Top 6 Things to Do in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Top things to do in Anuradhapura

Things to Do in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Anuradhapura is a must-visit destination on any tour of Sri Lanka. Along with Sigiriya and a train ride through the highlands, this World Heritage Site is one of the highlights of the country.

Featuring the highest surviving stupas in the world and ancient Buddhist sculpture, it’s a must-see attraction for anyone interested in history and culture.

As the first royal city of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura is one of the major attractions in all of Asia, alongside Angkor in Cambodia and Bagan in Myanmar.

Although not as photogenic as Angkor, Anuradhapura is about a thousand years older and was probably already dilapidated when Angkor was built.

one thing to do in Sri Lanka

The Story of Anuradhapura: Discover the Top Attractions in this Ancient City

Anuradhapura, the capital of the North Central Province of Sri Lanka and part of the Cultural Triangle, was once the political and religious center of Sinhalese royal dynasties for 1400 years. Over 250 kings ruled from this city, founded on the Sri Mahabodhi tree in the 4th century BC and the first capital of Sri Lanka.

Large reservoirs were created around Anuradhapura to supply water to the city and allow it to grow and thrive. However, in 993 AD, it fell into the hands of the South Indian Chola dynasty and was abandoned to sink into the jungle.

Today, Anuradhapura is a pilgrimage destination for many Buddhists and one of the most important archaeological sites in the country. Many old palaces, monasteries, and monuments have been exposed again and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982.

The archaeological sites stretch over 10 km from north to south and you’ll need a bike or car and at least a day to visit everything. Don’t miss the Buddhist temples and archaeological remains on every street corner of the old town as you explore this holy city on your trip to Sri Lanka.

The Thuparama Dagoba: A Must-See Attraction in Anuradhapura

The Thuparama Dagoba is one of the oldest Buddhist structures in Anuradhapura and the first dagoba, or stupa, in Sri Lanka.

Built in the 3rd century BC after the arrival of the son of the Indian emperor, it was constructed 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.

Stupas, also called Dagobas in Sri Lanka, served to keep relics of Buddha and outstanding monks and became centers of worship. In ancient times, a stupa was a stone or mound built over the remains of a dead person.

The Indians 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 a connection to the Universe that influences birth and life, while the hemisphere symbolized the universe.

A stupa consists of a square platform as a base, a ball vault, a relic chamber, and a top. Buddhists ritually circle the stupa clockwise for worship in a practice called pradakshina.

Don’t miss this important attraction on your visit to Anuradhapura.

The Sacred Tree – Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi

In the 3rd century BC, King Ashiokas’ daughter and nun Theri Sanghamitta brought a branch of a poplar fig from India to Sri Lanka.

But this was not just any branch – it was a branch of the main stem of the bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, under which Siddhartha Gautama had attained enlightenment and became a Buddha.

The tree, called Sri Maha Bodhi or “Holy Great Awakening,” is a symbol of this important event in the life of the Buddha.

Planted by King Devanampiyatissa in Mahameghavana Park, it is considered the oldest tree planted by humans in the world 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.

Today, well-known and well-trained botanists take care of this tree intensively.

Don’t miss this important attraction on your visit to Anuradhapura.


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

Founded in the 1st century BC by King Vattagamani Abhaya to show his gratitude to the monk Mahatissa for supporting him in a domestic political crisis, Abhayagiri is known for its important works of sculpture.

Mahatissa was a follower of Mahayana Buddhism, in which the worship of religious statues has great significance.

The Abhayagiri Dagoba has been rebuilt and richly decorated several times over the centuries, surpassing even the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba of the Mahavihara monastery in size and known for its extraordinary relief art.

The most famous work of sculpture on the monastery grounds is the moonstone – there are six in Anuradhapura, but this is the largest and most beautiful in the city.

Don’t miss this important attraction on your visit to Anuradhapura.

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 located on the grounds of Abhayagiri is the Samadhi Buddha, one of the most famous Buddha statues in the world.

Pandit Nehru, who later became the first Prime Minister of India, had a photo of this statue while in British captivity and meditated on its portrait, making it famous.

In addition, this larger-than-life statue is considered one of the oldest Buddha statues in Sri Lanka.


Jetavanarama, also known as Jethawanaramaya, is the third and youngest large monastery on the island of Sri Lanka.

Dating back to the Sagaliya Brotherhood, which split off from Abhayagiri Monastery in the 3rd century AD, it was founded by King Mahasena on consecrated land stolen from the Mahavihara Great Monastery.

Despite being praised as a heretic, the new monastery of Jetavanarama outdid itself in construction over the next 700 years.

The Jethawanaramaya Stupa is still the largest brick building in the world and the largest stupa in Asia, with nearly 100 million bricks installed.

Don’t miss this impressive attraction on your visit to Anuradhapura.

Isurumuniya: A Beautiful Rock Temple in Anuradhapura

Located on the site of the ancient city of Anuradhapura is the rock temple Isurumuniya. A visit is especially worthwhile at sunset when the temple is bathed in golden yellow sunlight and offers stunning views of the countryside from the top.

As its name suggests, this temple is not bricked but is a typical rock or cave temple for the island. Its special feature is the countless reliefs that are among the most famous on the island. Once a remote religious training center for children from the upper caste, today it is considered one of the most beautiful and best-preserved attractions in Anuradhapura.

Worth seeing are the stupa, old temple, museum, and beautifully landscaped pond at the entrance to the temple. Inside the temple itself is a large reclining Buddha. Don’t miss this beautiful attraction on your visit to Anuradhapura.

Admission to Anuradhapura: What You Need to Know

When it comes to purchasing tickets and paying entrance fees in Anuradhapura, it can be a bit confusing. There is no central entrance to the Holy City or a central place to buy tickets.

Area tickets are available at the Jetawana Museum at Jethawanaramaya Temple and cost 3620 rupees, or about 20 euros. However, only some attractions are included in the entrance fee and others require payment directly at the entrance.

The Sri Maha Bodhi Jaya, Ruwanwelisaya, and Isurumuniya Temple each cost 200 rupees, or about 1 euro, for entry. Please remember to 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. Flip flops are also recommended as you’ll need to take off your shoes when entering each temple.

Enjoy your visit to Anuradhapura and its many attractions!

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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