Anuradhapura is a Unesco World Heritage site, and for a reason! This former capital is part of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, consisting of Anuradhapura, Polonaruwa and Kandy. Because of its rich historical history, the city has got a lot of stupa’s and temples. A lot of which are free of charge or relatively cheap. Besides visiting all stupa’s and temples, it is great too to see some monks and maybe have a conversation with some locals about their religion.
DresscodeTip: dress up in white while visiting all Buddhistic places in Anuradhapura. It might make you feel more comfortable while “intruding” someone else’s religion and besides, it is a way of showing respect for the Buddhist religion. As you will probably experience yourself, especially around the cities Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Kandy, it is respectful (and useful when visiting Buddhistic places) to wear t-shirts and long pants (over your knees).
Going by tuktukTo make the most out of your day, it would be great to hire a guide with tuktuk that can tell you all the religious and historical stories behind the stupa’s and other holy places. It is definitely worth it to look into stupa’s and temples that interest you on forehand, since all guides have got different ideas about which holy places they want to show you and which not. Because of the heat and the huge amount of different Buddhistic places to see (which are sometimes difficult to find), it is smart to get yourself a guide with a tuktuk instead of going by bike. Make sure that you agree on a price on forehand. And do not forget to specify if that price includes entrance fees as well.
Going by bikeHave you got more time? Or less money? In that case, biking around (with a guide) is an option too! To make it easier for yourself, it can be useful to mark all places on the map already (in google maps). Some places are difficult to find and in this way, you can also check out a logical route on forehand instead of having to bike unnecessary kilometers in the heat.
What to see?
Sri Maha BodhiThis tree is one of the most spiritual locations in Sri Lanka. In Buddhism, the bodhi tree is a holy tree because the founder of Buddhism attained enlightenment under this tree. The Bodhi tree was brought to Anuradhapura by the daughter of King Asoka. Rituals are performed near the Bodhi tree and this tree is also known to heal ill relatives by visiting and watering the tree according to a rite. Before visiting the tree, you can buy flowers to offer under the tree. Offering flowers is a symbol for generosity and the beauty of enlightenment. Combine your visit with a visit to Ruwanwelisaya! Ceremonies take place at 06.30 h, 10.30 h and 18.30 h and last half an hour.
RuwanwelisayaWe were very lucky to visit Ruwanwelisaya on Thai Pongal, a national holiday in Sri Lanka. For this reason, it was extremely busy and crowded during the evening ritual, which made a big impression on us! Tip: before you go here, google on national holidays in Sri Lanka and try to match this with your visit to Anuradhapura. Before you get to the stupa, you already notice the beautiful decorated walls! When getting closer to the stupa, you will see the big ribbon that is attached to the stupa. During the ceremony, a lot of locals carry a big ribbon all the way to the stupa and attach it to the stupa afterwards. You will also see lots of people offering all kinds of different offers. People that have not got enough money to bring offers, will touch the offers of others to show some sort of blessing. The evening ritual takes place at 18.30 h, but ask a local to be sure where to be at what time (since Sri Maha Bodhi and Ruwanwelisaya are very close to each other).
Mirisavatiya DagobaThis white stupa can be compared with Ruwanwelisaya, but is a bit smaller. If you are into making nice pictures, then this is the place to be. This stupa is less crowded than Ruwanwelisaya and therefore perfect to make beautiful pictures without having a lot of people in it.
Abhayagiri DagobaAn ancient stupa which has originally been one of the largest. Nowadays, Abhayagiri Dagoba is around 75 meters tall.
Isurumuniya TempleThis is the place to go to have an amazing panorama view, to make pictures and to see the famous Isurumuni Lovers and other archaeological ruins. Combine your visit with a visit to the Royal Pleasure Gardens!
Royal Pleasure GardensAlready at the beginning of our walk, a lot of monkeys were hanging around the entrance of the park. I can tell you from experience, it is safe to walk closely past them ? (unless you have got any food in your hands of course). So, before you start this walk, make sure that all your food is in bags and check if all bags are closed. If you’re lucky, you can spot a variety of animals while walking through this park. Ruins of bathing ponds can also be found here.
ThuparamayaA bell-shaped stupa with stone pillars around it.
Where to stay?In Sri Lanka, there are lots of options when it comes to accommodation. Before you start searching, think about your budget, what kind of accommodation you prefer (homestay, hostel, hotel, Airbnb, etc.) and where! For 16 euros a night, you can already have a nice room for 2 persons, air conditioning, your own bathroom and a cheap breakfast. Here are some tips:
- Are you going for cheap? Agree on a maximum budget per night, and use the filter function to search for cheap places on Booking.
- Do you want to have a more “local experience”? Book a homestay and have dinner there as well!
- Would you like to have more variety in your breakfast, instead of only having “Western breakfasts”? Look for a place that is not extremely big, so that they can take into account your personal wishes.