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10 Must-See Things in The Ancient City Polonnaruwa

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Throughout our trip around Sri Lanka, the Ancient Cities situated in the inland had been in the back of our mind – To go or not to go? We had postponed the decision as long as possible, but when we reached Kandy city the decision had to be made! We decided to go, and then the follow-up question was: Go to which ancient city – Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa?

We asked our fellow travelers at the hotel we stayed at in Kandy. Most of them recommended Polonnaruwa, the reason being that even though it is smaller in scale, the ruins and temples are within a much more compact area, and they are in better condition. So with that decision taken, we headed north-east to Polonnaruwa!

After a 5-hour car ride (including a walk up Lion Rock Sigiriya) from Kandy, we finally reached Polonnaruwa. We arrived in the evening, so it was dark and we came through a road that did not go near the ruins of the Ancient City. We drove through thick jungle, with just the rare light from a house or a shop piercing the darkness, so it felt like being in the middle of nowhere! Had we made the right decision choosing Polonnaruwa over Anuradhapura?

We had not pre-booked any accommodation, so we had to drive around until we finally found a hotel – Seyara Holiday Resort. The owner made us feel very welcome, and we felt like home straight away!

The next morning, after a lovely breakfast at the hotel, we took a tuk-tuk into town where we rented bicycles and headed out on the dusty roads through the Ancient City Polonnaruwa.

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The history of Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa was the thriving commercial and religious center of Sri Lanka some 800 years ago. It consists of a lot of temples and religious buildings. For three centuries it was the royal capital, of both the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms. In Polonnaruwa, it all started in the late 10th century when the South Indian Chola dynasty had conquered Sri Lanka.

The Cholas chose Polonnaruwa as their new capital and moved the capital from Anuradhapura. Their reasons were apparently that is was a strategically better place to be protected from attacks from the Ruhunu Sinhalese kingdom in the south-east, and that it had fewer mosquitos!!! LOL, it didn`t feel like there was a lack of mosquitos here, especially in the evenings when they came out in swarms……

In 1070 though, the Chola dynasty was overtaken by the Sinhalese kingdom (King Vijayabahu I), which kept Polonnaruwa as his capital. And it was during this Sinhalese period that Polonnaruwa reached its high glory.

The second king (King Parakramabahu I, 1153-86) built many large buildings, beautiful parks, and a huge lake/ tank of water (25 square km). The third king (King Nisanka Malla, 1187 – 96) tried to match his predecessors`achievements, and ended up bankrupting the kingdom in his attempts!

In the early 13th century the cities glory was fading, it was abandoned, and the capital moved to the western side of the island where Colombo is today. That was the sad end of the era of beautiful Polonnaruwa as a capital.

Top 10 must-sees in the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

Before we went into the ruins of the Ancient City, we visited the Archaeological Museum (next to the ticket office). The museum served as a nice introduction to what we had in front of us, but being anxious to see the real thing, we didn’t spend very much time there. The museum is designed for walking through, with a series of interconnected rooms each dedicated to a particular theme.

They also had scale models of the buildings and temples of the city, showing how they might have looked like in their glory days with the wooden roofs still intact. But if you are in a hurry, and don`t have that much time in Polonnaruwa, then I would recommend skipping the museum. It is much better to see the ruins and temples in real life than on pictures and models at the museum! Here are our top sights of the Ancient City Polonnaruwa:

1. Royal Palace

The first group of ruins you meet after entering the ground of the Ancient City is the Royal Palace Group. This group of buildings dates from the period of King Parakramabahu I (1153 – 1186). The King`s Royal Palace is a massive structure, measuring 31 m by 13 m, once including 50 rooms supported by 30 columns. Even today it is quite an impressive building, but picture it being seven floors tall with 3 m thick walls, as the archaeologists claim it once was!

Today only some of the walls are left, with holes to hold floor beams for two higher levels. If the building had four more levels above these stone walls, the archaeologists speculate that they must have been made of wood. Impressive building such a big palace in those days without machines!

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The ruins of the Royal Palace.

2. Audience Hall

The king`s Audience Hall is one of the best-preserved structures in the Royal Palace Group, with beautiful stone carved elephants on the walls.

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The Audience Hall.

Each elephant is in a different position and looks different from the other.

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Beautiful stone carved elephants on the walls of the Audience Hall.

It was incredibly warm this day, especially around noon, so I had to buy myself a lovely hat. Don`t I look fashionable? 🙂

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The stairs to the Audience Hall was pretty impressive, with beautiful lions on the top of each side.

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3. Swimming Pool

In one corner of the palace grounds is the king´s swimming pool, with crocodile-mouth spouts used to lead fresh water into the pool. Today the water is not very tempting to go swimming in, alien-green as it is!

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The king`s swimming pool.

4. Sacred Quadrangle

The Sacred Quadrangle is a compact group of beautiful and impressive ruins within a raised up platform bounded by a wall. This is the most concentrated collection of buildings in the whole Ancient City, and a must-see for any visitor!

