Best way to spend one day in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

by Kelly

We decided we definitely wanted to fit in some history, so we included Anuradhapura in our trip. One of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka it is part of the cultural triangle. We drove there on our first day. It was a long drive from Colombo!

There are lots of ruins here to see!  If, like us, you have your own transport you’ll be able to get around them quite easily. However if not you can hire a bicycle to cycle around the area. The other option is to hire a tuk tuk for the day and they’ll more than likely be able to be the guide as well.

There is an area that you will need to pay $25 USD to get into to view. This is pretty expensive! In one day you can either spend the $25 USD or see everything else. (Check out this blog on the cheapest ways to see Sri Lanka)  We didnt purchase the ticket and saw everything else! We had a ball driving around discovering all the places of Anuradhapura, there is plenty to see!

Here is a list of what we saw, I’ve listed it from our favourite things that we would definitely recommend seeing.

Bodhi Tree Anuradhapura

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi – The Bodhi Tree

We really loved it, there was such a feeling of calm and peace there.


History has it that a Buddhist nun was sent from India to Sri Lanka with a branch from the original Bodhi Tree where Buddha achieved enlightenment. This was given to one of the earliest kings and has been cared for ever since. The tree is also the oldest living human planted tree in the world, with a known planting date and recorded history.

There are reports of damage by animals, the weather and sadly people. It is such an important piece of history for Buddhists and it is very obvious from the reverence with which it is treated. Spend some time and absorb the culture by listening to the prayers that are called over a loud speaker. Wander around the grounds and sit with the locals. It really is a moment where you could sense the importance and made me feel closer to the people of the country. Inside there is a place were you an give a donation and receive a blessing and ribbon to wear on your wrist.

The details:

You will not be able to wear shoes inside and will have to pay to leave them outside (see this blog, tips for travelling cheap in Sri Lanka). You can choose to take them off and put in your bag or leave in your tuk tuk if you have one. The ground is really, REALLY hot so wear socks to save your feet. Approaching the entrance there is a bag search by the military. After this there is a another bag search at the second gate. We had to explain why we had our drone and promised we wouldn’t fly it. You will then enter little room and was hand searched by a military guard. They are all very nice and polite but it is very important that you take it seriously.

Cost: There is a ticket booth and tickets cost 200 rupees per person.

Bodhi Tree

Mirisawetiya Vihara – Mirisavetiya Rajamaha Vihara
Mirisawetiya Vihara

This dagoba is another important site in Anuradhapura it was built by King Dutugamunu (161 BC to 137 BC). There are a couple of stories about why it was built but regardless it is amazing to see it in real life. The sheer size of the dagoba is astonishing and around the back is a Vahalkada which is regarded as one of the earliest displays of Sinhala art.

Please take note if you visit this site it is respectful to walk to the left side first and follow around back to the front. If you do not do this the man calling the prayers will have to stop to direct you.

Mirisawetiya Vihara – Mirisavetiya Rajamaha Vihara

Isurumuniya Viharaya in Anuradhapura

This temple is located near the Tissa Wewa (Tisa Tank, a water dam that was built in ancient times). It is a really peaceful place, climb to the top of the temple and you have a view out over the water to the hills. Walk through the rocks at the base and you will come to a room that houses ancient carvings. This is where you will find the famous ‘Lovers’ carving.

Cost: there is a 200 rupee ticket entrance. You will need to wear a long skirt or pants and a top that covers your shoulders. You will be given a shawl to cover up if you are wearing shorts or a short skirt. It is the same for males or females…as Mike discovered! I was given a shawl to wrap around my long skirt because it had a split in the side.

Ranmasu Uyana – Royal Park in Anuradhapura

Walk to the left as you exit the temple, you’ll head through the carpark and find the Ranmasu Uyana (Royal Park).

This is a really lovely place to wander through. There is a path to walk along and stop to view the relics. This is the place where the King had his private bathing area and his wife had hers.

bathing area for the king

The kings private baths has a room for relaxing and changing at the back and a platform for meditation. Walking around the back we found steps carved into the rock, allowing us to climb the top of the boulder.

Womens’ bathing area in Royal Park

The womens’ private bathing area with a small changing room at the back.

There is also wildlife to observe there, we saw a hawk on the ground that had captured some food. It was protecting it and finally flew off with it.

We loved wandering around here, surrounded by trees, nature and history.

Thuparamaya Stupa, Anurhadapura

Thuparamaya Stupa in Anuradhapura

This is the oldest temple in Sri Lanka, built after the introduction of Buddhism. Walking around the stupa there are images of Buddha. There are also the remains of columns that once supported a roof.

Next to the stupa is a Buddah with its own column ruins.

Thuparamaya Stupa Budda

On our way out of Anuradhapura we discovered these monk statues lined up and pulled over to run in and check them out. I don’t know much about them but they were good to see and if I had more time I would have followed them up to their starting point.

The Royal Palace Ruins

We drove around and ended up at the ruins of the Royal Palace. We accidentally made our way there and are still not sure how as it is part of the area included in the $25 USD ticket. These ruins are quite badly dilapidated and there is not much left.

Royal Palace Ruins Anuradhapura

Tips for Anuradhapura:
Where to stay in Anuradhapura

Budget: Sunhill Lake Tourist Rest, Miyonra – Anuradhapura, Treasure House Tourist Rest, A and D Holiday Inn

Midrange: Water Front Home Stay, Fig and Gecko Hostel, Sacred City Tourist Resort

Luxe: Blooming Holiday Resort, Aryana Boutique Hotel


Eat at Mango Mango, I wish we had tried it earlier. It is cheap and the food is really good. I loved the masala dosa and the rice and curry was delicious. We also ate at Delicious in town, it was not as good and harder to get to. On the way into Anuradhapura there are stalls selling corn and other foods, all great for snacks. Mango Mango in Anuradhapura is definitely our favourite.

Masala Dosa at Mango Mango

Where to next:

Ultimate self drive Sri Lanka itinerary

Sri Lanka Travel Guide

Best way to spend one day in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Pidurangala Rock, Sri Lanka – The ultimate guide!

What to do in Sigiriya when you don’t climb Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka

Why Theva Residency is the best hotel in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Nuwara Eliya – home of tea plantations Sri Lanka

Lime & Co Kaba – perfect beach hotel in Sri Lanka

Midigama & Kabalana – two perfect little beach towns you should visit

Gluten Free in Sri Lanka

Tuk tuk hire Sri Lanka – Renting and driving a tuk tuk around Sri Lanka!

Your go to Sri Lanka packing list

Dambulla and the Golden Buddah Temple

You may also like

Leave a Comment