8 Best Heritage Sites You Must Visit In Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Vacation Tours > Attractions > 8 Best Heritage Sites You Must Visit In Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, known as the pearl of the Indian Ocean, is the proud title-holder of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful islands with a rich and ancient history and culture. Six of these remarkable sites belong to the Cultural and Heritage category, and the other two belong to the Natural, each bestowed with its unique historical value and beauty.

Representing the culture and beauty of the island nation are the following destinations that should most certainly be a part of any trip to Sri Lanka. Each World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka can be explored in various Sri Lanka tour packages.

#1 Anuradhapura Ancient City Sri Lanka

Anuradhapura is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the north-central part of the Island was the first capital (5th century BC – 9th century AD), the center of the island’s Buddhist civilization, and undoubtedly the grandest ancient city of Sri Lanka.

The city was said to be a model of planning – there were hostels and hospitals and a water supply was assured by the construction of reservoirs. By the middle of the third century BC, the fame of the island’s first capital had spread to the distant lands of the Mediterranean.

Anuradhapura was to continue as the national capital for over 1300 years up to the 10th Century AD when repeated innovations by Indians and a struggle for royal succession resulted in the capital being withdrawn to Polonnaruwa.

It still remains home to the sacred bo tree, the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world which was brought to Sri Lanka over 2000 years ago by the sister of Mahinda who introduced the Buddha’s teachings to the country.

Today the monuments of Anuradhapura’s heyday survive for you to visit surrounded by the solemn umbrage of trees and an ancient parkland – it is essential viewing!

#2 Polonnaruwa Ancient City Sri Lanka

This medieval city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka, rose to fame as the capital (10th – 12th century AD) after the decline of Anuradhapura. The second seat of rule and a medieval capital: 11-12th Century.

The city in its day was fortified with three concentric walls, beautified with parks and gardens, and sanctified by many a shrine and sacred place.

The majestic King’s Council chamber, the rock-cut Lotus Bath, the statue of Parakrama Bahu (one of the great kings of Sri Lanka), the rock-cut sculptures of Gal Vihare (Temple), and the Sea of Parakrama (a vast man-made reservoir) are really memorable sights.

#3 Dambulla Rock Cave Temple Sri Lanka

Dambulla UNESCO World Heritage Site which is an archaeological treasure. It is a famous cave temple, 500 feet high and dating back to the 1st century BC when King Valagam Bahu, driven out of Anuradhapura, took refuge here. When he regained his throne he converted the caves into a magnificent rock temple.

Later kings made further improvements to the temple, including gilding of the interior, earning the name Ran Giri (Golden Rock). With its series of spectacular caves and a painted area of over 20,000 sq. ft. of Buddhist murals, Dambulla is an amazing place – Both Dambulla and Sigiriya can be viewed on the same day.

#4 Sigiriya Rock & Fresco Arts Sri Lanka

Anuradhapura This UNESCO World Heritage Site, a spectacular Rock Fortress, is one of Sri Lanka’s major attractions. The most impressive facets of the unique complex are the Water Gardens, the Frescoes of beautiful maidens, the Mirror Wall with ancient graffiti, the Lion platform, and the Summit of 1.6 hectares, which was completely covered by buildings during the period of Sigiriya’s glory.

Built by King Kashyapa (477-495 A.D), the “Lion Rock” is a citadel of unusual beauty rising 200m from the scrub jungle. The rock was the innermost stronghold of the 70-hectare fortified town and the base is ringed by a moat, rampart, and extensive gardens.

The world-renowned frescoes (originally 500, of which only 19 remain today) which are in a sheltered pocket of the rock approached by a spiral stairway are painted in earth pigments on plaster.

The old stairway to the top led through the mouth of a crouching lion but today only the huge paws remain giving an indication of the massive proportions of the head. Remains of the handsome royal citadel are on the summit and several caves for meditation, audience platforms and baths complete the unique site.

#5 Sacred City Of Kandy Sri Lanka

Kandy is a lovely exotic city, the Hill Capital and last stronghold of the Sinhala Kings is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that retains an aura of grandeur, time has not affected. Encircled by hills, with a tranquil lake in its center, it is the site of the renowned temple that enshrines the Tooth Relic of the Buddha and the Royal Botanical gardens – home to one of the world’s best collections of Orchids.