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The Sacred Quadrangle.

In the middle of the Quadrangle is The Vatadage, a circular relic house typical of its kind. The outermost terrace is an impressive 18m in diameter and has four entrances all flanked by large guard stones in beautiful condition.

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The Vatadage, 18 m in diameter.

 

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The Vatadage has four entrances, each guarded by a beautiful stone figure.

The four entrances all lead to a central dagaba with four Buddhas.

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The central dagaba inside the Vatadage, with four Buddhas.

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5. Shiva Devale No. 2

This is the oldest building in Polonnaruwa as it dates back to the brief South Indian Chola dynasty period (around 1070) when the Indian invaders established the city. This is one of the few Hindu temples on the grounds. Because it is among the few buildings built entirely of stone, it is basically in the same condition as when it was built.

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Shiva Devale No.2, one of few Hindu Temples in Polonnaruwa.
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Me cycling from Shiva Devale No.2.

6. Pabalu Vehera

Pabalu Vehera, is another typical dagaba, dating back to King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186). This is the third largest dagaba in Polonnaruwa, and in excellent condition.

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Pabalu Vehera, the third largest dagaba in Polonnaruwa.
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The daboga Pabalu Vehera is in perfect condition.

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7. Rankot Vihara

Rankot Vihara is a huge dagaba in excellent condition, of impressive 54 meters tall! It is the largest dagaba in Polonnaruwa, the fourth largest in Sri Lanka, and dates back to King Nissanka Malla (1187 – 1196).

In between the ruins and temples, we also found traces of the jungle trying to take over the ancient city. Wandering around these impressive structures that are still in such good condition, it ‘s incredible to think about all the hard work done to restore them since the archaeologists first discovered the Ancient City all covered with trees.

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Espen in front of the dagaba Rankot Vihara. It is 54 m tall! The biggest dagaba in Polonnaruwa, and the fourth largest in Sri Lanka.

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Polonnaruwa is close to elephant populated national parks. Of course, the elephants don`t understand where the national parks end, and sometimes they walk into areas they are not supposed to be in (like the Ancient City or farmers grounds). All around the jungle, there are huts up in the trees, for spotting elephants who wander away from the National Parks.

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Three huts that are used for spotting elephants.

8. Dagaba Kiri Vihara

The beautiful dagaba Kiri Vihara (meaning “milk-white”) was built in honor of the King`s Queen. When the archaeologists came to the area and cleared it from the overgrown jungle, they found the original lime plaster still in white perfect condition after 700 years! This is the best-preserved unrestored dagaba in Polonnaruwa.

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Dagaba Kiri Vihara, built in honor of the king`s queen.

9. Buddha statue at Lankatilaka

The huge Lankatilaka is impressive with its 17 m high walls! Although the roof is gone, it still has a cathedral-like feeling about it, and the aisle leads to a huge standing headless Buddha.

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The big Buddha Lankatilaka. The walls are impressive 17 m high!

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10. Buddha figures at Gal Vihara

Gal Vihara is a group of four beautiful Buddhas in perfect condition, cut from one long slab of granite.

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Sitting Buddha at Gal Vihara.

The standing Buddha is 7 m tall and is said to be the finest of the series, with its unusual position of the arms and sad facial expression.

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The standing Buddha at Gal Vihara is 7 m tall!

The reclining Buddha is 14 m long, picturing Buddha entering Nirvana.

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The reclining Buddha at Gal Vihara is 14 m long!

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We really enjoyed our day at the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa! What a lovely and peaceful place, and it was so fun to go around the ruins on bicycles! It is of course also possible to travel around the ruin ruins and temples by tuk-tuk or car.

With this picture, of us cycling towards the magnificent Shiva Dalave No. 2 Hindu temple in the sunset, we say hasta la vista from Polonnaruwa!

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PS! This picture was by the way tough to take! While we were struggling cycling back and forth a dozen times, with our camera on the ground using the self-timer, two military guys were so kind to help us out (so they are the photographers of this photo). Thank you so much! 🙂

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Two military guards that helped us take the picture above.

Here is a map of the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa:

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Map of the ancient city Polonnaruwa.

Travelers Information

How To Get There

Bus from Colombo (6 hours), Kandy (3 hours), Anuradhapura (3 hours), or Dambulla (1 hour). Or hire a car with a driver from wherever you are as we did (from Kandy).

How Much Does It Cost

Tickets prices are 25 us$ adult/ 12,50 us$ child

What To Wear

Wear clothes that cover your knees and shoulders (especially women), since some of the ruins of the Ancient City are sacred.

Where To Stay In Polonnaruwa

We stayed at Seyara Holiday Resort
This is a small family driven hotel. The owner and his family are very friendly and made us feel right at home. The traditional Sri Lankan breakfast was excellent. The rooms vary in standard and our room was fairly basic. Wi-fi is available in public areas, but not in the rooms. Since we were there they have built a large pool that looks excellent.

