Exploring the Top Attractions: Things to Do in Polonnaruwa

Have you ever dreamed of taking a step back in time to explore ancient cities and civilizations? I know the feeling, as an adventure traveler, I have always been fascinated by historical sites like Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka’s 11th century capital that stands as a testament to its rich past.

This guide is set to enrich your travel itinerary with top attractions including mesmerizing archaeological ruins, nature reserves teeming with wildlife, and unmatched outdoor activities available in Polonnaruwa.

So get ready – we’re about to embark on a captivating journey through history!

Key Takeaways

  • Polonnaruwa is an ancient city in Sri Lanka, known for its historical ruins and rich cultural heritage.
  • Some of the top attractions in Polonnaruwa include Gal Vihara, Polonnaruwa Vatadage, Lankathilaka Image House, Somawathiya Chaitya, and Wasgamuwa National Park.
  • Visitors can explore these attractions through walking or biking tours, day trips to nearby sites like Sigiriya or Minneriya National Parks, and engaging in outdoor activities such as village trekking and lagoon safaris.

Top Attractions in Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa, Gal Vihara, Polonnaruwa Vatadage, Lankathilaka Image House, Somawathiya Chaitya and Wasgamuwa National Park are some of the top attractions to explore in Polonnaruwa.


Polonnaruwa is a treasure box full of history. This city was the royal capital of Sri Lanka from the 11th to the 13th century! It’s home to many old ruins and important sites, like Gal Vihara with its grand Buddha statues.

There are also lots of buildings and temples in The Quadrangle. You can see it all on foot or by bike rental. Polonnaruwa mixes history with nature’s beauty and has loads of wildlife in nearby parks.

From Colombo and other big cities, you can easily reach Polonnaruwa by bus or train services! Dry season from May to September is the best time for a visit as there is less rain then.

Boat rides on Parakrama Samudra lake and shopping for local crafts add fun things to do here too!

Gal Vihara

One of the must-visit attractions in Polonnaruwa is Gal Vihara. It is a famous site that showcases four large Buddha statues carved out of granite. These impressive statues are known for their intricate details and serene expressions.

Adventure travelers will appreciate the historical and cultural significance of this place, as well as its architectural beauty. Exploring Gal Vihara allows visitors to admire the craftsmanship of ancient Sri Lankan artists and offers a glimpse into the rich Buddhist heritage of the region.

Don’t forget your camera, as you’ll definitely want to capture the beauty and tranquility of this remarkable site.

Polonnaruwa Vatadage

One of the top attractions in Polonnaruwa is the Polonnaruwa Vatadage. This ancient structure served as a sacred shrine and protection for a relic of the Buddha. It is a circular building with four entrances, each facing a cardinal direction.

Inside, you can find stone pillars and beautifully carved reliefs depicting various scenes from Buddhist mythology. The Vatadage showcases the architectural prowess and religious significance of ancient Sri Lanka.

As an adventure traveler, exploring this historical site will give you a deeper understanding of the rich cultural heritage of Polonnaruwa.

Lankathilaka Image House

The Lankathilaka Image House is a magnificent ancient temple in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. It is known for its towering stone pillars and intricate carvings. As you explore this fascinating site, you’ll be amazed by the craftsmanship of the sculptures and the detailed artwork on the walls.

The highlight of the temple is the massive standing Buddha statue, which stands at an impressive height of 41 feet. Take your time to admire the beauty and grandeur of this historic monument, and don’t forget to capture some memorable photos along the way.

Somawathiya Chaitya

Somawathiya Chaitya is a sacred Buddhist temple located in Polonnaruwa. It is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists and attracts many visitors each year. The temple is known for its ancient stupa, which dates back to the 2nd century BC.

Visitors can explore the temple grounds, offer prayers, and marvel at the architectural beauty of this historic site. Surrounding the chaitya are serene natural surroundings, including a nearby lake and lush greenery.

It’s a peaceful place to visit and immerse yourself in Sri Lanka’s rich religious history.

Wasgamuwa National Park

Wasgamuwa National Park is a must-visit attraction for adventure travelers in Polonnaruwa. This national park is known for its diverse wildlife and beautiful landscapes. Here, you can spot elephants, leopards, deer, and many species of birds.

It’s the perfect place for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts to explore. You can go on a guided safari or take a self-drive tour to see these amazing animals in their natural habitat.

Don’t forget your camera because you’ll want to capture the incredible sights of Wasgamuwa National Park.

