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15 Best Places to Visit in Sri Lanka | Hidden Gems

If you’re planning to visit Sri Lanka or looking for the Best Places to Visit in Sri Lanka, you might be familiar with the popular tourist destinations like Colombo, Kandy, and Galle. But, Sri Lanka is a land full of hidden gems that are waiting to be explored. From beautiful beaches to ancient ruins, Sri Lanka has something for everyone. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at 15 hidden gems to visit in Sri Lanka.

01. Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Sigiriya, also known as the Lion Rock, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka. The rock fortress dates back to the 5th century AD and was built by King Kashyapa as his royal palace. It sits atop a massive 200-meter high boulder, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding jungle.

Visitors can marvel at the ancient ruins of the palace which include stunning frescoes that adorn the walls. The paintings depict beautiful women known as ‘Sigiriya maidens’ or ‘Cloud damsels’, who are believed to have been inspired by celestial nymphs or concubines from King Kashyapa’s court. Another highlight is climbing up to see the remains of a lion statue at Sigiriya’s entrance.

The climb to Sigiriya can be challenging for some visitors due to its steepness and height but it’s definitely worth it once you reach the top! The panoramic views of lush green forests and nearby villages make for an unforgettable experience. If you’re planning on visiting Sri Lanka, put Sigiriya on your must-visit list!

02. Polonnaruwa Sacred Ruins

Polonnaruwa is a city located in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, and it is known for its ancient ruins that date back to the 11th century. The city was once a thriving capital during the reign of King Parakramabahu I, and today, visitors can explore the Sacred City of Polonnaruwa, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city’s ruins include impressive structures such as temples, palaces, and other religious monuments.

One of the most iconic sites in Polonnaruwa is the Gal Vihara temple complex. This site features four massive Buddha statues carved from granite stone. Each statue depicts a different pose: standing, sitting, reclining, and meditating. Another must-see destination in Polonnaruwa is the Royal Palace complex where visitors can see ancient relics including royal baths and throne rooms.

In addition to exploring these historical sites, visitors to Polonnaruwa can also take part in cultural experiences like attending traditional dance performances or trying local cuisine at markets throughout the city. With its rich history and stunning architecture on display throughout town, it’s easy to see why Polonnaruwa remains one of Sri Lanka’s hidden gems worth discovering for yourself.

03. Kandy Temple of the Tooth Relic Sacred Shrine

The Temple of the Tooth Relic is one of the most sacred places in Sri Lanka. Located in Kandy, this temple holds the tooth relic of Buddha and is considered a pilgrimage site for many Buddhists from around the world. The temple’s architecture features intricate carvings and colorful paintings that date back centuries, showcasing Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage.

Visitors to the temple can witness daily rituals performed by Buddhist monks, including offerings and chanting. During special occasions such as the Esala Perahera festival, a grand procession takes place where an elaborately decorated elephant carries a replica of the tooth relic through the streets. This event attracts thousands of visitors each year and is a must-see if you are in Sri Lanka during this time.

Apart from its religious significance, the Temple of Tooth Relic also offers stunning views of Kandy Lake and surrounding hills. Visitors can take a stroll around these scenic areas or enjoy some local street food sold outside the temple premises. A visit to this sacred shrine should be on every traveler’s itinerary when visiting Sri Lanka to experience its spiritual beauty and unique culture firsthand.

04. Galle Fort Colonial Outpost

One of the top hidden gems to visit in Sri Lanka is the Galle Fort, a colonial outpost that has stood for over 400 years. Built by Portuguese colonizers in the 16th century, it was later taken over by Dutch traders who fortified it and turned it into a commercial hub. Today, visitors can explore its narrow streets lined with colonial-era buildings that have been preserved with great care.

The fort itself is surrounded by thick walls and offers stunning views of the Indian Ocean from its ramparts. Visitors can walk along these ramparts and take in views of the surrounding countryside or look out towards sea where they might spot a pod of dolphins or even whales. The fort’s architecture is characterized by its blend of European, Asian and Islamic styles which give visitors a sense of how different cultures came together during this time period.

In addition to its rich history, Galle Fort also has many quaint cafes and boutique shops selling handmade crafts, jewelry and textiles which make for perfect souvenirs to take back home. Overall, Galle Fort offers visitors a unique glimpse into Sri Lanka’s past while at the same time providing an enjoyable experience filled with culture, food and shopping opportunities.

05. Yala National Park Wildlife Haven

Yala National Park is one of the hidden gems of Sri Lanka. This wildlife haven attracts tourists from all over the world with its diverse flora and fauna. Located in the southeastern part of Sri Lanka, Yala National Park is home to a large number of animals and birds. Visitors can spot elephants, leopards, sloth bears, crocodiles, and various species of deer.

One unique feature of Yala National Park is that it has an area called Block 5 which is not open to visitors but serves as a sanctuary for leopard breeding. The park also houses several ancient temples and caves that add a cultural element to the tourist experience. Birdwatchers will be pleased to know that there are over 215 bird species recorded at Yala National Park.

