Anuradhapura is a noteworthy ancient capital of Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean. It was the first well-established ancient kingdom in the graceful history of this splendid island. Also, it remained the longest. Accordingly, Anuradhapura Kingdom was the capital of the Sinhalese reign from the 4th century BC to the 11th century AD. Going beyond, its civilizations were one of the greatest that emerged in the whole world. Moreover, its political power and socio-cultural values were strong and remarkable beyond words. The ruins of these kingdoms exhibiting the ancient grandeur still exist in this region. Thus, there are many places with religious and cultural values that are ideal to visit in Anuradhapura.
Of course, even after several hundred thousand years, we still appreciate them and value them. Therefore, we thought of sharing with you their delight, in order to help you explore the majesty of Anuradhapura, in the best way possible. So, why not? Continue reading, and enlighten yourself!
Things to do in Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura provides you amazing opportunities to explore this sacred city in various ways. However, you can find below, the best way to explore this wonderful city.
Whatever it is, the main thing to do in Anuradhapura is to explore the vast archeological ruins and fascinating religious sites. Therefore, first of all, let’s get to know about the places to visit in the charming city of Anuradhapura.
The Best Places to Visit in Anuradhapura
Indeed, as we always highlight, Anuradhapura houses a bunch of places with significant cultural and religious values. Hence, if you visit Anuradhapura you have plenty of places to visit and enjoy as per your wish. So, in order to choose the best, we have listed below the most ideal places to visit in Anuradhapura. Never forget to have a look!
- Sri Maha Bodhi
- Abhayagiri Dagoba
- Ruwanweli Maha Seya
- Isuruminya Temple
- Abhyagiriya Museum
- Brazen Palace
- Mirisawetiya Dagoba
- Royal Palace
- Jethawana Dagoba
- Thuparama Dagoba
- Awukana Buddha Statue
- Anuradhapura Ruins
- Ath Pokuna
- Kuttam Pokuna
- Samadhi Buddha Statue
- Archeological Museum
- Nuwarawewa Tank
- Thissa Wewa
- Kala Wewa
Of course, all these places hold a uniqueness of their own. Moreover, the grandeur they exhibit is impressive beyond a doubt. So, for abetter overview, let’s get to know about each of these places in detail.
Sri Maha Bodhi (The Sacred Bo Tree)
Sri Maha Bodhi is a sacred acacia tree located in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is the southern sapling of the historical Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment in India. In the 3rd century, Theri Sangamatta brought this Bo sapling to Sri Lanka. She was the daughter of the Indian Emperor Ashoka, who later became a pioneer in establishing the Sri Lanka Bhikkhuni Sasana. However, King Devanampiyatisa was ruling the country, when Sangamitta Theri arrived. So, King Devanampiyatissa in 249 BC, planted this Bo Sapling, ceremoniously, in the Maha Mevna Uyana in Anuradhapura. Hence, it is by far the oldest tree in the world with a recorded planting history.
From time immemorial, Buddhists came from far and wide to pay homage to this sacred Bodhi tree. Buddhists believe that offering sacrifices to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi will bring significant and positive changes in their lives. Hence, Buddhists make special offerings to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, wishing success in their pursuit of various goals such as healing, childbirth, passing exams, and employment. It is also a long-standing tradition among the farmers of Anuradhapura to offer their first paddy harvest of the year to the Sri Maha Bodhi tree. Going beyond, the Bo tree is revered by many people and thus, holds a cultural heritage.
This is just a glimpse of this most sacred Bo tree of Buddhists, Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. Check our article on ‘Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi‘, to get to know more about its grandeur.
It is also famous as the Abhayagiri Uththara Maha Chaitya. King Walagamba built this stupa. A coffin in the shape of a bull is treasured here. To the north of the city of Anuradhapura, there is this Abhayagiri Dagoba with its walls, ornate carvings, highly artistic fence, and moonstone. Also, Abhayagiri is not just a temple complex. It was also a bhikkhu sect that maintained a unique historical writing tradition and way of life. Moreover, from the 2nd century, it was an international center that froze all Buddhist philosophy, attracting scholars from all over the world. Thus, in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, the Abhayagiri Vihara, the Maha Vihara, and the Jetavana Buddhist sects stood on equal footing.