A cultural sanctuary where many legends, traditions, and folklore are still lovingly kept alive, Kandy and its satellite villages are the center of the islands handicraft industry (items of wood, brass & silver) exquisite silver or gold jewelry, and precious gems of many varieties including the world’s best blue and star sapphires.

The highlight of the city’s calendar is the Esala Perahera when a replica of the casket enclosing the Tooth is taken in procession for ten glittering nights in July/August by exotically costumed dancers, drummers, and approximately 100 Elephants.

#6 Galle Dutch Fort and Its Fortifications

Said to be the famous Tarshish of the Bible where King Solomon obtained gems and spices, this “Living” UNESCO World Heritage Site is the port where the Portuguese first landed in Sri Lanka in 1505. Captured and fortified by the Dutch who ruled maritime Sri Lanka in the 17th and 18th centuries, the city still retains the air of old Holland.

Within the well-preserved 90-acre fort and ramparts built in 1663 are old Dutch churches and monuments with armorial bearings, an imposing crested and monogrammed gateway dated 1669, many well-preserved old Dutch houses, and narrow alleys still bearing Dutch names.

The New Oriental Hotel, built for a Dutch governor in 1684, a colonial gem now converted to the internationally renowned Amangalle Hotel, and several other excellent boutique hotels are testimony to the importance of this location.

#7 Sinharaja Rain Forest Reserve

Sinharaja is a great location for general wildlife enthusiasts and one of the least disturbed and biologically unique primary lowland rain forests in Sri Lanka, covering an extent of over 11000 hectares. Of international significance and declared a Man and Biosphere Reserve (MAB) in 1978 when UNESCO included it in its international network of Biosphere reserves. It was subsequently designated a National wilderness area in 1988 and received full status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989.

Situated in the lowland wet zone of the country with an average temperature of 23.6 C and an annual rainfall of more than 2500mm the high level of endemism makes it an international rarity.

More than 60% of the trees are endemic and it is home to over 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of mammals and butterflies, as well as many kinds of insects, reptiles, and rare amphibians. Of Sri Lanka’s endemic birds, all 22 rainforest species are seen here, including the elusive Red-faced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal, and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie.

Due to the dense forest mammal life can be more difficult to spot, of the 40 species listed as being in the forest there is a good chance of seeing giant squirrels, mongoose, purple-faced langur, wild boar, and barking deer.

#8 Central Highlands Of Sri Lanka

This is the latest addition to the UNESCO World Heritage list comprising the Knuckles Conservation Forest, Horton Plains National Park, and the Peak Wilderness Protected Area.

The region of mountains rising above 2,500 meters above the sea level is considered a super biodiversity hot spot has a remarkable range of flora and fauna providing a habitat for an exceptional range of endemic species including the Horton Plain Slender Loris, the Srilankan Leopard, the western- purple-faced langur.

Horton Plains

this National Park, on Sri Lanka’s highest plateau over 2100m above sea level in the central mountains is a strange and tranquil region with an astounding variety of scenery – from misty mountains to grasslands, from marshes to ice-cold streams, lakes, and waterfalls.

Sri Lanka’s best-flavored “high-grown” teas are from estates in the surrounding areas. Two highlights are the spectacular view from ‘Worlds End’ where the plateau plunges almost 1000m in a sheer drop and the beautiful “Bridal Veil” Bakers Falls.

Distinctive flora with a high level of endemism, colorful butterflies, many rare endemic, resident or migrant birds, and several species of Gauna including Sambhur, Bear Monkey, Barking Deer, Giant Squirrel, Fishing Cat, Wild Boar, Hare, and even a few very rare sightings of Leopard are recorded. The perfect location for hiking and cycling with excellent trails and a cool climate.

Knuckles Mountain Range

located northeast of the city of Kandy, the range takes its name from a series of recumbent folds and peaks in the west of the massif which resembles the knuckles of clenched fist when viewed from certain locations in the Kandy District.

The entire area is characterized by its striking landscapes often robed in thick layers of cloud but in addition to its aesthetic value, the range is of great scientific interest. It is a climatic microcosm of the rest of Sri Lanka. The conditions of all the climatic zones in the country are exhibited in the massif.

At higher elevations there is a series of isolated cloud forests, harboring a variety of flora and fauna, some of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The range constitutes a significantly higher proportion of the country’s biodiversity.

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