Things to do in Polonnaruwa: Explore the wonders of Sri Lanka’s Second Ancient Kingdom

 In Best Time to Visit, Holidays, Places To Visit, Sri Lanka, temple, Things to do, Travel, Travel Journal


The city of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka Has always been the most underrated in Sri Lanka. Though the city of Polonnaruwa is small, the ruins and the temples in Sri Lanka are a must visit when exploring. This ancient city of Polonnaruwa is a must in your itinerary of the Sri Lanka Tour Package. 

This sacred city has so much to offer – learn their history, explore their culture and heritage, places to visit in Sri Lanka and a lot more things to do in Polonnaruwa. So, let’s embark on a journey to explore this ancient city and look for some fun and interesting things to do in Polonnaruwa.



The city of Polonnaruwa was once a thriving, commercial and religious Centre of Sri Lanka, some 800 years ago. The city has some of the best temples and religious buildings, which are centuries old. It was once the capital of the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms. 

It all started in the late 10th century when the South Indian Chola Dynasty conquered Sri Lanka and chose Polonnaruwa as a new capital. The reason was because of its strategic placement which was helpful to protect them from the attack of the Ruhunu Sinhalese kingdom in the southeast, and another reason being it has fewer numbers of mosquitoes.

In the year 1070, the Chola Dynasty was overtaken by the Si kingdom which kept Polonnaruwa as the capital, and it was during their period that Polonnaruwa reached its highest glory. It was during the early 13 century that the city started losing its glory and later the capital was moved to Colombo.

What the City has to offer?

There are plenty of things to do in Polonnaruwa. It has some stunning temples and religious buildings. As a traveller, you will be overwhelmed by the large religious monuments and ingenuity from a culture and part of history that we know so little about. 

The heat can be daunting and the travel can cause you fatigue, but once you start exploring, you will be mesmerised by vast ruins,  and it will become one of the most memorable memories that you take back from Sri Lanka. 

You can be a local from Sri Lanka or someone who has come for a beach trip and is looking to explore deeper into the history of the country, visiting Polonnaruwa is highly recommended. 

Where is Polonnaruwa?


The city of Polonnaruwa is located in the central province of Sri Lanka, an area otherwise known as the culture triangle. The city is 220 km away from the nation’s capital that is Colombo and 50 km away from Sigiriya. 

Rich with historical sites and cultural masterpieces, this city is the home to many of Sri Lanka’s grand former capitals. Whether you are a history enthusiast or a nature buff, this place is heaven for you.

Best Time to Visit Polonnaruwa

Sri Lanka has a tropical climate which can be divided into wet and dry seasons. The wet season can become very difficult to move around because of the constant rain. So the best time to visit Sri Lanka is during the dry season which is from December to March. The dry season is ideal for sightseeing, beach vacations, exploring places and wildlife Safari.

Entry Fee to Polonnaruwa


The entry to Polonnaruwa is quite pricey, it’s USD 25 per person if you are a foreigner. The entry also includes a guided tour of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed ruins. 

The best way to move around Polonnaruwa

The best way to move around Polonnaruwa is to rent a bike or you can also hire a Tuk Tuk guide. The entire tour will take about 4 to 5 hours with some leisurely breaks on a bike. Tuk-Tuk is the most convenient mode of transport in Polo. The Tuk Tuk is not only going to save a lot of time but also will protect you from the scorching heat.

How to reach Polonnaruwa


Like any other city in Sri Lanka, it is very easy to reach either by bus, train or Tuk-tuk. Kaduruwela is the new town of Polonnaruwa so every public transport will arrive there. 

Sri Lanka is very well-connected to the major cities of India and its neighbouring countries. You can easily book a flight to reach Colombo Air and from there you can easily take a cab or bus to reach your destination. You can also break the journey to either Kandy, Dambulla or Sigiriya to make it more convenient.

Why is Polonnaruwa not spoken of much?

Polonnaruwa is an angel city in Sri Lanka. It is often overshadowed by more famous cities like Anuradhapura. Polonnaruwa is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It receives less attention from tourists and historians because of its remote location. Though there are numerous ruins, they are spread over a vast area, which makes it difficult to access by the visitors. 

Despite its under-the-radar status, Polonnaruwa has numerous historical and cultural treasures. From majestic stupas and ancient temples to stone carvings, every ruin of Polonnaruwa Speaks of Sri Lanka’s rich heritage and ancient civilisation. While this ancient city may not be receiving as much attention as other cities, Polonnaruwa Remains the hidden gem of Sri Lanka.

