Sigiriya: Everything you need to know before you visit

Jan 17, 2020 | Asia, Global travel, Sri Lanka

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(Last updated on: 01/04/2020)

Sigiriya is one of the most famous attractions in Sri Lanka, and for good reason! This rock has historical value, teaches tourists about the local culture AND provides an incredible viewpoint of the surrounding countryside areas and mountains. So why wouldn’t you visit Sigiriya on you revisit to Sri Lanka?

Anybody can climb Sigiriya rock- if I did it with a baby on my back, anyone can do it! But it’s worth knowing a bit about the area and what it has to offer before you go to make the most of your trip. So, without further ado, here is my guide to visiting Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.


What is Sigiriya?

Sigiriya, also known as Sinhagiri, is an ancient rock fortress. It is located in the northern Matale District in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. Dominated by a huge column of rock (around 200 metres high) it is an incredibly significant historical and archaeological site.

The Culavamsa, the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle, states that this site was chosen by King Kashyapa for his new capital. He ruled from around 473 – 495 AD. On top he built a palace, decorated with vivid and colourful frescoes, and half way up the rock he built a gateway in the shape of a ginormous lion. This lion, in fact, gives the place its name. Sinhagiri means the lion rock.

The ancient ruins at Sigiriya

Now, the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After Kashyapa died, the palace – and the capital it stood in – were abandoned. It was subsequently used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century, and is now said to be one of the most well-preserved examples of ancient urban planning.

After being abandoned, it was re-discovered in 1831 by Major Jonathan Forbes. He was a British army major. He was riding his horse in the area and came across the giant rock, palace and lion sculpture!

How to get to Sigiriya

As mentioned, Sigiriya is located in the Matale District of Sri Lanka’s Central Province. The closest city is Dambulla. From here, Colombo is 148 km away and Kandy is around 72 km away. 

FUN FACT: Dambulla is actually the centre of vegetable distribution in Sri Lanka.

If you are planning to visit Sigiriya, then Dambulla is a great starting point. To get there from Colombo, the most direct way is to hire a car and drive (around 2.5 hours) or get the bus. This takes about 4 hours, but only costs the equivalent of £1 GBP. The bus goes directly from Colombo Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal to Dambulla. It runs approximately every 15 minutes.

Getting to Dambulla from Kandy is slightly more complicated. Buses are infrequent and you have to swap – go from Kandy Clock Tower Bus Station to Ambepussa (the number 8 towards Colombo Fort) and then get the 48-17 from there towards Wlkanda, jumping off at Dambulla. Alternatively, a taxi will cost around £25. If you have hired a car, the drive takes just over an hour.

Once you’re in Dambulla, you’re around a 20 minute drive from Sigiriya. If you aren’t driving yourself, a taxi will cost in the region of £4-6 GBP. There are also guided tours that include transport, and they often combine other places in the area such as Polonnaruwa.

Visiting Sigiriya

If you prefer DIY-style and don’t want to book a guided tour, then here are some tips for visiting Sigiriya!

Learn more about Sigiriya here!

There are 1200 steps up to the top, so wear your comfiest shoes. Walking boots, sturdy sandals or good trainers are a must. Your flip flops will be useless here! The steps are divided into several staircases, though, so there’s plenty of rest opportunities. Be warned that the last set of steps are metal, and these can get a bit slippy when it’s been raining. Just something to bear in mind…

GOOD TO KNOW: there are no restrictions on what you can wear here in terms of it being a semi-religious site. Shorts and a t-shirt will be fine!

It isn’t cheap to visit Sigiriya. While locals can visit the site for just Rs50, tourists have to pay around Rs2,1500. This equates to $30 USD or £23 GBP. If you want a guide while you are there, expect to pay an added Rs1,000 or thereabouts.

The stairs up to the top of Sigiriya

There are ancient ruins all of Sigiriya. Water gardens, terraced gardens, boulder gardens – they’re all over the rock. These are some of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world, and they are incredibly special to see. Beautiful frescoes adorn the site, too. Cobra Hood Cave is the best part of Sigiriya for seeing the artwork! For those particularly interested in architecture, the site is an absolute goldmine. The plan is elaborate and intuitive, making use of both symmetry and asymmetry alongside the natural structures that were already in place.

TIP: it takes around an hour to get straight to the top of the rock, but chances are you will want to stop along the way to snap some photos of the view and the wonders of Sigiriya itself!

Visit in the morning. It gets really hot around midday, as well as being busy. The site is open from 7.30 am until 5.30 pm, and most say the best time to go is around 8.00 am after the initial crowds have started climbing. You want to make sure your visit is as fun and comfortable as possible! Wear your SPF, and take some water with you. Maybe some snacks too…

Watch out for wasps…

Other things to do nearby

Once you’ve made the climb and rested your legs, there are plenty of other things to do near Sigiriya. If your legs can handle it, climb up Pidurangala. From here you will get incredible views of Sigiriya itself, although it is a bit more of a difficult climb… However, it’s definitely the cheaper option at only Rs500.

Minneriya National Park is nearby, and if seeing elephants is high on your Sri Lanka to-do list then this is the place to go. Kaudulla National Park is another good choice for seeing elephants as well as a variety of beautiful birds.

The stunning views from the top of Sigiriya

There is also an archaeological museum at Sigiriya, which is really interesting for those into history. Perfect if you want to know more about the area!

So there’s everything you need to know about Sigiriya, Sri Lanka’s fantastic Lion Rock. It is an absolute must on a trip to this fascinating country!


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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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