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Must visit ancient places in Sri Lanka

Updated on February 20, 2011
The famous Yapahuwa Lion stone carving
The famous Yapahuwa Lion stone carving

must see ancient places especially for tourists

Sri Lanka is a country with a rich history and its recorded history can be traced back to around 2000 years. With such a long history there are many ancient places to see in Sri Lanka but if you are a tourist there is always the time constraint so in this hub I will focus on the must see ancient places from the huge list. Although this is mostly targeted towards tourists Sri Lankans also can take advantage from this. Even if you are in Sri Lanka there are just too many ancient sites of interest to cover in one lifetime so visiting the most prominent ones is a must. It is your duty to be aware of your countries history and be proud of what we have achieved all those years ago. Most of these ancient sites are in must see places for tourists in Sri Lanka list as well.

Abayagiry dagoba in Anuradhapura
Abayagiry dagoba in Anuradhapura

Few things to consider before visiting these places

Most of these ancient places are religious places so there are certain things you should be aware of when visiting these places. Because of the tropical climate in Sri Lanka most tourists prefer to wear shorts, small skirts, low cut and sleeveless tops etc. However it is not appropriate to visit these Buddhist places dressed like that. It is not a hard and fast rule but in some places like the Temple of tooth relic in Kandy this is heavily enforced and people without the proper attire are not taken inside the temple. So always make sure to wear something that cover most of your upper body and something that goes below your knee to cover your lower body.

Another thing to consider is food and water, especially water. Most of these sites are located far from towns so it is not easy to find food and water. Although you can find things like biscuits to eat finding water is a bit harder. Even the water you find are likely to be not healthy so it is always a good idea to carry a mineral water bottle when you are visiting these sites.

Ruwan weli seya in Anuradhapura
Ruwan weli seya in Anuradhapura

Ancient city of Anuradhapura

Considered the first capital of Sri Lanka Anuradhapura is a city full of historic sites and without proper guidance you are sure to miss some important places. This is a city where a experienced tour guide is highly recommended especially if you are pressed for time. You can check out Must see places in Anuradhapura before you start your journey. As the list shows there are plenty of important places to see and scheduling your itinerary is important. The good thing about Anuradhapura is most of these places are places close together so you can walk to most of these places. In fact because it is a sacred city buses are somewhat limited so it is much easier to travel using a three wheeler. Anuradhapura is at its most beautiful when illuminated by moon light and Poya days are the best days to visit Anuradhapura. If you are interested in seeing ancient sites of Sri Lanka this is a place you shouldn't miss.

Beautiful Posters and Guide Books about Anuradhapura

Statue of Lord Buddha in Gal Viharaya, Polonnaruwa
Statue of Lord Buddha in Gal Viharaya, Polonnaruwa

Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

The second capital of Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa did not prosper as Anuradhapura, but still it has some beautiful sites worth a visit. The must visit site in Polonnaruwa is definitely the Gal Viharaya. There you will find four beautiful statues of Lord Buddha carved out of one huge rock. It really is beautiful peace of artwork and a place that visitors leave with awe. Other places of interest are remains of the royal palace, Lankathilaka temple, Thuparamaya and Nissanka Latha Mandapaya. Although not as many as in Anuradhapura there are many more beautiful sites for you to visit as well. It is advisable to hire a tour guide if you are interested in getting to know the details of each place.

Sigiriya rock fortress
Sigiriya rock fortress

Sigiriya and Dambulla rock temple

Sigiriya is one of the most visited sites in Sri Lanka and Dambulla rock temple has some of the most well preserved old paintings of Sri Lanka. Both are close together and around 3-4 hours journey from Colombo, so visiting them is an ideal experience for an one day excursion. For more information about those places you can check out world heritage sites of Sri Lanka. It is a good idea to climb the Sigiriya rock as early as possible to avoid the heat in the mid day. If you start around 9 you can reach the summit around 11 and spend some time there relaxing and enjoying the view from the top of the rock. You can visit the Dambulla rock temple in the evening and get back to Colombo without getting too late.

Yapahuwa stone stairway, some of the best stone carving in Sri Lanka
Yapahuwa stone stairway, some of the best stone carving in Sri Lanka


Yapahuwa is another city that acted as the capital of Sri Lanka and for some reason it doesn't get the attention other past capitals get. There are many remains scattered throughout the area but the highlight is the Yapahuwa rock fortress. The stone stairway to the top of the fortress has some of the beat stone carvings in Sri Lanka and with a huge rock mountain in the background it is a sight to behold. The best time to visit Yapahuwa is the early morning or the evening, otherwise the heat would be a little too much for you to enjoy the surroundings. Having said that most of the ruins lie withing the forest so you wan't have much trouble from the sun while exploring. Make sure to take photographs of the famous lion carving found in the stairway, the most famous symbol of Yapahuwa.

More interesting ancient places to visit

As I mentioned before there are simply too much places to mention in one hub. Another very popular tourists destination is the temple of tooth relic, a beautiful temple with lots of paintings and carvings. To the east coast  you will find the Somawathi thupa, another very famous old religious place in Sri Lanka. I have covered most of the popular ancient places in this list, but if you are interested in learning about some other place or if you can think of another places that should be in the list please mention in the comments section.

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