We have been getting the email with a question like “What are the must-visit cities in Sri Lanka?”, “What are the important cities in Sri Lanka?”, therefore it thought of crafting this blog post under the heading of “must-visit cities in Sri Lanka”.
The tourism industry of Sri Lanka is recovering fast from the recent collapse due to the terrorist attacks on churches and a few leading hotels on the easter Sundays (April 2019). USA Today had chosen Sri Lanka as the best winter holiday destination for 2019, which is a clear sign of improved security and recovery of the industry.
The tourists are no longer concern about security and booking are growing day by day. Sri Lanka had been a popular holiday destination for many centuries. The pristine beaches around the island, the plethora of crumbling historical monuments, and delicious Sri Lanka meals have been attracting a large number of travellers.
Sri Lanka is popular as a destination with friendly and welcoming people, and the historical monuments, ancient temples, colonial edifices, and untamed wilderness are some of the reasons for you to think of Sri Lanka as the venue for your next trip.
Sri Lanka is surrounded by palm-fringed sandy beaches, green-capped mountains, wildlife reserves teeming with leopards and primaeval rainforests all of it within easy reach of your doorstep. The cities in Sri Lanka offer the best of both worlds, while the island’s rich cultural heritage shines through wherever you go.
12 must-visit cities of Sri Lanka?
- Nuwara Eliya
1. Kandy among the Must Visit Cities in Sri Lanka
Kandy is the cultural hub of Sri Lanka and is also the Buddhist stronghold, with the majority of the population with the devotion to Buddhism. Kandy is the 5th largest city on the island and one of the most beautiful Sri Lankan cities. The city is surrounded by mountains and bright coloured houses dot the mountains. At the centre of the city are the Tooth relic temple and the Kandy lake, both are leading tourist attractions in the city.
Kandy was the last kingdom of Sri Lankan monarchy, Kandy is a UNESCO world heritage site and has a fascinating blend of old and new. Historical structures, colonial buildings and modern strictures are standing next to each other in this ancient city. The tooth relic temple, which is one of the most beautiful buildings with typical 16th-century Kandyan style resides here with many ancient Buddhist temples.
Annual Esala Perehera (Esala procession), one of the most beautiful pageants in the world takes place in Kandy in the month of July/August every year. The Esala procession is a religious event and attracts more than half a million people to the city during the 10 days, during which a copy of the sacred tooth relic taken on the street around the temple. The event is participated by hundreds of beautifully dressed elephants, dancers, musician and devotees.
Kandy is a leading Buddhist city with many dozens of temples and it also offers many other tourist attractions such as Royal botanical garden, tea plantations, Kandyan cultural show, Udawattakele sanctuary etc.
2. Sigiriya Rock -the iconic tourist attraction
Sigiriya rock fortress is a UNESCO world heritage site and it is one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. This 5th-century rock fortress showcases characteristics of ancient urban planning. The archaeological site is divided into 3 major areas water gardens, boulder gardens and the rock.
Sigiriya rock fortress one of the most important historical sites on the island and it is located in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka. Sigiriya rock fortress complex was built in the 5th century AD by King Kashyap. Sigiriya rock fortress is one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world and the visitors can see swimming pools, fountains, granite caves, paintings and remnants of many other ancient structures.
3. Galle – a must visited place on the south coast
With much of the city surrounded by lagoons and the Indian Ocean, Galle is a scenic place; the city has a laidback vibe despite being a commercial hub. The Dutch-infused city of Galle is on the south coast of Sri Lanka.
Galle is visited by many thousands of travellers every month due to the inheritance of Mediterranean-style architecture, Galle is a major city that developing fast, it has been among the few cities that had been able to attract the attention of colonial rulers. Galle was the administrative capital of Sri Lanka During the Dutch rules from 1656 to 1796.
Galle Fort is the major tourist attraction in the city, where every tourist makes a cycling or walking tour, which is a perfect opportunity to wander along the cobbled narrow streets that flanked by Dutch build mansions, shops, churches and many other structures. This relaxed Sri Lankan city is a perfect introduction – or antidote – to the immense, restless energy of Sri Lanka. With much of the city surrounded by lagoons and the Indian Ocean, Batticaloa is a scenic place; the city has a laidback vibe despite being a commercial hub.
Venturing on a Galle trip is the best way to explore not only Galle fort but also many other important places such as Madu estuary, museums, moonstone mines, sea turtles conservation centres and pristine beaches such as Hikkaduwa.