Tishan Holiday Resort
This is another budget-friendly place that is getting rave reviews and offers excellent value for money. It is well located for exploring the ruins and offers 10 basic but very clean rooms. Travelers highlight the excellent food and friendly service. Air Conditioned rooms are available and all rooms have free wifi access. The pool looks great, and bikes are available for rent.

Deer Park Hotel
Deer Park Hotel is probably the best higher-end hotel in Polonnaruwa. This hotel location can’t be beaten as it overlooks the beautiful Giritale Lake. Rooms are very spacious, has an excellent view of the lake and provide all modern amenities such as Satellite TV, AC, mini-bar, and free in-room Wifi. There is a large gym, as well as an excellent pool. In the evening you can sit and watch as Elephants come down to the Lake to drink and bathTravelersrs rave about the excellent food and personal attention to service.

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Would you like to visit the ancient city of Polonnaruwa? Do you think bicycling is the best way to see it, or do you prefer tuk-tuk or a taxi? Please share your thoughts in the comment area below! 🙂

If you like this blog post and find it useful, please share and like it on social media! Thank you so much! 🙂

Photo of author

Written by Maria Wulff Hauglann

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a master's degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. In 2014 while on a year-long trip across South East- Asia, Maria co-founded the travel blog Nerd Nomads to help others get out and explore the world. In 2018 she left her day job permanently for a life of full-time travel. See our about page for more about Maria.

97 Comments

  1. Lovely post. I have heard that the standing statue at Gal Vihara is so unsual because it may not represent the Buddha. It might be his most loyal disciple, Ananda, in sorrow at Buddha’s passing, which is shown on the nearby ‘sleeping’ statue.

    Reply
    • Hi Zoidberg,

      Thanks for commenting and adding some extra and new information to this post. I did not know that the standing statue at Gal Vihara might be Buddha`s disciple, very interesting!

      Reply
      • Hi, I too agree with Zoidburg’s reply. It is believed that the standing statue of Gal Vihara is the Ananda Thero. And also there’s a famous story about a hunter who tried to shoot at the Statue was killed by an elephant

        Reply
    • I totally agree Ingrid! Walking or bicycling is our top choices too when exploring a place, so much better than being stuck in a car. We like to figure things out ourselves too, and we hardly ever go with a guide. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  2. i loved your post..i was however thinking i there any cost/ entry fee to this ancient sightseeing area…and how much does it cost to rent the bicycle/for how many hours

    Reply
    • Hi Nargis,

      Happy to hear that you liked our post about Polonnaruwa! The entrance fee to enter the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa is 3900 Sri Lankan rupees for foreigners, which is about 29 us$ for one adult. The locals pay half price. You buy tickets at the Museum before entering the Ancient City. Make sure to purchase the ticket before heading towards the ruins, else you need to go back to the museum as tickets are not available at the entrance or inside the Ancient City.

      Many of the hotels and guest houses have bicycles for rent. We did however rent bicycles at a cafe not far from the Museum where one buys entrance tickets. We paid about 450 Sri Lankan rupees per bicycle for a day, which is about 4 us$.

      Reply
      • I agree I find this helpful for planning my trip. Great that you put so much detail in and lovely photos. Thank you. I was wondering how large the site is?

        Reply
        • Hi Sarah,

          Thank you so much!

          The ancient city of Polonnaruwa is about 15 KVM (5 km north to south and 3 km west to east).

          It is a bit too big for walking but perfect for biking as there are no uphills. You can easily rent a bike in Polonnaruwa as there are several cafes and stores that rent out bikes.

          -Maria-

          Reply
  3. Awesome post Maria!!! My husband, 3yo daughter and I, are going to Sri Lanka in Aug 1st for 19 days. We are renting a car with driver for parts of our trip, but I was wandering if you know of, or seen anybody in Polonnaruwa riding a bicycle with a toddler seat… wishful thinking!!! 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Fabiana,

      I`m afraid I don`t know if you can rent a bicycle with a toddler seat in Polonnaruwa, so sorry. You probably can somewhere, but we did not see any bicycles with a toddler seat. Maybe you can contact some of the hotels that you are considering staying at, and ask? Most of the hotels in Polonnaruwa rent out bicycles for their guests. Sorry that I can`t be of more help.

      There are some tour companies that organise cycling tours in Polonnaruwa, maybe they have toddler seat: http://www.cyclingtourssrilanka.com/excursions/oneday/one-day-polonnaruwa-cycling-tour.html. You can send them an email and ask. Good luck with finding a toddler seat in Polonnaruwa.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka! I`m sure you will love it!

      Cheers,
      Maria

      Reply
  4. Dear Maria!

    Amazing info on your blog.

    We are looking at doing the cultural circuit of Dambulla, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa. Could you help me with which town should we use as a base to tour this circuit? And how did you guys commute?

