Best Things To Do in Polonnaruwa


Welcome to Polonnaruwa, a city steeped in history and cultural heritage. Located in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and travelers alike. In this article, we will explore the best things to do in Polonnaruwa, from exploring ancient ruins to immersing oneself in local culture and enjoying the natural beauty of the region.

Exploring the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

Historical Significance

Polonnaruwa was the capital of Sri Lanka during the 11th to 13th centuries, serving as a center of political and cultural power. It witnessed the reign of great kings and the development of an advanced civilization. Today, the ancient city stands as a testament to the grandeur and architectural brilliance of the past.

Architectural Marvels

As you wander through the ruins of Polonnaruwa, you’ll encounter architectural marvels that showcase the ingenuity of ancient builders. From intricately carved stone structures to towering stupas, each monument tells a story of the city’s glorious past.

Visiting the Royal Palace Complex

One of the highlights of Polonnaruwa is the Royal Palace Complex, which offers a glimpse into the lives of the ancient royals. Here are two key attractions within the complex:

Audience Hall (Nissanka Latha Mandapaya)

The Audience Hall, also known as Nissanka Latha Mandapaya, is an impressive structure with intricately carved pillars. It served as a venue for royal assemblies and cultural events. Marvel at the craftsmanship and imagine the grandeur of the gatherings that took place within these walls.

Council Chamber (Sathmahal Prasada)

The Council Chamber is a unique structure with a pyramid-like shape. It is believed to have been used as a meeting place for the king and his advisors. Climb to the top for a panoramic view of the surrounding area and appreciate the architectural prowess of the ancient builders.

Discovering the Sacred Quadrangle

The Sacred Quadrangle is a sacred area that houses several significant religious monuments. Explore these two notable attractions:


The Vatadage is a circular relic house built to enshrine the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. Admire the intricately carved stone pillars and moonstones that adorn the entrance. The Vatadage represents the pinnacle of Sinhalese architecture and is a symbol of religious devotion.

Thuparama Image House

The Thuparama Image House is home to a stunning standing Buddha statue, which is considered one of the finest examples of ancient Sri Lankan sculpture. The serene expression and exquisite details of the statue will leave you in awe of the craftsmanship of the time.

Marveling at the Gal Vihara

The Gal Vihara is a rock temple known for its magnificent Buddha statues. These colossal stone sculptures are masterpieces of ancient art and reflect the skill and dedication of the craftsmen who created them. There are two main statues to admire:

Standing Buddha Statue

The standing Buddha statue at the Gal Vihara is over 7 meters tall and exudes a sense of serenity and tranquility. Its graceful pose and intricate details make it a true marvel of ancient Buddhist sculpture.

Reclining Buddha Statue

The reclining Buddha statue, measuring 14 meters in length, is the largest of its kind in Polonnaruwa. Its peaceful expression and lifelike representation make it a must-see attraction for visitors.

Exploring the Quadrangle of the South Lake

The Quadrangle of the South Lake is another area of historical and architectural significance. Within this quadrant, you’ll find two notable structures:

Lankatilaka Temple

The Lankatilaka Temple is a massive brick and stone structure with intricate carvings and a towering image house. The temple is dedicated to the worship of Lord Buddha and provides a glimpse into the spiritual practices of the ancient civilization.

Tivanka Image House

The Tivanka Image House is famous for its beautiful frescoes and a standing Buddha statue. The vibrant colors and detailed artwork on the walls depict stories from Buddhist scriptures, giving visitors an insight into the rich cultural heritage of the region.

Discovering the Rankot Vihara

The Rankot Vihara is one of the largest stupas in Polonnaruwa and is an impressive sight to behold. This ancient monument stands tall, reaching a height of approximately 55 meters, and offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Take a moment to appreciate its sheer size and significance in the history of the city.

