Located in the heart of the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is a breathtaking destination filled with a rich history, stunning natural beauty, and an array of exciting activities.
This ancient city is a must-visit for travelers seeking adventure, culture, and relaxation. Here are the 10 best things to do in Sigiriya to help you make the most of your visit.
10 THINGS TO DO IN SIGIRIYA
1. Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya Rock is a marvel of ancient architecture that boasts a rich and fascinating history. Perched atop a towering 200-meter tall rock in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka, it is also famously referred to as “Lion Rock” due to a magnificent lion statue that once stood guard at the entrance to the palace.
The site represents one of the earliest examples of urban planning from the first millennium and was built during the reign of King Kassapa I, whose rule spanned from 477 to 495 AD.
The palace complex is a masterwork of engineering and art, featuring galleries, water gardens, and formidable defensive structures. The crown jewel of the site, however, is its frescoes – an array of ancient paintings that have been expertly preserved on wet plaster. These frescoes depict scenes of women, widely believed to be “heavenly maidens” or “apsaras,” and are among the most impressive examples of Sri Lankan art.
In 1982, Sigiriya Rock was accorded the esteemed distinction of being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it one of the most widely visited tourist destinations in Sri Lanka. The site is also renowned for its groundbreaking ancient hydraulic engineering, boasting sophisticated systems that enabled the collection, storage, and distribution of water.
Visitors to Sigiriya Rock can embark on an exhilarating journey up the steep staircase to the top of the rock, where they will be able to witness the remnants of the palace complex, marvel at the frescoes, and bask in the breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
2. Sigiriya Museum
The Sigiriya Museum is situated in the vicinity of the awe-inspiring Sigiriya Rock Fortress. A certified UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled in the verdant landscape of Sri Lanka proudly boasts a fascinating array of relics and exhibits that hark back to the enthralling history and archaeology of the Sigiriya site and the antique civilization of Sri Lanka.
Upon entry, visitors are treated to an astonishing assortment of exhibits of extraordinary splendor, including replicas of the intricate frescoes that adorn the resplendent walls of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, encapsulating the enigmatic allure of women depicted in a multitude of intriguing poses and beguiling costumes.
Other captivating artifacts such as precious pottery, exquisite jewelry, and impressive weapons, which have been meticulously excavated from the site and whose provenance dates back to the prehistoric period, take the breath away of even the most seasoned museum-goer.
The museum also houses a remarkable model of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress that showcases the diverse array of awe-inspiring edifices and structures that once occupied the site, providing a captivating glimpse into the architectural legacy of the time. Furthermore, a fascinating exposition of information and displays about the ancient civilization of Sri Lanka, including its rich religion, extraordinary art, and astounding architecture, awaits the inquisitive visitor.
In addition to the beguiling exhibits, the museum also has a delightful gift shop, where patrons can purchase an impressive range of souvenirs and books that are steeped in the riveting history and heritage of the Sigiriya site and Sri Lanka.
Be sure to take note that the Sigiriya Museum opens its doors to visitors from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm daily, and that the entrance fee is incorporated into the ticket price for the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, granting visitors access to a double dose of unparalleled wonder and enchantment.
Perched atop the lush landscapes of central Sri Lanka, Pidurangala Rock stands as a monument to the island nation’s rich cultural and historical legacy. This towering rock formation, believed to have once housed a vibrant Buddhist monastery, offers a rare glimpse into the island’s past and provides visitors with a unique opportunity to explore its ancient architectural and engineering marvels.
Rising majestically over 200 meters above the surrounding terrain, Pidurangala Rock offers panoramic views of the verdant countryside, including the famed Sigiriya Rock fortress. A popular destination for tourists and locals alike, the rock attracts those curious about Sri Lanka’s rich cultural heritage and religious legacy.
Built during the reign of King Kassapa I, the same king responsible for the construction of the Sigiriya Rock fortress, the ancient monastery atop Pidurangala Rock was once home to Buddhist monks seeking spiritual enlightenment. Today, visitors can trek to the top of the rock to witness the remnants of the once thriving monastery, including rock caves and meditation platforms carved into the rock itself.
Although the ascent to the summit of Pidurangala Rock can be a formidable challenge, the breathtaking views from the top more than make up for the effort. And for those with an interest in learning more about the island nation’s rich cultural heritage, a visit to Pidurangala Rock is a must.
