Vatadage - Polonnaruwa ancient city

Do Not Visit Polonnaruwa Without Knowing These Things

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Once a thriving religious and commercial center, Polonnaruwa served as the royal capital of the great Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms for three centuries. Although nearly 1000 years old, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa gained its popularity after the decline of Anuradhapura. In 1982, UNESCO added this site to the World Heritage list, and it has been protected since then.

This guide gives extensive information about the ancient city in detail that’ll help you easily explore the city. You must know all these things before visiting the quaint pilgrim town.

Polonnaruwa – Things To Know Before Visiting

1. The Archeological Sites

You can enter the kingdom of Polonnaruwa from the Polonnaruwa ancient city entrance. The kingdom comprises several fenced archeological sites with only one entry and exit. These sites are divided into 5 sections; each harbors a group of monuments residing next to each other. However, each monument in this group is separated by thick forests and dense trees.

Start your tour from the archeological museum, where you can buy your tickets. You can also buy postcards from the Archeological Museum for as low as LKR 10. Besides these, you can buy books if you’re an avid reader.

The Palace Complex

King Mahaprabhu royal palace

The Palace Complex is a group of buildings comprising ruins of King Maha Parakramabahu’s royal palace, Vijayabahu palace, council chamber, and a bathing pool. The remnants of what used to be majestic structures still seem grand, and it’s almost like royalty is ingrained in every part of the complex.

The Quadrangle

Damaged Buddha Statue in Polonnaruwa

Quadrangle is a group of monuments consisting of the following:

  • Vatadage, a circular relic house 18 m in diameter with four entrances leading to the central dagoba with its four Buddhas (cover image)
  • The Hetadage (opposite the Vatadage): An ancient shrine with Buddha statues
  • Thumparama
  • Bodhigaraya 
  • Nissankalata 
  • Dalada Maluva 
  • Thuparama Image House
  • Atadage
  • Velaikkar inscriptions
  • Sathmala Prasadaya 
  • Gal Pota: The longest stone inscription book in Sri Lanka, weighing 25 tonnes, dragged from Mihintale, 100 Km away.
Gal Pota - Stone inscriptions
Gal Pota – Stone inscriptions

Shiva Devale 2

A few steps past the quadrangle, you’ll find direction boards that lead you to a thriving Hindu temple known as Shiva Devale. Today, priests conduct poojas and offer prayers to Lord Shiva in this temple. The shrine was built of stone by the great Cholas, South Indians who conquered Sri Lanka. Shiva Devale is said to be the oldest structure in Polonnaruwa. Besides it, you can also see Pabalu Vehera, a Buddhist stupa.

Once you visit this place, return to the junction where you saw the direction boards and visit Vishnu Devale, Menik Vehera, and a Bodhi tree shrine.

Crematory College

Kiri Vehera Buddhist Stupa

Moving further, you will see Rankot Vihara (a Buddhist Stupa), Ancient Bhiku Hospital, and Gopala Pabbata. After a short walk, you can find Kiri Vehera, Lankatilaka Viharaya, Badd Sima cave shrine, and a few ponds.

Gal Vihara

Gal Vihara - Polonnruwa

Gal Vihara is a rock temple with 4 Buddhist statues cut from one long granite slab. The reclining Buddha is 14 m long, while the standing Buddha is 7 m tall. The latter is one of the most intriguingly carved statues as it has a sorrowful expression, and its arms seem to be in a distinct position. Besides these, the seated Buddha is carved in a small rock cavity. The significant monument in Polonnaruwa also has several shops where people can buy flowers and place them on a table before the statues as offerings.

Gal Vihara Sleeping Buddha statue

The Lotus Pond & Image House

Once your visit to the Gal Vihara is complete, walk straight, and you’ll find direction boards. These will prompt you to take a right toward The Lotus Pond and Image House. As you move in the corresponding direction, you will reach the Demala Maha Seya. Walk past this to reach the Polonnaruwa Nelum Pokuna, which translates to Lotus Pond. You will also find the Thivanka Image House. The former is 8 m in diameter with 5 concentric rings formed by 8 petals each.

