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Arriving In The Ancient City Of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Davine Murphy



Polonnaruwa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a fascinating ancient city located in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. Known for its rich history, magnificent ruins, and impressive architecture, Polonnaruwa offers visitors a unique glimpse into the country’s storied past.


Originally established as the capital of Sri Lanka in the 11th century, Polonnaruwa played a prominent role in shaping the island’s cultural and political landscape. It flourished under the reign of various Sinhalese kings and became a thriving center of commerce and religious activity.


Today, Polonnaruwa stands as a testament to the grandeur and sophistication of ancient Sri Lankan civilization. Its well-preserved archaeological sites, including temples, statues, and palaces, provide an awe-inspiring glimpse into the past.


Travelers who visit Polonnaruwa will find themselves transported back in time as they wander through the ruins, imagining what life was like centuries ago. The site’s historical and cultural significance, coupled with its picturesque setting near the shores of the iconic Parakrama Samudra lake, makes it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts, archaeology buffs, and nature lovers alike.


Whether exploring the fascinating remains of the Royal Palace, marveling at the ancient Buddhist temples, or simply soaking in the serene atmosphere, a visit to Polonnaruwa promises to be a memorable and enriching experience.


Join us as we embark on a journey through the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, uncovering its hidden gems, unraveling its intriguing history, and discovering why it continues to captivate visitors from around the world.


History of Polonnaruwa

The history of Polonnaruwa dates back to the 11th century, when it was established as the capital of Sri Lanka by King Vijayabahu I. This marked a shift in power from Anuradhapura, the previous capital, which had succumbed to constant South Indian invasions.


Under the reign of King Vijayabahu I, Polonnaruwa became a fortress city, strategically located to fend off invasions from foreign powers. Its fortified walls and moats were a symbol of the kingdom’s strength and determination to protect its people.


However, it was during the reign of King Parakramabahu I that Polonnaruwa reached its zenith. Known as one of Sri Lanka’s greatest kings, Parakramabahu I transformed Polonnaruwa into a flourishing city with extensive infrastructure and architectural marvels.


He constructed the massive Parakrama Samudra, an irrigation system consisting of interconnected reservoirs, canals, and embankments that provided water for agricultural purposes. This engineering feat not only ensured the prosperity of the city but also solidified Parakramabahu I’s reputation as a visionary leader.


With the decline of Polonnaruwa’s power in the 13th century, the ancient city fell into obscurity and was eventually abandoned. The ruins remained hidden beneath dense vegetation until its rediscovery in the 19th century by British archaeologists.


Today, the ruins of Polonnaruwa stand as a testament to the grandeur and sophistication of the ancient civilization that once thrived there. The site is a treasure trove of archaeological wonders, including intricately carved temples, colossal statues, royal palaces, and well-preserved structures that offer a glimpse into the city’s past glory.


Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Polonnaruwa has become a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from all over the world. Its historical significance, combined with its scenic beauty and serene atmosphere, make it a captivating place to explore and learn about Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage.


As you wander through the ruins of Polonnaruwa, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe and wonder at the architectural marvels and the stories they tell. Each stone and carving is a testament to the city’s glorious history, offering a window into the lives of those who lived and prospered there centuries ago.


Getting to Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa is conveniently located in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, making it easily accessible for travelers. Here are the main modes of transportation to reach this ancient city:

  1. By Air: The closest international airport to Polonnaruwa is Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, which is approximately 225 kilometers away. From the airport, you can either hire a taxi or take a domestic flight to Sigiriya. From Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa is just a one-hour drive.
  2. By Train: Another popular option is to take a train from Colombo to Polonnaruwa. The journey takes approximately 4-5 hours and offers stunning views of the countryside. Trains are comfortable and have different classes to choose from, including air-conditioned compartments. Once you arrive at the Polonnaruwa Railway Station, you can hire a tuk-tuk or taxi to reach the archaeological site.
  3. By Bus: Buses to Polonnaruwa are available from major cities like Colombo, Kandy, and Anuradhapura. The bus journey may take longer than other modes of transportation but offers a more affordable option. The Polonnaruwa Bus Station is located near the city center, and from there, you can find local transportation or hire a tuk-tuk to reach the archaeological site.