Ruwanweli Maha Seya
Ruwanweli Maha Seya or Swarnamali Maha Seya is a majestic stupa in the sacred city of Anuradhapura. This was the main dagoba belonging to the ancient Maha Vihara. Also, this still remains as the main dagoba of the Maha Vihara in the present as well. Ruwanweli Seya was the most important physical shrine in ancient Sri Lanka until the establishment of the Temple of Tooth Relic. However, with a diameter of 338 feet (103 m) and 942 feet (287.1 m), Ruwanmahaweli Seya stands as one of the tallest monuments in the present world.
Owing to its historical and religious values, this undoubtedly happens to be one of the best places to visit in Anuradhapura. Besides, this is just a quick run-through of its significance. Feel free to check our article on ‘Ruwanweli Maha Seya‘ for a detailed overview.
King Devanampiyatissa, a prominent ruler from the Sri Lankan Monarch built this temple. Further, there is a belief that the purpose of building it was to house 500 high caste children. However, King Kasyapa (473 – 491) renovated this temple and named it “Boupulvan Kasubgiri Radmahavehera”. There is a temple by a cave, and above it is a rock. Also, there is a small stupa. At the bottom, on either side of an opening, are ivory figures that emerge from a pond. Besides, this site houses a bunch of amazing carvings, that hold a series of fantastic artistic values.
A 6th-century mystical sculpture. It depicts a woman sitting on a man’s lap. There is a belief that this carving features King Dutu Gemunu’s son Prince Saliya, and his girlfriend Ashokamala, a saddle girl. Nevertheless, this remains one of the most valuable artistic sculptures from the Kingdom of Anuradhapura.
Man and horse head
This carving shows a human and a horse’s head. It is also one of the most appreciable sculptures from ancient Sir Lanka. However, there is a belief that this carving signifies Agni (fire) and Parjanya (cloud).
The Abhayagiri Museum is located in the Abhayagiri Ancient Monastery Complex in Anuradhapura. This was opened on June 13, 1992. Architecturally designed with the ancient Panchavasa Sangarama in mind, the museum was built by the Central Cultural Fund with a generous donation from the People’s Republic of China. Named the “Mahatissa Fa-Hien Cultural Complex”, the museum commemorates the Chinese Fa-Hien monks who studied Buddhism at the Abhayagiri Maha Vihara during ancient times.
In brief, this museum reveals the grandeur of ancient Sri Lanka as a land of great harmony between art and technology. To be specific, the Abhayagiri Vihara, which functioned from the 1st century BC to the 11th century BC, had bronze technology. So, this museum features fine arts in the ancient architecture of the scriptures, sculptures and carvings, sanitation in the fine arts, water management technology, temple administration, and a collection of informative artifacts from this wonderful period of Anuradhapura.
Lowamahapaya (Brazen Palace)
Lowamahapaya is a sub-hall built in the 1st century in the Maha Vihara, and it still stands near the Ruwanweli Maha Seya, in Anuradhapura. Its roof is of Metal tiles. Thus, it was famous as the Metal Palace in the history of Sri Lanka as well. The Lowamaha Palace was built by King Dutugemunu. The present small building in the middle is a modern one, but the monks of the Bodhimalu dynasty still use this place for the poya rituals of the Maha Vihara.
In the past, there was an almshouse, a lodge, and a sub-hall. There was also a boundary stone and on the days of Poya, the monks would gather and perform Poya rituals. It was a nine-story mansion with 100 rooms on each floor. The ground floor was for the Protestant monks, the second floor for the Tripitaka monks, the third, fourth, and fifth floors for the Sovan, ascetic, and non-secular monks, and the rest for the Arahants.
