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Museums of Sri Lanka — the best places to understand the heritage, history and culture of Sri Lanka

While visiting an unknown country and if interest is to seek how the people of that country  live,  and understand their culture, history and the heritage, the best places, other than the places of interest, are the various museums established in the country. If you need to gather a wide knowledge about the culture, history and the heritage of this resplendent Isle of the Indian Ocean, the ideal places to visit are the  museums situated around the country.

First of all the National Museum of Colombo, situated in  Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha., Colombo 07

possess a vast collection of artifacts that represent various aspects of the Sri Lankan civilization and heritage.

 The National Museum of Colombo

The National Museum of Colombo  established on 1st January 1877, during the Governorship of Sir William Henry Gregory, is the oldest and largest Museum of Sri Lanka. The credit of establishing this first modern Museum in Sri Lanka should go to the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.

At the time of the inauguration, the National Museum of Colombo had a collection of eight hundred artifacts. The Colombo Museum housed many exhibits exceeding over one hundred thousand items that provided an insight into the history of the Country. They presented a fine testimony to the glory and the grandeur of our ancient civilization. Most of these collections do not have parallels anywhere in the Island. Most significant among the items is the large seated Buddha image which was found in Toluwila, an Ancient site near Anuradhapura. Some of other important items in stone in the museum are the rock inscriptions that show how the Sinhala script evolved from the Brahmi script. Among other items of  interest are Guard stones, moon stones, carved stones, plaques and stone pillars. The seated Buddha image from Badulla, the Bodhisattwa images from Veheragala, Thuparama, Giridara, Buduruwagala and the statues of the Godess Tara, Siva Nataraja and Ardhanari Nateshwara are some of the beautiful Buddhist and Hindu icons among the collection of bronzes.

The collection of ivory carvings preserved in the Colombo National Museum is perhaps the best to be seen in any museum in the world. Some of the most popular exhibits are the Gold Throne of the last King of Kandy, the crown, the sword and the Scepter as well as the Footstool of Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe and the Jacket of the King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe’s Queen. The Collection of Ancient Coins from 3rd century B.C to the contemporary times exceeds over sixty thousand. A large number of valuable paintings representing the traditional Art of Sri Lanka and the wonderful collection of folk arts and crafts too are displayed prominently. There are two galleries of Textiles and Ceramics exhibited in Colombo National Museum. The Ceramic Gallery consists of two main divisions, local and foreign.

The National Museum is also in the possession of a fairly large collection of ancient flags and banners of ancient Lanka, which mostly represent district banners.The Arms and Armaments gallery, contains a very interesting collection of the traditional arms as well as  a fair number of artifacts of this category. The gallery dealing with  agriculture displays tools connected with the traditional agriculture and field agricultural practices of the ancient farmers.

If interested in visitng the museum please contact Mr. S.H Ranjith, the museum keeper. Telephone :0094 112 694366  E-mail:

 National Museum of Natural History

National Museum of Natural History which reflects the Natural heritage was established on 23rd of September 1986. This museum is situated  in the same premises as the Colombo National Museum, facing Ananda Kumaraswamy Mawatha, Colombo 07. Even though there is a considerable number of museums in Sri Lanka, this is the only one that is representing solely the Natural Heritage. The special feature is that plants and animal specimens which are endemic to Sri Lanka, rare and threatened with extinction are displayed in this museum. There is a large collection of specimens such as Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Insects, Fish, Amphibians of various kinds of Plants and Geological Rocks. Leopard of Punani can be introduced as a special specimens displayed in the Natural science Museum.  The Skull of Meqacerus giganteus (elk) which huge horns which is displayed at the Geological section of the museum is a specimen that creates curiosity among the visitors. This skull which belonged to an extinct species of stag was gifted by Lord Eniskilen in 1950.

Contact Details

Ms. K. A. Nayana Darshani Perera Museum Keeper National Museum of Natural History,Colombo 07.

011- 2691399,

Dutch Museum

This two storeyed   large building reflecting the features of a 17th century Dutch Urban house was built by Thomas Van Rhee, The Dutch Governor of Sri Lanka from 1692- 1697 as his official residence. During the British period in 1796 this building was used as an arms store of army hospital, police training centre, Pettah post office and telecommunication centre. This building was preserved by a special preservation committee with the assistance of Netherlands government in 1977 and opened for the public as Dutch museum by the Department of National Museums. It has displayed over 3000 museum objects related to the Dutch who ruled coastal areas of Sri Lanka. (1658-1796)

Contact Details

Mr. IreshAlawatta, Education Promoting Officer, Dutch Museum, Prince Street, Colombo 01.

0094 11 2448466,

Kandy National Museum

This building established during Sri Wickrama Rajasingha era was then known as “Palle Vahala” This was used as the palace where the Queens of the king lived. This building had been built according to the architectural features of the Kandy period. This pallevahala building was used to deposit the various items of historical value made by Kandy Art Association established in 1832 and technicians of Matale district. This was opened for the public as a museum in 1942. This museum has over 5000 objects which are depicting various aspects of  historical and cultural events of the Kandyan period. (17-19 century A.D.)