Once you reach Polonnaruwa, it is easy to navigate around the city and its attractions. Tuk-tuks are a popular mode of transport, and you can easily find them near major hotels or at the entrance of the archaeological site. Alternatively, you can rent a bicycle from one of the rental shops in the city and explore the ancient ruins at your own pace.


Keep in mind that the best time to visit Polonnaruwa is during the dry season, which lasts from May to September. The weather is pleasant, and the site is less crowded compared to the peak tourist season. It is also advisable to start your visit early in the day to avoid the heat and make the most of your time exploring the historical wonders of Polonnaruwa.


With its accessibility and various transportation options, reaching Polonnaruwa is a straightforward and enjoyable experience. Whether you choose to travel by air, train, or bus, you are sure to be captivated by the ancient city’s rich history and architectural wonders.


Main Attractions in Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa is renowned for its magnificent archaeological sites and historical landmarks, offering visitors a captivating journey through the ancient city’s past. Here are some of the main attractions that should not be missed when exploring Polonnaruwa:

  1. Polonnaruwa Archaeological Museum: Start your visit by immersing yourself in the rich history and cultural heritage of Polonnaruwa at the Archaeological Museum. The museum showcases a collection of artifacts, sculptures, and inscriptions, providing valuable insights into the city’s ancient civilization.
  2. Polonnaruwa Vatadage: A highlight of the ancient city, the Polonnaruwa Vatadage is a circular relic house that once enshrined the sacred relics of the Buddha. Adorned with intricate stone carvings and beautiful moonstones, the Vatadage reflects the exceptional craftsmanship of ancient Sri Lankan artisans.
  3. Parakrama Samudra: This massive man-made reservoir, built by King Parakramabahu I, is not only a marvel of engineering but also a scenic attraction. The calm waters of Parakrama Samudra create a serene setting and offer opportunities for boat rides and enjoying breathtaking sunsets.
  4. Gal Vihara: Recognized as one of the finest examples of ancient Sinhalese rock carving, Gal Vihara houses four colossal Buddha statues carved into a single granite rock face. The intricate details and serene expressions of the statues make it a must-visit site for art enthusiasts and spiritual seekers.
  5. Rankoth Vehera: As one of the largest stupas in Sri Lanka, Rankoth Vehera is an impressive structure that dominates the Polonnaruwa skyline. Climb to the top for panoramic views of the ancient city and its surrounding landscapes.
  6. Lankathilaka Image House: This unique structure showcases the architectural brilliance of the Polonnaruwa era. The Lankathilaka Image House once housed a towering Buddha statue, and its intricately carved walls and pillars offer a glimpse into the city’s artistic achievements.
  7. Ancient City Walls and Gates: Take a walk along the fortifications of the ancient city to marvel at the well-preserved walls and gates. The impressive architecture and strategic design of the city’s defenses provide a tangible connection to the past.

Exploring these main attractions in Polonnaruwa will transport you back in time and allow you to appreciate the depth of Sri Lanka’s history and cultural heritage. Each site offers a glimpse into the city’s past glory and is a testament to the architectural and artistic achievements of the ancient civilization that thrived there.


Remember to allocate enough time to fully explore each attraction and to capture the beauty and significance of the ruins. Immerse yourself in the ambiance, admire the intricate carvings, and imagine the grandeur that once filled the ancient streets of Polonnaruwa.


Polonnaruwa Archaeological Museum

The Polonnaruwa Archaeological Museum is an essential stop for history enthusiasts and anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the ancient city’s rich cultural heritage. Located within the archaeological complex, the museum houses a diverse collection of artifacts, sculptures, and inscriptions that offer valuable insights into the past.


The museum provides visitors with a well-curated and informative journey through the history and archaeology of Polonnaruwa. It showcases a wide range of exhibits, including statues of deities and kings, intricately carved stone works, ancient coins, pottery, and much more.


One of the highlights of the museum is the impressive collection of stone inscriptions, which provide crucial historical information and decipher the stories inscribed on the ancient ruins found throughout the city. These inscriptions offer insights into the political, religious, and cultural aspects of the ancient kingdom.


The museum’s exhibits are organized in a way that tells the story of Polonnaruwa’s rise and fall, giving visitors a chronological understanding of the city’s evolution. The displays are accompanied by informative descriptions and labels, making it easy to comprehend the significance of each artifact.


