Anuradhapura: A complete guide

Jan 14, 2020 | Asia, Global travel, Sri Lanka, Uncategorized

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(Last updated on: 01/04/2020)

If you are looking for a major city to visit in Sri Lanka, then Anuradhapura should be on your list. We certainly loved our visit to this remarkable ancient city on our trip across Sri Lanka with a baby. It’s a great place to visit no matter whether you’re a budget or luxury traveller. Here’s everything you need to know in case you’re planning a visit…


Where is Anuradhapura?

Located in North Central Province, Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura is a bustling provincial capital city. It is also the capital of the Anuradhapura District itself as well as being one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals! Th city of Anuradhapura lies on the banks of Malvathu River.

Now, the city is a UNSECO World Heritage Site. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities anywhere in the world, and is popular with history-loving tourists and travellers from across the globe.

A temple at Anuradhapura

How to get to Anuradhapura

Colombo, the main capital of Sri Lanka, is around 205 km away from Anuradhapura. You can hire a car in Colombo and drive to Anuradhapura, which takes just under four hours. A taxi would cost just under £100 GBP.

If public transport is your preferred method, you can take either the train or bus to Anuradhapura. There are various trains that leave from Fort Station early in the morning, and it takes just over three hours. Leaving four times daily, the bus from Colombo Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal takes around five hours. The bus and train each cost around £1-3 GBP, so they are the perfect option for budget travellers.

Kandy is slightly closer. The drive to Anuradhapura takes around 2.5 hours – and a taxi will cost around £45 GBP. However, there is no direct train or bus from Kandy. You can get the train to Polgahawela Station from Kandy, and jump on another train from there to Anuradhapura. By bus, you have to get from Kandy to Kegalle and then from Kegalle to Polgahawela. The train is definitely more straightforward! Again, by public transport the journey only costs around £3.

You can also book a day trip to Anuradhapura, which can be a great option if you have a busy itinerary or are staying near by.

Things to do in Anuradhapura

There is so much to do in this ancient capital city. Here are some of the very best!

Mihintale, thought to be the birth place of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, is incredibly special. A hill with some rudimentary steps and a wobbling railing, this is somewhere that definitely requires sensible footwear! The view from the top is spectacular, and it is obviously a sacred area. Entry costs Rs500. This includes nearby religious sites too; make sure to cover your shoulders and knees when visiting.

Visiting Anuradhapura with our baby girl
GOOD TO KNOW: you might spot some monkeys at Mihintale!

There are so many ancient ruins in Anuradhapura. Ratna Prasada, originally a 7 story jewel palace, has a beautiful guard stone at its entrance. Ranmasu Uyana is a great example of ancient archaeology and technology, while the Royal Palace, Vijayabahu Maligaya, is a fascinating site too.

Anuradhapura has plenty of other sites of religious significance too. Ruwanwelisaya is the tallest Dagoba in the whole of Sri Lanka, and is incredibly peaceful and pretty. Jaya Sri Maha Boodhi, an ancient spiritual tree, is a popular place for Buddhist pilgrims. The atmosphere is one of absolute bliss.

See some clips of the city here!

If you want to catch a stunning sunset, head to Tissa Wewa. This is an artificial reservoir, and provides space for a relaxing stroll. You’ll be able to spot two gorgeous white stupas (rounded structures used for Buddhist meditation) in the distance.

For animal lovers, Wilpattu National Park is the city’s go to. There is no end to the amount of different animals you’ll see on your Anuradhapura safari here. Keep your eyes peeled for elephants, deer, bears, foxes, leopards, birds and many, many more.

Where to stay in the city

No matter what your budget is, you’ll find somewhere stay in this incredible city. Use the search box to find a list of available hotels on your travel dates. Or alternatively, check out my personal recommendations below!

Heaven Upon Rice Fields offer clean and bright accommodation, with a private bathroom in every room. There is free WiFi, air conditioning and free parking. Rooms have hairdryers and toiletries, and the hotel offers breakfast too. There is plenty of outdoor space, and you can even hire a bike from this hotel if you fancy cycling around Anuradhapura. 

Belmond Lake Hotel has everything you could possibly need – including a spa! There is free WiFi, a 24-hour front desk, room service and a children’s play area. Rooms have private bathrooms, and there is a terrace area as well as other outdoor seating space. Airport transfers can be arranged, and there is free parking should you need it.

Liyana Holiday Resort, just two miles from Anuradhapura Railway Station, is another great option. With free WiFi, free parking, easy check in and a restaurant, you’ll get on well here. The hotel has outdoor spaces for relaxing in the sun, garden view rooms and an airport shuttle service too!

If you are travelling to/around Sri Lanka on a budget, there are plenty of hostels in Anuradhapura. Whether you want a cheap private room or are happy to take a bed in a dormitory, there are ways to ensure that your trip fits with your planned costs.

Tips for visiting Anuradhapura 

With year-round temperatures falling between 22 and 24°C, the city has a warm climate. However, autumn/winter is incredibly rainy. June-September are the best months to visit to ensure sunny days!

For the equivalent of around £20 GBP, you can purchase a UNSECO cultural heritage pass. This allows you to gain access to many of the archaeological and historic sites around Anuradhapura. Grab one of these from the Archaeology Museum. They are open from 8.30 am until 5.00 pm every day, except for Tuesdays when they are closed.

If you are travelling around Sri Lanka, then aim for 2-3 days in Anuradhapura. This is the perfect time to really make the most of this ancient capital city and everything it has to offer.

Hopefully this blog post has helped you in planning a trip to the fantastic city of Anuradhapura!


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Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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