Sri Lanka is a country with one of the oldest cultures in the world. Venturing on a Sri Lanka culture tour is the best way of exploring the rich historical past of Sri Lanka. In this article, we highlight a 7 best places to explore during a Sri Lanka cultural tour.
WHAT ARE THE TOP 7 PLACES FOR SRI LANKA CULTURE TOUR?
Sri Lanka harbours a large number of temples, Stupas, Dagobas, shrines, forts, palaces, museums, gardens and many other cultural and historical monuments. These cultural and historical places are scattered in may parts of Sri Lanka. However, owing to the convenience to visit, historical importance and cultural value, tourist attractions in the cultural triangle are the most popular and included in most Sri Lanka culture tour packages. Our author has chosen below mentioned 7 cities as the top places for the Sri Lanka culture tour package by considering its importance and adaptability as a tourist attractions to the Sri Lanka tour package.
Venturing on a Sri Lanka culture tour to see cultural tourist attractions
Sri Lanka is a country with one of the oldest cultures in the world. Most importantly Sri Lankan culture is uninterrupted for more than many thousands of years despite the south Indian and Europeans invasions. Stone age people lived in Sri Lanka believed to be the origin of Sri Lankan culture, these tribal folks known as Yaksas and Nagas. Today a small number of descendant from these folks are living in some parts of Sri Lanka, they are popularly known as “Vedda community”.
Later the stone age human of Sri Lanka mingled with other cultures came to Sri Lanka making a unique culture with many unique characteristics. Therefore, Sri Lanka has become a birthplace and cradle of one of the major cultures in the world.
The rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka and more than a half a dozen of UNESCO world heritage sites allure travellers from all corners of the world. The Sri Lankan culture is spiced up with many cultures and traditions. A myriad number of places across the island such as temples, churches speaks about the same.
Cultural tourism is an important part of Sri Lanka tourism industry and it takes visitors beyond palm-fringed beaches, the magical healing power of Ayurveda, green-capped mountains and utmost lavishness. With a Sri Lanka cultural tour, the travellers are exposed to some of the oldest cultural sited in the world, numerous art forms, and the authentic food trails.
So, if you have a cultural buff, and like to explore few Sri Lankan cultural sites, here is a list of 10 cultural sites in Sri Lanka, that is a testament of the awe-inspiring architecture and the rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka.
Few useful links about places in Sri Lanka
What are the 5 best Sri Lanka culture tours?
- Sri Lanka culture tour with Colombo sightseeing tour, Gangarama and Wovendaal church
- Sri Lanka culture tour with Sigiriya-Dambulla-Polonnaruwa
- Sri Lanka culture tour with Sigiriya-Dambulla-Kandy
- Sri Lanka culture tour with auradhapura-Polonnaruwa-Sigiriya-Dambulla-Kandy
- Sri Lanka culture tour with Glle
5 alternative places for a Sri Lanka culture tour
- Tour to Adams peak
- Culture tour to Pidurangala cave temple
- Cultural tour to Aukana Buddha statue
- Tour to Kataragama temple
- Cultural tour to Sita Amman temple
Distance to cover on this Sri Lanka cultural tour is 200 km
The duration of the trip to the cultural city of Anuradhapura from the airport is 5 hours
Anuradhapura marks the northernmost city of the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, which is one of the most important cultural places in Sri Lanka, also the most ancient city of the island dating back to 3rd century BC. Anuradhapura is a UNESCO world heritage site since 1982.
Anuradhapura hides hundreds of temples, palaces, stone sculptures and many valuable monuments, therefore Anuradhapura is a part of most Sri Lanka cultural tours. The city was established by the first king of Sri Lanka Walagambahu in the dry zone of Sri Lankan central province.
Cultural and historical facts of Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lankan until 10th century AD and the more than 100 of Sri Lankan kings ruled the island from Anuradhapura. The city was largely neglected by the Sri Lankan kings due to the South Indian invasions. However, it was a flourishing city for more than a thousand years and had been a well-planned city with temples, palaces, lakes, parks, and a road network.
According to the historians, the city was planned such a way that the inner-city was in the middle of the city with the king’s palace and temples. The immediate outer layer was consisting of houses of the general public and the next outer layer was the farmlands such as rice paddies and vegetable plots. The outermost circles were the lakes and jungle.
Important historical places in Anuradhapura: Sri Maha bodhi (ficus religiosa), Jetawanarama dagoba, Abhayagiriya and Ruwanweli dagoba are the most prominent sites to visit in Anuradhapura.
