Top 6 Things to Do in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka- 2018

What to do in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is certainly the absolute classic among the sights in Sri Lanka. In addition to Sigiriya and a train ride through the highlands, a visit to Anuradhapura is one of the absolute highlights on a tour of Sri Lanka. The World Heritage Site features the highest surviving stupas in the world and ancient Buddhist sculpture. The first royal city of Sri Lanka is next to Angkor in Cambodiaor Bagan in Myanmar is one of the major attractions in all of Asia – though the sights are not quite as photogenic as Angkor. Anuradhapura is about a thousand years older and was probably already dilapidated when Angkor was built.

The story of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is the capital of the North Central Province of Sri Lanka and, like Sigiriya or Kandy, part of the Cultural Trianglein the center of the country. The nearby ancient city of Anuradhapura was the political and religious center of the Sinhalese royal dynasties for some 1400 years. Over the centuries, over 250 kings ruled from Anuradhapura. Already in the 4th century BC The city was founded on the Sri Mahabodhi tree and was the first capital of Sri Lanka. Until 100 AD, the city was also the ninth largest city in the world. Early on, around Anuradhapura large reservoirs were created, which served the city as a water supply and allowed them to grow and thrive. However, in 993 AD, the city fell into the hands of the South Indian Chola dynasty, leaving the city and sinking into the jungle.

The top attractions in Anuradhapura

Today Anuradhapura is considered a pilgrimage destination of many Buddhists, but Anuradhapura is also one of the most important archaeological sites in the country. Many of the old palaces, monasteries and monuments are now exposed again. Since 1982, Anuradhapura has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Quite simply, it is not on the grounds to orient. Feeling there are Buddhist temples and archaeological remains on every street corner of the old town. The archaeological sites of the historic site stretch over 10 km from north to south and you need a bike or car and at least a day to visit everything, better still are two days. Because you should not miss the following sights in the Holy City.

The Thuparama Dagoba

The Thuparama Dagoba is probably the oldest Buddhist structure of Anuradhapura and the first dagoba, or the first stupa in Sri Lanka. It was built right after the arrival of the son of the Indian emperor in the 3rd century BC. Built in Sri Lanka to keep an original Buddha relic for worship. It is said that the right shoulder bone of Buddha was immured as a relic in the Dagoba.

Incidentally, stupas (also called Dagoba in Sri Lanka) served this very purpose in a very general way: they kept relics of Buddha and outstanding monks. So these became the center of worship.

Stupa in ancient times meant a stone or mound built over the remains of a dead person. The Indians then placed a staff in the center of the hemisphere and buried bones and remains of teeth beneath it after burning the body. The staff was seen as the connection to the Universe that influences birth and life. The hemisphere symbolizes the universe.

This idea was later adopted by the Buddhists. A stupa consists of a square platform as a base, the ball vault, a relic chamber and the top. The stupa is ritually circled clockwise by the Buddhists for worship, this is called pradakshina and is an integral part of the practice of religion.

The sacred tree – Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi

In the wake of a Buddhist mission King Ashiokas arrived in the 3rd century BC. The branch of a poplar fig from India to Sri Lanka. However, the king’s daughter and nun Theri Sanghamitta did not bring along the branch of any poplar fig. It was a branch of the main stem of that bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, under which Siddhartha Gautama had once attained enlightenment and became a Buddha.

The tree is called Sri Maha Bodhi, which translates to meaning “Holy Great Awakening”. The tree is a symbol of this important event in the life of the Buddha. While the tree is called Bodhi tree in the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism, called Pali, the Sinhalese usually say Bo tree .

The branch was planted by king Devanampiyatissa in Mahameghavana Park and so the Bo tree is still in this park today. It is considered the oldest tree planted by humans in the world (the original Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya was removed by Muslim invaders) and the second most important Buddhist pilgrimage destination in Sri Lanka after the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. It is said that Sri Lanka and its Buddhist inhabitants will last as long as this Bo tree lives. Therefore, today well-known and well-trained botanists take care of this tree intensively.

Mahavihara with the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba

Mahavihara is considered the first monastery in Sri Lanka at all. The Chapter House of the Order was already in the 2nd century BC. Built. The wooden structure was also called Kupferpalast because of its original roof. Today, however, only the ruins near the Bo tree can be seen, which was once home to one of the most important Buddhist universities in the world. Students from Myanmar, Thailand , Laos and China came here to study Buddhism.

The huge snow-white Ruwanweliseya Dagoba on the grounds of the Mahavihara Monastery is the landmark of Anuradhapura. The gigantic structure was also already in the 2nd century BC. Built several times since then, but since changed several times, expanded and restored. For many years, however, the stupa was the largest Buddhist structure in the world at 110 meters. On the plateau of the ground is a ring of 344 black elephants that according to legend carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.


