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UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka

| Words by Ashley Diterlizzi |

Sri Lanka is home to an abundance of culturally significant sites, many of which date back hundreds of years. Travel through time and experience life of the kings at Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage Listed sites.

Sigiriya Rock

Ancient city of Sigiriya

Arguably one of the most popular attractions in Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale District. Also known as the lion rock for its huge lion’s paws, travellers able to climb the 200 metres to the top are rewarded with views of the surrounding jungle. Part of the country’s cultural triangle, the site was an ancient capital, a royal palace and a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. The rock was declared an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.

Temple of the Tooth

Sacred city of Kandy

Located in central Sri Lanka, Kandy is set on a plateau, surrounded by mountains and lush tea plantations. Kandy is famous for its Buddhist sites which include the Temple of the Tooth shrine, said to house the most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha. The city was the last capital of the Sinhala Kings whose reign ended with the arrival of the British in 1815.

Ruins at Polonnaruwa

Ancient city of Polonnaruwa

What remains of the time when kings ruled the central plains of Sri Lanka 800 years ago is protected under UNESCO in Polonnaruwa. The archaeological park showcases ruins of the royal palace, the king’s audience hall, sacred quadrangle and a swimming pool. The ancient royal city was moved here from Anuradhapura where in the Chola dynasty, they believed it was better protected and had fewer mosquitos.

Buddha Statue

Sacred city of Anuradhapura

The sacred city of Anuradhapura was established around the tree of enlightenment, a Buddhist fig tree which was brought to the region in the 3rd century BC. Now the capital of the north central province, the city is home to a rich collection of ancient architectural wonders.

Dambulla cave temple

Golden temple of Dambulla

The golden temple has been a sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries. The cave-temple is well preserved and showcases Buddhist mural paintings, making it the perfect addition to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The caves also houses 157 Buddhist statues.

Galle Lighthouse

Old Town Galle

Founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Galle stands as an example of a European-built fortified city. Colonial Dutch buildings stand alongside ancient mosques and churches and the Galle lighthouse stands at the southeast tip of the fort. Now, the bustling township is home to modern cafes and restaurants catered to visitors.

Birdlife in Sri Lanka

Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Located in south-west Sri Lanka, Sinharaja is the country’s last viable tropical rainforest. More than 60% of the trees in the reserve are endemic and many of them are considered rare, earning its place among the UNESCO World Heritage Listed sites in 1988. The forest reserve is also home to half of the country’s native animal species which include butterflies and reptiles.

Delve into Sri Lanka's past on one of our small group journeys or check out our range of private tours.