Sri Lanka has no fewer than 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites. All are designated as globally important landmarks because of either their cultural, historical, anthropological or natural importance.

If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka, here’s our roundup of the UNESCO treasures you simply have to see…

1. The sacred city of Kandy

This scenic mountain city is widely recognised as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. With a history of housing Sinhalese kings since 1592, Kandy is home to some of the country’s most impressive Buddhist temples and shrines. This includes the Temple of the Tooth Relic, a world-famous pilgrimage site and one of the main reasons UNESCO placed Kandy on its World Heritage Site list back in 1988. 

2. The Ancient City of Sigiriya

Also known as ‘The Lion Rock’, this jaw-dropping rock fortress and palace was built by King Kaspaya in the 5th century. The palace at the top is bursting with colourful frescoes, and surrounded by some of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. Sigiriya became a designed UNESCO site back in 1982.

3. The Old Town of Galle

The Old Town of Galle is a truly fascinating place. The fort was built by the Dutch in the 16th century and is surrounded by thick stone ramparts. Walking the atmospheric streets within these walls, you’ll find impressive historical churches and other buildings. It was made a UNESCO site in 1988.

4. The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

Sitting in the heart of Sri Lanka’s famous Cultural Triangle, Polonnaruwa is one of the best archaeological relic cities in the country. In this compact and pleasantly green city, you’ll find ancient ruins of palaces, statues, temples and much more – including the remains of a garden city dating back to the 12th century. Polonnaruwa made it onto the UNESCO list in 1982.

5. The Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple

This is one of the largest and best-preserved cave temple complexes in the country, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991. This ancient pilgrimage site features five caves (some dating back to the 1st century BC), over a hundred Buddhist statues and some magnificent wall paintings.

6. The Sacred City of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is Sri Lanka’s oldest and most sacred Buddhist city, boasting wonderfully preserved ruins of ancient palaces and monasteries. Named a UNESCO site in 1982, its most visited treasures include the ruins of temples along the Malwathu Oya river. But you’ll also want to see the holy 2,000-year-old Bo Tree, believed to be a descendent of the Bhodi tree the Buddha sat under to gain enlightenment.

7. Central Highlands of Sri Lanka

Now we come to the first of two Sri Lankan UNESCO sites which are prized and protected for their natural beauty. Named a UNESCO site in 2010, the area includes Horton Plains National Park, the Peak Wilderness Protected Area and the Knuckles Conservation Forest. It’s hiking heaven, and a stunning area bursting with biodiversity.

8. Sinharaja Forest Reserve

The second UNESCO site of natural importance in Sri Lanka (designated in 1988) is the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. It’s one of the last remaining primary rainforests in the country, so is in need of protection. The Sinharaja Reserve has countless endemic trees, and animal species too – including rare amphibians which live nowhere else.

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