Polonnaruwa or Anuradhapura

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Polonnaruwa or Anuradhapura

I recently published a blog post titled “Sigiriya or Kandy?” after receiving several questions from our readers who were unsure which pace to choose for their holiday in Sri Lanka. This article’s title is also quite similar to “Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa“. I get a lot of emails from readers all around the world, and some of them are about whether they should go to Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa.

Here are some of the queries 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 inquiry is prevalent among travelers who have extremely little time for their Sri Lanka trip, while others do not want to travel much on their vacation despite the availability of time and prefer to limit their vacation to one or two sites, with some time reserved for relaxation. Some families and travelers in their 60s and 70s prefer not to cover much ground on their excursions.

My objective is to assist you in deciding whether to visit Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa. I’d gone to both locations several times and found them both to be equally interesting. Both exhibit a huge number of historical monuments.

Exploring Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa

Venturing on a Sri Lanka tour with a cultural triangle is the best way to see these monumental cities. The cultural triangle tours of Sri Lanka give you the opportunity to see many historical and religious monasteries that reside in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka. The cultural triamngle tour can be a standalone activity or a part of a multi-day Sri Lanka trip.

What are the best tour itineraries to visit Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa?

Most multi-day Sri Lanka trips such include both Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa along with other historical attractions in the Sri Lanka cultural triangle. Here is a list of popular trips organized by serendipity tours to visit Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

Is it worthwhile to visit Anuradhapura?

Anuradhapura is worth seeing since it’s an archaeological zoo that exhibits the engineering talents of humans who lived thousands of years ago. For example, Abhayagiriya Gadoba (stupa, pagoda) is a magnificent edifice even now, yet it was formerly considerably larger than what we see now. King Walagambhu built Abhayagiri Daboba during his second reign (89–77 BC), and it was one of the largest structures of the time, at 115 feet tall.

There are other magnificent structures in the archaeological city of Anuradhapura; another notable construction is Jetawanarama, which was the second largest brick building in the ancient world. There are hundreds of these intriguing structures in the city, and Buddhists still revere and cherish the majority of them. Other places we recommend to top travelers include Twin Pond, Samadhi Buddha, Thuparama Dagoba (3rd century BC), Lankarama, Isurumuniya, Moonstone, Sri Maha Bodhi, and Guard Stone. Because they are spread out over a large area, visiting all of them may take roughly 5 hours. Anuradhapura is organized into three major sections: the Abhyagiri Monastery complex, the Jetawanarama complex, and the Mahavihara complex. There were various temple complexes, each of which was equipped with Buddhism learning centres, stupas or pagodas, hospitals (Ayurveda), audience halls, parks, mediation centers, libraries, and dwelling quarters for monks.

Is it worthwhile to visit Polonnaruwa?

I have visited the Polonnaruwa historical site several times, and if you enjoy history and culture of Sri Lanka, you should definitely go. Polonnaruwa’s archaeological complex contains dozens of remarkable monuments, including palaces, lakes, Buddhist temples, Hindu shrines, audience halls, and many more constructions.
Typically, a tour of Polonnaruwa’s old city begins near the palace of King Parakramabahu, which was destroyed during the south Indian invasion. The Parakrama palace is located in the centre of the ancient city, along with a few additional facilities such as audience halls. From the Parakrama Palace to the Quadrangle and Gala Vihara at the far end of Polonnaruwa’s old city, well-preserved monuments can be found. Unlike Anuradhapura, the monuments in Polonnaruwa are in good shape because the monuments are not as old as monuments in Anuradhapura. However, the number of monuments in Polonnaruwa is significantly less than in Anuradhapura, and monuments in Anuradhapura cover a much larger area than in Polonnaruwa.

What do Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa have to offer?

Anuradhapura implies discovering Sri Lankan history, and Polonnaruwa means discovering Sri Lankan history as well. The difference is the age of the historical buildings, since the decaying ruins of Anuradhapura stretch back many thousands of years, and some of the structures, such as Abhyagiri dagoba (pagoda or stupa) and Ruwanweli dagoba, were created before Christus.

The monuments in Polonnaruwa are significantly younger than those in Anuradhapura. Most historical monuments in Polonnaruwa were created during the 10th and 11th centuries AD, while most historical constructions in Anuradhapura were built between the 3rd and 10th centuries BC.


Visiting museums, in addition to monuments, is essential for understanding Sri Lanka’s history. Both places have museums; however, the Polonnaruwa museum is significantly better organized than the Anuradhapura museums. The Polonnaruwa Museum’s relics are significantly better organized and provide a good image of the historic architecture to be viewed on the site. For example, following the invasion, the Parakrama palace was reduced to a few walls and a foundation, despite being a massive complex with seven levels. If you visit the museum before entering the old city, you can see a model of the Parakrama palace and get a sense of its imposing magnitude.

A comparison of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa

Some comparison between Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa

Anuradhapura                                                               Polonnaruwa

From the third century BC to the tenth century AD 10–11 century AD

Monuments are both older and younger.

Spreads over huge area                                               spreads over small area

Many dozens of monument                                        Number of monuments less

Lot of ground to cover need a vehicle                      can explore by foot, bile of vehicle

The city tour lasts about 4-5 hours                            City tour lasts about 2-3 hours

Reaching out to Anuradhapura

The distance from Colombo to Anuradhapura is 200 kilometres, and the journey by private vehicle takes approximately 4 hours. Rail and plane services are also available for travelers who wish to visit Anuradhapura. Trains headed for Anuradhapura depart from Colombo’s mail railway station. From Colombo or the airport, one can take a seaplane or a helicopter to Anuradhapura, with the latter’s domestic airport serving as the landing point.

Reaching out to Polonnaruwa

The major form of transportation to access the monuments in Polonnaruwa is by road. The distance between Colombo and Polonnaruwa is 220 km, and the trip takes about 5 hours in a private vehicle. Rail and plane transport can also be scheduled from Colombo. There are three trains every day from Colombo to Polonnaruwa. There are two daily flights from Colombo to Polonnaruwa.

Anuradhapura Polonnaruwa distance

Our guests frequently inquire whether it is possible to visit Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in a single day. The trip’s starting point primarily determines the answer, which can be either yes or no. You can visit both Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in one day if you begin your vacation in Sigiriya or Habarana. However, if you start your vacation in a distant location, such as Colombo or Kandy, you will be unable to see both locations due to the time spent on transportation. If you stay in a hotel near Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa, you can easily visit both locations because the distance between the two cities is only about 100 km and the travel takes about two hours.

Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura have additional activities

Most visitors to these towns expect to see historical landmarks, but there are a few more essential activities that you may do if you have time. Among the activities are village tours, visits to national parks and Jeep safaris, Ayurvedic treatments (massage), cooking classes, boating on the village lake, temple visits, jungle trekking, and bird viewing.

I hope that after considering the above criteria, you can decide whether to visit Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa on your trip to Sri Lanka. If you need any additional information about Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, please contact us at admin@seerendipitytoiurs.com.

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