Polonnaruwa Historical Tour
The UNESCO city of Polonnaruwa was once the thriving commercial and religious centre of Sri Lanka some 800 years ago. For three centuries, it was the royal capital of both the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms, and many majestic ruins remain today. The ruins here are within a more compact area, and kept in better condition than the other ancient city of Anuradhapura. You don't need a guide to go around Polonnaruwa, but having a guide will certainly help to bring to life this mysterious, medieval world.
If you're coming from Colombo, the fastest way to get to Polonnaruwa is by car, and the journey will take 5 hours. If you would like to arrange a driver to take you from Colombo, this can be done for an additional US $75.
You can also take the train from Colombo to Polonnaruwa station, which will take about 6.5 hours. From Polonnaruwa train station, you would need to flag down a tuk tuk which would take you into the city center.
Some people also come to Polonnaruwa as a day trip from Kandy (albeit a long day trip!). The drive from Kandy takes approximately 4 hours each way, and our partner guide Nihal can arrange return transport for an additional US $60. Please do let us know if you would like this to be arranged.
You can walk around Polonnaruwa on your own with a map, and hit all the major points of interest. However, it is not nearly as interesting without a knowledgeable guide to tell you the story of this ancient kingdom.
Nope! You get to pick the pace you want to explore at, so it's entirely up to you how much of the complex you would like to cover.
There's no bad time of year to visit Polonnaruwa, so you can visit all year round! Whatever time of the year you decide to visit, we do highly recommend a late afternoon walk when the weather is cooler.
On average it will take you 4 hours to walk around the complex, though it's best to leave a bit more time to see everything Polonnaruwa has to offer in case you are in a larger group or want to take a more leisurely pace.
Here are some of the top sites of Polonnaruwa that you will encounter on your visit:
Gal Vihara: this is a group of four granite carvings of Buddha. All are cut from a single slab of granite. The standing Buddha is said to be the most beautiful of all with an unusual position of crossed arms and a sad expression on his face.
Quadrangle: this is a very compact group of ruins which are housed on a raised platform surrounded by a wall. A true history treasure trove!
Royal Palace: this was once a very grand structure of seven storeys, supported by thirty columns. From the sheer scale of its ruins, we can still imagine its grand, royal past.
Dagoba Kiri Vihara: this is one of the best preserved and unrestored dagobas (i.e. stupas) in Polonnaruwa with perfectly intact white plaster.
Audience Hall: this is known for its elephant friezes and lion carvings representing the Singhala race.
Hatadage: built out of stone, brick and wood by King Nissanka Malla to keep the Relic of the tooth of Buddha
Rankoth Vehera: this is the largest stupa in Polonnaruwa
Comfortable walking shoes
Clothing that cover your knees and shoulders (as some of the ruins of the Ancient City are sacred)
If you are feeling hungry after all the walking around, we can recommend a few places:
Priyamali gedara: this has a great buffet of local fare with beautiful views of rice paddies
Wishma: this is the place to go if you are feeling hungry for some fresh seafood! It has everything from fish to shrimp and calimari.
Jaga Food: this restaurant is a bit out of the way, but is definitely worth the trek for local cuisine cooked on firewood stoves. In particular, the curries here are worth writing home about! You can also spend longer, and take a cooking lesson here.