Places to visit in Anuradhapura
Welcome to Anuradhapura, a captivating city in Sri Lanka that promises a journey back in time. This ancient marvel, located approximately 200km north of Colombo, invites you to explore its rich historical heritage and architectural grandeur. Anuradhapura, once the capital of Sri Lanka, boasts a splendid collection of well-preserved ancient ruins, religious sites, and sacred temples, offering a glimpse into the country’s glorious past. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a treasure trove of archaeological wonders, making it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts. When visiting Anuradhapura, make sure to explore the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa, a striking monument that stands as a symbol of religious devotion. The nearby sacred Bodhi Tree, believed to be a descendant of the tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, is another significant attraction for spiritual seekers. Venture further into the city, and you’ll encounter awe-inspiring ancient monasteries and palaces. Anuradhapura’s charm extends beyond its historical sites. The city is nestled amidst serene lakes and lush greenery, creating a tranquil environment for visitors. Take a stroll around Tissa Wewa, an ancient reservoir that provides breathtaking views and an opportunity to connect with nature. Discover the top places to visit in Anuradhapura, where ancient ruins and sacred temples await your exploration.
1. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a revered destination nestled in the Mahamewuna Garden of Anuradhapura. It is located among the enchanting places to visit in Anuradhapura and attracts countless pilgrims seeking spiritual solace. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi holds a special place in history, being intimately connected to the enlightenment of the Buddha. This magnificent tree is believed to have grown from a cutting of the original Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Buddha Gaya, India, where the Buddha attained enlightenment over 2,600 years ago. In 288 BC, the Sanghamitta Maha Theri, daughter of Indian Emperor Ashoka, carefully transported a sacred branch from India to Sri Lanka. The cutting was ceremoniously presented to King Devanampiya Tissa, who, with great reverence, planted it in the Royal Park of Anuradhapura. Thus, the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi became a living testament to the Buddha’s profound spiritual journey. Today, this extraordinary tree stands tall on a raised terrace, surrounded by lower-level terraces adorned with protective Bo trees known as “Parivara Bodhi.” While access to the uppermost terrace where the bo tree is located is restricted due to its age and historical acts of vandalism, visitors can still explore the surrounding areas and soak in the serene atmosphere that envelopes the site.
Ruwanwelisaya, also known as the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, stands tall as a symbol of ancient grandeur and spiritual significance. Built during the reign of King Dutugemunu around 140 B.C. As you approach Ruwanwelisaya, you’ll be mesmerized by its sheer size and elegance. Standing at a towering height of 103m and boasting a circumference of 290m, it is one of the largest ancient monuments in the world. This sacred stupa holds immense historical value, as it houses two quarts or one Dona of the Buddha’s relics. This makes it a significant pilgrimage site for Buddhists from around the world. The serene atmosphere and spiritual aura that surround Ruwanwelisaya create a sense of peace and tranquillity, inviting visitors to reflect and find solace. The stupa’s exterior is adorned with intricate carvings and intricate designs, reflecting the artistic prowess of ancient Sri Lankan craftsmen. To this day, Ruwanwelisaya continues to be a place of worship and devotion. Visitors can witness devotees offering prayers, lighting oil lamps, and making floral offerings, creating a vibrant and sacred ambience. Ruwanwelisaya, a majestic stupa housing Buddha’s relics, is one of the most significant places to visit in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.
3. Samadhi Buddha Statue
Nestled in the tranquil Mahamevnawa Park, the Samadhi Buddha Statue is a captivating masterpiece that embodies the essence of the Buddha’s quest for enlightenment. In this venerated statue, the Buddha is shown in the Dhyana Mudra, a position of intense meditation connected to his initial Enlightenment. Crafted meticulously from dolomite marble, the Samadhi Buddha Statue stands tall at an impressive height of 7 feet 3 inches, exuding an aura of peace and tranquillity. Its timeless beauty and exquisite craftsmanship make it one of the finest Buddha statues in Sri Lanka. The statue’s origins can be traced back to the 4th-6th century, during a period when intricate stone carvings flourished in Sri Lanka. Originally adorned with gilded accents and precious gemstone inlaid eyes, the Samadhi Buddha Statue emanates a sense of grace and spiritual significance. Visiting the Samadhi Buddha Statue allows you to immerse yourself in the rich spiritual heritage of Sri Lanka. It offers a moment of contemplation and introspection, inspiring a sense of calm and tranquillity among visitors. The Samadhi Buddha Statue is a must-see attraction among the fascinating places to visit in Anuradhapura, offering a serene and captivating glimpse into the Buddha’s quest for enlightenment.