Visitors are also treated to detailed models and reconstructions that showcase the layout and architecture of the ancient city during its peak. These interactive exhibits help visitors visualize the grandeur of Polonnaruwa and gain a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of its planning and design.


Additionally, the museum offers audio guides and informative documentaries that further enrich the visitor experience. These resources provide additional context and create a more immersive and educational visit to the museum.


Whether you are a history buff or simply curious about the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, a visit to the Polonnaruwa Archaeological Museum is a must. It offers a comprehensive and engaging overview of the city’s past, allowing you to delve deeper into the lives and achievements of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization that once thrived there.


Take your time exploring the museum, absorbing the knowledge it imparts, and capturing the essence of Polonnaruwa’s captivating history. The Polonnaruwa Archaeological Museum is a treasure trove of artifacts and insights that will leave you with a newfound appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of this remarkable ancient city.


Polonnaruwa Vatadage

The Polonnaruwa Vatadage is a fascinating architectural marvel and one of the most important religious sites in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. It is a circular relic house that once enshrined the sacred relics of the Buddha, making it a significant pilgrimage site for Buddhists.


The Vatadage is a striking example of the superb craftsmanship and intricate stone carvings that were prevalent during the Polonnaruwa era. Its circular design is believed to symbolize the never-ending cycle of life and the continuous pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.


Approaching the Vatadage, visitors are greeted by a moonstone at the entrance, featuring elaborate carvings representing various aspects of Buddhist teachings. As you step inside, you will be awestruck by the intricate guard stones and the beautifully carved stone pillars that encircle the stupa.


The centerpiece of the Vatadage is the dagoba, a stupa-like structure that houses the sacred relics. The dagoba is adorned with intricate stone carvings and decorative motifs, showcasing the exceptional artistic skills of the ancient craftsmen.


Surrounding the dagoba, you will find four Buddha statues, each placed facing one of the cardinal directions. These statues, which are remarkably well-preserved, display different mudras (hand gestures) and serene expressions, inspiring a sense of tranquility and reverence.


The outermost sandakada pahana, or moonstone, is considered a masterpiece of ancient Sri Lankan artistry. It is a semicircular stone carving with intricate patterns and symbolic representations that depict the Buddhist concept of samsara.


The Polonnaruwa Vatadage is not just an architectural wonder but also a site of religious and spiritual significance. Visitors can witness devout Buddhists engaging in prayer and offerings, creating a serene and sacred atmosphere.


Exploring the Polonnaruwa Vatadage allows visitors to appreciate the profound influence of Buddhism on the ancient city’s culture and architecture. The serene ambiance, the ornate carvings, and the spiritual significance make it a must-visit destination for those seeking a deeper connection with Sri Lanka’s religious heritage.


As you wander around the Vatadage, take your time to admire the intricate stone carvings, reflect on the religious significance of the site, and soak up the peaceful atmosphere. The Polonnaruwa Vatadage is a testament to the ancient city’s grandeur and serves as a reminder of the enduring influence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.


Parakrama Samudra

Parakrama Samudra, meaning “Sea of King Parakramabahu,” is a remarkable man-made reservoir that stands as a testament to the engineering prowess of ancient Sri Lanka. Constructed during the reign of King Parakramabahu the Great in the 12th century, the reservoir served as a vital water source for agricultural purposes and played a crucial role in the prosperity of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.


Spanning an area of over 12,000 acres, Parakrama Samudra is one of the largest ancient reservoirs in the country. It was strategically designed to capture and store water from nearby rivers during the monsoon season, ensuring a steady water supply for agriculture throughout the year.


One of the most striking features of Parakrama Samudra is its vast expanse of calm and serene waters, which create a picturesque backdrop against the surrounding lush greenery. The reservoir is also home to numerous species of birds and other wildlife, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers.


Visitors to Parakrama Samudra can indulge in various activities to fully appreciate its beauty and significance. Boat rides along the reservoir allow you to experience the tranquility of the surroundings and absorb the stunning views of the distant mountains and the ancient cityscape.


Sunset boat rides are particularly popular, as they offer a breathtaking display of colors as the sun dips below the horizon, painting the sky in hues of gold and orange. This magical experience creates a serene and romantic atmosphere, perfect for capturing memorable photographs.


