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  • Anuradhapura

  • Monkeys in Anuradhapura

  • Anuradhapura

  • Monkeys in Anuradhapura

  • Anuradhapura

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Anuradhapura is one of the sacred cities of the Cultural Triangle (with Polonnawura and Sigirya). This is actually a huge historical park where it is nice to walk around by bike. Do not miss the Temple of the Sacred Tree (Bodhi Tree Temple), the second most sacred place in Sri Lanka,  where you will meet many pilgrims. The park is so big that you will have to select what you visit. Ideally you should spend an entire day to enjoy it without undue haste.

Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa ?

Anuradhapura was a great experience for us, especially for its Temple of the Sacred Tree, the encounter with a local guide totally disinterested, bike rides, the many very impressive macaques etc… But if you’re a little short in time, we would recommend to give priority to the other two sites of the Cultural Triangle. Indeed, the ruins of Anuradhapura are older, much less well preserved. In addition, they are more scattered, it will take you at least one day to walk around, selecting only some ruins because you can not see everything in one day (but this is not necessary). Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa can be visited each in 1/2 day. In addition, Anuradhapura is farthest from the other two sites and so it makes it a detour to get there. Finally, maybe we are just not very fascinated by old buildings, but the ruins didn’t seem extraordinary, even if the Lonely Planet will tell you they are amazing (especially the Moonstone, described as the eighth wonder of the world but is in fact a small circular carved stone placed on the ground).

Getting to Anuradhapura?

The train from Colombo to Anuradhapura lasts 5 hours. We took a train that left at 6:50am and arrived at 11:20am at Anuradhapura, which enabled us to visit the holy city in the afternoon. Book your tickets in advance. First class is about Rs 940. The advantage of the first class is that you are sure to get a seat because the seats are booked. The train is an experience in itself. The scenery is really beautiful, the train doors are open all the time, we cross crowded trains, merchants come to sell you drinks and pastries, sometimes even cotton candy. Attention to the persistent gaze of other local passengers, but you get used to it.
Get more tips about traveling in trains in Sri Lanka

Visit Anuradhapura in practice

Visit the old town by bike, you can rent a bike at your guesthouse for about Rs 400. This is the best way to do it. On foot, it is much too large to be done in a day. If you do not want to drive a bike, there is also the Tuk-tuks.

Admission is Rs 3150 ($ 25) and you buy your tickets at the Archaeology Museum. When we visited, the museum was under renovation, so they sold the tickets in another building that we struggled to identify. We passed and nobody asked us anything. But they control your tickets in some places so don’t hope to escape paying your tickets.

Plan a picnic if you plan on eating there, it can be nice. Otherwise, there are a few stalls where you can buy snacks and beverages.

If you do not have a guide, locals will offer their services on the spot … We had a rather special experience: a local wanted to show us around… as we knew that we would have to pay at the end and are not particularly interested in the meaning of all these old stones (the Lonely Planet had enough to say about it), we tried repeatedly to dissuade him but he insisted that it would be free… In the end, you could not get rid of him, he really wanted, by pure kindness and desire to share his culture, to follow us around and explain everything (although his English was very difficult to understand). He didn’t ask indeed for anything but of course we gave him some money.

Also pay attention to the many monkeys, particularly macaques which roam everywhere on the site. We had no problems but we had read on Wikitravel they were known to steal your belongings, including food and cameras, and they could become aggressive… Do not play with them too much, as a precaution .

Finally, plan enough to cover your legs and shoulders, or you will not be able to enter Dagobas, temples and stupas.

What do you need to see in Anuradhapura?

You’ll have to select what you want to see, as the site has many ruins, dagobas, stupas and pools. It’s nice to walk around and you will come across many animals, especially many monkeys and peacocks.

These are monuments not to be missed:

  • Do not miss the Bodhi Tree Temple (Sri Maha The Bodhiya), the second most sacred place in Sri Lanka after the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. The temple is built around a huge tree which, according to legend, came from the seed of the original tree where Buddha attained enlightenment (bodhi). It’s been maintained for 2000 years, making it the oldest authenticated tree in the world history. It is really interesting to visit the temple, especially after dark ceremonies. Many monks and pilgrims gather here.
  • Apart from that, you will find a large white Dagoba guarded by a hundred stone elephants, called Ruwanwelisaya.
  • Attention to the favorites of the Lonely Planet, you may be very disappointed. In particular the Moonstone. We didn’t even find it by ourselves and had to ask locals to show it to us. It is not very impressive but it is still the oldest in Sri Lanka.

Where to stay in AnurAdahapura?

Outside the ruins, there is nothing to see, but you’ll spend the night there because we need to spend a good day to Anuradhapura. We stayed in a guesthouse, the French Garden Tourist Rest, recommended in the Lonely Planet. Nothing to say, 22 € per room, good location not far from the bus station (488/4, Maithreepala Senanayake Mawatha), Wi-Fi, rich breakfast included in the price! But no backpacker atmosphere. You can hire their bikes to go to Anuradhapura. By cons, it is not necessarily easy to find …
Where to eat in Anuradhapura?

You can eat in your guesthouse, but prices are often higher than elsewhere. There are many street snacks (samosas genre). We searched in vain for the Urban Spice Restaurant (190 dildoing Mw), recommended on Trip Advisor, but it was not found or may have already closed at the late hour at which it was decided to go eat, and finally have ate in a small local restaurant near the French Garden Tourist Rest who did not pay mine, with just a simple buffet with chicken curry, but has cost us almost nothing, only Rs 200 (€ 1). It was spicy but delicious!
Where to go after Anuradhapura?

The most logical is to go to Pollonawura. For this is simple: there are buses every 45 minutes to the New Bus Station. 3h and costs Rs 180 In our last bus trip, we had local video clips all the way, sellers of CDs, snacks, drinks, and even a drum show. In short, we did not bother!


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  1. Line /

    Salut je vais visiter le sri lanka avec des amies et on voudrait aussi aller de colombo (on atterit a 5h du mat’) a anuradhapura en train. Tu as mis dans ton article (super d’ailleurs comme le reste de ton blog) qu’il fallait réserver les billets à l’avance mais je ne trouve pas comment réserver cette ligne là.
    comment tu avais fait ?

    • Celine Delacharlerie /

      On avait réservé la veille sur place à la gare des trains. Il n’y a pas moyen de réserver en ligne malheureusement. On était resté visiter colombo un jour avant de nous diriger vers Anuradhapura.
      Bon voyage entre copines. Vous allez adorer, c’est un de nos pays préférés en Asie!

  2. Line /

    Merci! On verra bien alors il n’y aura peut-être pas autant de monde le matin :p
    on a vraiment hâte d’y être :)

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