20 Cities in Sri Lanka

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The small island of Sri Lanka in South Asia is famous for its lush vegetation, spectacular beaches, and tea plantations but there are several excellent cities to visit too. Check out these 20 cities (and a few towns) in Sri Lanka for rich heritage, horn honking tuk-tuks, charm, culture, and ounces of history. Sri Lanka’s cities are home to welcoming and friendly locals, ancient temples, fascinating architecture, and the rural scenic landscapes are never too far away. Let’s see what the best Sri Lankan cities have to offer.

Sri Lankan Cities

Cities in Sri Lanka

1- Colombo

Colombo City View From Above
Colombo should be at the top of the list when choosing which cities to visit in Sri Lanka.

Most people think that Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka but although it’s the main financial center and tourist hub, the capital is actually Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte.

Colombo became the capital when the British colonised the island in 1815 and it remained capital until 1978 when administrative functions were moved to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte.

Colombo is an ideal place to visit for that first feel of Sri Lanka.

It’s a busy tuk-tuk filled place with a real buzz about it.

Colombo is famous for its multicultural Fort financial district, The National Museum of Colombo, Gangaramaya Temple and Lotus Tower.


Recommended tour: Colombo: City Sightseeing Tour by Tuk-Tuk with Pickup

2- Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte

Next, the capital of Sri Lanka! Known as Kotte for short, Sri Lanka’s capital is adjacent to Colombo and the two cities are less than 10km from each other.

Kotte is small so there isn’t a vast array of things to do in the city.

But one of the most prominent things to do there is to check out the Parliament of Sri Lanka.

There’s also the beautiful and peaceful Beddagana Wetland Park.

This park has walking paths for you to explore and be sure to be on the lookout for bird life.

You can also enjoy a boat ride on Diyawanna Lake.

3- Kandy

Aerial View Onto Kandy, Sri Lanka
Kandy is one of the most populated cities in Sri Lanka.

Kandy is a large and picturesque city in central Sri Lanka surrounded by tea plantations, mountains and rainforest.

Kandy is most famous for its highly photographed train ride between Kandy and Ella but there is a plethora of cultural and historical sites to explore too.

Kandy has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988 so it’s a no-brainer to add this city to your Sri Lanka itinerary.

One of the best places to visit in the city is the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Nature lovers will thrive here as there are more than 4,000 species of plants and incredible tree lined roads.

Another excellent stop is at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, also known as Sri Dalada Maligawa.

This site is an important place of pilgrimage for worship as its where the Buddha’s tooth is kept.

There’s also Bahirawakanda Temple which can be reached by steep stairs that lead you to hilltop views of the Buddha and the surrounding countryside.

Recommended tour: Kandy: Private Guided Tour of the City by Tuk-Tuk

4- Galle

Galle Fort Wide View Landscape Beautiful Sky
Galle is one of the best cities to visit in Sri Lanka.

On the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, you will find the city of Galle.

Galle is most famous for its charming Old Town that was built by the Portuguese in the late 16th century and further fortified by the Dutch.

This fortified part of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is wonderfully preserved.

Aside from exploring the fort city on foot some of the best things to do include visting Galle Fort Lighthouse, watching the sunset from the Fort walls, wandering around the vibrant markets and shopping on Pedlar Street.

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5- Negombo

Sri Lanka. Negombo.
Negombo is one of the major cities in Sri Lanka.

Negombo is on the west coast of Sri Lanka around 40 km (25 mi) north of Colombo.

This coastal city is home to the picture perfect sandy Negombo Beach, which is ideal for sunbathing, swimming, kite surfing, sailing and windsurfing.

Other popular activities in the area include visiting Negombo Fort, where you can see the remnants of the Dutch colonial era and the Portuguese influence of the 17th century.

Not only is Negombo by the ocean but there’s also Negombo Lagoon which is ideal for trying to catch fish, lobster and crab as well as exploring the rivers and canals and taking boat rides.

Recommended tour: Negombo: Dutch Canal, Negombo Lagoon, Muthrajawela Boat Tour

6- Hikkaduwa

Tropical Beach In Hikkaduwa, Sri Lank
Hikkaduwa is one of the must-visit cities in Sri Lanka.

Hikkaduwa is in the southwest of Sri Lanka and is well-known as a beautiful seaside resort with strong surf and attractive sandy beaches.

One of the best things about Hikkaduwa is Hikkaduwa Marine National Park.

One of three marine national parks in Sri Lanka, this place is brimming with colorful coral reefs.

You can discover the tropical underwater biodiverse by boat, kayak, or snorkeling.

You can also head to Turtle Beach which of course is known for its turtle spotting.

Then turtles even use this beach to lay eggs so you can spot them out of the water too.

You should also make time to check out Akurala Beach.

It’s like one of those wallpaper beaches with pearly white sand and turquoise water.

Recommended tours:

7- Ella

The Town Of Ella In The Mountainous Province
Ella is one of the most beautiful cities in Sri Lanka.

Technically a town, Ella is a place not to be missed on your Sri Lankan itinerary.