Ways to Explore Polonnaruwa

Explore Polonnaruwa through cultural and theme tours, walking or biking tours, day trips to nearby attractions, outdoor activities like hiking or wildlife spotting in national parks, private or custom tours tailored to your preferences, private sightseeing tours with a local guide, fascinating archaeology tours to learn about the city’s history and historical tours showcasing the ancient ruins.


Cultural & Theme Tours

If you’re an adventure traveler looking to explore Polonnaruwa, there are many ways to make the most of your visit. Cultural and theme tours are a great option for immersing yourself in the city’s rich history and heritage.

These tours will take you through the ancient ruins and archaeological sites, providing fascinating insights into the past. You’ll have the opportunity to learn about the royal capital of Sri Lanka while exploring temples, palaces, and other historical landmarks.

Experienced guides will share stories and facts that bring these sites to life, making your visit even more memorable. So be sure to include a cultural or theme tour in your itinerary when visiting Polonnaruwa!

Walking & Biking Tours

One of the best ways to explore Polonnaruwa is through walking and biking tours. These tours allow you to fully immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of this ancient city.

By walking or biking, you can easily navigate through the various attractions and get up close to the archaeological ruins and temples. You’ll have a chance to discover hidden gems and take in the scenic landscapes as you make your way around Polonnaruwa.

Whether you choose a guided tour or decide to explore on your own, walking and biking tours offer an active and engaging way to experience all that Polonnaruwa has to offer. So put on some comfortable shoes or hop on a bike, and get ready for an adventure-filled exploration of this UNESCO World Heritage Site!

Day Trips

When exploring Polonnaruwa, adventure travelers have the option of going on day trips to nearby attractions. One popular day trip is to the Wasgamuwa National Park, which offers a chance to spot diverse wildlife including elephants, leopards, and birds.

Another option is to visit the ancient city of Sigiriya and climb the famous Lion Rock for panoramic views. For those interested in historical sites, a day trip to Minneriya or Kaudulla National Parks allows visitors to see ancient ruins and experience the rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka.

These day trips provide an opportunity to discover more about the region’s history and natural beauty while adding variety to your Polonnaruwa itinerary.

Outdoor Activities

When exploring Polonnaruwa, adventure travelers have plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. One popular option is village trekking, where you can immerse yourself in the local culture and explore the surrounding countryside.

Another exciting activity is snorkeling in the nearby lagoons, where you can discover vibrant coral reefs and swim alongside colorful fish. For wildlife enthusiasts, a lagoon safari offers the chance to spot exotic birds and other animals in their natural habitats.

And if you’re up for a thrill, you can go biking through the ancient city or take a boat ride on Parakrama Samudraya lake. With its diverse range of outdoor activities, Polonnaruwa has something to offer every adventure seeker.

Private & Custom Tours

If you want a more personalized and flexible experience in Polonnaruwa, consider booking a private or custom tour. These tours are perfect for adventure travelers who want to explore the attractions at their own pace and have the freedom to choose their itinerary.

With a private or custom tour, you can have a knowledgeable guide all to yourself, who can provide insightful information about the historical sites and cultural highlights of Polonnaruwa.

You can also customize your tour according to your preferences and interests, ensuring that you visit the places that matter most to you. Whether it’s exploring ancient ruins, visiting local villages, or going on outdoor adventures like biking or trekking, private and custom tours offer an exclusive way to discover everything that Polonnaruwa has to offer.

Private Sightseeing Tours

If you want a more personalized and exclusive experience while exploring Polonnaruwa, private sightseeing tours are a great option. These tours allow you to have your own guide who can provide in-depth knowledge about the attractions and customize the itinerary based on your interests.

You’ll have the flexibility to spend as much time as you want at each site and ask any questions you may have. Private sightseeing tours also offer convenience by providing transportation to and from the attractions, so you don’t have to worry about logistics.

It’s a fantastic way to make the most of your visit to Polonnaruwa and create lasting memories.

Archaeology Tours

When visiting Polonnaruwa, adventure travelers have the opportunity to go on archaeology tours and explore the rich historical and cultural sites of this ancient city. These tours allow visitors to delve deep into the fascinating past of Polonnaruwa by visiting archaeological ruins, temples, and museums.

The Gal Vihara is a must-visit attraction, showcasing four impressive Buddha statues carved out of granite. Another highlight is the Quadrangle, a collection of ancient buildings that offers insights into the architectural wonders of ancient Sri Lanka.