In addition to boat rides, visitors can also explore the walking paths and cycling trails that run alongside Parakrama Samudra. These pathways provide a chance to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the area and encounter glimpses of local life, as you pass by farmers working in nearby fields or children playing along the banks of the reservoir.


The serene ambiance and scenic beauty of Parakrama Samudra make it an ideal spot for relaxation and contemplation. Many visitors find solace in sitting along its shores, taking in the peaceful surroundings and reflecting on the centuries of history that have unfolded in its presence.


As you visit Polonnaruwa, a visit to Parakrama Samudra is highly recommended. Whether you choose to explore the reservoir by boat, walk along its banks, or simply sit and absorb the tranquility of the surroundings, Parakrama Samudra offers a serene escape from the bustling archaeological site and an opportunity to connect with nature and the rich history of Sri Lanka. 

Gal Vihara

Gal Vihara, also known as the Rock Temple, is a remarkable Buddhist site located within the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. It is renowned for its magnificent rock-carved statues that showcase exceptional craftsmanship and artistic mastery.


The Gal Vihara complex contains four colossal Buddha statues, each hewn from a single granite rock face. These statues are considered some of the finest examples of ancient Sinhalese rock carving and represent the peak of artistic achievement during the Polonnaruwa era.


The largest statue at Gal Vihara is the standing Buddha, known as the Samadhi Statue. It stands at an impressive height of 7 meters and showcases the serene expression associated with deep meditation. The statue is accompanied by intricately carved lotus petals at its feet, symbolizing purity and enlightenment.


The second statue is a seated Buddha, known as the Dhyana Statue, which exudes a sense of tranquility and introspection. The deeply carved facial features and crossed legs depict the posture of meditation, inviting visitors to reflect and find inner peace.


Adjacent to the seated Buddha is the reclining Buddha, known as the Parinirvana Statue. This statue measures over 14 meters in length and represents the passing of the Buddha into Nirvana. The serene expression and intricate details of the statue make it a captivating sight.


The final statue is a smaller standing Buddha, known as the Vidyhadhara Statue. This figure, with its delicate features and graceful posture, portrays the wisdom and knowledge that the Buddha embodies.


As you wander through the Gal Vihara complex, you can marvel at the precision and skill with which these statues were carved. The rich details, the serene expressions, and the lifelike proportions of each figure are a testament to the ancient artisans’ mastery of their craft.


The Gal Vihara complex also features a cave shelter, known as the Image House, which once housed a sacred relic or served as a place of worship. The interior of the Image House is adorned with beautiful paintings and ancient inscriptions that depict scenes from Buddhist literature and mythology.


A visit to Gal Vihara offers not only a glimpse into the artistic accomplishments of the past but also a chance to experience the spiritual and contemplative atmosphere that surrounds these ancient rock-carved statues.


As you stand before the majestic Gal Vihara statues, you cannot help but be awestruck by the sheer magnificence and the profound impact of these timeless works of art. The Gal Vihara is an essential stop on any visit to Polonnaruwa, offering a profound connection to the ancient Buddhist heritage and leaving a lasting impression on all who visit.


Rankoth Vehera

Rankoth Vehera, standing tall as one of the most iconic landmarks in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, is a magnificent stupa that commands attention with its grandeur and imposing presence. As one of the largest stupas in Sri Lanka, Rankoth Vehera is a testament to the architectural prowess of the Polonnaruwa era.


This massive brick structure rises to a height of nearly 55 meters, making it a prominent feature on the Polonnaruwa skyline. Its symmetrical shape and towering proportions are a testament to the precision and engineering skills of the ancient architects and builders.


As you approach Rankoth Vehera, you will be struck by its white exterior, gleaming brilliantly under the sun’s rays. The stupa is adorned with carefully placed decorative elements, including intricate carvings, statues, and moonstones, further enhancing its visual appeal.


Ascending to the top of Rankoth Vehera offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding area, allowing visitors to appreciate the sprawling landscape of Polonnaruwa and the vastness of the ancient city. It is a perfect vantage point from which to soak in the historical significance and natural beauty of the region.


Rankoth Vehera holds immense religious significance for Buddhists, as it is believed to enshrine sacred relics of the Buddha. Devotees and visitors can witness devotees making offerings and performing religious rituals at this revered site, creating a spiritual ambiance.


