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17 Incredible Landmarks in Sri Lanka You Don't Want to Miss

Charlotte Boswell

The teardrop island of Sri Lanka is home to some of the subcontinent’s greatest cultural and historic treasures. Located at the southern tip of India, the island has played host to numerous peoples and religions – all of which have left their indelible mark on the country. Here are 17 of Sri Lanka’s best landmarks. 

1. Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Sigiriya 

The UNESCO-listed ancient rock fortress at Sigiriya is one of the most recognisable and possibly dramatic landmarks in Sri Lanka. Rising majestically out of the emerald forest, Sigiriya was built in 495 AD and served as a palace with colourful frescoes for King Kasyapa. You can hike to the top of Sigiriya to explore the ancient ruins, or alternatively climb the opposite Pidurangala Rock for the most breathtaking views of Sigiriya Rock itself. 

Sigiriya Rock Fortress Sri Lanka

2. Quadrangle, Polonnaruwa 

The Quadrangle is part of the historic site of Polonnaruwa in the North Central Province and is one of the finest collections of ancient buildings in Sri Lanka. This compact group of ruins are situated on a raised-up area bound by a wall, and at the time the Quadrangle would have served as the religious heart of the city. The detail of the ruins is intricate and stunning, complete with pillars, detailed steps and Buddha figures.

Sitting Buddha and Monk in Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka

3. Galle Fort and Old Town, Galle 

Galle’s famed UNESCO-listed fort is a fortified walled town within the city founded by Portuguese colonists in the 16th century. This exotic old trading port town offers visitors a unique blend of Portuguese, Dutch and British architecture and wonders such as the Dutch Reformed Church and the prominent lighthouse. Wander down the quaint cobbled lanes to soak up the atmosphere of the stylish cafes and charming boutiques, or hunt for some vintage deals in the Galle Fort Flea Market every Sunday.  

Galle Fort Lighthouse Beach in Sri Lanka

4. Adam’s Peak, Ella 

Within the emerald forests of Sri Lanka’s hill country lies the soaring summit of Adam’s Peak, standing at an impressive 2,243m tall. This striking natural landmark is shrouded in mystery and legend has it that at the summit is the footprint of the Buddha himself. Subsequently it is one of the most celebrated places of pilgrimage in Sri Lanka. Adam’s Peak is usually tackled best by starting the ascent at night, so you have a higher chance of marvelling at the spectacular views free from cloud and mist.   

Golden Buddha Overlooking Adams Peak Sri Lanka

5. Cave Temples, Dambulla 

Another of Sri Lanka’s many World Heritage Sites, the Dambulla Cave Temple complex is the largest and best-preserved cave monastery in the country and is believed to have been a place of worship since the 1st century BC. The richly painted complex is made up of five separate sanctuaries containing over 150 beautiful Buddha statues and murals portraying some of the country’s most important religious art.

Cave Temples Golden Buddha in Dambulla Sri Lanka

6. Abhayagiri Dagoba, Anuradhapura 

The first glimpse of this terracotta domed monument as you emerge from the forest is simply wonderful. The vast Dagoba dates back to the 1st century and stood, initially, at 100m high making it one of the most colossal structures of the ancient world (along with the pyramids of Giza) at the time. When exploring the stupa, you will be captivated by the beautiful wall carvings including elephants and Buddhas and also the impressive octagonal spire.  

Abhayagiri Dagoba in Anuradhapura Sri Lanka

7. Nine Arch Bridge, Ella 

The rail journey between Kandy and Ella is often regarded as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, passing green rolling hills, lush tea plantations and tumbling waterfalls. An iconic part of this route is the Nine Arch Bridge, one of the engineering marvels of the early 20th century built purely by stone and cement with no strengthening iron. Although you will not be able to see the bridge at its finest whilst on the train, once in Ella you can either walk down the rail tracks or through an easy jungle path to be rewarded by incredible views of the bridge.  

Nine Arch Bridge and Train in Ella Sri Lanka

8. Gal Vihara Buddha Figures, Polonnaruwa 

The Gal Vihara, or Stone Shrine, is part of Parakramabahu I’s northern monastery in the ancient town of Polonnaruwa and consists of four beautiful Buddha statues all carved from the same granite slab. The Gal Vihara Buddhas are considered as the pinnacle of Sri Lankan rock carving. The 7m standing Buddha is said to have an unusual sad expression with crossed arms, whilst the 14m reclining Buddha is supposedly entering nirvana.  