By joining an archaeology tour in Polonnaruwa, adventure travelers can immerse themselves in the history and heritage of this UNESCO World Heritage Site while learning from knowledgeable guides who bring these ancient sites to life with their stories and explanations.

Historical Tours

If you’re interested in history, Polonnaruwa offers a variety of historical tours that will take you back in time. These tours allow you to explore the ancient ruins and archaeological sites that make Polonnaruwa so special.

You can visit the famous Gal Vihara, which houses four magnificent statues of the Buddha. The Quadrangle is another must-see site, where you can admire ancient buildings and temples.

Exploring these historical treasures will give you a deeper understanding of Polonnaruwa’s rich cultural heritage and its significance as Sri Lanka’s second capital city.

Other Activities in Polonnaruwa

Bicycling around the ancient city, exploring Sigiriya on excursions, visiting Minneriya or Kaudulla National Parks for wildlife sightings, and marveling at the Ancient Library (Potgul Vihara) are just a few of the many other activities you can experience in Polonnaruwa.


Bicycling is a great way to explore the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. With its flat terrain and well-preserved archaeological sites, riding a bike allows you to easily navigate the attractions at your own pace.

You can pedal through the ruins, stopping to admire the impressive structures and soak in the rich history of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bicycling also gives you the flexibility to venture off the beaten path and discover hidden gems that may not be accessible by other means of transportation.

So grab a bike and embark on an unforgettable journey through Polonnaruwa’s fascinating past!

Sigiriya Excursions

Sigiriya is a must-visit attraction near Polonnaruwa, perfect for adventure travelers like you. The main highlight of Sigiriya is the ancient rock fortress, also known as Lion Rock.

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers breathtaking views from the top. As you climb up, you’ll see beautiful frescoes on the walls and reach the famous lion’s paw entrance. The trek may be a bit challenging but totally worth it! Besides the fortress, there are also lush gardens to explore around Sigiriya.

So if you’re into history, nature, and stunning views, don’t miss out on exploring Sigiriya during your stay in Polonnaruwa!

Minneriya or Kaudulla National Parks

The Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks are two amazing places to visit in Polonnaruwa. These parks are known for their abundant wildlife, especially the herds of elephants that gather during certain times of the year.

You can go on a safari to see these majestic creatures up close and personal, as well as observe other animals like deer, monkeys, and various bird species. The best time to visit is during the dry season when water sources become scarce, causing large gatherings of wildlife around the park’s reservoirs.

It’s an incredible experience for adventure travelers who love nature and want to witness Sri Lanka’s diverse wildlife in its natural habitat.

Ancient Library (Potgul Vihara)

When visiting Polonnaruwa, one of the top attractions you should not miss is the Ancient Library, also known as Potgul Vihara. This historical site was once a place for storing and preserving important Buddhist texts.

The library features unique stone carvings and columns that showcase the architectural beauty of ancient Sri Lanka. As you explore this site, you can imagine how scholars would gather here to study and learn.

The Ancient Library offers a glimpse into the intellectual and cultural richness of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, making it a must-visit for history enthusiasts.

Divine Quadrangle

The Divine Quadrangle is a must-visit site in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. It is a collection of ancient buildings and temples that showcase the rich history and architectural marvels of the city.

As you explore this area, you will come across impressive structures such as the Polonnaruwa Vatadage, which is a circular relic house. Another highlight is the Lankathilaka Image House, known for its towering image of Lord Buddha carved out of stone.

The Divine Quadrangle offers a glimpse into the religious and cultural heritage of Polonnaruwa, making it an essential stop on your adventure in this ancient city.

King Parakramabahu Palace

One of the must-visit attractions in Polonnaruwa is the King Parakramabahu Palace. This ancient palace was once the royal residence and served as a symbol of power during the reign of King Parakramabahu.

Today, visitors can explore the ruins of this majestic palace and get a glimpse into the grandeur of ancient Sri Lankan architecture.

The King Parakramabahu Palace complex consists of various structures, including halls, chambers, and courtyards. You can walk through these remnants and imagine what life would have been like for royalty in medieval times.

The intricate carvings and architectural details are truly impressive.

While exploring the palace, don’t miss the Audience Hall (Vijayaba Prasada), which was used for important ceremonies and meetings with foreign dignitaries. Its unique design showcases skilled craftsmanship from centuries ago.

Recommended Places to Visit in Polonnaruwa

Some must-visit places in Polonnaruwa include the ancient Bathing Pool, the impressive Rankot Vihara, and the breathtaking Thivanka Image House. Explore these fascinating sites and more to truly experience the rich history of this ancient city.