How to explore Anuradhapura historical site: Apart from the places mentioned above this historical city hosts a large number of many other crumbling monuments. There are many other historical monuments, Buddha statues, stone sculptures, Dagobas (dorm shaped structure found in Buddhist temples), museums and many other monuments that make Anuradhapura one of the best historical sites to experience Sri Lankan culture and heritage.
Ruwanweli seya, Isurumuniya, Thuparama, Jetawanarama, Abhayagiriya, Samadhi Buddha Statue, twin pond are the most visited places in Anuradhapura. A walk through the archaeological museum of Anuradhapura provides an enriching experience of rich historical past of history of Anuradhapura.
Food in Anuradhapura: the cultural heritage of Anuradhapura is remarkable but your historical tour to Anuradhapura should not be restricted to the archaeological site, there is authentic Sri Lankan cuisine that can’t be missed in Anuradhapura.
How to reach Anuradhapura
- By Air: Anuradhapura can be conveniently reached by air from major cities like Colombo and Kandy. The domestic airport of Colombo is within easy reach of Anuradhapura historical site. There are daily flights from Colombo to Anuradhapura.
- By Train: Train is the most popular way of reaching Anuradhapura from Colombo. Anuradhapura is connected with Colombo by a railway track and a few express trains ply between two cities on a daily basis. Travel by train is cheap and convenient and it saves time too.
- By road: a Most foreign tourist who book package tours (Sri Lanka cultural tours), using road transport to travel to Anuradhapura. Because they are provided with car, van or a coach to travel during their trip. However, using public buses to travel can be very inconvenient. Travel by public buses is cheap but it sucks your time.
Few other places to experience Sri Lankan culture and heritage in Anuradhapura
Yapahuwa: Yapahuwa is another historical city of Sri Lanka but quiet unknown to most travellers. Therefore, the tourist traffic heading to Yapahuwa is minimal. Yapahuwa was the capital of Sri Lanka for a brief period in the 13th century and later it was abandoned due to the south Indian invasions. Yapahuwa had been a fortress similar to Sigiriya and it was protected by a ring of walls and ditches.
Kala wewa: Kala wewa, which is a reservoir provided the water to the ancient city of Anuradhapura during its heyday. The lake is still serving as one of the most important resources of water and stores a large amount of rainwater during the monsoon. Kalawewa was the largest irrigation work originated during the Anuradhapura period. Kalawewa was built in the 5th century AD under the reign of King Dhatusena.
Sandungira Raja Maha Vihara: According to the history this ancient temple was built under the guidance of King Saddatissa, during the Anuradhapura period (4th century BC-11th century AD). Sandungira temple is mostly visited by local travellers and devotees and it is not included in most Sri Lanka cultural tours, that crafted for foreign travellers.
Historical Ayurved hospital: The ruins of an ancient Ayurveda hospital were discovered within the archaeological site of Anuradhapura. The Ayurveda hospital believed to date back to 898 AD to 914 AD. The hospital served the monks who lived in the Thuparama temple complex.
Distance to cover on this Sri Lanka cultural tour is 230 km
The duration of the trip to the cultural city of Anuradhapura from the airport is 5 hours
Cultural and historical facts about Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa, the second most historical capital of Sri Lanka, is ranked high among the cultural places in Sri Lanka to experience Sri Lankan culture and heritage. Polonnaruwa is a UNESCO world heritage site since 1982. Polonnaruwa dates back top 10th century AD and ruled by 3 important kings, King Parakramabahu, Vijayabahu the great and Nissankamalla.
The city boasts to have a distinctive culture owing to the amalgamation of Hindu & Buddhist cultures. Furthermore, during the reign of Parakramabahu many important achievements had been reached in the areas of religion, culture, water management, agriculture, and literature. During this period many important literary works carried out by locals scholars such as Dipawamsa, Thupawamsa. Many dozens of important irrigation projects were carried out during this period including Parakaramasamudra.
Important historical places in Polonnaruwa: Parakrama Samudra, Parakrama palace, Gal Viharaya, Ruwanweli dagoba, and Alahana Pirivena complex are the most popular tourist places in Polonnaruwa.
Exploring the historical places of Polonnaruwa: Polonnaruwa archaeological site is a UNESCO world heritage site and it houses a large number of ancient structures such as temples, audience halls, palaces. There had been 3 major Kings, who contributed to the development of the city Vijayabahu the great, Parakramabahu and Nissankamalla.
