Anuradhapura: Unveiling the Timeless Majesty of Sri Lanka’s Ancient Capital

Anuradhapura, the wondrous ancient capital of Sri Lanka, does its best to showcase the island’s extensive past and cultural legacy, through its magnificent palace ruins, enormous stupas, monasteries, and exquisite gardens, many of which date back thousands of years!

In this comprehensive Anuradhapura travel guide, we will explore the tourist attractions in Anuradhapura that make it a haven for adrenaline junkies and spiritual seekers.

Additionally, we will look into some travel tips for anyone considering a future trip to Anuradhapura Sri Lanka.

A Brief Overview of the Historical and Cultural Significance of Anuradhapura

According to the Mahavamsa (chronicle), Anuradhapura reached its pinnacle of elegance during the reign of King Pandukhabaya. He beautifully designed the city like no one had ever imagined before.

Another remarkable fact is that Anuradhapura city covered a square kilometer after completion. This made it one of the largest cities in Asia at the time!

The ancient capital Anuradhapura was the epicenter of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries. It was also a very important Buddhist pilgrimage site for people all over the world, and it is still one today!

There are many ancient Buddhist temple ruins in Anuradhapura. For instance, the well-known Ruwanweliseya stupa and the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, the world’s oldest ever-growing tree in Anuradhapura! It is a sacred branch of the Bo tree in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India, where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

However, Anuradhapura was abandoned after the invasions of the Chola King of India, Rajaraja 1 in 993 CE, and his son Rajendra 1 in 1014 CE.

Chulavamsa (chronicle) says that “it was destroyed in every way possible by the Chola army’ indicating the extent of the catastrophe.

Slowly, the forest absorbed the Anuradhapura ancient city, together with its palaces, stupas, monasteries, and gardens. The British discovered the ruins of Anuradhapura only in the 1870s. In a nutshell, people became amazed by this forgotten metropolis!

Anuradhapura became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. This is because the excellently preserved ruins in Anuradhapura showed the great heights the Sinhalese civilization achieved over the years.

Attractions and Landmarks in Anuradhapura

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi

The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is the most popular of Atamasthana in Sri Lanka. It is located in Anuradhapura’s Mahamewnawa Gardens,

The eight places visited by Buddha during his three journeys to the country are known as Atamasthana or the Eight Sacred Places. We will explore the rest of the Atamasthana later. Sangamitta Maha Theri, the daughter of Indian Emperor Ashoka, brought the Bo sapling to Sri Lanka. It was during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa in 288 BCE. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is the oldest living human-planted tree in the world, with a known planting date of over 2300 years.

Thuparama Dagoba

Thuparama Dagoba is Sri Lanka’s earliest-known Buddhist temple, going back to the advent of Buddhism and the arrival of Mahinda Thera.

The construction of Thuparama Dagoba began around the 3rd century BCE by King Devanampiya Tissa at the request of Mahinda Thera. The king also enshrined the Buddha’s right collarbone here.

However, this beautiful temple has undergone numerous modifications, and what you see today at Thuparama Dagoba dates from 1842.


Anuradhapura Ruwanweliseya
Anuradhapura Ruwanweliseya

Ruwanweliseya Stupa is yet another popular Anuradhapura Atamasthana.

King Dutugemunu constructed this massive white-washed stupa in 140 BCE. He enshrined two quarts or one Dona of the Buddha’s relics here, making it the world’s greatest collection of his relics.

Ruwanweliseya is one of the tallest ancient structures in the world. It has a height of 103 meters (338 feet) and a circumference of 290 meters (951 feet).


No trip to Anuradhapura old city is complete without visiting the gigantic stupa of Sri Lanka, Jethavanaramaya.  This is also the most Insta-worthy of Anuradhapura travel places due to its quiet and peaceful atmosphere!

Jethavanaramya was the world’s tallest stupa, standing at 122 meters (400 feet). It was the third-tallest edifice in the world, only second to Egypt’s Giza pyramids.

It was constructed during King Mahasena’s reign (273-301 BCE). A part of a belt tied by the Buddha is enshrined in Jethavanaramya.

Abhayagiri Stupa

The Abhayagiri Stupa forms a part of the Abhayagiri Monastery. It is an important Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhist site in Anuradhapura Sri Lanka.

