UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka

Defined as sites possessing a cultural, historical or scientific form of significance, Sri Lanka is home to an incredible eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites – not bad for a little island. Many of the UNESCO sites feature prominent landmarks from the Buddhist religion, are ancient, or usually both.

The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa is the second most ancient city in all of Sri Lanka, and was made the capital city of Sri Lanka by King Vijayabahu in 1070, after it was claimed back from invaders.

It remains one of the best planned sites among the ancient spots around Sri Lanka, featuring temples, statues and the Council Chamber still standing, among many others.

The Ancient City of Sigiriya

Sigiriya is a massive rock fortress with the synonymous ancient city both atop the rock and fanning out below. It’s an incredible site as, although the city is reduced to just outlines of structures now, the rock itself is marvel-worthy, towering at 200 metres high. On the side of the rock is a gateway in the shape of a lion, while the rock faces were once covered in colourful frescoes. Today, you can still see a few of their remnants.

The Golden Temple of Dambulla

You’ll know you’ve reached the Golden Temple of Dambulla when you see the massive Golden Buddha statue meditating outside. The rest of the temple is embedded within the rock, comprised over five caves reaching heights of 160 metres. It’s believed that the caves have been dwelling places since 1BCE, and they now feature more than a hundred statues and murals.

The old town of Galle

The old town in Galle was originally built up when the Portuguese invaded in the 16th century, and reached its height in the 18th century just prior to the arrival of the British. It’s a fortified city whose walls run along the edge of the coast, enclosing a number of historic buildings that, today, are the best representation of European influences in South and Southeast Asia.

The sacred city of Anuradhapura

To say that the city of Anuradhapura is ancient is a serious understatement. Founded in the 5th century BCE, Anuradhapura continues to be one of Sri Lanka’s major cities, making it one of the oldest continually habited cities in the world. Relics of the ancient world still present today are monasteries and monuments surrounded by jungle terrain.

The sacred city of Kandy

No, the city isn’t made entirely out of candy, but it’s still pretty special. Otherwise known as the city of Senkadagalapura, Kandy is a sacred Buddhist site and one of the last capitals of the Sinhala kings, who kept Sri Lanka flourishing until the British invaded. Kandy is also home to the pilgrimage site the Temple of the Tooth, where a tooth retrieved from Buddha’s funeral pyre sits.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve

The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is the last expanse of primary lowland rainforest in all of Sri Lanka, and is home to 50% of the country’s endemic animal species. On top of this, more than 60% of the trees located within the reserve are endemic and rare, spared from deforestation due to their inaccessibility. Within its clutches are elephants, jaguars and birds of Sri Lanka’s endemic rainforest species.

The Central Highlands of Sri Lanka

Making up part of the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka are the Peak Wilderness Protected Area, the Knuckles Conservation Forest and the Horton Plains National Park. Rising to 2,500 metres above sea-level, the forests are home to a staggering number of Sri Lankan flora and fauna, including a number of endangered species like the very shy purple-faced langur.

Share this page