Jetavanaramaya was once the tallest stupa in the world, reaching a staggering height of 122m. Although time has reduced its stature to 71m, it remains a towering presence against the sky. The stupa’s sheer size and architectural grandeur are a testament to the ingenuity of its creators, showcasing the island’s rich history. The doorpost, standing proudly at 8m, welcomes visitors with a sense of reverence and wonder. Constructed using an astonishing 93.3 million baked bricks, Jetavanaramaya showcases the architectural brilliance of its time. The stupa’s solid foundation, reaching a depth of 8.5m, ensures its endurance throughout the ages. The sheer magnitude of its base area, spanning 233,000 square meters, is a testament to the grandeur of ancient Sri Lankan craftsmanship. The compound surrounding Jetavanaramaya spans approximately 5.6 hectares and was once home to an estimated 10,000 Buddhist monks. This sacred monument holds a treasured relic believed to be a part of the Buddha’s sash or belt. For Buddhists, Jetavanaramaya is a place of deep reverence and pilgrimage, attracting devotees from all corners of the world. When exploring the historical wonders of Anuradhapura, don’t miss out on visiting Jetavanaramaya, a remarkable site among the many captivating places to visit in Anuradhapura.
Isurumuniya, nestled near the picturesque Tissa Wewa, is an enchanting Buddhist temple that should be on every traveller’s list of places to visit in Anuradhapura. It is steeped in ancient heritage, dating back to the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa, who ruled Anuradhapura from 307 BC to 267 BC. The temple’s architectural splendour and natural surroundings make it a true gem. As you venture into the temple complex, you will encounter four extraordinary carvings that tell stories of a bygone era. The Isurumuniya Lovers carving portrays the mythical love between King Kuvera Vaisrawana and his beloved Queen Kuni, while the Elephant Pond carving captures the majesty of these magnificent creatures. Additionally, The Royal Family carving showcases the regal grandeur of ancient Sri Lankan monarchs. Marvel at the cave-connected vihara, perched on a cliff, and take in the breathtaking views from the small stupa atop the structure. As you wander through the archaeological ruins nearby, you will come across the captivating Brahmi inscription, an ancient writing system that adds another layer of historical significance to this remarkable site. Isurumuniya is a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka, offering a captivating journey into the past.
Abhayagiri Viharaya is a magnificent Buddhist monastery and one of the most fascinating places to visit in Anuradhapura. Steeped in legend and lore, this magnificent Buddhist monastery stands as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka. Its grand ruins and sacred relics offer a fascinating glimpse into the bygone era of kings and kingdoms. Among the notable figures associated with Abhayagiri Viharaya, King Valagamba holds a prominent place. During the period of his second reign from 89–77 B.C.E., King Valagamba established the Abhayagiri Dagaba, a towering stupa that remains one of the focal points of the complex. This remarkable structure symbolizes the enduring faith and devotion of ancient Sri Lankan monarchs. The story behind its creation adds to the mystique of Abhayagiri Viharaya. King Valagamba, faced with adversaries both within and outside the kingdom, sought to reunite his forces by pitting them against each other. Through strategic manoeuvring, he succeeded in defeating his enemies and reclaiming his throne. As a mark of gratitude, he vowed to build a vihara, which eventually became the awe-inspiring Abhayagiri Viharaya. As you explore this magnificent site, you will be awestruck by the remnants of grand monastic buildings, elaborate bathing ponds, and intricate carvings.
