UNESCO World Heritage sites of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Dambulla Cave Temple, the Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications, and the Sacred City of Kandy with the Temple of the Tooth. These sites are recognized for their cultural and historical significance.

The Ancient City of Anuradhapura is one of Sri Lanka's most significant UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Located in the North Central Province, it was the first capital of ancient Sri Lanka and a focal point of Sinhalese civilization for over a thousand years.

Sacred Bodhi Tree: The city is home to the Sri Maha Bodhi, a sacred fig tree believed to have grown from a cutting of the original tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. It is one of the oldest historically documented trees in the world and holds immense religious significance.

Ruwanwelisaya Stupa: This massive stupa is one of the most well-known landmarks of Anuradhapura. It was constructed by King Dutugemunu and stands as a symbol of ancient architecture and Buddhist devotion.

Jetavanaramaya Stupa: Once the largest stupa in the ancient world, this monument is a testament to the grandeur of Anuradhapura's architecture and engineering.

Abhayagiri Monastery: An extensive monastic complex that housed thousands of monks, adorned with numerous stupas, ponds, and other structures.

Thuparama Dagoba: The oldest stupa in Sri Lanka, enshrining the right collarbone relic of the Buddha.

Isurumuniya Temple: A rock temple known for its rock-carved sculptures, including the famous "Isurumuniya Lovers" carving.

Kuttam Pokuna (Twin Ponds): A pair of large symmetrical bathing ponds showcasing advanced hydraulic engineering of the time.

Samadhi Buddha Statue: A serene and highly revered statue of the Buddha in a state of deep meditation.

Archaeological Museum: The site also hosts a museum that displays artifacts, statues, and inscriptions, providing insights into the history and culture of the ancient city.

The Ancient City of Anuradhapura holds immense historical, religious, and cultural importance for Sri Lanka and Buddhists around the world. It offers a captivating journey through time, allowing visitors to explore the remnants of a once-mighty kingdom and gain a deeper understanding of the country's rich heritage."

The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. It was the second capital of the ancient Sinhalese Kingdom, succeeding Anuradhapura and serving as a prominent urban center from the 11th to the 13th century.

The city's historical significance lies in its well-preserved archaeological remains, which offer insights into the political, cultural, and religious aspects of medieval Sri Lanka. Some notable features of the site include:

Royal Palace and Audience Halls: The complex includes the ruins of a royal palace and several audience halls that reflect the administrative and ceremonial functions of the kingdom.

Gal Vihara: This is a set of rock-cut Buddha statues, including a standing figure, a seated figure, and a reclining figure, all intricately carved into a single granite rock face.

Parakrama Samudra: A vast man-made reservoir built by King Parakramabahu I, showcasing the advanced hydraulic engineering skills of the time.

Vatadage: A circular relic house with a finely carved stone terrace, once enshrining a sacred relic. The moonstones and guard stones at the entrances are elaborate examples of ancient craftsmanship.

Lankatilaka Temple: A brick and stone temple with a massive Buddha statue and ornate carvings on its walls, displaying a blend of South Indian and local architectural influences.

Thuparama Image House: A shrine containing a large seated Buddha statue, adorned with detailed stone carvings that depict various scenes from Buddhist stories.

Statues and Stelae: The site also features inscriptions, statues, and stelae that provide valuable historical and cultural insights.

The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa offers a remarkable window into the past, showcasing the achievements of a civilization that flourished over a thousand years ago. Visitors can explore the remnants of this once-thriving urban center, marvel at its architectural wonders, and gain a deeper understanding of Sri Lanka's rich heritage and cultural evolution.

Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale District of the Central Province, Sri Lanka. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Sri Lanka.Sigiriya was built in the 5th century AD by King Kashyapa I as a palace and fortress. The height of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress stands about 660 feet straight up. The site is also known as the Lion Rock, due to the massive lion-shaped structure that has been at the entrance of the fortress. The rock is over 200 meters high and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.

Sigiriya is famous for its frescoes, which are located in a sheltered pocket of the rock face. These frescoes depict beautiful women in various poses, and are considered one of the greatest examples of ancient Sri Lankan art. The site also has a number of other attractions, including landscaped gardens, water gardens, and a series of rock-cut staircases.

