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Polonnaruwa: The Majestic Ancient Capital

Polonnaruwa was the thriving commercial and religious epicenter of Sri Lanka over 800 years ago. The splendors of yesteryear are evident from the archeological treasures that can still give a good idea of how the city looked back in its heyday. The archeological complex consists of hundreds of temples, royal palaces, religious monuments, and ancient structures that make it a delight to explore.  

If you are looking for Sri Lanka holiday ideas then take our word and include Polonnaruwa in your travel itinerary. Your cultural route in Sri Lanka is incomplete without this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A little bit of History 

Polonnaruwa remained the royal capital for three centuries during the Sinhalese kingdoms and during the Chola invasion(from India). When the Cholas invaded Anuradhapura (which was the capital city) they chose Polonnaruwa as the new capital. The reason is its location, which helped them, shield better from the attacks made by the Sinhalese kingdom. The strong Sinhala kings managed to defeat the Cholas and regain supremacy. The Sinhalese King Vijayabahu built Polonnaruwa into a glorious city that signifies the prominence of Buddhism in the country. King Parakramabahu I was the next ruler to make significant development in Polonnaruwa by building major buildings, beautiful parks, and most notably the Parakrama reservoir.  

Travelling to Polonnaruwa

  1. From Colombo – You need to get in from the Colombo Fort bus stand and take a 6-hour bus ride to get there.
  2. From Kandy – It takes 3 hours to travel from Kandy to Polonnaruwa.
  3. From Anuradhapura – You can get a direct bus from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa and the ride will take close to 2.5 hours. 
Vehicle Hire 

One of the most convenient ways to get around is to hire a car with a driver. It is costlier than using public transport but if you can afford it then go for it.  


If you are travelling from closer cities such as Anuradhapura and Sigiriya, you can hop on a tuk-tuk. Make sure to agree on the price before you start the trip.  

Where to stay in Polonnaruwa

Thenuja Guest 

Thenuja Guest is a small, clean, and comfortable guesthouse. Located away from the main road, it’s the perfect oasis to unwind after a day of sightseeing. You can hire bicycles here at a low cost.   

Seyara Holiday Resort 

Seyara Holiday Resort is a family-run hotel. The owners make you feel welcomed and the service is good. The hotel is equipped with a pool and free Wi-Fi in public spaces. They serve a hearty Sri Lanka breakfast.  

Deer Park Hotel 

Travellers looking for high-end hotels should try the Deer Park Hotel. Located overlooking the Giritale Lake, the hotel is well equipped with a pool, satellite TV, free Wi-Fi, and other modern amenities. The food and service are excellent.  

How to get around Polonnaruwa

One of the best ways to get around Polonnaruwa is by bicycle. This will give the chance to mingle with the locals and sightsee at your own pace.  

The next best option is an air-conditioned car. If comfort is your priority then go with this!  

You also get tuk-tuk tours but make sure you go with someone reliable (recommended online or from your hotel) so that you get what you pay for.  

Many people wonder why they can’t explore on foot. One reason is the heat; you’ll be deadbeat before you know it and the whole experience will be ruined.  

Things to see in Polonnaruwa

History buffs are going to love Polonnaruwa. You can take a guided tour but all the monuments have signboards with explanations in English. You can learn so much about Sri Lanka’s history and culture here. The best thing about Polonnaruwa is that most ancient ruins remain intact.  

Sacred Quadrangle (Dalada Maluwa) 

One of the most prominent monuments of the ancient city, this was once home to the sacred tooth relic of Buddha, which now is safely in the Dalada Maligawa, Kandy. The Vatadage (circular relic house) stands in the middle of the Quadrangle. A Buddha statue is placed right in the middle of the circular room. Buddhist devotees walk around the monument in prayer.  

Royal Palace 

This is the first group of ruins that you come across when you enter the archeological complex. The Royal Palace and the attached building are said to be from King Parakramabahu’s era. The Royal Palace is a massive building and it is said to have occupied 50 rooms and 30 columns to support the structure. 

Swimming Pool (Kumara Pokuna) 

The royal swimming pool can be seen at the palace ground. Today the water is not inviting however it would have been spectacular back in the day with crocodile mouth sprouts and all.  

Shiva Devale 02 

Built during the brief Chola dynasty, this is among the oldest buildings in Polonnaruwa. This is a Hindu temple, which was dedicated to the deity Shiva.  

Rankot Viharaya 

The 54-meter high Rankot Vihraya is a massive stupa that is very well preserved. It’s the largest stupa in Polonnaruwa 

Lankathilake Viharaya 

Lankathilake Viharaya has once been a massive Buddhist temple. The walls reach an impressive 17 meters high.   

Gal Viharaya 

Gal Viharaya translates to ‘Rock Monastery’ in Sinhala. There are four Buddha statues cut out of granite and all of them still in perfect condition. The Gal Viharaya stands away from the main archeological complex.   

Things to know when exploring Polonnaruwa

  1.  Make sure to apply sunscreen.
  2. Wearing a hat and sunglasses will help when it’s sunny.
  3. Keep yourself hydrated. Drink lots of water and king coconut water.
  4. Take a break to have a meal so that you are reenergised to start again.
  5. Wear comfortable clothes. There is a dress code for entering the temples so make sure to dress accordingly (cover your shoulders and knees).
  6. Wear comfortable shoes especially if you are cycling. You need to remove footwear to enter temples. In the afternoon the ground gets sizzling hot so a pair of socks can do wonders for your feet.
  7. Mosquito repellent will come in handy during the evenings.


Adventure Lanka offer licensed guides on all their tours.