    Love,
    Preeti

    Reply
    • Thanks Amila! Yes, I think you are right. We must have missed the statue of King Parackramabahu. Will have to look for it next time 🙂

      Reply
  5. are you familiar with Thomas Merton’s description of his experience with buddhas at ancient city, a few days before his death? It is described in Asian Journals of Thomas Merton which, in my battered copy, is in the indices ..I have puzzled over it many times.

    Reply
    • Hi Faith,

      I had never heard of Thomas Merton until I read your comment. After some googling I have now read more about him. Interesting man and life story. Thanks for making me aware of him.

      Best regards,
      Maria

      Reply
  6. Jeg er så glad jeg fant dette innlegget! Har lett etter god informasjon om disse stedene en stund. Nå gleder jeg meg enda mer til vi skal dit om en uke! 🙂

    Reply
    • Tusen takk, Charlotte! Så bra at du syns innlegget hjalp. Heldige dere som skal til Polonnaruwa om bare en uke!

      Vi leide sykler, billig og veldig bra måte å komme seg rundt i ruinenen på. Man kan selvsagt også gå, men det var veldig varmt da vi var der så anbefaler sykling. Man kan også leie taxi til å kjøre rundt mellom ruinene. Da får man jo air-condition, men ikke fullt så koselig som å sykle spør du meg. 🙂

      God tur til Polonnaruwa!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  7. Lovely post, it gave us a clear picture how the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa would be. we are planning to visit the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa by Scooter. Do they allow to drive our own scooter in the Ancient city ?

    Reply
    • Hi Namith,

      Thank you so much! Glad you like our article about Polonnaruwa.

      Yes, you are allowed to drive a scooter in the Ancient city. At least I think so, as there were several cars and taxis driving around on the roads between the temples.

      Have a great trip to Polonnaruwa!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  8. Hello, can you share where you hired the private car from Kandy and how much did it cost? Thanks 🙂

    Really enjoyed your pictures, by the way 😀

    Reply
    • Hi Joanne,

      The hotel we stayed at in Kandy arranged the car and driver for us. In Sri Lanka just about everyone knows a driver, and any guesthouse or hotel can arrange transportation.

      I have been trying to remember what we paid for the car but I just can’t remember. Next time we will make some notes of such things since we get asked this a lot.

      The best advice I can give is that you ask around a little and get a couple of different offers. Most of the time you will get quoted more or less the same price. You can usually negotiate a little on the price and sometimes you can arrange to share a car with other travellers going in the same direction.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka!

      -Espen

      Reply
  9. It is amazing to read all of yours blogs. We will go there in April 2017 and we found so much inspiration from your blog.
    Question, is one day enough for the ancient city of Polonnawura? And how long distance and time is it if you go by bike?

    Warm regards
    Stefan & Carina from Sweden

    Reply
    • Hei Stefan,

      Thank you so much, glad to hear that our blog could be of help and inspiration to you!

      Yes, I would say that one day is enough to see and get around the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa. The area is not that big and it`s flat, so you can easily walk or bicycle around. I would recommend renting bicycles, as it is easier and faster than walking.

      You should start early in the morning, however. The ancient city is open from 7:30 a.m. in the morning till 6 p.m. in the afternoon.

      Have a great time in the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, you will love this place! Bring a hat, sunscreen, and good walking shoes/sandals.

      Best regards,
      Maria

      Reply
  10. Maria, thanks so much for your blog!! This is amazing and exactly all the information I was looking for. You’ve covered so much and I love all the photos and how you’ve put in your top 10 preferred things to visit.
    I just wanted to ask you, I noticed you’re wearing shorts and a singlet in your pictures. Is this ok to wear around the outside areas and while cycling and then cover up if entering the temples? We want to hire bikes and my only cover up clothes are long dress, it’s going to be hot so I was hoping to wear shorts and a singlet too and pop the dress over when needed.
    Enjoy your future travels!

    Reply
    • Hi Alayna,

      I forgot to bring a long dress, unfortunately, so I was not allowed into some of the temples and had to wait outside. 🙁 You will be fine as long as you put a long dress over your shorts and singlet when entering the temples. Men are allowed to wear shorts if it is knee-length and a t-shirt that covers the shoulders. Bare shoulders are not allowed.

      Have a great bike trip around Polonnaruwa! You will love it! It is a very nice ride in the jungle and among the ancient temples!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  11. Hi Maria!
    Iam considering doing the trip Polonnaruwa-Colombo by night, hence I saw there is a bus leaving at 19h and another 21h.
    Do you think the landscape is worthwhile to do this journey by day?
    Iam already doing Ella-Kandy by train, by day of course 🙂
    Cheers,
    Dani
    Portugal

    Reply
    • Hi Daniella,

      In my opinion the Polonnaruwa-Colombo train trip is not the most scenic one in Sri Lanka. I would say that taking the night bus is a very good option. The most scenic train trips in Sri Lanka are Ella-Kandy and Colombo-Kandy.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  12. What a great write-up! I used to live in Sri Lanka (and return every year for a mont) as a child and was just doing research for my blog and your blog has the best info on Polonnaruwa.