Ella is the end destination on the Kandy to Ella train ride which has become too famous.

The train goes over the Nine Arches Bridge that looks like something from Harry Potter (only more tropical).

Ella is also known for the pretty Ravana Falls which is located between Jetwing Kadaruketha and Ella.

There are also a myriad of hiking trails in the area, such as the popular hike to Little Adam’s Peak.

The views from the top are incredible and it’s a relatively easy hike with 45 minutes easy trekking and a 15 minute more strenuous section at the end.

Recommended tour: From Ella: All-Inclusive Day Trip to 5 Landmarks

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8- Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya is in tea country in central Sri Lanka.

Nestled away in the mountains, the area is known for its green tea plantations, and they are almost everywhere you look.

When visiting Nuwara Eliya you must head to Lover’s Leap waterfall.

It’s a quick drive from the center of town and it’s a single drop waterfall.

It might just be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country.

Other falls in the area include Clair’s Falls and Devon Falls.

Nuwara Eliya is a quieter spot that is well worth adding to your itinerary.

Recommended tour: Kandy To Nuwara Eliya Day Tour By Tuk Tuk Sri lanka

9- Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura. Isurumuniya Buddhist Temple
Anuradhapura is one of the ancient cities to visit in Sri Lanka.

In the north central plain of Sri Lanka, you will find Anuradhapura.

The city marks an important place in Buddhist culture with many active places of worship.

When visiting the city there is one place you cannot miss and that’s Ruwanweliseya Stupa.

This is an ancient Maha Vihara monastery.

A stupa is a hemispherical structure that is used as a place of worship.

Whilst in Anuradhapura you can also visit three other stupas’: Thuparamaya Stupa, Mirisawetiya Stupa, and Abhayagiriya Stupa.

The latter was built in the 1st century BC and is part of the UNESCO heritage site.

Recommended tour: Anuradhapura : Ancient City TukTuk Tour

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10- Tangalle

Tropical Paradise
Tangalle is one of the cool cities in Sri Lanka.

Tangalle in Southern Province is a wonderful place to visit if you are looking for more amicable temperatures to enjoy splendid beaches.

Some of the best beaches in the area include Goyambokka Beach, Rekawa Beach (for turtle watching between April and July) and Hiriketiya Beach.

Less than 20 km (12 mi) outside of Tangalle you will find the Mulkirigala Rock Temples, which are Buddhist temples built into the rock at 205 meters high.

These rock temples are surrounded by green forest and coconut plantations.

The site is also recognized as an archeological site by UNESCO.

11- Tissamaharama

Another city in Southern Province that you may consider visiting is Tissamaharama, where you will find a little bit of everything, from culture to nature spots there’s plenty to see.

If you are interested in learning more about Sri Lanka’s ties to Buddhism, then head to Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara and Tissa Dagaba.

Tissa Dagaba is one of the biggest Buddhist stupas in Sri Lanka.

It is believed to have been built in 200 BC and stands at 55.8 meters (183 ft).

You can also check out Tissa Wewa which is a reservoir that is thought to date back to the 3rd century BC.

You can take a stroll on the Lakeside Walkway and be sure to keep an eye out for flocks of egrets and even crocodiles!

12- Dambulla

Dambulla, Sri Lanka Antique City
Dambulla is one of the smaller cities in Sri Lanka.

Head back to Central Province to Matale District and you will find Dambulla, a sleepy town around two hours from Kandy.

Dambulla is a beautiful place to base yourself to do some of the surrounding activities.

You can check out Sigiriya Lion Rock which is a prominent landmark in Sri Lanka.

It takes just 25 minutes to reach there from Dambulla and it should be on your list.

The 200 meter (656 ft) high rock has an impressive fortress on top.

The climb to the top of this UNESCO World Heritage site is quite challenging so you will need to leave half a day for this activity.

The views from the top are splendid and look out across the forest.

Top tip: If you want a good view of Sigiriya Lion Rock, then be sure to climb Pidurangala Rock, its neighbour.

Recommended tour: From Colombo: Sigiriya and Dambulla Day Trip and Safari

13- Unawatuna

Coastline With Hotels. Unawatuna, Sri Lanka
Unawatuna is one of the popular cities in Sri Lanka.

Head back to southern Sri Lanka for palm tree-lined beaches and the nearby jungle in Unawatuna.

The beaches in Unawatuna are like something from a postcard.

Head to Unawatuna Beach for that highly Instagramable shot of you flying from above the ocean from a rope swing or how about heading to Jungle Beach, the perfect isolated spot.

If you are searching for a place to experience culture and wonderfully expansive views, then look no further than the Japanese Peace Pagoda.

The pagoda is on the hillside of Unawatuna Beach built by Japanese monks to bring about peace in conflict zones and to serve as a beacon of hope.

14- Jaffna

Aerial View Of The City Of Jaffna - Sri Lanka
Jaffna is one of the top 5 cities in Sri Lanka to put on your itinerary.

