Dambulla Sigiriya Polonnaruwa in one day

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Is it possible to visit Dambulla Sigiriya Polonnaruwa in one day?

Is it possible to visit Dambulla, Sigiriya, and Polonnaruwa on one day Sri Lanka trip? Yes, but starting the tour from Dambulla or Sigiriya is very important in order to explore Dambulla, Sigiriya, and Polonnaruwa in one day, because you have to travel around 150 km on this trip (supposedly you start the tour in Sigiriya or a nearby place. But there is one thing you need to keep in mind is that the trip starts from Sigiriya, Dambulla of Habarana.

In this article, we are concentrating on one particular question that many travellers have in their minds as they plan a Sri Lanka trip. The question is, can we visit Dambulla Sigiriya Polonnaruwa in one day? As far as my experience is concerned visiting the trio is possible in one day, in fact, I have done it many times. Here I’m going to show you step-by-step how to do it.   

How long is the Dambulla, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa tour?

6 Hours from Habarana and Sigiriya. However, the time required for Dambulla, Sigiriya, and Polonnaruwa’s one-day tour varied vastly depending on the time you spend in each city and transport mode. As per my experience, you have to allocate about 3 hours for travelling between cities (route Sigiriya-Dambulla-Polonnaruwa-Sigiriya, the time is calculated based on travelling in a private vehicle). And you also need around another 6 hours to explore the monuments in Dambulla, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa; it means the entire tour lasts about 9 hours…If you are an experienced trekker or do walk often at home, you may be able to save about an hour and curtail the duration of the trip by an hour. Please keep in mind that I have not calculated the time required for a lunch break or any other brief rest.

In case you start Dambulla, Sigiriya, or Polonnaruwa trip from Colombo or any other beach resort on the west coast or south coast, it would be a daunting task to complete the trip successfully within a day. It is due to the long journey from Colombo, the one-way journey might last at least 4 hours. If you are based in Colombo or in a beach resort on the west coast, it is best to plan a 2 days cultural triangle trip to visit Sigiriya, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa. I feel it is much better if you can book 3 day Sri Lanka cultural triangle tour, this 3 days tour covers Dambulla, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa as well as Kandy, all are major archaeological sites (UNESCO world heritage sites) in the cultural triangle. Apart from the historical monuments this 3 days trip also includes safari, city tours, a botanical garden, cultural shows and many more.

What are the most important places to visit on Dambulla, Sigiriya, and Polonnaruwa tour?

  • Sigiriya rock fortress
  • Dambulla golden temple
  • Polonnaruwa museum
  • Polonnaruwa ancient city
  • Pidurangala temple
  • Minneriya national park

Good question, because there is a dozen of important historical monuments on this route, however due to the limited time available on the trip the major tourist attractions you visit on this trip are Dambulla golden temple, and Sigiriya rock fortress and Polonnaruwa ancient city. It is difficult to think of visiting other historical monuments, taking part in safari tours, and attending cooking classes or village tours due to time constraints. If you can extend your trip and make it a 2 days tour, there is a very good chance of visiting a few other important historical monuments such as the Pidurangala temple. You can also embark on a wildlife tour in a wildlife reserve located within the cultural triangle.

Dambulla, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya

Dambulla, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya are UNESCO world heritage sites. Visiting Dambulla, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya is a top priority for most travellers, especially foreign travellers. All 3 cities are highly important tourist attractions in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka and are included in most Srilanka trip packages such as the Sri Lanka 5 days tour of the cultural triangle. The trio hides some of the oldest monuments on earth E.g the Dambulla cave temple dates back to the 5th century BC while Sigiriya rock dates back to the 5th century AD. Polonnaruwa was the second most ancient capital of Sri Lanka dating back to the 10th century AD.

Sri Lanka cultural triangle

The cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, which some people call the golden triangle of Sri Lanka, includes many iconic tourist attractions such as Sigiriya and Dambulla. Visiting the cultural triangle allows you to see hundreds of crumbling historical monuments dating back to the 3rd century BC. But it is not only cultural and historical monuments to be explored on the island, but there are also so many other important places as well. 

