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Take A Cultural Tour of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is home to eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, of which six are historical ruins or buildings. This means there is a lot to see crammed into this small island nation, which makes it well worth it to spend time away from the country's breathtaking beaches to explore some of its cultural attractions.

There are over 2,000 years of history to be uncovered in Sri Lanka and some of the ancient cities, temples and palaces here are remarkably well preserved. Taking a cultural tour is one of the best ways to get from one site to the next and ensure that you don't miss any of the country's main attractions.

Sri Lanka's ancient cities

Four of Sri Lanka's UNESCO-protected sites are cities, each providing an insight into a different period of Sri Lanka's past. The oldest of these attractions is Anuradhapura, which was founded in the 4th century BC and became a sacred centre for the Buddhist faith. The city was abandoned in AD 993 after being raided and partially destroyed by King Chola Rajaraja I. For years it lay hidden in dense jungle, but now its palaces, temples and other monuments are on show again, making this a fascinating place to discover during your tour of the country.

The next city to visit should be Polonnaruwa, which became the capital after Anuradhapura. The highlights here are the Brahmanic monuments and a stunning garden city where temples, green spaces and palaces sit side-by-side in a walled compound.

The ancient city of Sigiriya should also be on your list of places to discover. These ruins are in a spectacular location on top of a rock that sits in the middle of the jungle. At its base is a series of gardens, which you'll walk through on your way to the top. The views from this spot are astounding and you can only imagine how impressive this fortified city must have been in its heyday.

The final city to visit is Kandy, which is still a thriving hub today. The main attraction here is the Sacred Temple of the Tooth, which houses one of Buddhism's most revered relics. Leave plenty of time to explore the temple complex - it's large and the ornate decoration on the shrines and buildings will mean you linger as you absorb the peaceful atmosphere.

Sri Lanka's other heritage sites

Impressive though the ancient cities are, these aren't the only heritage sites Sri Lanka has to offer. One of the other top attractions is the Golden Temple of Dambulla, which is reasonably close to Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa. This is the best preserved cave temple complex in the country, and has been a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site for 22 centuries.

There is an amazing array of statues within the temples, as well as stunning murals that have been added to and repainted over the years. This is a wonderfully peaceful site to visit, so make sure you leave time to explore and enjoy its tranquil atmosphere.

The final UNESCO World Heritage Site on the list is on the south coast in Galle, a 16th century city that was founded by the Portuguese. This gives you a glimpse into an entirely different period in Sri Lanka's history and is a wonderful example of a fortified European city in south and south-east Asia.

Among the highlights here are the 18th century seawall that made up part of Galle's defences, the oldest protestant church in Sri Lanka, which is in a stunning Baroque style, and the fort of Galle, which was modified by the British after they took control of Sri Lanka at the end of the 18th century.

Enjoy Sri Lanka on a twin-centre holiday

Sri Lanka is an excellent candidate for a twin centre holiday because there are two very different sides to the country. The fascinating cultural and historical attractions listed above are only one part of what a trip to Sri Lanka has to offer. The other is, of course, its stunning beaches.

For the best of both worlds, plan to spend some time after your cultural tour in one of the outstanding all inclusive resorts on Sri Lanka's south coast. Places like Unawatuna Beach really are picture-perfect, giving you the chance to enjoy your own little slice of paradise.

Think glorious golden and white-sand beaches fringed by swaying palm trees, delightful beachside cafes just behind the sands and clear, turquoise waters that gently lap the shore. After travelling around on a sightseeing tour, Sri Lanka's seaside resorts, where your every need is taken care of, are just what you need to unwind and relax.

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