The building is square and the sides are 400 feet long. The roof was made of copper and bell alloy bronze tiles. Moreover, that is the reason why it got the name, ‘Lowamahapaya’, meaning the ‘red palace’. There are 40 rows of stone pillars. The total number of stone pillars is 1600 with 40 pillars per row. All of these are the same in height. Further, these pillars are adorned with solid figures and floral scrolls. It is said that it took 6 years to complete the building. It is believed that the plan of Lowamahapa was built to resemble the palace of the goddess Tharani Thawthisa “Bharani” and that a pavilion similar to the female vehicle of “Vesravana” was erected in the middle of the palace.
The Mirisawetiya Dagoba is the first dagoba built by King Dutugemunu the Great, who ruled Ceylon during the period 161 – 137 BC. However, later various kings rebuilt and expanded it. This dagoba is mentioned in historical legends as one of the foremost dagobas of that time.
Also, there is an interesting story about why King thought of building this stupa. He placed the relics of the Buddha on a stick, and then he left the stick to go to Tissa Wewa to take a bath. After bathing, he returned to the place where the baton had been placed and noticed that it could not be carried. Then, he had thought to build a stupa at the place where the rod was. Also, he named this stupa ‘Mirisawetiya’, commemorating the ill-deed he did by enjoying a chilly curry without offering it to Sanga. He had thought, that building this stupa is a punishment for his ill-deed.
However, after a series of renovations, Mirisawetiya still stands strong adding a glamour of charm to the ancient city of Anuradhapura. So, beyond a doubt, it is one of the best places for you to visit in Anuradhapura.
Among the cultural and religious attractions in Anuradhapura, the Royal palace held a fabulous prestige over the past ecnturies. It is located about 200 m north of the Thuparama Dagoba. The Royal Palace was built by King Vijayabahu, a crown head during the 12th century. His purpose of building this was to use it for some transitional ceremonies in Anuradhapura.
The stone buildings of the palace still remain in good condition. Also, you can see a ruined temple on its southern side. After all, these Royal Palace ruins simply happen to be one of the best places to visit in Anuradhapura. Further, the Royal Palace is regarded as a photogenic site for travelers in the present as well.
Standing 400 feet (120 m) high, it is the tallest stupa in the world. It is also the largest brick-built building to date. Jethawanaramaya was built by Mahayana Buddhist King Mahasen (273 – 301). It is believed that part of the belt relic worn by the Buddha is treasured there. So, this is a consumer chaitya. It is the 3rd largest structure in the ancient world after the two Great Pyramids at Giza. Approximately 93,300,000 baked bricks were used to build it.
The area around it is about 8 acres (5.6 ha). More than 3,000 Buddhist monks were accommodated in this viharaya. The length of one side of the stupa is 576 feet. The stairway on all four sides is about 28 feet wide. The altar in the courtyard is 27 feet high. The foundation of the stupa extends to a depth of 6 meters and is built on the rock on which it is located. The names of the people who supported the building industry are inscribed on a stone plaque.
Thuparamaya is considered to be the first Chethiya built in Sri Lanka after the introduction of Buddhism. The shrine was built in a Vatadage on a high platform. The wall around the dagoba of the Vatadage and the roof above it is now defunct but the four rows of stones that supported the roof are still intact. These four rows of stones vary in height from one another. In each inner row, the pillar is taller than the outer row. All stone pillars are octagonal. The carvings on the pillar heads are also different from each other. The first and second rows are adorned with solid heads, the third row is adorned with bird figures and the fourth row is adorned with floral letters.
To the south of the eastern entrance is a small pantry for the convenience of the pilgrims. The steps leading to the Dagaba and the cobblestones, watchtowers, and moonstones on either side are also beautifully designed. Owing to these features, Thuparamaya not only happens to be a religious attraction, but also a cultural attraction with a series of amazing artifacts. Hence, this is surely one of the best places to visit in Anuradhapura.
Aukana Buddha Statue
The Aukana Statue is simply a wonderful creation that positions Sri Lanka as a proud nation in the eyes of the world. Also, this work unveils to the world the past pride of a great generation of Sri Lanan artists.
