A Guide To The Most Unique Temples In Sri Lanka

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There are many beautiful Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. Buddhism is a huge part of Sinhalese culture and way of life, which explains why so many temples can be found scattered around the country. Most people who travel there already know about the famous Temple of the Tooth in the sacred city of Kandy. 

Indeed, some temples in Sri Lanka are very famous and among the best known tourist attractions in the country. Others are lesser known but equally interesting to visit. Some are absolutely majestic and full of surprises; others are real hidden gems. Some have been built ad hoc; others have been carved in the rock. All of them deserve a mention and all of them are good enough reasons to visit Sri Lanka.

In this post, I highlight the nicest Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka and share some tips to make the most of them upon visiting.

TIP: You need to be dressed modestly when visiting temples. Make sure to read my post “What To Wear In Sri Lanka” for more guidance.

Temples in Sri Lanka
The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy is the most famous Sri Lanka temple

11 Beautiful Temples In Sri Lanka

Temple of the Tooth (Kandy)

Locally known as Sri Dalada Maligawache, the Temple of the Tooth is thought to be one of the holiest places in Sri Lanka and it’s the main reason why tourists and locals alike go to Kandy. This is a very important pilgrimage destination for Buddhists, as it is the place that holds a tooth that is supposed to have belonged to Buddha. This tooth was thought to have a strong political value, as whoever held the relic was meant to become governor of the country.

The temple is located in the heart of of the city, in the Royal Palace complex, where you’ll find also other temples and museums. The tooth relic is guarded in a gold casket – you actually won’t be able to see the tooth, but just the casket that holds it.

The prayer (puja) takes place three times per day – one at dawn, one at midday and one in the evening. That’s when the Temple of the Tooth attracts most local visitors, and those are times you really should avoid if you are not a fan of the crowds.

Practical information

It costs $10 USD to enter the temple complex. This is one of the most expensive temples in Sri Lanka for travelers, but worth visiting given how important it is for the Buddhist faith.

Make sure to dress modestly for your visit. Both men and women should cover their knees and shoulders, and take off their shoes once inside the temple.

TIP: Make sure to be dressed appropriately upon visiting. Both men and women should cover their legs and shoulders, or else they will be denied entry.

The Nanumura Mangallaya, a ceremony during which the relic is bathed with an herbal preparation of scented water and flowers, takes place on Wednesdays.

Temples in Sri Lanka
Embekka Devale is one of the lesser visited temples in Sri Lanka

Embekka Devale (Kandy)

The Sri Lanka temple of Embekka Devale is located a bit outside of Kandy and makes for a nice day trip out of the city. It’s a lovely small temple where you will find almost no tourists, but lots of locals praying and making their offers – so the atmosphere is very relaxed and pleasant.

The temple was meant to be a three story buildings, but unfortunately throughout time the two upper floors collapsed. It has three main sections. The Sanctum of Garagha is where the statue of god is located. The Dance Hall is dedicated to the wife of the king who ordered the construction of the temple. The third section is the most beautiful one, which is the Drummers Hall, where you can observe beautiful wood carvings.

While I don’t recommend attending the puja at the Temple of the Tooth, I think you can and should do so in Embekka Devale, as it won’t be nearly as crowded and it is a much more local experience.

Practical information

There is a very small fee for visiting – in the range of $1 USD or so. Make sure to be dressed modestly. You will have to leave your shoes at the entrance.

temples in Sri Lanka
Lankatilaka can be seen on a day trip from Kandy

Lankatilaka Vihara (Kandy)

You can visit Lankatilaka Vihara temple the same day you also visit Embekka Devale. This is one of the most scenic temples in Sri Lanka, in terms of setting. You can walk there from the bottom of the road, but as it often rains in the region you may be better off asking a tuk tuk to take you all the way up.

You can see the temple emerging from the lush vegetation from the road below, as you approach it.

The temple was built in the 14th century and has two main sectors – the Buddha image one and the Temples of the Gods. The Buddha Image house has beautiful walls all covered in paintings that date back to the time during which the temple was being built. At its center, there is a large golden statue of a sitting Buddha.

Practical information

There is a small fee for visiting, but most of the time there is nobody collecting money or checking tickets. You can enter the temple from two gates – one facing the village and one on the side of the hill (known as the rock) on which it is built. Both of them involve a flight of stairs, but if you approach from the rock the views of the surrounding countryside are incredible.

Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla Cave Temple is one of the most famous in Sri Lanka

Dambulla Cave Temple (Dambulla)

Dambulla Cave Temple is thought to be one of the best preserved cave temples in Sri Lanka. So beautiful and unique it is that it’s been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a place of pilgrimage that you shouldn’t miss during your trip to Sri Lanka.

Dambulla is located at around 20 minutes drive from Sigiriya, and while the town itself is not really worthy of a mention, the temple is.

Known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, there are over 80 caves in this location, though the biggest attractionis the five caves that are packed with intricate carvings, statues and paintings of Buddha. There are 153 statues and murals which are meant to represent the story of Buddha.

Practical information

The entry fee to Dambulla is $10 USD. As the site can be visited en route to Sigiriya, you may have your luggage with you. You can leave it in storage at the bookstore at the main gate for a small fee.

Make sure to be dressed modestly or you will be denied entry – both men and women should cover their legs and shoulders. You will also be required to take off your shoes – there is a deposit you can use for a very small fee, or else you can put them in your bag.

I recommend hiring a guide to take you around the temple and share information about its religious and cultural significance. Alternatively, you can book your guided tour here.

