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Exploring Polonnaruwa with your friends? Here’s what you need to see

Polonnaruwa is often regarded as a must-visit destination when you’re in Sri Lanka. The town is located in the North Central Province and although it doesn’t look like much today, Polonnaruwa was once at the centre of Sri Lankan civilisation. It was the second capital city during the ancient monarchical era, and today has some of the best-preserved ruins on the island. Visiting Polonnaruwa is incredibly interesting as it is steeped in culture and history, here are some of the sites that you and your friends need to see.

Gal Vihara

Gal Vihara, which translates to ‘ Rock Temple’, is a prime example of the high level of artistry and craftsmanship that blossomed during the Polonnaruwa Kingdom. This architectural marvel is still a main point of worship for Buddhists today. Within the temple there are four magnificent statues of the Buddha that depict him in different poses. The four images have been carved on a single granite rock face and each image depicts the Buddha in a different stage of his life before he attained Nirvana.


The Vatadage is one of the most unique structures and is thought to be the only one of its kind on the whole island. It is believed that this is where the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha was housed after the capital shifted from Anuradhapura in the 11th century. The circular Vatadage is on an elevated platform and it was initially constructed to protect the stupa; although the wooden dome no longer exists, the stone pillar that held it up and four statues of the Buddha still remain.

Palace of King Parakramabahu

During its prime, the Palace of King Parakramabahu had seven storeys and around a 1,000 chambers– a testament to how massive this kingdom was. The palace is thought to have been built sometime during the 12th century AD and it was probably the most regal of its kind; in the palace complex there are pools, gardens and places of worship, which you and your friends can wander around. Sadly, apart from a large brick wall, not much of this magnificent palace exists today, as the capital shifted to the south coast due to the Chola invaders from India.

Parakrama Samudra

This is yet another ancient structure that was built during the reign of King Parakramabahu, the Parakrama Samudra is a testament to advanced engineering during this kingdom. Since Polonnaruwa is situated in the heart of dry lands, the land was unsuitable for agriculture and thus impossible for people to only survive on seasonal monsoon rains. In the 12th century, the king built this massive tank for irrigation purposes, and it is still in fact used to supply water to some neighbouring cultivators. Parakrama Samudra is often referred to as the ‘Sea of Parakramabahu’ because of its seemingly endless size. A fun thing you and your friends can do here is to cycle along the banks of the tank or enjoy a picnic there at sunset.

Minneriya National Park

Anyone will tell you that a trip to Sri Lanka would be incomplete if you don’t see elephants! Minneriya National Park is only a 30-minute drive from Polonnaruwa and it is the country’s #1 destination to see elephants in the wild. The park is best known for being home to the largest gathering of Asian elephants in the world; where every year during the dry season (June/July – August) elephants gather in open plains near the Minneriya Tank. This natural phenomenon was even featured on NatGeo! It is during this time that you can see up to 200 elephants all at once, which truly is a once in a lifetime experience! Hire a safari jeep and embark on one of the most exciting journeys ever.

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