It is a common practice among travellers to allocate a few days for sightseeing in each part of the island. E.g the travellers plan 3 nights in the cultural triangle to visit historical monuments, then move to Sri Lanka’s upcountry to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Later the travellers move further south to take part in Sri Lanka jungle tours and visit wildlife reserves. And ultimately wind up their trips by visiting the west coast and south coast beaches.

Due to this common habit, most travellers visit as many sites as possible when they are in the cultural triangle before more to their next base. The travellers choose the best and most popular places to visit.

Why visit Sigiriya, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa?

Visiting historical monuments in Sri Lanka is a popular activity among foreign visitors. Sigiriya, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa are UNESCO world heritage sites and important historical monuments. Therefore, all three places are included in most Sri Lanka road trips.

I receive many emails every week with a question like “Can we visit Dambulla, Polonnaruwa, and Sigiriya in one day?”, “Can you arrange a tour to visit Dambulla, Polonnaruwa, and Sigiriya? ”, “How long does it take to visit Dambulla, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya?”. That’s why I thought of crafting this blog post, in order to give a complete picture of the day tour to Dambulla, Polonnaruwa, and Sigiriya.

Even though there are hundreds of crumbling ancient structures in the cultural triangle by far Sigiriya, Dambulla cave and Polonnaruwa are the most popular places in cultural triangle.

When is the best time for the Dambulla Sigiriya Polonnaruwa trip?

Dambulla, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa are all year-round holiday destinations.

If you are wondering what the best time of the year is for the Dambulla Sigiriya Polonnaruwa trip, I would say this trip can be done throughout the year. Dambulla, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa are located within the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka and all of these paces are in Sri Lanka’s dry zone. The rainfall in the dry zone of Sri Lanka is limited and most part of the year remains dry, which means the travellers can have nice sunny weather most time of the year. However, the weather can be very wet during the rainy season and travellers need to keep an eye on the weather in the area, especially in the month of October, and November.

What is the program for Dambulla Sigiriya Polonnaruwa one-day tour?

  • 07.00 am – Start the hike at Sigiriya rock fortress
  • 09.45 am – Finish the Sigiriya rock hike
  • 10.00 am – Drive to Polonnaruwa
  • 11.00 am – Arrive at Polonnaruwa and start the Polonnaruwa city tour
  • 01.00 pm – Leave Polobnnaruwa historical city
  • 01.20 pm – Lunch
  • 03.30 pm – visit Dambulla golden cave temple
  • 04.30 pm – end of the one-day Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla trip

Visiting Cultural triangle

Visiting the cultural triangle is a minimum 2 days affair but with a tight schedule and if you like to explore the cultural triangle at a normal pace with a bit of leisure you need to allocate 3 days minimum. Venturing on a cultural triangle tour such as 4 days Sri Lanka cultural triangle tour is an interesting thing to do because it allows you to see remnants of a well-developed culture in the past.

The stupendous Dagobas, interacting wood and stone carvings, gigantic granite statues and centuries-old paintings are the proof of this civilization. You will encounter many dozens of cities, parks, palaces and temples in historic cities.   


Dambulla, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya in one day tour – how to travel

I presume you have private transport to move from Sigiriya to Polonnaruwa and later to Dambulla because it is very important to have a proper way of travelling between those sites in order to save time. If you resort to public transport it might be a daunting task to visit Dambulla, Polonnaruwa, and Sigiriya in one day. Usually, public transport is slow and behind the schedule.

Starting place of the trip to Dambulla, Polonnaruwa Sigiriya

You have to start the journey from a nearby place in order to explore Dambulla, Sigiriya Polonnaruwa in one day because you have to travel around 150 km on this trip (suppose you start the tour in Sigiriya or a nearby place), and it takes around 3 hours. And you also need around another 5 hours for the sightseeing; it means the entire tour lasts roughly about 8 hours. Of course, you also have to calculate some time for a couple of rests (for lunch, to have a drink, to use the toilet etc) and therefore you will not be having much time to do anything else.