Things to do in Polonnaruwa

Visiting Historical Sites


1. Royal Palace of King Parakramabahu

There are hundreds of things to do in Polonnaruwa but first, you need to visit the royal palace. The giant structure which now is a ruin was once a 7 stories structure with 1000 rooms. The palace belonged to King Parakumba in the 11th century but was later destroyed by invaders from South India. 

The place is an archaeological wonder because building such a massive structure without any modern-day machinery is a spectacle on its own. 

2. Audience Hall

The Audience Hall is a wonder on its own. The beautifully carved elephants each in different positions, facing different directions will draw your attention. Apart from these beautifully carved elephants, the figures of lions and the staircase, all speak of the intricate work in old times. 


3. Gal Vihara

We can find a lot of Buddhist Temples in Sri Lanka. The Gal Vihara is located in the northern province of Sri Lanka is the Gal Vihara, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was initially called Uttara Rama, and is an ancient Buddhist Temple. It has four Buddha statues, each in different positions. 

  • In the first one Buddha is seated on a lotus.
  • The second one Buddha is in a seated position but the size is small.
  • Third Buddha is in a standing position.
  • In the last one Buddha is in a reclining position.

Para para is known to be the founder of this temple. The Gal Vihara is the most prominent of all the temples that was built in Sri Lanka by Para. It was believed that the figures were painted with gold, but later it was melted and stolen by the hunters. The three caves built here are Vijjadhara Guha, Nipanna Patima Guha and Nissina Patima Lena. The code of conduct in this temple is very stringent, so be careful while taking pictures. 

4. Rankoth Vehera

This huge dagada is 54 meters tall and is one of the largest dagada in Polonnaruwa and the fourth largest in Sri Lanka. The structure dates back to the 11th century, King Nissanka Malla dynasty. Wandering around these ruins you will be taken aback by these impressive structures and surprised by the fact that this ancient city once was all covered by trees. 


5. Kiri Vehera

Kiri means “milk white”. This milk-white dagara or Stupa was constructed in honour of the King’s Queen. This beautiful stupa is known for its architectural features and serene ambience. 

The most interesting fact of this stupa is that when it was restored, some 700 years after its construction, the lime plaster was still in perfect condition. This is one of the best preserved unrestored dagada in Polonnaruwa. 

6. Lankatilaka Temple

The LankaTilaka Temple is a monolithic Buddha image house built by King Parakrambahu. The building is made out of bricks and the outer walls are covered with elaborate design. The statue of Buddha is made out of clay bricks and is 41 feet in height. 

The whole statue was made out of flat bricks but the portion above the shoulder is destroyed. 


7. Thuparama Gedige

Don’t forget to visit Thuparama Gedige when in Polonnaruwa as it showcases the perfect blend of Buddhist and Hindu Architecture. Wander around and explore the intricate carved stone pillars and remains of the shrine’s original roof. 

8. Siva Devalaya Complex

The construction of this building dates back to the Chola dynasty time when Indian invaders established this city. This is among the few Hindu Temples in Sri Lanka. The construction is made up entirely of stone and is in the same condition as it was at the time of construction. 

Visiting Natural Attractions


Parakrama Samudra

The Parakrama Samudra is a water reserve, which has water from five different lakes, namely Thopa, Dumbutulu, Erabadu, Boo and Katu tanks. It is also known as King’s  Parakrama Sea. It has a storage area of more than 5000 acres for irrigation out of the 18,000 acres. It is one of the most significant anion rainwater reservoirs on this island.

This man-made lake is not only a big project that provides water for irrigation, but it also serves as a home to many aquatic animals. It is a beautiful site with a burst of fresh air blowing on your face. The highlight of this reservoir is the lush greenery surrounding this place. 

Apart from enjoying the view of this massive reservoir, you can also engage yourself in fishing activities. The highlight of this place is a sunset view of the reservoir. 

Polonnaruwa Archeological Museum 

There are plenty of things to do in Polonnaruwa, as this ancient city is full of ruins. You will find artefacts that date back to 1012 AD. To conserve and preserve all these precious resources a museum was constructed in the year 1962 in the public service sports club hall at Polonnaruwa. 

The museum doesn’t look small and simple from the outside but consists of a variety of informative visuals and artefacts that are very old and precious. 

The museum aims to develop and provide a deeper knowledge of the history and culture of Polonnaruwa. At the museum, we can find several statues of Indian Gods like Lord Shiva and Gautam Buddha, especially made out of bronze.

