Established by the Chola dynasty in the 10th century, Polonnaruwa is an ancient royal city that’s on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its atmospheric ruins are clustered on the northern edge of Polonnaruwa New Town, which is bordered by the ancient reservoir complex of Parakrama Samudra and the elephant-filled Flood Plains National Park.
Things to do in Polonnaruwa
As you tour the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, marvel at the immense Royal Palace and the beautifully preserved Audience Hall with its elaborately carved stone elephants. Take note of the swimming pool where crocodile-mouthed sculptures spurt fresh water before continuing to the Sacred Quadrangle, a compact group of ruins situated atop a raised platform.
At the heart of the Sacred Quadrangle stands the circular-shaped Vatadage, with its four entrances marked by large guard stones that lead to a Buddha-adorned dagoba. One of the few Hindu buildings within the ancient city of Polonnaruwa (and its oldest) is the Shiva Devale No. 2, which features a statue of Shiva's mount, Nandi the bull.
Other highlights of ancient Polonnaruwa include the whitewashed Kiri Vehera Dagaba built in honour of the King’s Queen and the huge headless Buddha statue of Lankatilaka. In almost perfect condition are the four Buddha statues of Gal Vihara, which have been expertly carved into a single slab of granite.
Getting around Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa is just under five hours’ drive from Colombo. Regular flights connect the capital to Sigiriya Airport, which is just over one hour away from Polonnaruwa. Trains arrive at the Polonnaruwa railway station, from where buses and taxis will whisk you throughout the city. Bicycles are the best way to get around the ancient city or it can also be explored on foot.