    Reply
    • Cool! Thank you so much, Doria! Lucky you that return to beautiful Sri Lanka every year, I so want to do that too. 🙂 Sri Lanka has become our favorite Asian country. We just spent three weeks there, our second trip to Sri Lanka, and loved it just as much this time.

      Happy traveling!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  13. Great post guys…amazing …Thanks for bring back the history of Sri Lanka in this post. The history itself still living within this ancient ruins of Sri Lanka. The pictures are so realistic.

    Reply
  14. Hi Maria,

    It is a wonderful blog and very informative. Only shortcoming is if you could have shared the duration it took you to explore the kingdom, it would have been a perfect one :-). Apart from it, the blog is useful to tourists and locals.
    Thanks for the good work

    All the very best

    Reply
    • Hi Braveen,

      Thank you so much! Glad to hear that you like our blog and find is useful!

      We have been to Sri Lanka twice. The first time was in February/ March in 2014 when we travelled around this beautiful country for four weeks. The second time was just a few weeks ago, in February 2017, when we travelled around Sri Lanka with my parents for three weeks.

      We really love Sri Lanka and have already started planning our next visit.

      Happy travels!

      -Maria-

      Reply
      • Hi Maria,

        Nice to get a reply from you 🙂 and I am so happy that my country has attracted you a lot that made you do two trips and plan the next one :-). So what are the places in Sri Lanka that has made you to visit over and over again ? 🙂 Have you been to Jaffna ? If not please pay a visit and try all authentic Jaffna dishes. I was there last weekend and loved the food 🙂

        Have a good day and enjoy traveling 🙂

        Braveen

        Reply
        • Hi again Braveen,

          We have actually not been to the north part of Sri Lanka yet. Jaffna is definitely on our list for our next Sri Lanka trip! I have heard so many great things about Jaffna, it looks beautiful. Thanks for the tip about Jaffna dishes, I love trying local authentic food wherever we go. Sri Lankan rice and curry is my favorite.

          We love the beaches and coastline of Sri Lanka, so we will definitely travel more on the east coast on our next trip. We want to visit the Trincomalee area.

          Have a great day! Maybe we`ll see your around in Sri Lanka some day! 🙂 You are lucky that live in such a beautiful country!

          -Maria-

          Reply
          • Hi Maria,

            Sorry for replying so late. For some reason I missed your reply I guess. Trincomalee is good and try Batticaloa and Arugam Bay. You can surf in Arugam Bay. Anyway those areas are popular for sea food and I am sure you all will love it but keep in mind that east coast experiences lot of cyclones as you get cyclones in Bay of Bengal. So avoid rainy season when you travel to east.

            Sure !!! When you visit, we should catch up 🙂 If you need any help in booking hotels or knowing anything, please feel free to drop me a message 🙂

            Regards
            Braveen

  15. Thank you for sharing your experience Maria. This is really helping me a lot in planning my trip to SL in few weeks. I do travel lot and this is my first time to SL. Hope everything will go as planned. Waiting for more updates about places from you and wishing you all the very best for your upcoming trips.
    Cheers, Matthew Moses

    Reply
    • Hi Matthew,

      Thank you! Glad our blog could be of help to you when planning your Sri Lankan trip!

      Have a great trip to SL! I`m sure you will love this beautiful country!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  16. Hi there! We are planning to visit Sri Lanka in July with 2 kids 5 and 3 yo. We will go Dambulla for 3 days and then to the east coast. I read about mosquitoes. Do you have some tips to protect especially the kids. Are there certain hours that we should avoid? Did you feel safe? Any advice or do we need to avoid certain areas? Many thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Claudia,

      Sri Lanka is a safe country and we felt very safe. Sri Lanka actually has no malaria or at least they told us when we landed at Colombo international airport. There are big signs at the airport stating that Sri Lanka is malaria free now due to a governmental effort. The mosquitos do have dengue fever though.

      The mosquitos are most active in the evening, so use mosquito repellent and cover up your kids with long sleeved shirts and trousers in the evening. The mosquitos don`t like air condition, so either book rooms with air condition or use a mosquito net over your beds at nights.

      You should not worry, Sri Lanka is a very safe and welcoming country with lovely people!

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka in July!

      -Maria-

      Reply
    • Thank you so much, Chandana!! We love Polonnaruwa, you are so lucky that live in such a beautiful country!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  17. I just read everything you wrote on your Sri Lanka trip and I love it Maria! Makes me want to go! I’m actually planning a trip with my family, which includes our 3 kids, youngest is 7! Wondering if you would advise train trip? I would love to make the same train trip, but not sure if I should with kids? Any way you can book seats ahead, to be sure you have a seat? Any special “tourist” trains? Sceneries must be amazing. And have you been to Galle? If so, would you have (more) information to share …. thank you so much ?

