A Guide to Exploring Sri Lanka’s Fascinating History

Sri Lanka is an exotic haven of spectacular beauty and mesmerising landscapes. With tropical beaches and lush greenery, the jewel of the Indian Ocean is the perfect place to go for a rejuvenation of mind, body and soul. As a land with a rich cultural history which dates back to Neolithic times, remnants of Sri Lanka’s ancient Kingdoms, religious influences, hardships and victories can be found across many historical sites in this picturesque country.

This guide will walk you through the best places to visit during your time in Sri Lanka to learn its story.

Divine skylines

Photo by Chamika Jayasri on Unsplash

Sri Lanka is home to many origin stories for deities from multiple faiths, and as a result there are many tales to be discovered as you explore the rise and fall of its majestic landscapes. Adam’s Peak, a mountain rising into the clouds in the central highlands, features a large mysterious footprint at its very top. The footprint is said to belong to Adam in Christian and Islamic beliefs, Lord Buddha in Buddhism, and Sir Rama in Hindu mythology.

Adorned with waterfalls and rivers, the valleys and hills surrounding the sacred mountain offer some of the best hiking trails in the world. As it’s such a popular pilgrimage site, there are plenty of amenities all the way to the peak, with food stalls offering snacks and fresh tea and coffee made with the produce of the local plantations.

Dambulla Cave Temples

Home to mountain-dwelling monks from as early as the first century, the cave temples in Dambulla are an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Sri Lanka. The King of Anuradhapura is believed to have sought refuge here for fifteen years, when he had to abandon his Kingdom due to South Indian invasions in the eleventh century.

As thanks, he expanded and embellished the caves for the monks, and throughout the centuries they have been added to by further kings. Today, the amazingly deep caves are ornately decorated, with tiled floors, painted walls and ceilings, and golden statues gracing the halls. As a UNESCO world heritage site and home to over 3000 years of history, a visit here is nothing short of awe-inspiring.


The original capital of Sri Lanka, this ancient city was the one abandoned when the King retreated to the Dambulla Caves. It was rediscovered in the nineteenth century and is now a protected UNESCO site, where visitors can see the ancient ruins of the houses, temples, palaces and sculptures. The city is incredibly well preserved, and features a sacred tree which dates back to 245BC, said to originate from a branch of the Bo Tree blessed by Guatama Buddha himself. 

Some of the most iconic buildings found in Anuradhapura are the massive dagobas, or brick stupas, which represent the long rule of this ancient kingdom. One of the best to visit is the Abhayagiri Dagoba, dating back to the first century and similar in architectural magnificence to that of the Pyramids of Giza. Standing originally over 100m tall, the grandeur of this impressive structure is breathtaking amidst the surrounding forest.

Take your time

There is such a rich pool of historical and cultural legends, myths and stories to be discovered in Sri Lanka, you’ll need plenty of time to explore. From ancient cities to lavish temples all built with amazing architecture, you won’t be disappointed as you venture through the tropical landscapes to learn the history of Sri Lanka.

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