Carved in the face of a large black stone, the statue is 38 feet 10 inches high. It stands facing the Kalawewa and is considered by some scholars to be the masterpiece of Dhatusena, the 5th-century ruler of Ceylon. Moreover, this statue is undoubtedly one of the finest surviving statues found in Sri Lanka. Therefore, it certainly happens to be one of the best places to visit in Anuradhapura.
Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka has a unique beauty, owing to the treasure it holds with regard to religious and cultural history. The historic and spectacular values of this city reveal the vast empire of the ancient capital of Sri Lanka. Also, its ruins are reflections of what was in antiquity. Hence, the ruins in Anuradhapura are simply worth exploring. You can find below some of its most significant ruins.
- Ath Pokuna
- Kuttam Pokuna
However, the excitement is not only in observing these ancient monuments but also in understanding their legends and exploring their delight in every detail. So, if you ever visit Anuradhapura, never forget to witness their enchantment, and the following briefs would help you explore them in a better way.
Sandakada Pahana (Moonstone)
The moonstone is the crescent-shaped stone slab at the foot of the stairs. They were common at religious places. However, during the later centuries, carved moonstones were used for important places such as idol houses as well. Further, moonstones belong to the seventh and ninth centuries. In the early days, this was done in a simple manner without any carvings. Then after several years, they have been decorated.
The moonstone in the Bisomaliga of the Abhayagiri Vihara in Anuradhapura is considered to be one of the finest works of art. According to Prof. Paranavithana, these carvings remind the viewer of Buddhist ideas. According to him, the horseshoe surrounded by an artistically represented flame on it, signifies that the ordinary world is full of troubles and sufferings.
Eth Pokuna (Elephant Pond)
This is a historical pond in the ancient city of Anuradhapura and is in the southwest of the Abhayagiri Stupa, close to the Lankaramaya. Due to its size, it is popular as the Elephant Pond. Still, in the past it was popular as the Maspotha Pond.
The pond is 159 meters long and 52.7 meters wide and has a depth of 9.5 meters. Also, this happens to be the largest pond in Sri Lanka. There are two main waterways that supply water to the pond. One of these routes still brings water from the Periyankulama tank to the pond. It has two other waterways on the south side, one of which still supplies water to the Elephant Pond during periods of heavy rainfall. It is said that this pond was built to meet the drinking needs of the monks of the Abhayagiri. Also, this is popular as a work of art by King Agbo I. However, it is indeed a splendor of the era, and thus, is one of the best places to visit in Anuradhapura.
Kuttam Pokuna (Twin Ponds)
Kuttam Pond is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful creations by our ancient ancestors. Moreover, it depicts how strong their connections were with nature, and also their frozen artistic talents. It is not a sacred place but it is one of the most visited places by the pilgrims. This pool is near the Abhayagiri Vihara in Anuradhapura and the purpose of building this in the past was for the bathing of the monks in Abhayagiri.
Kuttam Pokuna, or ‘Twin Pond’ simply suggests the structure of this pond. Of course, it has two ponds, both having the same width. The larger one is 132 feet long, and the small pond around 90 feet long. Also, there are three marvelous staircases that lead to the large pond. All of them are highly decorative, and they exhibit the rich artistic values of the Anuradhapura Era.
Samadhi Buddha Statue
The Samadhi Buddha statue is located in the Mahamevna Garden in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. This statue depicts Lord Buddha meditating. In this meditative posture of ‘Dyana Mudra‘, the Buddha sits with his hands on his hips, with his arms folded and his hands turned upside down. The Anuradhapura Samadhi Statue is 7’3″ high and it is a wonderful creation out of a single granite (limestone) stone.
Also, as per researchers, this statue is the best sitting statue in the world. It belongs to the 4th-5th centuries, which means to the Anuradhapura period. Scholars who study the statue are of the opinion that it reflects the Buddha’s unique personality, spiritual superhuman qualities, gentleness, and directness. Also, showing the robe in only one wave exhibits the marvelous creativity and the talents of the artist. The full round serene face radiates great kindness. So, all these amazing features make it a must-see. Thus, if you ever visit Anuradhapura, make sure you visit this place.