    Reply
    • Hi Machlien,

      Thank you so much! Happy to hear that you find our blog and articles inspiring and useful!

      The train trip from Ella to Kandy (or the other way around) is about 7 hours, so it might be too long for your kids. But you can do only a part of this train trip. I highly recommend the Nanuoya (Nuwara Eliya city) to Ella section, which takes about 3 hours. This is the most spectacular part with amazing view over the green and lush tea plantation landscape. Or you can do the train ride from Kandy to Nanuoya (4 hours).

      If you do go to Ella, I recommend taking your children hiking the Little Adam`s Peak.

      Other nice and short train trips in Sri Lanka with amazing scenery are:
      – Colombo to Galle which goes along the south west coastline, 2,5 hours (express train)
      – Colombo to Kandy with great view of the mountains and tea plantations, 3 hours

      Yes, you can book seats on 1st and 2nd class on all trains.

      You can find train times here:
      http://eservices.railway.gov.lk/schedule/homeAction.action?lang=en

      We have been to Galle three times, last time in February this year, and we love Galle! You can read about Galle here: https://nerdnomads.com/galle

      Safari is also a great experience in Sri Lanka, which I`m sure your kids will love! We have been to both Udawalawe and Yala National Park and it was great.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka with your family!! I`m sure you will love this beautiful country!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  18. Hi Maria
    your blog is fantastic and we are reading through it all in preparation for our trip in November. we are doing a round trip from Colombo to Kandy to trincomalee then down to Bentota. we had thought to do polonnaruwala on the way to trinco from Kandy but from your blog I’m not sure we’ll have time to do it all if we dont get there until around lunchtime, what would you advise?
    Annette

    Reply
    • Hi Annette,

      Thank you so much!

      We had a whole day sightseeing the ruins of the Ancient City Polonnaruwa. But we went bicycling around the ruins. If you rent a taxi that drives you between the ancient temples, the transportation will of course take less time. And you don`t have to see all the old temples either like we did.

      I would say that it is worth the stop at Polonnaruwa on your way to Trincomalee even if you only get there around lunchtime. The ancient city closes at 6 pm so you will have some hours to see the temples.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  19. Hello. This article is very informative. Nice. Planning to go here in October. Colombo to Kandy then in Polonnaruwa. Your article is inspiring. Can I ask like how many hours it took? Is half day okay?
    Also any idea on how much transportation will cost from Kandy to Polonnaruwa?

    Thanks a lot!

    Reply
    • Hi Adel,

      Thank you so much! We had a full day in Polonnaruwa (two nights). We are not morning persons and went to the temple grounds around 11/12 a.m. and spent about 5-6 hours there. We rented bicycles. The ancient city opens at 7:30 in the morning and closes 6 p.m. in the afternoon. I think half a day is enough.

      Sorry, I don`t know how much it cost from Kandy to Polonnaruwa.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka and enjoy Polonnaruwa!

      Reply
    • Hello Adel

      I suggest you .. first travel Colombo to Polonaruwa by train ,it take 6 h
      then take bus to kandy. its less cost
      when you take taxi i think fare around up to 10k (i don’t know actual fare )
      then get train kandy to ella (beaus it is best train ride in SL)

      Reply
      • Thank you Malinda! Our friend from SriLanka referred us to his friend for the transpo. Would be around 40K LKR for 4 days, 3 nights transpo – from airport to Kandy to Polonnaruwa including going to all the destinations we want to go to. We cannot travel by train, we have so many luggages. Coming from another trip before Sri Lanka 🙂
        Thank you though.

        Reply
        • Hello Adel

          I think that fare is little bit over, but its reasonable. Because “he agreed for going to every destination you want ”

          Its mean you have save lots of money for taxi and tuk tuk.

          Another reason is lots of luggage.

          I wish you have a safe journey.

          Reply
  20. Hello!

    I love this post. I am planning to go to Sri Lanka by December and have added the city in my list. How much did you spend for touring all 10 places? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi,

      Thank you so much! Cool, you will love Polonnaruwa! The ancient temples are amazing. We paid us$ 25 for the entrance ticket to the ancient city which gives you access to all the temples. We rented cheap bicycles in the city and cycled around between the temples, so the transportation was quite cheap for us. It will probably be more expensive with a tuk-tuk or taxi.

      Have a great time in Polonnaruwa and Sri Lanka!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  21. Hello Maria,

    Nice to see so many posts and comments. Your insight is quite good for a read.

    I need a suggestion.

    Would it be possible to complete the visit to and around the ruins in half a days time ?…like maybe from 2 pm to 6 pm? by bicycles.

    And how far are the ruins from the central bus stand of polonnuwara?