This fortified garden city of Sigiriya rock fortress is an exceptional master piece of ancient urban planning / landscape & architecture / construction technology /exceptional hydraulic engineering & management / ancient fine art with unique harmony between nature and human imagination and all these living examples proved that it was a Well Planned City & Palace in 5th Century AD.

Sigiriya rock fortress is recognized as one of the best preserved surviving ancient urban sites in Asia from the 1st millennium or simply it’s a Living Museum. Sigiriya World Heritage Site is versatile and many-faceted appeal, and it is one of Sri Lanka’s ancient political capitals and Sri Lanka’s most sensational heritage site.

Today, Sigiriya is a major tourist attraction in Sri Lanka and attracts thousands of visitors every year. It is also an important historical and cultural site, and is studied by scholars and researchers from all over the world.”

Lions Paws and Stairs: The Lion Paws is at the northern side of the Sigiriya Rock, which was discovered in 1898 by HCP Bell, a British Archeologist, who’s had a history of archeological feats in Sri Lanka. At one point in time a massive brick lion perched at one end of the rock with a final climb to the top that began with a stairway that ran between the lion’s paws to its mouth. The lion imagery serves as a symbol. You can still see the unique channels and stepladders that were engraved into the rock, even though the lion has long disappeared.

Sigiriya Frescoes:The Sigiriya Frescoes were painted on the western surface of Sigiriya Rock, Painted thirteen hundred years ago..Protected in this small, sheltered depression a hundred meters above ground, they float effortlessly among the clouds. Some say they are celestial nymphs carrying flowers to shower upon kings and mortals below. The names of the ladies and the artists who painted them are lost to history. Their legacy has survived for over half a million days, a testament to the genius of their creators and the king who commissioned them.

Mirror Wall-Katapath Pawura:Sigiriya mirror wall is a fifth-century brick wall that would have originally covered the whole stairway flanking the rock face. During King Kassapa’s time, the wall plaster was polished to create a mirror effect and hence the name. After the fall of Kassapa, many local visitors had heard of the Sigiriya rock fortress ruins. Their many visits were recorded in the form of graffiti on the mirror wall. Graffiti are poems written in the Sinhalese language. These Sigiriya graffiti describe the beauty of Sigiriya damsels. Some of the described paintings have not survived. Their only record is these poems.

Cobra Hood Cave: Cobra hood cave also known as the “Parumaka Naguliya Lena”, is a natural geological formation projected as a cobra hood located within the boulder garden of Sigiriya Rock Fortress complex with plastered interior of the cave once embellished with floral and animal paintings. This is also part of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress complex. The man made drip ledge and Brahmi inscription of the 3rd century B.C. associated with this cave indicate that the cave has served as a Buddhist monastery / dwelling for monks. The paintings on the rock ceiling has floral and stylized animal motifs with a geometric composition.

Sigiriya water fountain:Sigiriya water fountains are very famous all over the world. According to the Sri Lankan history, king Kasyapa made these beautiful fountains. There are 4 water fountains in the water garden and 2 fountains per each side. The king has designed these water fountains to bring more beauty to the water garden. This creation still remains active throughout the past 1500 years.Sigiriya water fountains work with the water pressure and the gravitational force of the planet earth. So that was a simple design to implement but the creators have done a miracle here.

Ramakele Stupa:Ramakele Stupa belongs to Ramakele Mahanaga Pabbatha Viharaya in Sigiriya. This has been also identified as Mahanapaw Viharaya in the Sigiri graffiti and on a inscription nearby. This stupa is thought to be constructed by king Kashapa I (477–495 AD) or Mugalan I (495–512 AD).The relic chamber of the stupa was already attacked by treasure hunters when it was discovered and whatever the relics were stolen. It is believed that this stupa would have housed very important relics as the relic chamber of this stupa was uniquely built.

Sigiriya Museum: At a distance of 5 km from Sigiriya Airport, Sigiriya Museum is an archaeological museum situated just outside the entry gate of Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sigiriya. It is one of the popular places to visit in Sigiriya..Sigiriya Museum was established in 2009 with funding from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency. The museum boasts an impressive collection of exhibits that belong to various periods in history — ranging from the prehistoric period to the reign of King Kashyapa. The exhibits at Sigiriya Museum are not limited to the artifacts but they include photographs depicting the site’s history, several informative videos and models of the fortress

Pidurangala: Pidurangala is a rock formation located near Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. It is famous for its panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and for the ancient Buddhist monastery that is located atop the rock.The rock is said to have been formed from the same magma plug as Sigiriya, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular tourist destination. Pidurangala is located just a few kilometers to the north of Sigiriya and can be easily accessed by a short hike up the rock.The hike to the top of Pidurangala is moderately difficult and takes about 30–45 minutes. Along the way, visitors will pass through a series of Buddhist temples and shrines, as well as a large reclining Buddha statue.