4. Must visit cities Northern province of Sri Lanka- Jaffna
With much of the city surrounded by lagoons and the Indian Ocean, Jaffna is a scenic place; the city has a laidback vibe despite being a commercial hub. Jaffna is the capital of northern Sri Lanka and it is recommended to make a visit if you have time.
It was behind the closed door for many decades due to the political unrest and since 2009 the city is open to the rest of the world. Now it is safe to go there and civilian life is also back to normal. Jaffna is predominantly a Tamil city and it is the stronghold of Sri Lankan Tamil community.
The Nallur temple of Jaffna- a bewildering and elaborate complex- It is one of the most impressive Hindu temples on the island. With much of the city surrounded by lagoons and the Indian Ocean, Batticaloa is a scenic place; the city has a laidback vibe despite being a commercial hub.
5. Must visit cities in Sri Lanka mountains- Nuwara Eliya
Many dozens of Theodor styled beautiful mansions sitting on the hills overlooking the Gregory lake. Their beautifully landscaped gardens are decorated with beautiful and colourful flowers such as rose, dahlia. Most popular and most prominent Theodor styled bungalow in the city is the grand hotels, which had been the official holiday residence of English governor, after the independence, it was converted to a hotel.
The city is not all about colonial British colonial heritage; it also has many dozens of ancient monuments such as Sita temple, Ashok Vatika. A stunning place to visit.
6. Must visit cities in Sri Lanka west coast- Beruwala
Beruwala is a sleepy town on the west coast of Sri Lanka and sitting near the popular beach resort of Bentota. Beruwala is the home to the most sacred and oldest mosque on the island.
The mosque sits near the beaches or Beruwala close to the harbour and plays and major role in the culture of Sri Lankan Muslims. It attracts a large number of Muslims in the holy month of Ramadan; This serene mosque provides a place for reflection and inspiration. The city of Beruwala is a frenetic fusion of people, markets and activity.
7. Must visit cities in Sri Lanka cultural triangle- Anuradhapura
The historical city of Anuradhapura rises in the desert-like dry zone land in the north-central province of Sri Lanka. Enticing visitors to its crumbling historical monuments, the gigantic historical Dagobas or Stupas looms over the modern part of Anuradhapura, these dagobas came to being many millennia ago.
Anuradhapura had been the ruling capital of Sri Lanka from 3rd century BC to 10th century AD. This historical city was a learning centre for Buddhism in the world and attracted students from all around the world. The huge and sprawling ancient temples hide many dozens of Buddhist monuments, religious paintings, palaces, gardens, and intricating wooden and granite stone sculptures.
8. Must visit cities in Sri Lanka cultural triangle – Polonnaruwa
Filled with history, the timeworn, historical city of Polonnaruwa is the 2nd most ancient capital of Sri Lanka. It had been the ruling capital of the island in the 10th and 11th century AD. It had been a glorious city during its heyday.
The city was well built and managed under the patronage of wealthy King, however, the south Indian invading armies had been the main reason for its downfall in the latter part of 11th century AD. The kings of Sri Lankan decided to abandon the city due to the unceasing south Indian invasions and moved their capital to the mountains.
This old-world city is an inviting glimpse into Sri Lankan history. Take a bike and make ride along the gravel street in the ancient capital and be inspired by the gigantic palaces, temples, Dagobas, stone sculptures and many other monuments.
9. Must visit cities in Sri Lanka south coast- Matara
Sprawling and dynamic, Matara is the epitome of Sri Lanka’s future development goals. Matara is an administrative capital of the south coast and centre of business and education.
Matara is brimming with rich culture and heritage, it has a very colourful history and hides many ancient structures, some are dating back to many millennia. Matara is a student city strives for the Sri Lanka of the future, same times it is celebrating its heritage and traditions.
There are many ancient temples to explore in Matara, one of the noteworthy here is the Weherahena temple, believed to be resided by monks way back in 2nd century BC. Star fort located near the main bridge is a colonial building in the shape of a star, today it is a museum with many important exhibits.
10. Must visit cities in Sri Lanka -Trincomalee
Trincomalee positioned in the eastern part of Sri Lanka and it is the capital of the eastern province of the island. Sitting next to the Trincomalee natural harbour, it had been an important trading outpost in the orient.
The Fredrik fort of Trincomalee was built by Dutch in the 16s and is where travellers can witness one of the most popular Hindu temples on the island, Koneswaram temple. Take a walk to the Koneswaram temple and be inspired by the dedication of Sri Lankan Hindu community to their religion.
