TOP 9 Best Temples you Must Visit in Sri Lanka

You are here > Home > Travel > Blog > TOP 9 Best Temples you Must Visit in Sri Lanka

Posted: April 20, 2023 | Last Update: 29. Aug 2023

Top 9 Temples in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s Must See Temples

Stupa photo Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a land of diverse cultures and religions, with a rich history dating back thousands of years. It is no surprise, then, that the island is home to some of the most stunning temples in the world. From ancient stupas to elaborate kovils, all claim being a must-see for any traveler visiting the country. The caveat: there are SO MANY of them, that it is difficult to decide which ones to prioritise. But worry not, I have you covered :)

Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka and wondering which temples to visit? Look no further!

In this post, I have rounded up the top 9 must-see temples in Sri Lanka, each with its own unique history, cultural significance, and architectural beauty. So sit back, relax, and get ready to be amazed!

Best Temples in Central Province

1) The ‘Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple’ aka ‘Golden Temple of Dambulla’, UNESCO World Heritage Site

Buddhist Temple in Dambulla, Central Province of Sri Lanka

The ‘Golden Temple of Dambulla’ is one of the most iconic destinations to visit in Sri Lanka.
Dambulla Cave Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest cave temple complexes in Sri Lanka, dating back over 2200 years.
I have written a dedicated article about this beautiful temple because we were so wowed by this temple that we spent more time that we probably would have needed to learn more about it and to some additional research.
Read all I learnt about this place!

How much time do you need at Dambulla Cave Temple? Approximately 1 - 2 hours.

Dambulla Cave Temple

2) Kandy Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, aka Sri Dalada Maligawa

Buddhist Temple in Kandy, Central Province of Sri Lanka

Another ‘not to be missed’ temple on your travels through Sri Lanka is the Temple of the Tooth - yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site!
This stunning temple is also considered one of the holiest places for Buddhists.
Located in the city of Kandy, this temple is ‘eye candy’ (please excuse this awful pun) - a really pretty building.
However, soon as you step inside the temple, you'll be struck by its peaceful atmosphere and beautiful colonial architecture which sets it apart from most other Buddhist temples on the island.
But the true highlight of the Temple of the Tooth is of course the tooth relic of the Buddha, which is believed to be one of the most sacred relics in Buddhism. The relic is kept in a gold casket and is only displayed during special ceremonies, but you can still sense the importance of the relic even when it's not on view.
Be respectful to the many worshippers praying and bringing their offerings.

How much time do you need at Temple of the Tooth Relic? Approximately 1 - 2 hours.

Temple of the Tooth Relic, Kandy, Sri Lanka

3) Ruwanwelisaya aka Ruwanweli Maha Seya or Mahathupta

Buddhist Temple in Anuradhapura, Central Province of Sri Lanka

This stupa is truly jaw dropping for its majestic size alone. It has a circumference of 951ft (290m) and stands 338ft (103m) tall, making it one of the tallest stupas in the world! But it’s not its size that makes it so important for Buddhists. The Ruwanwelisaya is said to enshrine the largest collection of Buddha relics anywhere in the world.
Another impressive feature of the Ruwanwelisaya is the line up of elephant statues all around the temple grounds. The stupa actually stands on a square platform that built to look like it was carried on the back of hundreds of elephants. All around the platform, there is a sand moat with fencing - we were told this is supposed to keep some animals away, while smart and agile beings like snakes can still cross and listen to the sermons.
Worship here takes place outside, there are no temple buildings at the Ruwanwelisaya.

To get a better idea of its size, watch my short clip below:

How much time do you need at Ruwanwelisaya? Approximately 1 - 2 hours.

Ruwanwelisaya, Sri Lanka

4) Sri Maha Bodhi aka Tree of Enlightenment: the Temple of the Sacred Bodhi Tree

Buddhist Temple in Anuradhapura, Central Province of Sri Lanka

The Bodhi Tree is believed to be the oldest documented tree in the world and a significant pilgrimage site for Buddhists.

Legend has it that this sacred fig tree has grown from a sapling of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.

When you arrive at the Sri Maha Bodhi, you'll be struck by the serene and spiritual atmosphere. The temple is surrounded by gardens and small temples, and you'll see many devotees offering prayers and offerings to the tree.
One of the most special things about the Sri Maha Bodhi is the rituals and ceremonies that take place around the tree throughout the day. There is chanting and meditation, offerings and blessings and all kinds of other spiritual activity that you can witness, but please be respectful.

As you approach the tree, you'll notice the many prayer flags and offerings that have been left there over the years. And because of its age, the tree needs some support - this is why elaborately carved and gilded support beams have been erected.

How much time do you need at Sri Maha Bodhi? Approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour..

Sri Maha Bodhi, Sri Lanka

5) Anuradhapura Rock Temple, aka Isurumuniya Vihara

Buddhist Temple in Anuradhapura, Central Province of Sri Lanka

Love birds beware! This might be the place for you! After all, this ancient temple dating back to the 3rd century b.c. is considered to be a symbol of the enduring power of love and devotion. How so? The legendary story of Prince Saliya and the low-caste maiden Asokamala, an important piece of Sri Lankan literature, is believed to have taken place here.
On a more factual note, the Rock Temple of Anuradhapura is about 2300 years old and thus one of the oldest in Sri Lanka. The temple enshrines several important Buddhist relics, including a statue of the Buddha, as well as ancient carvings and inscriptions that depict important events from the life of the Buddha.
This temple should only be a very short stop on your exploration of Anuradhapura, because the area is fairly small with only one sanctuary. You can however climb the stairs to the top of the rock to closer admire the stupa - and to have a good look at the many cave bats.