From Unawatuna in the south to Jaffna on the northern tip of Sri Lanka! Owing to its location on the Jaffna peninsula this city is often missed out of people’s Sri Lankan itinerary.

Jaffna is steeped in history and is an interesting and colourful place to visit.

Owing to its relatively proximity to India, Jaffna has been influenced by its northern neighbor.

Most people in Jaffna for example speak Tamil rather than Sinhalese (which is the most prevalent language in Sri Lanka) and practice Hinduism rather than Buddhism.

One of the top things to do when visiting Jaffna is to see Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, a Hindu temple that dates to 1734.

If you love seafood, then you should also try Jaffna Crab Curry.

15- Trincomalee

Trincomalee Town, Coastal Resort City
Trincomalee is one of the famous cities in Sri Lanka.

In northeast Sri Lanka, the port city of Trincomalee is often referred to as Trinco.

This charming city sits on a natural harbour with boats bobbing in the water.

It’s also filled with historical and cultural things to see.

Thirukoneswaram Kovil is a striking and peaceful Hindu temple that is an important religious pilgrimage center.

You can also head to Nilaveli Beach which is the perfect place to relax and snorkel.

Trincomalee is also an awesome place to go whale watching during the season from March to August.

16- Batticaloa

Batticaloa is in the east of Sri Lanka around 69 miles (111km) from southeast Trincomalee.

Batticaloa Fort is another fort built by the Dutch and Portuguese in 1628.

Inside the fort there is a beautiful tidal pond which adds a certain level of tranquility to the place.

Other activities in the area include exploring Batticaloa Lagoon and Kallady Bridge.

17- Matara

Aerial View Of Matara Beach In Sri Lanka
Matara is not one of the well-known tourist cities in Sri Lanka but worth a look.

Matara is the second-largest city in Southern Province.

It is a busy and lively place with modern amenities and a long history.

Some of the interesting historical sites you can visit include Star Fort which has a six-point structure to protect the city from all directions.

There’s also the Old Dutch Trade Center (otherwise known as Nupe Market).

The architecture in this part of town is heavily influenced by the British.

Other attractions include Polhena Beach, Weherahena Temple, Dondra Head Lighthouse and Matara Paravi Duwa Temple.

Recommended tour: Matara : Discover adventures at southernmost point

18- Ratnapura

Ratnapura is the capital of Sabaragamuwa Province and the centre of the old gem trade, so it is often nicknamed “The City of Gems”.

The city also acts as a gateway to the hill country.

Drive along this route and you will see plenty of paddy fields, tea plantations and rubber plantations too.

Some points of interest in Ratnapura include the Gem Museum that displays sapphires, amethysts, and rubies.

You can also visit a gem mine to see the people at work sifting for gems which are half submerged in water.

Another popular activity to do when visiting the city is to hike Adam’s Peak.

Sri Lanka’s four major religions claim this peak as a holy mountain.

Buddhists call the mountain Sri Pada which means “the sacred footprint”.

Don’t underestimate the hike, it might only be around 6km (3.7 mi) but it can take around 5 hours to reach the top.

Finally, you’ve got to take a walk through the Sinharaja Rainforest.

This rainforest is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Among the immensely diverse flora and fauna are waterfalls and streams.

Recommended tour: Private Gem Tour: Ratnapura with Industry Expert by Tuk-Tuk

19- Bentota

Mangrove Jungle Bentota Ganga River Bentota Beach Sri Lanka
Bentota is one of the best tourist cities in Sri Lanka for its resorts.

Bentota in southwest Sri Lanka, is known for its resorts.

Bentota Beach stretches north forming a 4km sandbar that sits in front of the Bentota Ganga.

If you are a wildlife lover, then you must head to Bentota to visit Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery.

They work to protect sea turtles and release them back into the wild.

There’s just nothing better than seeing a baby turtle.

You can also rent bicycles and enjoy a scenic tour of the surrounding paddy fields, coconut estates and fishing villages.

It is also worth stopping at the Bentota railway.

Recommended tours:

20- Polonnaruwa

More of a town than a city, Polonnaruwa makes its way onto this list because of its UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s absolutely worth a visit.

Polonnaruwa used to be the second capital of Sri Lanka after Anuradhapura was destroyed in 993.

The town is filled with archaeological treasures.

Though much of the town has developed, seemingly around every corner there are ancient structures from tombs to stupas and statues.

You must check out Gal Vihara which is part of Parakramabahu monastery.

Here there are a group of Buddha rock carvings.

You should also add Quadrangle, Lankatilaka and the Polonnaruwa ruins to your list. Check out hotels around Polonnaruwa here.

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Harriet Comley
Harriet Comley is a travel enthusiast, freelance travel writer and a lover of safaris. Since 2017 she has been travelling the globe living in the UK, Canada, Vietnam, China and now Zambia, where she is completing her PhD in Sustainable Tourism. For 3 1/2 years she taught English in Vietnam and China. Now she has turned her attention to writing, having contributed to a number of travel blogs and websites always focusing on what she loves most…exploring!