This article provides travel tips to visit Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka: what to do in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, where to stay in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, and how to get around Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are two of the five ancient cities of Sri Lanka, part of the cultural triangle, along with Sigiriya, Dambulla and Kandy. Two of Sri Lanka’s most ancient kingdoms and are both inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
How to Get to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa by Bus
It takes a little over 2hrs to get from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa, there are many buses going to and from every day. Cost is about LKR 90 per person (under USD $1.50).
From Colombo to Anuradhapura, the ride takes about 6hrs– expect the same travel time from Colombo to Polonnaruwa.
How to Get to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa by Train
From Colombo to Polonnaruwa– ride takes less than 6hrs, with a train change in Galoya – expect to pay less than USD $5 for 2nd class seating.
From Colombo to Anuradhapura – ride takes less than 5hrs, with a departure from Colombo at 6am.
How to Get Around Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa
The best and cheapest way to get around the two ancient cities to visit the ruins is by bicycle. Most guesthouses will offer bicycles for rent. Compare prices with the local shops if you can before making a decision but most bicycle rentals will cost about LKR 300 per day (~USD $2).
Where to Stay in Anuradhapura: Hotels in Anuradhapura
Sunway Holiday Resort – $14 for a basic, clean double room with private bath and free WiFi. Location a bit far from ruins.
Hotel Savonrich – $19 for a clean, nicely decorated double room though a bit far from center.
Where to Stay in Polonnaruwa: Hotels in Polonnaruwa
Thisara Guesthouse – basic, clean double room with private bath for LKR 2,000 (USD $15) and close to city ruins.
Thisal Guest House – standard, clean double room with private bath for USD $14, good location and nice staff
What to do in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa– Activities in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa
Which ancient city to visit between the two?
We roamed around the Anuradhapura sites without purchasing a ticket to visit the ruins and decided to visit the ancient sites of Polonnaruwa instead.
Anuradhapura’s sites are spread out throughout the old town, we hired a tuk tuk to take us around the main sites, while Polonnaruwa’s are part of a smaller area, so we could visit on our own with a bicycle, and are better preserved.
To visit all the sights in the ancient city of Anuradhapura you have to purchase a ticket at a cost of USD $25 including but not limited to:
The Bodhi Tree Temple – the second most sacred place in Sri Lanka after the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy
Ruwanwelisaya – the largest stupa in Anuradhapura. At night, the stupa is lit which makes it even more impressive than during the day.
All the sights in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa cost USD $25 per person (September 2013 – expect an increase since) including but not limited to:
Gil Vihara Temple – 3 Buddha rock statues: sitting, standing and laying.
Lankathilaka Image House – serene and quiet atmosphere, Polonnaruwa architecture.
Lotus ponds – beautiful lotus-shaped ponds/baths
How To Get Away – Local Transportation – from Polonnaruwa to Habarana
Most travelers continue on their visit to the rest of the cultural triangle. Habarana is a good transition hub as it is close to Polonnaruwa, Miniriya National Park and Dambulla/ Sigiriya. There are many buses throughout the day going to any of these destinations.
Our next town to visit was Habanara where we met up with H. We had not seen him since Colombo, where he helped us find a place to sleep at 1am.
View more travel tips to visit Sri Lanka.
Did you go to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa? How long did you spend in each ancient city? Share your travel experience with us! We love to hear from you.
Happy Travels !!xx
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hi, how did you avoid the entrance fee at Anuradhapura?