King Walagamba committed himself to building it on the site of the Jain monastery of Giri. This is because he humiliated the king by shouting, “The great black Sinhalese is fleeing,” after the Tamil chiefs attacked Anuradhapura.

The stupa that you can see now is an extensively repaired complex that replicates its previous construction. It was a project by the UNESCO and Sri Lankan Central Cultural Fund.

Mirisaveti Stupa

According to the Mahavasa (chronicle), the Mirisaveti Stupa was built on the site where King Dutugemunu’s royal scepter bearing Buddha’s relics got stuck in the ground.

Following its discovery by Henry Parker in 1873, several excavation and restoration initiatives took place to safeguard the original structure of Mirisaveti Stupa. It goes under the Archaeological Department’s and UNESCO’s “Cultural Triangle” project.

However, Mirisaveti Stupa collapsed in 1987 during a restoration project. Then construction began again after sacrificing all of its original features. So, the serene-looking, white-washed stupa you see today stands only at a height of 59 meters (192 feet).

The Twin Ponds

The Twin Ponds (Kuttam Pokuna in Sinhala) is a beautifully preserved set of ponds in Anuradhapura. They show Sri Lanka’s hydraulic engineering marvels. They are one of the lesser-known Anuradhapura attractions.

The Twins Ponds dates back to the time of King Aggabodhi I (575-608 BCE). It is a part of the Abhayagiri Monastery complex and was used for bathing by the monks who stayed nearby.


Mihintale Anuradhapura
Mihintale Anuradhapura

Mihintale is the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It is where Mahinda Thera first preached Buddhist teachings to King Devanampiya Tissa.

You can’t see Mihintale in most of the Anuradhapura travel itineraries. But it is a must-visit location for the little stupas, caverns, and breathtaking sunset views!

Mihintale is roughly 13 kilometers from Anuradhapura Sri Lanka, so plan on spending half a day here.

Travel Tips for Anuradhapura

You now have a better understanding of the significance, attractions, and landmarks of Anuradhapura.

So, keep these Anuradhapura travel tips in mind to make the most of your trip!

Visit the ancient city of Anuradhapura early in the morning!

I know that some of you are not morning people. But trust me when I tell you to wake up early to get the most out of your trip to Anuradhapura. This is because if you leave around 7.00 a.m., you can see as many attractions, and also get a chance to escape the crowds and scorching heat.

Get around Anuradhapura by tuk-tuk or bicycle.

Another great thing to do in Anuradhapura is to ride tuk-tuks or bicycles instead of walking in the scorching sun. You can rent bicycles at most Anuradhapura hotels or guesthouses. This will allow you to be quick, and also enjoy the beautiful surroundings of Sri Lanka Anuradhapura.

Book your accommodation in Anuradhapura wisely.

You should think about three things before booking hotels in Anuradhapura: how close it is to the attractions, whether it provides bicycles for rent, and whether you can get a travel guide there (if you want one).

But if you want to spend your trip in luxury, consider making a reservation at the Heritage Hotel Anuradhapura.

When compared to the majority of hotels Anuradhapura has, the Heritage Hotel may seem a little pricey. But it is one of the best hotels in Anuradhapura, and it is only 2.4 kilometers from the city center!

Find out about the weather in Anuradhapura.

Anuradhapura’s weather is warm, but it can get very hot at times, especially from May to July, when the average temperature is above 32°C. Sometimes, it gets as high as 35°C!

So, make sure to find out more about the Anuradhapura weather during the months you are planning the trip because it will help you decide what to pack.

Pack lightweight cotton clothing and comfy shoes. When visiting the temples and other sacred sites in Anuradhapura, however, you should always try to cover your shoulders and legs, and it is better if you wear white clothes.

It’s also a good idea to pack a pair of socks (preferably white) along with your clothes. Why? Because you will be walking without your shoes on (as you have to remove them before entering) inside the temples, and the ground can get particularly hot in the afternoons.

Be cautious when taking photos.

It is quite acceptable to photograph the ancient ruins, temples, and sculptures in Anuradhapura; but, remember not to take photos with a Buddha statue or stupa by facing your back towards them!

Take lots of snacks and water when visiting Anuradhapura.

As I said, you will be walking or traveling to many places in a single day, so take some snacks such as protein bars, nuts, potato chips, and lots of water to stay hydrated.