7. Kuttam Pokuna
Kuttam Pokuna, also known as the Twin Ponds, is a fascinating site nestled within the ancient city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. These well-preserved bathing tanks believed to be part of the esteemed Abhayagiri Vihara complex, offer a glimpse into the rich history and architectural marvels of the region. Legend has it that Kuttam Pokuna was commissioned by the visionary ruler, King Aggabodhi I, who reigned over Anuradhapura from 575 to 608. Under his patronage, these remarkable ponds were constructed, showcasing the advanced hydrological engineering, artistic finesse, and architectural brilliance of the ancient Sinhalese civilization. Stepping into the realm of Kuttam Pokuna is like embarking on a journey through time. The larger southern pond and the smaller northern pond stand as awe-inspiring examples of ancient craftsmanship. Interestingly, it is believed that the smaller pond predates its larger counterpart, adding an air of mystery to this extraordinary site. As you wander through the surroundings of Kuttam Pokuna, you can’t help but marvel at the sheer grandeur and scale of these historic bathing tanks. Kuttam Pokuna, also known as the Twin Ponds, is a captivating sight to explore among the many fascinating places to visit in Anuradhapura.
Lankaramaya was constructed by none other than King Valagamba, leaving behind a lasting testament to his reign and the rich history of this enchanting land. As you explore Lankaramaya, you will be captivated by the mysteries that surround it. While little is known about its original form, the site has undergone renovations throughout the years, providing a glimpse into its past glory. Marvel at the rows of stone pillars that stand proudly, hinting at the existence of a majestic house encircling the stupa. This unique structure, known as a vatadage, was built to protect and honour the sacred stupa, creating an awe-inspiring sight for all who visit. The round courtyard of Lankaramaya sits elevated at a height of 3m above the ground, offering a commanding view of the surroundings. The stupa itself boasts a diameter of 14m, standing as a symbol of spiritual devotion and architectural brilliance. Surrounding the stupa is a circular courtyard with a remarkable diameter of 406m, showcasing the grandeur of the site. As you wander through the hallowed grounds of Lankaramaya, you can’t help but feel a sense of reverence and wonder. Lankaramaya is one of the captivating places to visit in Anuradhapura, where you immerse yourself in the rich history of Sri Lanka.
Mihintale is a renowned pilgrimage site and one of the most captivating places to visit in Anuradhapura, offering a glimpse into the rich history and spiritual heritage of Sri Lanka. According to legend, it was here that King Devanampiyatissa had a fateful encounter, forever changing the course of Sri Lanka’s religious landscape. Today, Mihintale stands as a revered pilgrimage site, boasting sacred monuments and a tranquil ambience. It was on this hallowed ground that King Devanampiyatissa crossed paths with the revered Buddhist monk Mahinda, leading to the introduction of Buddhism to the island. The significance of this meeting is commemorated in the hearts of Sri Lankans, making Mihintale a site of immense spiritual importance. As you explore Mihintale, you’ll come across notable landmarks that echo the region’s historical significance. One such landmark is the Kantaka Cetiya, a stupa with a unique story to tell. The Kantaka Cetiya stands tall, encapsulating the essence of devotion and reverence. It serves as a testament to the enduring faith and architectural brilliance of ancient Sri Lankan civilizations. Another noteworthy site within Mihintale is the Ambasthala Dagoba, an exquisite dagoba that exudes tranquillity and grandeur. This sacred monument stands as a symbol of the island’s religious heritage and architectural prowess.
Situated within the magnificent Mahamewna Park in Anuradhapura, Thuparamaya is a place of profound historical significance and serene beauty. It holds the distinction of being the oldest documented Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. Its origins can be traced back to the arrival of Mahinda Thera, the great Buddhist monk who introduced Theravada Buddhism to the island. It was at the request of Mahinda Thera that King Devanampiya Tissa constructed Thuparamaya to enshrine a precious relic – the right collar-bone of the Buddha. This momentous event marked the formal arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The temple boasts a remarkable architectural design. The bell-shaped stupa, with its towering presence, stands as a testament to the artistic and engineering prowess of ancient Sri Lankan craftsmen. Over the centuries, Thuparamaya underwent various renovations, with the most recent reconstruction efforts taking place in 1842. As you explore Thuparamaya, you’ll come across the remnants of a once-glorious vatadage – a circular structure that once encircled the stupa. These stone pillars, standing proudly as silent witnesses to history, offer a glimpse into the grandeur and splendour of the past. Thuparamaya, one of the most significant places to visit in Anuradhapura, takes you on a journey back in time to explore the ancient Buddhist traditions.
