UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka is one of Asia’s richest places to visit thanks to its heritage, culture, history, nature and wilderness. Despite the country being at war for a number of years thankfully the UNESCO World Heritage sites remained intact. Did you know that Sri Lanka has eight important landmarks in the country declared as protected areas by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)?

We’ve listed below full details on the eight sites below.

The Sacred City of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura was the first ancient capital and Sinhala kingdom of Sri Lanka. The kingdom remained from 377 BC to AD 1017. During this period Buddhism was first introduced to Sri Lanka and to date, Anuradhapura is an important place of worship and pilgrimage for Buddhists. One of the most important places to visit in the sacred city is the Jaya Sri Maha Bodiya – the sacred fig tree. The tree planted in 288 BC in Mahamewana Gardens is also the oldest planted human tree in the world. Buddhist followers all over the world gather to see this sacred tree as the right wing branch is from the Sri Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya in India where Lord Buddha attained clarification.

Other places in Anuradhapura include Mihintale, Ruwanwelisaya, Jetwanaramaya and Mirisavetiya. The city was declared a world heritage site in 1982 by UNESCO and is also among the main cities of the cultural triangle.

The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

The second kingdom capital following Anuradhapura is the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. The city was one of the most established dynasties from 1056-1236 AD. Invaded by Cholas but taken back by great King Vijayabahu, Polonnaruwa saw its expansion during the time of King Parakramabahu I. These expansions in the capital city included ones to the irrigation systems and the return of Buddhism. The Sea of Parakrama or Parakrama Samudraya is among the major expansions that took place in the city.

Other ruins, remaining stupas and temples of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom can be witnessed in the palace complex. These include the King’s palace believed to have been seven floors high, Vatadageya, Sathmahal Prasadaya, Stone Book, Nissanka Latha Madapaya, Lankathilaka, Gal Viharaya and more. Polonnaruwa, another main city of the cultural triangle was declared a world heritage site in Sri Lanka in 1982.

The Ancient City of Sigiriya

Some believe the Sigiriya rock fortress to be the eighth Wonder of the World. Built during the time of King Kasyapa (477-495 CE). Kasyapa selected the Sigiriya as his new capital during the Anuradhapura period.

Be sure to make it all the way to the top as the summit provides unparalleled views of the city. Sigiriya was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1982.

Golden Temple of Dambulla

Declared a World Heritage Site in 1991, the Golden Temple of Dambulla is also a city belonging to the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka. The temple is a pilgrimage location for Buddhists and is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in the country.

The main attractions include the five caves under massive hanging rock and ceilings painted with religious images, statues, paintings of Lord Buddha, Bodhisattvas, Kings, Gods and Goddesses. The Dambulla cave Monastery to date is still in use and dates back to first century BCE. King Valagamba of the Anuradhapura Kingdom said to have converted the caves into a temple complex as an act of gratitude.

The Sacred City of Kandy

Kandy is home to many things. A scenic cricket stadium, a breathtaking botanical garden but is perhaps best known for the Temple of the Tooth Relic or Sri Dalada Maligawa. The Temple located at the former royal palace complex houses the relic of the tooth of Lord Buddha and thus gets its name. The tooth relic secretly brought to the country by Princess Hemamali. Kandy was also the last kingdom and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 primarily because of the temple.

Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications

The Fort was first built during the Portuguese era in 1588 and later expanded by the Dutch in 1649. The Fort today, is among the most-visited tourist attractions in the country and is home to a multicultural population.

#YohoTip Here are a few restaurants you must eat at while within the Galle Fort.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve

“Sinharaja” translates to Lion Kingdom and is the last remaining tropical rainforest in Sri Lanka. The park has 60% of rare endemic trees that cannot be found anywhere else in the country. It is also a biodiversity hotspot in Sri Lanka. The reserve was declared a UNESCO Site in 1988 and one of the best places for camping to witness the endemic species and the best time to visit is from December to April.

The Central Highlands of Sri Lanka

This Heritage Site includes the Peak Wilderness Protected Area, Horton Plains National Park and Knuckles Conservation Forest. This was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site only in 2010. Did you know that Sri Pada Peak Wilderness sanctuary is a tropical rainforest and third largest sanctuary in the country? It even spreads over to Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada).

Nastashia Ekanayake - Yoho Creator

Nastashia Ekanayake is a travel enthusiastic who enjoys travelling solo when budget and time permit. Having currently moved back to Sri Lanka, she functions as an administration professional by day and wanderer and foodie by night. She enjoys journaling her adventures, exploring the joys of Instagram and looking up her next travel destination.