Parakramabahu statue, Parakramasamudra and historical museum of Polonnaruwa are also among the important sites in Polonnaruwa and located outside of the Polonnaruwa ancient city.
Usually, most Sri Lanka cultural tours include Polonnaruwa due to its historical and cultural value. Cycle through the city is one of the most popular ways of exploring the city while some others are using vehicles to travel between monuments.
Food specialities even though Polonnaruwa is not popular for its own food varieties Polonnaruwa produces a large amount of fruit and vegetable on the island. There are few cooking classes in Polonnaruwa and they are specially served for foreign travellers.
How to reach Polonnaruwa
- Road transport is the best way of reaching Polonnaruwa from Colombo and all other parts of Sri Lanka. Polonnaruwa is connected with all major cities such as Colombo, Kandy, Matara and direct buses are plying to Polonnaruwa from all major cities on the island.
The city of Colombo lies about 30 km south of Colombo international airport
The duration of the trip to Colombo from the airport is 1 hour
Colombo – Colombo is one of the places that very popular for Sri Lanka day outings. The cosmopolitan & commercial capital city of Sri Lanka – has been strongly influenced by many cultures and religions. Colombo was visited by foreign merchants’ way back in 6th century AD and many ships from Greek, Mesopotamia, Arab, China, India and many other countries called on to the harbour in order to sell their goods and collect essential items required for their journey.
Colombo was also under the strong influence of Portuguese, Dutch and British. Colombo was used as the main port and trade emporium during the colonial period of Sri Lanka from 1505 to 1948. Those colonial rulers left behind a part of their selves in the form of Palaces, monuments, parks, artefacts, literary works, customs, festivals, and more.
Today Colombo is a cultural melting pot with a dozen ethnic groups and any religious groups.
What’s special: Kaiman gate, Wolvendaal Church, Old Fort, Parliament and Gangarama temple is the most prominent tourist sites in Colombo.
For a walk through the city’s culture: venturing on a Colombo walking tour is the best way of exploring the city of Colombo. Usually, most Historical tours of Sri Lanka includes Colombo and travellers visit places such as Gangarama temple, Fort, Pettah, Parliament, Viharamahadevi and townhall. A large number of museums, galleries, cultural centres, theatres and various food outlets together makes Colombo one of the best places of Sri Lankan cultural heritage.
How to reach
- By Air: Colombo international airport is well connected with all major cities around the world. Ratmalana domestic airport near the city centre provides a convent way of reaching all major cities of Sri Lanka by air.
- By Ship: Colombo harbour is the biggest harbour in Sri Lanka and welcomes hundreds of cruises every year.
Distance to cover on this Sri Lanka cultural tour is 177 km
The duration of the trip to the cultural site of Sigiriya from the airport is 4 hours
By far Sigiriya is the most popular iconic tourist attraction in Sri Lanka, every Sri Lanka cultural tour cover this UNESCO world heritage site, therefore, don’t miss it if you plan a trip to Sri Lanka. The grandeur of Sigiriya surpasses all other tourist hotspots in a cultural triangle when it comes to history and heritage.
As the name suggests Sigiriya is a natural rock tucked away 160 from Colombo. The rock rises up to 500 meters from the sea level. And his gigantic granite rock is one of the most popular tourist attractions today.
Cultural and historical facts of Sigiriya
Sigiriya rock fortress dates back to 5th century AD and it is one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world, surrounded by walls and moats. The Fort of Sigiriya inherits an advanced water management system with fountains, an underground drainage system and swimming pools.
King Kashyapa built inaccessible stronghold of Sigiriya rock fortress in 5th century AD, in order to hide from the wrath of his half brother Moggalana. The king lived in the fort for 18 years, until the return of Moggalana with his army and kill him in a battle.
The world-renowned Sigiriya fresco paintings are to be found in the rock fortress of Sigiriya. The fresco paintings that are depicting figures of ladies are believed to be as old as the fort (1500 years). According to the estimates, there had been 500 such figures painted on the surface of the rock fort. However, most of them are diminished over the century and a small pocket of frescoes are with 28 figures remain. However, the remaining paintings are well protected and under the supervision of the archaeological department. The figures are in very good shape and the natural colours of the paintings are still very bright.
What’s special: Swimming pool in the terraced garden, Fresco pocket, pleasure garden, miniature water garden, fountains garden, and Octagonal pond are some of the important palaces in Sigiriya. The fresco paintings are well protected; however, the visitors are not allowed to flash in front of the paintings as it could harm them.
