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The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa explained

As you travel around Sri Lanka you will stumble across many ancient sites which are now mostly all UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Polonnaruwa is Sri Lanka’s second largest kingdom, second to Anuradhapura. The ancient city of Polonnaruwa has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and remains one of the best planned Archaeological relic sites in the country.


What is Polonnaruwa?

If we’re honest we did not research Polonnaruwa much prior to visiting. The whole day was a bit of a surprise which was actually quite nice. Took us back to those days of solo travelling and making plans day by day. Although this was the case it would have been nice to know what to expect hence why we’re writing this blog for you now!

The modern town of Polonnaruwa is also known as New Town, and the other part of Polonnaruwa remains as the royal ancient city of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa. To tell you the truth the only reason we wanted to visit Polonnaruwa was to visit the ancient city. 

If you’ve been to Angkor Watt in Cambodia or Ayutthayah in Thailand you’ll get the same vibe when visiting the ancient city of Polonnurawa. Imagine a huge amount of land interlinked by roads and ancient ruins. You’re day is spent weaving around by bike, tuk tuk or by car, pit-stopping at each amazing ruin or ancient site. Some sites really had a ‘Uncharted’ or ‘Tomb Raider’ vibe!


A Brief History

Sri Lanka’s history dates back more than 2500 years. These ancient cities and their glorious remains still have the ability to make people gaze at them with admiration. Ancient sites like Polonnurawa are considered to be archaeological gold mines as they are evidence to a rich civilisation and unimaginable history.

Polonnaruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993AD. When visiting you will ultimately see the monumental ruins of the garden-city created by Parakramabahu I in the 12th Century (1153-86). Fascinatingly the next King (King Nisanka Malla 1187-96) ended up bankrupting the kingdom attempting to match his predecessor’s achievements.

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.

Why visit Polonnaruwa over other Ancient cities?

The decision you’re going to have to make is Polonnaruwa or Anuradhapura? We would have liked to have visited both ancient cities but our time was tight at this point. We chose Polonnaruwa as it is more compact and the ruins and temples are said to be in better condition than Anuradhapura. Can you believe that this was carved out of the granite rock face in the 12th Century?! This photo was taken in at the end of 2021!

PolonnaruwaYou can explore the Ancient city by bicycle, tuk tuk, car or tour bus. We saw loads of people cycling but not going to lie we loved the comfort of our tuk tuk! We were exhausted as it was, just by walking around so many ruin sites. You’ll find the archaeological park a lot of fun to explore. Don’t worry we’ve written a blog “Visiting the Ancient city of Polonnaruwa” to make your exploration a little easier!

Additional Information

Entrance Fee

25USD per foreign adult/12.5USD per foreign child

Opening Hours

07:30am – 18:00pm daily

Where we stayed

Giritale Hotel (16km from Polonnaruwa) – We booked a tuk tuk driver for the day to explore Polonnaruwa. We had the most beautiful sunset views from our balcony! Highly recommend!

Polonnaruwa sunset

Where is Polonnaruwa?

Tell you what we will show you on a map! 230km east of Colombo but only around 1 hour from Dambulla (if you’re thinking of a day trip).

When to visit?

You can visit Polonnaruwa all year round. Just note you will get better weather from November to April. Also, it felt like we were walking in a sauna in the afternoon, so enjoy the must see sights in the morning when it is cooler!

Other tips

As the Ancient City had many sacred relics and ruins you must wear clothes that cover your knees and shoulders (especially women). You can and will be declined entry to some sites by guards if your knees or shoulders are on show. You will also have to remove footwear every time you enter a sacred site. Consider taking socks so you don’t burn your feet on the fiery sand!

Do not take photographs with your back towards the Buddha. It is considered extremely disrespectful. Photos of the Buddha itself are okay!

If this strikes an interest within you, our ‘Visiting the ancient city of Polonnaruwa’ gives you a tour around the World heritage site that will definitely be worth it!

Travelling Translated 

Travelling Translated

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