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Polonnaruwa

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99/1,Sri Nishshankamallapura Polonnaruwa

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Polonnaruwa is a city in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka.

Understand

The second most ancient of Sri Lanka's kingdoms, Polonnaruwa was first declared the capital city by King Vijayabahu I in the 11th century CE and maintained its status until the 13th century. In 1982 the ancient city of Polonnaruwa was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. What's nice about Polonnaruwa is that the ruins are in one compact area so you can visit them quite easily. Just one three wheeler ride from where you're staying to the entrance and you can walk about them all day long. If you don't have a lot of time and have to make a choice, the ruins at Polonnaruwa are much better presented and more interesting than the often repetitious ruins of Anuradhapura. There are only so many stupas you can see before you have "seen them all".

Get in

Polonnaruwa is 216 km or 134 miles from Colombo and 66 km east of Dambulla. To travel there, there are several options.

By plane

1 Hingurakgoda Airport (HIM IATA). The nearest airport. The only flights available is by FitsAir from Colombo-Ratmalana, (updated May 2015)

Sigiriya Airport (GIU IATA). More choices: (updated May 2015)

  • FitsAir from Colombo-Ratmalana (RML IATA),
  • Millennium Airlines from Colombo-Ratmalana,
  • Cinnamon Air from Colombo-Bandaranaike, BatticaloaTrincomalee

By car

Car is the easiest. Any taxi service (+94 11 2556 556 or +94 11 2818 818 are two numbers of cab companies you can call) will charge you around LKR 30 per km (approx LKR 13,000 roundtrip) (as of mid 2007). Make sure you ask for a Nissan Sunny or Toyota Corolla or you might be sent a less comfortable car. The advantage is that you will sit in air conditioned luxury all the way to Polonnaruwa and the road is quite nice with plenty of greenery along the way. The old, massive trees tend to shade into the road once you leave the urban areas, creating a canopy effect. Trip is five to six hours inclusive of breaks for food and shopping (although shopping along the way is just overpriced and not recommended).

By train

Train travel is quite cheap: you'll that find the three wheeler ride to the train station costs about as much. You get on the train to Trincomalee at Colombo Fort station, connect in Gal Oya and you're in Polonnaruwa. The train leaves at 6.15 am and will take a good part of a day there is no air conditioning but the windows can open.

No train runs to/from Anuradhapura.

By bus

From Colombo - Buses also leave from Colombo Fort but from a slightly different location. Take the intercity to Polonnaruwa. With luck and blessings from whatever deity you subscribe to, you should arrive in Polonnaruwa in six to eight hours.

From Anuradhapura - Direct bus from the Anuradhapura bus station in New Town runs throughout the day and the distance from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa is some 100 km and the bus trip will take three hours.

From Kandy - The 150 km bus trip takes 4,5 hours. Makes a stop in Dambulla (a bit less than 2 hours from Dambulla to Polonnaruwa).

The Polonnaruwa Bus Station is situated 4 km to the east of the main attractions, so if your hotel is around there ask to be dropped somewhere closer (Clock Tower for example).

1 Polonnaruwa Bus Stand. (updated May 2015)

Get around

Bicycles are the best way to get around. Most guest houses will rent out bikes. All the sights in the old town are located next to each other so you can cover all of them easily using a bicycle in one day.

See

Just north of present-day Polonnaruwa town, 140km (90 miles) north of Kandy, are the ruins of ancient Polonnaruwa, which date from the late 10th century, when the Chola kings of southern India invaded Sri Lanka and conquered Anuradhapura.

