Sri Lanka is often referred as a beach destination. But if you pay a closer look you can also find a collection of historical & cultural importance in its heart and soul. Out of many historical wonders of Sri Lanka ‘The Cultural Triangle’ which is stretching between Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Dambulla takes a special place. The cultural triangle is full of treasure with archeological ruins, forests and wildlife. The cultural triangle is easily accessible by road from Colombo, where are the roads take through some amazing spots and locations to admire through the journey.
The ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa offer a lot of cultural, religious and historical importance, whilst Dambulla makes to the third point of the triangle with its incredible wonders of Sigiriya Rock Fortress & Golden Cave Temple.
Our editors have listed the most important places to visit in Sri Lankan cultural triangle. If you are starting your tour from Colombo, we have listed the places in order until you reach Kandy. Following this route will help you save time and serve you with an amazing road trip experience.
THE SACRED CITY OF ANURADHAPURA
Anuradhapura is an ancient capital of Sri Lanka. A four and a half hours journey from Colombo will take you to this living heritage site with spectacular stupas and temples. This sacred city is still a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists from Sri Lanka and around the globe as this city is built around a branch of the Buddha’s fig tree. This was the ruling city for more than 13 centuries, until the Chola king & legend Ellalan invaded Sri Lanka and shifted the capital city to Polonnaruwa. Anuradhapura was the first capital of Sri Lanka and still protected by UNESCO as a heritage site in Sri Lanka.
THE ANCIENT CITY OF POLONNARUWA
Polonnaruwa is another holy city for Buddhists around the world and served as the capital of the country for more than 2 centuries. This is an incredible day trip destination and can be easily reached within one-and-a-half-hour time from Anuradhapura. Even though the city is hot and warm many tourists would love to explore the ancient archeological ruins of Polonnaruwa. The sacred city of Polonnaruwa is comprised with two cities. One citadel (inner city) and an outer city. The citadel had two types of buildings – the kings palace and an administration building. The outer city is filled with religious shrines. The ruins of Polonnaruwa are incredibly preserved to explore by road.
MINNERIYA NATIONAL PARK
The minneriya national park is famous for its largest elephant gathering that happens once a year. The two separate parks, Kaudulla and Minneriya are next to each other and separated by the elephant corridor jungle that stands between. The largest gathering of Elephants happens during the dry season from July to September when the rivers dry up and the elephants are forced to migrate towards the large reservoirs in Minneriya and Kaudulla.
The best time to visit the national park is afternoon. So, it is advisable to visit Minneriya National Park when you return from Polonnaruwa to Sigiriya.
SIGIRIYA ROCK FORTRESS
Often referred by the locals as the ‘Eighth wonder of the world’ – Sigiriya Rock Fortress is truly an architectural wonder and an UNESCO heritage site. Sigiriya – the lion rock consists with ancient Sky Palace which is built atop of a massive 200-meter-tall rock, the lion’s gate – a mid-level terrace and is surrounded by beautiful gardens and moats at lower level.
Climbing Sigiriya is a wonderful experience. But it is advisable to climb early morning or in the afternoon to avoid heat.
GOLDEN CAVE TEMPLE – DAMBULLA
The golden cave temple of Dambulla consists of five caves covered from top to bottom with artistic Buddhist mural paintings and more than 150 statues. This is pilgrimage site for 22 centuries now and also known as The Royal Cave Temple. The Golden Cave temple if a living temple that allows Buddhists pilgrims from Sri Lanka and beyond to travel and worship at the complex. The temple is located just 20-30 minutes away from Sigiriya Rock Fortress.
THE TEMPLE OF TOOTH RELIC
The holy city of Kandy and the temple of tooth relic are the final touch of cultural triangle tour in Sri Lanka. Kandy is located in the central region of the country that features lush green landscapes with mountains and rivers. Kandy is the last capital of Sri Lanka. The golden roofed temple of the sacred tooth, which is the home for Buddha’s sacred tooth relic that was brought to Sri Lanka in the 16th century. This is a spiritual hub of Sri Lanka – the holiest place for Buddhists in the country. It is important to dress properly when you visit.
As listed above ‘The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka’ consists of some of the best places in Sri Lanka for heritage and nature lovers. We recommend the travelers visiting Sri Lanka to include at least have three to four of any attractions in cultural triangle in their trips. Sigiriya & Kandy are anyways not the places to skip in any kind of tours.
What to do after ‘Cultural Triangle Tour’