Things to do and see in Sri Lanka

While it will be impossible to see everything Sri Lanka has to offer in a single trip, given below is a selection of the country’s highlights: outstanding religious and cultural sites, memorable scenery and wildlife, and spectacular festivals.

Adam’s Peak

One of Sri Lanka’s foremost pilgrimage sites, this soaring summit bears the revered impression of what is said to be the Buddha’s own footprint and offers the island’s most magical and enigmatic views.

Ayurveda
Sri Lanka’s ancient system of holistic health care uses herbal medicines and a range of traditional techniques, from gentle massages and steam baths to blood-letting treatments with leeches and fire.

Anuradhapura
From immense dagobas to mysterious forest monasteries, this vast ruined city bears witness to the great Sinhalese civilization which flourished for almost 2000 years.

Bawa Hotels
With their memorable blend of modern chic and traditional design, the hotels of architect Geoffrey Baw exemplify contemporary Sri Lankan style at its most seductive.

Bentota
The pleasantly unspoilt southern end of Bentota beach is home to the island’s finest select of luxury beachside hotels.

Birds
Sri Lanka is one of Asia’s classic bird watching destinations, with species ranging from delicate bee eaters and colourful kingfishers to majestic water birds and strutting peacocks.

Cricket
Join the crowds of cricket-crazy spectators for a test match in Colombo, Kandy, Dambulla or Galle.

Ella
Sri Lanka’s most beautiful village, offers verdant walks amongst the surrounding tea plantations and a marvellous view through the Ella Gap to the plains below.

Gangarama Temple (Colombo)
The Gangaramaya Temple is a place of worship and learning. Featuring a Vihara (temple), the Cetiya (Pagoda) the Bodhitree, the Vihara Mandiraya, the Simamalaka and the Relic Chamber, it also has a museum, a library, residential hall, a three-storied Pirivena, educational halls and an alms hall. Since 1890, it contributed greatly to the traditions of Viharas and Pirivenas.

Galle
Sri Lanka’s most perfectly preserved colonial townscape with sedate streets of personable Dutch villas enclosed by a chain of imposing ramparts.

Kandy
Beautifully situated amidst the central highlands, the historic city remains the island’s most important repository of Sinhalese culture, illustrated by the Esela Perahera festival and the Temple of the Tooth Relic.

Kandy Esala Perahera
One of Asia’s most spectacular festivals, the Perahera parades magnificently caparisoned elephants accompanied by ear-splitting troupes of Kandyan drummers and assorted dancers and acrobats.

Kandyan dancing and drumming
Observe traditional Sinhalese culture at its most exuberant, with brilliantly costumed dancers performing limb-twisting feats of acrobatic dancing. The dancers are accompanied by energetic drumming.

Kataragama
Join the crowds thronging to the colourful nightly temple ceremonies at this remote pilgrimage town, held sacred by Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims.

National Museum, Colombo
Established in 1877, the National Museum is the oldest and largest Museum in the country. Housed in a fine colonial-era building, the museum is famous for its collection of ancient royal regalia, Sinhalese artwork (carvings, sculptures et al.), antique furniture, china, and Ola manuscripts. The museum contains: more than 4.000 palm leaf manuscripts; ancient and medieval jewellery; rare collection of traditional masks; wood and ivory carvings; temple frescoes; ceramics objects including VOC plates of the Dutch period; stone sculpture and lithic inscriptions.

Pinnewela Elephant Orphanage
One of the island’s most popular attractions, Pinnewala is home to the world’s large troupe of captive elephants, from dignified elderly matriarchs to the cutest of babies.

Pettah
Colombo’s colourful and chaotic bazaar district offers an exhilarating slice of Asian life, crammed with markets selling a bewildering assortment of merchandise from cheap saris to sackfulls of chillies.

Polonnaruwa
Home to the island’s finest collection of ancient Sinhalese art and architecture, from the giant Buddha statues of the Gal Vihara to the remarkable religious buildings of the Quadrangle.

Rice and Curry
Eat your way through the classic Sri Lankan feast with its mouth-watering selection of contrasting dishes and flavours.

Sigiriya
Sri Lanka’s most remarkable sight, this towering rock outcrop is home to the fascinating remains of one of the island’s former capitals, complete with ancient graffiti, elaborate water gardens, a giant lion statue and perfectly preserved frescoes of voluptuous heavenly nymphs.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve
Sinharaja is Sri Lanka's last existing tropical rainforest. More than 60% of the trees are endemic and many of them are considered rare. There is much endemic wildlife, especially birds, but the forest is also 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.

World’s End
Marking the point at which the hill country’s southern escarpment plunges sheet for almost a kilmoeter to the plains below, the dramatic cliff offers one of the finest of the hill country’s many unforgettable views.

Whales and wildlife
Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to see blue whales in their natural habitat. Sperm whales, killer whales, pilot whales and dolphins are also regularly spotted on whale watching trips organized from Mirissa on the south coast. Since the continental shelf is at its narrowest close to Dondra Head, Sri Lanka’s southernmost point, the deep water provides ideal feeding ground for migrating whales from November to April.

Elephants may be the most celebrated of Sri Lanka’s diverse wildlife, but they represent just one actor on a crowded ecological stage. For instance, this is one of the best places in the world to see the elusive leopard, and one of the only places where this big cat is top predator – the king of the Sri Lankan jungle. With striking markings, a sleek, powerful body, and graceful movements, the leopard is thrilling to observe. For more information on wildlife
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Yala National Park
Sri Lanka’s most popular and rewarding national park is home to birds, monkeys, crocodiles and elephants, as well as the island’s largest population of leopards.