Anuradhapura Archaeological Museum is one of the best archaeological museums on the island of Sri Lanka. It is in the old kachcheri building, between the Brazen palace and Ruwanweliseya. Also, the history of the museum dates back to1947, and its establishment is a prime effort of Dr. Senarath Paranavithana. The museum exhibits antiquities and valuables found from various regions of Sri Lanka, and they mainly focus on religious ornaments, and ancient miscellaneous things.
So, if you are excited to explore the splendor of the Anuradhapura era, this is simply one of the ideal places for you to visit in Anuradhapura.
Reservoirs in Anuradhapura
The irrigation systems during the Anuradhapura Period were remarkable features of the kingdom. As a result, there are a number of reservoirs still existing in Anuradhapura. Their rhythmically flowing waters not only cultivate the fields around but also add a sense of beauty to the city. Hence, they undoubtedly happen to be some of the best places to visit in the city of Anuradhapura. Moreover, you can find below some of the major reservoirs out there.
King Devanampiyatissa who ruled Anuradhapura from 307-267 AD built Thissa wewa. Moreover, this Lake provided water since ancient times to water the Sri Maha Bodhi, and for the drinking purposes of the citizens. That is why even the kings did not use this lake for bathing. Also, during the reign of King Vasabha, a tunnel system popular as Ummagga Jala Mathika carried water from Tissa Lake to Ranmasu Uyana. Further, even in the present, it has a capacity of about 3500-acre feet and it currently provides water to a large number of people around the city.
Nuwarawewa is the largest of the three man-made reservoirs in Anuradhapura. King Watagamini Abaya, popularly known as King Walagamba in the first century built this tank. According to Parker (1909), the capacity of this tank reflects the capacity of the bricks of the Abayagiri Stupa. Also, flowing across peaceful greenery, it offers visitors a perfect place to soothe themselves. Hence, for travellers exploring the city of Anuradhapura, Nuwarawewa tank happens to be one of the best places to visit.
King Dhatusena created Kalawewa, the largest tank built during the Anuradhapura period. The size of this tank which is a combination of Kala and Balalu tanks is 6380 acres. Also, this lake has a water capacity of about 100,000 acre feet and consists of 6 sluices. The length and width of the Kala Wewa outlet which is 64.4 km in circumference is 170 feet and 216 feet respectively. King Parakramabahu the Great who ruled in Polonnaruwa, restored this vast reservoir which made Rajarata self-sufficient even in the past. Further, the two English governors, William Gregory and Arthur Hamilton Gordon, later renovated Kalawewa. Besides, in the past, King Dhatusena created the Jaya Ganga to carry water from Kala Wewa to Tissa Wewa to supply water to the people of Anuradhapura.
Later, under the accelerated Mahaweli movement, a canal named Nawa Jayaganga came up to supply water from Kalawewa to Anuradhapura. As evidence of the existence of high irrigation technology in Ceylon, this design shows the world the amazing ability of the previous kings. Hence, never forget to spend some time by Kalawewa, if you ever travel around Anuradhapura.
Cycling in Anuradhapura
Cycling is one of the best ways to explore the sacred city of Anuradhapura. The Anuradhapura Cycling Tour explores the architectural talents, culture, and prosperity of ancient Sri Lankans. Moreover, it includes visiting historical sites such as Abayagiriya, Jethawana Stupa, Ruwanwelise Dagoba, Samadhi Buddha Statue, Kuttam Pokuna, and Isurumuniya. Its duration is roughly 3 – 4 hours. However, if you wish to, you can even accompany a historical English speaking guide to get an extensive knowledge of the Sacred City of Anuradhapura.
Hiking in Anuradhapura
The Anuradhapura is 80m above sea level and it has a pleasant and tropical climate. Also, its average annual temperature is around 27.3 degrees Celsius. Further, the forestry areas, and the rocks and caves in the surroundings of Anuradhapura, make it one of the best areas for hiking. However, if you are wondering about hiking spots in this splendid city, nothing to worry about! You can find below some of the best places for you to visit in Anuradhapura for a wonderful hiking experience.