    Reply
  22. Hi Girish,

    Thank you so much!

    Yes, it is possible to see the ancient city of Polonnaruwa in half a day, it closes at 6 pm. We spent about six hours in the ancient city, from about 11/12 till 6 pm. You may not have time to see all of the ruins in four hours, at least if you bicycle between them since this also takes time, but you will have time to see most of them. If you really want to see all of the ruins and temples you should consider hiring a tuk-tuk or taxi instead of bicycles.

    The bus stop in Polonnaruwa is about an hour walk from the ruins, the same with the railway station. It is, however, easy to grab a taxi or tuk-tuk to drive you to the entrance of the ruins.

    Have a great trip to Polonnaruwa!

    -Maria-

    Reply
  23. Hi Maria
    Thank you for a very informative post! I visited Polonnaruwa last month for the first time and we had a guide to explain all the sites to us. But reading your post I understand so much better. Thank you so much for visiting my country and writing about it.

    Reply
    • Hi Priyanthi,

      Awwwww, thank you sooooo much!!! Really appreciate it coming from a local Sri Lankan! I`m really glad to hear that you had a wonderful time in Polonnaruwa, it is such a great place with a fascinating history. We have fallen in love with your beautiful country and can`t wait to come back to Sri Lanka!

      Happy travels! 🙂

      -Maria-

      Reply
  24. This is one of the best articles I saw, written about Polonnaruwa.But I am not sure if Cholas had founded this kingdom before Sinhalese kings.What I learned at the school was that the king Vijayabahu 1 chose Polonnaruwa as the royal capital after defeating the chola invaders because this was a much safer location than Anuradhapura.And also after Polonnaruwa the capital was shifted to Dambadeniya, which is located in the Kurunegala district in the north western province.All in all I like the way you have used the language to write this article.I really enjoyed reading it and got a lot of knowledge.Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hi Jeewan,

      Thank you so much! You made my day with your nice comment!

      You are probably right about Cholas and the Shinhalese kings, and the capitals of Sri Lanka. I did unfortunately not learn much about the history of Sri Lanka at school in Norway. Thanks for this historic information!!

      We love Sri Lanka! It is such a beautiful country! Can`t wait to come back.

      -Maria-

      Reply
  25. Hi Maria and Espen,
    Loved your review of Polonnaruwa city. My friend and I are about to embark on a holiday to Sri Lanka. Whilst the group we are travelling with allows for your own activities and exploration they also have an option to take their tour upon arrival. I am less keen to do this as I prefer to explore by myself. I assume the transport for our group will deliver us to the musueum/entry?? but not sure. If this is the case, is there any opportunity there or close by to rent bicycles or a tuk tuk?

    Reply
    • Hi Rebecca,

      Thank you so much! The city center of Polonnaruwa is not that far from the entry to the Ancient City, so you can walk there and rent bicycles or hire a tuk-tuk driver to drive you around the temples of the ancient city. A lot of places rent out bicycles so you will have no problem finding one.

      Have a great time in Sri Lanka and enjoy the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  26. Great description guys! It’s really good of you post such a descriptive article. Keep trotting!! Cheers!

    Reply
  27. Hi Maria,

    I really liked the blog post. We are heading to Sri Lanka tomorrow evening for 2 weeks and we are planning on going to Polonaruwa on our third day. We are planning to do a day trip there as we will be staying in a hotel an hour away and I was wondering if there are places for lunch around there?

    Thank you!

    Heloise

    Reply
    • Hi Heloise,

      Thank you so much! Lucky you who are going to Sri Lanka tomorrow! There are no restaurants or cafes inside the ancient city of Polonnaruwa where all the ruins are. But the Polonnaruwa town is just a short walk away with plenty of places to have lunch.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka and enjoy Polonnaruwa!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  28. Lovely article. Me and my friends discover the place like this. But one of the most important place you missed and should be on the top of the list. I also guess you didn’t go there or didn’t know about it. Its the “Tivanka pilima geya” or Image House. You will find the structure is still good and there are so many artistic drawings like in sigiriya. Outside you will find many carvings and I think its the best out of everything.

    Reply
    • Hi Ravi,

      Thank you so much! And thanks a million for the great tip about the “Tivanka pilima geya”. We have unfortunately not been there yet, but will definitely check it out on our next Sri Lankan trip. It sounds awesome! We loved Sigiriya.

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      -Maria-

      Reply
  29. Thank you for this Travellers’ guide by travellers. I would certainly make this a place in my itinerary when visiting the land of my forefathers..Sri Lanka.

    Reply
    • Hi Arulanandam,

      Thank you so much! Wow, so cool that your family originally comes from Sri Lanka! It is such an amazing country, you will love it! The people are so welcoming and friendly, and the culture and history of the country are truly fascinating.

