Sri Lanka is one of the world’s dream destinations. Lying in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, it’s a great introduction into the cultures of Southeast Asia. And what’s more, its relatively small size – 50 times smaller than neighbouring India – makes exploring all its most famous sights a painless experience. But what are those sights? What is Sri Lanka famous for?
Check out our breakdown below so you don’t miss a thing!
1. Exquisite beaches
With more than 800 miles of Indian Ocean coastline, Sri Lanka has no shortage of exquisite beaches. These broad stretches of pristine, and often empty, palm-fringed sands can be found right across the island, so whether you find yourself in the north, south, east or west, you’re sure to find the first of the many attractions that answer the question what is Sri Lanka famous for?
Just a short bus or taxi ride out of Galle on the island’s southern coast, Unawatuna beach is formed from a beautiful horseshoe shaped bay. A popular spot for some family beach fun, it’s well catered for when it comes to food and drink, water sports, and even accommodation if you fancy extending your visit into an overnight one.
Arugum Bay is a name that will soon become familiar to you if you spend any time on Sri Lanka’s east coast. Not only is it one of the country’s main surfing beaches, but also a wonderful spot for a relaxing beach break! On the other side of the country, on the island’s west coast, one of the best regarded beaches is Bentota, though there are plenty of other equally fine beaches nearby too.
2. Stunning colonial relics
No mention of what is Sri Lanka famous for can ignore the extraordinary array of colonial relics that are waiting to be discovered here. In Colombo, the Fort area is home to a number of unmissable colonial-era gems, including the Dutch Hospital, while the National Museum building sits at the heart of British-built city.
Elsewhere in the country, Galle’s town-like ancient Fort really cannot be missed for anyone with an interest in Sri Lanka’s history. The north-eastern coastal cities of Batticaloa and Trincomalee both have intriguing and expansive European forts as well, while the Hill Country around Nuwara Eliya gives a sense of what life must have been like under the British regime that lasted from at least 1815 until independence in 1948.
3. Exotic wildlife
For a country of such small dimensions, Sri Lanka’s native wildlife really packs a punch. Its most famous residents are undoubtedly the approximately 5,000 wild Asian elephants that roam the country’s hinterland. With luck they can be spotted just about anywhere, but for a definite sighting head to Minneriya National Park, where ‘the Gathering’ means herds up to 400 strong aren’t uncommon.
The other big draw when it comes to wildlife is Sri Lanka’s subspecies of leopard – one that can be found nowhere else on earth. These shy nocturnal animals can be found resting in the tree branches of Yala National Park, where leopard safaris are easy to organise, as well as others including Kumana National Park.
4. Mesmerising religious heritage
Sri Lanka’s long history of invasion and colonisation means the country has becoming a melting pot of cultures and religions. Walk through a big city such as Colombo and it’s entirely possible to pass a mosque, church, Hindu, and Buddhist temple all in a short stretch of road.
But if you were to ask what is Sri Lanka famous for when it comes to religious heritage, the answer has to be Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth. Located within the whitewashed walls of the UNESCO-listed former royal palace complex, on the banks of an attractive tree-lined pond, the temple contains one of Buddhism’s most important relics – a tooth said to be that of Buddha himself. A hive of activity, the complex sees a steady stream of devout pilgrims paying homage and leaving offerings, while priests perform ancient rituals several times each day. Alternatively, head to the historic cave temples in Dambulla for an altogether different heritage experience.
5. Picture perfect hiking trails
Sri Lanka’s city centres tend to be small, making them very walkable and allowing all the sights, sounds and smells to envelop you. However, if you are looking for a more extensive walk, that’s also possible as Sri Lanka boasts some brilliant hiking opportunities.
The majority of mapped trails are focussed around Nuwara Eliya and the Hill Country that lies in the middle portion of the island. Here, the cooler temperatures make following the many walking trails a delight, taking in picturesque villages, panoramic vistas, and neatly-trimmed tea plantations along the way. The Knuckles Mountain Range provides hiking, climbing and scrambling opportunities through dense jungle, and the Adam’s Peak trail remains popular with locals and visitors alike for the vistas from the summit.
6. World Heritage Sites
Sri Lanka has eight UNESCO-enshrined World Heritage Sites. We’ve already mentioned several of them, including Galle Fort, Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth, Dambulla’s cave temples, and the Hill Country. Three of the remaining sites are globally-important archaeological sites, and if you’ve spent even a couple of minutes researching the country online, you will certainly have seen images of Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, and Polonnaruwa.
As fine as Machu Picchu in Peru or the temples of the Nile valley, these three sites together demonstrate the skill and knowledge of the kingdoms that ruled Sri Lanka centuries before the arrival of European forces. Dotted with fine works or art and sculpture, together these sites definitely answer the question what is Sri Lanka famous for!
7. Ancient Ayurveda
Although the word Ayurveda might not mean anything to you, you’re sure to have experienced ayurvedic treatments in the past if you enjoy any time in a spa. Sri Lanka was the birthplace of Ayurveda, and continues to attract visitors looking to rejuvenate themselves with the help of the natural and ancient therapies. As a result, you can find such centres advertised across the island.
Having read our breakdown, there’s no longer a reason to ask yourself what is Sri Lanka famous for? From beaches and colonial relics, to wildlife and religious heritage, by way of hiking trails, World Heritage Sites, and Ayurveda, the answer is an awful lot!