Discover the sublime array of Buddhist art and architecture decorating this ancient town. Then go elephant spotting at glorious national parks.
The temples, palaces and statues of Polonnaruwa epitomize the majestic beauty of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle. Step back in time to the 12th century, when Polonnaruwa was the nation’s medieval capital and a flourishing center for trade and religion. Marvel at shrines celebrating the Buddhist and Hindu faiths. Enjoy the city’s picturesque setting on the shores of two reservoirs framed by national parks teeming with wildlife.
The Polonnaruwa Museum is a good place to start your visit. Here purchase tickets for the archaeological ruins. Find displays portraying life during the city’s golden age. Learn about the three ruling kings: Vijayabahu I, Parakramabahu I and Nissanka Malla. See examples of exquisite Shiva sculptures.
Go to the Quadrangle, which shelters the finest ensemble of ruins. Among these is the circular-shaped Vatadage, supposedly built to house the tooth relic of Lord Buddha. Nearby are the 13th-century Shiva Devale No. 1 temple and the Chola-era Shiva Devale No. 2 temple. Walk south along the waterfront to see a group of columns that once supported the Royal Palace.
North of the Quadrangle lie the city’s most imposing landmarks, including the Alahana Pirivena, Menik Vihara and Rankoth Vihara temples. Gaze up at the large stupa of the Jetavana monastery. Admire the four rock-hewn Buddha statues at Gal Vihara temple. Note the ecclesiastical-like aspects of the enormous Lankatilaka Temple.
After exploring the sights, walk along the water’s edge of Parakrama Samudra reservoir. King Parakramabahu I created it to supply water to the city and to protect his kingdom from invaders.
Polonnaruwa’s location in the Hill Country makes it an excellent base for wildlife adventures, most notably spotting Asian elephants. Drive to Kaudulla National Park or Minneriya National Park within a 1-hour drive north or to Wasgamuwa National Park in a 2-hour drive south.
Polonnaruwa is about 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Colombo. Get here via long-distance buses and trains. Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Kandy, Sigiriya and other towns in the Cultural Triangle are all reachable by bus.