  • 1 King Parakramabahu I Statue. A massive rock-cut statue of a Buddhist king, Parakrama Bahu. (updated May 2015)
  • 2 Potgul Vehera. Ruins of a monastery built by King Parakramabahu the great (1153-1186 A.D.). It's original name is unknown. According to a stone inscription found at the site, it has been renovated by a consort of King Parakramabahu. The peculiar feature of the monastery is the circular brick structure located in the lower terrace. (updated May 2015)
  • 3 The Royal Palace. (updated May 2015)
  • 4 Royal Court. (updated May 2015)
  • 5 Kumara Pokuna. (updated May 2015)
  • 6 King Nissanka Malla's Palace. (updated May 2015)
  • 7 Thuparamaya. (updated May 2015)
  • 8 Shiva Dewalaya Temple (Siva Devale). (updated May 2015)
  • 9 Vatadage. (updated May 2015)
  • 10 Atadage. (updated May 2015)
  • 11 Gal Pota (Stone Book). (updated May 2015)
  • 12 Nissanka Latha Mandapaya. (updated May 2015)
  • 13 Rankoth Vehera. (updated May 2015)
  • 14 Lankatilaka Gedige (The Glory of Sri Lanka). (updated May 2015)
  • 15 Kiri Vihara (The White Monastery). (updated May 2015)
  • 16 Gal Vihara or Gal Viharaya (Temple) (ගල් විහාරය), Nissankamallapura (5.5 km N form centre). (updated May 2015)
  • 17 Demala Mahaseya (Stupa). (updated May 2015)
  • 18 Lotus Pound. (updated May 2015)
  • 19 Thivanka Image House. (updated May 2015)
  • Alahana Pirivena Complex - Buddhist temples
  • Topa Wewa Lake and the Parakrama Samudra (the Sea of Parakrama)

The 1-day entrance fee is 25 USD (March 2018). Unfortunately, the round trip tickets for the cultural triangle (50 USD) are no longer available. South Asian nationals receive substantial discounts of USD 15 on entrance fees, Therefore, if you have a South Asian passport, make sure to carry it with you on your visits.

Do

In this area, you can find plenty of wildlife reserves. Try to find a guide and visit places like Minneriya National Park, Kawudulla

Buy

Eat

Avoid eating from places where they sell the food in open markets. Do not go to places that need to have touts on the streets out and where you cannot see inside the restaurant from the street.

  • 1 Gama (south of the ruins and museum). Local joint offering a tasty veg curry buffet for 350 rupees. Rp350. (updated Jan 2018)

Drink

Sleep

There are plenty of budget hotels and guest houses to stay at in the new town. Prices start at Rs 1,500 to 2,000 per person for a night.

Mid-range

  • The Village Polonnaruwa, Parakrama Lake Road, Potugal Mawatha (1 km South), ☏ +94 27 459 9299, ✉ villapol@sltnet.lk. From 45 $.. 
  • Lagassa Lodge, #95 Circular Rd. (Go down the clock tower for a block and turn left, place will be on the right after the first road), ☏ +94 773 579248, +94 764 155855, +94 770 117432. 24hrs. Good value, as the rooms were built in 2017 and are very clean, bathroom is huge, owner is nice and the food is excellent as well. LKR 2000. (updated Oct 2021)
  • Hotel Seruwa, ☏ +94 27 2222 2411. Also run by CHC but cheaper and the location is pretty nice as well. Rooms are relatively new but check the room before you check into it. 
  • Polonnaruwa Resthouse, ☏ +94 27 222 2299. Run by the Ceylon Hotels Corporation. Nice location on the Parakrama Samudra. Rooms are relatively new but ask to see the the room first. From USD 55. (updated Oct 2021)
  • 1 The Royal Lotus Hotel, Giritale (12 km NW), ☏ +94 272246316, ✉ a-284@lakpura.com. Check-in: noon, check-out: noon. Modern living conditions in a tropical setting and nestled alongside the Giritale Tank. $65-130. 
  • 2 Pharo Lake (Thidas Arana Lake), No 42 Deewara Mawatha, ☏ +94 272 226 464. At the end of a peninsula about 4 km from the ruins (an easy cycle), this resort has sweeping views over the lake, where elephants often roam. Also good staff and restaurant. $80 for lake view room. (updated Jan 2018)

Stay safe

Don't even think of sleeping on the grass, due to the risk that you will get a bite from a venomous snake or insect.

Connect

Go next

  • Dambulla located 67 km west of Polonnaruwa
  • Batticaloa located on east cost of Sri Lanka
  • Knuckles Mountain Range


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