Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka and part of the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. It is famous for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sri Lankan civilisation and was third capital of the Kingdom of Rajarata. It was first settled ca. 900 B.C., and served off and on as the capital of the Sinhalese Kingdom until ca. 1100 A.D. The city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lies 205 km north of Colombo on the banks of the historic Malvathu Oya. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and one of the eight World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.
A really good option if you are are looking for cheap but decent accomodation in Anuradhapura. A stay in the 10 bed dorm is 1300 LKR. They have very friendly staff and the hostel is kept very clean. A good option to explore Anuradhapura is to hire a bike from the hostel and then go exploring around the historical locations on your own or in a small group of other travellers.
The Great Ancient City
What to see
If you have come to Anuradhapura, it will likely be for a visit to the ancient city. There are a couple of good resources available online that detail the history of Anuradhapura and contain information on the ruins contained within it. TourSlanka.com/ contains brief but well written information on all the main sites and some images of each one. I also found this detailed blog post at DavidsBeenHere.com/ to be quite useful. Use these resources in conjunction with the map I have created below as you explore.
How to get in
Officially the entry cost to Anuradhapura is $25 USD which will get you admission to all the sites on the day of purchase. Tickets are available from 8:30am. There are no demarkation points at the entrances to the old city, so it is possible to enter without a ticket. There are however road blocks around the city where you will be asked to show a ticket.
Since tickets are not checked on entry, there are plenty of tuk-tuk drivers around town who are more than happy to drive you around the old city, avoiding the road blocks, for less than the price of admission. However this may result in you being chased by security at some point.
The ticket checking points are not at any of the ‘sights’ themselves, only at the road-side ticket offices. Therefore, if you are on foot, its quite easy to simply walk around the road blocks at some distance to avoid being asked to show a ticket. If you can afford it, buy a ticket.
There are many hotels (Sri Lankan English for a small restaurant) in the Anuradhapura New Town, which offer an authentic Sri Lankan meal, at quite a good price. Smaller boutiques offer quick eats, such as pastries and rolls, which are also quite good and cheap. Lunch packs, generally sold between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. are an excellent lunch option. For general information on popular Sri Lanka dishes, check out my article Sr Lankan Food on a Budget.
The terrace restaurant which is located in a unique British colonial style building serves authentic and delicious food. Amazing rice and curries, kottu roti and egg hoppers.
Very clean and fresh food for a reasonable price. The standard rice and curry was excellent, which is always a good indicator as to the quality of the food in Sri Lanka. The variety of snacks (short-eats in local terminology) available for breakfast was somewhat limited on the day I visited. But the rice and curry we had was quite good and very reasonably priced. This would certainly be the restaurant of choice for my future visits to Anuradhapura. Highly recommended.
Anuradhapura is not known for its night life. City Capital Hostel sells beer but a better solution is to head to a local liquor store (referred to by locals as a wine store). There are two located in the Anuradhapura New Town, where you can purchase arrack, a spirit made from coconut which is popular throughout Sri Lanka, as well as rum, whiskey, beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks. Super Wine stores is the one closest to Capital City Hostel and just across the road from the New Town bus station. Central Wine stores is the other and is located about 500m further down the road.
Tuk tuks and buses are abundant. The New Town is relatively small, and can be walked from one end to another in half an hour. The Old Town (archaeological site) is quite large, and you can get around by tuk tuk.
Getting In and Out
You can travel between Colombo and Anuradhapura by bus from Bastian Mawatha bus terminal in Colombo. The journey takes 5 hours. A better alternative is to take the train. The train journey can take as little as 4 hours. Check out Seat61.com/SriLanka.htm#Anuradhapura for detailed times of departures and ticketing advice.
Dambulla is a logical choice to visit either before or after Anuradhapura. In fact, lots of tourists only visit Anuradhapura for a day trip and then head back to Dambulla, as its only 1.5 hours away by public bus. Bus no. 15 is the bus to take. It leaves from the Old Bus Stand. After Dambulla this bus heads towards Colombo and is probably labelled as such.
There are three buses a day departing for Trincomalee. The journey takes 3.5 hours. Departure is from the New Bus Station.