The historical tale of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka began in 543 BC, over 2500 years ago. Vijaya was a prince from India, banished by his father, Singhabahu. After his exile, he reached the shores of an island (modern-day Sri Lanka) and began ruling over it. People thrived under his reign, and he created a long unbroken lineage of Kings for decades and centuries to come.
During his rule, he commanded one of his most-trusted people, Anuradha, to go across the nation to create villages and cities. So Anuradha decided to create a settlement in the name of Anuradha Gamma that became known as the Kingdom of Anuradhapura. The kingdom’s banner was a glorious lion, and about 344 years later, it was used as the banner to unify all of Sri Lanka. The two people at the forefront of this unification were King Vijaya and King Abhaya, who came from the same bloodline.
Located in the North-Central region of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its stupas, temples, and monasteries. The city harbors a rich cultural and political history, glimpses of which can be seen today in monuments, artifacts, and other places.
If you’re planning a trip to Anuradhapura, here are the 10 most important things you must know. These will enhance your experience and make your visit more meaningful. So, are you ready to prepare for an exploration? Let’s go!
Things To Know Before Visiting Anuradhapura
1. Archeological Sites
After visiting the places ourselves, we would recommend visiting the below-mentioned places in the following order. But, of course, you can also pick locations or change the order per your convenience and constraints.
First, visit the Sri Maha Bodhi tree, followed by the Lovamahapaya (the thousand pillars), and finally, the Ruwanweli Maha Seya. After these, continue your journey to the Jethawanaramaya, where you will find the ruins of Jethawanaramaya Pilima Geya and then be on your way to the Thuparamaya Dagaba.
Take a break after visiting these places, as you’ll have to walk to the next set of monuments for a while. These include Lankaramaya, Abayagiri Stupa, Samadhi Buddha Statue, and the Twin Ponds. Also, don’t miss the Moonstone, Elephant Pond, and Rathna Prasaday, which reside West of Abayagiri Stupa.
You can also visit the archaeological museum of Anuradhapura and the Miriswetiya Dagoba, located a few meters apart.
2. Dress Code
Anuradhapura is a sacred and cultural place of worship for the Buddhists. So, dress modestly as you’d be required to cover your shoulders and knees (both men and women). If you don’t, you will be denied entry. Also, it is the local tradition of the people to dress in white color while visiting this holy site. So, try to dorn these colors while choosing your day’s outfit. However, if you have nothing in white, wear light colors and try not to wear anything too vibrant.
3. Entry Fee
There is no entry fee for Sri Lankans. But for foreigners, the entry fee to visit all the archeological sites is USD 25 (for adults) and USD 12.50 (for children between 6-12 years). You can pay the dollars in cash or by a VISA or Master credit card. You can also make the payment in LKR (The national currency of Sri Lanka).
If you are a SAARC national, you can show your original passport for a 50% discount. Interestingly, the tickets are not checked in any of the monuments. The tickets cannot be purchased online. The only way to buy them is from the tourist ticket counter.
4. Guide Charges
Finding a guide in Anuradhapura is very easy. You can easily find a guide near the ticket counter near the Archeological Museum of Anuradhapura. Unfortunately, the cost of hiring a guide is too high and is nearly equal to the entry fees.
There are no tourist boards explaining the history or the story behind the various monuments. You will only find the site’s name. All the information about each of them is available on Wikipedia. Researching the monuments on the internet will save you a lot of money.
5. Timings & Duration
Start the tour as early as possible. Many attractions at Anuradhapura are open from 8 AM and close at 5:30 PM. Since you will be walking barefoot to all the places, the best time to visit is when it is less hot and humid.
If you have transport or a rented vehicle, the tour will take about 4 to 5 hours, excluding the lunch break. The duration will be longer if you’re walking to different places. Furthermore, the duration will increase depending on how long you spend at each site. So plan your day accordingly.
6. Commuting Around
There is a huge parking lot available near each site. The most convenient way is to travel by your own vehicle or by renting a tuk-tuk. You can also rent a bicycle and pedal to different venues. Depending on your bargaining skills, a tuk-tuk driver will charge you anywhere between LKR 3000 and LKR 4000. They will wait patiently until you complete the tour and take you from point A to B to C and so on.
The best alternative is to walk around and explore the kingdom of Anuradhapura. If you’re visiting all the places, it might take a whole day, but you can see many ruined sites en route, which you wouldn’t find if you’ve opted for a tuk-tuk or other transport.
We suggest you use Google Maps with Satellite View and make your own path. You’ll love it if you truly want to explore the place. The premises are completely safe and frequented by both locals and visitors.
Local buses do not commute between each site. Metered taxis are available in the city. The first 1 Km costs LKR 100, and LKR 8 adds up for every 100 m. OLA and Uber’s services are not available in the region.
The entire kingdom of Anuradhapura is a historic site and a no-drone zone. Although we saw on a couple of boards that the camera is not allowed, there is no checking or restrictions. In fact, we saw people with cameras clicking pictures. So feel free to capture a few moments and landscapes quickly.
But the only concern is that you are not allowed to take selfies with Lord Buddha behind you, as showing your back to Buddha is considered disrespectful. So do not make this mistake while visiting any Buddhist temple.
Public washrooms or restrooms are available in and around the monuments in Anuradhapura. You can spot them on Google Maps as well.
9. Where To Eat & Stay?
Anuradhapura’s main town is a bit far from the UNESCO site. There are a lot of small shops and vendors that sell cool drinks, buns, snacks, and other quick bites in front of all the monuments. You can have an authentic lunch at the Bamboo restaurant juice bar inside the premises. It is best to carry drinking water and some snacks at all times. This way, you can save a few bucks.
A variety of accommodation options, from budget homestays to luxurious resorts, are available in Anuradhapura. The closer the stay is to the archeological site, the pricier it is. As the eateries are comparatively lower than the hotels in the main town, it is best to stay in the central city of Anuradhapura. Here are a few recommendations,
- Lake Wave Hotel ($)
- Kingfisher Hostel ($)
- Villa DeLorenta ($$)
- Anuradha Holiday Appartments ($$)
- Uga Ulagalla ($$$)
- The Lake Forest Hotel ($$$)
10. Local Customs/ Traditions
Visitors need to respect the local traditions and customs followed by the locals. Below are a few you must keep in mind while touring Anuradhapura.
- People buy lotus or lily flowers from the shops just outside the site and arrange them on the plates around the stupas as offerings to the god.
- Lamps are lit only in dedicated areas.
- Incense sticks are also burnt in dedicated areas. The smoke emitted fills the nearby surroundings with a good aroma.
- The holy temple is silent. You can only hear the people chanting mantras while sitting in different places around the monument.
- Footwear is not allowed inside the premises. There are dedicated shoe stands available near or just outside each site. You can also keep your baggage, but take your valuables with you.
- Do not litter or throw trash. The place is well taken care of and cleaned often.