If you plan the trip from a faraway destination like Colombo or Kandy you have to start the trip very early (around 4.00 am) and the tour ends late at night. Therefore if you like to explore Dambulla, Sigiriya Polonnaruwa in one day from Colombo, Kandy or the west coast it is recommended to make it a 2 days tour. By making a 2 days tour you are not only able to visit Dambulla, Sigiriya Polonnaruwa in one day, but you can also add a few other interesting things such as safari, visiting the Pinnawala elephant orphanage, visiting a spice garden, and taking part in Sigiriya village tour to the trip.

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Sigiriya rock fortress is a 5th-century palace complex with landscaped gardens, moats, swimming pools, fountains, paintings, and a palace. At the top of the monolithic rock, at an elevation of 500 meters above sea level, King Kashyapa built his royal palace. The frescoes are to be found halfway down the track on the upward journey.

Visiting Sigiriya: the first activity on Dambulla, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa one-day trip

In this one-day tour I suggest you start the tour as early as possible (around 7 am) and I suggest you visit the Sigiriya rock fortress at the beginning. You might wonder why I’m suggesting you visit Sigiriya early morning. First thing because you can avoid the strong sun rays and the heat, you are well exposed to the sun on the Sigiriya hike, since the hike at Sigiriya is an outdoor activity. You may find it inconvenient, if you do the hike during midday, it makes you sweaty and tired. In fact, a visit to Sigiriya involves with few hours of steep climbing on 1200 narrow steps.  

The early morning visit to Sigiriya rock also enables you to avoid the horde of tourist, who start to gather at the entrance at around 8 am and then continues until about early afternoon.

If you are caught in tourist traffic you may have to spend a few hours more on the climb, as there is only one narrow stair to climb the rock. Unusually the climb at Sigiriya lasts around 2 hours (both upward and downward journey) however this can be prolonged up to around 3-4 hours on very busy days.    

Time management is important on this trip as you have to visit 3 major tourist attractions and travel around 250 km on the day. Try to limit the time spent on the Sigiriya hike to 2 hours, it makes the rest of the trip easier. Usually, it does take about 2 hours for most travellers at Sigiriya.

Early morning climb allows you to explore the archaeological site when there are fewer people on the site, which means you can explore the monument at your own pace (no rush) and most importantly no waste of time in the queue.  

Drive from Sigiriya to Polonnaruwa

The drive from Sigiriya to Polonnaruwa takes around 1 hour and the distance to cover is 55 km.

Sigiriya to Polonnaruwa by bus

However, if you opt to travel by public transport (bus) it might take up to 3 hours to reach Polonnaruwa from Sigiriya due to the few transit points. The first transit point is at Inamaluwa and the second transit point is at Habarana. There is no direct bus to travel to Polonnaruwa from Sigiriya, therefore you need to travel to the Inamaluwa junction from Sigiriya and take a Habarana-bound bus from Inamaluwa. You will be able to take a direct bus to Polonnaruwa from Habarana.

Ask your driver/guide to take Moragaswewa-Illukwewa Rd, better known as the Sigiriya shortcut as you drive from Sigiriya rock to Polonnaruwa, If you take the main road (via Habarana) the journey will be prolonged by about 40 minutes.

Minneriya Elephant Safari with Sigiriya Lion Rock from Colombo-1 Day

Dambulla Sigiriya Polonnaruwa in one day, Dambulla Sigiriya Polonnaruwa in one day
weather pattern sigiriya, Dambulla Sigiriya Polonnaruwa in one day, Dambulla Sigiriya Polonnaruwa in one day tour

Visiting Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa is the 2nd most ancient capital of Sri Lanka dating back to the 10th century AD. Polonnaruwa hides a large number of historical monuments and most monuments are still in good shape. Here you find many dozens of palaces, parks, temples, audience halls and many other historical structures that date back many centuries. Unlike in Sigiriya, there are no steps to climb in Polonnaruwa, but the monuments are scattered over a large area, in the ancient city. Therefore you have to walk or drive from one place to the other.