So, these are all the sites you can visit in the Polonnaruwa kingdom. Visiting to each of these will be a gratifying experience, and you won’t face as much hassle as the roads are well maintained, and you can easily tread on them. 

2. Entry Ticket

The entry ticket costs $25, and citizens of SAARC countries can pay half the amount. The tickets can be purchased from the archeological museum and verified and stamped at checkpoints. These include the main entrance of the ancient city, the Gal Vihara entrance, the Lotus Pond entrance, and the exit. You’ll be asked for your ID at different checkpoints if you’re a Sri Lankan. The ticket is valid only on the date of purchase.

3. Guide Charges

The archeological museum has extensive information on Polonnaruwa City. If you spend time here, you can educate yourself without hiring a guide. Name boards are kept in many places explaining the significance of each monument. You can read these description boards installed in front of each monument.

Alternatively, you can hire a guide at the following places: The ancient city’s main entrance, the ticket counter, on the roads. Yes, the guides walk the roads around the city, offering their services to tourists for a fee.

4. Dress Codes

There are no strict dress codes to be followed in Polonnaruwa compared to the ancient city of Anuradhapura, but ensure you cover your shoulders. When visiting the Gal Vihara, they’ll give you a piece of cloth that you can wrap around your waist if you wear shorts.

5. Timings

The archeological sites are open from 8 AM to 5:30 PM every day.

6. Commuting Around

If you’re exploring on foot, it’ll take a whole day. On the other hand, it’ll talk 3-4 hours if you’re wandering around with a tuk-tuk or a cycle. Since it is a forest area, it is recommended to explore during the day.

7. Photography

Side View of the Council Chamber
Side View of the Council Chamber

The ancient city of Polonnaruwa is no drone zone. Tripods are also not allowed, but you can take pictures and videos with your camera or mobile phone. Taking selfies and showing your back to Buddha statues is strictly disallowed. However, you can take pictures of the statue and yourself separately or take a picture such that your back is not facing the statue.

8. Restrooms & Parking

There are ample parking spaces available in the three main sections of the Palace complex, the Quadrangle, and Gal Vihara. In addition, restrooms are available in the Quadrangle and Gal Vihara.

9. Where To Eat & Stay In Polonnaruwa?

Since Polonnaruwa is a tourist destination, numerous accommodation options are available in the city. I stayed at Thisal Guest House ($), a stone’s throw away from the ancient city’s main entrance and the ticket counter. Here are a few other recommendations.

For snacks and refreshments, you will find small vendors who sell cool drinks, ice creams, water, and other snacks inside the premises of the ancient city. These are also the vendors who sell flowers used as offerings for Buddha. 


10. Important Things To Remember

Inscriptions on the walls of Ancient city in Polonaruwa
  • A few of these ruins were once holy places of worship. So you need to remove your slippers and hats while entering them.
  • Do not step on the ruins while touring around.
  • Security officials at every ruin monitor tourist activities and educate them about the dos and don’ts.
  • The kingdom of Polonnaruwa is a plastic-free zone.
  • There are numerous deer and monkeys around. So, be careful with your belongings.
  • Kaduruwela is the main bus station in the region. But step down at the Clock Tower junction bus stop if you want to buy tickets to visit the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.
  • Train services are available from Polonnaruwa to Colombo and Batticaloa and vice versa.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the other things to do in Polonnaruwa beyond the ancient sites?

Sunset at Bendiwewa Lake - Things to do in Polonnaruwa

Go on a jeep safari tour in Minneriya National Park, home to a thriving habitat of elephants. Then, watch the sunset on the banks of Bendiwewa Lake. The visual is beyond beautiful, and you shouldn’t miss it.

Is Polonnaruwa better than Anuradhapura?

It is bad practice to compare places but if I had to choose one, it is definitely Polonnaruwa than Anuradhapura, as the former was more unique, less crowded, and seemed to have a distinct character. Anuradhapura has Buddhist stupas and a few ruins, while Polonnaruwa has more historical buildings.

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