Importance of Sigiriya as a historical place
Sigiriya not only important as a historical and cultural site, but it is most importantly showing the advanced knowledge of ancient engineers. Sigiriya rock fortress suggests that ancient engineers had through grasp on trigonometry and hydraulic principle.
Climbing the historical site of Sigiriya
Sigiriya rock climb can be a daunting task for old people, and people with a back problem and knee injuries. Climbing to the summit of the rock is the expectation of every visitors. The breathtaking view from the summit over the surrounding area is a reward for the untiring effort. Same times there are many ruins to see on top of the rock such as swimming pool, remnants of many buildings and a granite throng. It is believed that King Kshayapa lived in a palace, which was built on top of the rock.
How to reach Sigiriya:
- By Road: Road transport is the most popular way of reaching the Sigiriya rock fortress. Sigiriya is well connected with the nearby major city Dambulla. All travellers, who use public transport should first travel to Dambulla city and then take a Sigiriya bound bus.
- By Air: Air transportation is also a viable option to reach Sigiriya rock. There are direct flights from Colombo to Sigiriya on daily basis for passengers, who are interested in saving time on travelling
Distance to cover on this Sri Lanka cultural tour is 160 km
The duration of the trip to Dambulla from the airport is 4 hours
Buddhist temples are very important cultural places in Sri Lanka. Visiting Buddhist temple is a very important activity for travellers to learn about the culture of Sri Lanka. Temple is the best place to feel the culture and tradition of Sri Lanka. This chapter is dedicated to one of the cultural hot spots on the island namely Dambulla golden cave temple. cultural places in Sri Lanka
Importance of Dambulla historical site
Dambulla is popular in the world as one of the oldest cave temples in the world and it is a UNESCO world heritage site since 1991. The Dambulla golden cave temple dates back to 1st century BC is one of the oldest cave temples in the world. Dambulla is also a very popular tourist attraction and included in most Sri Lanka cultural torus. This duo Sigiriya and Dambulla is part of every Sri Lanka cultural tour and they are the most visited sites in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka.
Countless Buddha statues, god figures, statues of kings & paintings depicting various sceneries of life of Buddha can be seen in the temples of Dambulla. The perfect amalgamation of Buddhism and Hinduism in its culture and heritage makes Dambulla one of the must-visit cultural sites in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka.
Dambulla golden cave temple hides hundreds of Buddha statues. There are many thousands of square meters of wall and ceiling paintings are to be found in the caves, all are depicting various sceneries from the life of Buddha. The paintings and statues are originated in past under reign of Sri Lankan kings. The temple is a classic example of the artistic capabilities of Sri Lankan ancient artisans.
What’s special: Temple is hidden from the busy town of Dambulla and it is residing on the western slope of Dambulla rock. The Buddha statues and paintings are placed in 5 natural caves, they are well protected by the heat of the sun and rain. However, the accumulation of humidity has caused some damages to the paintings over the last several decades.
Visiting temple needs to be done with care if you are not familiar with visiting Buddhist religious sites. The dress should be suitable to visit a temple and there are several other rules to follow when you visit a Buddhist temple. Click here to read more about things you need to know before visit a Buddhist temple.
For a walk-through Dambulla cave temple: the hike at Dambulla is very easy compared to the hike at Sigiriya. You have to climb 120 steps in Sigiriya and they are narrow and irregular in height. However, the steps at Dambulla are newly created and you need to have only about 10 minutes hike to reach the temple.
How to reach the Dambulla cave temple:
- By Road: Road transport is the most popular way of reaching the Dambulla golden cave temple. Dambulla is well connected with all corners of the island and there are direct buses to Dambulla from major cities such as Kandy, Jaffna and Colombo.
- By Air: Air transportation is also a viable option to reach Dambulla golden cave temple. There are direct flights from Colombo to Dambulla on daily basis for passengers, who are interested in saving time on travelling.
Distance to cover on this Sri Lanka cultural tour 115 km
The duration of the trip to Kandy from the airport is 3 hours
The mountainous terrain in the middle of the island passed on from the hands of Sri Lanka monarchy to those of the representatives of British east India company is often tagged as the cultural centre of Sri Lanka.
Historical facts about Kandy
Kandy is among the most important cultural places in Sri Lanka and Kandy houses the most sacred Buddhist temple in the island, popularly known as tooth relic temple, where left eye tooth Buddha resides. The history of temples goes back to a monarchy, and it was the last kingdom of Sri Lankan monarchy, Kandy was founded by King Vikrama Bahu 3 (1267-1301 AD) and it remained as the capital of Sri Lanka until 1815 AD.