Tourists can enjoy guided safaris either by jeep or on foot through the park’s nature trails. With its natural beauty and abundance of wildlife, Yala National Park is definitely worth visiting when you’re in Sri Lanka.

06. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Sri Lanka is the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. Located in the Sabaragamuwa Province, this sanctuary was established to provide care for orphaned and injured elephants. Visitors can watch as these magnificent creatures are bathed and fed by their caretakers.

In addition to observing the elephants’ daily routines, visitors can also learn about elephant conservation efforts and interact with baby elephants at the onsite nursery. The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage offers a unique opportunity for animal lovers to get up close and personal with these gentle giants while supporting a worthy cause.

While some criticize the tourist-oriented nature of the orphanage, there is no denying its positive impact on elephant welfare in Sri Lanka. For those looking for an unforgettable wildlife experience, a visit to this sanctuary is definitely worth considering when exploring hidden gems in Sri Lanka.

07. Nuwara Eliya “Little England”

Nuwara Eliya is a picturesque hill town in Sri Lanka that has been attracting tourists for decades. Known as “Little England,” this charming destination boasts a cool climate, stunning landscapes, and colonial-era architecture. While many visitors come to Nuwara Eliya to visit the popular Gregory Lake or indulge in tea plantation tours, there are plenty of hidden gems in the area that are worth exploring.

One such hidden gem is Victoria Park, located in the heart of Nuwara Eliya town. This park was once reserved exclusively for British officials during colonial times but has since been opened up to the public. Today, it’s a beautifully landscaped garden with numerous walking trails, rare flora and fauna, and even an aviary.

Another must-visit spot is Lovers Leap waterfall. This breathtaking waterfall cascades down from an impressive height of 30 meters and offers spectacular views of the surrounding hillsides. Visitors can hike up to the top of the falls or take a leisurely stroll along its base while taking in the natural beauty around them. Whether you’re looking for adventure or just want to relax amidst nature’s beauty, Nuwara Eliya has something for everyone!

08. Mirissa Beach

Mirissa beach is a hidden gem located in the southern coast of Sri Lanka. It offers pristine white sand, crystal clear waters and breathtaking sunsets. The beach is relatively less crowded compared to other popular beaches in Sri Lanka but offers an array of activities such as surfing, snorkeling and whale watching tours.

One of the unique features of Mirissa beach is its palm tree-lined shore that creates a picturesque tropical landscape. The beach also houses small restaurants and bars that serve local seafood delicacies along with refreshing drinks to keep you energized throughout your stay.

If you are looking for a peaceful getaway from the bustling city life, Mirissa beach is the perfect destination. Its serene ambiance combined with the sound of waves crashing against the shore creates an idyllic setting for relaxation and rejuvenation. Don’t forget to catch the mesmerizing sunset while sipping on some coconut water or cocktails!

09. Polonnaruwa Ancient City 

Polonnaruwa Ancient City is one of the hidden gems in Sri Lanka that is rich in history and culture. The ancient city was the second capital of Sri Lanka, from 1070 to 1310 AD. With its well-preserved ruins, visitors can get a glimpse of what life was like during that time period.

Visitors to Polonnaruwa should make sure to visit the Royal Palace Complex which consists of multiple buildings including an audience hall, king’s chamber and council chamber. The complex also features beautiful gardens and ponds.

Another must-visit site in Polonnaruwa is the Gal Vihara Temple which houses four massive Buddha statues carved into granite rock faces. The largest statue measures over 46 feet in length and has intricate carvings showcasing the skill of ancient Sri Lankan craftsmen.

10. Unawatuna Beach

Unawatuna Beach is a small coastal town located in the Galle district of Sri Lanka. This hidden gem boasts of stunning beaches, clear blue waters, and a plethora of water activities for tourists to enjoy. It is also home to one of the best marine life sanctuaries on the island.

The beach has a vibrant nightlife with plenty of bars and restaurants serving fresh seafood and local delicacies. Visitors can also take a walk through the lush green surroundings, explore ancient temples or take part in yoga classes at some of the nearby resorts.

For adventure seekers, Unawatuna Beach offers exciting water sports such as diving, snorkeling, surfing and jet skiing. The area is known for its coral reefs and diverse marine life making it an ideal spot for scuba diving enthusiasts. With its picturesque sunsets, palm trees lining the shore and serene ambiance, Unawatuna Beach is truly a hidden gem worth exploring when visiting Sri Lanka.

11. Ella Sri Lanka

Ella is a small town located in the Badulla District of Sri Lanka. It is surrounded by beautiful tea plantations, lush green hills, and cascading waterfalls. There are many hidden gems to explore in Ella that one cannot miss while traveling through this picturesque town. One of the must-visit places is the Nine Arch Bridge which is an architectural masterpiece built during the colonial era. Visitors can witness a train passing over this bridge which blends perfectly with the natural beauty around it.

