Top 10 Things To Do In Sri Lanka
From the UNESCO fort town of Galle with its Dutch heritage and stunning architecture, to the archaeological sites of the Cultural Triangle and the palm-fringed beaches and wildlife of the south east, Sri Lanka should be on everyone’s travel wish list. Here are our top ten picks.
Ginny Weeks is a London-based freelance writer and Contributing Editor at Corinthia Hotel London magazine. She has worked in print and online for over 10 years and writes about travel, motoring and food. www.ginnyweeks.com
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Explore The City Of Galle
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Located on the south coast of the island, the historical fort city of Galle (pronounced Gaul) is Sri Lanka’s fifth largest city and a wonderful place to explore the islands past. Spend a day walking around the atmospheric Dutch quarter, a colonial time warp filled with picturesque historic houses, cobbled streets and churches. Finish with dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants in the area.
Take The Train
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Built by the British in the 19th century, Sri Lanka’s Victorian railway network is a charming and scenic way to see the country. The three main lines run along the west coast, the northern line and the hill country line run from the capital Colombo to Kandy and on to Badulla in the south. The most breath-taking views can be seen on the routes to Kandy up in the hills and south east to Ella where the old trains chunter past some of the island’s most beautiful countryside.
Visit An Ancient World
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Head inland to the island’s Cultural Triangle where you’ll find stunning scenery, from huge dry plains to dense jungles and jagged mountains, and vast Sinhalese ruins, including seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. Explore the ancient capital cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa with their grand monuments and palaces, as well as the religious centre of Mihintale, where Buddhism was first introduced to the island. Don’t miss Sigiriya, a 200m high rock fortress which dates back to the 3rd century BC and has magnificent views over the plains. At the base there are ancient inscriptions and graffiti as well as the remains of a 5th century palace and water garden.
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Colourful birds, leopards, elephants, monkeys, turtles, dolphins…Sri Lanka has an incredible variety of wildlife to see. Book a leopard safari in Yala or Wilpattu National Park to see Sri Lanka’s famous big cat; the island is home to the biggest concentration of leopards in the world. You may also spot one of the 6,000 wild elephants dotted around the island’s 22 national parks or plan a visit to the famous Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage. Excellent whale and dolphin watching trips can also be arranged on the east or south coast or watch sea turtles nest on the beaches at night.
Trek Through The Rainforest
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Relatively unknown to tourists, Sinharaja national reserve rainforest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an essential stop for nature lovers. The dense forest houses 830 of Sri Lanka’s native flora and fauna species including the purple-faced langur monkey, three species of squirrel, mongooses, leopards, rare reptiles and exotic insects. Bird watchers will be in paradise here as the forest is home to a bird wave, where hundreds of birds from different species can be seen flying and foraging together, as well as guarding each other with alarm calls. It makes a great base for trekking and cooling off in the many waterfalls.
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The picturesque hill town of Kandy is built around a stunning lake and is without a doubt the cultural and religious heart of the island. It has a cooler climate perfect for exploring the surrounding tea plantations, many of whom still have huge mansions built by the British, as well as one of Sri Lanka’s most important religious relics – the Temple of the Tooth (Buddha’s Tooth), and Kandy Easala Perahera – a spectacular 10 day festival during July and August.
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Sri Lanka is home to over 1,000 miles of glistening coastline and some of the most idyllic beaches in the world. The south west, south east and north east of the island have some of the most beautiful spots. As well as pristine sand and the warm Indian Ocean waters, many beaches are empty if you’re willing to explore a little. Try the beaches around Bentota, in between Colombo and Galle.
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Since the British introduced tea to the island in 1867, Sri Lanka has gone on to become the world’s fourth biggest tea producer and their single origin blends are universally admired for their delicate, aromatic taste. The island will soon be celebrating the 150th anniversary of its tea industry with special events and celebrations. Immerse yourself in the world of tea with a plantation tour in the Hill Country, incorporating a walk through tea fields, a visit to a tea factory and tea blending/tasting to finish.
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The fascinating Dambulla Buddha cave temples date back to 103BC when an ancient ruler was forced into hiding. He spent 14 years seeking refuge inside the caves and when he finally returned to the throne he transformed his former underground home into a Buddhist temple as a thanks for the protection the rock had given him. The five caves contain many ancient intricate carvings, murals, paintings and statues.
The Sacred Footprint
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Adam’s Peak (or Sri Pada) is Sri Lanka’s fifth highest peak and the mountain top houses are one of the island’s most important religious sites. The walk to the summit has been a celebrated pilgrimage for over 1000 years and different faiths believe that the footprint in the rock belonged to either Buddha himself, Adam or the apostle St Thomas.