World Heritage Sites by Unesco
Anuradhapura stands proud as Sri Lanka's first capital city, known in ancient times as Rajarata, or 'land of kings'. Founded in the 4th century BC, it lasted as the political and religious capital of the country for over a thousand years. The city is a marvel of hydraulic engineering, as the reservoirs and irrigation canals built in ancient times are still being used by the locals. The Sri Mahabodhi tree, grown from a branch of the sacred Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, can be found in Anuradhapura. There are also many Buddhist dagobas and statues in the city, and the architecture allows visitors to catch a glimpse of ancient Sri Lankan culture.
The Golden temple of Dambulla, or the Dambulla cave temple complex, consists of a series of Buddhist temples inside the rock. Inside these are ancient inscriptions and a collection of statues and monuments to kings and gods. Archaeological studies have shown that the caves nearby were also home to ancient settlers before Buddhism was brought to Sri Lanka, with skeletons older than 2500 years being found inside.
This region covers the Horton Plains National Park and the Knuckles Conservation Forest, with rainforest growing at an altitude of over 2km above sea level. These forests are home to some extremely rare species, such as the Sri Lankan Leopard and the Horton Plains Slender Loris. The Horton Plains are the starting point for three of Sri Lanka's largest rivers, the Mahaweli, Kelani and Walawe, sustaining the ecosystem and keeping the atmosphere cool. In the Knuckles Conservation Forest, visitors will be breath taken by the sight of the thick forest growing around misty mountains. The mountain range also houses ancient settlements built in prehistoric times.
Galle has long been Sri Lanka's foremost city in the southern province, and was an international harbor frequented by Arab and Chinese traders until the 19th century. Like many of the key settlements in Sri Lanka, control of ancient Galle passed hands from the Portuguese to the Dutch to the British settlers. Many of the colonial era buildings present in Galle were erected during this period, giving Galle its timeless appearance. The Galle Fort was built by the Dutch over 400 years ago, and has undergone several minor refurbishments since then, creating an interesting mix of South Asian culture and European architecture.
Polonnaruwa served as the second capital of Sri Lanka after the royal seat of power was moved out of Anuradhapura. Its most notable attraction is the Parakrama Samudra, the world's largest man-made reservoir named after King Parakramabahu, who commissioned its construction. Polonnaruwa houses many flourishing parks and gardens dotted with monuments and shrines, and the design reflects a combination of ancient Sinhalese and South Indian influence. Having been an ancient hub of culture, Polonnaruwa is home to the royal pavilion, king's council chambers and the Kiri Vehera, an ancient temple. There are many monuments depicting the art style of the period, and the Gal Vihara holds great statues of the Buddha carved into granite.
This fortress carved into rock, commonly referred to as the 8th wonder of the world, was built roughly around the 5th century AD, in the time of Sri Lanka's ancient kings. The fortress and city around it exhibit advanced city planning and irrigation techniques for its time, making Sigiriya an icon of ancient Sri Lankan architecture. Sigiriya rock fortress is known for the frescoes of young damsels depicted on its western face by its ancient inhabitants. Before the rock was turned into a fortress, the caves in its base were a sacred place for Brahmins and Buddhist monks, and their inscriptions can still be found inside.
Sinharaja, which literally translates into 'lion king', is a large forest reserve in the southwest of Sri Lanka. The forest receives a good amount of rain, enabling it to host a flourishing ecosystem of exotic flora and fauna. Wildlife enthusiasts have a chance to spot endemic birds, reptiles and insects in this lush jungle.
The Sri Dalada Maligawa Buddhist temple in Kandy houses the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha, a national treasure which was brought to the country at around 300BC from Kalinga in India. This makes it the most sacred Buddhist place of worship in Sri Lanka. The construction of the temple itself is awe-inspiring, with elaborately decorated walls and ceilings, excellent woodcraft and golden roof. Religious ceremonies, or pujas, are held thrice daily. The serene atmosphere of the temple is accentuated by Kandy's cool climate and picturesque mountain scenery.