In conclusion, Pidurangala Rock is a testament to Sri Lanka’s rich cultural and historical heritage, offering visitors a rare chance to explore the island’s past and marvel at its ancient architectural and engineering wonders.
4. Minneriya National Park
Nestled within the North Central Province of Sri Lanka lies Minnehaha National Park, a breathtaking nature reserve that has been designated as such since 1997, covering a sprawling 8,889 hectares. The park takes its name from the revered Minneriya Tank, a magnificent man-made reservoir that dates back to the 3rd century, masterfully crafted by King Mahasen.
For aficionados of wildlife, Minnehaha National Park is a veritable Mecca, renowned for its prodigious herds of majestic elephants, which converge around the Minneriya Tank during the dry season, from July to September, to quench their thirst and take a dip. In addition to elephants, the park is also inhabited by other fauna, such as the spotted deer, sambar deer, buffalo, the elusive leopard, and a diverse array of avian species, such as cormorants, painted storks, and grey herons.
Moreover, the park is a treasure trove of historical and cultural significance, playing host to several significant archaeological sites, including the remnants of ancient temples, palaces, and monasteries. And for those seeking a more leisurely experience, scenic walks and picnics amidst the lush, tropical surroundings are readily available.
Undoubtedly, Minneriya National Park represents a delicate balance between its abundant wildlife and natural beauty, and the ongoing efforts to preserve its fragile ecosystems, as well as its rich cultural heritage, for future generations to revel in. It is, therefore, a critical conservation area, deserving of the utmost care and attention.
5. Kaudulla National Park
Kaudulla National Park is an awe-inspiring wildlife sanctuary located in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka and spanning over an extensive area of approximately 60 square kilometers, brimming with an eclectic assortment of flora and fauna.
What draws many visitors to Kaudulla National Park is its large population of Asian elephants, which often amble about grazing or bathing in the park’s lakes and waterways. However, the park also provides a habitat for a rich diversity of other wildlife, including the sambar deer, axis deer, wild boar, sloth bear, and various species of primates, such as the toque macaque and the gray langur.
Kaudulla National Park is, without a doubt, an ornithologist’s paradise, with over 200 species of birds having been recorded in the area, including several endemic and migratory species. Visitors to the park can indulge in guided jeep safaris to explore the park and spot its myriad wildlife and birdlife.
One can easily access the park, which is approximately 180 km from Colombo, by road. To witness the animals’ congregating at the park’s watering holes, the ideal time to visit Kaudulla National Park is during the dry season, which runs from May to September.
Moreover, the park is not only renowned for its natural beauty and wildlife but also boasts of an enriched cultural heritage. Home to several ancient ruins and historical sites, such as the Kaudulla tank and the Mahakanadarawa Reservoir, built by ancient Sri Lankan kings, the park serves as a testament to the country’s rich history and culture.
For those seeking adventure and enlightenment, the park is open to visitors from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, and an entrance fee is levied that varies depending on the visitor’s nationality.
Polonnaruwa is an ancient city in Sri Lanka that was the island’s capital from the 11th to the 13th centuries. It is now an archaeological site that attracts visitors from around the world, interested in exploring its rich cultural heritage and history.
The city of Polonnaruwa is home to a number of important monuments, including the Royal Palace, the Gal Viharaya, a rock temple that features four massive statues of the Buddha, the Lotus Pond, a large man-made pond that was used for religious ceremonies, and the Vatadage, a circular relic shrine.
Polonnaruwa is also famous for its complex irrigation system, which was used to irrigate the surrounding farmland and provide water for the city’s residents. This system, which includes tanks, canals, and dams, is considered one of the most advanced in the world for its time and is still functional today.
In addition to its impressive architectural and engineering feats, Polonnaruwa is also known for its beautiful gardens, which were once used for religious ceremonies and as pleasure grounds for the city’s royalty. These gardens, which include the Paradise Garden, the Water Garden, and the Royal Palace Garden, are now open to the public and offer a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
Polonnaruwa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in Asia. Visitors to the site can explore its many monuments and ruins, learn about its rich cultural heritage, and experience the beauty of its gardens and irrigation system.
7. Sigiriya Village Bullock Cart Ride
The Sigiriya village bullock cart ride, a tradition that has been passed down for generations in Sri Lanka, presents an unparalleled opportunity for visitors to delve into the rural way of life. Slow and tranquil, the ride provides a peaceful excursion through the picturesque rural roads of Sigiriya, dotted with rice paddies, verdant fields, and tiny hamlets, where the daily life of the villagers can be observed.
