Things to Do in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan city of Galle was founded by Portuguese explorers in the sixteenth century. In 1640, the Dutch moved in and began fortifying the town by constructing an 89-acre (36-hectare) fort on the town’s promontory, surrounded on three sides by the Bay of Galle. Today, the old town of Galle and its fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988, ranks among the best preserved European-built fortified cities in Southeast Asia.
The fort remains so much more than a historical attraction. The town is very much still alive. The walled city still houses government buildings, businesses, museums, cafes, and shops. The narrow streets are filled with residents going about their business. The ramparts overlook the Indian Ocean and provide a popular viewing spot at sunrise.
Situated near Beira Lake in central Colombo, Gangaramaya Temple is one of the city’s largest and oldest Buddhist temple copmlexes. Established in 1885 and composed of pagodas, courtyards, and shrines, it’s best-known for its beautiful lake temple (Seema Malaka), which stands on stone pillars above the waters and is reached via a walkway.
Tucked into Kandy’s historical Royal Palace complex, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is one of Sri Lanka’s top attractions. The 18th-century Buddhist temple, part of what was once Kandy’s royal court, is revered for housing a tooth reputed to have belonged to Buddha himself, with pilgrims and tourists flocking to it as a result.
Located in southern Sri Lanka, Udawalawe National Park is the island’s 6th-largest reserve, created in 1972 to house wildlife displaced by the building of the Udawalawe Reservoir. Spot animals such as elephant, buffalo, deer, crocodiles, leopards, and exotic birdlife among the park’s 119 square miles (308 square kilometers).
Gregory Lake is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Nuwara Eliya. Originally a huge swamp area, this man-made lake was constructed in 1873 under the government of Sir William Gregory and was used as a place for relaxation and recreation during the British rule. There are a number of interesting colonial buildings in the area left over from this era.
Today, a plethora of activities and visitor facilities have been introduced around Gregory Lake. There’s the opportunity for walking, bike riding, and horse riding, while on the lake itself, there are a number of operators offering boat rides and various watersports activities. Those who wish to get out and enjoy the lake independently can even hire a distinctive two-seater swan boat.
Situated in central Colombo in the prestigious Cinnamon Gardens neighborhood, the Gem Museum is a 4th-generation family-owned gemstone and jewelry store with an adjoining small museum. Displays showcase many of Sri Lanka’s gemstones, from topaz and blue sapphires to rubies, moonstones, tourmaline, quartz, and alexandrite.
Galle Lighthouse is located within the historic Galle Fort in Sri Lanka and is one of just 14 remaining lighthouses in the country. In fact, this is Sri Lanka's oldest light station and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The original structure was built in 1848, but was destroyed in a fire in the 1930s. The current lighthouse was built 100 meters away from the original site upon ramparts standing six meters above ground level. The light station itself is just over 26 meters tall, giving it a panoramic view of the harbour.
The Galle Fort lighthouse overlooks a small beach, and there are a number of shops and restaurants nearby. The area provides some fantastic views and photo opportunities, although unfortunately visitors are unable to enter the lighthouse to climb up it.
Fringing a stretch of Colombo’s southern coastline, Galle Face Green is the city’s largest open space, composed of 12-acre (5-hectare) lawns overlooked by the colonial-era Galle Face Hotel. The green, which is flanked by a promenade and narrow beach, is a popular spot for strolling, picnicking, and kite flying.
Looming 656 feet (200 meters) above central Sri Lanka, the UNESCO-protected Sigiriya Rock Fortress is a sheer volcanic outcrop crowned by a ruined fortress. Come to admire its wall frescoes, and experience the relics and bird’s-eye views at the summit.
Founded in 1877, the Colombo National Museum in central Colombo chronicles the history and cultural heritage of Sri Lanka. Also called the Sri Lankan National Museum, the institution occupies a 19th-century Italianate-style building and attracts visitors eager to view its wide collection of treasures.
More Things to Do in Sri Lanka
Leisure World Water Park combines waterslides with rides and kid-friendly attractions for the ultimate day of fun in Sri Lanka. The first park of its kind in the country, Leisure World is a must-visit destination for thrill seekers and families alike.
In the heart of the city’s prestigious 07 district and framed by palm-lined gardens, Independence Square is one of Colombo’s signature sights. The centerpiece of the square is Independence Memorial Hall, a stone monument that commemorates Sri Lanka’s independence from Britain in 1948.
Running west of Kandy, the Alagalla Mountain Range is located deep in Sri Lanka’s heartland. At its northern end is Alagalla Mountain, a 3,740-foot (1,140-meter) peak that draws hikers eager to stand on its summit, the potato-shaped rock that gives it the nickname Potato Mountain and commands magnificent panoramic views.