Dambulla is a town located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. It is famous for its cave temples, which are collectively known as the Dambulla Cave Temple or the Golden Temple of Dambulla. The cave complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the largest and best-preserved cave temple complexes in Sri Lanka.

Dambulla cave temple complex was built by King Walagambahu in the 1st century BC. He got refugee in this caves when he was exiled from Anuradhapura throne and he made this Dambulla cave temple as a token of gratitude when he claimed back the power. Over the centuries that followed further improvements were made including one by King Nissankamalla who gilded the inside of the temple, earning it the name Ran Giri (Golden Rock) and added 70 statues of the Buddha in the 12th century. There are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding area. Major attractions are spread over five caves

The Dambulla Cave Temple is located on a massive rock outcrop, and it consists of five separate caves, each of which contains statues and paintings depicting scenes from the life of Buddha. The largest cave, known as the Maharaja Vihara, contains a 14-meter-long reclining Buddha statue, as well as statues of standing and seated Buddha figures. The other caves contain a variety of statues and paintings, including depictions of Bodhisattvas, Hindu gods, and Sri Lankan kings.

Dambulla is also a popular destination for tourists due to its location in the heart of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, which also includes the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Sigiriya.Visitors can explore the surrounding area and take in the natural beauty of the region, including the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, the Minneriya National Park, and the Knuckles Mountain Range.”

Buddha Museum:Just before the famous Dambulla caves can catch your eye, there is a huge golden statue of Buddha, which welcomes you to this wonder. In fact, this statue is considered to be Asia’s largest Buddha statue in Dhyan Chakra pose. This is the entrance to the Dambulla Museum. The small wall art museum within that is something you have to see, to know the rich culture of the country. This also houses a terrace, from where the view is great and is absolutely peaceful.

Dambulla Dedicated Economics Center:One of the top things to do in Dambulla, Sri Lanka is to pay a visit to this place. Fresh vegetables and fruits which are making its way to the capital, can be seen and the colorful ambiance around this place is just electrifying. The farmers market gives you a sneak peek into the culinary prowess of this country as it is all the local produce that is on display here. It is right in the middle of the town and is considered to be the largest wholesale fruits and vegetable market in the whole of Sri Lanka. Make sure you also grab some of the local produce, it’ll be worth it!

Rose Quartz Mountain:The Rose Quartz Mountain Range — referred to as the Jathika Namal Uyana by the locals — is a scenic series of pink quartz mountains that’re covered in a verdant stretch of ironwood forests — the largest collection of such forests found in Sri Lanka. The ironwood tree is actually endemic to Sri Lanka, so the site is extremely important from a conservation standpoint as well.The Rose Quartz Mountain Range has a history that spans back over 550 million years! The forests that cover it are relatively recent addition by comparison. It is believed that the ironwood forest was first planted during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa in the 8th century AD. The forest was to serve as a sanctuary for the newly arrived Buddhist monks from India.

Kandy is a city located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. It is the second largest city in the province and is known for its rich cultural and historical heritage. Kandy was the last capital of the ancient kings’ era of Sri Lanka and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Senasammata Vikramabahu ruled the Kingdom of Kandy as a semi-independent kingdom under the Kingdom of Kotte, Vikramabahu founded the city of Kandy making it the new capital of the Kandyan Kingdom. After 1476 the kingdom became a separate entity seceding from Kotte. The Kandyan Kingdom lasted from 1597 to 1815 (437 BC — 463 AD). The last King who ruled the Kandyan Kingdom was Sri Wickrama Rajasingha till it was taken under the British Empire in 1815. One of the most popular attractions in Kandy is the Temple of the Tooth, which is believed to house a tooth relic of the Buddha. The temple is a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists and is known for its beautiful architecture and stunning scenery.

Other notable attractions in Kandy include the Royal Botanical Gardens, which are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, and the Kandy Lake, which is a popular spot for boating and picnics. The city also hosts a number of festivals throughout the year, including the famous Kandy Esala Perahera, which is a grand procession featuring dancers, drummers, and decorated elephants.

