Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle Tour, Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa

Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa

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Anuradhapura and Plonnaruwa

I recently published a blog post under the title “Sigiriya or Kandy?”, I decided to write that article after receiving a few emails from our readers, who were in a dilemma as to pace to choose for their holiday in Sri Lanka. The title of this article is also very similar to “Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa”. I get a large number of emails from readers all around the world and some of those emails are directly on this matter, “should we visit Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa”.

Here are some questions we get from our readers “what are the Polonnaruwa opening hours”, “what is the Polonnaruwa dress code”, “is Polonnaruwa worth visiting”, “what is the distance from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa”, “is Anuradhapura worth visiting.

This type of question is common among the travellers who have very limited time for their Sri Lanka trip, while some others do not wish to travel much on their holiday despite the availability of time and like to restrict their holiday to one or two places and reserve some time for relaxation.  Some families and travellers in the age of 60s and 70s always do not wish to cover much of the ground on their trips.

So, my intention is to help you to decide on the most suitable historical site for you from Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. I had been to both places many times and find both of them equally interesting. Both of them showcases a large number of historical monuments.

Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa both are important ancient cities with hundreds of crumbling monuments. Both cities are UNESCO world heritage sites and popular places to visit in Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are part of most Sri Lanka trips such as 5 days Sri Lanka tour and 7 days Sri Lanka trip. Both Sri Lanka tour packages mentioned below are multi-day trips due to the time-consuming journey from the airport. Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are not day outing places in Sri Lanka, especially if you travel from Colombo.

Anuradhapura sits in the north-central province of Sri Lanka and hides many hundreds of ancient monuments. This UNESCO world heritage site is an important tourist site and is included in most Sri Lanka trips such as 4 days Sri Lanka cultural tours, 7 days Sri Lanka trips and 3 days trips to Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle.

Is Anuradhapura worth visiting?

The ancient city of Anuradhapura was inhabited for many thousands of years. During the third century BCE, Anuradhapura was the capital city of Sri Lanka. Watched over a large expanse of man-made lakes and wide spreads of rice paddies. Anuradhapura continues to be an active archaeological site, gradually revealing its ancient stories to visitors.

I feel that it is worth visiting because it is an archaeological zoo that showcases the engineering skills, artistic capabilities and devotion to the religion of people who lived many thousand years back. E.g. Abhayagiriya Gadoba (stupa, pagoda) is a stupendous structure even today, and it had been a much bigger structure than what we see now. Abhayagiri Dagoba was built by King Walagambhu during his second tenure (89-77 BC) and it had been one of the biggest structured of that time, measuring 115 in height.

There are many such great edifices in the archaeological city of Anuradhapura another noteworthy structure is Jetawanarama, which had been the second biggest brick building in the ancient world. There are many dozens of such interesting structures in the city and most of them are still venerated and respected by the devotees.

Twin ponds, Samadhi Buddha, Thuparama dagoba (3rd century BC), Lankarama, Isurumuniya, Moonstone, Sri Maha Bodhi, Guard stone are some other places that we recommend top travellers. Visiting all those places might take around 5 hours as they are spreading over a huge area. So how do you feel! Is Anuradhapura worth visiting?

The huge city of Anuradhapura is divided into 3 major parts namely the Abhyagiri Monastery complex, Jetawanarama complex and Mahavihara complex. They had been different temple complexes and spreading over a huge, each of the temple complex was equipped with Buddhism learning centres, Stupas or pagodas, hospitals (Ayurveda), audience hall, parks, mediation centres, libraries, and a living quarter for monks.  


Is Polonnaruwa worth visiting?

If you have the formidable question, Is Polonnaruwa worth visiting? The simple answer is YES! There is a large number of places to visit in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, all are closely connected to Sri Lankan history.

I had been many times to Polonnaruwa historical site many times if history and culture is a thing that you care about, it is strongly recommended to visit Polonnaruwa. The archaeological site of Polonnaruwa hides many dozens of interesting monuments such as Palaces, Lakes, Buddhist temples, Hindu shrines audience halls and many other structures.  

Usually, the visit to the historical city of Polonnaruwa starts near the Parikrama palace, which had been destroyed during the south Indian invasion. The Parakrama palace is situated within the inner-city and here you find a few other structures such as audience halls.

