Exploring the Best Attractions and Hidden Gems in Anuradhapura: A Comprehensive Guide

Ever planned a trip and felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of sightseeing spots? I’ve been there too when planning my visit to Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, filled with so many fascinating historical sites and hidden gems.

This comprehensive guide will simplify your exploration in this ancient city by highlighting top attractions, lesser-known treasures, and essential travel tips. Ready for an unforgettable adventure into history? Let’s set sail to Anuradhapura!

Key Takeaways

  • Anuradhapura is a historical city in Sri Lanka known for its cultural and historical significance.
  • The top attractions in Anuradhapura include the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree, Ruwanwelisaya Stupa, Jetavanaramaya Stupa, Abeyagiri Monastery, and Kuttam Pokuna.
  • Hidden gems in Anuradhapura include Mihintale, Ritigala Forest Monastery, Nuwara Wewa Reservoir Buddha Statue, and Lankarama Temple Ruins.
  • Visitors can also participate in traditional ceremonies, explore local markets, and venture off the beaten path to discover more hidden gems.

Anuradhapura: A Brief Overview

Anuradhapura, located in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, is a city known for its historical and cultural significance.

Location and climate

Anuradhapura is in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. This ancient city has a tropical climate. It is hot and humid most days. The temperature stays around 80 degrees Fahrenheit all year round.

You might want to bring a hat or an umbrella for shade when you visit. The months from May to August have heavy rains due to the southwest monsoon. November and December are also rainy because of the northeast monsoon season.

Anuradhapura Ancient City

Anuradhapura Ancient City is a must-visit attraction in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and holds great cultural and historical significance. This ancient city was once the capital of Sri Lanka and dates back thousands of years.

You can explore the ruins of palaces, temples, and monasteries that showcase the rich history and architectural brilliance of Anuradhapura. Some notable landmarks include the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree, which is the oldest documented tree in the world; Ruwanwelisaya Stupa, one of the tallest stupas in Sri Lanka; and Jetavanaramaya Stupa, believed to be one of the largest brick structures in the ancient world.

The ancient city offers a glimpse into Sri Lanka’s past and is an incredible experience for adventure travelers seeking historical exploration.

Cultural significance

Anuradhapura holds immense cultural significance in Sri Lanka. As part of the country’s cultural triangle, this ancient city is renowned for its historical heritage and sacred sites.

It was once the capital of the Sinhalese kingdom and served as a prominent center for Buddhism. Today, visitors can explore the remarkable ruins of Anuradhapura Ancient City, which showcase impressive structures like stupas, monasteries, and palaces dating back centuries.

One of the most important cultural icons in Anuradhapura is the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, an ancient fig tree believed to be one of the oldest living trees planted by Emperor Ashoka’s daughter.

Its branches offer shade to countless devotees who come here to seek blessings and engage in religious rituals.

The city also houses other significant landmarks such as Ruwanwelisaya Stupa, Jetavanaramaya Stupa, Abeyagiri Monastery, and Kuttam Pokuna – twin ponds that were used by monks for bathing rituals.

These sites not only hold historical value but also exemplify Sri Lanka’s rich Buddhist heritage and architectural prowess.

Top Attractions in Anuradhapura

Some of the top attractions in Anuradhapura include the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree, Ruwanwelisaya Stupa, Jetavanaramaya Stupa, Abeyagiri Monastery, and Kuttam Pokuna.

Sri Maha Bodhi Tree

One of the top attractions in Anuradhapura is the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree, which is considered to be one of the oldest trees in the world. This sacred tree is believed to have grown from a cutting of the original Bodhi tree in India under which Buddha attained enlightenment.

It holds immense religious significance for Buddhists and attracts pilgrims from all over the world. Located within Anuradhapura Ancient City, it is truly a must-visit site for those seeking spiritual experiences and cultural immersion.

Ruwanwelisaya Stupa

Ruwanwelisaya Stupa is one of the top attractions in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is a giant white dome-shaped structure that holds religious significance for Buddhists. Adventure travelers will be amazed by its impressive size and peaceful atmosphere.

The stupa is said to enshrine relics of Lord Buddha, making it a sacred place for worship and reflection. Visitors can walk around the stupa and admire the intricate carvings and details on its outer walls.

Don’t forget to take off your shoes as a sign of respect when entering this spiritual site. Ruwanwelisaya Stupa is definitely worth a visit if you want to immerse yourself in the rich history and cultural heritage of Anuradhapura.

Jetavanaramaya Stupa

The Jetavanaramaya Stupa is one of the top attractions in Anuradhapura. It is a massive stupa that stands tall and proud, offering a glimpse into the ancient history of Sri Lanka. Adventure travelers will be amazed by its grandeur and significance.