11. Awkana Buddha statue
Awkana Buddha statue portrays the Buddha in a standing position, with a hand raised in a gesture known as the Abhaya mudra, symbolizing fearlessness and protection. It exudes an aura of tranquillity and serenity, inviting visitors to experience a sense of peace and enlightenment. Located near the breathtaking Kala Wewa reservoir, the statue offers a picturesque backdrop of calm waters and lush greenery. As you gaze upon the statue, you can’t help but feel a sense of reverence and awe, as if the Buddha himself is watching over the tranquil surroundings. Carved meticulously from a massive granite rock face, the Awkana Buddha statue showcases the exceptional craftsmanship of ancient Sri Lanka. Its intricate details, from the gracefully draped robe to the subtle facial expressions, are a testament to the skill and dedication of the artisans who created this magnificent work of art. This remarkable statue, standing at an impressive height of 11.84m, is a true marvel that captures the essence of serenity and tranquillity. Whether you are a devoted follower of Buddhism or simply a curious traveller, the Awkana Buddha statue offers a profound and enriching experience. It is a must-visit attraction among the remarkable places to visit in Anuradhapura.
12. Ancient Stone Bridge
The Ancient Stone Bridge in Anuradhapura is a fascinating historical landmark that captures the imagination of visitors. Constructed with sturdy stone blocks, this magnificent bridge, also known as Gal Palama, stands as a testament to the architectural prowess of the ancient builders. Although only a small portion of the bridge remains today, it offers a glimpse into the rich heritage of Sri Lanka. Originally, the bridge spanned the Yodha Ela, a canal that once served as a vital waterway, supplying water to the nearby rice fields. Over time, the Yodha Ela has given way to a newer waterway, but the Ancient Stone Bridge stands as a reminder of the region’s agricultural past. The site is home to two ancient stone bridges, one crossing the waterway and the other spanning the Malwathu Oya, the central river that nourishes the surrounding area. While the exact dating of these bridges is challenging, they are believed to originate from the later period of the Anuradhapura Era. Walking across the remaining section of the Ancient Stone Bridge is like stepping back in time. The Ancient Stone Bridge is one of the most captivating places to visit in Anuradhapura, showcasing the architectural marvels of the ancient era.
13. Kaludiya Pokuna
Kaludiya Pokuna, an ancient Buddhist monastery surrounded by serene nature, is one of the great places to visit in Anuradhapura, offering a peaceful retreat. With its rich history dating back to the 2nd century BC during the Anuradhapura Era, this serene destination offers a glimpse into the past and holds great cultural significance. Legend has it that the revered Kalu Buddha Rakkhita Arhat Thero once delivered a sermon based on the Kalakarama Sutta while seated on a granite seat under the shade of a magnificent Thimbiriya tree near Kaludiya Pokuna. This adds a touch of mystique to the place and captures the imagination of visitors. Nestled amidst a tranquil setting, Kaludiya Pokuna invites anyone seeking peace and tranquillity. As you explore this ancient monastery, you will discover the remnants of caves and various structures that once housed around twelve thousand Arhat Theros during its prime. It’s a remarkable experience to walk in the footsteps of the past and witness the architectural wonders of bygone eras. The pond, after which the site is named, is said to have had dark water in ancient times, possibly due to its granite surroundings. The allure of the pond and its surroundings adds to the ethereal beauty of the place.