Overall, Kandy is a beautiful and culturally rich city that offers a unique experience for travelers who are interested in history, religion, and nature.”

Temple Of the Tooth Relic :Considered as one of the most important temples of Buddhists in Sri Lanka, the Temple of Tooth Relic is located to the north of Kandy Lake and is one of the most remarkable places to visit in Kandy Sri Lanka. It was built by Vira Narendra Sinha. The octagonal Paththirippuwa and moat were added during the reign of Sri Vikrama Rajasinha. The royal architect Devendra Moolacharya is credited with building the Paththirippuwa. The sacred tooth of Lord Buddha enshrined in the temple makes it one of the popular Kandy tourist places. The room housing the tooth is open to devotees to offer their prayers. However, nobody gets to see the tooth because it is kept in a golden casket inside a stupa-like structure. The temple is housed in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy.

Kandy Lake :Adjoining most of the popular tourist places in Kandy and eateries with lake view, the Kandy Lake is certainly among the best places to visit in Kandy, Sri Lanka. An ideal place to spend hours during your lazy vacation, the lake offers stunning nature views around it and is a perfect romantic sojourn for a romantic couple visiting the place. The lake, existing since 1807, has a flurry of idyllic places and historical structures around.The lake is also known as the Kiri Muhuda or the Sea of Milk and is an artificial lake. Being in the heart of the city and beside some of the famous attractions of Kandy, it is a popular tourist site.

Bahirawakanda Temple :Just 1 km away from the Kandy city, the Bahirawakanda Temple is a major attraction and a distinct structure. The place is a popular attraction for Buddhists and there are quite a few international Buddhist relations meetings that are carried out here. This makes it one of the popular things to see in Kandy. The magnificent structure is huge and can be spotted from anywhere in the city. The place is also an important monastery where many Buddhist events do take place. The statue was started in 1972 and ended in 1993. People may actually see the Buddha statue from all around the city but it is a sight to visit it to see the beauty in an up-close-and-personal way.

Udawattekele Sanctuary :Located at the hilly terrains of the temple of the tooth relic, this sanctuary served as the retreat for the Kandyan kings in the older times. Later, converted into a sanctuary, it is an important bio reserve of Kandy. The sanctuary is spread over 104 hectares and is primarily known for the different species of birds residing in it. Offering as many as 80 species of birds and animals like mammals and insects, it is one of the visiting places in Kandy. Along with the wildlife, you can also visit the three Buddhist forest monasteries present at this place.

Kandy Viewpoint :Kandy is the heart of Sri Lanka and watching the gorgeous hill station from a height is not something everyone gets to witness, so don’t miss out on exploring the most beautiful places to visit in Kandy on your vacay. The viewpoint is located at a distance of 1.7 km from the city centre and the route to the viewpoint is equally mesmerizing.

Royal Botanical Garden :This place is counted as one of the best attractions in Kandy. Spanning over 60 hectares, the Royal Botanical Garden is largest and one of the best places to visit in Kandy with a-hidden charm to explore. This was created in 1821 and was mostly contained with coffee and cinnamon plants.Situated in Peradeniya, the place is quite close to the Mahaweli River. Along with the most striking orchids, you can find more than 4000 species of plants in this Botanical Garden. There is the historical Cannonball Tree present in this garden which King George V of the United Kingdom and Queen Mary planted in 1901.

CommonWealth War Cemetery :This is one of those tourist places in Kandy that should definitely be a part of your itinerary.There are 203 war graves in the cemetery. This cemetery is maintained by the officers. By maintaining the place they pay tribute to the brave heart soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the Second World War. Between 1817 and 1873 this was the town’s main burial ground for British nationals. Kandy commonwealth war cemetery is notable amongst all because of the praiseworthy scenic beauty.

The Royal Palace Park : also known as Wales Park, Wace Park or Rajawasala Park, is a small park on top a small hill in the heart of the city of Kandy, that overlooks the Kandy Lake and most of the city. This was created in year 1800 The Wales Park is known for its majestic beauty and the splendid view of the Kandy Lake makes this place very special. For tourists this place is an attraction because of the Beauty and the enjoyment people can indulge in under the lap of Nature. This park is rightly considered to be one of the most beautiful places in Kandy.