Exploring the Surrounding Areas

Beyond the ancient ruins, Polonnaruwa has more to offer. Here are a couple of attractions worth exploring:

Polonnaruwa Museum

The Polonnaruwa Museum provides a comprehensive overview of the city’s history and showcases artifacts found within the archaeological sites. Gain deeper insights into the ancient civilization through the exhibits and displays that highlight the cultural and artistic heritage of Polonnaruwa.

Shiva Devale No. 2

Shiva Devale No. 2 is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple features intricate carvings and sculptures, showcasing the religious diversity of the region. Step inside to admire the craftsmanship and witness the devotion of the local Hindu community.

Enjoying Nature and Wildlife

Polonnaruwa is not just about history; it also boasts natural beauty and wildlife. Don’t miss these two experiences:

Minneriya National Park

Embark on a thrilling safari adventure at Minneriya National Park, located just a short distance from Polonnaruwa. The park is famous for its elephant gatherings, especially during the dry season. Witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat and create unforgettable memories.

Parakrama Samudra

Parakrama Samudra is a vast man-made reservoir built during the reign of King Parakramabahu I. The serene lake is a perfect spot for relaxation and bird-watching. Take a leisurely stroll along the banks or enjoy a boat ride to soak in the tranquil ambiance of this scenic location.

Experiencing Local Culture and Cuisine

To truly immerse yourself in the essence of Polonnaruwa, engage with the local culture and savor the delicious cuisine. Here are a couple of experiences to indulge in:

Polonnaruwa Market

Visit the bustling Polonnaruwa Market to witness the vibrancy of local life. Explore the stalls filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, and handicrafts. Engage in friendly conversations with the vendors and get a taste of the daily life in this ancient city.

Local Delicacies

Polonnaruwa is known for its unique culinary delights. Try traditional dishes such as “Kottu Roti,” a delectable blend of chopped roti, vegetables, and spices, or “Pol Rotti,” a flatbread made with grated coconut and served with a variety of flavorful curries. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor these authentic flavors and experience the local gastronomy.

Practical Information and Tips

Before you embark on your journey to Polonnaruwa, here are some practical tips to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience:

Getting There and Getting Around

Polonnaruwa is accessible by road from major cities in Sri Lanka. You can hire a private vehicle, take a bus, or opt for a guided tour. Once in Polonnaruwa, renting a bicycle or hiring a tuk-tuk is a convenient way to explore the archaeological sites.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Polonnaruwa is during the dry season, which spans from May to September. The weather is pleasant, and the archaeological sites are less crowded. However, do check the weather conditions before planning your visit, as heavy rains may affect your experience.


Polonnaruwa offers a captivating journey through time, allowing visitors to witness the grandeur of a bygone era. From ancient ruins to cultural experiences and natural wonders, this city has something to offer for every traveler. Immerse yourself in the rich history, marvel at the architectural brilliance, and indulge in the local culture and cuisine. Polonnaruwa is a treasure trove waiting to be explored.


1. How long does it take to explore Polonnaruwa?

The time needed to explore Polonnaruwa depends on your pace and level of interest. However, it is recommended to allocate at least one full day to visit the main historical sites and immerse yourself in the city’s ambiance.

2. Are there any entrance fees to visit the historical sites?

Yes, there are entrance fees to visit the historical sites in Polonnaruwa. The fees may vary for locals and foreigners. It is advisable to check the current rates at the time of your visit.

3. Can I hire a guide in Polonnaruwa?

Yes, hiring a guide is highly recommended to enhance your understanding of the historical sites and their significance. A knowledgeable guide can provide valuable insights and stories that bring the ancient city to life.

4. Is it possible to rent bicycles or vehicles for transportation?

Yes, you can rent bicycles or hire a tuk-tuk for transportation within Polonnaruwa. Bicycles are a popular choice among tourists as they allow for a leisurely exploration of the archaeological sites.

5. Are there any accommodations available in Polonnaruwa?

Yes, there are several accommodations available in Polonnaruwa, ranging from budget guesthouses to luxury resorts. It is advisable to book your accommodation in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons, to secure the best options.

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