We have planned to go to Anuradhapura after spending two days in Negombo. Where we had the chance to recharge our batteries after the flights and accommodate ourselves to the different time zone and tropical climate. So, we were ready for the adventure, and to take our rented TukTuk for a longer trip. We were ready finally to discover the wonders of Anuradhapura. So, let’s see here the best things to do in Anuradhapura!
- 1 About Anuradhapura
- 2 The history of Anuradhapura
- 3 Things to do for free in Anuradhapura
- 4 Other cool things to do in and around Anuradhapura
- 5 How to go to Anuradhapura
- 6 Where to stay in Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura is a major city in Sri Lanka. Moreover, it is the capital city of North Central Province and the capital of Anuradhapura District. Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, famous for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sinhala civilisation. You know that you are close to Anuradhaoura, when you start spotting all the big, even bigger and giant Stupas. Moreover, Anuradhapura is all about traditions and buddhism. You can walk from temple to temple and from complex to complex to discover the next big ancient Stupa on an almost never-ending list.
The city, now a World Heritage Site, was the centre of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries. The city lies 205 km north of the current capital of Colombo, on the banks of the historic Malvathu River. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and one of the eight World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.
The history of Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura was a major intellectual centre for early Theravada Buddhism, home to revered Buddhist philosophers including Buddhaghosa. During the reign of Dhatusena (455-473) a redaction of the Theravada Buddhist canon took place while at the same time they also built 18 new vihara (temple complexes) and erected a statue for Mahinda, the Indian prince-monk who introduced Buddhism to the island.
During the late Anuradhapura period, the royal family and nobility of Sri Lanka strongly supported Buddhism. As such, they frequently commissioned works of art and donated these items to Buddhist temples. In return, the temple and local Buddhist community supported the king’s rule. Artworks featuring depictions of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Mercy and Compassion, became increasingly popular.
Things to do for free in Anuradhapura
Sacred City of Anuradhapura
This sacred city was established around a cutting from the ‘tree of enlightenment’, the Buddha’s fig tree, brought there in the 3rd century B.C. by Sanghamitta, the founder of an order of Buddhist nuns. Anuradhapura, a Ceylonese political and religious capital that flourished for 1,300 years, had an invasion in 993. After people abandoned it. Hidden away in dense jungle for many years, the splendid site, with its palaces, monasteries and monuments, is now accessible once again. Luckily many of the Stupas and sacred places you have the chance to visit for free.
Here we list the best things to visit for free in Anuradhapura:
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a sacred bo tree in the Mahamewna Gardens. It is the southern branch from the historical Sri Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya in India under which Buddha attained Enlightenment. They planted the tree in 288 BC, and is the oldest living human-planted tree in the world with a known planting date.
So, all around its gardens you will meet many people praying, all dressed in white and light blue (darker colours are not welcome, but with the tourists they do the exception). Be aware that the sand is crazily hot, and since you cannot wear shoes (socks luckily yes!), you need to find the shadowy places to walk. Under the sun at some areas are almost unbearable the hotness of the sand.
The other fig trees that surround the sacred tree protect it from storms and animals such as monkeys and bats. In April 2014, the government banned all construction within 500 metres of the tree.
Lovamahapaya is a building that was situated between Ruwanweliseya and Sri Mahabodiya in the ancient city of Anuradhapura. It was also known as the Brazen Palace or Lohaprasadaya because the roof was covered with bronze tiles.
In ancient times, the building included the refectory and the uposathagara (Uposatha house). One side of the building was 120 m in length. There are 40 rows, each row consisting of 40 stone pillars, for a total of 1600 pillars. It is believed that it took six years for the construction of the building and the plan was brought from the heavens. The building was completely destroyed during the reign of King Saddhatissa.
The Mirisaweti Stupa is a memorial building, situated in the ancient city. King Dutugamunu (161 BC to 137 BC) built the Mirisaweti Stupa after defeating King Elara. According to the legends, after placing the Buddha relics in the sceptre, he had gone to Tissa Wewa for a bath leaving the sceptre. After the bath he returned to the place where the sceptre was placed, and it is said that it could not be moved. The stupa was built in the place where the sceptre stood.
