Sri Lanka has a rich and diverse history, from its colonisation in the 6th Century BC; it was the centre of the Buddhist religion in South Asia, and was a vital trade outpost for the Portuguese, Dutch and British Empires.
The capital city, Colombo, has exquisite examples of its colonial past, merged with the two main religions of the country Buddhism and Hindu.
Here are some of Sri Lanka’s best attractions:
Port of Colombo Fort
The fort was originally built by the Portuguese who arrived on the island in 1505; it was partly demolished in 1656 by the conquering Dutch and used to protect the key trading post. By 1815 it became the central administration for the British who ruled the country until 1948. In 1870 the outer walls of the fort were torn down as there was no longer a perceived military threat and to allow wider urban development. It is now the central business district in Colombo, and is also the residence of the Sri Lankan president.
Galle Face Green
A one-and-a-half kilometre promenade laid out by the British in 1859 for horse racing is now the social centre of Colombo. It is the largest open space in the city and is popular as a picnic spot.
This is the leading bazaar district of Colombo. It lies adjacent to the Fort and within its narrow colonial cobbled streets shoppers can find almost anything they can think of from bright printed fabric and jewellery to rare first edition books. It is a must see attraction for the many tourists on Sri Lanka holidays.
There are three main temples in Colombo – the Ganeshan, the Old Kathiresan, and the New Kathiresan. These temples are renowned for their opulent designs and the striking colours of their Gopurams, or doorways.
Sri Lanka is one of the world’s biggest exporters of tea, with more than 1.5 million Sri Lankans working in the industry. Most of the tea estates are welcoming to visitors. High Grown Ceylon Tea in its unblended form has a reputation as one of the best in the world. The main plantation areas are in the south of the country – Ruhuna, Uva, Uda Pussellawa, Kandy, Dimbula, Nuwara Eliya.
Not only a prominent tea growing region, Kandy is the historical site of Buddhist power in Sri Lanka. It’s most popular attraction is the Dalada Maligawa “Temple of the Tooth”, housing the country’s most sacred religious relic – the tooth of Buddha. Also in the area is the Udawattakelle bird sanctuary, the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens, and a short walk away is Mahaweli where you can see elephants being bathed.
Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock)
Situated in the Matale district in the middle of the island and surrounded by lush jungle is the ancient city of Sigiriya. A fortress on top of a 200 metre high rock is one of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka, built in the 5th Century to ward off feared invasions. The whole area was devoted to Buddhist worship and the fortress was used as a monastery until the 14th Century.
The Ruins of Anuradhapura
This is the most important ancient city of Sri Lanka and was its first capital city, and remained so for more than 1000 years until the 13th Century. It was discovered in the 19th Century showing evidence of an advanced civilisation with buildings, sculptures, and water reservoirs. It’s recommended that the best way to explore this amazing area by bicycle.
Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak)
Located in the Sabaragamuwa Province near the South coast, Adam’s Peak has been a place of pilgrimage for 1000 years. At its 2,243 metre summit is a giant “footprint” believed to have been made by Adam as he stood repenting his sins in the Garden of Eden. Buddhists believe it is the mark left by Buddha during his last visit to Sri Lanka, while Hindus maintain it was an imprint from when Lord Shiva’s dance created the world.
Bundala National Park
On the South-Eastern coast Bundala National Park is a mix of sand dunes, scrub jungle and dry grasslands. It is famous for its birdlife, especially Waders, but is also home to elephants, jackals, leopards, deer, wild boar, bears and crocodiles. The best way to view this haven of wildlife is to hire a jeep and a driver, and if you get a chance you shouldn’t miss several animal species congregate around a watering hole at dusk.
What are your top attractions to see when you visit Sri Lanka?