Sri Lanka is a one-of-a-kind island destination that both inspires and amazes its visitors in equal measure – fascinating historical sites, landscapes, beaches and delectable cuisines await you at every turn. If you’re looking for a truly authentic experience from your travels, a great way to see life through the eyes of the locals is by learning more about their culture and beliefs; and what better place to do that than at one of Sri Lanka’s many temples?

While the country embraces a range of religions, it’s officially a Buddhist nation, with around 70% of the population identifying as Buddhist. But religious differences within society here are largely celebrated, with various beliefs able to coexist within close proximity, making it an integral part of Sri Lankan culture.

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in this wonderful culture is by exploring a selection of the many temples which embellish this beautiful island. You don’t have to be religious yourself to appreciate the true beauty and cultural significance of these sites – paying them a visit is a must for any traveller heading to the island.

Dambulla Cave Temple

Given UNESCO status in 1991, Dambulla Cave Temple is one of the most seminal religious sites in Sri Lanka. Within the vast cave-temple complex are 157 statues, 2,100 m2 of mural paintings and five sanctuaries in all to explore. This special site has been used by Buddhists since the 3rd century BCE, with ritual practices taking place here for thousands of years. Located in the very heart of Sri Lanka, the site is easily accessible wherever you’re based on the island; but do note that there is a short climb of about 20 minutes, with stairs leading you from the car park to the complex.

While the temple is open throughout the day, if you’re looking for the most breathtaking views, consider visiting in the evening just before the sun starts to set. Seeing the temples glow in the dying light is an unforgettable experience – not to mention, the dropping temperatures later on in the day will certainly make the climb that much easier. Whatever time of day you visit the temples, it will be well worth the journey.

Dambulla Cave Temple

Gangaramaya Temple

If you find yourself with a spare afternoon in the capital city of Columbo, Gangaramaya Temple should be top of your to-do list. The temple itself is free to enter, but visitors are invited to make a donation, and there is also a museum on-site which does incur a small fee if you wish to explore it.

This Buddhist temple is revered for its magnificent architecture and serene atmosphere, and has gained a burgeoning reputation amongst tourists from across the globe. It also plays an important role in the community beyond its religious value, housing the Sri Jinarathana Training Institute, which offers vocational courses to students across the country.

Another feature that makes this site so special is it overlooks Beira Lake, so you’re sure to want to have your camera ready as there are plenty of photo opportunities. Just make sure you have asked permission from management before snapping away, as many temples prohibit the use of cameras.

Gangaramaya Temple

Naguleswaram Temple

This ancient Hindu temple is located in the Northern Province, close to the busy city of Jaffna. If you’re wondering about the best time to visit Sri Lanka. It’s one of five temples across the country dedicated to the God of Shiva. And is an extremely important site for local and visiting Hindus alike. Unfortunately, the temple has sustained significant damage throughout history, but there is still plenty to admire about this unique site.

Adjacent to the temple you will find the Keerimalai Springs. Which are much more than simply a convenient spot to cool off in from the scorching Sri Lankan sun. These springs are an important site for Hindus, with the waters believed to have magical curing powers according to folklore. Whether it’s the power of magic or minerals in the water. The springs are well worth a dip in all the same. But do note that during peak times they can be incredibly busy. So it’s often best to visit early in the morning.

Explore the temples respectfully

As much as the local people want to share these inspiring sites with their friends from across the globe. It’s important for visitors to follow local customs and norms to be respectful of their surroundings. When visiting any place of worship, it’s important to consider your choice of attire. It’s always advisable to opt for conservative clothing, since scanty garments and footwear could cause offence to the local people.

Also, photography is entirely prohibited in many Hindu temples, whilst flash photography is also banned at these sites. It’s always best to err on the side of caution if you’re unsure on the correct etiquette. And you can always ask the people working at these sites on the accepted protocol visitors should follow.

So many beautiful sites await you across this special country, the only question is where are you headed first? It can be difficult to know where to start, but wherever you do. A trip to one or more of Sri Lanka’s beautiful temples. Will provide you with a unique insight into the local culture. And leave you with many happy memories to take away

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Author bio: Alex Dennings

Alex is a creative writer with a degree in English literature. And has worked in the digital marketing industry for over ten years. Away from the keyboard. His main passion is travel and this year is looking forward to a long-awaited trip around Australia.