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In Sri Lanka, ancient sites include Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Panduwasnuwara and Yapahuwa. All these places contain the remains of a great civilisation that grew through the centuries under the influence of Buddhism, a gentle faith still preserved in Sri Lanka in its purest form. Vast man-made lakes, large parks, shrines, temples and monasteries speak eloquently of the grandeur of the past and bear testimony to a cultured and imaginative people. The regions in the following guide are used for convenience only and have no administrative significance.


Colombo is a lively and exciting city where part of the joy is just wandering and watching life unfold on the streets. To the north of the city is the Fort District – so named because both the Dutch and the Portuguese built forts here. This is the main commercial district where many businesses are located. Amidst the modern buildings, this area also has a distinct colonial feel, with the famous clock tower, the president's residence and a smattering of colonial-era buildings, which hark back to the days of the British Empire. Near to here is the Pettah Bazaar District with a jumble of goods for sale: vegetables, meats, precious metal, jewellery, gemstones and all manner of flotsam and jetsam that makes up an Asian market. There are a number of Buddhist and Hindu temples in this area and also the Jumi-ul Alfar Jumma Mosque, which are all worth a visit. To the south of the city is Galle Face Green, a seafront where people from the city come to relax and play cricket, fly kites or just wander. More cerebral pursuits include the National Museum, which helps to put the country’s history into perspective, and the National Art Gallery. The best beaches are to the south of the city, with the closest being at Mt Lavina 10 km (6 miles) away.

The Colombo National Museum

Established in 1877, this is Colombo’s oldest museum, and has a vast collection of antiques and objects from all over the island. Wherever you are travelling to on the island, this will be a good place to get an idea of the local cultural heritage. Adjacent to the National Museum is the Natural History Museum which has a number of representations of the flora and fauna of Sri Lanka.

Cinnamon Gardens

The most exclusive area of Colombo, this is a district of large houses set on shady streets, lined with jacaranda and frangipani. Home to many of the city’s most exclusive and trendy bars, shops and restaurants. A stroll round Cinnamon Gardens is a pleasant way to spend a few hours in the city. In the middle of Cinnamon Gardens is Viharamahdevi Park, the city's largest open space.

Gangaramaya Temple

Located on the waters of Beira Lake, adjacent to the so-called Slave Island, this Buddhist Temple dates back over 2,000 years. It is reached by crossing a wooden bridge. There is a holy bo tree under which the Lord Buddha is reputed to have preached. There are many historic Buddha images and frescoes.

Dehiwala Zoological Gardens

Colombo zoo has a wide range of flora and fauna from all over the world, as well as a large collection of animals, birds, reptiles and fish from all over Sri Lanka. It includes a walk through aviary, and aquarium and a butterfly park. There are also elephant shows – a reminder of the place of the animal in Sri Lankan society.


Pettah is the main Bazaar District of the city. Situated next to the refined Fort District, it is an area of narrow cobbled streets and stalls and shops that spill out onto the streets in a riot of colour, smells and noise. Particularly good for local produce, including gold, spices, music as well as ayurvedic medicines. There is also a sprawling and colourful vegetable and fish market.

Galle Face Green

A seafront promenade and gardens that gets packed with lingering crowds and food stalls – especially at weekends. This is where the city comes to relax, and you will see kite flyers, cricket games and picnickers.

Dutch House Museum

This colonial mansion dates back to the 17th century. Formerly the residence of Count August Carl Van Ranzow, it has now been restored as a museum of the Dutch occupation. Focusing on the home life of the colonialists, the exhibits include furniture and ceramics, and give a good idea of the lives of the Dutch at the time.

Mount Lavinia

A quiet sandy beach (arguably the best and most popular) only 13km (8 miles) from the heart of the city. On the beach there are little bathing huts which can be hired for the day. Focal point of Mount Lavinia is the Mount Lavinia Hotel.

