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7 Breath-taking Temples in Sri Lanka to Visit

Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country, with Buddhism being introduced in the 3rd century BCE, it has some of the oldest- and most beautiful- temples in the world. Here are a few temples we consider a MUST when visiting Sri Lanka.


Anuradhapura is one of the country’s most famous ancient cities and it is the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Emperor Ashoka of India sent a mission, led by his son, to preach a Buddhist sermon to the Sri Lankan King Tissa, leading to the country’s adoption of Buddhism and the construction of many temples and monasteries.

1. Ruwanwelisaya

Ruwanwelisaya is Anuradhapura’s most prominent temple; built by King Dutugemunu c. 140 BC. To this day it is one of the most revered temples in Sri Lanka with thousands of pilgrims from around the island and the world coming to visit. Try and visit the temple on a poya (full moon) evening, it is magical.

2. Sri Maha Bodhi

This temple is dedicated to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, one of the oldest trees in the world. This tree was from a sapling of the original Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. The sapling was given to the then king of Sri Lanka by Emperor Ashoka’s daughter and ever since it has been protected by the kings and queens of Sri Lanka and their monks. Now, the tree is surrounded by statues, and golden fences, making the site seem even holier.

3. Abhayagiri Vihara

The Abhayagiri Vihara was established in 2nd Century BCE under King Valagamba who built it after he defeated the Indian Chola invaders. This temple does not only have a stupa, but it also has a fraternity of Buddhist monks who maintain historical records, traditions and way of life. The temple was also the original custodian of the sacred Tooth Relic. Unlike Ruwanwelisaya, Abhayagiri Vihara’s stupa is not plastered and white, instead, it is made of a yellow/brown stone, casting the whole temple in a golden hue at sunset.


Polonnaruwa is the second oldest ancient capital of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms, and it is arguably the most beautiful. It is said that the city’s ancient ruins were the inspiration behind Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’ since the ruins are overrun by monkeys!

1. The Sacred Quadrangle

This is the best place to visit when you’re in a group; as most of the attractions are contained within the Sacred Quadrangle, making it a lot easier to coordinate a large group since you know you won’t leave anyone behind! In the middle of the Quadrangle, you will find the Vatadage, a circular relic house which is 18m in diameter. There are four entrances which all lead to the central dagaba which has four Buddha statues.

2. Rankot Vihara

The stupa was built by King Nissanka Malla (1187 – 1196), Rankot is the largest dagaba in Polonnaruwa, reaching up to 54m in height! Despite its impressive height, what makes this temple even more amazing is that up until its restoration it was covered by jungle, even now the jungle surrounds the temple, slowly trying to creep its way back.

3. Gal Vihara

Gal Vihara is distinctive to its counterparts as it is not a temple in the conventional sense, but it is rather a collection of four Buddha statues carved on a single rock face. The four statues each depict a different stage in Lord Buddha’s path to nirvana, and the statues range from 4.5 feet to a whopping 46 feet.


Dambulla is a town in the Matale district and it is best known for its cave temple. The Dambulla Cave Temple is one of the most special temples in Sri Lanka; it is the largest cave temple complex in the country, consisting of a collection of five caves which house about 150 statues and paintings of the Lord Buddha, and dates back to the 1st century BC but it is still functional. The temple is atop a rock so you get a wonderful view of the surrounding plains, giving you a truly breathtaking view.

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