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Sri Lanka's cities

By Kaya Brown

Sri Lanka is perhaps best known for its plentiful, paradise beaches, its impressive safari options or its beautiful rural landscapes. However the oft overlooked cities of the island have much to offer, and if you’re planning a trip to the South Asian country then we highly recommend visiting some of the scenic urban areas dotted throughout the nation. We’ve gathered together a few of our favourites, from Jaffna in the north to Galle in the south, and have included some highlights of what to do and see whilst you’re there.

Colombo

Most trips to Sri Lanka begin in the country’s sprawling capital. Colombo is a riot of colour and smells and can be a bit of an assault on the senses at first. However, once you scratch the city’s surface there are plenty of beautiful and historic highlights to be seen. Make your way down to the Galle Face Green at dusk, a 12 acre stretch of park running parallel to the beach, and watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean as children play on the grass and kite flyers jostle for space in the sky. Whilst you’re there be sure to sample the quintessential Sri Lankan snack from one of the many food vendors - juicy mango or pineapple sprinkled with salt and chilli.

A Panorama of Colombo, Sri Lanka

Kandy

Located in the island’s Central Province, Kandy is one of Sri Lanka’s most sacred cities and is also a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. The city is home to the scenic Kandy Lake and the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth, which contains the relic of the tooth of the Buddha. Kandy is often referred to as the country’s cultural capital and there are plenty of opportunities to take part in cookery and painting classes, or to observe traditional Sinhalese dances and ceremonies.  

The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Jaffna

Jaffna is Sri Lanka’s northernmost city and was off-limits to tourists for years due to political unrest. However, since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, the city and surrounding regions have been slowly opening up to foreign visitors. Because of this, Jaffna is still largely untouched and provides the perfect off-the-beaten track destination in which to immerse yourself in traditional Tamil culture - which shares more similarities with southern India than the rest of Sri Lanka. Explore the colourful Hindu temples, visit the busy street market and discover the near-deserted islands in the surrounding Palk Strait.

A colourful Hindhu temple in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Galle

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Galle was built by Portuguese and Dutch settlers throughout the 16th and 17th century, and is now a popular stopping point between Colombo and the country’s picturesque beaches along its south coast. Wander through city’s quaint alleyways, climb the clock tower for impressive views across the Indian Ocean or explore the many shops and restaurants now housed inside the Old Dutch Hospital building. Due to its popularity as a destination, Galle has a wider variety of boutique hotels and luxury resorts than many of the other cities on the island.

The UNESCO listed city of Galle in southwest Sri Lanka

Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya is nestled in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, and is the island’s central hub for tea production. The city is best reached via the scenic train journey from Kandy, winding through the sloping tea plantations and rolling hills of the region. Founded by the British explorer Samuel Baker in 1846, and often referred to as ‘Little England' due to the colonial architecture and temperate climate, the city provides a picturesque base from which to explore the surrounding areas.

The train journey through the Hill Country between Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

Anuradhapura

Our final pick of Sri Lanka’s cities is Anuradhapura. Situated at the northernmost tip of the country’s Cultural Triangle, this spiritual city is within driving range of many Sri Lankan highlights, such as Sigiriya Rock and the Dambulla Cave Temple. Anuradhapura has sacred significance due to its famous fig tree, Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, which was supposedly grown from a cutting of the tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment. Originally planted in 288 BC, Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is the oldest known tree on the planet.

The Ruwanwelisaya stupa in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Make it happen

Sri Lanka’s cities are just waiting to be discovered. Each with their own distinct atmosphere and vibe, there is a destination for everyone. Get in touch with our trusted local experts to start planning your bespoke Sri Lankan trip, planned according to your preferences. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.