Starting from parikrama palace to the quadrangle and Gal vihara at the far end of Polonnaruwa historical city you see well-preserved monuments. Unlike in Anuradhapura, monuments in Polonnaruwa are in very good shape because Polonnaruwa is much younger than its counterpart. However, the number of monuments in Polonnaruwa is far less than what you see in Anuradhapura, and monuments spread over a far bigger area in Anuradhapura compared to Polonnaruwa.  


What offers Anuradhapura tour and Polonnaruwa?

Anuradhapura means exploring Sri Lankan history, and Polonnaruwa also means exploring Sri Lankan history. But the difference is the age of the historical monuments because the crumbling monuments of Anuradhapura date back to many thousand years and some of the structures such as Abhyagiri dagoba (pagoda or stupa) and Ruwanweli dagoba built before the birth of Jesus Christ.

The monuments that you see in Polonnaruwa is much younger than the monuments of Anuradhapura. The most historical monuments in Polonnaruwa was built between the 10-11th century AD and most Historical structures of Anuradhapura was built between the 3rd century BC to 10th century AD.    


Visiting museums is also very important along with monuments in order to understand the historical past of Sri Lanka. Both places offer museums however the museum of Polonnaruwa is far better organized than the museums of Anuradhapura. The artefacts of the Polonnaruwa museum is far better organized and make a clear picture of the ancient structures to be seen on the site. E.g. the Parakrama palace has been reduced to a few walls and foundation after the invasion and originally it had been a massive structure with 7 stories. If you visit the museum before entering the historical city you can witness a model of the Parakrama palace and thereby it is not difficult to ascertain the imposing size of the palace.  

Comparison between Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa

  • From the 3rd century BC to 10 century AD  
  • Monuments are older         
  • Spreads over a bigger area            
  • Many dozens of monument  
  • A lot of ground to cover need a vehicle  
  • The city tour lasts about 4-5 hours                      
  • 10-11 century AD
  • the monuments are younger
  • spread over a small area
  • comparingly less number of monuments
  • explore by foot, bike or vehicle  
  • City tour lasts about 2-3 hours                       

Visit all these tourist hotspots on the cultural triangle tour

Reaching out to Anuradhapura

The distance to Anuradhapura from Colombo is 200km and if you start the journey the distance is 165 Km, the journey by private vehicle takes around 4 hours. Rail transport and air transportations are also available for travellers who wish to travel to Anuradhapura. Anuradhapura bounds trains start their journey from the main railway station in Colombo (train schedule). Seaplane or helicopter can be booked to go to Anuradhapura from Colombo or from the airport, the landing point would be the domestic airport of Anuradhapura.  

Reaching out to Polonnaruwa

Road transport is the main mode of transport to reach Polonnaruwa monuments. The distance from Colombo to Polonnaruwa is 220 km and the journey takes around 5 hours in a private vehicle. Rail transport, as well as air transport, also can be booked from Colombo. There are daily 3 trains ply to Polonnaruwa from Colombo. There are 2daily Polonnaruwa bound flight starting from Colombo.  

Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa distance

Sometimes our customers ask if it is possible to visit Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa on one day tour. The answer can be YES or NO and it is mainly decided by the starting point of the trip. If you start the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa tour from a place like Sigiriya and Habarana you can visit both places in one day tour.

If you begin your journey from a faraway destination like Colombo or Kandy, it will not be possible to visit both places due to the time spent on transportation. If you are based in a hotel near Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa you can easily cover both places because the distance between Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa is merely a little more than 100 km and it takes around 2 hours for the journey.

Extra activities in Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura

Visiting historical monuments is the primary expectation of most travellers who hit these cities, but there are a few other important activities that you can engage in if you have time. Some of the activities are doing a village tour, visiting national parks and doing a Jeep safari, taking Ayurveda treatment (massage), taking part in Cooking classes, boating in the village lake, visiting temples, jungles trekking, bird watching.  

I hope by considering the above factors now you are able to decide if it is Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa you visit on your trip to Sri Lanka. If you need some more tips about Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa please don’t hesitate to contact us at

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