Surrounding the stupa’s base, you’ll find a circular path where visitors can walk, meditate, or offer prayers. This area is adorned with beautiful floral arrangements, adding to the serene atmosphere of the site.


Whether you are a history enthusiast, a religious pilgrim, or simply someone seeking a peaceful space, Rankoth Vehera offers a captivating experience. It transports you back in time, immersing you in the ancient wonders of Polonnaruwa and allowing you to connect with the spirituality and cultural heritage of the site.


Take your time to explore Rankoth Vehera, to circumambulate the stupa, and to absorb the tranquil ambiance. Whether gazing up at its majestic structure or marveling at the intricate details, Rankoth Vehera is sure to leave a lasting impression and a sense of awe at the grandeur of ancient Sri Lankan architecture and religious devotion.


Lankathilaka Image House

The Lankathilaka Image House is a remarkable structure that showcases the architectural brilliance of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. This iconic building, towering over 17 meters in height, is a testament to the grandeur and artistic finesse of the Polonnaruwa era.


The Lankathilaka Image House was once a shrine dedicated to worship and meditation. It is believed to have enshrined a colossal standing Buddha statue, which unfortunately no longer remains. However, the imposing structure and intricate carvings that adorn the walls and pillars still inspire awe and admiration.


Approaching the Lankathilaka Image House, you’ll be struck by the scale of the building, which showcases a blend of South Indian and Sri Lankan architectural styles. The exterior features exquisite stone carvings, depicting deities, celestial beings, and mythical creatures, showcasing the extraordinary craftsmanship of the ancient sculptors.


As you step inside, you’ll be enthralled by the vastness of the interior space and the remarkable stone pillars that support the structure. The walls are adorned with intricate carvings, depicting scenes from Buddhist mythology and legends, transporting visitors into a world of ancient stories and beliefs.


The highlight of the Lankathilaka Image House is the intricately carved stone staircase that leads to the upper level. As you ascend the staircase, take note of the exquisite detailing and the delicate balance of the stone steps.


From the upper level, visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, including the lush greenery of Polonnaruwa and the distant sights of other ancient ruins. This elevated perspective provides a unique opportunity to appreciate the scale and intricacy of the Lankathilaka Image House and its surroundings.


While the original purpose of the Lankathilaka Image House might have faded with time, the beauty and architectural brilliance of the structure continue to captivate all who visit. It stands as a testament to the artistic achievements of the ancient civilization that once thrived in Polonnaruwa.


A visit to the Lankathilaka Image House allows you to gain a deeper appreciation for the architectural wonders of the ancient city, as well as the cultural and religious influences that shaped the region. The intricate carvings, soaring heights, and serene atmosphere make it a must-visit site for history lovers, art enthusiasts, and those seeking a connection to Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage.


Ancient City Walls and Gates

The ancient city of Polonnaruwa is encircled by impressive fortifications that showcase the strategic planning and defensive prowess of its ancient builders. The city walls and gates of Polonnaruwa are an integral part of the city’s architectural heritage, serving as a testament to its grandeur and historical significance.


The city walls of Polonnaruwa extend for several kilometers, enclosing the heart of the ancient city. These massive walls were constructed using bricks and stone, showcasing the engineering skills and meticulous craftsmanship of the ancient Sri Lankan builders.


As you approach the city, you’ll be greeted by the majestic gates that were once the main entry points to Polonnaruwa. The four main gates, named after the cardinal directions, are a striking sight. Each gate is intricately designed and embellished with decorative elements, showcasing the intricate carvings and architectural elegance of the era.


The northernmost gate, known as the Atadage, is particularly notable for its historical significance. It was originally built to enshrine the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha before it was later moved to its current location in Kandy. Although the original structure has been lost to time, the remnants of its grandeur are still visible, offering glimpses of its past glory.


Walking along the city walls, you can admire the solid construction and appreciate the strategic location chosen for the ancient city. The walls were not only intended for defense but also provided a sense of security, contributing to the overall prosperity and well-being of the capital.


The city walls and gates transport visitors back in time, offering a tangible connection to the ancient civilization that once flourished in Polonnaruwa. As you stroll along the well-preserved sections, you can imagine the bustling streets, the vibrant markets, and the daily life that unfolded within the protective confines of the city walls.