Abhayagiri is considered the largest monastery in the ancient kingdom and forms the city center of Anuradhapura. In its heyday, the new monastery was inhabited by more than 5,000 monks. Today, the monastery is one of the most important UNESCO-funded archaeological sites in the cultural triangle.

The monastery was built in the 1st century BC. Founded by King Vattagamani Abhaya. He showed his gratitude to the monk Mahatissa, as he had supported the king in a domestic political crisis.

Mahatissa himself was a follower of Mahayana Buddhism, in which the worship of religious statues has great significance. Therefore, it is not surprising that the most important works of sculpture in Anuradhapura are in Abhayagiri.

The Abhayagiri Dagoba has been rebuilt several times over the centuries and has been given rich decorations. In the end, the Dagoba surpassed even the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba of the Mahavihara monastery in size and is known for its extraordinary relief art. The most famous work of sculpture on the monastery grounds is certainly the moonstone. There are six of them in Anuradhapura, but this is the largest and most beautiful in the city.

Also worth seeing are the twin pools Kuttam Pokunam, the most beautiful monastic bathing pond of the island. Particularly impressive is the water filter technology that you can still see today at the tributary of the North Basin. Many centuries ago, the water was channeled through underground iron pipes into the basin.

Also part of the Abhayagiri grounds is the Samadhi Buddha, one of the most famous Buddha statues in the world. Pandit Nehru, later to become the first Prime Minister of India, had a photo of this statue while in British captivity meditating on this portrait. So the statue became famous. In addition, the larger than life statue is considered one of the oldest Buddha statues in Sri Lanka.


The third and youngest large monastery on the island is Jetavanarama, also called Jethawanaramaya. The monastery dates back to the Sagaliya Brotherhood, which split off from Abhayagiri Monastery in the 3rd century AD. The then King Mahasena stolen for the founding of the monastery, however, consecrated land of the Mahavihara Great Monastery and was praised as a heretic.

However, the new monastery of Jetavanarama was the next 700 years and it outdid itself in the construction itself. The Jethawanaramaya Stupa is still the largest brick building in the world and the largest stupa in Asia. Nearly 100 million bricks were installed here.

The rock temple Isurumuniya

Also on the site of the ancient city Anuradhapura is the rock temple Isurumuniya. A visit is especially worthwhile at sunset, when the temple is bathed in the golden yellow sunlight. From the top you can enjoy a wonderful view of the countryside.

As the name suggests, the temple is not bricked. It is a, for the island so typical, rock or cave temple. The special feature of this rock temple, however, are the countless reliefs, which are among the most famous on the island.

Once the remote rock temple served as a religious training center for children from the upper box. Today, the temple is considered one of the most beautiful and best-preserved attractions of Anuradhapura. Worth seeing are the stupa, as well as the old temple, the museum and the beautifully landscaped pond at the entrance to the temple. In the temple itself is a large reclining Buddha.

Admission Anuradhapura

With the purchase of a ticket and the entrance fees it is a bit strange. There is no real central entrance to the Holy City, so no central place to buy a ticket. Area tickets are available at the Jetawana Museum at Jethawanaramaya Temple. These cost 3620 rupees, about 20 euros. However, only some of the attractions are included in the entrance fee. At other you have to pay directly at the entrance again. The Sri Maha Bodhi Jaya, Ruwanwelisaya and the Isurumuniya Temple cost 200 rupees, so just 1 Euro entry.

[box type=”info” align=”” class=”” width=””]Please wear appropriate clothing when visiting Anuradhapura! Knees and shoulders must be covered to enter the temples. Alternatively, you can usually borrow a sarong at the temples. In addition, flip flops are recommended, because you have to take off your shoes when entering each temple. Flip flops make it easier![/box]

Map with the most beautiful sights in Anuradhapura

Travel and stay in Anuradhapura

By car, you are about 4 hours from Colombo to Anuradhapura. With the express train it is 3 hours. The train from Jaffna takes about 2.5 hours.

I can not recommend a particular hotel directly in Anuradhapura, but on you will find many beautiful hotels in all price categories.

Well, did you also want to visit Anuradhapura, or have you been there before? How did you like it? I’m looking forward to your commentary!

Steve Batides

I am passionate about travel, writing and music. I like writing books, landing in an unknown country, brassens, beer, cats, jazz and shells. I put a point of honor to seek for you the best information to sublimate your travels. A question about a destination, a visit, a good plan? I'll answer in the comments.

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