With the bullock cart pulled by a pair of oxen, travelers can immerse themselves in the traditional mode of transportation as they lounge in the cart, taking in the breathtaking scenery. As the cart moves through the countryside, visitors can witness local farmers toiling in the fields, children at play, and cattle grazing, gaining an authentic taste of rural life.
The bullock cart ride also affords an opportunity for visitors to experience the beauty of the countryside at a slower pace, allowing them to savor the sights, sounds, and scents of rural Sri Lanka. And, in addition to its cultural significance, the bullock cart ride offers a fun and unique experience, providing a much-needed respite from the pace of contemporary life. With friendly drivers as guides, visitors can appreciate the scenery, strike up conversations, and capture memories that will last a lifetime.
For those seeking to immerse themselves in the authentic rural culture of Sri Lanka, the Sigiriya village bullock cart ride is an absolute must. It’s an opportunity to deepen one’s appreciation for the country’s rich heritage and traditions, and to forge an unforgettable connection with the rural way of life.
8. Dambulla Cave Temple
The enigmatic Dambulla Cave Temple, referred to as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, is an architectural marvel in Sri Lanka. It is considered one of the most essential cultural and religious sites of the country, as well as one of the largest and most well-preserved cave temples on the planet. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in the central region of Sri Lanka, perched on a towering 160-meter-high rock.
Its grandeur is demonstrated through a series of five caves, each showcasing an extensive collection of statues, paintings, and frescoes. Over 150 statues of Buddha, as well as images of Hindu gods and other historic figures from Sri Lanka, grace the temple’s interiors. The walls and ceilings are adorned with stunning frescoes that depict scenes from Buddhist mythology and Sri Lankan history, making the temple an awe-inspiring sight.
At the Dambulla Cave Temple, visitors can not only explore the caves and admire the artistry, but also take part in Buddhist ceremonies and offerings. The temple is surrounded by a verdant jungle and presents panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, making it a tranquil and serene destination.
In conclusion, the Dambulla Cave Temple is a must-visit for anyone interested in Sri Lankan culture and history. Its unique and memorable experience is sure to captivate visitors of all ages and leave a lasting impression.
9. Kaludiya Pokuna
Kaludiya Pokuna is an ancient rock-cut temple and bath complex from Sri Lanka’s ancient past, that captivates visitors with its remarkable blend of architectural and engineering marvels. A precious remnant from the era of King Parakramabahu the Great, the temple dates back to the 12th century and is nestled within the historic city of Polonnaruwa.
The two magnificent rock-cut pools, named “kalu” and “diya” (black and white), served dual purposes of bathing and religious rituals and are connected by a bridge, adorned with stunning rock-cut sculptures and carvings. These carvings feature an array of Hindu deities and Buddhist mythological scenes, providing a rich insight into the cultural and religious traditions of ancient Sri Lanka.
The engineering prowess of the ancient Sinhalese shines through in the construction of Kaludiya Pokuna, as seen in its intricate underground channels and water supply systems. Visitors can admire the engineering marvel, appreciate the unique architectural design, and be awestruck by the rock-cut baths.
For those seeking a window into Sri Lanka’s rich cultural and architectural heritage, Kaludiya Pokuna is a must-visit destination. It offers a rare chance to witness the ancient civilization’s engineering and architectural achievements, while also providing a peaceful and serene escape from the modern world.
10. Eat at Little Hut Sigiriya
This was one of our top rated restaurants in Sigiriya we visited. Little Hut Sigiriya is located near the famous Sigiriya Rock Fortress. The restaurant is known for its authentic Sri Lankan cuisine and offers a variety of dishes to cater to different dietary needs and preferences.
Some of the popular dishes at Little Hut Sigiriya include rice and curry, kottu roti, hoppers, and string hoppers. They also serve fresh seafood dishes and a range of vegetarian and vegan options.
The restaurant has a casual and relaxed ambiance, with both indoor and outdoor seating areas. The outdoor seating area offers a stunning view of Sigiriya Rock, which makes for a picturesque dining experience.
Little Hut Sigiriya is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers both dine-in and takeaway options. It’s a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, and many customers have praised the restaurant for its delicious food, friendly staff, and reasonable prices.
Sigiriya, with its array of local restaurants, is a foodie’s paradise. Whether you’re looking for traditional Sri Lankan dishes or international cuisine, these popular restaurants are sure to tantalize your taste buds and leave you wanting more.