The ancient city walls and gates of Polonnaruwa not only serve as a reminder of the city’s historical significance but also provide a picturesque backdrop for photography enthusiasts. The interplay of light and shadow, the weathered textures, and the lush surroundings create an enchanting atmosphere, offering endless opportunities for capturing memorable moments.


Visiting Polonnaruwa’s ancient city walls and gates is a must for anyone exploring the archaeological wonders of the site. It allows you to immerse yourself in the rich history of the region, appreciate the architectural prowess of the ancient builders, and envision the splendor of one of Sri Lanka’s most illustrious ancient capitals.


Cycling Around Polonnaruwa

Cycling is a popular and enjoyable way to explore the ancient city of Polonnaruwa and its surrounding areas. With its flat terrain and well-maintained roads, cycling offers the perfect mode of transportation to navigate through the historical ruins, scenic landscapes, and vibrant villages that make up this fascinating region.


Renting a bicycle in Polonnaruwa is relatively easy, with several rental shops available in the town. Once you have your bike, you can embark on an adventure that allows you to set your own pace, take detours, and fully immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of the ancient city.


As you pedal through the archaeological site of Polonnaruwa, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the iconic temples, royal palaces, and other historical landmarks. Cycling grants you the freedom to explore at a leisurely pace, pause when something catches your eye, and truly absorb the grandeur of the ancient city.


One of the highlights of cycling around Polonnaruwa is the ability to easily access the various attractions within the site. You can make stops at popular sites like the Polonnaruwa Vatadage, Gal Vihara, and Lankathilaka Image House, marveling at their architectural splendor and historical significance.


Along the way, you’ll also get a chance to interact with the friendly locals, who are often curious and welcoming towards cyclists exploring the area. This can provide unique insights into the local way of life and cultural traditions, adding to the overall experience of your journey.


Cycling beyond the archaeological site allows you to discover the enchanting landscapes surrounding Polonnaruwa. You can pedal through paddy fields, meandering paths, and rural villages, giving you a glimpse of the everyday lives of the locals and showcasing the natural beauty of the region.


Don’t miss the opportunity to cycle along the shores of the serene Parakrama Samudra lake or to venture further afield to explore stunning natural attractions like Minneriya National Park. This park is known for its elephant gatherings, where you can witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.


Before setting out on your cycling adventure, ensure you have a map or GPS navigation to help guide your route. Stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen and a hat. It is also recommended to start early in the day to avoid the midday heat.


Cycling around Polonnaruwa offers a unique and immersive experience, allowing you to fully appreciate the rich history, natural beauty, and local charm of this remarkable region. It provides a sense of freedom and allows you to create unforgettable memories as you pedal through time, exploring the wonders of the ancient city and its surrounds.


Wildlife in Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa is not just a treasure trove of historical and archaeological wonders, but also a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers. The region is teeming with diverse flora and fauna, creating a vibrant ecosystem that adds to the allure of this ancient city.


One of the main wildlife attractions in Polonnaruwa is the opportunity to witness the incredible elephant gatherings at nearby Minneriya National Park. During the dry season, usually from June to September, large herds of elephants gather around the Minneriya Tank to graze on the lush grass and drink from the water source. This phenomenon, known as “The Gathering,” is considered one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in Asia and offers a unique opportunity to get up close to these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.


Aside from elephants, Minneriya National Park is home to a wide range of wildlife species. Keep an eye out for spotted deer, sambar deer, buffalo, wild boar, and various species of birds. With an experienced guide, you can navigate through the park and increase your chances of spotting elusive creatures like leopards, sloth bears, and crocodiles.


Within the Polonnaruwa region itself, you can encounter a variety of bird species. The Parakrama Samudra lake, in particular, attracts numerous migratory birds during the winter months. With its tranquil setting and abundance of aquatic life, it provides an ideal habitat for birdwatching enthusiasts. Keep your binoculars handy to spot species such as painted storks, herons, cormorants, and kingfishers among others.


As you explore the countryside surrounding Polonnaruwa, you may come across monkeys swinging through the trees or scurrying along the roadside. Macaques and langur monkeys are commonly spotted, particularly in areas near forests and villages.


It is important to remember that wildlife should be observed with respect and from a safe distance. Always abide by the guidelines set by wildlife authorities and avoid disrupting their natural behavior or habitat.