Sri Lanka mountain is nestled in the middle of the island and rising up to 2524 meters above sea-level. Kandy is a beautiful city surrounded by misty hills and tea plantations. The city itself boasts to have a large extent of green cover with Udawattakele sanctuary. The Kandy lake is a striking feature of Kandy and it adds beauty to the city while protecting the city from floodwater. A boat tour at Kandy lake allows you to spot many avian fauna species as well as animals such as monitors and tortoise.
Kandy is included in most Sri Lankan cultural tours as it is an important cultural city. Kandy is one of the most beautiful cities with many important tourist attractions within its borders, apart from cultural heritage.
Important places in Kandy: Kandyan cultural show, Tea museum, Buddhist international museum, and St. Paul’s Cathedral are some of the most prominent tourist places in Kandy.
Important cultural places in Kandy: Natha Devala, Pattini temple, Kandy lake, tooth relic temple museum, Udawattakele sanctuary, Kandyan cultural show and Royal botanical garden are some of the other places to visit in Kandy that speak volumes about the city’s rich culture & heritage. Rankoth Viharaya, Gadaladeniya temple, and Embekke temple are some of the other religious places to visit in Kandy, however, these temples are located few kilometres away from the city.
How to reach Kandy
- By Air: Kandy can be conveniently reached by domestic plains from Colombo and other major cities. There is regular seaplane service from Colombo to Kandy with daily few planes.
- By Rail: Kandy is also well connected with Kandy by the upcountry railway track. The railway track was laid out by British east Indian company and it is well functioning even today. Train believes to be one of the best ways of reaching Kandy from Colombo, it is convenient and it is cheap.
- By Road: Kandy is the hub of the road network of Sri Lanka, due to its location in the middle of the island. Kandy is well connected with all corner of the island with well-maintained modern roads.
Distance to cover on this Sri Lanka cultural tour from the airport is 173 km
The duration of the trip to the cultural city of Nuwara Eliya from the airport is 4 hours
Nuwara Eliya is surrounded by green-capped mountains and tea plantations. Nuwara Eliya is very rich of nature and offers breathtaking scenery across its green-capped mountains, cascading waterfalls, rivers, tea gardens, vegetable plots and patches of forests. Therefore, Nuwara Eliya popular as a place to enjoy nature.
Nuwara Eliya became a prominent holiday spot during the British rule, and the British governor developed it as a holiday destination due to its healing climate, which was very appealing to the wealthy British planters. Nuwara Eliya records the lowest temperature on the island with the occasional temperature dropping up to -2C degrees after the sunset.
Historical facts about Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya is among the important cultural places in Sri Lanka due to its close connection with Ramayana. The history of Nuwara Eliya goes back to about 7000 years and the city plays a big role in the Ramayana story. Nuwara Eliya is given a prominent place in the Hinduism as the place where King Ravana lived. According to Hindu mythology, Kin Ravana abducted Queen Sita (wife of Rama) and held captive in Nuwara Eliya.
Important cultural sites in Nuwara Eliya: Sita Amman temple, Ashok Vatika, and Hanuman Temple are the most popular tourist places in Nuwara Eliya that are closely connected to Ramayana.
For a walk through the city’s cultural attractions: Nuwara Eliya is most popular for nature holiday than cultural tours. However, Nuwara Eliya attracts many travellers from India, who are arriving in Sri Lanka to witness the places mentioned in Ramayana such as Ashok Vatika and Sita Amman temple.
How to reach Nuwara Eliya
- By Air: The domestic seaplane service is available to Nuwara Eliya from major cities such as Kandy and Nuwara Eliya.
- By Train: Train is considered being the best way of travelling from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya. The train trip from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya considered being one of the most scenic train journeys in the world.
- By Road: Nuwara Eliya is connected with most major cities of Sri Lanka and it can be easily reached by road.
All visitors to these sacred places suppose to dress in a particular manner to uphold its religious value. There is a set of rules that every visitor of religious site observe while visiting sacred places in Sri Lanka. If you are wondering what these rules are? Check this article “13 RULES TO OBSERVE WHILE VISITING SRI LANKA BUDDHIST TEMPLE, SRI LANKA TEMPLE DRESS CODE AND TEMPLE OF THE TOOTH DRESS CODE“.