Sri Lanka Island

From mystical ruins to quaint cities, from tea plantations to temples, there's so much for you to see in Sri Lanka. Here's just five of the top attractions.

Kandy

Head north and into the hills for the second biggest city in Sri Lanka. Here you'll discover temples galore, with the most famous being Sri Dalada Maligawaor, the golden-roofed Temple of the Sacred Tooth. Buddhist monks carry out rituals throughout the day but try to go in the early morning to beat the queues of pilgrims waiting to see the Buddha's tooth in a gold casket. You'll be told the legendary story of the tooth that was snatched from the Buddha's funeral pyre in India and smuggled into Sri Lanka hidden in the hair of a princess. You can get a superb view of Kandy by climbing the stairs at the back of the giant Buddha statue at Bahiravokanda Vihara. Also worth visiting is the peaceful lake fringed with palm trees and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya, where Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, astronaut Yuri Gagarin and King Edward VII have all planted trees.  

Sigirya

You'll never forget the jaw-dropping sight of this rock fortress as it rises dramatically 370m from the misty plains. For some, this stunning spectacle is enough. But if you're feeling adventurous and energetic, you can climb its near-vertical walls. Take it slowly up the 1,200 steps and the narrow iron spiral staircase leading you to exquisite frescoes, about 1,600 years old, showing King Kasyapa's harem. On the flat-topped summit you'll be rewarded by spectacular views and the ruins of an ancient palace.  

Visit a tea factory

If you enjoy a cup of tea or two, you'll be interested to discover how exactly tea is produced and reaches your cup. There are plenty of tea factories you can tour, often for free, like Handunugoda estate. You'll learn the history of plantations and watch ancient machines, still in perfect working order, making the tea leaves. Of course, after all this you'll be longing for a cuppa, and many factories serve wonderful afternoon teas on the veranda. Save some space in your suitcase to buy boxes of tea to take home, although it may not taste quite the same as it did overlooking the tea bushes and rubber and cinnamon trees.  

Anuradhapura

You can't help but be affected by the peaceful atmosphere in this sacred city which draws pilgrims from thousands of miles away. Founded in 380BC, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world. Take a tuk-tuk between the sites and look out for the dagoba, dome-shaped memorials built by Buddhist monks to contain relics. They include those at Jetavanaramaya and Abhayagiri. You'll be amazed by these giant monuments which once rivalled the pyramids of Giza.  

Old Town of Galle

Galle is a beautiful seaside walled town, easy to explore on foot with plenty of fascinating buildings. Stroll along its narrow cobbled streets and spot the legacy of its colonial history, from the Dutch fort to the English churches and post boxes. Then stop at a quirky boutique or stylish café. At sunset, head to its walls and walk from the white lighthouse to the clock tower. This south west area has gorgeous beaches to enjoy and coral reefs you can swim out to from the shore.