Sri Lanka's World Heritage Sites
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Sri Lanka's World Heritage Sites

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Only the very best historical sites are awarded the coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site title, and Sri Lanka proudly boasts eight of them, each of which are intrinsically linked to the island's spiritual links with each of its four major religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. The sites themselves are an eclectic mix of both physical beauty and cultural importance, and are definitely worth visiting on a Sri Lanka itinerary.
BY Emma Hookway
Luxtripper Travel Editor
Dambulla Cave Temples

Located to the east of Colombo, the cave temples at Dambulla are without a doubt one of the most visually impressive World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka. There are more than 80 caves in total, with the five main caves boasting a multitude of revered paintings and statues. You will find here three statues of past kings of Sri Lanka, four statues of different gods and goddesses and no fewer than 153 statues of Buddha. The is site is Sri Lanka's best preserved cave temples and the murals within the complex cover an area of approximately 2100 sqm in total.

Sigiriya Rock Fortress

One of Sri Lanka's most famous historical landmarks, Sigiriya Rock is an ancient fortress situated near the town of Dambulla, surrounded by swathes of tropical forest. Home to an ancient castle which dates back to the 5th century AD, the Sky Palace which is located on top of the rock, the Mirror Wall, the Lion Gate and the world famous Sigiriya Frescoes, it is little wonder that this site is the most popular choice amongst those who want to take a step back in time to Sri Lanka's ancient world.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1978, eleven years before being given World Heritage site status, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a national park with international importance. The area is Sri Lanka's last viable area of primary tropical rainforest, and is home to a myriad of endemic species, including populations of leopards, Indian elephants, and purple-faced Langurs, as well as a wealth of endemic birdlife and flora. 

Anuradhapura

The ancient city of Anuradhapura was not only Sri Lanka's original capital but the first ancient capital of the country. Today the city, which sits north of the modern capital Colombo, is a hub of history, culture, spirituality and religion. Here you will find the most impressive ruins from the Sinhala Civilisation, as well as a wealth of important Buddhist sites that attract worshippers year on year. 

Polonnaruwa

King Vijayabahu I declared Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka's capital in 1070 CE, and it was the second largest kingdom in ancient times. The entire area boasts a collection of impressive ruins from the ancient kingdom, the most spectacular being the Royal Palace which is home to an array of amazing timeworn columns.

Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy

The Sacred Tooth Relic at Kandy is one of the world's most sacred Buddhist icons. Located within the Temple of the Tooth in the royal palace, the tooth itself is said to have belonged to Buddha himself and is thus revered by Buddhists across the globe. It is believed that whoever is holding the relic at the time actually holds Sri Lanka's governance. Few realise that it is not only the relic but the entire town of Kandy which UNESCO decreed as a World Heritage site, largely due to the presence of both the Temple of the Tooth and the relic which resides inside it.

Galle

Situated on the most south-western tip of Sri Lanka, the coastal town of Galle was founded in the 16th-century by Portuguese colonialists, and is known for its fort and fortified old city. In later years, fortification took place by both the British and Dutch, meaning the city boasts a unique blend of colonial architecture. 

The Central Highlands

The Central Highlands of Sri Lanka consist of three areas of environmental significance; the Peak Wilderness Protected Area, the Knuckles Conservation Forest and the Horton Plains National Park. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010 thanks to its spectacular biodiversity one of main attractions to the Central Highlands can be found in Horton Plains. This is the globally famous World's End, a sheer abyss that is one of the most photographed spots in Sri Lanka.

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