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The Ancient Cities

Crumbling temples, lost cities and sacred Buddhist sites are the reason to head up country to the cultural heartland of Sri Lanka. It was here on the central plains that ancient Sinhalese dynasties set up their first capitals and supported massive artistic and architectural endeavors. Eventually these kingdoms fell, slowly to be reclaimed by the forest and jungles.

For more than a century archaeologists have been slowly stripping the many layers of history from this overgrown landscape. The rock fortress at Sigiriya, the monumental dagobas (stupas) of Anuradhapura and the refined carvings of Polonnaruwa are but a few of the sites now ranking as national treasures. Home to four Unesco World Heritage Sites, this ‘Cultural Triangle’ is a heaven for amateur archaeologists and historians.

Besides the amazing ruins, save time for the national parks, which teem with elephants and outstanding birdlife, and try to visit at least one off-the-beaten-track temple site.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout The Ancient Cities.