Contact Details

Mr. K. D. V. Chandimal, Museum Keeper,National Museum, Kandy.

0094 81 2223867

Ratnapura National Museum

The beautiful building known as “Ehelepola Walauva” located at Ratnapura – Colombo road was opened for the public as a museum on 13th May 1988. It has exhibition rooms which contain prehistoric archaeological inventions, natural heritage, geological, anthropological, zoological artifacts and models related to the Sabaragamuva Province.

Contact Details                      

Ms. Thamara Damayanthi Jayasekara Education, Promoting Officer,National Museum, Colombo Rd., Ratnapura.


Galle National Museum

The Galle National Museum is established in the oldest Dutch building of the Galle fort, constructed in 1656.

To inform the public on the traditional cultural heritage of Southern Sri Lanka, the Department of National Museums established  this museum and was opened to the public on 31st March 1986. Galle National Museum displays a wide range of archaeological and anthropological objects discovered in the Southern region. Collection of traditional masks used in various rituals, collection of ornamental objects made up of turtle shells, ancient wooden carvings and a Beeralu collection are important  exhibits in the museum. The influence of the Dutch can be identified by the equipment that are among the exhibits which had been used in the Dutch ships  that  came to the Galle harbour. Large water vessels, V.O.C. porcelain objects and arms and weapons used by the Dutch soldiers are among the   other exhibits.

Contact Details

Mrs. Ayona Dasanayaka, Education Promoting Officer Galle National Museum, Galle

091 2232051

 Maritime Museum

Maritime Museum is the only museum which informs the public on marine biological and anthropological aspects of Southern coastal area. It is located in the old Dutch ware house of the Galle Fort, built in 1671. The museum was open to the public on 9th May 1992.

 As an aftermath of the Tsunami on 26th December 2004, the museum was completely destroyed and all   the exhibits were damaged. Under Sri Lanka – Netherlands Cultural Co-operation Program, the Royal Government of Netherlands provided financial assistance for the  reconstruction of the Maritime Museum. After  a 3 years period of reconstruction, now the Maritime Museum has  been opened to the public.

The first gallery depicts the types of watercrafts used in passenger transport and maritime trading in Southern Sri Lanka. The traditional life style of fishing communities and their fishing techniques are displayed with using models and replicas. The second Gallery is focused on marine eco systems and the flora and fauna. Models of mangroves, sea shore plants, turtles, sea birds and marine mammals are displayed using taxonomic details. Specimens of corals, marine shells and some invertebrates can be observed in the exhibition while a large skeleton of a whale mounted in the roof  will be a new experience.

Contact Details

Mr. P. A. Siripala, Education Promoting Officer, Maritime Museum, Galle .  Tel: 0091 22 42261

Anuradhapura Folk Museum

Anuradhapura Folk Museum was established in 22nd August 1971 as a provincial Museum under the Department of National Museums. The aim of this museum is to collect, conserve and exhibit the cultural and religious objects used by the folk community in the Nuwara-Kalaviya area.

In 12-13 A.D. the Anuradhapura kingdom was shifted to the South-west because of the foreign invasions. Several families remained and they lived in  little hamlets surrounded by the thick forest. They were unable to communicate with the outer world hence they had to produce all the things needed for their daily life by themselves. Anuradhapura Folk Museum has a good collection of traditional objects used by the folk community in the  Nuwara Kalaviya. Several life size models related to the folk culture has been created in the museum premises.

Contact Details

Mr. G. P. G. Pushpakumara, Education Promoting Officer, Folk Museum, Old Town, Anuradhapura

0094 25 2234624

Independence Memorial Museum

Located in the basement of the Independence Memorial Hall, Independence Square, was established to honour all the national heroes who had contributed to the cause of gaining independence from the British colonist. It comprises a host of busts, display boards depicting the names, images and information of the political leaders, clergy, and all the other patriots who were instrumental in the struggle to gain independence.

Contact Details

Mr.  R. V. A. S. Abeyratna, Museum Keeper ,Independence Memorial Museum, Independence square, Colombo 07

0112691825 ,

 Magampura Ruhuna Heritage Museum

Recently opened Magampura museum has been located in the bungalow used by the famous Leonard Woolf who was the author of the popular novel “ Village in the Jungle” and also  the assistant govt. Agent in Hambantota, has been turned into a museum known as the Magampura Ruhuna  Heritage Museum.

Contact Details

Mr. Kumarasiri Thannegedara, Museum Keeper, MagampuraRuhuna Heritage Museum, Hambantota


We appreciate and are thankful to Mr. T.D.N Fernando, Assistant Director Department of National Museums

for providing all the important details for this articles.

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