      All the best,
      Maria

      Reply
    • Hi,

      Thank you so much! Yes, as long as the dress/ skirt is below the knee, you will be fine are allowed to go into the temples. You must also cover your shoulders (wear a t-shirt or a scarf that you wrap around your shoulders). I was not properly dressed in my short shorts and a tank top, bad research of me. 🙂 So I could unfortunately not enter all the temples, just some of the ruins that were not temples.

      -Maria-

      Reply
  30. Hi Maria,

    Thanks for the informative blog. Just wondering what the food options were like in Polonnaruwa, including during the day when you were visiting the temples?

    Many thanks,
    Bonnie

    Reply
    • Hi Bonnie,

      Thank you so much! There are plenty of great restaurants and cafes in Polonnaruwa City, both at the many hotels but also regular restaurants where both tourists and locals are welcomed. You will be able to find both Sri Lankan food (rice and curry) and western food (pasta, pizza, lasagne, hamburgers, and so on) in Polonnaruwa.

      As for the old/ ancient part of Polonnaruwa, where the museum and the ancient temples and ruins are, there are no big restaurants or cafes. About halfway around the temple area (the temples are along a long road), however, there are toilets and an area of refreshment stalls where you can buy something to drink and some food. Or you can bring some snacks like nuts, fruits, and biscuits like we did and have a little picknick along the way. The toilets for foreigners are clean and in reasonably good condition. There are also some toilets at the exit of the ancient city area.

      You have to take off your shoes/ sandals and hat when entering the temples. So socks are recommended when entering the temples as it can be very hot underfoot and the temple floors are rocky, dusty and dirty. Don’t forget to bring water, sun cream, mosquito repellent, and bear in mind that you have to cover your shoulders and knees if you want to go inside the temples. So no sleeveless shirts or shorts. I wore shorts and a singlet and were unfortunately not allowed to enter the main temples. Also, the sun is pretty strong during the day, so wear a hat or cap. I bought a funny looking hat made of bamboo straws at one of the souvenir stalls inside the ancient city area.

      -Maria-

      Reply
  31. Wow maria, wonderful narration about my home , simply you are detailing about polonnaruwa it is contains valuable information. And your comical writing style made me laugh. Thank you maria. I’m udaya from SL

    Reply
    • Hi Udaya,

      Thank you so much!! Really appreciate your kind words, especially since you are from Sri Lanka!! It means a lot!

      All the best!
      -Maria-

      Reply
  32. Hi,

    Great overview of the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa. We visited it back in 2012 and looking at your page brought it all back. I especially like some of your pictures. They are well taken and very clear. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Best regards,
    Tom & Marie-Claire

    Reply
    • Hi Tom and Marie-Claire,

      Thank you so much! The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa is fantastic! We have unfortunately not been to the other Ancient City of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura, but plan on heading there this autumn.

      You beat us by two years, hehe, we first visited Sri Lanka in 2014. 🙂 If you haven´t been back in Sri Lanka since 2012, it has changed over the years, especially on the southwest coast where big resorts have been built. There are also a lot more tourists in Sri Lanka now compared to 2012.

      Happy travels! 🙂
      -Maria-

      Reply
    • Thanks a million, Gunasena! ????❤️ I love Sri Lanka, it is my favorite country. Can’t wait to be back in Sri Lanka around Christmas!

      -Maria-

      Reply
        • Hi Sewwandi,

          Thank you so much! I really appreciate it! ????❤️ You are so lucky who live in the fantastic and beautiful Sri Lanka, my no. 1 favorite country! I can’t wait to come back to Sri Lanka, hopefully at the end of this year or early 2020.

          All the best,
          Maria

          Reply
  33. Hi Maria,

    I love your website! We have literally planned our whole two week trip in sri lanka from reading your articles 🙂

    I have a question about the ‘what to wear?’ You mention women should cover up but in all the photos you are in shorts and vest. Do you reckon you were okay in just shorts? i’m only asking as currently packing my bags…

    Reply
    • Hi Phoebe,

      Thank you so much! Awesome that you are finding our articles on Sri Lanka useful when planning your two week trip to Sri Lanka!

      As for temples, you have to wear a skirt, trousers or shorts that cover your knees, and a top/ t-shirt that covers your shoulders. So I made a HUGE mistake when visiting the Ancient part of Polonnaruwa city, as I was wearing shorts and a tank top. Therefore, I sadly could not enter all the buildings in the Ancient city of Polonnaruwa, and had to admire the temples from outside. I should have done a better job in my research.

      But now I have learned and I always wear a t-shirt and put some light trousers or a light skirt with me in my handbag that I put on over my shorts when entering temples.

      As for the rest of Sri Lanka (walking on the streets, going on a safari trip, and on the beaches) you can wear whatever you want – shorts, short skirts, bikini, bathing suit and whatever.

      Have a fantastic trip to Sri Lanka!!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  34. Thanks for this great article. Appreciate your great attitude of admiring and respecting the culture, which some of even our people forget. This is really valuable.

    Reply

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