Polonnaruwa is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka and part of the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. The second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms, Polonnaruwa was first declared the capital city by King Vijayabahu I in the 11th century AD and maintained its status until the 13th century. In 1982 the ancient city of Polonnaruwa was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The ruins in Polonnaruwa are in a compact area so you can visit them quite easily. If you don’t have a lot of time and have to make a choice, the ruins at Polonnaruwa are much better presented and more interesting than the ruins of Anuradhapura.
There are no hostels available in Polonnaruwa, probably because most backpackers just visit the ancient city as a day trip from Kandy or Dambulla. If you do decide to stay for a night before moving on, go to Agoda.com. This link has appropriate filters preset to find good budget accommodation.
Polonnaruwa Ancient City
What to see
If you have come to Polonnaruwa, it will likely be for a visit to the ancient city. There are a couple of good resources available that detail the history of Polonnaruwa and contain information on the ruins contained within it. I really like TourSlanka.com. It is lots of very well written information on all the main sites. My advice is to use that page with my map below to navigate around. You won’t need to pay for a guide if you do this.
How to get in
The entry cost to Polonnaruwa is $25 USD or 3500 LKR. This will get you admission to all the sites on the day of purchase. Tickets are purchased from the Archaeological Museum. If you are staying in Polonnaruwa, I suggest getting to the Museum about 8am so you can be one of the first inside the ruins. I also highly suggest you rent a bicycle for the day. It is the most relaxing and easy way to tour the site at your own leisure.
For general information on popular Sri Lanka dishes, check out my article Sr Lankan Food on a Budget.
Ariyasinhala is a proper local restaurant offering absolutely delicious food at local prices. You won’t find many tourists here, just locals. They have all the usual favourites on the menu that I mention in my blog post above. Avoid the more expensive buffet restaurants and eat here instead.
Polonnaruwa is not known for its night life. The best place to find alcohol is to head to a local liquor store (referred to by locals as a wine store). Midland Beer Shop is one such option.
Tuk tuks and buses are abundant. Polonnaruwa 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 or bicycle
Getting In and Out
Dambulla is the logical choice to use as a base while visiting Polonnaruwa. Buses between the two run frequently. Polonnaruwa’s main bus station is at Kaduruwela. Buses to and from the west pass through the old-town centre, but to make sure of a seat, it’s best for tourists to start at the Kaduruwela Bus Stand.
The train station is at Kaduruwela, near the bus station. I found this source, SrilankaTravelogue.com/ that suggests a direct train to Trincomalee from Polonnaruwa departs at 3:15pm each day but if it doesn’t work out, you will be stuck in Galoya waiting to connect to a different train to Trincomalee.
The better option is to catch a bus. Polonnaruwa’s main bus station is located in Kaduruwela. Buses pass through the old-town centre, but to make sure of a seat, it’s best for tourists to start off at the Kaduruwela Bus Stand.
Colombo or Batticaloa
Polonnuruwa is located on the Colombo – Batticaloa line. There are two trains a day heading in each direction, one normal day train and one night/sleeper train. Times are available at http://seat61.com/SriLanka.htm#Colombo – Trincomalee.