There are many reasons to visit Sri Lanka—from the tropical climate and delectable cuisine to the sandy beaches and beautiful culture. Indeed, any travel bucket list is not complete without this stunning South Asian country.

Also known as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, this tiny island nation is quickly becoming a popular holiday destination for many people. If you want to take a trip where you can immerse yourself in the local culture, learn about history, explore heritage sites, and engage in exhilarating water sports, then Sri Lanka is the perfect place for you. Here are the top 10 places to visit in this country:

1. Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Sri Lanka

Not many people often say that they want to see rock formations when going on a holiday. That said, you wouldn’t want to miss the stunning Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka. Also known as ‘Lion Rock’, this gigantic column stands 200 m from the forested plains below. Parricidal king Kasyapa built the fortress into the walls and the plateau over a thousand years ago. Rich in history and beauty, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the best-preserved examples of urban planning from the ancient times.

2. Negombo

Negombo Sri Lanka

Negombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is not only known for its ancient ruins and wildlife parks. You can also go to Negombo and visit the wonderful beaches to take a refreshing dip or to engage in exciting water sports. What’s great about this charming coastal town is that it is merely 20 minutes away from the airport. So, you can enjoy the trendiest nightlife in the country without travelling too far.

3. Temple of Tooth Relic

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic at Kandy, Sri Lanka

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic at Kandy, Sri Lanka

Also known as Sri Dalada Maligawa, the sacred Temple of Tooth Relic is one of the country’s most important Buddhist shrines. It is a general belief that this place holds Buddha’s sacred tooth. People allegedly smuggled his body to Sri Lanka after his death, taking his tooth from his remains. Eventually, the relic ended up in Kandy. Sri Lankans built a temple within the royal palace complex to safeguard the tooth. Today, the Temple of Tooth Relic is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

4. Millennium Elephant Foundation

Millennium Elephant Foundation Sri Lanka

Millennium Elephant Foundation, Sri Lanka

Many elephants have lived in captivity and poor conditions for the longest time in Sri Lanka. However, there are still organisations that rescue these glorious animals and provide them with a good and comfortable retirement home. Millennium Elephant Foundation is one of these places, which takes in the sick, old, and abused elephants. If you’re in Sri Lanka, you should stop by this sanctuary and spend a few hours with animal rights and elephant expert activists. You will get an unforgettable opportunity to walk with, meet, and watch the elephants be bathed.

5. Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka

Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Discover the way of life of the ancient Sri Lankan civilisation by going on an adventure in Polonnaruwa. It is one of the places that form the ‘Cultural Triangle’ of Sri Lanka, along with Sigiriya, Anuradhapura and Kandy. For nearly two centuries (between the 11th and 13th centuries AD), this place served as the capital city of Sri Lanka. Many compare the experience of visiting Polonnaruwa to the ancient city of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. You can walk freely through the temples, ruins and shrines. It is a wonderful way to imagine what the culture of the country must have been like in its heyday.

6. Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura Sri Lanka

Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the sacred city of Anuradhapura. Devout Buddhists around the world always choose these ancient ruins as one of their top pilgrimage destinations. It is a common belief that this is a branch of the Bodhi tree where Buddha gained enlightenment. Today, travellers visit the place to witness its stunning temples, monasteries, and palaces.

7. Yala National Park

Yala National Park Sri Lanka

Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Don’t miss the remarkable wilderness of Yala National Park, which is home to much of the magnificent wildlife of Sri Lanka. This sanctuary safeguards over 215 species of birds (including at least seven endemics) and 44 varieties of mammals. It shelters a high concentration of leopards, wild buffalo, Asian elephants, sambar deer, sloth bear, and jackal, among many other animals. Choose from a range of exciting activities, including nature walks, private safari tours, kayaking, and even visiting archaeological ruins.

8. Balapitiya

Balapitiya Sri Lanka

Balapitiya, Sri Lanka

If you prefer going the road less travelled, then you should visit Balapitaya. Away from mass tourism and commercialisation, this little yet picturesque village features lush green surroundings and golden beaches. It is the perfect place for a family getaway or an escape to a beach paradise. It is also worth noting that Balapitiya is a traditional fishing village. Hence, beautiful water rivers surround it. Don’t forget to arrange a Maadu river tour to witness its rich flora and fauna. A preserved wildlife sanctuary surrounds the river. So, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see exotic birds and other animals.

9. Hatton

Hatton Sri Lanka

Hatton, Sri Lanka

For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Sri Lanka is Ceylon tea. Well, the best place to learn about this drink is in Hatton. The journey to the village is also an experience in itself. By booking a train ride to your destination, you can enjoy the wonderful foliage and mountain ranges on the way. Of course, once you get there, you shouldn’t miss a guided tour in one of the tea farms in the area. You’re sure to enjoy a look back into the early days of planting and manufacturing process of Ceylon tea leaves. Some of the methods and machinery used are over a century old. It’s easy to believe that Ceylon tea in itself is a living world heritage.

10. Matale

Matale Sri Lanka

Matale, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is also famous for its various types of spices. As such, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit one of the spice gardens in Matale. A tour in this place will introduce you to several local spices. You will get a glimpse of how farmers grow and process them. You can even purchase the spices at fair prices. What’s great about these gardens is that they are open to visitors, so you can take a delightful walk in the fragrant greenery. The aroma and beauty of curry, pepper vines, clove trees, and cardamom are sure to delight your senses.

So, what are the places you’d like to visit in Sri Lanka? Share your answer by leaving a comment below!