Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa

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Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa

I just released a blog post called “Sigiriya or Kandy?” I was inspired to write it after getting a few emails from readers who weren’t sure which pace to choose for their Sri Lanka holiday. “Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa” is also a term that sounds a lot like the article. Plenty of emails come to me from people all over the world, and some of them are directly about this subject: “Should we visit Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa?”
People who read our blog often ask us things like, “What are the Polonnaruwa opening hours?” “What is the Polonnaruwa dress code?” “Is Polonnaruwa worth visiting?” “How far is it from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa?” and “Is Anuradhapura worth visiting?”
It’s normal for travellers who don’t have much time on their Sri Lanka trip to ask these kinds of questions. Other travellers don’t want to travel much on vacation, even if they have time, and would rather only go to one or two places and relax. Adults and couples in their 60s and 70s sometimes don’t want to cover a lot of ground on their trips.
That’s why I want to help you choose between going to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. I have been to both places a lot of times and find them both interesting. Both of them have a lot of important sites to see.

Should you go to Anuradhapura?

I think it’s worth going because it’s an archaeological zoo that shows how smart people were when they built things a very long time ago. For example, the Abhayagiriya Gadoba (stupa or pagoda) is still a beautiful building, but it used to be even bigger. King Walagambhu built the Abhayagiri Daboba during his second reign, from 89 to 77 BC. At that time, it was one of the tallest structures ever, standing 115 metres high.
In the archaeological city of Anuradhapura, there are many buildings like this. Jetawanarama, which was the second-largest brick building in ancient times, is another interesting building. There are numerous examples of this intriguing architecture throughout the city, and most of their devotees still revere and adore them. Here are some more places we think top travellers should see: Twin Pond, Samadhi Buddha, Thuparama Dagoba (3rd century BC), Lankarama, Isurumuniya, Moonstone, Sri Maha Bodhi, and Guard Stone. It might take about five hours to see all of those places because they are spread out over a large area.

Should I visit Anuradhapura?

There are three main parts to the huge city of Anuradhapura: the Abhyagiri Monastery complex, the Jetawanarama complex, and the Mahavihara complex. There were many different temple buildings that were spread out over a large area. Each one had Buddhist learning centres, Stupas (also called pagodas), hospitals (Ayurveda), an audience hall, parks, meditation centres, libraries, and living quarters for monks.

Should I visit Polonnaruwa?

I have been to the Polonnaruwa historical place many times. If you are interested in history and culture, you should definitely go there. A lot of interesting buildings can be found at the Polonnaruwa archaeological site. These include palaces, lakes, Buddhist temples, Hindu shrines, audience halls, and many more.
Polonnaruwa is a historical city that most people start their trip to near the Parakrama palace, which was destroyed during the south Indian attack. The Parakrama palace is in the middle of the city, near a few other buildings, such as hearing halls. You can see well-kept statues all the way from Parskrama Palace to the quadrangle and Gala vihara at the far end of Polonnaruwa’s historical city. The landmarks in Polonnaruwa are in better shape than those in Anuradhapura because Polonnaruwa is younger than Anuradhapura. There are, however, a lot more monuments in Anuradhapura than in Polonnaruwa. In fact, the monuments in Anuradhapura cover a lot more ground than ones in Polonnaruwa.

What do Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura tours have to offer?

Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are both places where you can learn about Sri Lanka’s history. But the historical sites are very different in terms of how old they are. The crumbling ruins in Anuradhapura were built many thousands of years ago, while the Abhyagiri dagoba and the Ruwanweli dagoba were built before Christ was born.
The landmarks in Polonnaruwa are a lot less old than the ones in Anuradhapura. Most of the historical sites in Polonnaruwa were built between the 10th and 11th centuries AD. In Anuradhapura, most of the historical sites were built between the 3rd century BC and the 10th century AD.

Museums in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa

Going to museums is just as important as seeing structures if you want to learn about Sri Lanka’s history. Two cities both have museums, but the ones in Polonnaruwa are much better organised than the ones in Anuradhapura. What you see in the Polonnaruwa museum is much better organised, and it gives you a good idea of the old buildings that can be seen on the site. For example, after the invasion, the Parakrama palace was only left with a few walls and a base. It used to be a huge building with seven stories. You can see a copy of the Parakrama palace in the museum before you go into the historical city. This will help you understand how big the palace really was.
Some comparison between Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa

Anuradhapura                                                               Polonnaruwa

From 3rd century BC to 10 century AD                       10-11 century AD

Monuments are older                                                   the monuments are younger

Spreads over huge area                                               spreads over small area

Many dozens of monument                                        Number of monuments less

Lot of ground to cover need a vehicle                      can explore by foot, bile of vehicle

The city tour lasts about 4-5 hours                            City tour lasts about 2-3 hours

Getting around in Anuradhapura

From Colombo, the distance to Anuradhapura is 200 km. It takes about 4 hours to drive there by yourself. In addition to roads, travellers can also take trains and planes to get to Anuradhapura. The main railway station in Colombo is where trains going to Anuradhapura begin their trip. From either Colombo or the airport, you can book a seaplane or chopper to take you to Anuradhapura. The domestic airport of Anuradhapura is where you would land.

Gettign around in Polonnaruwa

Most people who want to visit Polonnaruwa do so by car. There are 220 km between Colombo and Polonnaruwa. It takes a private car about 5 hours to make the trip. From Colombo, you can book both plane and rail travel. Three trains go to Polonnaruwa every day from Colombo. Two flights a day leave from Colombo for Polonnaruwa.

How far is Anuradhapura from Polonnaruwa?

Our clients sometimes ask us if they can see both Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in one day. The answer is either YES or NO, and it mostly depends on where the trip begins. You can see both Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in one day if you start your tour from somewhere like Sigiriya or Habarana. You won’t be able to visit both places, though, if you start your trip in a faraway place like Colombo or Kandy. That’s because travelling takes time. This is because Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are only a little more than 100 km away and the trip takes about two hours. If you stay in a hotel near either one, you can easily visit both.
Extra things to do in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa
Most tourists who come to these places want to see the historical sites, but there are a few other important things you can do if you come across some time. You can go on a village tour, see national parks and go on a Jeep adventure, get an Ayurveda treatment (massage), take a cooking class, go boating on the village lake, visit temples, go jungle trekking, and watch birds.
I hope that after reading this, you can decide whether to visit Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa on your trip to Sri Lanka. Please feel free to email us at admin@seerendipitytoiurs.com if you need any more information about Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.