The duration of the Polonnaruwa city tour may vary depending on your interest in archaeology and the transport mode. If you opt to walk during the city tour it might take around 4 hours to explore Polonnaruwa. If you choose a car or a van to travel in Polonnaruwa you may be able to complete the city tour in about 3 hours’ time.

Polonnaruwa is also located in the north-central province of Sri Lanka and shares the same climate zone as Sigiriya, which means the weather in Polonnaruwa is similar to the weather in Sigiriya. Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya have the same weather conditions with less rainfall, high humidity and high temperature.

A stroll along the dusty road in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa leads you to hundreds of ancient monuments. Polonnaruwa is full of ancient constructions, you will see a large number of temples, Dagobas, Stupas, palaces, Buddha statues, Ayurveda temple and many more. Some of the ancient monuments in the ancient city date back to hundreds of centuries, while most of the monuments date back to the 10th century AD.

What is interesting about Polonnaruwa is it is not only an archaeological site with monuments but it has a well-built natural green cover. The travellers encounter huge trees and plants everywhere they go inside the ancient city. In fact, the ancient city was carefully planned by the ancient rulers in the 10th century AD with walls, moats, parks, roads and lakes.

Exploring the ancient city of Polonnaruwa begins with a visit to the archaeological museum of Polonnaruwa. A hundred-yard walk along the main road takes you to the archaeological museum, which is built close to the bank of Parakrama Samudra. 

The ancient engineers seriously considered a permanent water resource as they planned the city. Therefore, they built Parakrama Samudra near the city in order to supply water to the ancient city. Parakrama Samudra, one of the biggest man-made lakes in Sri Lanka still plays a vital role in providing water for the people in the area.

Cycling is the best way to explore the city as it allows you to explore the ancient monuments while cycling amidst the beautiful greenish surrounding. If you wish to hire a bike for the city tour, it is recommended to contact a local tour operator such as Seerendipity, who is ready to assist you with bikes. 

Some travellers opt to have a walk as they reach Polonnaruwa, which is also a viable option and it can be a bit cheaper option too. I have seen many back-pack travellers, who use public buses as transport mode on their Sri Lanka trip stick to this method so that they can save a few dollars. 

Most travellers who book package tours with local tour operators should not bother about travelling in Polonnaruwa. Because the tour operator organizes from entrance tickets to tour guides to the transport mode in the ancient city.

Travelling by private car, van or bus is also possible in the ancient city and roads are well equipped to accommodate them. A large number of travellers stick to that type of vehicle and it is undoubtedly very convenient, quick and comfortable against walking or cycling through Polonnaruwa ancient city.

All activities in Polonnaruwa is also outdoor activities (except Polonnaruwa museum), but the green cover in the historical city of Polonnaruwa is much greater than in Sigiriya, that’s the difference between Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa. Therefore you are not exposed to the sun in Polonnaruwa and shady trees give you cover. Artefacts in Polonnaruwa spreads over a large area and people are also scattered and you don’t feel the presence of a big crowd.

The last temple to visit on the Dambulla, Sigiriya, and Polonnaruwa in a one-day tour

I like to suggest visiting Dambulla golden cave temple towards the end of the one-day tour of visiting Sigiriya, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa. The climb at the Dambulla cave temple is not as strenuous as in Sigiriya. With an easy hike that lasts no more than 10 minutes (maximum) you can visit Polonnaruwa at any time. It is quite easy to climb on Dambulla steps than on Sigiriya rock-cut stairs, the latter is narrower.  

