11 Must See Buddhist Temples in Sri Lanka

Buddhism is a major religion in Sri Lanka and approximately 70 per cent of its population practices Theravada Buddhism. The religion has been a vital part of the culture and history of the island nation and that is why several Buddhist temples are found throughout the country. Here, we focus on 10 must-see Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka that speaks about the country’s rich culture and heritage.

1. Dambulla Cave Temple, Dambulla

Dambulla Cave Temple
Golden cave temple in Dambulla. Sri Lanka

The Dambulla Cave Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring more than 80 caves in one location is a good preserve and the biggest temple complex in Sri Lanka. It is also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla. Numerous murals, carvings, statues and paintings depicting the life of Buddha are spread across the five caves. It is estimated that the entire temple complex contains 153 Buddha statues and murals.

Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit this temple is from January to April.

How to Reach: Board a flight to Colombo and from there, take a train to Habarana and finally hop on a cab to Dambulla.

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2. Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple, Pidurangala Village, Matale District

Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple
Inside of Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple, Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

The Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple gets its name from the massive rock named Pidurangala, on which the temple is built. It is an ancient temple in Sri Lanka constructed by King Kashyapa for Buddhist Bhikkus for meditation purposes. Besides, the surrounding scenic views of this ancient Buddhist temple make for a great escape. Due to this, the region is also famous amongst hikers and nature enthusiasts.

Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit this temple is from May to September.

How to Reach: Take a flight to Colombo and from there, board a train to Sigiriya. Stay in Sigiriya and from there you can hire a tuk-tuk to reach Pidurangala Vihara.

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3. Mihintale Temple, Anuradhapura

Mihintale Temple
Mihintale in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Mihintale Temple is said to be the place where a Buddhist monk Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa met and announced the presence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The temple has now become a major Buddhist pilgrimage site featuring numerous religious monuments and abandoned structures. Buddhist devotees and tourists from across the world visit this ancient structure. Like most of the Buddhist temples across Sri Lanka, this temple is also a great amalgamation of history and beautiful nature. It is one of the most famous temples in Sri Lanka.

Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit this temple is from April to September.

How to Reach: Take a flight to Colombo, then again a flight to Anuradhapura. The temple is easily accessed from Anuradhapura by hiring a tuk-tuk.

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4. Sri Dalada Maligawa (The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relics), Kandy

Sri Dalada Maligawa
Sri Dalada Maligawa (The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relics), Kandy

Sri Dalada Maligawa temple also known as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is situated in the city of Kandy, Sri Lanka. The temple is said to contain a tooth of non-other than the Buddha himself. Kandy was also the last capital of the Sinhalese kingdom and is listed into the UNESCO world heritage site, partly because of the presence of the temple. It is one of the most ancient temples in Sri Lanka, attracting a large number of devotees. A visit to the temple is full of excitement as it is filled with numerous statues and relics. Besides the temple, the region is also hailed for its scenic beauty, which attracts nature enthusiasts.

Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit this temple is from December to April.

How to Reach: Board a flight to Colombo to take a train to Kandy, where the temple is located.

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 5. The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara Temple, Peliyagoda

Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara Temple
A large statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha, at Kelaniya temple, Sri Lanka

The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara Temple is situated 7 miles from Colombo in Viharaya. It is believed that Buddha visited this temple during his third and final visit to Sri Lanka. This is also considered to be the oldest temple in Sri Lanka dating back to 500 B.C. The 18-feet long statue of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is a major attraction. It is said that the original temple was destroyed by Indian invaders and it was later restored to again be destroyed by Portuguese in the 16th century. Later in the 18th century, it was the Dutch who restored the temple.

 Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit this temple is from January to March.

 How to Reach: The temple is located in Colombo and is easily accessible by local means of transport. 

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6. Hendeniya Rajamaha Viharaya, Kandy

 

Sri Lanka is full of ancient Buddhist rock cave temples and the Hendeniya Rajamaha Viharaya is no exception. This ancient rock temple situated in Udu Nuwara also known as ‘Galgane Vihara’ is 12 km away from Kandy. According to a local mythological story, the temple was constructed by the King Wickremabanhu III for his consort Henekanda Biso Bandara. Again, this temple offers a glimpse of the ancient Buddhist heritage and culture in Sri Lanka.

 Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit this temple is from December to April.

 How to Reach: Board a flight to Colombo, from where you can board a train to Kandy.

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 7. Lankatilaka Vihara, Kandy

Lankatilaka Vihara
Lankatilaka Vihara or Sri Lankathilake Rajamaha Viharaya is an ancient Buddhist temple situated in Udunuwara of Kandy, Sri Lanka

Lankatilaka Vihara located in Kandy is encircled by soul-stirring scenery. The temple showcases the brilliant architecture from the 14th century of the Gampola era. Constructed on a natural rock, the temple consists of three sections – the Temple building, the Stupa and the Bo tree. The Buddha Image part of the temple features a wall filled with paintings. The temple also houses a giant golden statue of a sitting Buddha located right at the centre. All the buildings are constructed on a giant rock called Panhalgala Rock.

Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit this temple is from December to April.

 How to Reach: Board a flight to Colombo, from where you can board a train to Kandy.

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 8. Isipathanaramaya Temple, Colombo

The Isipathanaramaya Temple is the most recent one, built-in 1916, spread over 4.9 acres of land. Located on the Isipathana Road, Colombo, the temple is famous for several Buddha statues and carvings on the walls. This modern-day temple also features a fresco, which distinguishes it from other Buddhist temples. It is the calmness and tranquillity which attracts devotees and tourists to this temple.

 Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit this temple is from January to March.

 How to Reach: Take a flight to Colombo and the temple is located on Isipathana Road, Colombo.

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 9. Buduruwagala, Wellawaya 

Buduruwagala Temple
Three Buddha statues at the ancient Buddhist temple of Buduruwagala, Sri Lanka

Buduruwagala temple consists of seven Buddha statues carved on a giant rock wall. All these carved statues belong to the Mahayana school of thought and date back to the 10th century. These statues still carry the fine and intricate details offering a glimpse into the rich Buddhist culture and heritage. The largest Buddha statue measure from head to toe is 51 feet (16 m) and is one of the biggest standing Buddha on the island.

 Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit this temple is from June to September.

 How to Reach: Board a flight to Colombo and the closest airport to Wellawaya is Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport.

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 10. Embekka Devalaya, Embekka

Embekka Devalaya
Embekka Devalaya (Embekke Devale) temple near Kandy, Sri Lanka

Embekka Devale temple is yet another magnificent built by the King Vikramabahu III. This shrine is segmented into three sections the “Sanctum of Garagha”, the Digge and the “Hevisi Mandapaya. Every section of this temple is filled with statues, paintings and magnificent wooden carvings. Apart from spirituality and reverence, the temple is also a treat for art enthusiasts.

 Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit this temple is from December to April.

 How to Reach: Take a flight to Colombo and from there, you can board a taxi or a bus to reach Embekka.

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11. Sithulpawwa Rajamaha Viharaya

Sithulpawwa Rajamaha Viharaya
Sithulpawwa Rajamaha Viharaya – an ancient Buddhist monastery located in Hambantota District, South Eastern Sri Lanka.
This is an astonishing Buddhist monastery in Sri Lanka, situated in Hambantota district offers a glimpse of the ancient Anuradhapura-era architecture marvels. The temple derived its name from the word “Chiththala Pabbatha”, which translates into the hill of the quiet mind. It is said that King Kavantissa built this in the 2nd century B.C. WIth its history of over 2200 years, the temple was a vital place of worship amongst devotees and a centre of Buddhist education. Several paintings, images and carvings from the Anuradhapura era can be found in the monastery premises.
Best time – December to March is the ideal time to travel to the ancient Buddhist monastery.
How to reach: Board a flight to Colombo, from there travellers can hire a taxi, bus or car to reach the Buddhist temple. Train services are also available to reach the Sithulpawwa Rajamaha Viharaya.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful melting pot of spectacular natural scenery and old cultural heritage. The best way to experience it is by visiting Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka, as these are wonderful amalgamations of old Buddhist heritage and natural splendour.