Sri Lanka’s diverse and beautiful landscape is a wonder to explore; from the bustling and hectic capital city of Colombo, to the rainforest-capped mountains in the centre of the island, it’s a tropical paradise. This guide explores getting around Sri Lanka to make the most of the Sri Lankan cultural landmarks dotted around the beautiful island nation.

Getting around Sri Lanka

Wondering how you’re going to make your way from landmark to landmark? The landscape is too small for many commercial airlines to fly domestically, and tourists may struggle with learning a new road system. Our advice is to take advantage of an independent tour, which provides you the freedom to see as much as possible, while gaining an insider knowledge of the rich history and customs of Sri Lanka.

See past stunning landscapes and experience the rich cultures

While you have the option of relaxing on the beach all day, hiking through tropical forests and seeing local wildlife, there is another side of Sri Lanka to explore. The island in the Indian Ocean gives you plenty of opportunities to also explore modern and historic cultures. When travelling, ensure you speak with local people to truly get a sense of Sri Lanka. Whether it’s your tour guide or a market stall holder, your trip will be wasted if you don’t have first-hand conversations about the island’s history and culture.

Religion is interwoven throughout the country’s history

Religion plays a strong role in the history of the country, with Buddhist people making up the majority of the population. As such, you’ll find many beautiful and important temples located around the island. Your trip would be amiss if you didn’t explore a few of these sacred sites and learn from their experienced guides.

Our top picks? The Kataragama pilgrimage attracts thousands of people from many different religions, and is an important holy site infused with history. When you’re in Kandy, make sure you allow time for a visit to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. This sacred site purportedly houses one of Buddha’s teeth and is one of the most visited cultural sites in Kandy. Although it’s locked tightly away in a gold casket, there’s no better feeling than when you are next to the tooth of Buddha!

Kandy is a can’t-miss historic town

Surrounded on all sides by mountains, biodiverse rainforests and tea plantations galore, Kandy offers an exploration of the local culture, and the chance to mix and mingle with the locals.

While in the compound of the Temple of the Tooth, also explore the World Buddhism Museum. This preeminent museum is dedicated to the history and customs of Buddhist practice worldwide. There is also the cave temple Degal Doruwa Raja Maha Vihara located just outside of Kandy. This temple allows you to explore floor-to-ceiling cave paintings that depict Buddha’s life.

Kandy is also home to some more modern cultural history that visitors can explore. The war graves are a somber place to reflect on the role of Sri Lanka during the world wars. The surrounding hillsides also pay hommage to the strong tea culture put Sri Lankan tea on breakfast menu’s globally.

Visit UNESCO Heritage-listed Galle

To get an insight into the history of trade and colonisation in Sri Lanka, the best place to visit is the seaside city of Galle. Located in the southwest of Sri Lanka, Galle was founded by Portuguese colonists and expanded by the Dutch and British. This tumultuous history means many of the buildings are designed in the old European style. The city is peppered with mosques and churches that allow you to learn more about the various religions that make up the island.

Galle is a favourite spot to see the famous stilted fisherman, who fish from wooden poles. This perched position makes it easier for them to spear passing fish using their traditional fishing method. A sight to behold, the fisherman will also provide interesting insight into local customs. Many fisherman catch more tourists than fish these days, but the old fishing tradition remains alive. Stilt fishermen welcome visitors to post with them for photographs, providing you leave a nice tip.