Another hidden gem in Ella is Little Adam’s Peak which offers a scenic hike through tea fields and lush forests leading to a panoramic view of Ella Rock and Ravana Falls. For those interested in history and culture, visiting Demodara Loop Station would be ideal as it features an engineering marvel – a railway loop where the train turns 360 degrees on itself to gain elevation. The station also has an old train carriage converted into a restaurant where visitors can enjoy traditional Sri Lankan cuisine while admiring the stunning views of surrounding mountains.

Overall, Ella has much to offer for nature enthusiasts, history buffs, and adventure seekers alike who want to experience authentic Sri Lankan charm amidst breathtaking scenery.

12. Bentota Beach

Bentota Beach is undoubtedly one of the hidden gems that should be on your list when visiting Sri Lanka. Located approximately 62 km south of Colombo, this beach offers a perfect blend of serenity and adventure for all kinds of travelers. The turquoise blue waters, golden sand, and swaying palm trees provide a picturesque view that is worth capturing.

If you’re looking for some adrenaline rush, Bentota Beach has got you covered with its water sports activities such as jet skiing, windsurfing, banana boat rides, and more. You can also take a boat ride along the Bentota River to explore the mangrove forests and spot various species of birds.

Apart from water activities, there are plenty of things to do around Bentota Beach. Visit the nearby Kande Vihara Temple or explore the Galapata Vihara ruins which are believed to be over 2000 years old. Overall, Bentota Beach is an ideal destination if you’re looking for relaxation coupled with adventure in Sri Lanka.

13. City of Colombo

First on the list of hidden gems to visit in Sri Lanka is the bustling city of Colombo. While not exactly an unknown destination, there are many lesser-known spots within this vibrant metropolis that are worth exploring. Start your journey by visiting Pettah Market, a labyrinthine bazaar district that offers everything from fresh produce to electronics and clothing.

Next up, head to the Gangaramaya Temple, one of the most important Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka. This complex consists of several buildings and museums and features a blend of traditional and modern architecture. Another must-visit attraction in Colombo is Galle Face Green, a scenic promenade that runs along the coast and offers stunning views of the Indian Ocean.

For those interested in history and culture, don’t miss out on the National Museum of Colombo or the Dutch Museum, which showcases artifacts from Sri Lanka’s colonial past. And for some much-needed relaxation after all that sightseeing, take a stroll through Viharamahadevi Park or indulge in some retail therapy at Odel or Liberty Plaza Mall. With so much to see and do in Colombo, it’s no wonder it remains one of Sri Lanka’s top travel destinations.

14. Anuradhapura the Ancient City

Anuradhapura is one of the ancient cities situated in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. It was once the capital city of Sri Lanka and served as a political and religious center for centuries. The city is home to several ancient Buddhist temples, stupas, and monasteries that have been well-preserved over time.

One of the notable sites in Anuradhapura is the Sri Maha Bodhi tree which is believed to be the oldest living tree in the world with a history dating back over 2,200 years. The tree was grown from a sapling brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta, daughter of Emperor Asoka of India – who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka.

Another hidden gem in Anuradhapura is Jetavanaramaya which stands at an impressive height of 122 meters making it one of the tallest ancient structures in the world. Built during King Mahasena’s reign in 273-301 AD, it houses several relics including hair relics belonging to Buddha himself. Visitors are often amazed by its grandeur and intricate carvings that adorn its walls towering high above them.

15. Sri pada or Adam’s Peak

Adam’s Peak, also known as Sri Pada, is a 2,243-meter-high mountain located in central Sri Lanka. It is considered one of the most sacred sites in the country and attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. The mountain features a unique rock formation at its summit that resembles a footprint, believed to be that of Buddha by Buddhists or Adam by Muslims and Christians.

The climb up to the peak includes over 5,000 steps through dense forested areas and can take anywhere from 3-6 hours depending on your fitness level. However, it is all worth it once you reach the top and witness breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys and hillsides. The best time to visit Adam’s Peak is during pilgrimage season from December to May when there are additional facilities for visitors such as food stalls and medical centers.

Aside from being a spiritual destination, Adam’s Peak also offers opportunities for nature lovers to explore diverse flora and fauna along the way. Be sure to bring comfortable shoes, warm clothing for chilly nights at higher altitudes, and plenty of water for hydration during your climb.

16. Dambulla Cave Temple

The Dambulla Cave Temple is a cultural and historic site located in the central province of Sri Lanka. The temple complex consists of five caves that have been transformed into shrines and houses 157 statues of Buddha. The cave walls are adorned with intricate murals depicting the life of Buddha, as well as other significant events in Sri Lankan history.

Built over 2,000 years ago, the temple has undergone several renovations throughout its history. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 and is considered to be one of the best-preserved examples of ancient Buddhist art in Sri Lanka. Visitors can climb up to the top of the hill where the temple is located for panoramic views of the surrounding area.

The Dambulla Cave Temple offers visitors a unique glimpse into Sri Lankan history and culture. Its stunning architecture and ornate decorations make it a must-see destination for anyone interested in exploring this beautiful country’s rich heritage. Whether you’re an avid history buff or simply looking for a peaceful place to meditate, this site should definitely be on your list!

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