Built during the 3rd century, it was once considered one of the tallest structures in the world! Exploring this magnificent stupa allows you to appreciate the architectural genius of ancient Sri Lankan builders.

As you stand at its base and gaze up at its towering structure, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe and wonder. The Jetavanaramaya Stupa is truly a sight to behold for anyone visiting Anuradhapura.

Abeyagiri Monastery

Another must-visit attraction in Anuradhapura is the Abeyagiri Monastery. This ancient monastery was once a flourishing center of Buddhist learning and meditation. Today, visitors can explore the ruins of this historical site and get a glimpse into the spiritual life of monks who lived here centuries ago.

The towering stupa, intricately carved stone pillars, and scattered remains of buildings make for a fascinating visit. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the beauty and tranquility of Abeyagiri Monastery during your trip to Anuradhapura!

Kuttam Pokuna

Kuttam Pokuna, also known as the Twin Ponds, is a fascinating attraction in Anuradhapura. These twin pools were built during ancient times and served as bathing ponds for the monks.

The Kuttam Pokuna showcases incredible engineering skills of the past, with its intricate water supply system and beautiful stone carvings. As an adventure traveler, exploring Kuttam Pokuna will give you a glimpse into the rich history and cultural heritage of Anuradhapura.

Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture this stunning site!

Hidden Gems in Anuradhapura

Discover the lesser-known treasures of Anuradhapura, including the mystical Mihintale, enchanting Ritigala Forest Monastery, captivating Nuwara Wewa Reservoir Buddha Statue, and ancient ruins of Lankarama Temple.


One of the hidden gems in Anuradhapura is Mihintale. It’s a place of historical significance and a popular day outing destination near Anuradhapura. It offers adventure travelers the opportunity to explore ancient ruins, climb up stone steps, and enjoy breathtaking views from the top.

Mihintale is known as the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, making it an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Here, you can visit various temples, shrines, and dagobas that hold religious importance.

Don’t forget to bring your camera along to capture the stunning scenery surrounding Mihintale.

Ritigala Forest Monastery

Next on our list of hidden gems in Anuradhapura is the Ritigala Forest Monastery. This secluded and mystical monastery is located amidst the lush greenery of Ritigala Mountain, offering a serene and peaceful atmosphere for visitors to explore.

With its ancient ruins and stone inscriptions dating back to the 1st century BC, Ritigala Forest Monastery holds great historical and archaeological significance. As you wander through the forest paths, you’ll be captivated by the tranquil beauty of nature while discovering remnants of an ancient Buddhist monastery.

The site also offers breathtaking views from its highest point, making it a must-visit for adventure travelers seeking both spiritual and natural experiences in Anuradhapura.

Nuwara Wewa Reservoir Buddha Statue

One of the hidden gems in Anuradhapura is the Nuwara Wewa Reservoir Buddha Statue. This impressive statue stands tall and serene, overlooking the reservoir. It is a symbol of peace and spirituality, attracting both locals and tourists alike.

The statue’s location near the water provides a tranquil atmosphere, making it a perfect spot for meditation or simply enjoying the surrounding natural beauty. Visiting this hidden gem is a great way to immerse yourself in the cultural heritage of Anuradhapura while also experiencing its peaceful ambiance.

Lankarama Temple Ruins

Lankarama Temple Ruins is one of the must-visit hidden gems in Anuradhapura. These ancient ruins are situated near the main city and offer a glimpse into the rich history and cultural heritage of Sri Lanka.

Adventure travelers will be amazed by the architectural beauty and serene surroundings of Lankarama Temple Ruins. The site was once home to a magnificent stupa, which has now been mostly destroyed, but you can still see its remnants scattered throughout the area.

Exploring these ruins is like stepping back in time, as you wander through the remains of what was once a grand temple complex. Don’t forget to bring your camera along, as there are plenty of photo-worthy spots amidst these ancient ruins.

Experiences and Activities in Anuradhapura

Immerse yourself in Anuradhapura’s rich culture and traditions by participating in traditional ceremonies, exploring local markets, and venturing off the beaten path to discover hidden gems.

Traditional ceremonies

One of the unique experiences you can have in Anuradhapura is attending traditional ceremonies. These ceremonies are an important part of the local culture and offer a glimpse into ancient traditions.

You can witness rituals, chantings, and offerings at temples like Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi or Abhayagiri Dagoba. It’s a chance to immerse yourself in the spiritual atmosphere and learn more about the customs and beliefs of the local people.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to participate in something truly special during your visit to Anuradhapura.

Local markets

When exploring Anuradhapura, don’t forget to check out the local markets. They offer a unique and vibrant experience, allowing you to immerse yourself in the daily life of the locals.