Hiriwadunna Village Safari

A village safari is a must of all things to do in Polonnaruwaas it gives the best experience and insight into the rural life of Sri Lanka. As you embark on a journey to explore Hiriwadunna, you will be mesmerised by the paddy fields, lush green forests and bullock cart ride through those fields. 

Activities to Enjoy


Shopping among the Locals

Polonnaruwa is an ancient city which is known for its ruins and historical landmarks, but if you’re looking for an opportunity to shop, then you can visit the market to shop for some souvenir handicrafts and traditional Sri Lankan items. Some of the popular places to shop in Sri Lanka, especially in Polonnaruwa include:

Polonnaruwa Market

A great place to shop for local goods, spices, clothes, and household items. 

Handicraft Emporium

The handicraft emporium had some great products like wood carvings, textiles, and hand baskets. 

Street Vendors

The local vendors generally sell handmade jewellery, artworks, and other small, unique treasures like mementoes that you can take back from the trip. 

Those shopping options are very limited, compared to the larger cities, but visit these local shops to support local art and to take back a moment from your trip


Cultural Performance 

To have a closer glimpse of the culture of Sri Lanka, do not forget to attend the performances, showcasing Sri Lankan music, dance, and folklore. 

Local Food 

Food is the best medium to know about the rich and diverse culture of a country. When in Polonnaruwado not forget to try the rich and diverse flavours of Sri Lankan cuisine, which reflects their cultural heritage and culinary tradition. 

Savour some rice, curries, vadai, sambal, and kottu roti to understand the gastronomy of the Sri Lankan Cuisine. 

Elephant Safari

Sri Lanka has some great opportunities for elephant Safari so when in Polonnaruwa, embark on an unforgettable elephant ride through the lush green forest and scenic countryside. Ride on these majestic elephants and enjoy the wildlife in their natural habitat. 

Bird watching 

Pallu has some diverse varieties of bird species, making it a paradise for bird watchers. Explore the wetlands and reservoir surrounding the city and spot some colourful birds. Bird watching is a must out of all things to do in Polonnaruwa. 


Polonnaruwa has some great sites to click on some magnificent photographers. From ancient ruins to scenic landscapes there are countless opportunities to capture stunning photos in Polonnaruwa. You can read through blogs on photography to capture the memories at Polonnaruwa. 

Things to Know before visiting Polonnaruwa

  • To roam around without any hassle it’s advisable to hire a guide. The guide will help you understand the grandeur of every building and the story behind it.
  • Taking a cycle or tuk-tuk would be great to cover the whole city.
  • Do not take any photographs with your back towards Buddha because people here take it as an offence. 
  • Always remember to respect the religion and emotions of the locals.
  • Always take your shoes and hat off before entering any sacred spaces. 
  • Sri Lanka is very conservative, so make sure to cover your shoulders and knees.
  • Wear comfortable footwear, as you will be walking and exploring a lot. 
  • Always pack your sunglasses, sunscreen, and hat otherwise you are going to get sunburned. Always carry a water bottle with you. 
  • Purchase your entry tickets before entering the ancient city and keep those tickets handy at the various checkpoints.
  • Since there are a lot of places to explore in Polonnaruwa, Planet visits accordingly to avoid crowds and make the most of your time.

Present Day Scenario

  • The ancient city of Polonnaruwa is one of the best-planned archaeological relic cities in the country.
  • The city has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
  • Polonnaruwa is one of the cleanest and most beautiful cities in Sri Lanka.
  • It is the second largest city in the northern central province of Sri Lanka.


Polonnaruwa offers a captivating journey through Sri Lanka‘s ancient times through its magnificent ruins, Temple and historical landmarks. Whether you like history or a nature lover or are just an enthusiast who loves travelling and exploring places, there is something for everyone at Polonnaruwa. So, when planning your trip to Polonnaruwa, do not forget to go through these last-minute tips and tricks to make the most out of your trip. 

What to do in Polonnaruwa District on a sunny day?

On a sunny day buy a hat and hop on a tuk tuk and explore the ruins of Polonnaruwa. There are plenty of things to do in Polonnaruwa on a sunny day like bird watching, enjoying cultural performances or visiting ancient ruins.

Are there cheap things to do in Polonnaruwa District?

Most of the places to visit in Polonnaruwa are free of cost and don’t require any kind of entry fees. 

When is the best time to visit Polonnaruwa?

The best time to visit Polonnaruwa is during the dry season which is from November to March as the temperature is not very high making it conducive to moving around.

What is the name of the largest tank in Polonnaruwa?

Parakrama Samudra is the largest tank in Polonnaruwa. It was built by Parakramabahu I to provide water for irrigation.

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