Places to visit in Polonnaruwa

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In the 11th century, Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka replaced Anuradhapura as the capital of what we call Sri Lanka. The city was the stronghold of three major kings and the capital reached the height of its influence in the 12th century. But unfortunately, Polonnaruwa’s heyday was a short one. Wandering through the ruins is fascinating as the ruins is a sprawl of ancient palaces, temples and tombs. Here are our top places to visit in Polonnaruwa.

places to visit in Polonnaruwa
Wandering through the mysterious ruins of Polonnaruwa is fascinating.

Polonnaruwa’s history

Seeing the ruins now, you can hardly believe that Polonnaruwa was once a thriving hub. 800 years ago, Polonnaruwa was a magnet for merchants and monks. The city was a religious centre with amazing temples and was the capital of two kingdoms.

The Chola and Sinhalese warrior kings chose Polonnaruwa as their capitals. The Cholas moved the capital from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa in the 10th century. They chose it for its strategic location to defend against attacks from the south east.

When King Vijayabahu I conquered Polonnaruwa, he wisely maintained this city as his capital.

During the reign of the Sinhalese Dynasty, Polonnaruwa bloomed and rose to become one of the region’s most important places.

Subsequent Sinhalese kings continued to build impressive structures, each king trying to outdo the last.

Then in the 13th century, Colombo became the capital and all that remains of Polonnaruwa are the ruins of what was once the most important city on the island.


Places to visit in Polonnaruwa

These days, the ruins of the ancient city is located in the eastern section of Topa Wewa Lake.

This large manmade lake is also known as the Sea of Parakrama during the city’s golden days by King Parakramabahu I, who ruled from 1153 to 1186.



As you explore the ruins, it’s easy to picture the grandeur of the past.

Polonnaruwa was once a huge city with palace buildings, and mysterious dagobas and temples. You could wander around all day but if you only have a short time, here are some places to visit in Polonnaruwa you shouldn’t miss.

1- Polonnaruwa Visitor Information Centre and the museum

These days, some of the relics excavated from Polonnaruwa are housed in the National Museum of Colombo, however, the Polonnaruwa Visitor Information Centre and the museum is still worth spending a few hours.

The displays and historic artifacts will help you understand more about the history of Polonnaruwa.

Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka

You’ll leave the museum with a sense of awe and you’ll probably wonder why you haven’t heard that much about the mighty Kingdom of Polonnaruwa.

The ancient site has flown under the radar for years but was in the limelight recently when the Disney documentary movie “Monkey Kingdom” was released in April 2015. The set was based on the ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa.

2- The Quadrangle

You’ll feel the mystery and majesty of Polonnaruwa as you walk up the steps to the Quadrangle. This set of ruins has lovely temples and is a fabulous spot to take photos.

3- Parakrama Samudraya

Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka

There’s a wealth of interesting information about the manmade lake in the museum.

Parakrama Samudraya is the largest ancient man-made rainwater reservoir in Sri Lanka.

It’s mind-boggling to think that such a huge reservoir, which spreads over an area of 2500 hectares, was built way back in those ancient times.

4- The Palace of King Parakramabahu

As you wander through the crumbling ruins of the Palace of King Parakramabahu, you’ll get a sense of its past grandeur. Imagine yourself as an ancient king or queen as you explore the council chambers and other ruins that were once the royal palace.

The palace was seven stories tall and had a royal bath and a grand audience hall with lion portals and moonstone.

Discover Polonnaruwa

For more ideas on what to do while visiting Sri Lanka see:

Things to do in Sri Lanka

An Itinerary – Sri Lanka 10 Days

Beautiful art in Dambulla Caves

Places to visit in Polonnaruwa

Plan Your Trip

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Christina Pfeiffer
Christina Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia. She has lived in three continents and her career as a travel journalist has taken her to all seven continents. Since 2003, she has contributed travel stories and photographs to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. She has won many travel writing awards and is a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.