Kandy & the Hill Country

Kandy, a picturesque, naturally fortified town, 115km (72 miles) from Colombo, was the last stronghold of the Kandyan Kings. It withheld foreign conquest until 1815 when it was ceded by treaty to the British. It is now an UNESCO site and a cultural sanctuary where age-old customs, arts, crafts, rituals and ways of life are well preserved. Good sightseeing trips should take in the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Dalada Maligawa); Embekke Devale; Lankatillaka; Gadaladeniya; Degaldoruwa temples; museums; Royal Botanic Gardens; Peradeniya; Elephants’ Bath at Katugastota; the Kandyan Arts Association; Kalapura (Craftsmen’s Village) at Nattarampotha (6.5km/4 miles from Kandy); and Henawela Village – famous for its ‘Dumbara Mats’ (16km/10 miles from Kandy).

The Coast

Sri Lanka has approximately 1600km (1000 miles) of beautiful palm-shaded beaches as well as warm, pure seas and colorful coral reefs.

Southwest Coast

The best time to visit Sri Lanka's southern beaches is from November to April. Mount Lavinia, 12km (7 miles) from Colombo, is a good beach resort close to Colombo and the domestic airport. Overlooking the area is what was The Governors House, built in 1805 by Sir Thomas Maitland, and now is the famous Mount Lavinia Hotel. Beruwela, 56km (35 miles) from Colombo, has good bathing in the bay all year round. Bentota, 64km (40 miles) from Colombo, is a pleasant self-contained resort destination, between the sea and the river. The Bentota resort is an interesting diving spot where multi-hued fish can be observed among myriad reef-dwellers. Hikkaduwa, 98km (61 miles) from Colombo, is a beautiful coral reef and beach. Regarded as a haven for surfers, watersports enthusiasts and snorkelers, this is a beautiful and colourful marine area, rife for exploration. Galle, 116km (72 miles) from Colombo, is famous for its old Dutch fort, and is also a center for lace-making, ebony-carving and gem-polishing. Tangale, 195km (122 miles) from Colombo, is a beautiful bay and there is safe swimming all year round. Negombo, 37km (32 miles) from Colombo, near Katunayake International Airport, is Sri Lanka’s oldest and best-known fishing village. It stands on a strand separating the sea from a lagoon. The seafood here, particularly the shellfish, is a specialty. The safe sea and wide sandy expanse always entices a multitude of sun-seeking visitors. At Unawatuna in Galle is a beach area acclaimed as being among the top 15 beaches in the world, with safe waters within a picturesque setting. For those searching for geological quirks, Kundawella is the scene of a large blowhole that operates as a natural spout, gushing water into the air and over the rocks of the beach.

East Coast

Visitors are advised to check with the Tourist Board regarding the situation in these areas prior to departure. The best time to visit is from April to September. Trincomalee, 257km (160 miles) from Colombo, is the ideal refuge for the beach addict. It boasts one of the finest natural harbours in the world and excellent beaches. All watersports, including fishing, are available here. There are many tempting underwater shipwrecks to explore for the intrepid diver. Batticaloa, 312km (195 miles) from Colombo, surrounded by a large lagoon and a small, well-preserved fort, famous for its ‘singing fish’ (from April to September, on moonlit nights, musical vibrations can be heard from the water). Kalkudah, 32km (20 miles) from Batticaloa, is ideal for bathing as the sea is clear, calm and reef-protected. Passekudah, close to Kaludah, has a fine bay, clear waters and safe swimming. Nilaveli, 18km (11 miles) from Trincomalee, is very much a resort centre – all beach and watersports. Whale watching is also one of its special attractions. Arugam Bay, 314km (196 miles) from Colombo, 3km (2 miles) from Potuvil, has a beautiful bay and good surfing.


Jaffna is 396km (240 miles) from Colombo, at the country’s northern tip, and is both city and seaport. It was once noted for its Hindu temples, Dutch forts, the Keerimalai Baths, the tidal well and the Chundikulam Sanctuary. Jaffna has many scenic beaches, the best known of which is Casuarina Beach. Check with the Tourist Board, Embassy or High Commission whether the area is off-limits to foreign visitors.





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