The Sri Lankan city of Galle was founded by Portuguese explorers in the sixteenth century. In 1640, the Dutch moved in and began fortifying the town by constructing an 89-acre (36-hectare) fort on the town’s promontory, surrounded on three sides by the Bay of Galle. Today, the old town of Galle and its fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988, ranks among the best preserved European-built fortified cities in Southeast Asia.
The fort remains so much more than a historical attraction. The town is very much still alive. The walled city still houses government buildings, businesses, museums, cafes, and shops. The narrow streets are filled with residents going about their business. The ramparts overlook the Indian Ocean and provide a popular viewing spot at sunrise.
This stunning temple located in the heart of Colombo is one of the city’s most iconic religious structures. Travelers who venture to this top attraction will find colorful history, distinct architecture and deep religious roots. Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple borrows elements from Thai, Indian, Chinese and Sri Lankan architecture. Visitors who wander the grounds—either solo or with a guide—will find elements that are distinctive of each unique tradition throughout. The structure is situated near Beira Lake and is home to a temple, pagoda, assembly hall for monks, museum, library, residential hall and several other key structures. But travelers say it’s the rows of praying Buddhas and quiet reflecting pools and elaborate interiors that make Gangaramaya worth a visit.
Some of the galleries in this stunning white museum date as far back as the late 1800s, and as a result travelers who pass through what is undoubtedly the nation’s top cultural attraction may feel like they are actually traveling back in time.
Visitors will find iconic art, ancient history and deeply rooted traditions just beyond the stone Buddha that sits at the entry of Colombo National Museum. Whether it’s well-preserved swords, ornate masks or hand-carved furniture, Sri Lanka’s largest museum exhibits some of the most striking pieces of both its past and present.
This ocean-side urban park with coastal views once served as a straight shot for firing cannons against the Portuguese. But today, it is a Mecca for travelers in search of fresh air, local sports and Sri Lankan history. That’s because this popular attraction is home to a now defunct horse track, golf course, rugby and cricket fields.
Travelers can venture to the old horse track, which is now the Crystal Ballroom of the Taj Samudra Hotel and see where the local elite once placed their bets. And while the colonial golf course, which was built in 1879, has since moved to Borella, it’s still possible to see remnants of the once popular club. While the former athletics facilities have either been shut down or moved, this vast open space still attracts plenty of folks thanks to ideal kite flying conditions, perfect picnic areas, imposing hotels and picturesque views.
Galle Fort Lighthouse is located within the historic Galle Fort in Sri Lanka and is one of just 14 remaining lighthouses in the country. In fact, this is Sri Lanka's oldest light station and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The original structure was built in 1848, but was destroyed in a fire in the 1930s. The current lighthouse was built 100 meters away from the original site upon ramparts standing six meters above ground level. The light station itself is just over 26 meters tall, giving it a panoramic view of the harbour. Galle Fort Lighthouse overlooks a small beach, and there are a number of shops and restaurants nearby. The area provides some fantastic views and photo opportunities, although unfortunately visitors are unable to enter the lighthouse to climb up it.
Colombo’s Independence Square is a top attraction for travelers looking for a taste of local life. That’s because this picturesque square is a gathering place for residents and visitors alike. With plenty of green, open space, historical buildings and quiet cafes, Independence Square is the ideal spot to spend a relaxing evening in Colombo.
Visitors can wander the newly added Arcade, which showcases some of the city’s best local handicrafts and designer goods, or take an up-close look at the monument dedicated to the very first prime minister. Visitors to Independence Square will find locals taking a stroll, jogging on pristine paths or riding bikes over well-paved roads most any time of day.
Located to the northwest of the Kandy palace complex, Maha Vishnu Devalaya is one of four interconnected shrines, called devales, important to both Buddhists and Hindus in the region. This particular devale honors the Hindu God Vishnu, who, according to Sri Lankan belief, will be a future Buddha after the God Natha (who is honored in one of the other three devales). Sri Lankan Buddhists also believe that Vishnu was charged with guarding Sri Lanka after his death.
Vishnu famously took the form of King Rama in the Indian epic Ramayana, and a cloth painting displayed within the devale depicts a battle scene from the epic between Rama and Ravana. Visitors enter the shrine through colorful arched doorway into a timber-columned hall where both Hindu and Buddhist devotees come to pray.
The Alagalla Mountain Range, also known as the Potato Range, stretches along the borders of the Sri Lankan Provinces of Sabaragamuwa and Central. Popular among local hikers, the highest peak of the range summits at only about 3,600 feet (1,100 meters) above sea level, but since it’s significantly taller than the surrounding mountains, the scenery from the top is particularly breathtaking.
The trail to the top begins by passing through verdant tea plantations at the base of the mountain before passing through a mossy forest. As the path ascends, the forest gives way to shrubs. It’s possible to make the trek as a day trip, but many visitors choose to camp at the summit to enjoy sunset and sunrise from this spectacular viewpoint.