Sandahiru Seya is a second largest hemispherical Stupa located in Anuradhapura. This Stupa was built in commemoration of the fallen war heroes of the Sri Lanka Armed Forces in Sri Lankan Civil War which was ended in 2009. The foundation stone was laid by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on 22 November 2010. The work was completed and the stupa was opened by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on 18 November 2021.
This is the largest Stupa built in Sri Lanka after the construction of the Jethavanaramaya in Anuradhapura by King Mahasen in AD 301. The Stupa is 86.1 m high and 240 metres in circumference. Stupa houses the sacred relics including the Kapilavastu relics.
The whole complex is under the sun, so be ready for an insane temperature shock, where of course you can walk around only barefoot. Socks you can keep and frankly speaking just do it, as at some parts you really feel like your feet are burning in the sand or on the stones.
King Devanampiya Tissa (307 BC to 267 BC) who ruled in the ancient Sri Lankan capital of Anuradhapura built this complex. King Kasyapa I (473-491 AD) again renovated this placed and named it as “Boupulvan, Kasubgiri Radmaha Vehera” giving the names of his 2 daughters and his name. A small stupa lays on its hill. It’s visible that the constructional work of this stupa belongs to the present period.
Other cool things to do in and around Anuradhapura
Some parts of the sacred city you cannot visit for free. Here you can book your tickets in advance.
The Ruwanweli Maha Seya, also known as the Mahathupa (the Great Thupa) is also a big Stupa in Anuradhapura. Two quarts of the Buddha’s relics are in the Stupa, making it the largest collection of his relics anywhere. Sinhalese King Dutugemunu in c. 140 B.C. built this place. The stupa is one of the world’s tallest ancient monuments, standing at 103 m and with a circumference of 290 m. They renovated the Stupa in the early 20th century. The Ruwanweli Seya Restoration Society, most notably the philanthropist Hendrick Appuhamy, donated Rs 20 million (1912) for the restoration works, and the final crowning of the stupa took place on 17 June 1940.
Wilpattu National Park – means the “Land of Lakes”. The unique feature of this park is the existence of “Willus” (natural lakes) – natural, sand-rimmed water basins or depressions that fill with rainwater. Located on the northwest coast lowland dry zone of Sri Lanka, the park is 30 km west of Anuradhapura and 26 km north of Puttalam town. Nearly one hundred and six lakes (Willu) and tanks are around Wilpattu. As a result, Wilpattu is the largest and one of the oldest national parks in Sri Lanka. Wilpattu is also famous for its leopard population.
From December 1988 to 16 March 2003, the park closed due to security concerns surrounding the Sri Lankan Civil War, before reopened to visitors sixteen years later. Popular visiting periods span between the months of February and October, although there are a number of private ecotourism groups that conduct safaris year-round.
How to go to Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura is reachable by many railway. The Northern railway line connects Anuradhapura with Colombo, Jaffna, and Kankesanthurai. Anuradhapura railway station is the city’s rail gateway, with major services, such as the Yal Devi, Uttara Devi stopping there.
There are a number of bus routes passing through Anuradhapura from Colombo to the northern province. Some of them are 04, 15, 57, 87, etc.
By car or tuk-tuk
Anuradhapura is directly reachable by road to a large number of major cities and towns on the island. By road, it is to arrive from Dambulla, Matale, Puttalam, Trincomalee, Jaffna, Kurunegala and Kandy.
Where to stay in Anuradhapura
We have stayed in Wilpattu, in Ceylon Resort. The resort is located in the heart of the Wilpattu National Park. So you have the chance here to meet wild animals or go for an organised safari. It was one of the best accommodations that we checked-in on the island. The rooms are fair enough for a reasonable price with refrigerator and air-conditioner. The owners are lovely and welcomed us like their family guests. They served amazing dinner for us and shared many tips and stories about Sri Lanka. Highly recommended!
Breakfast tip: The best Coconut Pancakes we had the chance to try here as well. They were fresh, home-made, done by the lady of the house. If you are around, don’t hesitate to choose this place for a night or more.
If you are looking for accommodations in Anuradhapura, take a look at the below options!
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