planted tree! It was planted in 288 BC from a sapling of another Bodhi tree, where Buddha became enlightened.
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
Kandy is one of those cities that people either tend to love or hate, and for us, it was love. A cultural mecca on its own, and with the beautiful Lake Kandy to boot, of course something from this city had to make it onto this list of Sri Lankan landmarks.
The crowning glory in Kandy? Sri Dalada Maligawa or, as it’s better known, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic sits front and centre in this UNESCO World Heritage city, as one of the leading religious sites.
The 16th century Buddhist temple is on the grounds of the royal palace complex, from the times when the Kingdom of Kandy ruled the region, and its big draw is being home to Sri Lanka’s most important relic, a tooth of the Buddha.
Top tip: There was something about visiting the temple in the evening that made it extra special – illuminated beautifully against the night sky and with thousands of candles flickering it’s very atmospheric after dark. Try and visit in the late afternoon and early evening.
One for all you hiking enthusiasts! Adam’s Peak is not only an amazing mountain viewed from afar and a great peak to climb, but is also a sacred mountain for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians.
At 2,243m, hiking to the summit is no simple feat and will take you around 3 hours to get there. And you’re in for more than 5,000 steps, so make sure you’re in a position to do the climb, or you may well need a couple of days to recover afterwards!
It’s well worth trying to start the climb super early so you can try and get to the top for sunrise… there aren’t many better places to see the sunrise in Sri Lanka. And don’t forget it’ll also take a couple of hours to get down!
Yala National Park
We had to include at least one of Sri Lanka’s national parks onto the list of best Sri Lankan landmarks, and the one that’s made it is Yala National Park, the most famous and popular in the country.
Set over 900 square km of grasslands, you’ll likely encounter elephants, deer and buffalo but its main drawcard has to be the stunning Sri Lankan leopard. It was set up as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and along with Wilpattu (another great place to visit), became one of the first 2 national parks in Sri Lanka in 1938.
Top tip: if elephants are your thing, then you may want to check out Minneriya National Park, it has the largest herd of Asian elephants in the wild! Known as the Gathering, you’ll see around 300 elephants in a huge group.
Another of the most important temples in Sri Lanka, situated in Colombo, this 120-year-old Buddhist temple is not by any stretch of the imagination the oldest, but given its importance in Colombo we had to include this on the landmarks list.
The Gangaramaya temple attracts worshippers from near and far with the complex itself boasting architecture and beautiful statues with many influences; including Chinese, Thai, Burmese and Sri Lankan styles.
There is also a museum on site, showcasing Buddha statues and many beautiful collectables. There is also a tiny, almost microscopic Buddha in a glass case, only visible when using a magnifying glass!
Avukana Buddha Statue
Another statue that really makes you wonder how they managed to create such incredible sculptures so long ago. And without doubt another landmark that you should definitely have on your bucket list.
The standing Buddha was constructed at some point during the 5th century, during the reign of King Dhatusena, and is a 12m high depiction, carved out of a single granite rock face.
Top tip: If you’re in the area, make sure that you check out the Buddha carving at Sasseruwa. Another beautifully created statue carved out of rock that could quite easily make it onto this landmarks list too!
Nine Arches Bridge
This landmark was only just getting recognition when we first visited Sri Lanka, before it took the Instagram world by storm.
Also called the Bridge in the Sky, the viaduct near the hill station of Ella, is one of the best examples of colonial railway in the country.
And of course you can’t go to Sri Lanka without seeking this little gem out. Especially as it’s just outside of Ella, which has to be one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka.
Ancient City of Polonnaruwa
We told you about Anuradhapura earlier? Well as Anuradhapura fell into ruin, so Polonnaruwa rose in fame. The second capital of Sri Lanka, for three centuries it was the epicentre of the country, and home to both the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms.
Essentially the entire city is an ancient ruin, as this garden city fell into disrepair when the Sri Lanka capital moved again, this time to Colombo in the early 13th century.
There are a number of incredible monuments and Sri Lanka landmarks dotted around the ancient city, including the Royal Palace, the elephant-adorned Audience Hall and dagobas (stupas) like Rankot Vihara and Pabalu Vehera.