Bathing Pool

The Bathing Pool is one of the recommended places to visit in Polonnaruwa. It is a large reservoir that was used by ancient royals for bathing and water-related activities. The pool is surrounded by lush greenery, creating a beautiful and peaceful atmosphere.

Visitors can relax by the poolside or take a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear waters. It’s a great spot to cool off and enjoy nature after exploring the historical sites of Polonnaruwa.

Rankot Vihara

Rankot Vihara is one of the must-visit attractions in Polonnaruwa. It is a massive ancient stupa that stands tall and majestic, showcasing the architectural brilliance of the past.

As an adventure traveler, you’ll be captivated by its grandeur and historical significance. The stupa has a height of over 50 meters, making it one of the largest stupas in Sri Lanka.

You can climb to the top and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding area, taking in the beauty of Polonnaruwa’s landscape from above. This impressive structure is not only visually stunning but also holds great religious importance for Buddhists.

Thivanka Image House

One of the must-visit attractions in Polonnaruwa is the Thivanka Image House. This ancient temple is famous for its beautiful frescoes and sculptures that date back to the 12th century.

Inside, you will find a large standing Buddha statue known as the “Thivanka Pilimage,” which means “the image with three bends.” The name comes from the slight curve in the statue’s posture.

The walls of the Image House are adorned with intricate paintings depicting scenes from Buddhist mythology, showcasing the artistic skills of that time. It’s an incredible experience to witness these ancient artworks up close and learn about their historical and cultural significance during your visit to Polonnaruwa.

Parakrama Samudraya (Sea of Parakrama)

Parakrama Samudraya, also known as the Sea of Parakrama, is a large man-made lake located in Polonnaruwa. It was built by King Parakramabahu in the 12th century as part of a massive irrigation system.

The lake spans over an area of 2500 hectares and is surrounded by lush greenery and scenic landscapes. Adventure travelers can enjoy boat rides on the tranquil waters of the lake, taking in the breathtaking views and immersing themselves in nature.

It’s a great opportunity to relax and experience the peacefulness of this ancient city while enjoying the beauty of Parakrama Samudraya.

Audience Hall

The Audience Hall is a fascinating attraction in Polonnaruwa that adventure travelers should not miss. This ancient building was used by the kings of Sri Lanka for important ceremonies and meetings.

It is known for its beautiful stone carvings and intricate architectural details. As you explore the Audience Hall, you can imagine what it must have been like to witness grand events in this historical setting.

The hall offers a glimpse into the rich history and royal traditions of Polonnaruwa, making it a must-visit spot for history enthusiasts and culture lovers alike.

Ancient Library (Potgul Vihara)

The Ancient Library, also known as Potgul Vihara, is a fascinating site in Polonnaruwa that shouldn’t be missed. This ancient building was once used as a library and religious study center during the time of the Sinhalese kings.

The stone columns and intricate carvings on the walls will transport you back in time. It’s incredible to imagine all the knowledge that was stored and shared within these walls centuries ago.

As you explore this historical site, take a moment to appreciate its cultural significance and marvel at the architectural beauty that has stood the test of time.


In conclusion, Polonnaruwa is a must-visit destination for adventure travelers. With its rich history, ancient ruins, and vibrant wildlife, there are plenty of things to do and see in this charming city.

Whether it’s exploring the famous Gal Vihara or taking a boat ride on the Parakrama Samudra lake, Polonnaruwa offers an unforgettable experience that combines cultural discovery with natural beauty.

So pack your bags and get ready to explore the top attractions in Polonnaruwa!


1. What are the top attractions to visit in Polonnaruwa?

The top attractions to visit in Polonnaruwa include ancient ruins like the Royal Palace, Gal Vihara temple with its giant Buddha statues, and the Sacred Quadrangle which features several important religious sites.

2. How long does it take to explore the top attractions in Polonnaruwa?

It typically takes about half a day to a full day to explore the top attractions in Polonnaruwa, depending on your pace and interest in history.

3. Is there an entrance fee for visiting the top attractions in Polonnaruwa?

Yes, there is an entrance fee for visiting the top attractions in Polonnaruwa. The fees vary depending on whether you’re a local or foreign visitor, as well as your age.

4. Are guided tours available for exploring the top attractions in Polonnaruwa?

Yes, guided tours are available for exploring the top attractions in Polonnaruwa. A knowledgeable guide can provide insights into the history and significance of each site while making your visit more informative and enjoyable.

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