For a truly immersive wildlife experience, consider embarking on early morning or evening safaris in Minneriya National Park or other nearby nature reserves. These guided adventures allow you to witness the beauty of the wildlife up close while learning about their behaviors and the efforts being made to protect them.


Whether you’re a nature lover, an avid birdwatcher, or simply seeking a connection with the wild, Polonnaruwa offers a unique opportunity to witness the incredible biodiversity of Sri Lanka. From elephants and birds to monkeys and reptiles, the region’s wildlife adds an exciting element to your visit, complementing the historical and cultural wonders of this ancient city.


Accommodation Options in Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa, being a popular tourist destination, offers a range of accommodation options to cater to the diverse needs and preferences of its visitors. Whether you’re looking for budget-friendly guesthouses or luxurious resorts, you’ll find a variety of choices to suit your preferences and budget.


For those seeking a more immersive experience, there are several guesthouses and homestays available in and around Polonnaruwa. These accommodations provide the opportunity to stay with local families, offering a glimpse into the daily life and culture of the region. They often provide comfortable rooms with basic amenities and warm hospitality, ensuring a memorable and authentic stay.


If you prefer a mid-range hotel, Polonnaruwa has a selection of options to choose from. These hotels offer comfortable rooms with modern amenities, such as air conditioning, private bathrooms, and Wi-Fi. Some may even have swimming pools, on-site restaurants, and spa facilities, providing a relaxing and convenient stay for travelers.


For those looking for a more luxurious experience, there are upscale resorts and boutique hotels available in and around Polonnaruwa. These properties offer spacious and elegantly furnished rooms, often accompanied by scenic views, lush gardens, and high-end amenities. Indulge in fine dining experiences, rejuvenate with spa treatments, and enjoy personalized services that cater to your every need.


As Polonnaruwa is a relatively compact city, most accommodations are conveniently located within close proximity to the archaeological sites and other attractions. This makes it easy for visitors to explore the ancient city and return to their lodgings with ease.


When choosing accommodation in Polonnaruwa, it is advisable to book in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons, to secure your desired choice. However, even in the high season, there are often last-minute options available.


Staying in Polonnaruwa allows you to fully immerse yourself in the historical and cultural ambiance of the city. After a day of exploring ancient ruins and captivating attractions, you can retreat to your accommodation and relax, knowing that you are well-placed to continue your exploration the following day.


No matter your budget or preferences, Polonnaruwa offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit every traveler. From budget-friendly guesthouses to luxurious resorts, finding a comfortable and convenient place to stay is not a challenge in this historically rich and fascinating city.


Dining and Food Options in Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa offers a diverse range of dining options, allowing visitors to indulge in delectable culinary experiences that showcase the flavors of Sri Lanka. From local cuisine to international favorites, there are plenty of choices to suit different palates and preferences.


When it comes to Sri Lankan cuisine, Polonnaruwa boasts an array of authentic eateries that serve traditional dishes bursting with flavor. You can savor fragrant rice and curry, a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine, with an assortment of flavorful curries, sambols, and accompaniments. Whether you prefer vegetarian or meat options, there are plenty of choices available, allowing you to sample local specialties such as hoppers, kottu roti, and string hoppers.


In addition to traditional Sri Lankan food, you can also find a variety of international cuisine options in Polonnaruwa. From Western-style cafes and bakeries to Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern restaurants, there are eateries catering to diverse tastes. Whether you’re craving pizza, sushi, or a hearty burger, you’re likely to find a restaurant that satisfies your cravings.


Many of the hotels and resorts in Polonnaruwa also have on-site restaurants that offer a fusion of local and international dishes. These establishments often provide a comfortable setting with scenic views, allowing you to enjoy a dining experience that combines great food with a relaxing ambiance.


For those looking to grab a quick bite or try local street food, there are numerous food stalls and small eateries scattered throughout the city. Here, you can indulge in popular street snacks like samosas, vadais, and fresh fruit juices, providing a burst of flavors to tantalize your taste buds.


When dining in Polonnaruwa, you can also experience traditional Sri Lankan hospitality. The warmth and friendliness of the locals add to the overall dining experience, making it even more enjoyable and memorable.