The hike at Dambulla was much more strenuous and lasted much longer than today, a few years back when the travellers start the hike near the A9 main road. But later the management of the temple was given to another temple in the same area; thereby a new entrance came to be making the hike easier. The best time to hike at Dambulla is in the afternoon or in the morning due to the heat. Usually, the tourist traffic in Dambulla is much less than in Sigiriya; however, there are instances, in which a couple of hundred travellers flock into the cave.  Most travellers visit Dambulla in the early hours and there are only very few people in the afternoon, it is due to the temple visit arranged in Sri Lanka tour packages.

The visit to Dambulla cave temple lasts about 1 hour with visits to all 5 caves and upward as well as downward journeys.

Sigiriya to Dambulla

The travellers can easily drive from Sigiriya to Dambulla by using public transport. However, you do not get trail transport on this route. The distance from Sigiriya to Dambulla is 17 km and it takes between 20-40 minutes depending on how you travel. If you have a private vehicle you can save time and drive Sigiriya to Dambulla in 20 minutes. If you opt for the public bus it would take at least 40 minutes.

Dambulla, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa day trip in a nutshell

You need to adjust timing according to any other extra time that you required on travelling E.g. if you stay in a hotel in Habarana or Dambulla you have to add another 30 minutes for the drive from the hotel Sigiriya, which means you have to leave the hotel at 6.30 am.  

  • 7.00 am: Start the climb at Sigiriya rock
  • 8.00 am: reach the summit and explore the ruins
  • 8.30 am: start the downward journey
  • 9.15 am: Reach the vehicle at the park
  • 9.15 am: 30 minutes rest (near the Sigiriya rock you can find dozens of cafeterias and having a cool drink will be a good reward after the strenuous climb)
  • 9.45 am: start the journey to Polonnaruwa
  • 10.45 am: reach the archaeological museum and purchase the ticket subsequently see the valuable artefacts in the museum
  • 11.30 am: visit the historical city of Polonnaruwa
  • 01.30 pm: finish sightseeing tour of Polonnaruwa and leave the site
  • 02.00 pm: Lunch
  • 03.00 pm: Drive to Dambulla cave temple
  • 04.00 pm: visit the Dambulla cave temple
  • 05.00 pm: leave the temple

End of the Dambulla Sigiriya Polonnaruwa one day trip

Apart from Dambulla, and Sigiriya Polonnaruwa there are many things to do and see in Sigiriya and Dambulla. Safari at Minneriya national park, Habarana village tour, and Pidurangala temple is some of them. But with the fully packed itinerary, you hardly have extra time to do other things on this one-day trip. So it is recommended to plan a 2 days trip with 1 overnight stay in a hotel in Sigiriya or Polonnaruwa, thereby you can visit many inter resting places in 2 days along with Dambulla, Sigiriya Polonnaruwa in one day.

Visiting Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa in one day without the Dambulla cave temple

Visiting Sigiriya and Polonnaruwamin in one day is quite easy but you don’t save much by omitting the Dambulla cave temple from the Dambulla, Sigiriya Polonnaruwa day trip. You don’t lose much time by visiting Dambulla golden temple compared to Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa. And if you drive to Sigiriya, Dambulla is not far away from you, it is just a matter of 20 minutes drive to reach it. Unlike the hike at Sigiriya, the Dambulla hike is quite easy and it takes only 10 minutes to go up on the stairs.

Visiting Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa with Seerendipity tours

Seerendipity Tour is an entirely locally owned travel company with a head office in Colombo. The highly experienced local staff is a key strength of Seerendipity Tours, and they can plan your dream holiday to Sri Lanka.


When you book a tour with us, you directly book the tour with the local company, which means there are no middlemen and therefore you can guarantee the best price. Simply get in touch with us and let us know when you travel and what you like to see.


Our staff makes a personalised programme for you, which you can change until you find the best package for you. You can also browse our existing tour packages for inspiration; all our ready-made tour packages are customizable and can be tailored to meet all your expectations. Write to us at admin@seerendipitytours.com, tel. 0094-77-440977, WhatsApp 0094-77-4440977

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