White dome chapel with ruins in front in Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa – An Ancient Royal City in the East of Sri Lanka

This post was last updated on July 30th, 2019 at 01:27 pm

Polonnaruwa is an ancient royal city in the east of Sri Lanka. From this city, several kings ruled the country 800 years ago. Polonnaruwa was the commercial and religious center. The ancient temples and ruins that you can still find here today give a nice picture of what this royal city must have looked like in its heyday.


The temples of Polonnaruwa

The special thing about Polonnaruwa is that the city is more than 800 years old, but still in very good condition today. You will find beautiful temples and ancient ruins that have a clear Hindu influence (from the Tamils).


Many travelers agree that the temples at Polonnaruwa are better preserved than those at Anuradhapura.


The entrance fee is $25 per person and you can buy tickets at the Archaeological Museum.


Old royal city

This old royal city goes back quite a while. The city was founded by the Indian Chola dynasty in the 10th century. It later became the capital of the Sinhalese Kingdom under King Vijayabahu.


However, the city of Polonnaruwa as we know it today was built by King Parakramabahu. He was responsible for building various temples and parks. The city became the thriving commercial and religious center of the Sinhalese Kingdom.


Ruins of ancient temples in Polonnaruwa
It is very calming to walk among the ruins


Things to see in Polonnaruwa

The old city itself with its ruins and temples is the biggest attraction. Yet you will find most of the ruins in the old core of the city. Here you can find the most beautiful and impressive ruins of the old royal palace.


In the days when Polonnaruwa was the most important city in Sri Lanka, the royal palace was an impressive seven-story structure. Today only two are visible.


# 1 Royal Palace

The first group of ruins you see in the Ancient City is the Royal Palace. This group of buildings date from 1153 to 1186. The King’s Royal Palace used to be a gigantic structure.


Today only a few walls are left. It is still an impressive sight and the details on the walls are still visible.


TIP – The With Locals organization offers fun tours organized by locals.


Ancient pillars and stairway in ruins
You will find many stone pillars here


# 2 Gal Vihara

Gal Vihara is a group of four beautiful Buddha statues that are all in perfect condition. All statues are cut from a large rock. The standing Buddha is 7 meters long and is often considered the most beautiful of the four statues. The reclining Buddha is 14 meters long.


The reason the statues are so clearly visible is because they are protected by a casing. This is necessary to protect the statues against the weather conditions here, although it is not conducive to the atmosphere around the temples.


Rent a bike

The nicest way to explore Polonnaruwa is by bike. Polonnaruwa is not very big but the distances are just too big to walk. Renting a bike costs you between 350 and 450 Rs (US $2 to $2.55) per day.


# 3 Vatadage

This is one of the most striking buildings in Polonnaruwa. This stupa has a diameter of 18 meters and four entrances. The most special thing about this stupa, however, is the large number of Buddha statues that stand here.


The walls, statues and stairs are all covered with beautiful details. It is great to see that the Vatadage is still so clearly visible today.


Front view of a circular temple with a buddha statue in the middle
Front view of the Vatadage Temple, impressive!


# 4 Atadage

The Atadage used to be a beautiful building. Today it is a collection of dozens of stone pillars. That certainly does not make the view any less beautiful. Especially with the standing Buddha statue in the background, Atadage is one of the nicer places here.


# 5 Hatadage

The names here all look alike. Yet they are all really different temples and shrines. This too is a ruin of what once should have been one of the larger temples. If you are in the right place you can see the round Vatadage temple from the Hatadage temple.


TIP – Wear suitable clothing. When you enter Buddhist buildings you should cover your shoulders and knees.


Ruins of Hatadage in Polonnaruwa
Hatadage ruins


# 6 Rankot Vihara

Strangely enough, this stupa is not considered the most beautiful structure of Polonnaruwa. Admittedly, compared to the Vatadage, for example, this brown/white stupa is not the most beautiful, but it is very impressive. The dome of the stupa is quite large.


Extra tips

Polonnaruwa together with Anuradhapura are the best places to visit temples. If you like culture, this is definitely recommended. The temples that you see here are really impressive, and we have seen quite a few in Asia!


Are you planning to go to Polonnaruwa? Check out these final tips;


Entrance fee

Tickets to enter are $25 per person for adults and $12.50 per person for children.


How do you get there?

This is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous sights, so transportation is well organized. Most travelers come by bus from Colombo (6 hours), Kandy (3 hours), Anuradhapura (3 hours) or Dambulla (1 hour). You can also rent a car with a driver. Slightly more expensive, but you have more freedom.


TIP – Have a look at our Sri Lanka page. You will find a lot of extra information here. The Sri Lanka travel information page is also full of information about this beautiful country.


Location of Polonnaruwa

Google Map of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Click the image to view the location in Google Maps!


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1 thought on “Polonnaruwa – An Ancient Royal City in the East of Sri Lanka”

  1. I have never found an article that is so well written about this travel destination. Thanks for this piece. Hope that you keep sharing more valuable content like this.
    Thank you for sharing this valuable content, this is a very nice article

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