Temples in Sri Lanka
The stunning view from Pidurangala

Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple (Sigiriya)

Pidurangala is located right in front of the more famous Sigiriya, it costs about a tenth of the price to visit, and it’s a beautiful place. From up there, the views of the surrounding countryside and those of the rock of Sigiriya are simply breathtatking. This is one of the best places in Sri Lanka to admire sunset.

More than that, Pidurangala also is one of the most unique temples in Sri Lanka. This Buddhist temple was carved in the rock, and subsequently refurbished by King Kashyapa who donated it to the Bhikkhus who used Sigiriya for their meditation after he had requested them to move.

Practical information

It costs around $3 USD to enter Pidurangala. Once there, you have to follow a trail where in parts you will find uneven steps, and in parts just a basic trail on uneven terrain. Make sure to wear good shoes – sandals or flip flops are not recommended – as the trail is slippery in parts. Bring a jacket along as it gets very windy at the top, and it often rains.

Mihintale (Anuradhapura)

Mihintale is a Buddhist pilgrimage site located at around 11 km from Anuradhapura and a great place to visit on a day trip from there. Thought to be the cradle of Buddhism, this is where King Devanampiyatissa converted to Buddhism under the influence of Mahinda, the son of an Indian emperor.

Mihintale is packed with monasteries, stupas and cave temples. The most impressive structure there is a staircase built around the side of a mountain. If you follow that, you’ll get to the first level of the complex of Mihintale. Once there, you will be able to enjoy 360 degrees views of the gorgeous surroundings.

Practical information

It costs $3 USD to visit Mihintale, to which I recommend adding the fee of a guide to take you around and help you make sense of all there is to see.

Mihintale can be reached from Anuradhapura by tuk tuk. Plan to visit in the morning to avoid the intense afternoon heat.

Sri Lanka temple
Buduruwagala is one of the lesser visited temples, yet worth going

Buduruwagala (Wellawaya)

Buduruwagala is one of the nicest and most hidden Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. It is located at around 7 km south of Wellawaya, and at around 30 from the famous Ella, and it is quite off the main tourist route.

The name means “the rock of Buddhist sculptures” and is an accurate description of what the temple looks like. This Sri Lanka temple consists of seven Buddha figures which have been carved in the rock. The temple, which belongs to the Mahayana school of thought, dates back to the 10th century.

The setting of the temple is idillic, as it is entirely surrounded by the forest. It’s very quiet, the only noise you’ll hear that of the wind sweeping the trees. The temple gets more animated at puja time, when locals arrive to place their prayers, but even then it is hardly a crowd.

Practical information

It costs less than $2 USD to visit Buduruwagala. You can reach it by tuk tuk from Wellawaya or by bus and a short tuk tuk drive from Ella. The bus from Ella to Wellawaya takes around 45 minutes.

You can visit Buduruwagala on a day trip from Yala or from Ella, or even en route from Yala to Ella. You can book your tour here.

Silver Temple
Ridee Viharaya is gorgeous and lesser visited

Ridee Viharaya (Ridigama)

Known as the Silver Temple, Ridee Viharaya was built in the 2nd century BCE. The temple is located at around 18 km north of Kurunegala – around 95 km from Colombo. It was built as a sign of gratitude for finding the silver that was necessary to complete the great stupa of Ruwanwelisaya, in Anuradhapura.

The temple is carved in the rock, and there are around 25 caves where it is said that some monks still live.

It’s a nice, low key temple where you won’t meet many tourists, and which is surrounded by beautiful nature – you will also be able to spot some monkeys hanging out.

Practical information

There is an entry fee of 200 Rupees (around $1 USD) to visit the temple. There is a nearby pilgrim rest – a sort of hostel; which is modest but welcoming and clean.

Temples in Sri Lanka
Murugan Temple is incredibly colorful

Gangaramaya (Colombo)

This is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Colombo. It’s close to Beira Lake and dates back to the late 19th century. It’s still very much in use, so you will mostly see locals placing their offerings and their prayers on any given day.

Inside the temple there is also a small exhibit of artifacts of various kind, as well as a library.

Practical information

It costs 300 Rupees (around $3 USD) to visit the temple.

Murugan Temple (Colombo)

This is one of the most colorful temples in Sri Lanka. Though currently in use (it gets very crowded during Friday prayers) tourists hardly ever get the chance to visit and most will have to make do with a photo from the outside.

Practical information

The area where the temple is located is very busy, so you’ll have to take your chances when taking photos – traffic will certainly not stop for you!

Koneswaram Temple Trincomalee
Koneswaram Temple – one of the most unique in Trincomalee

Koneswaram Temple (Trincomalee)

Located in Trincomalee, on the north eastern coast of Sri Lanka and in an area that is mostly Tamil, this is a Hindu temple complex, not to mention a place of pilgrimage for people of Hindu faith. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and it is incredibly colorful.

Inside, you won’t find many tourists – there is usually locals praying.

As the temple is located at the very top of a peninsula surmounting the bay, the views from the area are splendid, especially at sunset.

Practical information

There is no entry fee to enter the temple but you’ll be charge 20 Rupees to leave your shoes at the wardrobe.

What are your favorite temples in Sri Lanka?

Further Readings

Make sure to read my other posts about Sri Lanka:

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Discover the most beautiful temples in Sri Lanka - via @clautavani

2 thoughts on “A Guide To The Most Unique Temples In Sri Lanka”

  1. Lovely Post! Thank you so much for taking the time to write and share this. definitely on my bucket list!

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