It might seem misleading to give Gal Vihara it’s own entry – it’s nestled in our previous listing, Polonnaruwa, after all – but this incredible rock temple definitely deserves accolades in its own right.
This spectacular Sri Lankan landmark was first carved out of large granite gneiss rock back in the 12th century, under the watchful eye of Parakramabahu I.
The temple is renowned for the four relief statues etched out of rock, known to be some of the best remaining examples of Sinhalese sculpture. Some have said that the statues are in honour of the monk Ananda (and not Buddha as others believe) but, regardless of who they depict they are a must-visit landmark in Sri Lanka, especially if you’re planning a visit to picturesque Polonnaruwa
With so many soaring buildings on this list of Sri Lanka landmarks, it’s worth including another natural contender to the countdown: Bambarakanda Falls.
Billed as the tallest waterfall in the country, this horsetail fall is 263m (860 feet) high, making it a pretty impressive natural attraction, albeit only the 300th tallest in the world.
Perched within the deep pine forests of the Badulla district, Bambarakanda Falls isn’t a very touristy spot, making it great for those wanting to get off the beaten track. Those keen on a walk can do the trail to the top of the falls, and rewarded with another miniature waterfall and a refreshing pool to relax in.
Top tip: If you want to visit Bambarakanda you’ll probably want to go between March and May, when there is the most water without it being the monsoon season (which runs from November to February).
The second largest fort after the aforementioned Galle, the Jaffna Fort is another lasting monument to Sri Lanka’s colonial past.
Built by the Portuguese in 1618 it was then rebuilt by the Dutch in 1680. Designed in the signature Dutch shape of a pentagon, there is quite a bit to explore in and around the fort.
While many of the historic buildings, like the governor’s residence, the military barracks and the guardhouse are in ruins, you can still see beautiful structures like the Dutch Reformed Church standing today.
A visit to the Fort is also not complete without wandering the series of tunnels and marvelling at the fortifications like the dry ditch and moat, all built to protect Jaffna from invasion.
Last, but definitely not least, on this list of spectacular landmarks in Sri Lanka, is Lipton’s Seat. Located in the lush, tea plantation-rich town of Ella, this is a viewpoint giving you panoramic views across the town; and well worth the walk.
Named after Sir Thomas Lipton, the tea baron, this spot is where Lipton used to go to sit and survey his plantations, as it overlooks his famous Dambetenna Tea Estate.
While it’s a bit of a climb, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping vistas not just over the estate but, on a clear day, you can see as far was the Wedihiti Kanda mountains, or the lakes of Chandrika, Handapanagala and Udawalawe.
Interactive Map of Landmarks in Sri Lanka
Want to see where these landmarks are located? Here is a Sri Lanka map of the most beautiful monuments, natural landscapes and iconic places:
So, what did you think of our list of the ultimate landmarks in Sri Lanka? Are there any iconic places and famous monuments in Sri Lanka that you think we’ve missed off? If so, let us know in the comments below or get in touch with us here!
If you’re keen to find out some of the other incredible landmarks from across Asia, then check out some of these guides:
- 21 Iconic building and landmarks in Singapore
- Famous places in Myanmar
- Most iconic buildings and landmarks in Vietnam
- The ultimate Indonesia landmarks
- Thailand’s 21 most iconic places
- Iconic places and famous landmarks in Malaysia
What camera equipment and other gear do we use?
We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.
- Main Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
- Drone: DJI Mavic Air – Fly More Combo
- GoPro: Hero 7 Black
- GoPro Dive Case: Go Pro Housing
- GoPro Case: Smatree GoPro Carry Case – Small
- Packing Cubes: Eagle Creek Packing case
- Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 70
- Powerbank: Anker Powercore
- Phone: Xiaomi Mi 9
- Hard drive: Transcend Slim Storejet 2TB
- Laptop: Lenovo IdeaPad 720s
- Headphones: Bose Quiet Comfort 35
- Wifi Hotspot: GlocalMe G4
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