Mihintale is popular as the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. According to the chronicles, in 247 BC, Mahinda, an Indian missionary, met King Devanampiyatissa on the rock of Mihinthale and converted Buddhism into the state religion of the island. Thus, this location holds a high religious value. Also, in the present, it is a place of charm with a series of beautiful shrines, stupas, and caves spread across forested hills, usually full of devout, white pilgrims. Owing to these reasons, Mihinthale happens to be a significant attraction related to the history of Sri Lanka. Hence, this is one of the ideal places for you to visit around Anuradhapura.
Around 1800 steps, lead to the summit of Mihinthale, where you can find shrines. Also, this site becomes a major religious center, especially in June. Of course, hundreds of visitors arrive at this site to celebrate Poson, the day that commemorates Sri Lanka receiving Buddhism. Mohinthale is more glamourous and awe-inspiring during this season as well. Hence, we suggest that this Poson season is the best for you to witness the delight of Mihinthale at its best.
Rocks and caves are anyway quite common in the area of Anuradhapura. However, Rajagiri Cave is located around Mihinthale. These rock caves have been occupied by various monks throughout the period. Monks of great virtue and wisdom used them in the past for shelter, and for their religious activities. Thus, this cave seems to have maintained a Buddhist shrine in the early days. Numerous cave inscriptions dating back to the early Buddhist period can be found in these caves.
A series of steps leading to the top of Rajagiri hill where the Rajagiri cave is located has been carved into the rock. Anyone can reach Ranajagrilena from the entrance to the Kaludiya Pond Complex.
How to visit Anuradhapura?
You can either reach Anuradhapura by bus, by train or even by taxi. However, if you aiming for public transportation, the following information will help you make the right choice.
How to get to Anuradhapura by Train
To reach Anuradhapura, you can easily take trains from Colombo Fort. There are several trains that head to the Jaffna peninsula that pass Anuradhapura. You can choose them even. The journey takes about five and a half hours.
How to get to Anuradhapura by bus
Local buses that head to Anuradhapura, and go passing Aanurdhapura are common. You can easily find a bus of that sort from Colombo fort, Kurungala, Kandy, Jaffna, Mannar, or any other major cities. The time they take and their cost might vary with the place from where you get the bus.
The Best Way to Travel around the Ruins of Anuradhapura
There are four main ways to visit the magnificent Anuradhapura Archaeological site. You can find their details below.
Exploring Anuradhapura by Bike
It gives you freedom and versatility, a little more speed, and it is the most affordable of the wheeled options. Best of all, you will experience a sense of wonder and freedom as you travel through the countryside of Sri Lanka. If you were in a car you could see a lot more, including things you didn’t know existed. Renting a bicycle costs around 500LKR or about $ 3. After all, the heat and effort is the only drawback. However, you can break your trip through Anuradhapura into pieces.
Exploring Anuradhapura by Car
If you have the money to spend and know where to rent a car this is definitely the best option. However, we can assume that it is much more expensive than any other option. Yet, you will be able to see the ruins faster and more comfortably, and then take the fun of cycling through the rural areas of Sri Lanka a bit further. It will surely be delightful to plan your journey that way. Think about it if you find it interesting!
What is the best time to visit Anuradhapura?
The best time to visit Anuradhapura is from April to September. The warmest times of the year in Anuradhapura are May, June and July, when the average temperature changes slightly. The highest is 35.3 C in late May; the night temperature is approximately 26 C.
The Bottom Line
Anuradhapura is simply a living city, and the ruins of Anuradhapura makes it a place of pilgrimage for the devout. The vast network of 40 square kilometers of ancient Buddhist temples, monasteries, and shrines has made it a city with a bunch of places to visit. Thus, Anuradhapura is indeed one of the greatest destinations of worship on earth. All these features have even made it one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka. Therefore, the Historic City of Anuradhapura is an essential stop on any trip to Sri Lanka. So, never miss the essence of the splendor of this wonderful city, if you arrive in Sri Lanka!
Happy and Safe Travelling!