Millennium Elephant Foundation :The place is located in Randeniya. This is the only place where tourists can actually ride on the elephant’s back and travel around the place, they are allowed to interact with them. The educational tour conducted by the organization is rendered helpful and amusing for the tourists as they can witness right in front of them the activities of the animal.This Foundation is established in the estate named Samragyi inherited by the Samarasinghe family and was found in 1999.

Galmaduwa Temple :This is the only Hindu temple-style Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. As we explore the history of this temple we see that this temple was built on request. Galmaduwa Gedige Rajamaha Viharaya in this historic Kundasale was built at the request of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe, This temple consists of special temples It is believed that the Gedige Vihara was built in accordance with the Pallava tradition under the guidance of South Indian craftsmen. It is said that this temple was built according to the Pallava tradition of South India as the king was a Nayakkara by birth and his queen was a Hindu woman.

Ceylon Tea Museum :The museum located in Hantane.In the 1925 vintage tea museum built on four floors where the first two floors consist of vintage tea making equipment, machinery, libraries, museum. To taste the authentic Sri Lankan flavored tea. Visitors can savor a free cup of the tee to relish the flavor. This is one of the most amazing places to see in Kandy.

Ranawana Purana Rajamaha Vihara :Ranawana Purana Rajamaha temple’s history dates back to the reign of King Bhuvanekabahu IV during the Gampola period. History states that this place was originally started by a man named Ranawana Mohottala, according to the gold inscription given to his son Ranawana Vederala in the year 1602.The specialty about this temple is that is has the tallest walking Buddha statue in Sri Lanka sitting in this Ranawana Vihara. This is also considered to be the tallest walking Buddha statue in the world. This Buddha is 80 feet high. The total height is 100 feet with lotus flower and base. The scene of the Asumaha Arahants walking behind the Sakman Buddha statue is wonderfully displayed here.

Giragama Tea Plantation :Giragama is one of the premium tea plantations near Kandy. The British started this tea factory and tea plantation in the colonial era. In the beginning of British rule tea plantation was introduced to the Island in hoping of creating lucrative export industry. Giragaram tea plantation offers the much needed peace and tranquility along with picturesque views that will leave your soul stirred. There are estates wherein you can walk and soak the views.

Lankatilaka Temple :Lankatilaka is Buddhist temple of the 14th century in the Hiyarapitiya village, from the Udu Nuwara area of Kandy district in Sri Lanka. This historical temple was built by King Buwanekabahu the fourth in 1344 AD. Gampola was a stronghold on the banks of Mahaveli River. Lankatalika temple which is very famous amongst the locals as well as tourists. Dedicated to Lord Buddha, the temple is the epitome of rich history and culture of the beautiful city. The architecture is something you can marvel at and it is divided amongst three sections.

Gadaladeniya Temple :Built in 1344 by King Buwanekabahu IV, the Gadaladeniya Raja Maha Viharaya stands on the border of Udunuwara and Yatinuwara in the Kandy district. Located very close to the town of Pilimathalawa. Saddharmakirthi was the name of the founding monk. According to the history the chief architect of the temple was a South Indian and temple’s design has the South Indian influence in it. It is also reported that the Viharaya fell into neglect over a period of time until King Viraparakrama Narendrasinha (1707–1739) handed its care over to Velivita Saranankara Thero and it was maintained thereafter by his students and generations of students.

Embekka Devalaya ( Temple):The Embekka Devalaya (Embekke or Embekka) Temple is situated in an area known as Udunuwara in the Kandy district. It was built during the Gampola Era (AD1357–1374) by King Vikramabahu lll, as a place of worship dedicated to Mahasen, also known as “Katharagama Deviyo”. It is also where local deity Devatha Bandara is worshipped by devotees. It is said that Embekke devalaya ( Temple) is one of the best places to see finest woodcarving in Sri Lanka. The main Temple or Maha Devalaya itself has two sections, the “Wedasitina Maligaya” (in which the Deity resides), and another which has the “Digge” (Dancing Hall) and the “Hevisi Mandapaya” (Drummers Hall). The Wedasitina Maligaya is where the wooden image of the Deity has been placed.

This site includes three protected areas: Horton Plains National Park, Knuckles Conservation Forest, and Peak Wilderness Protected Area. It features diverse ecosystems, unique flora and fauna, and serves as a vital water catchment area.