With the increasing number of tourists visiting Polonnaruwa, many restaurants and establishments are mindful of certain dietary restrictions and preferences. Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options are often available, ensuring that everyone can find something suitable to enjoy.


Whether you choose to dine in a fancy restaurant, indulge in street food, or embrace the local fare, Polonnaruwa offers a vibrant dining scene that caters to a range of tastes. So, prepare your taste buds for an adventure as you explore the flavors of this enchanting ancient city.


Tips for Visiting Polonnaruwa

Visiting Polonnaruwa, the ancient city of Sri Lanka, can be a truly captivating experience. To make the most of your visit and ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

  1. Plan your visit: Start by planning your itinerary and deciding which sites you want to explore within Polonnaruwa. The archaeological site is vast, so allocate enough time to thoroughly explore the main attractions and allow for some leisurely exploration as well.
  2. Wear appropriate clothing: As Polonnaruwa is a religious and historical site, it is important to dress modestly and respectfully. Ensure your shoulders and knees are covered while exploring the temples and religious structures.
  3. Stay hydrated: Polonnaruwa can get hot, so it is essential to stay hydrated. Carry a refillable water bottle with you and drink plenty of fluids throughout your visit. It is also advisable to wear a hat and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.
  4. Choose comfortable footwear: Exploring the archaeological site involves a fair amount of walking, so wear comfortable shoes that provide good support. You’ll be walking on uneven surfaces, so sturdy footwear is recommended.
  5. Bring insect repellent: Polonnaruwa is located in a tropical climate, which means there may be insects present. Apply insect repellent to protect yourself from mosquito bites, especially during dawn and dusk.
  6. Engage a knowledgeable guide: Consider hiring a knowledgeable guide to enhance your visit. They can provide valuable insights into the history and significance of the ancient city, as well as point out hidden gems and lesser-known facts.
  7. Respect the rules and regulations: Polonnaruwa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it is important to respect the rules and regulations in place. Do not climb on or touch the ancient structures, and follow any instructions provided by site authorities.
  8. Be mindful of wildlife: Polonnaruwa is home to a variety of wildlife, including monkeys and birds. While it may be tempting to feed or interact with them, it is important to maintain a safe distance and avoid disrupting their natural behaviors.
  9. Visit during the dry season: The dry season, from May to September, is considered the best time to visit Polonnaruwa. The weather is typically more pleasant, and the archaeological site is less crowded compared to the peak tourist season.
  10. Immerse yourself in the local culture: Take the time to interact with the locals and immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of Polonnaruwa. Engage in conversations, try local cuisine, and respect the customs and traditions of the region.

By following these tips, you can have a rewarding and memorable visit to Polonnaruwa. Embrace the history, immerse yourself in the cultural heritage, and take in the beauty of this remarkable ancient city in Sri Lanka.



Polonnaruwa, with its rich history, magnificent ruins, and captivating charm, stands as a testament to the grandeur of Sri Lanka’s ancient civilization. This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers visitors a unique opportunity to step back in time and immerse themselves in the wonders of the past.


From exploring the awe-inspiring archaeological sites and witnessing the exceptional craftsmanship of rock-carved statues to marveling at the impressive city walls and gates, Polonnaruwa unveils the architectural and artistic achievements of its ancient inhabitants.


But Polonnaruwa is more than just a reflection of the past; it is a living city that continues to enchant with its scenic landscapes, diverse wildlife, and warm hospitality. The tranquil waters of Parakrama Samudra, the fascinating wildlife encounters at Minneriya National Park, and the bountiful flavors of Sri Lankan cuisine all contribute to an enriching and unforgettable experience.


As you traverse the ancient city and its surroundings, remember to practice respect for the historical sites, dress modestly, and embrace the local customs. Engage with the locals, who are often eager to share their knowledge and stories, and soak in the cultural heritage that permeates every corner of Polonnaruwa.


Whether you are a history enthusiast, an adventure seeker, or simply a traveler yearning to discover the charm of Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa offers a journey of wonder and exploration. Soak up the serenity, marvel at the architectural splendor, and let the ancient city’s allure weave its magic around you.


From the moment you arrive until the time you reluctantly leave, Polonnaruwa will leave an indelible mark on your memory and beckon you to return again and again. So, set off on an adventure through time and immerse yourself in the captivating and glorious world of Polonnaruwa.