At the heart of Thanthirimale lies the majestic Thanthirimale Raja Maha Vihara, an ancient Buddhist temple that holds deep cultural and historical significance. Dating back to the third century BC, this temple is shrouded in intriguing legends and stories. One such tale tells of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, a sacred fig tree brought from India to Sri Lanka. As the sapling was being transported to Anuradhapura, it is believed that it found temporary respite in Thanthirimale. A branch that sprouted from the pot was planted in the village, making it a cherished symbol of this historic event. Many believe it to be the very first Sri Maha Bodhi plant in Sri Lanka. The majestic Bo Tree, resting upon a sturdy stone platform, stands as a living testament to this extraordinary tale. To enhance your understanding of Thanthirimale’s historical treasures, a visit to the archaeological museum is a must. Each step reveals a glimpse into the rich heritage of the area. Experience the mystical allure of Thanthirimale, one of the top places to visit in Anuradhapura, as you explore the ancient wonders of the Thanthirimale Raja Maha Vihara and uncover its fascinating historical treasures.
Lovamahapaya, also known as the Brazen Palace or Lohaprasadaya, is a captivating architectural marvel located in the ancient city of Anuradhapura. Standing proudly between the magnificent Ruwanweliseya and Sri Mahabodiya, Lovamahapaya showcases the ingenuity and craftsmanship of ancient Sri Lankan builders. Its name, “Brazen Palace,” comes from the remarkable bronze tiles that once adorned its roof, creating a stunning spectacle. In ancient times, this grand building served multiple purposes. It housed a refectory, where monks gathered to partake in communal meals, and an uposathagara, which was a special hall used for important religious ceremonies. The Simamalake, within the palace complex, was a sacred gathering place for the Sangha, where they recited sacred sutras on significant days. The original Lohaprasada, a magnificent nine-story structure, was an architectural wonder built by King Dutugemunu. It spanned an impressive length of 400m and featured an astonishing array of 1,600 stone pillars arranged in 40 rows. According to legends, Lovamahapaya was adorned with precious corals and gemstones, adding to its grandeur and splendour. As you explore the site, you can’t help but be awestruck by the remarkable craftsmanship and the stories that echo through its ruins. Lovamahapaya is a fascinating historical site that is among the top places to visit in Anuradhapura.
Situated amidst lush greenery, Mirisawetiya Vihara is home to the magnificent Mirisawetiya Stupa, also known as the Mirisavetiya Dagaba. This grand stupa was constructed by King Dutugamunu, a revered figure in Sri Lankan history, to honour the Buddha’s relics. Legend has it that the stupa was built on the spot where King Dutugamunu’s sceptre, containing the Buddha’s relics, miraculously became immovable. This sacred monument stands as a symbol of devotion and reverence. As you wander through the premises, you’ll be captivated by the intricate details and architectural splendour of Mirisawetiya Vihara. The stupa, adorned with exquisite carvings and surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens, exudes a sense of tranquillity and spirituality. Exploring the vicinity, you’ll also come across remnants of ancient structures, including stone statues and stone ponds. These remnants provide a glimpse into the opulence and grandeur of the bygone era. Marvel at the skilled craftsmanship and envision the vibrant life that once thrived within these historical walls. Take a moment to soak in the peaceful atmosphere, reflect on the teachings of Buddhism, and find inner solace amidst the ancient ruins. Mirisawetiya is a captivating ancient site that should be on the top of your list of places to visit in Anuradhapura, offering a serene atmosphere and a magnificent stupa.
Explore the captivating beauty and ancient wonders of Ritigala, a mountain sanctuary nestled in Sri Lanka. This hidden gem is home to an enchanting Buddhist monastery that dates back to the 1st century BCE. With its rich history and breathtaking landscapes, Ritigala offers a memorable experience for travellers of all ages. Rising steeply from the surrounding plains, the mountain boasts four distinct peaks, the highest of which is Ritigala Kanda. Standing at an impressive 766m above sea level, this summit treats visitors to panoramic views of the picturesque countryside. One of the remarkable aspects of Ritigala is its unique climate. As moisture-laden winds sweep across the mountains, they create orographic precipitation, resulting in a wet microclimate at the summit. This contrast to the hot and dry plains offers a refreshing respite and supports a diverse range of flora and fauna. Nature lovers will be enthralled by the lush greenery, dense forests, and tranquil atmosphere that envelop Ritigala. The mist-covered peaks during the southwest monsoon add a touch of mystique to the surroundings, providing an ethereal ambience that transports you to another world. When exploring the fascinating places to visit in Anuradhapura, don’t miss the opportunity to venture to Ritigala, a mountain sanctuary with an ancient Buddhist monastery and breathtaking landscapes.