One of four devales (temples) in Kandy’s Royal Palace compound, the Buddhist Natha Devale stands at the front of the royal complex. Associated with the palace’s Temple of the Tooth and believed to be Kandy’s oldest temple, this 14th-century shrine was built by King Vikramabahu III and attracts both Buddhist and Hindu followers.
Located within the grounds of Kandy’s Royal Palace, the Maha Vishnu Temple (Maha Vishnu Devalaya) is one of four holy devales (temples) linked to the palace’s Temple of the Tooth. This small complex is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, a Sri Lankan deity who is also considered the guardian of Buddhism, so it draws both Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims.
The Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation Project is a small venue in Kosgoda that’s run by volunteers and relies on donations to help protect Sri Lanka’s turtles from extinction.
The central aim of the project is to monitor local sea turtle activity and to conserve the local nesting sites. A crucial element is the hatchery, where rescued eggs can hatch safely, away from the clutches of potential predators (or poachers) before being released into the ocean at night. In addition, a selection from each hatching are kept at the sanctuary for a short period for 'headstarting' before their release.
Another of the project’s aims is to increase public awareness of how endangered the creatures are and just how important it is to help protect them as a species. Volunteers are on hand to show guests around the various tanks to see (but not touch) the different types of turtles. These volunteers are generally well-informed and encourage visitors to ask questions and find out more about the project.
Deep in Sri Lanka’s hill country, the Ramboda Falls is the island’s 11th highest waterfall, dropping from a height of 358 feet (109 meters). Formed from the River Panna Oya, a tributary of the River Kothmale Oya, the waterfall is framed by emerald forests—making it an especially beautiful and popular stop for travelers.
The one-of-a-kind World Buddhist Museum, also known as the International Buddhist Museum, showcases the growth and history of Buddhism across all of Asia. Travelers who journey through the galleries, exhibit halls and displays will find artifacts, art work,
and other items that tell the story of how the culture and religion expanded from east to west.
Visitors are asked to follow a specific path that winds through models of sacred buildings, photographs and a number of Buddhist artifacts. Whether travelers are well-versed in the religion or new to the scene entirely, guests agree that most anyone will leave the World Buddhist Museum with a deeper understanding of the tradition and the beliefs associated with this global religion.
Mulkirigala Rock Temple (Mulkirigala Raja Maha Vihara) refers to a collection of ancient Buddhist cave temples situated on a craggy rock in the Southern Province of Sri Lanka. Surrounded by lush green forest, there are seven rock caves perched on five terraced levels of varying altitudes. These include the Lower Terrace (Patha Maluwa), Bo Tree Terrace (Bodhi Maluwa), the Great King's Temple Terrace (Raja Maha Vihara Maluwa), Upper Bo Tree Terrace (Uda Bodhi Maluwa), and Chetiya Terrace (Chaitya Maluwa).
All levels of the Mulgrigala rock temples are reached via well-paved granite pathways and many steps. Along the way, you’ll see reclining, seated, and standing Buddhas images, as well as elaborate religious wall paintings within the caves. Further up, perched at the summit some 205 meters above sea level (and having climbed more than 500 steps), you’ll find a small dagoba, not to mention some incredible views over the surrounding forests.
Dambulla Cave Temple (Golden Temple of Dambulla) is the largest temple complex in Sri Lanka and dates back to the 1st century BC when King Valagamba took refuge in this giant rocky outcrop in central Sri Lanka. He had magnificent temples carved out from the caves here, some 150 meters above the surrounding plains. Today, the caves are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The hike up to the Dambulla cave temples is via a gentle slope and there are some superb views when you reach the top, with the Sigiriya Rock Fortress visible in the distance. It is thought that there are more than 80 caves in the area, but there are five main ones that attract the most attention. These contain various images of the Buddha, including reclining Buddhas and statues situated under makara toranas (arches decorated with dragons). There are also plenty of paintings depicting the life of the Buddha, most of which are from the 19th century.
If you only have a day, visiting the Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple is best combined with a trip to Sigiriya Rock Fortress and most tours leave from different departure points across the country. If you have a bit more time, a three-day tour will allow you to add Polonnaruwa to your itinerary as well as take a jeep safari to Minneriya National Park. To really explore the history and culture of Sri Lanka, join a seven-day heritage tour or a 10-night UNESCO World Heritage Sites tour. Couples can also visit Dambulla as part of six-day honeymoon package, which includes a romantic candlelight dinner at Mangrove Cave.
- Things to do in Colombo
- Things to do in Negombo
- Things to do in Kandy
- Things to do in Bentota
- Things to do in Galle
- Things to do in India
- Things to do in Bangladesh
- Things to do in Central Sri Lanka
- Things to do in Southern Province
- Things to do in Northern Sri Lanka
- Things to do in Sigiriya
- Things to do in Nuwara Eliya
- Things to do in Tamil Nadu
- Things to do in Kerala
- Things to do in Maharashtra