You can find a variety of fresh produce, spices, handicrafts, and traditional Sri Lankan snacks. Take your time strolling through the bustling market stalls, interact with friendly vendors, and maybe even try bargaining for some souvenirs.

It’s a great way to get a taste of the local culture and bring home some authentic treasures from your trip to Anuradhapura.

Exploring off-the-beaten-path locations

If you’re an adventure traveler looking to explore off-the-beaten-path locations in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, you’re in for a treat! While the main attractions are definitely worth visiting, there are also hidden gems waiting to be discovered.

One such gem is Mihintale, located near Anuradhapura. It’s a hill with ancient ruins and offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area. Another hidden gem is Ritigala Forest Monastery, where you can hike through lush forests and discover ancient Buddhist meditation caves.

If you’re interested in unique statues, don’t miss the Nuwara Wewa Reservoir Buddha Statue – it’s a giant statue surrounded by peaceful nature. Lastly, visit the Lankarama Temple Ruins for a serene and tranquil experience away from the crowds.

Practical Information for Visiting Anuradhapura

When to visit and how to get there, accommodations and transportation options, and tips for enjoying your visit.

When to visit and how to get there

Anuradhapura is best visited during the dry season, from May to September, when the weather is warm and rainfall is minimal. To get to Anuradhapura, you can fly into Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo and then take a domestic flight or a bus to Anuradhapura. Another option is to take a train or hire a private car for a scenic drive. It’s important to plan your transportation in advance, as public transportation options can be limited.

Accommodations and transportation options

When planning your trip to Anuradhapura, it’s important to consider accommodations and transportation options. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • There are a variety of accommodation options available in Anuradhapura, ranging from luxury hotels to budget guesthouses. You can choose according to your preferences and budget.
  • Some popular hotels in Anuradhapura include the Ulagalla Resort, Grand Crown Hotel, and Rajarata Hotel. These hotels offer comfortable rooms and convenient amenities for your stay.
  • If you prefer a more authentic experience, you can also opt for homestays or guesthouses run by locals. This allows you to immerse yourself in the local culture and interact with the residents.
  • When it comes to transportation, there are several ways to get around Anuradhapura. You can rent a car or hire a driver if you prefer a more convenient and flexible option.
  • Another popular mode of transportation is hiring a bicycle or tuk – tuk. This allows you to explore the attractions at your own pace and enjoy the scenic surroundings.
  • Public buses are also available for getting around the city and visiting nearby attractions. They are an affordable option but may be crowded at times.
  • It’s advisable to plan your transportation ahead of time and consider the distance between attractions when creating your itinerary.

Tips for enjoying your visit

Here are some tips to help you enjoy your visit to Anuradhapura:

  1. Plan your visit during the cooler months, as Anuradhapura can get quite hot and humid.
  2. Wear comfortable clothing and footwear, as you will be walking a lot.
  3. Start your day early to avoid crowds and make the most of your time exploring the attractions.
  4. Stay hydrated by carrying a water bottle with you.
  5. Respect the cultural and religious significance of the sites by dressing modestly and removing your shoes when required.
  6. Engage with local guides or hire a knowledgeable guide who can provide insights into the history and significance of each attraction.
  7. Try local cuisine at the nearby food stalls or restaurants for an authentic experience.
  8. Carry a camera to capture beautiful moments and memories during your visit.
  9. Take breaks and rest in shaded areas when needed to prevent fatigue.
  10. Finally, immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of Anuradhapura by embracing the peaceful surroundings and taking time to appreciate the historical sites.


Anuradhapura offers an incredible array of attractions and hidden gems for adventurous travelers to explore. From ancient ruins and temples to beautiful natural landscapes, there is something for everyone in this historic city.

Whether you’re interested in history, culture, or outdoor activities, Anuradhapura has it all. So pack your bags and get ready to discover the best that Anuradhapura has to offer!


1. What are some of the best attractions in Anuradhapura?

Some of the best attractions in Anuradhapura include the Sri Maha Bodhi, Ruwanwelisaya Stupa, and Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya.

2. Are there any hidden gems worth exploring in Anuradhapura?

Yes, there are hidden gems in Anuradhapura such as the Isurumuniya Temple, Kuttam Pokuna (Twin Ponds), and Ratnaprasada.

3. How can I get around to explore these attractions in Anuradhapura?

You can explore these attractions by hiring a tuk-tuk or bicycle, taking a guided tour, or walking if they are within close proximity.

4. When is the best time to visit Anuradhapura for sightseeing?

The best time to visit Anuradhapura for sightseeing is during the dry season from May to September when rainfall is minimal and weather conditions are more pleasant.

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