Hatton and Dikoya are two popular holiday destinations in the mountains of Sri Lanka. Both these locations show a lot of similar characters on weather, vegetation and landscape. Hatton and Dikoya are also two leading tea producing areas in Sri Lanka. Even though they are not well-developed cities such as Colombo and Kandy, a limited number of shops and the market attracts a large crowd every day.
Dikoya and Hatton are about three kilometres away from each other and can be easily reached from Colombo. These are a holiday destination for people who value the calm and serene atmosphere with a healing climate. If you want to get rid of the hustle and bustle and routine life in the cities you are well on the way to your target here. Both cities are loved by local travellers and it is difficult to see foreigners here. They are not included in most Sri Lanka road trips while it does not provide any historical or culturally important place to visit.
Hatton and Dickoya can be best describe as adventure holiday destinations, due to the large concentration of mountains, escapements, rocks, streams and waterfalls. There are many locations in the region that can be best suited for adventures sports such as hiking, mountain climbing, caving, walking, mountain biking and trekking. A large number of location for trekking can be discovered within the easy reach of Hatton and Dikoya. One major attraction of Dikoya is the Castlereigh reservoir. This beautiful reservoir is surrounded by mountains, tea plantations and patches of forests.
Hatton and dick Oya both are the set off points for the Adams peak adventure. Climbing of Adams peak is one of the most adventurous mountains climbs in the country. On average it takes nearly 6 hours to reach the top of the mountains. A large number of people is going up the mountain owing to religious reasons. It is a well-known pilgrimage site for Buddhist, Hindu, Muslims and Catholics of the island.
Kotagala is another beautiful village in the direction of Nuwara Eliya from Hatton, where two beautiful waterfalls are to be found. Devon fall is the first waterfall to be seen when travelling from the direction of Hatton. This waterfall is narrower than the other waterfall but it is the taller (92 meters) of the two waterfalls. Several hundred meters in the direction of Nuwara Eliya from Devon fall is the St.Claires waterfall.
St.Claires waterfall is known as bridal fall as well and it is wide and rich in water than Devon fall. This cascading waterfall can be clearly separated into three parts. Both waterfalls are surrounded by beautiful tea estates and mountains. Due to the recently constructed upper Kotmale hydroelectricity project, several water resources that fed St.Claires waterfall is diverted away from the waterfall. Therefore the waterfall does not produce the majestic roaring sound as it used to have in the past.
Hatton and Dikoya are predominantly inhabited by Hindu community. Therefore a large number of Hindu temples can be found in the region. The main lively hood of the people, who live here, is the vegetable farming, animal husbandry and working in tea estates. The poverty of the region considered to be very high compared to most other parts of Sri Lanka and according to the statistics literacy rate is also at a very low level in the area.
12. Dick Oya
There lies a small hamlet about 100 km to the west of commercial (Colombo) centre of Sri Lanka. Hidden in the mist at the time of dawn, it is where the fresh, cool climate invites you to have a holiday and escape from the oppressive heat in Colombo. It is where; as the sun rises warming up valleys below, Adam’s peak (Holy Mountain) keep its eye on the valley from the distance. It is where the history of the colonial rulers, a distinct commodity mingles with tourism.
Dick Oya is located 4000 feet above the sea level on the A4 main highway past adventure sporting hub of Kitulgala. Hatton city and Norton bridge two other famous landmarks on the way.
Dick Oya and the region are well known for its finest Ceylon tea. These picturesque tea valleys belong to famous tea planters of the island. One can enjoy the beautiful scenes of endless rows of lush green tea buds. Mountains, escapements and waterfalls around Dick Oya add more variation for its beauty.
Colonial buildings in Dick Oya are reminiscent of centuries of colonial rule in the region. The landscape of Dick Oya changed from natural forests to tea plantations, where the British planters lived and lead.
A refreshing trek in a tea estate will leave you with a smile on your face; not just in letting go of your stress, but in smiling with the friendly tea puckers and local folk that you would meet on your way. There are few temples along the way giving fine insight into culture and religion. One can enter the temples and checks them out; one can learn the temple art and the faiths, one need to take off shoes and hats before entering the building.
Warleigh Church built during British rule shows the typical British architecture. The building was built in 1878 by Englishman William Scott of the Governor’s Mansion; it is the place where British planters and their members have been laid to rest. One feels the overwhelming calmness of the Church, Holy bible dating back to 1879 is another asset of the centuries-old Church. Warleigh Church overlooks the blue expanse of the Castlereigh Lake; nestled in the Golden Valley of Tea, the lake is simply spectacular.
Darawala cricket club is the place where the British planters gathered to play cricket. The current planters and local folk now gather at the club for sports and celebrations, keeping its spirit alive.