How much time do you need at Rock Temple? Approximately 30 minutes.

Anuradhapura rock temple, Sri Lanka

Top 9 Temples in Sri Lanka

How to experience such wonders?

If you are like us and love to discover the world's rich cultural heritage and satisfy your wanderlust at the same time, we strongly recommend booking a vacation with TourRadar's in-depth cultural packages, where you get to immerse yourself in local customs, explore hidden gems, and create unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime. You can use this link* to find more inspiration or book now and let the adventure begin!I

*affiliate link

Best Temple in Eastern Province

6) Koneswaram Kovil Temple aka Thirukonamalai Konesar Temple

Hindu Temple in Trincomalee, Eastern Province of Sri Lanka

Nestled inside the historic Fort Frederick in Trincomalee lies the Koneswaram Kovil or Thirukonamalai Konesar Temple, one of the most significant Hindu pilgrimage sites on the island. This ancient temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the most divine Hindu god, also referred to as ‘Maha Dev’, Greatest God.
However, with its picturesque location overlooking the Indian Ocean, the temple does not only attract pilgrims but also many tourists. Walking down the steps in the cliff face, you can admire the view of the ocean to your left and some more statues of Hindu deities to your right.
But of course, the most striking feature of Koneswaram Temple is the ginormous statue of Lord Shiva! It is located outside the temple on the edge of a cliff and is visible from miles away. The statue, which stands at 108 feet (33m), is one of the tallest statues of Lord Shiva in the world.

How much time do you need at Koneswaram Kovil? Approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Koneswaram Kovil Temple, Sri Lanka

Best Temples in North Province

The temples of the North: Jaffna and the island of Nagadeepa / Nainativu
Nagadeepa, which is the Sinhalese word for ‘Snake Island’, or, as the place is called in Tamil ‘Nainativu’, is an island located off the North coast of Sri Lanka and should be visited for its amazing temples. You can get there by public ferry boat or by hiring a slightly faster private vessel.

7) Nagadeepa Purana Vihara

Buddhist Temple on Nagadeepa island, North Province of Sri Lanka

The Buddhist temple ‘Nagadeepa Purana Vihara’ is one of the 16 holiest places in all of Sri Lanka and built on the spot where, according to legend, Buddha performed a miracle in order to restore peace between two Naga (= high rank snake caste) kings.
You can see the importance of snakes in many decorative elements, such as the huge golden cobras either side of the temple’s entrance or the cobra shrine outside.
Opposite the temple entrance, there is also a beautiful Bodhi tree.
Another stand alone feature that makes Nagadeepa Purana Vihara unique is its silver coated stupa, which is the only silver coated stupa in all of Sri Lanka.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a Buddhist monk who tied a bracelet around our wrists and gave us his blessings. After that, you are free to walk around, learn about the history of the temple by studying the wall paintings and admire the Buddha’s footprint next to the stupa. There is also a small museum-like exhibition on the first floor of the temple building.
Watch my video below to see the amazing wall and ceiling paintings:

How much time do you need at Nagadeepa Purana Vihara? Approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour.

nagadeepa purana vihara, Sri Lanka

8) Nagapooshani Amman Temple

Hindu Temple on Nainativu (Nagadeepa) island, North Province of Sri Lanka

Nagapooshani Amman Temple is also known as the Nainativu Sri Nagapooshani Amman Kovil - granted, that’s a mouthful.
It is, however, also an ‘eyeful’ in the best of ways. The ‘gopuram’ (gopurams are entrance buildings or pyramidal towers that are very ornate and are often decorated with intricate carvings, sculptures, and paintings depicting scenes from Hindu mythology), is absolutely massive and features two larger-than-life sized elephants on either side that form the outer wall of the temple grounds.
Watch my video below to admire the amazing structure!

Inside the court yard (and also inside the temple itself), you can see cows and goats roam free. In order to enter the temple, you have to wash your feet, men have to be bare chested, and sadly it was not allowed to take any photos. Learn more about temple etiquette and the do’s and don’ts in my other article

How much time do you need at Nagapooshani Amman Temple? Approximately 30 minutes.

nainativu nagapooshani amman temple

9) Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil Temple

Hindu Temple in Jaffna, Northern Province of Sri Lanka

This temple is not located on the island of Nagadeepa but directly in the city of Jaffna in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.
The massive structure can be seen from afar, as the gopurams (towers) are seven storeys tall, measuring over 70 feet (approx 25m).
Unlike most other Hindu temples, that are very bright and colourful, the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple is mostly pleated in gold, representing wealth, divinity and purity.
This beautiful temple is dedicated to Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war.

How much time do you need at Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil Temple? Approximately 30 minutes.

jaffna temple Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil , Sri Lanka

These are my personal TOP 9 best temples to visit in Sri Lanka. I hope you enjoyed my 'virtual tour' :)

Book Sri Lanka

Book your once in a lifetime Sri Lanka experience with our trusted partners TourRadar*

*affiliate link

Related Posts


There are 0 comments.

Leave a comment

I agree to the storage and processing of my data
as outlined in the Privacy Policy of this site.