18. Rathna Prasadaya
Rathna Prasadaya, located in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, is a remarkable site to explore among the many fascinating places to visit in Anuradhapura. This magnificent structure, built by King Kanittha Tissa during his rule from 167 to 186 AD, is a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and curious travellers alike. Rathna Prasadaya was a towering edifice that showcased the grandeur and opulence of the ancient Ceylonese monarchy. Rising high into the sky, this skyscraper was an architectural marvel of its time, reflecting the skill and craftsmanship of the ancient builders. Throughout the centuries, Rathna Prasadaya underwent renovations by two great rulers, Mihindu II and Mihindu IV, during the 8th and 10th centuries. These refurbishments further enhanced the magnificence of the structure, making it a true gem of ancient Sri Lankan architecture. Home of the Tapovana Bhikkhus: Rathna Prasadaya served as the residence for the bhikkhus of the Tapovana, a revered sect of Buddhist monks. Here, amidst the serene surroundings, these spiritual practitioners found solace and tranquillity, dedicating themselves to their religious pursuits. Within Rathna Prasadaya, visitors can discover the beautiful guard stones of the renowned Abhayagiri Viharaya. These intricate stone carvings, remnants of a glorious past, offer a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Anuradhapura.
19. Tissa Wewa
Tissa Wewa, one of the oldest artificial reservoirs in Sri Lanka, holds significant historical importance in the ancient city of Anuradhapura. Built by King Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC, this reservoir was a vital water source for the capital city and played a crucial role in sustaining the surrounding areas. It stands as a testament to the advanced engineering skills of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization. The impressive embankment of Tissa Wewa stretches for 3.2km and reaches a height of 7.6m. This massive structure showcases the remarkable ingenuity and craftsmanship of its builders. The reservoir served various purposes, including supplying water to Tissa’s Royal Gardens, adding to the beauty and functionality of the royal complex. Over time, Tissa Wewa and the neighbouring lakes underwent an expansion and were interconnected through a network of irrigation canals, enhancing the region’s agricultural productivity. These engineering feats highlight the ancient Sri Lankans’ mastery of harnessing water resources for the benefit of their civilization. Tissa Wewa, with its impressive embankment and historical significance, is one of the nice places to visit in Anuradhapura, showcasing the advanced engineering skills of ancient Sri Lanka.
20. Archaeological Museum
The Anuradhapura Archaeological Museum, also known as Puravidu Bhavana, is a captivating destination for history enthusiasts visiting Anuradhapura. As one of Sri Lanka’s premier archaeological museums, it offers a remarkable journey through the ancient past of this sacred city. Located within the historic old administration building, the museum is a treasure trove of artefacts that provide valuable insights into the rich cultural heritage of the region. From intricately crafted statues to beautifully adorned ancient coins, the exhibits showcase the artistic and technological prowess of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization. Stepping inside the museum, visitors are greeted by a diverse range of archaeological treasures. The collection includes pottery, tools, jewellery, and religious artefacts that date back centuries. Each item tells a unique story, shedding light on the daily lives, customs, and beliefs of the people who once thrived in Anuradhapura. One of the highlights of the museum is its display of intricately carved stone sculptures. These masterpieces depict the exquisite craftsmanship of ancient Sri Lankan artists and provide a glimpse into the artistic traditions of the time. The Anuradhapura Archaeological Museum, a fascinating places to visit in Anuradhapura, showcases a rich collection of artefacts and exhibits that provide a unique insight into the ancient history and cultural heritage of the region.