Sitting Buddha Statue in Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka

9. Temple of the Tooth, Kandy 

Located in Kandy’s Royal Palace complex, the gold-roofed Temple of the Tooth houses the most important relic in Sri Lanka; the Buddha’s tooth. Visitors are unable to see the legendary tooth as it’s hidden away in a gold casket which contains a series of six caskets diminishing in size. However, the complex is still magnificent to visit and comprises of pretty temples and shrines overlooking shimmering Kandy Lake.

Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy Sri Lanka

10. World’s End, Horton Plains 

World’s End is a spectacular cliff that plunges 880m at the edge of the Horton Plains plateau. The viewpoint is stunning and tea plantation villages can be spotted from the edge of the ridge. A rewarding hike to World’s End is a 9.5km round trip (via a beautiful tumbling waterfall), however the best time to arrive at the escarpment is between 6-9am before the thick white fog sets in.  

View from Worlds End in the Horton Plains Sri Lanka

Photo Credit: Florent MECHAIN

11. Kandasamy Kovil, Trincomalee 

Trincomalee in the Eastern Province is home to one of Sri Lanka’s most revered temples; Kandasamy Kovil. The temple sits on the rocky coastline and was established to protect the teardrop island from natural disaster. It is also dedicated to Shiva and is home to intricate and colourful statues of Hindu gods such as Ganesh. A 130m-high cliff, known as ‘Lovers’ Leap’ after a Dutch woman is said to have jumped in the 17th century, sits to the side of the temple and is a great place to spot blue whales passing through the sapphire ocean.  

Kandasamy Kovil temple in Trincomalee Sri Lanka

Photo credit: Amila Tennakoon

12. Mulkirigala Rock Temples, Tangalle 

Located near the sweeping beach resort of Tangalle, hanging off a rocky cliff lies the Mulkirigala Rock Temples which house seven ancient cave temples. Here you will find several iconic reclining Buddha statues, ancient Buddha texts etched on the walls and fascinating cave paintings depicting sinners with forbidden fruit and then receiving an afterlife of eternal torture! 


Sri Lankan ancient cave paintings

Photo Credit: Indi Samarajiva

13. Lipton’s Seat, Haputale 

Often described as one of Sri Lanka’s best viewpoints, it is not hard to see why Sir Thomas Lipton, the Scottish tea baron, used to sit and contemplate his plantation empire from majestic Lipton’s Seat with its far reaching views of emerald hills and working tea estates. You can either drive to the summit or hike the 8km through lush plantations from the famous Dambatenne Tea Factory where you pass Tamil tea pickers in their colourful attire walking to work. 

 Female Tea Pickers in Hills of Sri Lanka

14. Kiri Vihara Dagoba, Polonnaruwa 

The name Kiri Vihara translates to ‘milk white’ as when archaeologists discovered the site after 700 years of neglect in the jungle, the original white lime plaster of the dagoba was still in perfect condition. Originally built for the King’s Queen back in the 6th century, this dome-shaped stupa acts as an important Buddhist shrine in Polonnaruwa and is one of the best-preserved unrestored dagobas in the town.

White Dagoba Temple in Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka

Photo Credit: Nahid Sultan

15. Jaffna Fort, Jaffna 

A legacy of Sri Lanka’s colonial past, the renowned Jaffna Fort overlooks the city’s gleaming lagoon where you can explore its crumbling walls, moats and impressive gateways. Built in 1618 by the Portuguese, the Dutch colonisers’ re-configured the fort in 1680 designing it into a pentagon shape reflecting a symbol of classic Dutch architecture. After years of the fort being fought over it is slowly being restored to enhance this important piece of the country’s history.

Ancient Jaffna Fort on Lawn in Jaffna Sri Lanka

Photo credit: Amila Tennakoon

16. Mihintale Peak and Ruins, Anuradhapura 

The important mountain peak of Mihintale is believed to be the place where Buddhism was first introduced in Sri Lanka after a meeting between the Buddhist monk Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa took place. Mihintale is a significant pilgrimage site full of ancient ruins; to reach the two remarkable dagobas at the summit, you will pass shimmering pools, ancient monastery ruins and rock inscriptions as well as the important Monk’s Refectory.   

Seated White Buddha in Mihintale Sri Lanka

17. Japanese Peace Pagoda, Unawatuna 

A short distance from the bustling and beautiful beach resort of Unawatuna lies the white and gold studded Japanese Peace Pagoda, rising out of the jungle. Designed to inspire peace and bring people of all races and creeds together, this majestic pagoda offers sweeping views of the ocean and the city of Galle and was constructed in 2005. Marvel at the golden Buddha statues and intricate rock carvings, whilst taking a moment to reflect.

View of white-domed Japanese Peace Pagoda in Unawatuna

Photo credit: Ankur P

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