Top 8 UNESCO Sites In Sri Lanka - Updated 2023


The island of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) holds not one but eight recognized UNESCO sites. These stunning spots span ancient and sacred Sinhalese cities to forest reserves. With diverse landscapes ranging from rainforests to arid plains, and a history rich in Buddhism, a trip to Sri Lanka’s UNESCO sites is a trip to a living classroom. Taking a tour through Viator Tours can help to optimize one’s learning. Whether you are looking to cycle, stroll, or soak up history by way of a luxury vehicle, Viator Tours has something for you. Scroll down to read about Viator’s tours of Sri Lanka’s eight UNESCO sites, and begin planning your adventure of a lifetime today.

1) Ancient Sigiriya (from USD 46.0)

Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress that is an impressive 200 meters (660 feet) high. King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) claimed this spot for his new capital, where he built his castle upon the top of the rock. The castle and capital were abandoned after the king’s death, however, it was taken over by Buddhists in the 14th century. Some consider Sigiriya the eighth wonder of the world, as it is noted as a prime example of ancient city planning.

This day trip through Viator Tours includes a guided experience through the ancient city, a canoe, cart, and tuk-tuk ride, and a buffet-style country lunch served by local women (you’re welcome to help prepare it, too!). With easy door-to-door transportation, you will be grateful after this seven-hour tour to leave transportation worries behind. The tour lasts about seven hours. Be prepared for a day of adventure, as this tour includes a moderate amount of walking.

Sigiriya Rock and Village Tour from Sigiriya

Duration: 6 to 7 hours

2) Sinharaja Rainforest (from USD 220.0)

For nature lovers, Sinharaja Rainforest—the last of Sri Lanka’s viable lowland rainforest—cannot be missed. The rainforest is home to 50% of Sri Lanka’s mammals and butterflies, as well as reptiles and insects. Surrounded by rivers on three sides, the rainforest also touts ancient footpaths.

This tour of the Sinharaja Rainforest will help you soak up the natural beauty through a visit to the forest, as well as a trip to the local rubber plantation, and a walk through a local village. Guides help to point out local flora and fauna, such as the mixed-feeding flocks phenomenon of Sinharaja’s birds.

Sinharaja Rain Forest One Day

Duration: 8 hours

3) Pick tea in the Central Highlands (from USD 35.0)

Become part of the farm with this tour which calls upon visitors to help pick Ceylon tea! Set in the Central Highlands, the mountainous landscape, lush with verdant flora, is gorgeous in natural wonder. After you rub elbows with plantation workers, take a trip to the factory to learn how it is processed, topping the experience off with a cup of tea. Round-trip transportation from Nuwara Eliya makes this an easy and memorable adventure to sign up for.

Private Tea Plucking and Tea factory tour from Nuwara Eliya

Duration: 4 hours

1 review

4) Visit sacred city of Kandy (from USD 380.0)

In this tour, you will experience the highlights of Kandy’s rich historical and religious background. The sacred city of Kandy is a highlight of the UNESCO sites and is known for the Temple of the Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa), an ancient Buddhist temple. The Temple of the Tooth supposedly holds the tooth of Buddha, and it has been an important symbol for the Buddhist community. In this eight-hour day trip, experience a local tea plantation, a trip to the golden-roofed Temple of the Tooth Relic, a picturesque spot for lunch (lunch not included), and a tour to see traditional crafts made. The last capital for Sinhalese kings, Kandy was home to Dinahala culture for more than 2,500 years until colonized by the British in 1815.

kandy private day tour

Duration: 8 hours

5) Cycle Anuradhapura (from USD 128.0)

If you love to explore by way of two wheels, then this tour is for you. The ancient city of Anuradhapura was one of the former capitals of Sri Lanka, founded during the 5th century BC. This site was also home to Theravada Buddhism for many centuries. This half-day tour on a bike makes accessing different spots in the sacred city of Anuradhapura easier. Ride around temples, reservoirs, and relics with a guide to show you the way. The bikes, helmets, snacks, and Anuradhapura admission are included, so come prepared with comfortable clothing.

Cycling from Anuradhapura

Duration: 4 to 5 hours

6) Galle's old town (from USD 41.0)

The town of Galle has long been a major port, layered with history and culture from the Sinhalese, Dutch, and Portuguese. This four-hour bicycle trip covers the fortified city, with a local guide to point out main attractions along the seaside way including; the Galle Lighthouse, shipping warehouses, churches and temples, and the clock tower. Bike rental, water, and the guide are included in the tour price, but meals are not. Still a working city, there are cute boutiques, seaside restaurants and cafes, and museums to explore.

Galle Fort and City Cycling Tour

Duration: 2 to 4 hours

14 reviews

7) Walk the royal city of Polonnaruwa (from USD 42.0)

Polonnaruwa was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa, after King Vijayabahu I defeated Chola invaders in 1070. This day trip of the ancient royal city covers hundreds of archaeological wonders from tombs, temples, statues, and stupas. Tour highlights are as follows: The Statue of King Parakramabahu, Potgul Vihara, Vatadage, Lankathilaka, and Parakrama Samudra. The tour includes a driver to pick you up from your hotel (in Kandy), a guide, and entrance fees. Though Polonnaruwa is smaller in scale to the sister-city, Anuradhapura, the ruins are in a more compact area and in overall better condition.

Polonnaruwa Day Tour with Lunch by Mahaweli

Duration: 6 to 10 hours

2 reviews

8) Dambulla Cave Temples (from USD 233.0)

Dambulla Cave Temple, or the Golden Temple of Dambulla, is the largest and best-preserved cave complex in Sri Lanka, with 80 documented caves in the area. The Dambulla Cave Temple reaches a stunning 160 m (about 525 feet) above the surrounding plains. Inside the caves are statues (153 total) and paintings depicting the Guatama Buddha’s life including his first sermon. This 12-hour day trip with a guide covers first the rock fortress of Sigiriya, and then the caves of Divine King Devaraja Lena. Entrance fees, a bottle of water, and easy hotel pick-up and drop-off, make this tour an all-encompassing experience. Lunch is on one’s own, and an hour of free time is allotted for it.

Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Dambulla Cave Temple Full-Day Tour

Duration: 10 to 12 hours

27 reviews

Discover Sri Lanka UNESCO sites

Traveling with a day tour and guide can help to optimize one’s experience as they navigate the vast and wondrous UNESCO sites of Sri Lanka. With these eight tours to highlight each location, it is easy to absorb all the beauty and culture that Sri Lanka’s UNESCO sites hold. Whether you prefer to travel in luxury or through the adventure of a bicycle journey, Viator Tours offers an opportunity for you. Get inspired to learn and explore with these offered tours.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Raised in the woods of Northern Wisconsin, adventure pulses through Samantha's veins. Among the most notable adventures have been teaching agriculture in Kenya, WOOFing in Turkey, and learning...Read more

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